Collecting vintage mics might seem like a strange hobby to many people, and your spouse may think you’ve lost your marbles, but collecting old harp mics, or other vintage mics can be a very rewarding, not to mention an interesting and intriguing hobby. It can be a very expensive hobby as well. Like collecting stamps (how boring!), the older and rarer the mics are, the more they will be worth to a collector, and the more it will likely cost you to acquire. Unlike stamps, old mics made in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s could have some very interesting stories behind them. You can’t help but wonder where it was first put to use and what it was used for, who may have used it, and how much it cost back then. A police dispatch mic, a WWII communications mic, a PA mic used in an old school, or just a mic used to record family stories in an era where recording was a new concept.
Back in the late 30’s, for the first time in history, regular people were able to make recordings on wire recorders, or recorders that put the messages onto vinyl discs that were the first ways for families who had family members in the military overseas, to send messages to their loved ones. To me, each microphone has its own mystique to it. You can’t help but wonder where it’s been or who spoke into it. I have found mics from the 40’s and 50’s with ID markings on them that gave clues as to what the mic may have been used for, such as hand written names or decals that had the identification #’s of certain military units, or old ham radio call signs on them, and certain other markings that may give clues as to what the mics may have been used for.
Unless you can relate to the mystique and stories that these collectable mics may have behind them, it may be hard to understand why some people, like me, get so excited about receiving a new mic to add to the collection. You really need to be able to relate to the importance that these mics had to the early forms of radio communications, and the development of more modern mics that came about in the years following. Putting together a collection of vintage microphones makes for a very cool and interesting display in any room of your home.
Personally, my collection is limited to mics that are popular with harmonica players of today, and the early days of amplified harp. You won’t see many, if any pictures of the old harmonica greats like Little Walter, or the 2 Sonny Boy Williamson’s using bullet mics to play amplified. The truth is, is that they usually used whatever mics were available to them at the time. There is a picture of Little Walter that is quite popular showing him with a Shure model 777 Slim X in his hand. Many people believe that this was his mic of choice, and is the mic that helped him develop his signature tone. This simply is just not the case. I believe that the picture was a publicity shot that just happened to show him with a Slim X in his hands. I’ve seen this mic on auction sites described as, the “Little Walter mic”. This really is not the case and by all means, don’t think that buying a mic like that is going to make you sound like the guy holding it! It just ain’t going to happen. The fact is that your mic has only a small affect on your final tone. Your technique as well as the amp you’re using have quite a lot to say about your final sound.
Most of the early recordings of the great blues harp players were made using vocal mics, or whatever was available to them in the recording studios at the time. Most of the mic’s available at that point in time were crude as compared to today’s high tech mic’s, having a narrow frequency bandwidth. Much of the tone was generated by the early tube amps and the speakers they used which were nowhere near as refined as the tube amps and speakers of today.
I never started out as thinking that I was going to collect microphones when I began building them. But after seeing all the really cool vintage mics and the detail built into them, I though it might be fun to collect mint condition specimens if I could find them. It didn’t take long for me to get bit by “the bug”, and I became a collector as well as a custom mic builder. The mics I buy for my collection are usually models that are new old stock, or in mint or near mint condition and all original. Working or not, mics in original condition are more valuable than if they are spruced up with new paint or a working replacement element.