Mojo - The hype is real, right?

Chasing tone has become a hobby as much as it has been finding the right tools for the job. There are a load of options out there for almost any sound you can think of, but despite the smorgasbord of readily available designs, there are some circuits that are incredibly popular that are less than accessible to get ahold of. Whether it’s the increased “mojo,” hype created by word of mouth, waitlists, or general obscurity from the builders and their marketing practices, a lot of gear lust has been generated over these types of circuits. I’m going to look at a few popular mojo-driven methods that may or may not have any plausible foundation in the grand scheme of things.
 
In many cases, most gear businesses start out small, with only a single employee (the owner) and maybe one or two extra people to help. When they’re fledgeling shops like that, it’s a simple way to keep things hands-on, and it’s relatively easy to keep up with demand usually. Small shops lead to less overhead for the business owner, but it also leads to slower production times due to fewer hands to do the work. As business grown, they usually add on employees to accommodate the increased workload, then before you know it there’s a small to medium-sized business with dozens of employees that all would like to make a living, as well as providing insurance and all that fun stuff. However, some shops decide NOT to expand their employees due to various reasons…it could be due to not wanted to increase the workload or the costs associated with employees, etc. So, what happens when demand exceeds the supply provided? Well, there are a couple of options that various shops have done. One way is to only release batches on a first come, first serve basis. This is fairly straightforward in the fact that specific quantities are available, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. This allows the builder to design and build at their discretion and doesn’t hold them accountable aside from the requests to create more.
 
Another option is taking preorders. This is a slippery slope, due to the genuine possibility of taking people’s money but not having the quantity available to fulfil all of the preorders if the staffing isn't adequate. This leads to long wait-times with customers having money tied up in a product that may or may not have a first date of when they’ll get their gear. Sadly, there are things that happen that are out of many people’s control that cause delays, or in some cases, the builder just can’t build but so fast and lead times get longer and longer. The result is agitated customers who often want their money back. And finally, there are wait lists. These are lists that you sign up for that require no money down but often have a varying lead time of a few weeks to over a year. There’s no obligation, so it’s just a pleasant surprise when your name finally comes up. The real kicker with all of these cases just mentioned, is that all of this waiting leads to massive amounts of hype and gigantic markups in the used market. It’s a way for the lucky few to capitalize on the good fortune, offering to fulfill the GAS immediately (at a price), instead of making the player wait for an indeterminate amount of time to get their pedal. The result is hyping up these harder to find offerings as rare and mysterious and highly sought after. The Klon is a perfect example, and the KTR is a more current version of it. When the KTR first came out, shops sold out almost instantly when they were priced right around $269 or so, but looking on Reverb and eBay, they were marked up to $450 - $700. It’s a pay to play market, and time is money when it comes to rare gear. 
 
Next up, let’s look at one-offs, special events, and custom or limited colors/graphics, and “accidents.” We all like something a bit different that stands out from the crowd. It’s fun and unique and sits like a fun little nod to being awesome on your board. I love custom color pedals or custom graphics that are different from the production model. There’s a certain “something” to them. The same goes along for special event things, like themed pedals (holiday, jokes, etc.). It’s a kind of nostalgic, cheeky way of chasing tone and having a bit of fun with it. But let’s look at the reality of the situation: unless otherwise stated by the company as being unique or coming with a different set of functions, these are the same production models internally, but with a recase for a special color. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that at all, and I love them, but it’s interesting how that becomes a marketing tool for the used market as well as the company. For companies, it’s a nice little nod to the players who enjoy their products, and often they’ll be a limited or very limited run. But if you search used ads there will definitely be a tag-line of “Custom color – rare.” Though it may be true that it’s limited, I suppose it just depends on the buyer as to what the value of a rehoused pedal would be? In situations like ours, we did a limited-edition batch of pink Tumnus’s, along with a few pink offerings over the years with all proceeds going to breast cancer research. The goal was to raise money for a charity, but we’ve seen used prices on these pedals skyrocket lately. The same goes for the Underdog, except it was also for charity but used prices have jumped to $400 or more. Not that the tones aren’t spectacular, but even Brian was taken back by how much markup things had due them being a bit harder to find. This is not meant to crap on companies who do limited runs; it’s more so a look at it from the business side as well as the consumer side.
 
Next up, let’s talk about eras of gear and the lust for certain versions or periods of time that these pieces of gear are manufactured. Generally speaking, new versions come about because the company felt a need to improve or change the design. This could be to increase the longevity of a pedal by upgrading components, swapping parts for less noise or adding features. Despite these facts that the new versions are designed to improve the overall sound, longevity, and ease of use for the players, there are still some out there that feel certain versions or eras of pedals have more mojo compared to current models. Again, some of these models may be harder to come by (but not always), and they supposedly sound much better and respond much better than the later version. I’ve seen this a lot with the Fulltone OCD and several others; we even have some of our older discontinued or revised pedals being collected. Admittedly there are some things that warrant thoughts like that, such as the Pinnacle Deluxe v1 having a very different control scheme than the Pinnacle Deluxe v2. In that case, it’s just a change of functionality and not necessarily a mojo thing. In the end, pedals are like puzzles, where all of the pieces have to be put together to reach the final project. Most of the time, it’s the same parts going in the same positions on the board, using the same solder. All that changes are the hands that solder the parts in or setup the boards. Sonic differences that may occur are the results of part tolerances being slightly different because it’s not always a scenario where every part is identical. The end goal is to make them as consistent as possible, and tuning them to be that way has been a vital part of keeping the pedals consistent over the years.
 
