General Chat (53)
This week, I am giving the floor to a FB friend of mine called Nik Harrison… Who is Nik I hear you ask… Well... “I teach music (piano, guitar, theory, GCSE, A Level etc) but I also teach thinking skills. Critical thinking, applications of (and limitations of) logic, exam revision etc. Also do commentary and debates on various matters concerning philosophy etc for educational purposes, and “thinking horizon expansion”. Play acoustic gigs. Do demos at guitar shows for Stormshadow guitarworks. Run the contemporary guitar performance workshop, and conduct quite a lot of pedagogical (relative to teaching) research for that. Occasionally go out as a professional magician for corporate functions... A pretty broad range."
This all came about because I saw a question on FB… “Why is it called music theory? Shouldn’t it be called music rules?”
And Nik answered… “Music theory is the codification of the most commonly used frameworks within music. It’s a language, and as a language, it’s essentially a set of protocols. It’s not the ‘message’. The message is the music, and the music exists independent of any language that we may use to explain, quantify, or record it (which is essentially the three things that music theory serves to achieve). The music comes first. It’s for theory to keep up with music, not for music to keep up with the theory, or otherwise be dictated to by ‘theory’. Rules are for sports.”
I was quite fascinated with this response, so I asked him to expand on it for our blog… Over to you Nik...
There are essentially two means by which a ‘music theory’ may be devised (inclusive of the amalgamation of both). Firstly, there’s the analysis and quantification of music that people have created when drawn to the sounds and structures that they instinctively feel to be congruent with their musical taste. Secondly, you can take the fundamentals of sound itself, and analyse this. The only naturally occurring phenomena which could be used as a foundation for creating a music theory is the harmonic series. This would lead us to consider the overtone scale (or Lydian Dominant mode) to be the most ‘natural’ place to start, but we don’t do that, we use other things. What may be ‘natural’ may not always be (what we would identify as) ‘musical’ to some people... To my understanding, most ‘scales’ that we now consider to be commonplace evolved by means of primitive instrument engineering evolving to accommodate greater pitch accuracy, together with the influence of the harmonic series which supplied an acoustic physics-based foundation for the subdivision of octaves.
In extension of this, it’s worth noting that the only thing that makes music theory conversations and debates worthwhile is the fact that it's in a state of permanent evolution. This means that right and wrong are not as clear cut as they may be when debating other topics. To suggest that ‘rules’ come into music theory would require consensus amongst academics and scholars alike who are not actually qualified (either individually or collectively) to ascribe ‘rules’ to such a topic as music theory. This is because music (and its associated theory) belongs to the people. It doesn’t belong to academia, no matter how much it may be implied, or how much academia may attempt to take ownership of it. Music theory is very much a living and breathing 'language'. Worthy of note however, is that music itself isn’t a language. This is a common misconception, but it isn’t a language because music isn't authoritatively definable in terms of the same criteria (and respective fulfilment thereof) that a language would need to fulfil (and adhere to) in order that it may be defined as a 'language'. Analogies between music and languages might work at a very simplistic level, but there are a number of misconceptions, misunderstandings, and errors that are all too easy to make if this analogy is taken beyond the simplest of examples. Within a language the objective of communication is served by means of encoding meaning and concepts into syntax which is then assembled within a grammatical framework. There are a number of pre-requisites which need to be in place before it can be understood.
When it comes to music, the pre-requisites that are necessary for any spoken or written language to be successful don't exist (unless you're operating from a number of assumptions regarding a very fixed definition of what music can be). As such, music doesn't operate in the same way, or within the same parameters as 'languages'. A listener needs no familiarity with any 'encoding' of meaning to understand the inherent 'truth' that is music, and this makes the formulation of any manifestation of “music theory” all the more complicated, challenging, and interesting.
Music evolves, and always came first. Theory comes second, and has only been devised (and subsequently evolved into the language of music that we now use) as a method by which we express, record, and preserve music. Because music is evolving, the language that we use to explain it needs to evolve with it, although because of the rate at which music evolves, theory will always be "behind", not at all helped by academics who misunderstand the true relationship "music" has to "theory", who seem to desire it's absolute preservation and maintenance (without really offering any consideration as to how appropriate this actually is). I would suggest that an understanding of music and the understanding of theory are two very different things. They are every bit set apart in the same way that and understanding of "meaning" is not the same as an understanding of "language".
Within a system where 15 key signatures are used to express 12 keys, any engineer would conclude that this is 3 too many than necessary and it’s about time we just got rid of them. I know where these key signatures have come from, and have a strong understanding of why we have ended up with 15 key signatures, but since evolution is a process of simplification, not complication, I think we can reasonably predict what will happen here as theory evolves anyway, so why don’t we just dispose of 3 unnecessary key signatures now? A more prominent over-complication in music theory can be seen in the time signature. Where the bottom "number" which is used represents a note value, why has it gone through an unnecessary process of "encoding" into a number? Why don't be just draw the note value as it would appear in the piece underneath the number telling us how many beats are in each bar?
To my mind, not enough people challenge these theoretical concepts and as such, I fear that it’s best hope of "catching up" with the music (which theory actually serves to record, explain, and preserve) is being systematically eroded by every music theory publication presenting this information and framing it as “the way it is” rather than thinking about it and offering appropriate consideration to what kind of future it actually has?
Thank you Nik! You can connect with Nik on Facebook.
Monday, July 2nd 2018 will go down as one of the greatest, mind-melting nights of my life. If you disregard the day I met my wife and the two nights I become a Father, I’m pretty certain nothing has been as monumental as this was.
I first ‘met’ Jamie Humphries many, many years ago on FB and over the years we’ve become very good friends. We have a very similar sense of humour (our partners will confirm that is being mostly like 13-year-old boys) and share a deep love for our instrument and music. When I first started to chat with Jamie I was painfully aware he was one of the resident guitar players in the London show of “We Will Rock You” and had toured with Dr Brian May… over the years he’s gone on to do the European Tour of WWRY and many other major touring shows. But, you know, he’s now just the guy that literally makes me cry with laughter on a regular basis. Jamie is widely regarded as one of the guys who can do Brian as well as Brian himself... along with that, his knowledge of the Red Special and Brian’s gear in general is frighteningly deep - we always joked about how I would react if I ever got to hold the Red Special. He always said that one day he would sort it for me but I never thought it would actually happen.
It was many months ago that Queen announced that they were touring with Adam Lambert again and hitting the UK in Summer. I mentioned it to Jamie and he said (in an off-hand way): “I’ll see if I can get us tickets, it’s right on my birthday so, you know, it may happen, I’ll try to get us backstage as well”. Lisa and I tried not to get too excited about it, but it was always in the back of our minds. Then, last Friday, I get a text from Jamie saying something along the lines of “Answer your phone you ******” - I hadn’t noticed he was repeatedly trying to call me… when I spoke to him he confirmed that we had tickets for the Monday night and the after-show party.
Then followed the strangest weekend of my life. Two gigs, one tremendous and the other one completely screwed up, all played out in slow motion. When Monday finally came around, we got in the car and made our way to London. The journey, as it often is, was awful but we got to the hotel next door to the venue (10 minutes’ walk from concert seat to bed – BOOM!), checked in and waited patiently for the clock to tick round. Jamie was frantically calling what felt like every 5 minutes as he was stuck in traffic coming from Lick Library in Essex to the o2, the language used was a thing of beauty. Filthy, but so articulately filthy I couldn’t help but laugh at him. We finally met up about 10 minutes before the show was due to start, at the box office, and made it to our seats with only a few minutes to spare.
