If you’ve got an Astatic JT-30RH Roadhouse, or a Hohner Blues Blaster microphone, you may not be satisfied by the tone. Both of these mics are good, solid shells, but the elements these came with are pretty bad for getting good tone with blues harp. If you want to improve the sound you can install a much better element. Replace the inferior stock element with a Shure Controlled-magnetic, or Controlled-reluctance element, and be amazed at the difference.
See What You’ve Got
These microphones usually come with an inexpensive crystal element installed by the manufacturer. If you’re lucky, you might instead have an Astatic MC-151, which can be quite good, but the small Japanese element is pretty poor and tinny-sounding.
You can see the difference between the two easily. If you’ve got the smaller one, you’re a good candidate for replacement.
Picking a Shure Element
Arguments abound about which Shure element is best, and the prices vary widely between them. The most available are the 99A86 models, and they sound great. Don’t overlook the 99S556 though, they are readily available and usually moderately priced. For even better tone you can consider 1950’s controlled-reluctance elements, which are usually more expensive (but I have found to have better bass response.)
For a complete history and rundown of the differences, be sure to visit Green Bullet Mics on the web. It’s got tremendous information on all the Shure elements.
Gutting The Mic
To start, clip off the wires real close to the element. The Roadhouse and the Blues Blaster are wired slightly different, but inside you’ll find a collection of wires, a ground lug with screw, and a volume control.
You’ll need a small Hex key to remove the control knob. These mics have a unique stepped hole, and proprietary dual-slotted bushing that hold the volume control into the shell. I use a pair of needle-nosed pliers to unscrew the bushing.
Now you’ll see the hole that fits the bushing. Do not lose this bushing! They are rare as hen’s teeth, and you’ll need it later on.
Replacing the Volume Control
Why do we want to replace the potentiometer (volume control)? Well, the stock potentiometer is either a 500K (not so bad), or a 1-5M model (not good at all.) These work pretty poorly with a Shure CM. You’ll have very limited control from low to high volume. You’re better off using a 100K-250K potentiometer, which will give you the full sweep from off to full volume.
Locating the right resistance volume control, with the correct shaft and thread size took me forever. After much research, and a worldwide hunt, I discovered the part, and convinced Mouser Electronics to stock it online. The Bourns PDB181-GTR04-254A2 is 250K, and to my knowledge, the only one that fits the Blues Blaster and Roadhouse. I stock them too.
Rewiring the Microphone
I’m not going to get into the finer points of soldering, shrink tubing, and variety of layouts for the correct wiring, here’s how I do it with these mics.
I connect two wires to the ground lug (negative), and the hot wire from the connector (positive). One of the negative wires connects to the volume control, and the other goes to the element. The red wire from the connector goes to the middle lug on the volume control. Another positive wire connects the potentiometer to the lug on the element.
Installing the VC and Adding the Gasket
The Bourns volume control shaft is a bit longer than the stock one that comes with the mic. To properly fit it, I leave the washer and nut of the potentiometer on the shaft before replacing it in the shell hole. Then that all-important bushing you’ve saved fits just right.
Cables and Connectors
The cables that come with the Blues Blaster and Roadhouse are pretty crummy. They’ll work, but eventually they’ll short out and you’ll be bummed. Do yourself a favor and replace them if you can.
Though the Roadhouse has a screw-on connector, it’s got a custom thread that does not fit the standard Switchcraft 5/8″ connector. If you want to fix that, you need the correct re-threading die. Mine comes from Latch Lake Music, and converts the thread just right.
With this modification you can use a Switchcraft adapter, or one of the fine custom harmonica cables available out there, like those Tone Defender ones from Christopher Richards at Harmonica Planet.