Making your own luck in this crazy world of music

One of the more bizarre things I hear often is that I am “lucky” to do the job I do, I find it odd. It’s a job, sometimes, it’s cool as I get to do cool things (about twice a year) but mostly it’s being pushed for sales, deadlines, reports and everything else everyone does in their job. I’ve always said to people that I just move little grey cardboard boxes around the world, either by selling or marketing, it just happens what is in those boxes is quite cool to some people.

As I was writing that response to someone last week it put me in mind of a conversation I had with someone a few months back, who often gets the same thing (except his job REALLY is cool).

Before I get into it, I will put my hands up and admit that it’s the people you meet in jobs like this one that makes it cool, again, not lucky – as we work really hard, but it’s really cool to me these people for work. 

Before I get into the conversation I had, here’s the obligatory back story. I’m ‘quite’ the fan of Mr Steve Vai, anyone who is connected to me already knows that, but I need to get it out in the open. I find his levels of composition, stage persona, fearless technique and all round attitude to life inspirational. Basically, he’s up there for me as a human, player, and composer. So, it follows suit that I’ve ALWAYS wanted to play with him. Ever since I first saw him play live in 1988 I’ve wanted to be on stage with him. Secretly, I’ve always thought I could do it as well, as every time I’ve seen him live I’ve watched the other player and thought “I could do that, you’re so lucky”.

Yep, I do it as well. Guilty as charged.

With that in mind, you can imagine what it was like - December 2012 - when I was driving up to London (about 3 hours) one Sunday afternoon for one of my first artist visits to a touring production, Wampler artist Dave Weiner. Dave and I had exchanged a few emails over the preceding months, and he was using some of our pedals in the “Steve Vai: Story of Light World Tour 2012-13” so I went up to meet Dave, take some pictures, and generally (hopefully) enforce our brand with his (as that is what artists are, they are their own brand, a brand which we try to align with in order to make it beneficial for the both of us). I was extremely excited to be able to check out what it took to be that guitar player first hand, and you know, I planned to kidnap him and then take his job!

The gig was in central London, the legendary Hammersmith Apollo (previously known as the Hammersmith Odeon, now called Eventim Apollo) which I’m pretty sure you will recognise as not only does EVERYONE play there, but there’s been some incredible live albums and videos recorded there over the years. I was due to meet my mate, and Wampler Artist, Levi Clay up there as I had a plus 1 to the gig, and lets face it, pretty certain no one would miss a chance to see Mr Vai perform like that given half the chance so he was happy to lose an afternoon with me. I parked up, went to the venue, met Levi and made my way round to the stage door. Obviously, security treated us with complete disdain and we couldn’t get around them, so Dave came out to meet us. My first impression of Dave was that he was quite cool, very smiley, and easy to talk too. We spent a good hour or so on the stage (a real ERMAGHAD moment, I was on the stage at the Hammy Odeon, with Vais’ gear) with Dave that afternoon talking about his gear (we had to be quiet unfortunately as Steve was hosting an EVO Experience at the back of the theatre), stayed around for the sound check, went and grabbed a pint and something to eat, and then enjoyed the show. All the time during the show I was watching both Steve and Dave, seeing how they played together, saw how Dave did his job flawlessly, and I must admit, I came away more impressed with Dave than I was Steve that night.

Over the following years I’ve met up with Dave on his travels a few times, had lunch, he’s met my wife, we Skype, keep in contact often with business stuff and all that, so you know, we’ve become mates down the line. I’m not going to do that bullshit internet thing that means everyone is my “good friend” or my “best buddy” just because you have your picture taken with them, but you know, we are mates. It during one of our catch ups a couple of months ago (Dave had just come off the “Passion and Warfare 25th Anniversary Tour” and was really 'quite' tired) and we were talking about work, I jokingly said the words “Remember mate, you’re so lucky that you have that gig” and he responded with something like “Yeah right, it’s great, I love touring and it’s an honour to tour with Steve for the last 19 years, but what everyone needs to remember is that I made my own luck with that” and we both had a little chuckle about it – because, basically, that's the truth.

