General Chat (40)
Yesterday, this question was asked on the Wampler Pedals tonegroup on Facebook.
“Do you ever get to a point in your music that you just feel stuck where you’re at? And that you find yourself losing sight of where you need to be in your music to inspire yourself to learn new things? What do you do to re-inspire yourself to get you back on track?”
This struck somewhat of a chord with me (da daaaaaa) and my personal experience is why I have so many strings (da daaaaaaaa) to my bow as a player. You see, I’ve been in so many ruts with my playing I think I could write a book on how to get out of them. Well, maybe not a book, but probably a blog piece.
So, in the many ruts I’ve historically been in, how did I elevate myself out of them? The trouble I’ve been in is that I’ve been in one for a while and I was lifted out of it this weekend. But, I’ll get to that in a minute.
- The first and most important thing I’ve done as a player is to see live music. As much as I could, as often as I could. My wife always kinda laughs at me when we see music together as, apparently, I stare at the guitar player’s hands, all the time. My concentration levels are so high I am barely aware of the world around me, I’m just drinking it in. Absolutely everything they do. Notes, rhythms, vibrato, phrasing… everything. I just watch them. Any decent player, that doesn’t have to be decent on the level other than playing in a local pub band, will have something to offer you if you only pay attention. For example, on Saturday our band shared a bill with a Reggae/Dub band called The Barefoot Bandit. I quite like Reggae and Ska, so I was always going to like it, but they had a guitarist in that band (Harry) that enthralled me. He had the kind of right hand you don’t come across often, his rhythm work was sublime – yet subtle, his chord inversions were perfect (he was complimenting the other guitar player of the band) and his solos were genre perfect. When we went on after them I was so inspired to make my right hand stand out better. I didn’t play anywhere near as many notes as I usually do, but I hope I was a little funkier. Ever since then, I’m been working on my right hand, I hadn’t planned to, but it’s opened a new door for me.
- The second most important thing I’ve done is learned that it’s not all about your preconception/expectation of a player. View every player you hear/see as a potential teacher and take something away from them for yourself. If you pick something up from a player, take it home and incorporate it into your own. For example, the one thing Vai has taught me over all the years I’ve been listening to him is phrasing. It’s the same lesson I got from Clapton, Nuno, Beck and Quayle. When I first heard those players the last thing I thought about was their phrasing, but that’s what I’m left with from them. I looked past my expectation and found something they had that I didn’t. I unexpectedly learned from them, after I first got into them.
- Listen to everything you can bear to listen to. Don’t just listen to your comfy music, the stuff you love, stick something on you wouldn’t normally and try to hear something different in it. When I am coming home from a gig (when the wife isn’t with me) I often listen to Classical Music, or Jazz, or something else I would never listen to at home – so, use your radio. Put a channel on and listen to it. There will be something there for you to latch on to, even if it’s just one thing – the more you do it, the better you will become at picking stuff up. And DON’T just listen to the guitar parts, listen to the phrasing and attack of brass sections, listen to the depth and power that a certain inversion of a chord that is being made by the strings in an orchestra… It’s all the same thing, it’s all just the application of the notes and the intervals between them. Then think about that in your own playing, something will pop out at you.
- Don’t be afraid to stop playing, or go to a different tuning, or pick up another instrument. A piano in the house is the best thing for me to have as a guitar player, I often sit down at it and play with chord inversions or different scales over chords on the piano… I look at the patterns on the piano I wouldn’t normally look at on guitar - I try to play guitar stuff on piano and then piano stuff on guitar. Most of the time it sounds like utter crap but the thought that has gone into it ALWAYS opens another door in my head, and when I get back to being me on the guitar again I usually notice something has changed somewhere, something new has arrived.
How does all my waffle above deal with the question posed? When I’ve been in a rut I’ve found that someone, somewhere, will pop me out of it. Harry did it on Saturday, I heard something that I wasn’t expecting, and dived into it. I’ve also found that if I take something from someone musically and put it into my own playing, it will then open another door. So, if you want a challenge, learn a song by someone you never normally would. Then look at the chords underneath it, then take a hook from that song and put it in a completely different one and see what happens. You will find that your playing will become more interesting and you will discover a new direction to play. This is the reason I successfully play a lick from Steve Vai as part of my stock solo in “Bring Back The Sunshine” by Eddie Rabbit - and I’ve been told it sounds good.
Most of all, do not limit yourself to one genre or group of players. Listen to everything, take a walk with a different tuning or a different instrument. Primarily, just stop worrying. Someone will come along and scare the crap out of you enough to make it all exciting again.
Thank you Harry, you did it for me on Saturday.
I am at a complete loss as to what to write today. I had loads of ideas laid out in my head, I was going to talk maybe about the TC Electronic MiMiQ, or the new Quintessence, the Quilter 101 Reverb, but seriously, none of that matters right now.