Jumping back a bit, I’m sure you saw me mention “accidents” earlier. Some of these truly are accidents, some of them are sadly not. Before releasing a pedal, Brian typically sends out prototypes to be tested (maybe one, maybe two or three). There are also some prototypes that are sent to trusted higher profile artists, their band and things like that. With the way the world is, people come, and they go in positions, and sometimes gear goes with them. The instances where those prototypes end up for sale is where it’s disheartening. Those prototypes are lent out expecting honesty and trust that they’ll be kept out of the reach of the public. This isn’t because there’s some magic, it’s because the circuit may or may not be complete, and the end goal of an excellent product that sounds great, functions great and is reliable is the end goal. However, the prototypes are considered gold, because it’s a scenario where it’s an opportunity to get something that no one else has. As someone once said regarding grabbing an unreleased pedal, “I just had to, ya know?” When in fact, no they didn’t. If you’ve been keeping up with our social media outlets (and especially our tone group on Facebook), we’ve been experiencing a few more leaks than we’d like to of unannounced pedals being posted for sale or shared by dealers. We plan ahead for months on a release, down to the smallest detail. It’s not necessarily the result of the release but more so the process we use to allude and build up to it. This is completely undermined and destroyed when leaks happen. We completely understand the excitement and the urge to share the info with fellow tone-chasers, but it also hits us hard mentally because of having the rug pulled out from under us so to speak. It’s discouraging and infuriating and sad at the same time.
 
So why did I write this blog and kill hopes and dreams? Mainly to set the record straight and clarify what’s going on with the magic in these sought-after pedals. Mojo is what you make it out to be. If it’s a pedal or guitar or amp that just feels right and connects, then that emotional connection can be considered mojo. On the other hand, there are many times where mojo created as a byproduct of desiring what can’t be obtained, the chance to try something that has been so hyped up, and the desire to stick out from the crowd. 

Synergy Amps - GAS

This week I want to tell you about a piece of gear I first played nearly a year ago. I’ve been sitting on this piece for a while, as I wanted to wait until it was released, and it just has.

The company is called Synergy Amps and I’m a fan. And before you start to think cynically, I’m not employed by them! 

As always, there’s a story attached to this for context, so I’ll get that out of the way first. When at NAMM I suffer horrifically from jetlag. As Cali is 8 hours behind the UK my sleep patterns are destroyed and I literally get about 4 hours of sleep per night, I’m not there for long enough to try to force it around with sleeping tablets, so I just live with it. The best thing about this is that I’m up at the crack of doom and generally get to the show each morning LONG before the doors are open. I usually take this time to do a line check on the rig and make sure everything is in place before the people attend the show, start attending.

One morning I was there so early the only people on the booth complex we are part of, the wider Boutique Amp Distribution booth, were myself, Bruce Egnator, Groover Jackson and my buddy Steve Elowe. Now, Bruce and Groover being there isn’t integral to this, but I just wanted to make you all sound the name drop horn in your heads – it still freaks me out that these guys are just milling around to talk too, a real pinch yourself moment! The Wampler rig was fine so I wandered off to see Steve who was sat at a computer, with guitar in hand, rocking hard. He was also gently cussing under his breath about latency issues, so I offered to help. He got me to play while he did something to the computer. 

I was playing through the new Synergy Amps rig.

At first I just played enjoying the tones, then he started to press buttons and all these different sounds were appearing, so I was playing different stuff on the fly as the sounds were so radically different. He then stood up and said “That’s better”. The computer was now behaving how it should so we had some time to play with the Synergy rig.

Let me fill you in on what this thing is. Basically, Synergy is a modular system that has ports which allows you to add various modules that sound and behave like the amps they are based upon. You buy the dock, a single or double module unit, and then load the amp module in. The docks are 12AX7 driven with a ton of different out options. There is a straight “preamp out” and an emulated out to go into your PA/desk/DAW - I was initially playing through the preamp out to a power amp, but once Steve had sorted the latency on the computer he pushed it over to the emulated out. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, I had an incredibly authentic Soldano SLO100 tone coming straight from the studio monitors that sounded EXACTLY the same as the preamp out, and from what I can remember about playing an SLO (which I have played through a lot) exactly the same as the amp – not only tonally, but in respect of response. The way it responded to my picking dynamics, the volume pot and the gain… man… the gain... 

At that point he started to show me the differing modules, which could be changed in a matter of seconds. One minute I was ripping through the SLO, and then quickly through a Friedman BE which was just roaring, then back into a TDLX which had the kind of clean tones you’d expect from a blackfaced, or tweed finished amp, then a Morgan AC that was SO glassy… and then… and then…. and then... 

