A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of dropping by That Pedal Shed to drop off a Bravado demo amp... that we are hopefully will be featured in lots of videos of That Pedal Show in the future! ;)
After a horrendous drive up (I had to leave at silly o'clock not only to be there on time but to also miss the traffic bottlenecks at rush hour), I rolled into the Tone Shed just as the guys were setting up.
Dan and Mick had swung by the booth at NAMM this year and were interested in the Bravado amp and what it actually meant for guitar players, so once we had all got back Dan and I liaised and we set a date for me to go visit. Now, that Pedal Shed is in a gloriously normal Wilshire spot, tucked away in a completely uneventful business park, that is blissfully unaware of the magic that happens within, it always makes me smile when I go up just how unassuming the place is! The first time I visited Dan at the GigRig was about 3 or 4 years ago, back when it was just GigRig HQ and within it was a typically chaotic work space with pedals, amps, PCB's, switches, components and the general chaos of a productive workspace. Since then I've been back a few times, and each time it's been slowly transformed to the place we know today, GigRig is now run from an adjoining unit with the original location now the studio out back and general rig based workstation in front.
The best thing about walking into that place is the lovely welcome you get when you walk in, both Dan and Mick are genuinely lovely people so it's always a delight to walk in and start chatting (Mick and I had a lot of blushes to cover up, we'd last seen each other at a Joey Landreth gig crying like babies at the beauty of the music), so after that, I grabbed the Bravado, as well as my home made cab, and in we went.
These days, it's kinda strange to walk into that same room, the original workshop, as you know it so well as the Pedal Shed. Strangely enough, the only thing I can compare it too is when we took the kids to see the Harry Potter studio tour earlier this year, you just kinda knew the place before walking in!
I was lucky enough to be invited to stay for the filming of a couple of episodes, the Pedal Platform special and the Binson EchoRec (in fact, it's my crappy brown Adidas you can see in the top left of the screen when the EchoRec is shown) and was treated to a behind the scenes view of the entire thing. Dan and Mick work so well together, they intentionally don't really discuss the products that are on the show that much, preferring to see how they react to each others thoughts and comments. Dan is generally the nerd, what he doesn't know about pedals you can write on the back of a postage stamp with a paint roller, and Mick's practical experience of gear journalism makes a great blend. Plus, they've been mates for years so the jokes you see are unrehearsed, just two mates trying to make each other laugh as often as possible.
Before filming, we had a really long chat about the concept of pedal platforms, what they are, what people think they are, what other companies think they are, how much is marketing faff, how much of it is reality and what is what. They had a quick play through it to make sure levels were correct and then the filming started. So, what you see on screen is them discovering it properly, we didn't specifically select the effects, Dan just took the ones he wanted to try and played them. I was a little nervous when I noticed that we were up against a Mesa Lonestar head, which retails at around £1000 more than the Bravado and has a stellar reputation, so it really was a trail by fire, and a trail that was likely to be viewed by almost 50K people in the first 7 days.
In the room, the Bravado sounded phenomenal - hopefully you can hear on the video about how much more articulate it was than the mesa when using pedals!
Here is the other video filmed that day, Bravado is all over it! Can't wait to see what they do next with it!
So, this weekend marked the annual country music festival in the UK, C2C - or to give it its full title, Country 2 Country. Country music is largely overlooked here in the UK, it's never on mainstream radio or in the 'charts' (but let's face it, there hasn't been much in the charts I like to listen to for years anyway) and most people don't have any country music in their collection, they can't see past Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton and if you say Brent Mason to them they look blank. Sometimes though, in the defence of some UK pubs, you can often hear a Cash tune bouncing around if you are lucky.
This year had an interesting headline act for the first day (Friday), a certain Mr Paisley. Now, before I started to work for Wampler I was completely unaware of Brad - I was fanatical about Brent Mason at the time, but BP has passed me by. One of the first jobs for Brian was designing the logo for the "overdrive for Brad Paisley we've got coming out" (the rest is history, but safe to say my first venture into graphic design went rather well) so I took a punt on the "Play" album and from that moment, I was a fan. Mrs Wilding and I trudged up to London (us English don't like to spend more than an hour in the car so a trip to London is a big deal), checked into the hotel next door (show seat to bed, 10 minute walk, lovely) and went for a wonder around the arena.
Once we'd been around trying on Cowboy Hats and fringed jackets for a while (yes, all being sold there, so many clichés) we went in to get our seats, Chris Young was half way through his set (not heard him before, was good) and we got comfy. We were lucky, very lucky, we were sat stage left, about 10 rows from the font and about 30' up in the raised seats. I love positions like that because you can see the monitor desk, the tech area and slightly back/side stage. It does have to be said that it drives Mrs Wilding nuts as I'm often not watching the show but the tech work on the guitars etc.