I don’t know what it is about Queen. I’m yet to meet a rational person who doesn’t really like them on some level, it almost feels like they have been, at some point, everyone’s favourite band but at the same time, hardly anyone’s actual favourite band. They just seem to be deeply appreciated by almost everyone. For me, it’s a family affair - they were one of my Mother’s favourite bands, they are one of my favourite bands, one of my wife’s favourite bands and one of my kid’s favourite bands… It seems like everyone has several Queen songs that mean the world to them. It’s not hard to understand why, when you think of the songs, or think of Live Aid, or think of Freddie, or think of the guitar that Dr May made with his Father (Harold) between 1963 and 1965… it’s just one hell of a story and one hell of a back catalogue of simply great songs.
Judging by the way Facebook has reacted to my many posts about this since last Friday, it’s apparent that some people think Queen should have died a natural death when Freddie did. To me that’s a little crazy, why shouldn’t the surviving members carry on? Not only in tribute to the music they created but to Freddie himself, and to the fans that still hold the music very close to their hearts. It was as I was thinking this, that the lights went down and the show started. When you see a band like Queen for the first time, and you are staring a lifetime of memories and happy thoughts right in the face, it takes a few moments to get your head back on. And once I did, there were two things that kept going through my head… the first was “I think that’s the best live guitar tone I’ve ever heard” and “Adam Lambert is incredible” – I turned to Jamie and said something that rhymes with “Duck tree – that tone!” and he laughed and said, “Told you it was good!”.
The following two or so hours went by in a whirl. Song after song of massive hits, a flawless stage show, several guest appearances by Freddie via the video screens, masterfully edited in, and at the heart of it, one of my favourite players, playing the iconic guitar, with just the biggest and ballsiest tone I’ve ever heard. He didn’t play the original all night, but whenever he did, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. The great thing about seeing a show like that with a straight up Queen nerd is that all the way through I was being updated with what gear he was using. Just perfect for a perpetual tone chaser who can legitimately think of nothing better than avidly listening to Jamie telling me about Brian’s wet/dry/wet rig, modified AC30’s, treble boosters, and the various ‘other’ Red Special’s that were being used.
Once the show was over, we made our way to where the after-show party was being held. Myself, Lisa, Jamie and Kim (the fourth member of our little group who owns Lick Library and Guitar Interactive Magazine) found ourselves in a room with a free bar and bizarrely, a Rock DJ playing some RAWK classics. It was then that the gravity of the situation started to hit me… Big Phil, who is Brian’s personal security guard - and has the title of being one of the most lovely and terrifying people I’ve ever met - came over for a chat… Phil Hilborne – whos impact on guitarists of our age can never be overstated through his work with Guitarist Magazine and Guitar Techniques Magazine - was also was a long-standing member of the WWRY band – came and joined us, I turned around and noticed next to us were Rami Malik, Gwilym Lee and Joseph Mazello – who play Freddie, Brian and John in the upcoming film “Bohemian Rhapsody”… edged on by the comfort of having a couple of beers on an empty stomach I had a chat with them, and it was clear just what big fans they are of the band as well. That film is going to be epic. There were so many people indelibly connected to Queen, just there, all around me.
It was when I had just been to the bar again (to replace the beer that Lisa had dropped) that I noticed that Jamie was talking to a guy with a gig bag strapped to his back, I thought “No, that can’t be”, but judging by the way Jamie smiled at me, I knew it was. I knew that Pete Malandrone – Brian’s long-term tech – who kept the original Red Special with him at ALL times, and I mean, at all times, was right there and he had ‘it’ with him. There I was, within touching distance of the guitar that played on all those hits, stole the show at Live Aid, was the cornerstone of that Guitar Legends gig, and is quite possibly the most iconic guitar of all time... So near, yet so far.
Pete wandered off, and then about 10 minutes later, Jamie tapped me on the shoulder and said: “Come with me”. I stood up, grabbed Lisa’s hand, and we were quickly led into another room. After we were all in and the door was closed behind us, Pete took the gig back off his back, opened it up and I was confronted with I can only describe as what looked like a military grade carbon fibre shaped guitar case. My first thought was “That’s so small, it can’t be”. He opened it up (the whole thing was like that scene from Pulp Fiction when Travolta opened the briefcase and Samuel L Jackson said, “Are we happy?”) and it was.
Pete picked up the Red Special… THE original Red Special, and handed it to me. In that instant, it was almost like people describe as “your life flashing before you” trick of the brain, the whole history of that guitar flooded through me. So… what did I do? Well, like an idiot I sat down and started to play the first solo from Bohemian Rhapsody. Jamie started laughing and said “Don’t play Queen licks on that you muppet” and we all just started laughing. I mean, fair comment really. I looked up and noticed Pete’s face was just lit up with a huge smile. There must have been many times when he’s handed that guitar to someone and they react the way I did - in complete awe – and it looks like he genuinely loves to see that reaction. Then he started to go through the history of its construction, you know how it goes... The fireplace mantelpiece, the bike rack tremolo arm and knitting needle top, where the finish had been worn off over the years and where it had been refinished… the buttons used for the fret markers, the bike springs in the tremolo, the single bolt holding the neck on… I stopped playing and just looked at it. Even though I’ve read about it a million times, when it’s in your hands and the guy who knows it as well as Brian does is telling you about it, it takes on a whole new meaning. It was at that point Pete put his hand in his pocket and said “Have this, it was the one he used tonight, I just found it on the stage by his mic stand” and handed me a classic Six Pence piece… I then started to play again (very gently with the sixpence) and that’s the point it jumped out at me. The neck was enormous, the frets are non-existent (it’s never been refretted)… and to be completely honest, the neck feels like a baseball bat that’s had a small part of the front shaved off. It’s uncomfortably huge. The profile of the board is actually really quite rounded but… you know… it’s THE Red Special. He made it with his Father over 50 years ago and it feels like it. It may be weird to play, but it doesn’t matter - that is truly a guitar of legend. After what felt like a second I gave it back to Pete, who put it back in the case (cue Travolta in my head again saying “yeah, we’re happy”), put the case back in the gig bag and we left the room to carry on enjoying the free bar. As the night progressed, more beers were drunk, more people met, more laughs were had (including the continuation of a long-held discussion we’ve been having about Phil’s Red/Pink PRS) and even a free curry. As Lisa and I walked back to the hotel some hours after, most definitely quite squishy from the beer, I’m pretty certain my feet never touched the ground even once.
If you are a Queen fan, go and see them. Especially if you love them but think that it won’t be Queen without Freddie, because other than everything I explained above, the one memory I will have about that night was just how perfect for the job Adam Lambert is. As he said during the show “I know a lot of you think ‘He’s not Freddie and he shouldn’t be trying to be him’… All I can say is this… I’m not trying to be him, I could never be Freddie. I’m here for the same reason you are - I love Freddie and I love Queen and I’m so lucky I get to pay tribute to him with those amazing guys”.
I’d like to thank Jamie Humphries for giving me a true memory of a lifetime, Pete Malandrone for his love of the instrument and allowing me to play many, many inappropriate licks on it, and Dr Brian May for being, well… Brian May.
*header photo: Dave Watson.
A few days ago Brian, Alex and I were talking as Brian was thinking about video ideas for YouTube, and we were discussing guitarists who play live regularly but still get a few things wrong. Not necessarily in terms of their playing, but their approach to the instrument. Once I started to give ideas for subjects it occurred to me that I was just talking about me when I first started playing live, some 27 or so years ago (Man, that makes me sound old).
This conversation made me think about what I would say to myself if I had the opportunity to go back and advise the younger me with the benefit of what I have learned in the thousands of gigs I’ve done since…
- You aren’t as good as they tell you.