I am despairing as to what has happened, as to what is happening. This is the third (that I can remember off the top of my head) time in recent history where a music event has been attacked. December 2015, the Bataclan - Eagles of Death Metal concert, 90 dead and over 200 injured by persons with automatic rifles. Manchester Arena, Ariana Grande concert, 22 people killed and 250 injured by an IED. The question I keep asking myself is "why".
I'm in the UK, so I was aware of this as it was happening pretty much, I get up early in order to tip my kids out of bed in time for school, so in my gently hungover state this morning I turned the TV on (as I like to have background noise other than my kids moaning about being tired) while I wake myself up by playing Clash of Clans and was greeted by live news as it was unfolding. I was, and still am, speechless. Confused.
Music is supposed to bind us. Music is supposed to inspire us. Music is supposed to bring us together. To attack a place where nothing else matters apart from the shared enjoyment of something that transcends colour, race, nationality, sex and everything else, to me, is about as low as it can get. If that's not enough, on social media, you get everything that always happens after, happening. People offer opinions, solutions, political postures, justifications, excuses and it all descends into pointless arguments that will change nothing and just solidify more hatred and more things to not understand about the world we live in.
I often get called names because of my opinions on humanity, and all that does is nothing but show the ignorance of the people who say it. All because I dream of a world where people don't hate, not where everyone is being treated with suspicion and people are judged on their own personal actions and attitudes rather than anything else. A place where people from all over the world can get together and enjoy music without the fear of being punished for it.
We exist as a company to bring enjoyment to the people who play our products. And some of those products were on the stage last night in Las Vegas. All we want to do is allow the entertainers to entertain and for those who are listening to enjoy the experience, it’s one of life’s simple pleasures and it sickens me when people use violence to disrupt it.
All you need is love. All you need is love. All you need is love, love. Love is all you need. And pedals.
Social Media trolling in 2017. Do you do these? I often get called a troll on social media, so I thought I would look into it a little and see what's what.
Upon looking I can identify four main areas of trolling in the industry this industry, and others, and I’ll try to quickly explain them here. This might be my “I’m watching you moment”.
The “Illinformed muck spreader”. Yes, I edited that. I wanted to call them something else, but I won’t!! Over the years I’ve seen certain companies (and people) attract hate for one reason or another – it’s a big circle and it goes around constantly. Most recently it’s been Josh Scott and his company JHS. Now, I’m not going to get into the specifics of it but I’m lucky enough to call Josh a friend (enough for me to partake in a little of the banter mentioned below) and be horrified in what has been said. Josh has made mistakes, but who hasn’t, but it would appear that many people are only interested in spreading certain things about him and the company, either by sharing a long since disproved Reddit link, or talking about something with half-truths, and then pass that information on widely. The classic example of this was when Josh appeared on That Pedal Show a few months back, I found myself on a Saturday afternoon putting people right on YouTube and them not believing a word of it. It’s so easy to share information these days, but it doesn’t appear to be that easy to get it verified first or to even admit when you are wrong when someone who knows more than you tells you the reality of a situation.
The “want to be in with the crowd, banter”. This is where the grey line sits, banter. A lot of people who ‘meet’ me on social media see the way I speak to my friends and then try to do the same thing back to me, Brian has said they are trying to get in with the guy from the pedal company, I understand that, but it seems weird. Some of the people I ‘troll’ the heaviest on social media are friends I’ve made through the company/industry. So, please take a bow Thomas Quayle, Jamie Humphries and Richard Lainegard (and many many others come to think of it). All three of them are now actual friends, but we met online, and the banter grew over the years. I think people see the way we all talk to each other (especially myself and Jamie, as let’s face it, we are basically kids in the way we act) and think that’s the way to talk to us. It isn’t, that’s how WE are, but just how can we articulate that online? It’s really quite hard… Mostly they get ignored, but sometimes you have to say “Excuse me?”, that never really ends well though…
The “Anonymous Hater”. You know the kind, they hide behind a false name online and then just drop the hate on anyone and everything. If only their Mother’s had given them more hugs as kids, or their Father had attended their sports events at school, they may be better people.
The “Classic YouTube Hater”. These are the ones that confuse me the most. As soon as someone drops a new video on YT, they press the dislike button, usually without seeing it. I’ve noticed that Rob Chapman tends to get a load of thumbs downs instantly, so people are doing it without viewing it. So this means they somehow object to him, I doubt they’ve ever met him, so you know… if this is you … just don’t watch it. You don’t have to. Remember, Rob is providing a service, in his own style, and if you don’t want that service, don’t partake in it.
The other kind of main YouTube troll that totally cracks me up is the vocal hater. Now, I don’t have ANYTHING to do with the company YouTube page (probably a good idea based on what I am about to say) but every time we launch a new video, that tends to have Brian being Brian in it, someone will ALWAYS say “Your playing sucks”, or “That sounds terrible” etc etc. As soon as I read these, I always click on the profile of the person commenting and watch their own videos. 99% of the time they sound like a beginner playing a cheap guitar through a crappy amp, yet most of them are not young and have great gear. My head tells me something about these people, but I won’t say it, I expect your head is telling you the same thing.