OK, so all of that doesn't mean anything to you, but it sets you up for the position I was in for the show and being the second time I'd seen Brad at this festival (he was there a couple of years ago as well) we knew what to expect. The o2 in London is a fantastic venue, not much in the way of sound ‘bounce-around’ and there is unrestricted sight access for all, I did a quick DB check on my phone and they were banging out 95db, which made me chuckle as that is the maximum sound level permitted at Winter NAMM, which is generally only 2 or 3db above the ground floor level.
Bang on time, the lights went down (the band were already in place) and the place went nuts when we saw the famous white hat walk on stage. BP had arrived and was owning the stage! Before I get into the main point of this, I do want to say - being in a country that is famous for not liking this style of music means that when artists do come over, we are treated to a list of "greatest hits" within the set list - so, there is barely any new music to get through, you just hear the good stuff - yeah, I know, I'm shallow, but you know what it's like...
Right, so here we go. The first song was Crushin' It. And I don't know what happened, either a string broke or the strap failed, because towards the end of the first song he took his guitar off and held it as he carried on singing, the tech ran out and gave him a different guitar and by the time song two started, American Saturday Night, he was leading the band in usual BP fashion. Unfortunately for BP, this was the least of his woes for the night... As I said above, I was watching with interest the side/back stage action as much as I was watching I got the feeling that something was up extremely early on. Brad's tech was running around like a mentalist, there was frenetic action going on by the racks of wireless receivers and BP kept stopping playing almost every song. I think it was the second or third song (Water) that he first slightly put his hat down slightly and turned his head towards the monitor guy and started to gesture frantically, albeit quickly, to his belt pack. I don't know if this was intentional, but in putting his hat down slightly the cameras in his face (from afar) didn't see what he was saying so from what I can see, the majority of the crowd where blissfully unaware of there being any issue. The more he stopped playing at certain points the more I understood what was happening, it appeared that he had really inconsistent in ear monitors (IEM) throughout. I am guess that they dropped out about 10 times in total, as he motioned towards side stage each time, but the amazing thing was no one noticed. His vocal, considering he couldn't really hear himself, was outstanding - flawless in fact... he was sincerity personified, he told us it was the greatest night of his life, he loved coming over and all 20k people believed him. He did the entire show having a completely crap time yet everyone thought it was perfect. The only outward expression of his uncomfort was the heavily covered communications with the monitor guy, the often stopping of playing and his general demeanor once he had come off stage (from my place I could see how upset he was once he was out of the public eye).
The following day, after I got home, I realised I had seen a completely masterclass in professionalism. I had spoken to someone within team Paisley who confirmed that there was complete IEM loss, repeatedly, throughout the show for them all, it was "one of those nights". I remembered all the tantrums I had seen on stage, at a local level, even hearing one singer say "I'm a professional, I need more than 6 hours preparation for a gig" and this from a bass player "if I can't have the monitors there, I'm not going on" and thought about being stood in front of 20k people, in a foreign country, having to sing and not being able to hear yourself. I spoke to a few guys I know that were at the show and were at places around the arena that they couldn't see what I could, and they knew something was up but didn't know what. They told me that the people they were with had NO idea that there was any issues, although one guy was asked by his friend if he'd broken a string in the first song.
^ A video I took, although this was obviously part of the show where everything was working, you can see my view of the side of the stage and monitor desk.
So, Brad Paisley, I take my hat off to you. It was straight up one of the most professional displays I’ve ever seen, not just from him but everyone else also in the band as they all suffered, yet the show ran on time and without breakdown. I sincerely hope that you return back to the UK soon and it hasn’t put you off! Oh, and of course – both BP and his guitar player Gary Hooker are both big Wampler users and both had immaculate tone. Their tone was almost, almost, as outstanding as their professionalism!
Wampler are proud to announce the release of the Dracarys, Brian's take on the the modern high gain sound!
It all started when Brian was sent a link of Ola's band Feared, the song Pyscho Logic. There is a section at around 1:58 to 2:08 (just after the solo) that sounds phenomenal... With that in his ears, Brian started to hunt down other contemporary high gain sounds, listen to loads of tones and then started to chase them.
So, after listening to as many pieces of high modern high gain gear as possible, and talking to players, and listening to as much of the music he could find, Brian set out to make the pedal that will melt the faces of anyone who dares to listen!
You can purchase the Dracarys here, or it is available from your favorite local Wampler dealer or online.
Here's Ola Englund showing us what this pedal is designed to do!
When I first started playing guitar, I’ll admit that it was solely to learn the cool parts of songs that I felt were the “best” guitar part at the time. I was 14 and had all the time in the world to play, so it was nothing to practice for 4-6 hours a day until my fingers bled or exhaustion set in. Ever since I’ve started though, I’ve always felt the absolute NEED to play a riff or solo exactly how it was recorded. It was an urge or obsession at my core level that I would be completely dissatisfied with myself if I couldn’t reproduce the exact tone and nuances on the tracks. I would get mad at myself and just keep hacking away at it, one note at a time until I could get it at slower speed and progressively sped up from there.