When I was 17 I was able to play virtually anything I wanted, I was in a rock covers band playing stuff that was designed purely to impress other guitar players. After a year or so, I thought I was brilliant because people kept telling me I was as I could play fast complicated stuff, but the reality of it was that I was just showing off. Playing for their appreciation and not caring one iota about what really mattered. I should have been more humble and understood that just because I played “It’s a Monster” as an opener, including the solo without warming up (see, still showing off), it didn’t mean I was good, I was just flashy. All style and no substance, or as my dear ol’ cockney Granddad would have said, “all mouth and no trousers”. Which leads me nicely too…
- Take some lessons and learn to read.
My biggest regret in life, thus far, was not sourcing a decent teacher and learning to read properly. I was proud of the fact “I’ve never taken a lesson in my life” and thought it made me a better musician. It didn’t, it just restricted the future me. In the last few years I’ve had the pleasure and honour of becoming good friends with amazing guitar teachers and the things I’ve learned from them, just in passing, have made me 100 times the player I was. Imagine if I’d actually had some proper lessons earlier in life…
- Listen to the rest of the band, ALL of the time.
This was the hardest learning curve of them all, and it’s something I struggle with now. I really wish I had got this into my head much much earlier. After all, being in a band is about creating and playing music with a bunch of like-minded people. Listening to them, bouncing off them, playing WITH them (instead of just playing with yourself – double entendre COMPLETELY intended) is everything. Be in a band, they are not there to back you up, you are an equal part in the end product.
- Gain. GAIN! Turn it the hell down!
The most powerful gain tones are not the ones with loads of gain, just the ones with the right amount properly EQ’d. You will probably need two distinct gain tones, one for rhythm and one for lead. How this is achieved is variable, either volume control on the guitar or via a boost pedal, but you know, your lead tone is gonna sound utterly horrible for rhythm. Usually. Also worth remembering the louder you play, the less gain you are likely to need. I expect there is a technical explaination for this, but I don’t know it!
- Practice the subtle stuff, it’s what will define you to your peers.
Especially vibrato and bends. Make sure your intonation is on point, make sure your vibrato isn’t crap. Because when you don’t work on either, you will sound bloody awful and to the guys in the know that are listening, you will be severely lacking.
- Don’t be afraid of new music.
When grunge hit I was terrified, my dazzling technique meant nothing to anyone, I got completely lost so I decided I hated it and refused to play it. What an idiot. Roll with it youngling, roll with it.
- Learn the neck properly
This is something I’ve been working on recently after a long discussion with Mr Tom Quayle on a very long flight. As usual, he was trying to help me and I was arguing for the fun of it, but he won in the end. He calls it fretboard visualisation. This is knowing what all the notes are on the neck, and how the relate to each other… this way, when improvising, you can move around the neck easier as you know where the sweet spots are. And not the complicated ones, ending a passage on a third, fifth or seventh of the chord you are currently over sounds so much better than landing on the root… so, this is directly related to breaking out the boxes I suppose, something else I was stuck in when I was trying to be me back in the day.
- If it’s being played properly, there’s no such thing as crap music
Kinda guessing that I wasn’t alone in thinking that the music I liked was great and the rest was crap when I was young. I don’t particularly like certain styles/genres of music still, but I listen to it often, because you absorb stuff when you listen to it and it will increase your vocabulary considerably when you are in full flow without realising it.
- If the crowd aren’t being responsive, it ain’t their fault
If the band is boring, make up to you to make it more interesting. Well, this is going to be a contentious one I think... As a lead guitar player, or even the rhythm guitar player, it’s kinda up to you to bring the colour to the songs. If you are working with a great bass player, they will do their bit, but if you are still banging out boring chords and predictable solos, then look at yourself before you judge your audience.
- Protect your hearing
Pretty certain I don't need to explain this any further...
- Carry spares. Of everything
I know, kinda obvious isn’t it. However, there was a time when I didn’t… turned out to be the worst gig of my life!
That’s my ‘have a word with yourself’ moment... For your amusement, the header picture of me is from 1992, and this is the 2018 version - and yes, I do miss my hair!
I’ve been trying to write this blog for over a week, and each time I sit down it just hasn’t clicked. I normally have no problem with just starting to write and letting it flow, but here lately it’s just not clicking. I read Jason’s blog last week, and in the midst, it dawned on me what my deal was. I’m suffering from a bit of a slump. Not in a pity-party kind of way, but more accurately a social media and gear kind of way. In the past few weeks I’ve been extremely busy with work, the kids, working on the house, and just things pulling from every direction it seemed. That’s not unusual and accurately describes life in general, especially as a parent. But it hit me too that I couldn’t really nail down the last time in the past few weeks where I was able to truly jam without interruption for more than a couple of minutes. The combination of lack of playing plus spending more time on social media trying to stay connected with the every-changing gear world, I realized that I was starting to burn out on guitar. Not playing, but all of the other facets of gear culture. Overexposure to it made uninteresting and not nearly as fun. I took a step back this weekend, worked it out so my mother-in-law could keep the kids for a couple of hours, and let loose for a solid two hours. It felt like the stress melted away, and my shoulders felt lighter.
So, what is it that was burning me out? I don’t want to get back to that state again, and my goal is to cut it off at the pass and recognize the signs before it gets to me. For me, the overexposure to gear culture and the constant chase just wore me out mentally. Chasing tone is a self-imposed deal, so I’m not expecting any sympathy. It’s so easy to hop on Facebook and talk on whatever group you’re into at the time (there are hundreds to choose from, one for just about any sub-faction of gear you can imagine) and see what the current trend is. Most of it reflects the constant chase for the next tone (more on that later), some questions, some jokes, incredible or cool videos that keep your attention for 3-4 minutes. Then it’s on to the next group… and it’s the same stuff. There are the hardcore collectors of individual pieces of gear that are fascinating to watch, but then at some point, it becomes “Okay, we get it.” This is not a dig at collecting at all. It’s just the realization of what the gear community is in general. Mix in some of the things Jason mentioned in his previous blog, and things can get ugly, very quickly. Bad attitudes, light-hearted people trying to diffuse the situation, and the agitators, who have nothing to do with the argument but feel they need to interject something witty to get involved or push some more buttons for entertainment. The internet (and Facebook especially) is a fantastic place to meet great people all around the world, but it also becomes a soapbox for people to yell their ideas out to the world. Here lately it seems like people are actively looking to be ticked off or offended. Some days it’s, and everyone gets along, and some days it seems like someone collectively peed in everyone’s cornflakes that day.
Now, back to the constant chase for tone I mentioned earlier. I’ve chronicled my quest for tone starting early in my guitar-playing life, and it kind of arced to a peak the past few years and is slowly arcing back down to less desire to chase tones and acquire new stuff at the rate I previously had been. Along with the social media overexposure of talking gear day in and day out, I’ve come to learn awhile back that no matter how expensive the pedal, it’s not going to change the way I play *usually*. Again, (in general) a lot of the pedals I’ve tried from all manner of builders have been excellent, but it got to where it was more of the same with slight variations than something overtly new and exciting. No matter what pedals I play through, I still sound like me. It’s been a bit refreshing as it’s eased the GAS off a bit, but it’s also very enlightening how much time I spent twisting knobs instead of learning and playing the instrument. It was very apparent when my buddies and I got together for a jam a few weeks ago, where I had forgotten more than I care to admit…but my TOAN WAS SICK! Yes, I sounded great, but some of the theory I knew before had a lot of dust that had to be cleaned off, and some I forgot altogether. That was officially the day that it hit me that no piece of gear makes up for skill and knowledge of what the heck you’re going to play, and how well you adapt and improvise using the experience you have. That same day, I let someone talk me into unnecessarily selling a piece of gear before I honestly had time to bond with it because it didn’t fit a “traditional mold.” I ended up repurchasing the guitar back from who I sold it to and love it even more now than I did before. I know that sounds cliché to let other’s play so heavily on how I feel, but I’m truly guilty of it, and I dare say that many others are on social media as well. How many times has someone bought a pedal or guitar or amp off a recommendation from a friend you trust, only to find out it doesn’t gel with you and your playing style and rig? There’s a large element of “keeping up with the Jones’” that happens a lot in gear culture, and the desire to like what’s currently popular despite it not hitting the spot. The idea of such a popular pedal means there shouldn’t be a reason not to like it, but sometimes it’s just simply the case.