Here’s the important thing, the REAL players and companies tend to support each other. When someone drops a video of their playing online the real players tend to support the uploader, tell them they like it, share it and basically embrace the industry. The people who don’t appear to know their input socket from their strap locks are the ones who spread the hate. What does this mean do you think? Are these people just jealous trolls who can’t be nice, in the case of the people 1, 3 and 4 above, yes. What about the people who are number 2, just people trying to get in on the scene and they think this is what you have to do? It’s pretty obvious to me that what we are lacking online at times is social etiquette (and I also put my hands up to this one, there have been times when I’ve been wildly inappropriate at the wrong time that’s led to embarrassment to all involved) and basic respect for the people who are out there.
In ANY online situation, and as my personal reference point, I give you Mr Andy Wood. The benchmark for social media politeness. I don’t know if this is a conscious effort on his behalf or if this is just the way things were done in his house when he grew up, but you can’t find a more respectful and gracious man out there. If someone posts something online, and even if it’s obviously someone working on something and it’s a bit rough, he supports the person and encourages them. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Quayle legato masterpiece or someone like me ham-fistedly trying to rip off someone else’s solo. Now, Andy also calls people ‘Sir’ in real life, if you ask him a question he says “Yes sir” in his response (which has led me to look over my shoulder in the past as I’m not used to people being that polite and I think he’s talking to someone else) - maybe we could all do with being brought up in East Tennessee to get some respect in our language. You’ll never see Andy undermining players, even those I know he looks up to – especially those he looks up to, if he classes them a better player than him, he has respect for the player and what they are doing.
To the others, I say this. One day Brian may be foolish enough to let me comment on the company You Tube page, and I can guarantee I would have a field day with you, but you know, I’m not allowed for this very reason as fortunately for us, these type of people aren’t so prevalent on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. If you befriend someone on social media and they have a lively relationship with other people that appear to revolve around insulting each other, let them get on with it, it’s their thing, not yours. Be informed, if you are about to say something about someone or a company that is defamatory, look it up first. Don’t spread the hate for the sake of it, one day someone is going to go too far and get themselves sued. I kinda hope this happens one day, it would be a wonderful wake-up call to many people out there. And to the haters. I know haters are going to hate, but you know, all you are doing is making yourself look like a dick in the process. So, as usual, I’ll end this with my favourite saying: “Don’t be a Dick”
What about me being a troll, nah - I just have fun calling my mates names, it's what I do.
One of the more bizarre things I hear often is that I am “lucky” to do the job I do, I find it odd. It’s a job, sometimes, it’s cool as I get to do cool things (about twice a year) but mostly it’s being pushed for sales, deadlines, reports and everything else everyone does in their job. I’ve always said to people that I just move little grey cardboard boxes around the world, either by selling or marketing, it just happens what is in those boxes is quite cool to some people.
As I was writing that response to someone last week it put me in mind of a conversation I had with someone a few months back, who often gets the same thing (except his job REALLY is cool).
Before I get into it, I will put my hands up and admit that it’s the people you meet in jobs like this one that makes it cool, again, not lucky – as we work really hard, but it’s really cool to me these people for work.
Before I get into the conversation I had, here’s the obligatory back story. I’m ‘quite’ the fan of Mr Steve Vai, anyone who is connected to me already knows that, but I need to get it out in the open. I find his levels of composition, stage persona, fearless technique and all round attitude to life inspirational. Basically, he’s up there for me as a human, player, and composer. So, it follows suit that I’ve ALWAYS wanted to play with him. Ever since I first saw him play live in 1988 I’ve wanted to be on stage with him. Secretly, I’ve always thought I could do it as well, as every time I’ve seen him live I’ve watched the other player and thought “I could do that, you’re so lucky”.
Yep, I do it as well. Guilty as charged.
With that in mind, you can imagine what it was like - December 2012 - when I was driving up to London (about 3 hours) one Sunday afternoon for one of my first artist visits to a touring production, Wampler artist Dave Weiner. Dave and I had exchanged a few emails over the preceding months, and he was using some of our pedals in the “Steve Vai: Story of Light World Tour 2012-13” so I went up to meet Dave, take some pictures, and generally (hopefully) enforce our brand with his (as that is what artists are, they are their own brand, a brand which we try to align with in order to make it beneficial for the both of us). I was extremely excited to be able to check out what it took to be that guitar player first hand, and you know, I planned to kidnap him and then take his job!