As time went on, I found myself becoming a riff-based player, very dedicated to playing those parts perfectly, but not working on my personal musicianship and my ability to play things other than just intros or cool riffs from my favorite bands. This became blatantly obvious when I was 16 and went to watch one of our local bands here in town practice. These were all college-aged guys and I remember at the time seeing them practice how much their attention to detail came into play. I was heavily into punk rock (which I thought was easy) and they were a rockabilly band with punk rock and ska influences, so I was in teenage guitar player heaven. Their singer and lead guitarist was known in our high school for being legendary because he could play Eruption note for note.
I proceeded to watch them start one of their original songs, play for 10 seconds then stop and the singer said “Again. it wasn’t timed right. We have to be tighter.” This proceeded on for an hour of them practicing just that part to be sure it was absolutely perfect, and I could identify with that based on my own experiences. Then after they were done, they let me grab one of the other guy’s guitars to play around with. (I’ll never forget the rig: Marshall JCM 2000 with the orange crunch tolex, and a black American strat that had been beat to living crap from playing out so much. No pedals, just guitar and amp.)
The minute they handed me that guitar and told me to just jam along with them, I froze and had no earthly idea what the heck to do. If it wasn’t an Incubus, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine or Green Day riff, it wasn’t coming out of my hands. I froze up and had no idea what to do, and just apologized and tried to stumble through the few riffs I could muster up as my nerves got the best of me. I was lucky because the guys remembered what it was like to be 16 and just really starting out, so they taught me a the basics of I-IV-V and my mind was blown. I had heard blues players use that, but didn’t realize it was that “easy” (little did I know at the time how many songs are based around I-iV-V). I stumbled trying to get my pinky to cooperate as I played a 12-bar blues rhythm in G for an hour, all while listening to the other older guys taking turns playing solos. It was one of the biggest learning experiences in my life. There was no script, there was no restarting or do-overs, it was just rolling with what came along and having a blast.
I’ve been friends with those guys ever since, and I’ve learned a lot about guitar and musicianship from them over the years. Yes, they were dedicated to nailing the parts of the song that they were after at the time, but when it came down to it they enjoyed it, and after enough practice it became tighter and they worked the kinks out and it was like they were born to play those parts that tight. There were many occasions where they would play a cover and would just wing it on a solo, not following the one from the song at all, and really making it their own, and I loved it. It didn’t have to be exactly like the song, and very few in the crowd really cared if it was spot on (more often than not they enjoyed the showmanship of an added epic guitar solo).
After that day it dawned on me that no matter how perfectly you learn a song (which truly is satisfying), it serves yourself as a musician to get out there and learn the various scales and chord changes and absorb every bit of knowledge you can from more experienced guitarists to improve your improvisational skills. Learning those skills COUPLED with learning the riffs and solos helps to shape and mold you as a player, and subsequently finding your own “voice” on guitar. If you think about it, most of the greatest bands in history have never played the song note for note from the recording, and it’s that unique improvisation and adaptation at the moment that creates some of the most iconic live performances to date.
Sometimes a chain of events happens that results in your life being changed forever. I could trace this story back to how a pointless gobshite (to all those not familiar with British vulgarity, you're welcome) from England started to work for the fastest growing 'booteek' effects company in the world in 2011, but that's another story, instead I will start this on the NAMM floor, Friday the 20th January.
I was hanging with my bud Andy Wood on the booth, I met Andy through Tom Quayle about 5 years ago at the show, he's used our pedals for a while and we quickly became friends, as you may expect I am an ENORMOUS fan of his playing, he's amazing, but also of him as a human. Funny, intelligent and just a down to earth great guy, he's a joy to be around. So, as usual, we were hanging and he said "Hey man, let's go out and have a beer" and usually at NAMM we are too busy to do this, but I knew we were off to the Celestion Party that night so I said to Andy, you should come. Fortunately, he did!