I know this entire article seems a bit cynical, but it’s the side-effect of doing something you love to the point where you don’t necessarily love it as much as you did before (or that’s what it was in my case). Yes, there are incredible new offerings by a multitude of companies that are still pushing the boundaries, and it’s not knocking them at all. For me it’s more so the need for a hard reset, disconnecting for a bit, reassessing what’s real and enjoyable in life outside of Facebook. I also have been letting the race of the gear culture pass by a bit before jumping back on the freeway to chase again (so many euphemisms in this article). Yes, there are pedals that still interest me, but I'm gear-fasting a bit to try to hone my craft instead of covering it up with effects. For me, disconnecting from social media this past weekend, cranking my amp and genuinely practising and learning some new songs was a bit of a therapy session for me that was much needed. It made me value what gear I love, sold off ones that had been sitting for a while, and gave me a bit of a renewed interest in learning and growing in my guitar knowledge again. It’s like I spent so much time wanting to play and not being able to that social media and gear flipping filled that void for a bit, but it’s not substantial or sustainable. But the feeling of picking up that slab of wood with strings on it and the joy it brings will never go away.
I’m guessing that like a lot of people who may end up reading this I’m a member of many gear groups on Facebook. I am the chief admin on the Wampler one (and it’s one that’s kept me up at night for all the right and wrong reasons), that is generally extremely good-natured and given me the most pleasure, and a member of ones that appear to be at loggerheads with each other. As someone who classes himself as a ‘people watcher’, sometimes they are the most fascinating places on earth, and sometimes the most horrific.
This morning I read an academic piece that was looking at the community surrounding the Facebook group, Pedalboards of Doom, written by Matthew Haycroft. It was SO refreshing to read something that was overwhelmingly positive about his shared experience, the way he’s watched the group develop and the common themes that are picked up on and run with. In a world of constant negativity, it brought a smile to this grumpy old face.
I sat down and thought about it all and compared it to my own experience with various groups - although I can sympathise with a lot of it, and agree with a lot of it, there are also a lot of situations that have come up that are anything but. With this in mind, I thought I would discuss some of them and see what it says about us, the players (whatever level) and how we react to them
We’ve all seen this - people (and I am completely putting myself forward here for a reference point) that have their mind made up about something and don’t care who knows it and won’t listen to any arguments against. Generally, it matters not if it is about a product, a person, a corporation, or anything else - social media is the perfect breeding ground for opinions stated as fact. It’s something we are familiar with as we see it a lot in our own tone group, and it’s something we enjoy when it’s positive about our product, but what happens when those partisan feelings are challenged? Usually, it means one hell of an argument is going to take place, typically with a complete stranger. The interesting thing happens when someone approaches this with an agenda, an ulterior motive, or just looking to cause trouble. Mind you, these are normally the most entertaining. I’m guessing the real questions here are “Why do we care what other people think?” and “Why is my opinion a fact and everyone else’s not?”
Now, I’m not talking about actual politics and politicians, but the politics of a large group. It’s amazing to see splinter groups form, subgroups and allegiances, usually from people who have NO idea who they are actually dealing with, just with someone who appears to agree with the same things they do about one or two items – Most friendships start this way, in real life, but it would appear on the internet these ties between random people can get very very strong, very very quickly, and some people are prepared to go into a verbal war over them. It often makes me sit and think “How well do you know the person you are steadfast supporting here?” or “How well do you actually know the person you are slamming and give every impression you want them dead?”… and how about “Have you got the complete story here?” Thinking about it, the answer is ‘not even slightly’. People act differently online, I know I do, so why do we show utmost loyalty to someone who just shares the same preference as you do about something like tube screamers? It’s a weird one, isn’t it?
This is my favourite. As much as snobbery cracks me up, inverse snobbery cracks me up even more. You know what I am talking about “Look at his board, must be a Blues Lawyer”, or “Look at his gear, must be deaf to think that sounds good”, so on and so forth. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been called a Blues Lawyer because I gig a PRS and have had a board with two Strymon’s on it… I’ve also been called a “P&W player”, “snob”, “stupid” and the best one, “have too much money to be taken seriously”. I can assure you now, although I do have a law degree, I’m not a snob, can’t really play the blues, don’t have too much money, and I don’t think I’m stupid (although I’ve been known to do stupid things). What are we dealing with here? Envy?
This is another one that cracks me up… people are SO fast to be offended these days. My thought process on this is “Offence is taken, not given, so please be quiet” but I believe I’m in the minority. A lot of time is spent worrying about the delivery method of a statement over the content. A lot of time is spent arguing over language choice over substance. A lot of time is spent taking offence when you have the choice to walk away from it. Why is this? I don’t know. There are some things that are without question offensive and have no place in a group, any group (that is open to the public anyway) so why do people take so much offence about stuff? I’m thinking that a lot of it comes from people who haven’t experienced a wide range of different cultures. For example, I once discovered myself out drinking with an Aussie rugby player, a door security guard from Glasgow, an anarchic Vegan, a member of the conservative party, and someone I’m pretty certain was at some point in their life either a Satanist, white supremacist, or both. A heady mix to say the least. The interesting thing was that the conversation that night was wide-ranging and at times controversial, but not one person took offense from it. Maybe being able to read someone’s body language, hear the inflexions in their voice, or many other reasons meant this didn’t end up in a mass brawl. Why does it on the internet?
Showing off and name droppers
Pretty certain I don’t have to discuss this one too much, we’ve all seen it. It’s like I was saying to Brent Mason the other day…. *chuckle*
Another one that is fascinating to watch, people who deliberately try to push the boundaries of groups, and when they are pulled up about it they cry censorship, usually at a very high volume. Controversial behaviour is a wonderful thing, it’s something I do a lot, often to watch the reaction (you could say that this blog post is being just that, albeit it not being very controversial at all). Controversy changes things, calls things into question, but it has to be done in the right way. Freedom of speech (as much as platforms as Facebook allows) doesn’t come with freedom of consequence though. I’m guessing what I am saying is that people who try to push peoples buttons shouldn’t then get upset when those buttons start to be taken away by those who have complete control of the buttons!
As a rule, I love Facebook groups as they bring a wide section of humanity to them and you can, and do, learn a lot from them. There are some groups I’ve joined, that I’ve barely got out alive from, that I have no intention of ever going back to. Thankfully they appear to be the minority. In conclusion, and as usual when writing this, I’m being somewhat self-reflective and thinking about my own actions as much as others. I hope that I can do better going forward. How about you?
I think like lots of people I’m totally and utterly ‘fed up’ (edited by request of the boss) with the price of concert tickets these days. I mean, it has been reported that on average people are paying nearly $400 to see Adele, nearly $240 to see Taylor Swift… the cheapest price for the Rolling Stones near me is about $160 (which you would need a telescope to actually see them) and so on and so forth. The question I’ve been asking myself recently is why?
I have a couple of theories about this - and they may be crap, or I may be full of BS (likely), but something somewhere has changed. And that thing, I think, is mostly due to us. But I’ll get to that in a minute.