After I’d played it for seemed like 5 seconds, which in reality was almost ¾ of an hour, I was left thinking about the practical uses of this system and where it sits in the market place. The first thing that got me, other than the tone that was coming from it, was the ease of use and how practical it can be in any set up. In a way, it was like having a modelling system but without the endless sub menu’s and degree in computer science to work it, or let’s face it, if you are anything like me, tons and tons of stuff that you would just never, ever use. This I think is where this product is going to sit, right in the place where people want a ton of options, but only the specific ones they require, and something that has real tubes, real knobs and real tone. You can literally have a mountain of boutique amps available, at a fraction of the cost and using a fraction of the room, just ‘there’.

The trouble I’ve always had with the modelling stuff, apart from ‘that’ reaction (which let’s face it, that gap is being bridged all the time), is that you generally have to get rid of your original amp set up and get a full range amp/speaker to go with it. You don’t get the best results from those things going into your amp, they still sound great, but they work best when everything is modelled and you are going direct. Then, they sound incredible. The beauty of the Synergy system is that it can be run direct within the loop of your favourite amp, giving you multiple new channels to play with. For many players, those that don’t want the computery stuff and love their rig already, this HAS to be the best thing, well - as we say over here, since sliced bread. Also it works flawlessly direct into your DAW, or PA, it has a great FX loop (so you can run your favourite effects in there, the ones that were originally in the loop of your amp if you used it that way)… I’m not sure who is behind this system, but I doff my cap in their general direction. 

From looking at the website, I can see that the docks are $499 for the single and $799 for the double, there is also all tube heads available and a power amp. The modules are $399. So, let’s look at a boutique level amp, which I’m guessing you will all agree tends to be around $2k to buy and generally only give you the sound associated with that amp, you get what you get and nothing else. So, consider this, If you have a great amp you can buy the dock and 2 modules for ¾ of the price of a new and different sounding head, and then keep adding to it for $399, you will start to build up an amp collection that is worthy of Joe Bonamassa. Then think that these modules are small enough to get two into a single 19” rack unit. Even if you have 8 modules and the Syn2 (double port dock) it comes to less than 2 full boutique level amps. That’s 8 amps for the price of two. Once you have the dock, the modules are so cheap GAS will be screaming for new ones all the time.

I don’t get excited about new technology products very often mainly because I like tubes, knobs and instantly available tone and most of the time these days, all those things appear to be missing in new innovative technology. New gear concepts these days usually consists of “sitting down with a manual the size of a novel and 3 hours just to get the amp tone you want that’s hidden in the middle of other stuff that appears to have no practical musical use to anyone”.

I want one.

www.synergyamps.com

 

 

 

Pick a Partscaster

If you are in the market for a new guitar, there’s no better time than right now to be into the chase for tone. It seems in the past few years that a plethora of builders have popped up, each excelling at their craft with the ability to take the ideas you’ve always dreamt of and make them a reality. We’ve come to a stage in the gear community where artistic expression is at a peak, where if you want something unique and feature-laden, it’s certainly doable. Want an accurate recreation of your favorite vintage instrument, down to the pickups and even decades of wear and tear? All those options are entirely possible and at varying price points. The market lets the player decide how much to spend, and a dream guitar can be had by various methods; whichever suits the player the best. The first thing that people often bring up when discussing custom guitars is pricing. More often than not, the pricing for a custom guitar can rival or significantly surpass the cost of an off the shelf guitar. There are a lot of factors that go into why that’s the case, which I’ll dive into a bit later. I’m going to look through a few variables and options regarding custom guitars and ways to go about achieving them, and what makes them great and what some of the drawbacks are.
 
Let’s start off by looking at traditional guitars, and why guitarists prefer the tried and true designs as the basis of the perfect personalized instrument. If you look back to the 50’s and 60’s of guitar history, you’ll see that the likes of Leo Fender, Les Paul, and a few others seemingly hit the proverbial nail on the head when they created their takes on the electric guitar. So much so that each of the aforementioned builders and their subsequent companies have built stellar, roadworthy guitars that have been in the hands of millions upon millions of guitarists worldwide. They’ve become so iconic that the sound of these guitars is instantly tied to our favorite guitarist through the years. When you hear a Strat, a plethora of artists spring to mind (in no particular order): Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, John Mayer, Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix, Rory Gallagher, David Gilmour, Dick Dale, Robert Cray…the list of Strat players is staggering. Teles are the same with the likes of Albert Collins, Prince, Andy Summers, Keith Richards, James Burton, Muddy Waters. Gibson? Billy Gibbons, Slash, Jimmy Page, Angus and Malcolm Young, Peter Green, Albert and B.B. King, Randy Rhoades, and these are only just barely scratching the surface of prominent players that I’d be willing to bet have had some form of influence on every player, in some way. At the same time for all of these incredible players listed, a massive amount of them have delved into the custom realm, whether it’s through artist-series guitars, creating their own unique designs, or using boutique builders. These are our guitar heroes, and their sound shaped generation after generation of players to come, even to this day after many have long passed. It’s no wonder many players would use those famous tones and the foundation and springboard for crafting their own sound. Each used their respective instrument to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack.
 