We arrived somewhat late (no surprised there) and after enjoying the Arnie Newman Band for a while I found Andy at the back with about 5 other guys so I went to hang for a while. As we are guys, the introductions weren't quick, we just drank and laughed and had a great time. Eventually Andy introduced me to the guys, which transpired to be most of the upper echelons of Suhr. To one side and being quite quiet and reserved was this guy in glasses and a beard who Andy introduced me to as "Joey". Now, as we say here, the penny dropped from a great height, it was Joey Freakin' Landreth. I'd been quietly accumulating a massive man crush on Joey for about a year, marvelling at his playing and songwriting (let alone his voice) and here I was completely unsober and face to face with him. I played it cool, said I was a massive fan (fortunately I had good knowledge to back it up with) and we hung for a bit. I was picking his brain about his intonation (was delighted to hear that it's mostly down to hard work and dedication) and other stuff. He mentioned that he was doing a tour of the UK in a couple of weeks. Usually when this happens I get all excited for nothing as to most artists a UK tour means "London, Manchester, Glasgow" which are all hours from me (and let's face it, in the UK, if it ain't within a half hour most people claim it's not local enough to bother with) but it turns out that Joey was playing in my home town, 15 minutes from where I live. He gave me a CD (Whiskey) and put me on the guest list for the show - I was a little uncomfortable about this, as I was a little drunk and I didn't think he would remember, plus, I have absolutely NO issue in paying for a ticket to see an up and coming artist such as this.
So, I spend the next two weeks quietly (and not so quietly) trying to get as many people to this gig as possible, I wanted Exeter to be good enough for Joey to come back for. The last thing I wanted was him to be in this quiet big room and there be not enough people there for it to be comfortable for anyone.
Last night was the night of the show. My long suffering wife, Lisa, and I picked up our good friends Phil and Hazel (I've know Phil for literally years and years, he saw my first gig that was bizarrely 26 years ago that day, but that's another story) and off we went. The venue was a new one to me (last time I was in town it was a shitty discount sportswear store) and was desperately trendy and cool. Name was on guest list, result! As I walked in, I noticed large beards where everywhere, the fridges were stocked with beer that I had never seen before and being offered around there were pulled Pork or some strange Cauliflower canopé things. I'm more of a "pint of Guinness and a packet of Peanuts" kind of guy. So from the outset I was out of my comfort zone.
As I went to the bar (full of dread as these places are never cheap) I noticed a familiar face at the bar and it was non other than the lovely Mick Taylor, a long time industry legend who I first became aware of years ago as the editor of Guitarist magazine and more recently as one of the hosts of That Pedal Show with Dan Steinhardt. We had a quick catch up and a little business talk (I'm going up next week for something exciting to be featured on the show, although hopefully not me personally) had a quick chat with Joey - looks like he did remember me, which was nice - and off we went to find a seat. Fortunately (for Joey), the place had a very healthy attendance so we had to make do with a crappy seat at the back. The support acts came and went and then it was show time...
Now, it's taken me a while to get to this point because I wanted to set the scene. Sometimes, you go to a show and you get blown away and that's that (for example, every time I see Vai I am left speechless) but other times you go to something and the whole experience is what takes it from being blown away all the way up to a defining moment in your life. This was a defining moment, it was a masterclass, it was everything a musician - and most importantly a guitar player - needs to see at one point in their life.
Starting with just an acoustic guitar, he built the set foundation perfectly. There wasn't any of the trademark genius of Joey's slide playing, but rare moments of complete wonder within the songs that caught you and carried you on to the next one. His ability to hold the attention of the room, and to be heard in every corner at a reasonable volume (3 people talking at the back would have been heard everywhere but it just didn't happen) was spellbinding. As he eventually moved onto the Suhr superstrat and then the Collings he is most associated with, the tension and almost unbearable anticipation of what he was going to be doing next was palpable in the room. I first "lost it" during his well known cover of Eddie Cochran's "Hallelujah, I love her so" and then struggled to keep it together throughout. His last song was dedicated to his Grandfather who died a couple of weeks before was just stunning, there were many of us who couldn't keep their emotions in check, it was just one of those evenings.
So, why am I writing this - you could say I am on somewhat of a mission to make as many people as possible aware of Joey Landreth. His star is rising, and rising fast, and it is my hope that everyone who reads this gets to see him live sooner rather than later. It's one of those experiences that not only restores your faith in a music industry that appears to spew out nothing but shit, but makes you realise that the guitar is a vehicle for so much beauty it's our duty to make it talk, weep or shout as often as possible. I can't think of anyone who can do the above as well as Joey, but I walked out as inspired as I've ever been to play more, practice more, use different styles/voicings/tones/expressions and just be a better musician. I can't think of many other players who can do that to a middle aged cynic like myself.
Please buy his CD, see him live, or do whatever you can to make sure this guy - and lest we forget his incredible work with his Brother in the Bros. Landreth so we should include David and that band in this - are as huge as possible. The future of music will thank you for it.
Thank you Joey, for restoring my faith in music, and being just a lovely lovely man.
We get a lot of questions about breadboarding. It is an essential for any DIYer. Using software from 123d.circuits.io, we are able to give you the following tutorial on how to build a voltage amplifier circuit, or as many guitarists call it, a JFET booster. This is a basic breadboard layout. The battery, of course, represents your power supply, but any power supply will work.
The top and bottom two rows are all connected horizontally.