Ticket touts… Scalpers…. Whatever you call them. The advent of the internet and sales on the internet has made it very easy for third parties to get involved and make a quick buck or two (million). It’s really hard to tell which are the legit sites and which aren’t, legislation has been passed to restrict this from happening but the trouble with the law is that it doesn’t move as quick as the brains of the people who are trying to take our money for effectively nothing. Is this a fight we can ever win? Also, the promoters of the events charge what they can get, so why not maximise on ticket prices if they know it’s still going to sell out? Everyone would do it if they could.
Those of us who are of a certain age will remember the Napster ‘revolution’ and remember seeing Lars from Metallica on TV moaning about theft, copyright infringement (and the subsequent lawsuits that followed) and most people laughed at him and treating him pretty badly… I do believe this was when the whole “Lars is crap” thing came from (well, that and the snare sound from St Anger, but that’s a different story) as he was actively stopping everyone’s fun in getting free music, because everyone loves free stuff, right? It’s always been interesting as being a kid listening to rock music in the 80’s, Lars was a legend up until around this time, then everything changed.
Since the whole filesharing thing has been embedded into our psyche (and lets it, pretty certain that at one point everyone has either done it or is close to someone who has) the eventual response by the music industry was to provide streaming services (I know it’s much deeper than this, but let’s face it, it was all they could do) and everyone jumped on it as, well, for all intents and purposes, it was still free. These days a lot people pay a company like Spotify about £10 a month to lose the adverts but in my experience, in just talking to people, most people just put up with the adverts and have it for free, because right now, that concept of ‘free’ music, or a variation of it, is legal.
What does that do for the bands? And I know what you are all thinking, 99% of the bands didn’t get an income from record sales so this doesn’t apply, but I’m looking at the large-scale acts here… obviously, a massive chunk of their income has gone. Completely. There is that famous break down of payments from Spotify that shows that a band in 2016 who had their songs streamed over 1,000,000 times and received a total payment of just under $5000. At this point, I could list how much that would have broken down if those had been airs on the radio or physical sales, but I won’t, because we all know that an income from that would be well in excess of $5000.
You know what this means, don’t you? Of course, I mean that the bands, record companies, management etc etc have to reclaim their income from elsewhere (as they ain't going to take a pay cut) and the only viable place to do that is either via endorsement deals (rare that they pay that well), merch sales (and those are now pirated ridiculously – just check out all the many adverts in your FB feed of companies selling cool band related shirts) and touring. Before the Napster revolution a band used to tour to support the album in order to provoke sales, but these days it’s pretty well their only source of real income. This is a hard pill for us to swallow, especially when you consider that the most expensive tickets these days are bands like Rolling Stones (and I’m pretty certain they’re fairly comfortable financially) but they are still a business, and guys who manage them aren’t going to let them go out on a tour to support an album that won’t sell, so that income figure has to come from somewhere else.
The fans fault (and yes, this is a little tongue in cheek)
Our expectations of live shows are somewhat more complicated than they used to be… Long gone are the days when you see a band and it’s a bunch of people playing the hell out of their instruments with a few lights behind them, you now have full interactive shows with everything from massive custom built OLED video screens showing content aimed specifically to the night of the performance, to fireworks, light shows that are just incredible, complicated sets with raising platforms etc and just about everything else… Shows are now events. Each time we go to see a show we expect it to blow us clean off our feet, it has to be better than the last one we saw so touring bands are obliged to up their game every time. It all kinda adds up. As an amusing aside to this concept of crowd expectation, a mate of mine – Tim Stark - is the chief builder at Mansons Guitar Works, so he makes every guitar Matt Bellamy plays, both in the studio and on tour. Those of you who have caught a live show from Muse knows what this means, as it’s expected now by the crowd… Let’s just say that the expectation of the crowd keeps Tim a very busy man, and those guitars are hand built in the UK, so they aren’t a $100 Squier used for the final song of the night!
The sad thing is that due to the way everything pans out, we are unlikely to see concert tickets come down to a more sustainable level for your regular person any time soon. You will always be able to see your favourite band, well, I doubt you’ll see them, but you’ll be able to hear them as you’ll be SO far away from them you’ll end up just seeing the video screens. The reason many people took the Napster route, and all the services that followed them, was because they couldn’t afford to buy all the music they wanted so they downloaded it. Stole it. The people who could afford to buy the music still did… And now, the people who could afford to buy the music still can and now they are the only ones who can realistically afford to pay top dollar to see the best bands, actually see them. The irony is not lost on me.
Here’s a final thought - I travelled 400 miles (round trip) by bus to see 6 bands in 1988… Helloween, Guns and Roses (full original band), Megadeth, David Lee Roth (with Vai), Kiss (without makeup) and Iron Maiden (full “7th Tour of a 7th Tour” production) for a total cost of £31 (about $60 USD at the time). Even with inflation that only comes to £80 ($115 USD) today. I wonder what that show would cost now?
Unlike me to start a blog post with the pure intention of starting an argument! But, you know, sometimes it just has to be done. For those of you who are unfortunate enough to know me in some way will know about my music preferences... My favourite players are on a constant rotation of being ‘the best’ in my head. There isn’t a day go by that I don’t listen to Gilmour, I have epic binges of Vai, Brent Mason is the ultimate studio musician I can think off, Jerry Reed is THE man, Randy Rhoads is immortal… Nuno has the right hand of the Gods.. etc etc. You know how it goes.
The strange thing about this, or maybe I should say “strange beautiful music” thing about this is that very rarely do I stand up and gush about Satriani, but in recent times I’ve been on a Satch trip that appears to be never ending. And it’s lead me to this conclusion. Joe Satriani is the ultimate rock guitar player.
Right, OK. So let’s get this out of the way. No one can EVER take away the impact of the three guys that made rock guitar what it is today, without them we simply wouldn’t have the music we have… So, Eddie Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix and Tommy Iommi. Accepted, vital. They are the heart of it all… but in 2018, are they the greatest?
Here is why I think Satch wins this title (of course, this is a massive subjective issue). Of course there will be dissenting arguments, however... I need to keep the word count down so I'll try to put it in bullet points, this could have been a definitive 20k word thesis!
When you break down what Joe’s music is, primarily you’ll find a shedfull of hooks. Little lead lines that you hum along too. And then right after that, some weird crap that no one can comprehend (at the time) will fall out of your speakers and you end up looking at the CD case (I’m thinking back here to when I first got his music in the 80’s) thinking “What the hell are you on?”. Then, more hooks, more melodies, more weird crap, melodies, hooks… This is where Joe wins for me, the melodic element. I mean, if you look at EVH and Vai, that’s the one thing they miss in their playing. Those hummable melodies that appear in EVERY song, usually multiple times. As musicians, we are constantly looking for melodies and hooks, Joe seems to have them falling out of everything he writes.
Joe’s playing is flawless, in every respect. Whether he be grooving along, sweep picking, tapping, legatoing (is that a real word?) or anything else, he does it perfectly. If you listen to ANY of Joe’s live recordings, or have seen him live, you’ll notice that he is complete control of his instrument at all times. How he manages to hold the whole thing at the edge of feedback in that way and only have it come in at certain times is beyond me… His right hand is permanently locked in, his left hand never seems to drop a note at all, basically, in terms of the physical act of playing, there isn’t a thing wrong.