I won’t go too much into current models of various companies, but there are still a load of different models by too many companies to list that follow the traditional approach. Companies like Fender, Gibson, Gretsch, etc., or revised versions of the classics with personal accouterments like unique finishes or relicing, and so on. Along with standard models that have a streamlined setup with neck shape, pickup combinations, and finishes, many of those companies offer signature guitars that famous artists regularly use (most of the time). These are customized versions that match the player, and great options for providing a variety of different guitars at a cost-effective price point. Sometimes though, these standard models can get the player close to where they want the guitar to be, but not exactly. This is why the guitar parts business has been a boisterous endeavor. There are a considerable number of shops you can visit online that let you piece out the perfect build, down to neck radius, finish and inlays to the routing options for various bodies and bridges control cavities. All things that are made to be easily swappable on the stock instruments to make them a bit more customized to the player. Swapping and upgrading is a cost-effective way to make a guitar customized to the player without going out and fully commissioning a custom build. Many of these online shops offer custom finishes, and some even offer relicing services to make the guitar look like something that had been used on tour for 40 years with tones of use and abuse.
 
These pieces and parts lead me into partscasters. Partscasters are the amalgamation of various parts in the attempt to find the right fit and feel and sound by creating it from a pile of parts sourced from various locations. Eddie Van Halen was one of the pioneers that led people to start hacking into the guitars and building what suited their personal needs when companies didn’t offer it. He used a Gibson PAF in an old strat-style body and created some of the most memorable music that would spawn hundreds of thousands of guitarists. He found what worked for him and made it his own. When going for a partscaster build, the sky is the limit. It could be a neck based off of a vintage-style Strat paired with a MIM Telecaster body with a pre-wired set of pickups from a small shop that hand-winds their own pickups. Or you could get a Flying V-shaped body with a neck setup for 12 strings, with pearl inlays and a figured ziricote fretboard. See what I mean? You can get as “out there” and intricate as you’d like, or build after the classics. Sites such as Warmoth and USA Custom Guitar allow you to pick the various details of your build, so they come as finished or as unfinished as you’d like them to be. This allows the player to simply screw everything together and do a bit of soldering and have a functional guitar on a relatively decent budget. I say relatively because depending on what choices are made with the types of woods used and various finishes, the costs can add up quickly. In the end though, if you’re coming out of it with the exact guitar that you want, then it’s worth it. The Pros are that you get control in the details of the construction of the guitar within a set number of given parameters, but the negative is that it does require a bit of experience and knowledge to get the guitar to where you want it properly. Setups are vital for having them stay in tune and function properly, and for inexperienced players, it can be an exercise in frustration. The same goes for soldering, especially if it’s not using a prewired kit. Without proper soldering, it can lead to increased noise or no sound at all. 
 
The next thing that truly takes the guitar into the “custom” realm is having one commissioned from a company that builds to spec. These are often more expensive, but the player gets considerably more control, with the bonus of the attention to detail and experience that comes from the builder’s history. Many builders still offer a standard line of body shapes that they will do, some traditional and some very modern and unique. Like the partscaster, you get to pick out your dream instrument, from the type of wood the body is made of, pickup routes, a plethora of finishes, the scale length of the neck, radius, neck shape, what frets are used, nut type, tuners, pickups, custom wiring…everything. The attention to details is what sets these guitars apart from the standard guitars that are off the shelf. Having a guitar that’s perfectly fitted to your playing style, the feel, and sound of the pickups makes you want to pick the instrument up more because you enjoy playing it. These builders have become experts in their fields and have listened to customer feedback, evolving and honing their craft to provide those little nuances that make each creation so special. A big question that comes up is “Is it $$$ better?” It depends on how you look at it. In some cases, depending on what is commissioned, there won’t necessarily be a huge difference. If it’s a T-style with a fairly run of the mill setup with two pickups and a 3-way selector and a fairly known color, then to some that may not be worth it. The details of the fret leveling and action and overall playability would be the biggest upgrade.  Is it worth several hundred dollars extra to some people? Most likely not. That’s the beauty of chasing tone and falling in love with the guitar, is that everything is subjective and will be different for everyone. Variety is the spice of life, so they say. The quest for tone is unending, and finding the perfect feeling and sounding guitar is another piece to that puzzle. What are you willing to pay for it?
 
Personally, own a few of each configuration mentioned above. I’ve got a ‘12 Les Paul Traditional that I upgraded with 50’s wiring and bumblebee capacitors to increase the range of tones available in the tone knobs. The new American Pro Strats just hit the spot, stock off of the shelf (admittedly I always block the trem, just because I’m a hardtail guy). I’ve also got a couple of Crook Custom telecasters that are decked out completely with custom finishes, neck specs, and even G-Benders. There’s a soft spot and something special about each one that makes them fit what I’m looking to do. The one thing I will say, that for me (I don’t speak for everyone), that custom guitars do not necessarily make me play any better, skill-wise. I may enjoy playing more when it fits just right, and I can get into it more, which subsequently makes me practice and the long game is an improvement, but switching from one guitar to another doesn’t have a dramatic effect. The guitars output what your mind and yours hands put into them and no amount of money can buy technique. That’s something I had to learn as I was starting off, and it’s stuck with me all this time.