In the middle section, the holes are all connected vertically. This is important to remember, as this is key to how our signal will flow.
First thing we will do is run power into the board. We accomplish this by running a wire from the positive lead on the battery snap to one of the top rows. It can be any hole in that line, we just chose the closest. That entire row is now 9 volts power. And you do the same with the negative feed to the other row. That entire row becomes our ground.
If you are building a circuit using op amps, you will want to run power to both sides of the board. This is done by using a jumper wire from the positive row and the ground to the bottom two rows.
We are going to need an input and an output jack. Heat up that soldering gun. You will need to solder wire to the lugs on the jack. Notice how the negative lug is connected to the ring? This is where you will connect ground. The positive lug, which is connected to the tip, carries your signal into the signal chain.
We will now run a wire from the positive lug to one of our columns in the middle section. You would then run a wire from the negative lug to ground.
Now that we have the basics in place, we want to start this circuit out with a J201 JFET transistor. Notice how the three legs fit in three different rows.
Next we will need to add a .022 capacitor to the input.
Next we will place a 1k resistor in parallel, in the same row, with the capacitor.
Now we want to run a jumper wire to the first leg of the JFET.
The middle pin of the JFET can be given many different values dependent on what frequency response you want or how much gain you desire from the circuit. You can use any size resistor, however we will use a 1k resistor for this demo. We need to attach one end of the resistor to ground and the other to a hole in the middle section. We will then run a jumper to the middle leg of the transistor.
Now we need to run power to the JFET. We do this by attaching it to out 9v line and then to a hole in the middle. Again we need to use a jumper wire to get to the third leg of the JFET.
This is a little tricky here. As this resistor value will be dependent on what is needed to get a 4.5 reading on a voltage meter.
To check your voltage, you will need to attach the black probe to ground, and the red probe to the powered pin of the JFET. Then trade in resistors until you get a reading of 4.5 minimum.
It does not need to be 4.5 exactly, but I don’t like to go below that. Generally 4.5-5 volt is where you would like to be.
Okay, so the transistor has power and is working, but we need sound. Now we will add a capacitor where the power is coming in at the JFET. So we will connect it with the jumper wire that is going to the third pin on the transistor.
The other leg of the capacitor is where the sound will be coming out to your output jack. (Remember, when connecting your jacks to hook your negative to ground)
Warning: When you connect this breadboard to your amp it is going to be very loud compared to your usual guitar signal. This is because we have not added a volume pot yet. So let’s add a potentiometer. There are two types, wired and plug-in. For this demo we will use a wired type. We will be using a 500k for this circuit.
We will connect the third lug to the output of the capacitor. The first lug will go to ground and the second lug will go to a random hole in the board and then out to our output jack.
You may notice an added resistor in the diagram there. Very observant grasshopper. That is a 1 meg resistor that we forgot to add. It is attached to the first leg of the transistor, and then jumpered to ground. Our bad. So if we were to translate this to a schematic it would look like this.
As you can see, it would run input to capacitor to resistor to ground to JFET to ground. R5 is going to change in value as you bias it to reach 4.5 volts, then the signal continues to our capacitor (c4) to our volume pot to negative to our output. And so we just breadboarded a JFET booster. Well done!! :)
I’m a gear and pedal addict, and I’m always scouring the internet for whatever is catching my eye at the moment (Gibson SG’s right now in fact). I find it interesting when I see magazine articles or YouTube videos about someone’s rig rundown (or when you see some big name artist like Prince or countless others) and their pedal board was comprised of almost all Boss pedals.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it led me to thinking; do we obsess too much over gear? Why do some obsess over “boutique” gear while others are just fine with Boss or some other more budget-friendly brand pedals? Is our pursuit of tone out of necessity to achieve “the sound”? Personal enjoyment? Acquiring the latest and greatest gear? Is it a culmination of all of the above?
I tried to narrow it down to three types of players, in a very broad sense. This is a generalization, so in many scenarios it isn’t quite that static but more of a general observation than anything.
“If it’s not broke don’t fix it” – These are players that love their tone just the way it is and has always been since they found “their sound” years ago. They have no desire to change it at all. Many times the players that fit this idea have great amps that they’re accustomed to and know every nuance about them, and every tone they can produce. There are likely a few base effects, maybe a boost or OD, delay, chorus, wah, or fuzz (among other things). In many cases it’s not a massive pedalboard, but in many cases the player has learned to coax the tones out of a smaller board of older pedals, and they don’t need any more than that. There’s nothing wrong with this mindset, because it allows the player to focus solely on playing the instrument instead of twisting knobs and they know their tone and utilize every piece of gear with precision that fits the moment and what sound they need.