The gig was in central London, the legendary Hammersmith Apollo (previously known as the Hammersmith Odeon, now called Eventim Apollo) which I’m pretty sure you will recognise as not only does EVERYONE play there, but there’s been some incredible live albums and videos recorded there over the years. I was due to meet my mate, and Wampler Artist, Levi Clay up there as I had a plus 1 to the gig, and lets face it, pretty certain no one would miss a chance to see Mr Vai perform like that given half the chance so he was happy to lose an afternoon with me. I parked up, went to the venue, met Levi and made my way round to the stage door. Obviously, security treated us with complete disdain and we couldn’t get around them, so Dave came out to meet us. My first impression of Dave was that he was quite cool, very smiley, and easy to talk too. We spent a good hour or so on the stage (a real ERMAGHAD moment, I was on the stage at the Hammy Odeon, with Vais’ gear) with Dave that afternoon talking about his gear (we had to be quiet unfortunately as Steve was hosting an EVO Experience at the back of the theatre), stayed around for the sound check, went and grabbed a pint and something to eat, and then enjoyed the show. All the time during the show I was watching both Steve and Dave, seeing how they played together, saw how Dave did his job flawlessly, and I must admit, I came away more impressed with Dave than I was Steve that night.
Over the following years I’ve met up with Dave on his travels a few times, had lunch, he’s met my wife, we Skype, keep in contact often with business stuff and all that, so you know, we’ve become mates down the line. I’m not going to do that bullshit internet thing that means everyone is my “good friend” or my “best buddy” just because you have your picture taken with them, but you know, we are mates. It during one of our catch ups a couple of months ago (Dave had just come off the “Passion and Warfare 25th Anniversary Tour” and was really 'quite' tired) and we were talking about work, I jokingly said the words “Remember mate, you’re so lucky that you have that gig” and he responded with something like “Yeah right, it’s great, I love touring and it’s an honour to tour with Steve for the last 19 years, but what everyone needs to remember is that I made my own luck with that” and we both had a little chuckle about it – because, basically, that's the truth.
Dave did not wake up one day and find himself, aged almost 23 as the guitar player in the touring band for Steve Vai. He was a Vai fan (he secretly ducked away from the main group of his school trip to NYC to buy Passion and Warfare the day it came out) but he put himself in the position to get that job. He moved from the East Coast to L.A. to attend GIT at a young age to be the best player he could be, during this time he worked as an unpaid intern for a management company that just so happened to handle Vai. Dave used to deliver packages to Vai, and spent weeks and months gently getting to know him before even mentioning he played. Eventually, once Steve asked if Dave played, he handed him a tape of some stuff he had been working on and then just quietly left, never expecting it to be talked of again. So, he didn’t just blindly send a tape in, he worked hard to even get to L.A., let alone to work unpaid for that company, and then worked hard to remain professional and courteous in front of one of his favourite players, not throw a demo tape at the first opportunity and just allow what happened, happen.
Imagine his surprise when a couple of weeks later Vai phoned him and asked him to learn 17 songs and to leave almost immediately for tour rehearsals.
Over the years I’ve admitted to Dave my insane jealousy of his job, asked him about it almost to the levels of interrogation, and he’s always been very honest and open about it. Dave worked hard to get that opportunity, put himself in a position to take it, and then worked extra hard to keep that position for what is now 19 years. Steve’s in a position to be fussy about who plays his material live, so as you can imagine, Dave has to do it properly each and every night. Steve isn’t a hard task master, mistakes happen and they are laughed about, but the laughter would soon stop if Dave wasn’t performing to up to Vai’s standard each and every night. Not only is Dave a stellar player who has to match who is arguably the greatest guitarist of that genre, he also has to be wonderful human being to be in that band, it’s well known that the Vai camp is family like, and people who don’t fit don’t last long, fortunately for Dave, he doesn’t have to work at that bit too hard.
So, the next time you think about saying “You’re so lucky to be in that job” take a moment to think about what that person did to get into the position to be in that job in the first place, Dave worked hard to get there and worked even harder to stay. He is one of the internet’s primary guitar educators with his subscription website guitopia.com (you should be a member, it’s awesome and I’ve learned SO much from it), he has released 4 solo albums with more in the pipeline… So, you know, there is an element of you make your own luck in this world - and you make it by working your socks off. I’m not going to be one of those people that blindly says “You make your own luck” with crossed arms and a bad attitude, but you know, you can certainly push it along as much as you can in order to achieve your goals.
The moral of this story: Work hard, play hard, don’t be a dick. Come to think of it, that’s the moral of every story I tell. I need to work at that last bit though.
You check out Dave on daveweiner.com - join his guitar education community (I'm a member and thoroughly recommend it) guitopia.com or buy his music from here - you should get them all, but if you like that rock guitar thing, I still think OnRevolute is one of the finest instrumental guitar albums ever made!
Here is a video that I took that night. It's all about peace, love and good happiness stuff. It's quite distorted... apologies.
Dave, Paris 2013 playing Ignition, from the album OnRevolute.
A question was asked on our main FB page last weekend that made me sit and think, it was a question that made me peer into the rabbit hole of my own history. Fortunately, for my own sanity and those who read it, I managed to stop myself going into it completely as that’s a place no one wants to visit too much!