Quilter 101 Mini Reverb - another experiment in tone chasing

A few months ago I wrote a ‘review’ of the Quilter 101 Mini Head here in the Wampler blog, it was an interesting experience using the 101 Mini, but tonally it didn’t work out for me. It was great, just not there yet. There were issues with the basic core tone and most importantly, the strange EQ section.

I’ve subsequently got my hands on the newer version of this head, the 101 Mini Reverb, they’ve upgraded the unit considerably, made the EQ a much easier system to dial in and you guessed it, contains reverb. I’ve been using the 101 MR for the last few gigs as the ‘other’ side of my stereo rig, and something happened this weekend that made me look at it in a different light.

First of all, a quick gear rundown so you get a feel what my rig does. My rig is mono until it hits the incredible TC Electronic MiMiQ which then splits it to stereo. The main side of the MiMiQ (which sits after my pre gain modulation the gains stages and compression – so that’s pre gain Strymon Mobius – mainly Vibe - Mini Ego, Tumnus and Paisley Drive Deluxe) sends the signal on to the post gain side of the Mobius (so that’s chorus, tremolo etc), the Strymon TimeLine, dB+ and then to a Wampler Bravado amp. The other side of the MiMiQ just feeds direct to the Quilter 101 MR – both then feed directly into a stereo 2x12” speakers. I have the MiMiQ set on “slight drunk” so when it’s kicked in I find the difference in tone (I set it pretty quickly, on a scooped setting) and the lack of delays etc do a really good impression of a second guitar player.

I play in a pub band, playing covers, and on Saturday night we were kinda cookin’. The crowd was rocking, so we were. My rig sounded fantastic and I ended the first set on a high! I was just having a lovely time… when it came to the start of the second set we started and I noticed that something wasn’t quite right. None of my delay’s where there, so I checked a different patch (the vibe) and that worked, so I thought – oh shit, the TimeLine is knackered. There was something else going on with the sound as well, it wasn’t quite as attacky or bright as usual (I have the Bravado set on Bright position 4 with the mids scooped out so it’s more like a Fender Deluxe than it should be)… For about 3 songs I felt this thing was wrong, still sounded like me, still sounded great (well, let’s face it, with those gain stages how could it not?), but there was a certain something missing. Trust my wife to spot the problem… It the end of the third song she leaned over to me from behind the P.A. speakers and shouted in my ear “Do you know that the Bravado is on standby?”.

Oooops.

So, I had turned the Bravado on to standby at the end of the first set and forgotten to turn it back on again, which is quite funny considering the piece I wrote about putting amps on standby last year. it was just the Quilter being used and I was blown away with the sound of it. Granted, It was not as clear and concise as the Bravado, and the response was different, but it was close. Kind of felt the same way when I first played through a Kemper, really close but the reaction wasn’t there, because it’s a D class and I’m used to a valve amp.

Once I realised my mistake I tweaked the Quilter a little to try to bring the top end in and it got even closer before bringing the Bravado back in. This little thing is quite remarkable when I think about it, I carry it around in my effects case and it weighs about 2lbs and it stood up against the Bravado and didn’t lose without a fight. It took the pedals like a dream, it responded to my pick attack and expression like a dream. The updated EQ section was SO much better in this one, every issue I had with the original was addressed. Basically, this thing is pretty bloody awesome.

I’ve made the conscious decision that when we do the small, quiet gigs – as we often do – and you can’t get a valve amp up to the required level to make it sound like I want too (yes, we really do play that quiet sometimes, literally so you can talk over it), the Quilter 101 MR will be my main amp and the Quilter 101 Mini will be the stereo field. It won’t be the Bravado (as, you know, valve compression and response of a high end amp, there is nothing like it), but at least I can put it to the level I want to play at and I won’t be disappointed with the tone, which when you think about it, is quite remarkable.

I can thoroughly recommend this little amp, and I don’t say that very often. Everyone should have one in the front pocket of their gig bag as a back up, or if like me you want a stereo field, it’s perfect. Actually, if I wasn’t so fussy (I am, extremely) I would probably use it for every gig as let’s face it, the people listening wouldn’t be able to tell the difference in those conditions... It’s close enough to the real thing to be able to warrant the compromise of tone – that magical thing that can’t be replicated - especially when like me you have a history of sciatica and want to keep the weight down!

As a last thought - when the Bravado isn’t here I use a Fender BDri as my main gigging amp… well, I used to, as if the Bravado isn’t here, from here on in I’ll be using the Quilter…

Rooting for the Underdog?

With the release of the Paisley Drive Deluxe right around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to discuss and a recurring topic that's come up for years, but especially more frequently now that details have emerged about the Paisley Deluxe (or as Brad Paisley refers to it, the "Paisley Dog"). I'm talking about the limited edition Underdog overdrive. Released in 2009, with a limited run of just over 100, the UnderDog is based on a Nobels ODR-S but modified to clear up some of the shortcomings Brian felt were inherent in the design. Along with the transparent and flexible 3-band EQ, there is a toggle for higher or lower gain settings, and the Underdog became a favorite of Brad Paisley and Nashville players all around due to its versatility. It's very transparent, the gain can be set minimal and used as a hefty volume boost with a bit of grit where the guitar's voicing stays the primary focus, or it can get extraordinarily crunchy and fat, bordering on fuzzy distortion. It's hard to miss, being in a larger enclosure with bright pink sparkly paint, with a decal for the graphics. 
 