G.A.S. Hounds – (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) – These are the players that love to buy gear and search for new tones. There hasn’t been any official proof of why GAS sets in, but millions of players are stricken with the insatiable lust for “new” gear (new can consist of new-to-you, which is why the used market is massive right now). It could be the newest DSP delay that has been released with MIDI input, or a Distortion with active EQ controls and multiple gain stages, or a new Fuzz that’s supposed to be identical to one of the classic fuzzes Hendrix or Gilmour used. In many cases, it’s solely curiosity that drives players to want to try out the new gear.
New gear also can greatly inspire a player to try new tones and thus new ways of playing, which can be advantageous in growing their skill and finding their own sound. This works really well when a player is stuck in a rut with their playing, feeling like they aren’t progressing no matter how hard they try. There are many factors that could be discussed at a later date, but in general the GAS hounds are consistently on the chase for a new sound.
This leads to “flipping”, where a player purchases something (new or used) and in turn after playing it, “flips” it by reselling it in order to replenish the funds to put towards more gear. This is a major advantage to buyers and sellers in the used market, which is why it’s thriving so well. There are a lot worse things to do with your time and your money. Some people like to go bowling or play golf; G.A.S. hounds like to try new gear.
They just don’t care – There are a lot of players out there that don’t care what brand of pedal they playing, or whether it’s true bypass or buffered or if a pedal has the extra fancy functions. To them it is just a tool that they use to create music. It is like a carpenter who goes out and buys a hammer. He doesn’t necessarily need a certain brand name, just a good hammer that gets the job done. A lot of artists fall into this category. They know they need a certain sound, but they really don’t have the time, or care to compare delay pedal A to delay pedal B. They just need a solid functioning pedal that will get the job done and let them get their music out to the world.
So where do you fit in? Have you achieved your sound and are happy with what you have? Or are you the player that just likes to check out the newest offerings from the gear world out of curiosity? Or do you view pedals as just another tool in the toolbox, and it doesn’t matter what brand it is as long as it makes the sound you were hearing in your head?
The funny thing is, like most things in the guitar world, there is no right or wrong way to be. It really is about what makes you happiest, and what makes you want to pick up your axe and head to the woodshed.
It's Wednesday afternoon and I'm just about back in the land of living after getting back from NAMM on Monday. It's a killer trip, both in the new cool way of saying it (please infer from 1990 onwards) and in the old, I'm knackered. Totally. 12,000 miles in 6 days, 3 18 hours days, lots of beers drank, hand shaken, too many notes played, too many burgers eaten and most importantly, too many hugs that will probably end up with me getting NAMMthrax (despite us having branded hand sanitiser on the booth).
I left home at 10am on Wednesday, only had to return twice to pick up stuff I'd forgotten and had a glorious drive through England to Heathrow airport. Cold, clear and crisp meant I had stunning views of this fine country all the way. No matter how many times I see it, Stonehenge is not to be taken lightly. As usual I met up with the legend that is Tom Quayle at the airport, this time he was flying with his Guitar Hour colleagues Dan Smith, Dave Brons and David Beebee. Travelling with us this year was Ibanez and Laney demo legend Lee Wrathe. Many laughs were had. Unusually I'd not seen Tom since last NAMM so we had a lot to catch up on, especially as in August him and Cheryl had a baby girl, Inara, and I had a lot of photos to get through :)
You know that the show is going to be a good one when you rock up to the hotel, dump your stuff and find your boss in the restaurant opposite the hotel already several pints deep into tomorrow's hangover. I had some catching up to do... As usual, we had to set the scene for the rest of the trip. So that means Brian's atrocious English accent had to be deployed and my feeble attempt at redneckery was dusted down. They are both so bad and so relentless it was no surprise that Amanda beats a hasty retreat every time we get going.
After 24 hours awake obviously my body would only give me 4 hours sleep so I stumbled into the show early and was delighted with the booth set up. Not only are we now fully esconsed into the larger booth area of Boutique Amps Distribution (no, they haven't bought us) but we are right in the middle of the golden area. Surrounded by Marshall, Martin, Seymour Duncan, Friedman and other stellar brands, it feels like we've really progressed in the last few years.
Taking control of playing duties this year was the wonderful Greg Marra, a lovely guy from the East Coast who is living the dream on the West Coast - endorsed by Ibanez and Fishman - a great player and an even better person. A true asset for us to have on the booth. With only Greg on playing and Brian, Amanda and yours truly working the booth it was bound to be a busy time, and it was.
This was the first time I'd been able to properly review and see the pedals after the rebrand last year and I must say, I am delighted with how everything came out. A lot of time and money was invested into manufacturing this year and to see the consistency and quality at this level was amazing, it's really obvious that we are stepping up and up each year. Kind of feels like we are entering the big league! Every morning I tried to be in early so I could properly play test each of the pedals through the amp as with the rebrand came a new manufacturing situation, so for my own peace of mind I had to make sure they were as I thought they were going to be. You all already know that they are, but I just had to be sure. I know, tough job isn't it, having to play all of those.