“If you could go back in time and give your younger self any piece of advice when starting out playing guitar, what would it be?”
I started playing guitar in the early 80’s. It was one of those childhood memories that sticks out with complete clarity. I watched my older brother and his friend Rob working out a song by the Shadows called “Shazaam”. I just sat there and watched for about an hour, while they worked it out. When they got bored and left, I picked up the guitar and then copied what they did. I was surprised that I seemed more physically able to do it than they were, as I was playing it quite quickly. I then copied whatever they did on guitar until some point soon after I had about 10 Shadows songs under my belt and started working stuff out for myself. We all shared the knowledge between the three of us (Rob introduced me to a lot of rock and roll stuff and then my brother went off to explore U2) I learned quite a nice and interesting range of stuff as a kid, I thought at the time I was cool because I could play songs for 4 or 5 different artists!
To my younger self, I say this… in fact, I’m going to capitalize them as I want to shout them at me…
GET SOME BLOODY LESSONS: It’s taken me years to remove the bad habits I’ve learned from when I first started - I was only exposed to the music I really liked so I was narrow minded, had a narrow field of musical exposure and my theoretical knowledge is shockingly bad. It’s better now (thank you Tom Quayle) but it’s no where near where it should be considering I’ve been playing for over 35 years. So, get lessons, play properly and embrace the music your teacher suggests you listen to!
LEARN TO READ THE BLOODY DOTS YOU IDIOT: This is probably my greatest regret. By the time I was in my late teens and early 20’s I was, in terms of physicality, a great player. I could do almost anything. But, my lack of reading meant once again I was narrow viewed, I couldn’t stand in, I couldn’t work as a player professionally as easily as it would have been had I learned to read properly.
LISTEN TO EVERYTHING AS EVERYTHING IS COOL: I never listened to jazz, blues, country… anything other than what was in my CD collection. I didn’t properly first listen to the Beatles until I was in my mid 20’s. I had never heard Johnny Cash, Jerry Reed, Rory, Chet, BB King, Robert Johnson, Jimi, Muddy Waters, Grant Green, SRV, Jansch, Larry Charlton, Django… none of it until I was much much older than I should have been. I thought that because I had the “Still Got The Blues” album by Gary Moore I could play the blues. I missed out on SO much it’s hard to comprehend.
PLAY FOR THE SONG: I played to (try to) look cool and (try to) attract the girls. I never played for the song, when I think about some of the inappropriate Vai licks I put into Blues songs it makes me cringe now. I never played for the song. Only for me and my sex drive.
GEAR DOES NOT COMPENSATE POOR TECHNIQUE: I got a compressor early, this meant I could do a note for note copy of “It’s a Monster” by Extreme without warming up as the band opener, but only if I had my compressor with me and enough gain. Again, showing off. If you can’t play it totally clean, you can’t play it properly.
WORK OUT EVERY SONG YOU HEAR, BY EAR: I wish I had done this, I’ve learned so much from working out songs by ear and then thinking about “why did they do that?”. You don’t do that when you go and buy the tab books, which of course was what I did. I almost feel sorry for the people learning now as they have so much in the way of short cut respouces available to them via the internet.
EVERYTHING BETWEEN YOUR FINGERS AND YOUR EARS IS IMPORTANT: In my first band I had a wonderful guitar. An Ibanez JEM 77FR. Unfortunately, I put it through a Boss BE-5 into a stock Peavey Bandit 112. In other words, I successfully made a great guitar sound bloody awful night after night. These days all of my gear choices are for a reason. My guitar, my wireless, my pedals, my patch cables, the cable running to the amp, the amp, the speaker cable, the cab and the speakers. Everything is considered and chosen to make me sound as good as I possibly can. I don’t really have any weak links in my signal chain, although it leaves me vulnerable in terms of what goes in comes out, I’m a better player for it and much more pleasing on the ear of the audience.
PLAY WITH AS MANY BANDS AS POSSIBLE: I don’t know about you, but I remember mistakes on stage far more than I do if they are made at home. So, I would tell myself to go and join a blues band early on. Join a wedding band. Join ANY band, because you learn so much in those bands it will make you an infinitely better player.
DON’T TAKE THE PEOPLE THAT MAKE THE EFFORT OF COMING TO SEE YOU PLAY FOR GRANTED: When you play live in front of a fee paying public, or people that are supporting free venues by drinking the beer, give them the best musical experience you can. They don’t care how great you think you are.
FFS, PRACTICE MORE: Once again, as I was a flashly player and had the gear to allow me to keep the notes I didn’t quite hit, I thought I was much better than I was. It’s taken me YEARS to get my right hand up near to where my left is now, and it’s still waaaaaay off from where it should be all things considered. I’m actually a little embarrassed by my rhythm playing. I didn’t practice my right hand technique anywhere near as much as I should have, also my timing is awful, without a drummer or a click track I can’t keep in time worth a beat, although in my defense, I am considerably better than I was 10 years ago. So, young Jason, practice practice practice.