This may not be a big one to those who are younger than I am, or weren’t into this style of music when it was released, but believe me, back in the day when Joe erupted onto the scene, it was like nothing we’d ever heard before. I was very fortunate as I was introduced to Joe’s music in the mid 80’s, I was early teens, and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I had heard Vai on DLR, I was well into EVH, Hendrix and all the others… but there was just something else unheard of here. I can remember with pretty well complete clarity the first time I put Surfin’ on, the title track was all well and good – but it was the following three tracks that confused the hell out of me. “Ice 9”, “Crushing Day” and “Always With Me, Always With You”. From that moment on, every album of Joe’s that I inhaled just blew my socks off. How many other people listened to “Mystical Potato Head Groove Thing” the first time and played it again and again thinking “What the hell was that and how the hell did he do it?”. Also, when we are talking about Joe being an innovator. Let’s remember, he taught Vai how to play, Alex Skolnick, Kirk Hammet (don’t go there, that’s another conversation, but if you want to, listen to Master of Puppets, And Justice For All etc and then stop talking) and so many other outrageously good players, you have to take note of the mans impact.
Who else can go out on stage every night, out Voldemort Voldemort and smile while playing like that. You gotta admit, he’s so damn cool it’s just not funny. Even at 61, he’s still a sizeable amount cooler than any of the younger crop of players out there today.
I’ve often heard that Joe is just one major scale away from being a major scale himself, maybe that’s why I love it so much, as I’m a fan of things being in a major key and even when he’s in a minor key it sounds major. I’m not going to delve into his theoretical approach via his concept of pitch axis etc, but everything is about the music and not just the mindless widdlewiddle that so many shredders rely on. This is where he sits apart from players like EVH, sometimes on EVH solos it’s just insanity and all over the place, in the best possible way, but with Joe it always feels like it’s just the song but in solo form. The only people who come close to constructing solos in this way, maybe Andy Timmons or Nuno Bettencourt.
Dude, he taught Steve Vai. End of argument.
As you can imagine, I’ve been writing this while listening to Joe, in particular, the Live! album from 2006. In between grabbing my guitar to play along, or the epic amounts of air drums I’ve been subjecting my wife and kids too (much to their amusement) and generally blubbering on about something that I have no right too, or been able to articulate properly, because it’s all just opinion and you know what they say about opinions. And what they are like. But, I ask you this… put personal favourite’s aside (Joe is not my favourite, at least not today, but who knows what tomorrow will bring?) and think about the wider scope of modern rock guitar and the person who has been consistently updating the genre for 35 years. Once again I’ll refer to the main arguing points… Vai: technique, stage presence, insanity… the top of the tree. EVH: Without him there would be none of this I expect, he broke the mould, but he only broke it once. Hendrix. In my own (highly contentious opinion) he was a blues player, although once again, without Jimi there wouldn’t be the others (but then again we can take that all the back to Chuck Berry and further). Who else? We can list and discuss them all, but when I really think about it all as a whole, it always comes down to one man. Joe Satriani.
Now, as the much-overused meme says… “Change my mind!” - but before you do, watch this. This has absolutely everything in it and just shows what a master of his instrument he truly is...
A question we get asked a lot is “how does someone become a signature artist and get their own pedal?”. Well, as with everything else, there is no rule book, but if there was one it would contain so many variables it would be impossible to give an explanation of the sure-fire route.
Right now we have a signature pedal at proto stage, one in ‘headscratching’ phase, and another in the negotiation phase, so it’s safe to say that this is subject that’s in my head a lot at the moment. So, for my own benefit in the process of consolidating all the information, I can give you a run-down of what is needed.
Let’s start at the business end of things. Why does a company bring out a signature unit? The obvious answer to that is the mysterious phenomenon known as “exposure”. If you look at our first two, Brent Mason and Brad Paisley (who now has 2, the regular and the deluxe), it’s easy to see why we did it. We were a very young company when Brent and Brian worked on the original Hot Wired, and when it was released it instantly gave us a good reputation and a great platform to market the brand from, and go on to have the brand come to the attention of a lot of people, myself included. I cannot begin to tell you what this pedal did for us as a company… Brent is one of the most respected musicians in the world, so to have his name on a pedal and have him use that pedal on countless recordings was massive to us. A couple of years later, we launched the Paisley Drive (the first release I was involved in) and that exploded the brand to a much bigger audience around the world and it’s safe to say that the high-end pedal world was now completely aware of Wampler and what we could do… 3 years after that, we did the signature pedal - the Dual Fusion - that made everyone say “What?” and has gone on to become one of the best-selling Wamplers of all time.
Tom Quayle was a relative unknown at the time, big amongst a certain genre of players (who followed him fanatically), but to the rest of the world, unknown. What we wanted from Tom was to not only bring the pedal into his genre (which was exploding), but also be part of a pedal that he was already using (although in separate units) that we felt could be massive to the market – provided we could match up our vision for it with his (which luckily for all involved was extremely simple, it was great fun working out how we wanted it and thinking up the features at the time what were revolutionary). He had found his tone with the Euphoria and Paisley stacked, and we knew that a dual pedal with these two elements (althought modified to suit him and the single pedal format) would be enormous. Also, having got to know him, we knew that he would market the living daylights out of that pedal at countless trade shows, videos, social media outlets, and just about everywhere else… Tom is one of the most hardworking guitar players I know that is often appearing at seminars, shows… just about everywhere around the world. We also knew that providing he stay true to himself (which to anyone who knows Tom knows that is what he always does) at some point in the future the rest of the industry was going to catch up with us and his name and picture would all over the place.
What does all of the above mean when looking at it closely it? Well, to a signature artist you have to fall into 1 of 3 categories:
- Is their idea for a pedal so unique and original that you have to sign them up then and there to being this piece of genius to market? (extremely unlikely, I would say impossible – “Hey man, I’ve got a great idea for a new pedal, no one has ever done this before”… the reality is – they may not have done it, but I can almost guarantee you that one of us would have thought about it at some point and gone on to discard the concept.)
- Is the artist in question so famous, and relevant, that just having their name on your pedal will explode your brand around the world? (unlikely, but when they come along, happy days – I mean, no one in their right mind would turn down a superstar like Brent or Brad.)
- Is the concept of the artist/pedal combination something that people will relate to - and will the artist network/promote you so much that the amount of traction gained from your combined marketing efforts going to make something truly special? (the most likely)
Now, it’s fairly obvious that as of today, we’ve had two #2’s and a #3 in our list. A lot of people mistakenly think that in order to get a deal you need to be #1 (everyone thinks they have THE next big idea which is usually, well… not so big), a lot of the people who think they are #2 are usually a few years past that point of their career (or are in no way big enough to even think about it) so think it will be a steady income stream for them for doing nothing, yet no one thinks about the concept of #3.
In order to be a signature artist, you have to have something special. Yes, you need to have the talent and ears to make it even to discussion stage, but what about the rest of it? To do it, and do it successfully, you have to work HARD to get there and even harder to keep it going… The main thing to remember that as a business we like to sell a lot of pedals and it is an aggressive marketplace out there with countless elements working against you. We’ve found that the people who even make it past the initial nanosecond of consideration are not in the least bit concerned with the monetary aspect (the commission) and are only interested in realising their vision for their sound by working together, combining ours and their marketing platforms, and most importantly… the vision for the future of both ours and their brand. In a nutshell - you have to jump in with both feet and take a ride with us, and sit right up front!
As you can imagine, I’ve seen a lot of people make a pass at us for signature units, Winter NAMM is a classic one where a lot of players are walking around in dark glasses trying their hardest to be noticed whilst looking like they are trying not to be noticed - and this year, most of the time, all I wanted to say to them is this: “You see that guy over there… the quiet one with the new signature Ibanez, yeah… him. He’s called Tom. Be like him.”
Well hey hey! Normally, I don't write many of these blogs, normally because i'm too busy doing the youtube's and the breadboarding (aka circuit design). Plus, Jason and Alex are way more interesting than I am.