The Bravado was the star of the show for me. People were amazed at what we were throwing through it and it not cracking under the strain, in fact, most of the time the amps controls were set to high noon and it just sounded amazing with every pedal, no matter what level of gain or how they were all stupidly stacked, it just sounded incredible - it truly is the perfect pedal platform. I think it made a lot of fans over the weekend! I do hope you get to try one in store soon, I promise you, you will not be disappointed.
The best part of the show for me is the people - the people are hilarious. There are some classic LA types who look like they still haven't quite got round to celebrating the New Year of 1985 yet and are still loving 1984, people who don't have mirrors in their hourse, people outside who want to save my soul, people who want to talk to you for hours on end about input impedance, people who just want to hang and have their photo taken and people who just love great tone. The best bit though, it does have to be said, is that I have NAMM buddies who I only see once a year, from Frank Falbo to Robert Keeley. From Brian Haner to Seymour Duncan the list of people is so long I won't list it here, but safe to say I am proud to know each and every one of those lovely people and call them friends.
In case you are wondering about the title of this blog, only when you've been in a big room with 9000 booths and literally thousands and thousands of people walking around, nose in the NAMM app, looking for which celebrity they can get their picture taken with next it's like a massive game of Pokemon GO - I only wanted to destroy about 10 people and their phones when they kept walking into me.
Enduring memories about NAMM, listening to Andy Wood almost nailing "Pick It Apart" by Brent Mason at 10am from a standing start (impossible to play almost when you are fully warm), trolling Josh Scott when ever I saw him and Tom Quayle breaking his elbow in the terrible terrible weather. One to remember, that's for sure.
So, the title of "The world's luckiest guy who's employed by a Gear Company" probably went to me last week, actually, a few weeks ago but let's just say it wasn't completely obvious until Saturday night.
First, let's get a little perspective here. A lot of people think I get given gear all the time, I don't really - I have stuff here for work, that I have to use for promotional purposes - it's not mine and I have to hawk it round to various places, photographic, promote it - yeah I know, sucks to be me doesn't it. But it's not mine - I have to test run everything (in a live situation where possible) and one of the reasons I am still here after all these years is in part I never bullshit Brian, if something sounds great I tell him, and if it doesn't, I tell him twice. I don't tell everyone blindly how great our gear is, I will advise stuff that I think fits the player - I mean, anyone who is connected to me on social media knows I am very unflattering about tube screamers, which probably doesn't help our sales of the Clarksdale (our version of the 808 with expanded EQ and clipping options) much... but those people also know I am honest and I understand that each to their own... How many people do you know who love TS circuits? ;)
Getting back to the main part of this piece, I received the Wampler Bravado here at Wilding Towers in the UK on December 19th (which is actually my daughter's birthday so it stayed in the box that day while I was trying to be SuperDad). When I opened it, I must admit quite excitedly, I was surprised to see an America power cable in the box, so I looked on the side and saw the dreaded.... 120v. D'OH. Great. I had an un-useable amp. As you may expect, I text'd Brian and said "Well, that's a bit silly" (or something like that) and what do I do now, seems insane to send it back to the US... Over the next couple of days Brian had spoken to the transformer people, and the people who finalise production on the amp and I was told that it's a simple fix, the change over of a couple wires inside. That would be great, except I can't solder for shit. Great x2. Armed with explicit instructions on how to change it I dropped the amp off at my mate Bob's house, who is an audio electronics engineer, with the instructions and £20 later I have a 240v amp... This was December 23rd.The date of our last gig of the year - I got the amp fixed, I went over to my friend Ray's house to borrow an old yet delightful 2x12" cab with the view of giving it a run out that night. And then, 2 hours before I'm due to leave to the gig my car decided to die. Great x3.
So, I didn't have the opportunity to test it that night, I borrowed a car from my lovely friend Kate and I went to the gig with my usual gear (which is a stock Fender BDri with a WGS Veteran 30) and as usual, my tone was lovely, mostly thanks to this little board of delight.
So, after Christmas I had time to play. I tested it with the Orange 2x12" (Celestion Vintage 30's inside), it wasn't great as they are designed to break up WAY early in the sweep, and I needed it clean. Unfortunately, they were soldered in so I couldn't swap then out (remember, I can't solder at all). Great x4. Here is where it becomes interesting. I have 4 WGS speakers here: the Veteran 30, ET-65, Reaper HP and the Blue Alnico thing, can't remember its name. So, I tried the Bravado plugged into the speaker in the Fender, first with the Veteran 30, then the ET-65, then the Reaper - all the time, comparing it to the 2x12" with the Vintage 30s. It quickly became a geek fest of tone, response, articulation, break up and everything else. Let's just take a moment to pass our good wishes onto my long suffering wife who had to listen to my crap playing, really loud, ALLLLLL day.