Here's an excerpt from Brian in 2010 regarding the cause behind the Underdog: “A close friend of mine has breast cancer and has no insurance, no family, and the government will not pay any medical costs for her to get the treatment she needs. Now, I’m not rich by any means, but I had to do something to help her. My wife and I came up with the idea of creating a pink pedal that is rich, dynamic, and very tweakable, and donate ALL the profits to her. Out of that limited run, famed country artist Brad Paisley bought one and loved it. A number of guitarists saw the pedal on Brad’s pedalboard and asked me to build one more for them, so I decided to start building more to keep up with demand. We are still donating all the profits to my friend, Ivy East, who is struggling to pay the doctor bills to combat this terrible disease.”
 
When the Paisley Drive Deluxe information initially was shared, and that it contained the Underdog circuit as Channel 1, there were a lot of mixed reactions. Overall most of them were overwhelmingly positive and excited, but there were a few discussions that immediately popped up regarding having the Underdog as a standalone pedal, not paired with the Paisley Drive. My goal with this blog is to set the record straight on where Brian and the company itself stands regarding this. It's easier to give the full scope of the discussion in a centralized place for everyone to refer to instead of commenting on dozens of threads, which are still overlooked due to how fast comments pile up on FaceBook.
 
At this time, there are no plans to rerelease or reissue the Underdog as a single pedal. Let me explain why. As you read in the excerpt above, the Underdog was created for a particular purpose, and it was successful in alleviating the financial burdens that came about from a terrible situation. That being said, there's a level of integrity and respect that comes along with that period and what the pedal stood for. It feels wrong to try to cash-in on that moment in time, and doing so would dilute the meaning behind the Underdog and it's creation. After discussing that on FaceBook in our Tone Group, the question arose about changing the name and graphics and just rereleasing it under a different label. The same theory still applies. The Underdog is just that, a limited thing for a special friend who was in dire need. Changing the name won't make it feel any less dirty or wrong by using that circuit setup for that purpose for personal gain.
 
So why does Brad Paisley have the circuit in his new signature pedal? The answer is pretty simple and straight-forward. Brad has utilized the Underdog alongside the Paisley Drive for years (see picture below), having one of the original Underdogs and buying several used version up as time went along to be sure the pedal was always there. It's an integral part of his tone. Touring all over the world has its constraints on gear, and it was at his request that we build the Paisley Deluxe. "But you said you wouldn't reissue it." Correct, as a standalone pedal under the banner of Underdog. With the high number of requests and high used prices, we wanted to be able to offer the circuit for our customers, but without sacrificing the basis of what it meant at its core. The compromise is the Paisley Deluxe. 
 

Paisley Drive Deluxe - release date amendment.

Paisley Drive Deluxe - Release date.

Due to unforeseen circumstances stemming from availability and Brian's constant demand for perfection, the release date for the Wampler Paisley Drive Deluxe has been amended to October 31st. Not only will this allow the global dealer base to ensure that they have the product in store for the release date, but it allows us to know that every product shipped meets his exacting standards and people all around the world can get it in their rigs, on release date, no matter where they live. 

The thirst for perfection, it's what drives us.

Where'd my great tone go?

I'd like to start this blog out with a question to anyone reading this. Have you ever found the PERFECT tone, documented the settings in some fashion (in a notebook, taking a picture, etc.) only to discover that when you return the next time to play, it just doesn't sound right anymore?  How about going to practice or just jam and it feels like your entire rig just sounds awful and wrong? I can give a resounding answer of YES to all of those above. It baffled me for awhile because I knew that my settings hadn't been messed with in the least bit, so it made no sense why it was happening.
 
I decided to record myself for a few days, seeing if it was something that was going on with the amp or my setup or whatever the heck it was. Aside from fluctuations in my skill level (Hey, we all have good and bad days playing), the tones were consistent despite sounding different each day to my ear. One day it was a bit too bright, another day sounded phenomenal, and another day my tone was too muddy. Again, I was using the same guitar, pedals, and amps. Of course, the next instinct was to go to Google, and it's apparent that I'm not alone. It's become a bit of a joke at this point that *something* must happen to make it not sound as good. Maybe someone bumped the board or the amp, or the magic pedalboard gremlins are up to some form of trickery.
 