DON’T BE A DICK: Pretty certain that one doesn’t need any further explanation.
There, I feel better for that. I just wish I’d been around to tell me this all these years ago. And yes, that statement and all the contradictions within confuses me as well!
I was talking to Alex about a forthcoming blog he has coming and I (as usual) ended up quoting an Iron Maiden song to him. The song is B side from 1986, so you know, not one of their most well-known, but me being the Maiden geek I am, it did seemed appropriate.
Alex’s blog is going to be about common problems for people starting out in bands, and I instantly thought of the Maiden’s song “The Sheriff of Huddersfield” which was basically them mercilessly taking the piss out of their manager Rod Smallwood. There is a wonderful line in that (Bruce doing an impression of Rod) that says “Pride and Ego my lads, pride and ego, it’s what makes the world rotate.”
As I was then thinking about what he said, I had somewhat of a revelation myself, so I thought I would put it down on th’internet (one for the good people of Huddersfield there, and Yorkshire in general to enjoy) to remind myself in the future about my place in the universe and playing in a band.
I play in a pub band, doing covers. Nothing outrageous, but we make good noises at all the right times. We do our favourite songs in the hope that the people coming to see us enjoy them also. We are not a note for note type of band, we do everything our way – sometimes that way is like the record, sometimes it’s really not. This means I have a lot of scope as the guitar player to go off on one and enjoy myself with rather long and protracted solos.
Last week we played a gig and did a song we don’t do very often, “Bring Back The Sunshine” by Eddie Rabbit. We do it nothing like the original, it’s more done in a rock ballad style and I get the opportunity every time to pretend to be David Gilmour.
In my opinion, I did the greatest improvised solo of my life last week in this song, I literally gave myself goosebumps as I was playing it. Mrs Wilding comes to virtually every gig (she often plays the piano with us as well, but wasn’t on the night in question) as she just loves listening to me play. As we’ve been married for over 15 years she knows my playing well and knows when I am happy playing and when I am not, once I had finished my solo I looked up at her and she was beaming at me, smiling all the way up to her eyes and back down again, so I know that she appreciated it also.
Once the set had finished I went outside to cool down and waited for the inevitable glory to be poured on me by my bandmates. You may think I’m joking but we’ve all known each other for literally decades and I’ve been playing with them for that long, not as a regular member of the band but I’ve been dropping in and out for ever, so we know each other really well and we have absolutely no issue with telling each other when one of us does something really good, or really bad. I think it makes us a better band as we trust each other implicitly. I joined the band full time 18 months ago and we’ve often commented on how musically we are a good fit as we are all just fans of each other’s playing. I’ve said before I consider Rick, the bass player, to be the greatest I’ve ever seen and stand by that.
So (there it is again, I really must stop going that), I’m outside and out they come and I say “That was great”… the bass players says “Love that picking thing you did on Liza Jane” and the singer said, “Bring Back The Sunshine…” (here we go, I was about to receive the glory I so richly deserved) “… would be great if you went down low at some point, give it some more dynamics”.
I was devastated. Literally felt like my heart dropped into my stomach. Nothing about my mega solo at all. Mrs Wilding had said it was great, she loved it, she even recognised some of the set pieces I had done within it
It’s taken me until today to realise that my pride and ego have got the better of me, and for that, I openly and publically apologise to them. If I think the solo was that good, but it didn’t catch their attention enough to comment, then I need to make it better. I can remember exactly what I did and how I did it (which is rare when you are a prolific improviser) as a lot of it was sections of some tasty licks from other players put together to make my own version of a solo. I obviously need to make it better, I need to think about its structure and a way to make it more memorable. If I want to catch their attention, I need to actually catch their attention with something and not just assume that because I think something was good, that they should notice it.
Basically, I need to work on me. Pride and Ego my lads, pride and ego. It’s what makes the world rotate.
As you may know, we run an extremely lively group on Facebook, imaginatively named “The Wampler Pedals Tone Group”. Feel free to click on that and join us.
We are quite proud that in the most, it’s very unlike MANY other pages that talk about gear, as generally there isn’t much trolling and everyone is there because it’s a ‘safe’ place to talk openly without much in the way of come back. I say ‘much’ because as we’ve got 10k members, it does sometimes kick off in there, and when it does Alex and I have to make like Gendry and bring the axe to any particular party that might be in full flow.
At the start of the weekend, there was a classic post that ended up in somewhat of a 'heated debate'. It was the classic "Tone is in the fingers" comment that people reacted too, and then others reacted back. It was one of those posts, you know what it's like...