Here is what I found.
The Celestion Vintage 30's are fabulous for that dirty thing, when using an overdrive to push it, the sound is incredible. But that's not what I want - I play in what is effectively a country/blues/rock band in pubs, so I need clean headroom. One can't play Brent Mason solo's when the amp and cab is clipping... So, I'm keeping that tone in the bank for when I need something more aggressive... The real magic arrived when I put the Reaper in.
The Reaper. WOW. I just can't begin to tell you how perfect it is to my ears, for my style of playing, for my rig, in the places I play in. The Reaper is based on the G12H30 Anniversary edition, and it's perfect for this. Gone was the high end edge of the Veteran 30, gone was the break up of the v30's and here was the full spectrum tone of clarity and cleanliness of the Reaper. It would appear that my speaker choice was made and I set off to the gig.
When I arrived, I set up, level checked and over comes the bass player, Rick - who in my opinion is one of the greatest I've ever heard - he's so far in the pocket it's a thing of beauty, his tone is flawless, everything about his playing is perfect. Plus, I met him when I was about 15 so I've known him and played with him off and on for almost 30 years. He is a real tone chaser... he simply has the best tone of any bass player I've ever heard in a pub/club setting. ANYWAY... he asked about it, so I played a bit and he started to smile - we played with the bright control, the EQ and levels and we settled on position 3 for the bright switch, my guitar is quite dark (PRS Brent Mason) and I don't like harsh top end so my effects aren't set harsh... here are the settings (taken right after the first set):
We found that even at full brightness the tone wasn't sharp at all, it didn't bite, it didn't hurt (which it would have with the Fender), it just sounded a little more VOX like, which was as odd as it was unexpected (at that moment in time I was regretting not playing any Brad Paisley, but that's another story). As the gig went on, my I had a lovely time - my tone was INCREDIBLE. I have never, ever sounded like that before. Everything was clear, articulate and powerful. Everything was perfectly balanced and the levels across the entire spectrum was perfectly balanced. We had a great gig, loads of people danced, drunk people came up to me and were talking incoherently to me, but while shaking my hand and smiling a lot, so I'm guess they enjoyed it. I was a happy boy.
As we were driving home (across beautiful Dartmoor, 1am on a clear winters night but that's just me showing off about where I live, it's outstanding!) my wife said something that made me think. Now, my wife comes to every gig I play - let's face it, she didn't marry a guitar player to be sat at home on a Saturday night to watch the bloody X-Factor now did she - she knows my playing better than anyone - she's a great musician - piano player, and she is a fan of the music we play so if I have a great night, she tells me and if I don't, she tells me. She's always honest and is only interested in my development as a musician, so there is no bullshit.
"I've never heard you like that before, you sounded amazing. You must have known that because you were smiling all night and you played stuff I've never heard you play before". It would appear I'd been more thoroughly inspired by the amp than I realised. I'm pretty certain that this was the Bravado. It sounded SO good. The wife said it was amazing, the drunk people said it was amazing, Rick said it was amazing. I'm pretty certain that basically, the Bravado makes you sound amazing. I put it down to the following. I have 4 basic tones. Clean, Tumnus, and both channels of the Dual Fusion. I run them Tumnus -> c2 DF -> c1 DF. So, I run clean, I run Tumnus, I run c1 DF, I run c1 DF with the Tumnus, I tun c1 and c2 of the DF stacked, and I stack the Tumnus into that... basically, I use a LOT of variations - we are a cover band, and there's not a lot worse than a sole guitarist bands who only have 1 tone. With the PRS (that is extremely versatile) I have so many tones, I can't actually begin to count them and every one of them was utterly perfect. Previously I would have a great clean tone, nice OD tone or a nice face melting tone. I could never balance them all out and them all sound amazing. Not even good. Sometimes, the higher gain stuff was pretty muddy, still nice, but muddy.
So, if you want an amp that is clean, all the way (well, as much as it can be) that EATS pedals for breakfast and can take everything from low gain all the way up to the other end, this is probably the amp for you. It ain't cheap, but if you have a £2K guitar and a £1K of effects (like many players in my postition have), why put it through a £1K amp. By my reckoning, people often buy an under performing amp, just because they have a famous name on them. With the Bravado, you will never sound better, providing you have the right speaker. This is why SO many high end amp makers appear to have own brand speakers, they get companies to make a speaker to their spec and then stick a label over it... Maybe we should do that!
Speaking of all this (pun intended), Rick and I are making a 2x12" - the WGS Reaper is going in as is the ET-65. It's based on the spec of the Wampler cab, can't wait to play it out. Keep an eye out for the amp, it'll be in stores - selected stores - try it with pedals in front of it... Outstanding.