So what's the deal then? Long story short, one part is life. Not to sound overly cliche, but that's the simple way of putting it. Everyday things that we experience during life all add up to how the human body reacts to external stimulus. Stress in all forms is proven to wreak havoc on the body, and it can definitely do a number on your ears. Looking back at those days where my tone wasn't as good, I realized that the first day I recorded, I had stayed up late the night before and subsequently woke up earlier for work the next morning. That night after playing a few minutes and being dissatisfied with my tone, I cut everything off, got our two little boys to bed (5 and almost 2) and my wife and I went to bed at 8:30 that night out of sheer exhaustion. I got a lot of sleep that night, and sure enough my tone the next day sounded like the life was back in it again. The following day at work was hectic and erratic, so when I went to play my mind wasn't focused, and my tone wasn't very appealing at all. I haven't been able to find a fix for this yet, but my solution has been to take a break and just either play acoustic or my electric unplugged. There have been many times where I just decided to put it down and walk away from it for a day or two, maybe more. Usually when I come back and plug in it's because the craving to play has kicked in and a reinvigorated love for it has sprung back up.
 
Now let's talk about tone consistency at various locations. The scenario is that you've got a great tone dialed in at home, you go to your practice space, and it sounds completely off when turning up your level to match the people you're jamming alongside. Several contributing factors can cause this, and the rig can be adjusted accordingly to increase the consistency of the tones produced. One major point that needs to be hammered home is that a guitar rig will react very differently at bedroom-level volumes versus gigging volumes. The layout and acoustics of the room play a massive role in the overall tone and feel of the amp and rig. For instance, if the practice space is a bedroom or basement, our ears become accustomed to that room, and the amp and pedals are setup accordingly to sound good in that room. Let's say hypothetically that the usual practice space is in a basement or garage with a concrete floor. Alternatively, if the band is at a gig with a large stage made of wood, the amp can sound excessively boomy due to the wood resonating the frequencies in the room. On the flip side, going from playing on a wooden floor to a concrete floor can make the amp feel stiff. While we're on the subject of playing out, power fluctuation needs to be mentioned as well, and that can play a big part in tone. If the space at home is running at 109v out of the wall, but the output at a gig is 115v for instance, then there will undoubtedly be a tonal difference because your amp is receiving more voltage. Increasing or starving the power can lead to an array of tone fluctuations, which is a reason companies have been making power conditioners to keep a steady flow of current to the amp, no matter what the gig is. 
 
A solid example of this in practice is that we had a person on our Tone Group on FaceBook (Wampler Pedals Tone Group, you should check it out). He mentioned having fantastic tone in his room where he practices, but when opening the window, it seems like he lost a tremendous amount of depth to his tone and everything sounded thin. After discussing it, several members chimed in and said it had to do with the pressure changes and the layout of the room, and how the frequencies coming from the amp disperse differently. In that scenario, the bass frequencies weren't bouncing back and stayed confined in the space, and that's why the tone sounded so much fuller when the windows weren't open. 
 
As the output of an amp increases, several things can come into play. Preamp's can begin to clip once they're pushed to a certain point, so if a rig sounds overly dirty, it could be that the preamp is distorting, where at lower volumes the output isn't as high. One thing you can try is to use an active volume pedal in the effects loop of the amp, which will lower the signal hitting the phase inverter and cutting down on the clipping ab it. If your amp doesn't have an effects loop, you can try putting a volume pedal at the end of your signal chain, which will cut some of the incoming signal and subsequently lower the gain. A relatable way to think of it is plugging directly into a dirty amp, and adjusting your guitar's volume to reduce gain. The same premise applies. Yes, this will change the tone a bit, but in reality, EVERYTHING alters the tone. Clipping is a reason a lot of players like really high-headroom, high wattage amps because it eliminates the chances of the amp distorting at gig volumes. Along with the preamps reacting differently, speakers begin to compress as they attempt to move more air. The harder an amp is pushed, the harder those speakers naturally compress. 
 
Taking all things into consideration, the chase for tone is never-ending, and more often than not leads to just as much frustration sometimes as it does elation. Give it time, think things through and start from the bottom and work your way up in chasing your perfect tone.

All you need is love someone once said. Las Vegas sadness.

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.

 

Don't forget your guitar! - Settings on the fly

I’ve got a question for you: How often would you say you use your Tone control on your guitar? How about the volume? Pickup selector? With all the goodies we’ve got for tone-shaping at our disposal, I’ve found a very drastic split between people who always tweak the controls on their guitars, and those who set and forget. Admittedly, I fell into the second category of diming the controls for the first 2/3rds of my guitar playing life. The source of this approach came from my early years of starting out playing punk rock, where the idea was that everything needed to be on 10, as loud and as fast as it possibly can go. It was bad enough that I would plug in and it would sound like a blanket was over my amp, immediately making me think that something was wrong with my setup. Nope, just the tone knob had been rolled back some and made my heart skip a beat for absolutely no reason. Sounds kind of wonky or careless, but I’m betting I’m not the only one who has done that (more on that later). It wasn’t until I started digging into songs and learning the nuances of verses and choruses and solos that I realized how much of a difference the controls on my guitar can make in association with how my amp is EQ'd and how I have my pedals set. It took a long time to adopt the differing process, but once I did it opened a boatload of tonal opportunities I had been missing out on utilizing all that time. 
 