In January a combination of things happened to me, and us as a company. One of those being that our company became recognized by probably the worlds best business guru, Gary Vaynerchuk. I know, I know, you don't care about business, you care about tone, right? Of course, we all do! Regardless, I wanted to take a minute and write a piece that we can reference back to every time we get business questions (and to be honest, we get A LOT of questions about how we do our marketing). As you read the following paragraphs, please understand that I'm coming at this from a place of love, and a place of wanting to help you if you are starting a business, trying to run your guitar/amp/pedal/whatever business, or just feeling like things overall are feeling impossible... like it's impossible to get ahead, and improve whatever it is that you're going through right now. I also want to point out first and foremost: The business isn't just me, it's Jason, Alex, Jake, Cathy, Jeff, Jerry, Amanda (of course), Travis, Max, and just about everyone that's ever worked for us.
That being said, I bring you: "Why good things never come easy."
Don't let anyone ever tell you "it can't be done", or that something is impossible. In 2005 or so, I started writing a few books to help guitar players learn how to modify their guitar pedals. It was intended to be a book that would simplify electronics and bring it to a bigger audience than just Engineering nerds (no offense nerds :p ). A little later I started building pedals and eventually quit my work as a remodeling subcontractor to focus full time on all things guitar tone related. So many people tried to discourage me, even some that were close to me.... but I kept going.
Around 2010 or so I learned of a guy named Gary Vaynerchuk, and bought a book called "Crush it!". His book excited me so much that I drove all of my employees, friends, and family nuts with his ideas and business principles, and insisted that we follow his lead. I think I've bought that book (and his newer ones) about 50 times and sent it to various people over the past years in hopes it would help them actually.
Fast forward to 2016... I found out that one of our customers knew Gary himself after I posted something about loving GaryVee's videos, who invited me up to their office, which lead to a chance to meet Gary (AND be in one of his videos)...
...which lead to Gary asking if I'd like to be part of his next book. That book is available today, and to all of my entrepreneurial friends: You've got to check it out - it's fantastic! Here it is... Oh, and make sure you check out page 48
However, that's not why I'm writing this. I'm saddened, humbled, and overall more than anything... grateful.
I'm saddened that people still don't believe in themselves. That they talk theirselves out of trying, out of taking a risk, the negative self talk defeats them before they even TRY to start anything. Even talking to people at other companies at NAMM, I'm astonished. When they ask how we do what we do, I have no problems telling them. The most common response: "Wow, that seems like a lot of work!"
Are you kidding me?! Seriously? If you own a business and you aren't going to give it 1000% you're going to get beat. Your competition, at some point in time, will take your lunch money and shove you down in the dirt (metaphorically of course). This applies to musicians, and writers, and creatives of all types. It applies to high school seniors who are wondering what to do with their life. It applies to those in college who feel stuck, or are doing what "Mom and Dad said I should do" yet have no passion for that area in which they (or more correctly their parents) have chosen.
Success is simple: BUST YOUR ASS AND BE PATIENT. That's all it takes. Work harder than everyone else, like your life depends on it. Do everything possible to improve your situation. Are you having money problems? Do something about it. Throw out the TV, and sleep less. Learn new skills. Are you upset because your coworker makes more money than you? Do something about it. Change. Change. Change! You can't have change in your life without changing yourself. But remember - life is a marathon, not a sprint. Don't expect some magical way to "Get rich/find love/become successful with these 3 easy steps!"
I'm completely humbled and grateful for our customers and friends who believe in us. We exist purely to make your world a little better. Granted, we aren't curing diseases here, but it's incredibly satisfying to meet those who have just a little bit more joy in their life because they are coming home after a long day's work and playing on that new piece of guitar gear that makes them happy. Or, they write a song and send it out to the world and that song affects other people. Grateful isn't a strong enough word. Just please understand that all of the youtube videos I do, all of the podcasts, all of the facebook, instagram, twitter, and snapchat posts that my team and I put out - they are for you. They are for your enjoyment, entertainment, and/or education. You'll notice we don't "sell, sell, sell" on 99% of our posts. We don't look at our business that way. We believe we are in the people business, not the guitar pedal business. I go to bed thinking how can I make your life better with what I have to work with and I wake up with the same thought. For now that looks like guitar pedals, but who knows - maybe it's amps, or guitars, or VR instruments, or something entirely different in the future.
To all those that have helped us get here, and to those who work for me, have worked for me in the past, and/or put up with me, I'm indebted to you.
Day 1, Wednesday – “…there’s two L’s in Hell…”
It started like any normal day, not enough sleep and getting up to get the kids off to school… Once they had gone there is that horrible moment when I catch Mrs Wilding’s eye and she looks sad. She doesn’t like me going away - we are one of those weird couples that spend 24/7 together and thrive on it so it’s very hard on her as let’s face it, I’m off to California with my peers and she’s at home - but she accepts that it’s a vital part of the job so she puts a brave face on. Once I’d got my shit together and packed up, I got in the car ready for the drive to Heathrow. Now, the journey up is usually indicative of my week and unfortunately, this year was the drive from hell. It was absolutely pouring down, in the most English way, all the way there. I don’t mind driving in the rain, but when you have visibility of about 50’ and people are going past you at what looks like about 100 and they don’t even have their lights on it’s just plain scary. The English, what are we like?
Arriving at Heathrow I quickly found my travel buddies, Tom Quayle (who was about to have the biggest show of his life due to his Ibanez signature model being officially released), Jay Henson, Jake Willson and David Beebee, and we started settling in for the long journey to LaLaLand. We got on early due to Jake being picked out as needing extra attention by the customs guys (so we blagged on through the line with him) and found our seats. The flight was barely 1/10th full so we spread out and for once, got as comfy as possible. The best thing about the flight is that this is the chance I get to truly catch up with Tom (who everyone who is connected to me on Social Media knows I love like a brother) and as usual he unwittingly gave me about 10 guitar lessons during the flight! Bonus. The conversation with everyone was as random as usual - it went from theology to philosophy, music to movies, life to death and a lot about how our kids are trying to send us to an early grave. The highlight for me was when we were talking about how people misspell, or mispronounce, our names that led to a conversation about what our Darts names would be, Jake “There’s two L’s in Hell” Willson and Tom “Legatenstein” Quayle. Believe me, 9 hours into the flight when half of the group had been drinking somewhat it was much funnier than it sounds written here.
The absolute worst thing about the NAMM journey is US Customs. We’ve usually been up for 24 hours at that point and you are made to feel like a terrorist coming through… So, we puckered up and prepared for the inevitable. For once, we sailed through with barely any waiting and I found myself on the shuttle heading to the Wamplers and NAMM. Arriving at the hotel at around 9pm, I was almost dead on my feet – I got a text from Brian saying he had just left the convention center (he’d had to rewire one of the boards) so I had time to unpack… when I got the message they were back. I walked to their room and Amanda was half passed out already (not a good sign) and the first thing we said to each other was “You look as tired as I feel”. You would have thought that we’d all just hang for a bit and get some sleep, but no, that would be far too logical. I poured myself into bed at 2:25 having drunk a little too much.
Day 2, Thursday – “…my wife really fancies you…”
BOOM, 4 hours sleep. Thanks Jetlag, you are a cruel mistress. I Facetimed my family then staggered down to breakfast. We got to the show and I had a nightmare getting my badge so was about 30 minutes late getting to the booth. I was greeted with the booth being packed and poor Greg facing it on his own… This is the busiest Thursday I can remember at NAMM. It seemed like we were packed ALL day. The first couple of days tend to be all about the meetings and I was lucky that I didn’t miss any (a wise man doesn’t book the early slots). It’s usually the day that we all fly off in order to see industry friends around the immediate area as well and them dropping in to see us – it was a delight to see the likes of Seymour Duncan and Phil X – who I actually got a photo with this time based on the statement “Hey Phil, let’s have a photo together as my wife really fancies you”. Thursday is a bit of a blur to be honest, we had a LOT of people come by and they all loved the new pedals.