ANYWAY... This started me thinking. How can we look at this issue objectively and see if it’s true. Or if it’s half true. Or if it’s crap. At the very moment in time i as thining about it I received a barrage of texts from my friend Jamie, utterly pointless ones (because if I am being honest we have a similar sense of humour, that of a 12 year old boy, and are constantly texting each other stuff just to make the other laugh), but as usual they were very funny. As I was texting him back I had what you might call a lightbulb moment, because the best thing about Jamie in regard to the question mentioned above is that he has spent a lot of the last 10 years as the guitar player in the show “We Will Rock You” (where they are very very fussy about tone and you HAVE to sound like Brian May does as much as possible to be even considered). He is unique in this thought process because he has the rare position of being friends with Brian May and has toured with him... So, as he has spent his time using gear to sound like someone and then had the opportunity to play though that same person’s real rig, I thought I’d put the question directly to him…
JW: “Hey Jamie, I want to ask you a specific question but before I get there, I'd like a little back ground first... So, the We Will Rock You (WWRY) show, how long have you been doing that?”
JH: “I first started in 2007 as the sub guitarist and went on to be “Guitar #1” in Europe (at Brian’s request). So far I’ve played the show in UK (including the tour), Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Austria. All this means I have to do all the signature Brian stuff and I'm the one that goes out on to the stage every night and plays the solo from Bohemian Rhapsody as a visual part of the show.”
JW: “What was the requirement for gear in the WWRY show?”
JH: “We had to sound as much like him as possible, so that includes a Red Special guitar, Fryer Treble Booster, big chorus and authentic AC 30’s. I went on a personal mission to get as close as I can so I got a different treble booster, the one that is worn on the strap, had the pickups replaced on my Red Special to the ones wound the same as Brian’s with old 60’s magnets and even the Bourne Pots which are slightly different. All this is integral to the tone, THAT tone.”
JW: “So, how close do you think you got to Brian’s tone with that gear?”
JH: “To be honest, the gear is really important but it’s more about getting into the headspace of how Brian plays and using his techniques. For example, the sixpence, the belt pack booster BEFORE the wireless system, the using of the finger to brush the string, the almost regal way he phrases his runs, pre-bends and his vibrato. So, it’s just as important to use the fingers in the way he does as it is to have the gear, but it’s more important to get into his mindspace and work out what he plays and how he plays it. There are so many different things that make up his sound.”
JW: “You also toured with Brian – so when you played Brian’s gear, how close can you get to him”
JH: “I think as close as anyone can get by getting into that mindset, but it was still only really close, because I’m not Brian. When I am playing like him, I exaggerate the things he does to make it sound more like him to make those signature parts work, but I’d say it’s impossible to truly 100% sound that way, but I think we (the guys who really really try) can get close enough for a lot of people to question who it is, providing we have the right gear and right mindset. When we played Hyde Park in London, I got to rip through his entire rig at huge volume, because that’s my childhood right there, I was so happy… and it sounded so good, Brian and Pete (Brian’s long serving tech) where there, and they said I was really really close to ‘THAT’ sound”
JW: “So, is tone all in the fingers or all in the gear?”
JH: “It’s in the fingers, and the gear, but most importantly, it’s in the mindset and the approach to how you make the gear work and appreciating that the phrasing along with it, that is actually as much to do with the tone than anything else. It’s all as important as each other.”
So, what do we make of all that? Let’s think about what Jamie was saying, and let’s face it, he’s employed to sound like Brian as much as possible and he went the extra mile to do it (and, as Queen own the show he's employed by Brian to play like him). He can get really close by employing the same gear, the same touch and most importantly the same mindset. So, it would appear that tone is not all in the fingers, or the gear after all. Everything is important, everything makes the tone, but you have to be thinking in the right way first.
Jamie is a session musician from the UK, now based in Sweden. He endorses and is endorsed by: Music Man, Mesa Boogie, Massive Unity, Two Notes, Steinberg, DiMarzio and many other incredible manufacturers. You can catch him on tour this year with The Champions of Rock in Scandinavia, see his instructional videos on LickLibrary and buy materials from his website, jamiehumphries.com
So, I got to thinking the other day about the venues I play in… I’ve been playing in some of them for 26 years now, some are new, some have disappeared for ever and some have had more visual changes than The Mountain in GoT.
Before we start with this I need to remind you of my location, I live and gig in the South West part of England, a glorious county called Devonshire, better known as Devon, affectionately referred to as The Shire. From around here we’ve seen bands such as Jethro Tull and Muse (as well as many others) spring to life and has been the breeding ground for bands such as Radiohead and Coldplay. So, we’re not shy in having a live music scene.
When I started gigging, waaaaaaaaay back in the early 90’s I mainly played in pubs. Proper British pubs, usually owned by the Landlord and/or Landlady and they loved live music. A few of the pubs were owned by the Brewery, but they were left alone to do their thing. Throughout the 90’s I played in all sorts of bands, from classic rock to tribute bands and even some very early reach into a country rock band. As far as I can remember (and a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then) every one of those pubs, or clubs, sounded great. And by that I mean that acoustically they were fantastic, there wasn’t much in the way of sound bouncing around, loads of stuff up to absorb reflections and we could rock up, tune up, turn it up and rock out without fear of the room making us sound any worse than we already are… And let’s face it, I was 17 when I started gigging so just by the gear we could afford we didn’t sound as good as we could have!
