Greg Heumann blows fans away
By DEBORAH MITCHEL SERVAL / Geyserville Correspondent
After cashing out of a Silcon Valley tech business at 45, Greg Heumann moved to his getaway house in high above Geyserville. Ten years later, he is established in business doing something he’s passionate about.
Using the machining skills he learned from his father, he makes hand-crafted wood microphones for musicians like Charlie Musselwhite, Toots Thielemans and himself.
“They’re great looking mics with a lot of class,” Musselwhite writes in a website endorsement.
Heumann has been tinkering beside his father since he was a boy growing up in the Bay Area. “My dad helped me come up with my first prototype mic on his lathe and milling machine,” he says.
“How nice that my commute is to my garage, and I can walk home for lunch,” says Heumann of his company, BlowsMeAway Productions.
When did you start playing an instrument?
My musical career started with the oboe in second grade, not the most trendy instrument. Music has always been a part of my life; it just took me until my 40s to find the blues. It was then that the harmonica and saophone replaced the oboe.
How did the blues change your future?
Once I knew that blues was for me, I took the Harmonica Masters Class from Dave Barrett at the School of The Blues in Morgan Hill. I started playing in a band and used an old 1950s microphone. It was heavy and clunky, not easy to work with my small hands.
Tell me about your band.
It’s Bluestate (bluestateband.net), a five-piece modern blues band. We’ve been together seven years and have a CD called “Duracool” available on iTunes and elsewhere. Our band members live all over the Bay Area, and we will play for anyone who pays us. We have played the past few years for Papapietro Perry Winery during Dry Creek Passport Weekend.
I was a mechanic through college and got a degree in computer science. I was part of the Silcon Valley ride and enjoyed it, even coming to Sonoma County on weekend getaways. Then I found the perfect piece of property in Geyserville in 2000. I told the real estate agent I wanted land high enough to have a view and enough land to feel private, and here I am. It originally was a weekend home, but I dreamed of living here full time.
What did you do in the Tech industry?
It boils down to technical marketing of one form or another. I was the guy to communicate technical requirements to engineering and explain technical benefits to customers. I was often involved in managing industry partnerships as well, starting out with North Star Computers and ending my career at Unwired Planet (which was renamed Phone.com, then Openwave).
Who did you develop the microphone for?
For me! Like most of my products, I felt the best thing was to solve problems I encountered while performing, believing that if I had those problems others did, too. My wood mics are considerably more comfortable to hold and produce a warmer tone, both valuable to performers.
Tell me about designing your first product?
It was seven or eight years ago, an in-line volume control, feedback control that gives the older microphones control, over their feed dynamics and volume for solo or accompaniment use. For new mics, I have designed a feedback control that is quite popular.
What are you working on now?
The Ultimate Series Mic. I have taken the Shure SM 57 and designed it to be more functional for harmonica players. It is shorter and lighter, so there is less hand fatigue, plus a built-in volume control. I also do service and repair to harmonica players who play amplified.
Because I could do it. I had the lathe, and it would be light. I designed them for general purpose microphone use. Wood is unique, beautiful and functional.
Who was the first big-name musician to discover your mics?
Who else have you crafted mics for?
To name a few, Steven Tyler, Mickey Raphael who is Willie Nelson’s harmonica player for the past 37 years, and jazz artist Toots Thielemans, perhaps the most famous harmonica player in the world. My products are in use by professionals and amateurs all over the world. I am even designing a mic for a musician who wants the wood and design to match his surf board. I am using three kinds of wood, North and South American and Asian.
What about the not-so-famous customers?
I have one customer who sent me his wood from his property for two mics, one for each of his sons. He is giving his sons a bit of what my father gave to me, a love of music and a love of wood. I still visit my dad once a week and keep him up on what I am doing.
Heumann’s website features testimonials from the who’s who of the music world. Blows Me Away Productions is in Geyserville, blowsmeaway.com.