Years ago, my normal process for setting up my base tone revolved around amp first (where all of the EQ controls used to be on ten like I mentioned above), then using my pedals to add whatever flavor I was looking to add, usually with the gain set excessively too high. My resulting tone was always completely overbearing, a bit harsh and sometimes flubby on the low end, or overly mid-honky. Again, at the time it wasn't about tone, but being loud and obnoxious. The problem that occurred is that I had no idea how the frequencies needed to sit in the mix, or how it would mesh with other instruments in the band. But alas, it was punk rock, and it was fun. That process of cranking the amp controls doesn't always lead to awful tone, quite the contrary on some amps. I suppose you could say that there's a time and a place for everything, and my combination of Strat into Danelectro pedals, into a Fender Stage 160 combo amp was NOT the place for it. On a nice vintage amp, I could completely see turning everything up and basking in that glorious tube amp tone. Again, I was in my late teens and had no clue of the bigger picture.
 
A few years later, my musical tastes started to develop and refine a bit more, and I started digging into what made some of my favorite artists sound just so doggone good. Through trial and error, I finally developed my ear to learn to approach things from another angle. At this point, I still use the amp as my first act of tone-shaping, but I approach it a bit differently. The amp and speaker(s) are the last things my signal sees before the tone is released into the wild, so that will play a huge role in the overall character of your chase for amazing tone. My initial settings on a 3-band EQ amp consists of Bass on 6, Mids on 4, and treble on 7. That's my starting point, but depending on the amp and where I'm playing I'll tweak from there. The reasoning behind these particular settings is because I've found that I prefer to use my pedals as my method to alter the mids in my tone, and I'm partial to a neutral but still "full" sounding clean tone. Next, I focus on my guitar a bit which might be a bit odd, but I'll explain. I've gotten to the point now where I instinctively roll off a bit of tone on my guitar. Crazy, right? I'll roll it back to seven or 7.5, along with my guitar's volume. My theory behind this is that I've always got a bit of extra volume and tone left in reserve in case I need it in a given situation. Sometimes you don't want to bend down and mess with your controls, so just adjust the tone knob a bit and get that added bit of extra clarity or high-end roll off that you're needing. Same goes for volume, where rolling back the guitar's volume will lessen the input on many gain pedals (especially fuzzes), and it gives you that extra bit of grit when you kick into a solo. 
 
A couple of years ago I adopted a volume pedal into my rig, mainly for ambient swells and all that fun stuff, but after awhile I noticed a practical side to it. I put mine after my drives, before my modulation and delays and reverbs. Placing it there allowed it to act as a "master volume" of sorts that let me set my gain and output for multiple stages of volume, all controlled by my handy-dandy foot. I'm in turn left with my guitar to add a bit of grit and oomph or clarity with the controls on me no matter where I'm standing in relation to my board. I then have several gain stages with my pedals, and the ability to set the overall output as unity or a boost with the volume pedal. *(Handy tip - you can also put a volume pedal in your FX loop to act as a master volume as well). Having those options leaves me constantly tweaking the knobs on my guitar when I'm playing, so much so that if I'm playing unplugged I still habitually twist the knobs. Once you get it down pact and you find your sweet spots, it opens up a load of tonal control right at your finger-tips.
 
While we're on the subject of guitar controls, it would be worth delving more into the heart of your guitar's control scheme. Beyond the typical 5-way or 3-way pickup selections, possibly modifying or upgrading can make a significant difference in your overall tone and the amount of control you have over it. To start off, upgrading your pots can make a big difference in the sound and feel of your guitar. Upgrading from 250k pots to 500k pots can give you an extra bit of oomph if you feel like your pickups just aren't coming alive. Along with upgrading pickups, it may be worth looking into various wiring options for your pickup configuration, such as a 4-way telecaster pickup selector, that allows you to run your pickups in series along with the standard ways. A Les Paul with 50's-style wiring can greatly improve the responsiveness of your tone controls. Upgrading inductors and capacitors in your guitars can also drastically change what tones you have on tap, from major frequency changes to slight treble roll-off. There's an enormous variety of simple upgrades and modifications you can make to your instrument to improve the response and playability. There are push/pull pots for allowing the player to split the coils in humbuckers, or blender pots that allow the player to blend various pickup configurations on the fly, as much or as little of each as desired.
 
Last but not least, let's talk about pickups. Sometimes, no matter how much we want to love everything about our instrument, it's always possible to fall out of love with the tone of it. There's nothing wrong with the way that it plays, but the tone just isn't there anymore. Luckily there are so many options out there for different pickups that it's almost dizzying. Depending on what guitar you have and how the body was routed, a pickup swap is a quick and easy way to drastically change the overall character of the voice of your guitar. Humbuckers, P90's, Single-Coils, Mini Humbuckers...the list is quite long of the various pickups that can be mixed and matched to find what you're looking for. Pick swaps are a relatively easy thing to do, but it requires a basic knowledge of soldering. If you're not comfortable with soldering, there are companies out there that offer pre-wired pickguards and control plates and switches that you can easily have a tech put in fairly quickly. Taking the time to understand and experiment with just your guitar can open a broad spectrum of control and tones that aren't available if everything is set wide open.
 
How do you set your guitar's controls? Have you done any upgrades to your guitar to allow added flexibility and tweakability to shape your tonal voice?