Towards the end of the 90’s I left this area to go to University to study stuff that I didn’t need to know, and by the time I had left I was married and kids followed shortly. Most of my gear was sold off, you know the score, and I was pretty resigned to not playing in a band anymore, because ‘life’. I still hung out on the scene sometimes, attended the odd jam to keep my ear in, but it was by then something I used to do rather than still did.
All this kind of changed when I started with Brian, I started to accumulate gear again, my interest in playing the guitar reached new levels of intensity (I was interested in the notes I played now rather than how many I could play) and when an opportunity to join a band again came up last year (the band I took my first tentative steps into country with) I welcomed it with open legs!
Being back on the circuit was a weird experience. Some of the places were unrecognisable from what they used to be, some were pretty well identical, and new venues in locations you would never expect were all over the place. Here is the thing that really became obvious to me though, many of the real venues (of those that are left, but that might be a subject for a more intense rant at a later date) were now owned by large corporations, chain bars, theme bars etc etc. I don’t know if those things are ‘a thing’ over the other side of the pond, but certainly here the local pub seems to have died somewhat. You walk into a venue these days and you’ll be greeted with the same place as the place you played in last week, just in a different town. Guaranteed that these places will have hard floors, very little in the way of seating/tables and there are mirrors everywhere, massive windows… Basically, it all looks like it’s fallen out of a plastic factory into a prefabricated pub construction machine.
Nett result for live music? You’ll sound crap no matter what gear you have. And believe me, in this band the instruments/toys/back line items on display are incredible. We have GREAT gear. But, the sound bounces off these surfaces and just accumulates everywhere and tumbles into itself and the high ends become shrill, the low end just disappears and even a small pub has a lot of overbearing natural reverb. And that’s just plain awful.
Now, I’m not stupid, I understand why these places have changed, well – why a lot of them have anyway. These big chain corporations exist to make money, and mostly they do. They appeal to a transitional customer base, so they have big flat screens all over the place showing live sports, hideous music blaring out and sell high powered small drinks that are designed to have a high turnover. But NONE of this relates to a live music pub. None of it relates to making the band sound good. None of this relates to encouraging the next generation of future rock stars, or old farts like me who just like making music with their buddies, to get out there and do it. A room doesn’t need to be specifically tuned, far from it, it just needs ‘stuff’ to soak up the reflections. Carpets. Curtains/blinds on the windows. Seating. Tables… and don’t get me started on ceiling height!
We have seen many an excited landlord tell us of their plans for refurbishment that means ripping out the carpets and ‘opening the place up’ and every time we hear it our hearts drop through the bottom of our shoes, out the door into a bottle someplace back in to the annals of history. We foolishly thought that when smoking in licenced premises was banned here in 2006 we would see more places embrace the soft floor model (as let’s face it, cigarette burn marks on carpets are disgusting) yet even more now you see the ‘wipe clean’ version appear everywhere. You see hard walls with glass front posters hung, you see endless wide open spaces with the odd stool dotted around and you know that unless the place gets packed with people who intend to stay until the end, you are going to sound painfully loud and harsh for a lot of that room.
So, here is what I would like to say from this particular soapbox. If you are a live music venue and pride yourself in being one, take note of what the bands that play there sound like and ask them what they think of the room acoustics. I can guarantee you that at least one of them (in the band I play in, it’s the bass player) who can tell you exactly what makes your room sound better or worse than the rest of the circuit. Take note of the sound of the band ALL around the room they are playing in. If they sound awesome when you are stood right in front of them but back by the bar it sounds like the guitar tone is splitting your ears apart, there is a problem. Go around to other venues in your area and listen to the bands you have in your venue sound like and think about what the differences are. You’ll be amazed what a few small, and relatively cheap, changes can make to the live music experience. It’s not hard to see why the rooms with the best sound attract the better bands and most importantly, the customers who are going to stay and drink the pumps dry.
I could list all of the places around here that sound amazing, all the ones that sound terrible and all the ones that have recently made a change for the better or the worse. I won’t, because I want to continue playing in them because let’s face it, I’m not in it for the glory or the chicks, I’m in it purely because I love the music we play and I think I play with one of the most naturally gifted bass players alive today. Why he’s playing in a band with a guy like me I’ll never know, but he’s ace. It’s just a shame that a lot of the places we play in you can’t really hear how ace he is.
I’m not one for blatant self-promotion, but if you read this, and you have a venue near you (that is in charge of their own destiny) that sounds great, or not so great, post this on their social media, even if one place puts something up to make the room sound better – and it literally could be something as small as curtains on windows on the back wall, then job done.
*and yes, the header picture of this piece is that bunch of old farts I mentioned above, including me, playing live in a GREAT sounding venue!