After the show we went out to someplace somewhere to eat. I don’t actually remember where. But, I think it was a Pizza. Probably was. We went back to the hotel via Target to get some supplies, accidently bought a ton of beer, and went back with the intention of being in bed by 11 so we would be prepared for the day ahead. Amanda did this… Brian and I on the other hand… 2:05 I went to bed after we talked about the new releases, next releases, our kids, our lives, absolutely everything. And we had the first discussion about my favourite time of the year… April 1st
Day 3, Friday - “…Nah mate, you’re talking bollocks.”
4.5 hours sleep. **sigh**. Up, Facetime, breakfast, show. Got there on time so had a moment to properly catch up with the guys on the booth. It still kinda freaks me out a little to see Groover Jackson and Bruce Egnator just walking around, and then there’s Dave Friedman, and Joe Morgan… most importantly Jerry Best, Steve Elowe, Paul Wilson and Avi Elkiss – the guys who make Wampler work from the manufacturing and distribution perspective, in other words, the guys that do the real hard work! Friday was also insanely busy, even more so than Thursday. It’s great, but it’s a nightmare. However, getting to meet Andy Martin was a highlight, he’s as cool in the flesh as he is on video!
Lord Thomas of the Quayle rocked up to the booth about 11:20, he was due to play on the booth at 12 but he had no patience so instead of 30 minutes everyone got almost an hour of unadulterated Quayle. That was the strangest part of the trip for me, it was the first time we got a little PA on the booth so Tom could use backing tracks… When I met TQ at Heathrow airport for my first NAMM in 2012 (effectively my first NAMM buddy) I instantly liked him and what a journey it’s been since then. We are now what you might call family friends, we talk regularly about the real world, he’s been a musical mentor to me… we did the Dual Fusion in 2013, I’ve seen him progress into this world class virtuoso and I don’t mind admitting that I got a fraction emotional when he was surrounded by a large group of people just marvelling at what he does best. Improvising. Yep, this was mainly improvised.
Yep, I know it’s portrait instead of landscape but this was for FB – people tend to hold their phones upright ;)
After the show (which included me sliding down the railings outside that Amanda assured me looked cool, but the massive bruise I’ve been left with meant it was anything but) we went out to meet up with some of the members of our Facebook Tone Group which was just ace. We all sat around drinking beer and eating food, just hanging out – for us this is what it is all about. The people, we do this as we are all the same, just people looking for great tone, so to directly connect with the people we help along the way is incredible. I ate too much, drank a little and just had the best time. Thank you guys for coming out, it was awesome. So… back to the hotel for an early night. As usual Amanda went to bed and Brian and I went to the firepit by the pool for a quick drink… we were joined this evening by a few other residents, one who quickly and with the deduction skills of Sherlock Holmes realised I was “European, probably British” and basically took over the conversation for an hour. The conversation actually started with him telling me that Princess Diana was murdered by MI5, to which I replied “Nah mate, you’re talking bollocks” and the conversation went on from there. He was mainly interested in talking about politics… which considering we appeared to be polar opposites on that subject it went quite well, he was much more drunk than I was so I’m not ashamed to admit I kinda walked him around in circles for a bit and then forced him to contradict himself repeatedly without him realizing it. I was actually being my online internet troll persona in real life! And no, he’s never been to a shithole country before... Once he had left the inevitable happened… we went to bed around 2:30 after Brian fell asleep mid conversation after a few beers were drunk!
Day 4, Saturday – “…two middle-aged guys loaded with camera equipment trying their hardest to get into a high school dance…”
The mad day. I arrived really early so actually got to try the new pedals properly. Although I was slightly hungover, I really enjoyed the day as so many people came by just to chat and hangout. We had Andy Wood on Synergy, another performance from Tom and it was all just incredible. I just don’t know where the day went. So many people! I had a load of meetings with dealers, saw some incredible playing and hung with friends – in particular PapaGates himself, Brian Haner, who is one of my favourite NAMM buddies and one of the few people who can talk as much rubbish as I can with the sole intent of saying everything and nothing at the same time... Perfect.
As the show was ending and it quietened down, I ran over to see the “competition” and had a great play through a load of Keeley pedals (Super Phat Mod is HUUUGE), hung and chatted with Robert, sat on Stefan Fast, trolled Josh Scott, checked out Chase Bliss and popped up to see CatalinBread which was kinda weird. It felt empty, obvious since Nic’s death it’s not the same as he would always be there, but no Howard… Scott… I dunno what’s happening, but I didn’t hang around long enough to properly find out. I just couldn’t.
After the show we popped into Downtown Disney to see our friend’s band play, and Brian and I trundled off to the annual pedal builders party… Rather stupidly we didn’t check the address and rocked up to the place it’s always held. We were denied entry by a well-dressed woman stating it was a private party. We told her we had been invited… when she dropped the bombshell that this was a high school dance did we realise how bad it looked… I mean, two middle aged guys loaded with camera equipment trying their hardest to get into a high school dance… we made our excuses and left VERY quickly. Once we arrived at the correct location it was wonderful, this is the only time we all get together so the conversations are tremendous. I shared a lot of abuse with Stefan Fast, trolled the crap out of Josh, laughed with Robert and shot some video with Andy Martin. We had a very interesting conversation outside that concerned how one of us had been totally disrespected by a heavyweight of the regular effects industry. I won’t go into details, but there is a video up, and it’s been heavily edited. Us ‘boutique’ guys kinda stick together and there are a lot of us now that have lost a lot of respect for that one guy. I’ll leave you to work out how that was! The venue was open to the public and there was Karaoke happening as well – a lovely lady called Bunny who must have been about 60 sang some incredible older lounge Jazz stuff in a really low register so everyone who sang after her was just treated to a load of drunken pedal builders chanting “BUNNY! BUNNY! BUNNY!” over and over. I honestly have no idea who started that **ahem**.
We got back, intended to go to bed early… beers, firepit, 2:10….
Day 5, Sunday “…Where’s Heidi?”
Got up super early as it’s the day I go home and I’m always really excited. The booth is always quieter on a Sunday so we all did loads of playing and everyone just floats around to see everyone else. April 1 was discussed a lot, hugs were had, goodbyes were said and at 5pm I walked outside, got smashed in the face by the heat and jumped on the shuttle to the airport. I arrived at the airport before TQ did, and he woke me up when he arrived (I know, how classy am I – I was snoozing as I was sat forward in my seat) and as with the rest of the journey, we just flew through customs and made our way to the plane via the Sushi bar. A couple of years ago we were served by a hilarious woman called Heidi and we wanted to be entertained by her again, but our calls of “Where’s Heidi” were greeted with “She got fired because she… well… kinda…” and we stopped him there, we didn’t want to taint her memory!
The plane was half empty again so we spread out and slept for 6 glorious hours. Once again, Passport control was easy and before I knew it I was doing 100 miles an hour past Stonehenge, home and into the arms of my family and one stupidly excited dog.
NAMM is great, but it’s bloody hard work and extremely tiring. It’s the only time I get to spend one on one time with Brian and we make more plans in those 5 days than we do in the next 360. I see the most inspiring players and come back a better player. Unfortunately for me and my family I was completely dehydrated when I got back and the next 2 days were a complete write off. I blame Brian. It’s always his fault.