Dave did not wake up one day and find himself, aged almost 23 as the guitar player in the touring band for Steve Vai. He was a Vai fan (he secretly ducked away from the main group of his school trip to NYC to buy Passion and Warfare the day it came out) but he put himself in the position to get that job. He moved from the East Coast to L.A. to attend GIT at a young age to be the best player he could be, during this time he worked as an unpaid intern for a management company that just so happened to handle Vai. Dave used to deliver packages to Vai, and spent weeks and months gently getting to know him before even mentioning he played. Eventually, once Steve asked if Dave played, he handed him a tape of some stuff he had been working on and then just quietly left, never expecting it to be talked of again. So, he didn’t just blindly send a tape in, he worked hard to even get to L.A., let alone to work unpaid for that company, and then worked hard to remain professional and courteous in front of one of his favourite players, not throw a demo tape at the first opportunity and just allow what happened, happen.

Imagine his surprise when a couple of weeks later Vai phoned him and asked him to learn 17 songs and to leave almost immediately for tour rehearsals.

Over the years I’ve admitted to Dave my insane jealousy of his job, asked him about it almost to the levels of interrogation, and he’s always been very honest and open about it. Dave worked hard to get that opportunity, put himself in a position to take it, and then worked extra hard to keep that position for what is now 19 years. Steve’s in a position to be fussy about who plays his material live, so as you can imagine, Dave has to do it properly each and every night. Steve isn’t a hard task master, mistakes happen and they are laughed about, but the laughter would soon stop if Dave wasn’t performing to up to Vai’s standard each and every night. Not only is Dave a stellar player who has to match who is arguably the greatest guitarist of that genre, he also has to be wonderful human being to be in that band, it’s well known that the Vai camp is family like, and people who don’t fit don’t last long, fortunately for Dave, he doesn’t have to work at that bit too hard. 

So, the next time you think about saying “You’re so lucky to be in that job” take a moment to think about what that person did to get into the position to be in that job in the first place, Dave worked hard to get there and worked even harder to stay. He is one of the internet’s primary guitar educators with his subscription website guitopia.com (you should be a member, it’s awesome and I’ve learned SO much from it), he has released 4 solo albums with more in the pipeline… So, you know, there is an element of you make your own luck in this world - and you make it by working your socks off. I’m not going to be one of those people that blindly says “You make your own luck” with crossed arms and a bad attitude, but you know, you can certainly push it along as much as you can in order to achieve your goals.

The moral of this story: Work hard, play hard, don’t be a dick. Come to think of it, that’s the moral of every story I tell. I need to work at that last bit though.

You check out Dave on daveweiner.com - join his guitar education community (I'm a member and thoroughly recommend it) guitopia.com or buy his music from here - you should get them all, but if you like that rock guitar thing, I still think OnRevolute is one of the finest instrumental guitar albums ever made!

Here is a video that I took that night. It's all about peace, love and good happiness stuff. It's quite distorted... apologies.

Dave, Paris 2013 playing Ignition, from the album OnRevolute.

Old Faithful or Out of the Box?

Music culture has changed a lot over the years, and to accompany the shift in musical preferences the gear community has also shifted to meet the needs of all players. It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking to play I-IV-V blues tunes in a dive bar, play to 10,000 people in a stadium, or to make speaker-destroying noise in your room, we’re currently in the golden age of guitar effects where nearly anything is possible. Want to make your tone sound like one of your guitar hero’s? Easier than ever. Want to make your guitar sound absolutely nothing like a guitar? Done. There are so many effects on the market and constantly in development that if you can dream it, there’s a good chance you can achieve it.
 
Recently there has been a slew of unconventional products released by various companies, and the reaction has been a mixed bag at best. There are people who absolutely love some of these pedals and immediately want to purchase them, and there’s also the counter group of players who despise the idea completely and think that the designs are garbage* and want nothing to do with them. It’s a stark line drawn in the sand, and admittedly I’ve found myself hovering over top of the line in regard to a love/hate feeling for some of the noisemakers and more out-there effects. They’re so bizarre that they’re repulsive but intriguing at the same time. Usually, for me, all it takes is one demo with a single cool sound to catch my ear and then the GAS just grows from there.
 
My first thought with a pedal is normally “How is it versatile enough to be usable in multiple musical contexts, while also not overlapping too much with the stuff I already have?” Noisemakers blow that out of the water typically because despite my love of a plethora of different genre’s and styles, noises aren’t in there (except for self-oscillation on a delay, which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea either). All that being said, I do totally get why they’re interesting. There’s NOTHING like some of the current pedals being released, or rather nothing widely available at a reasonable price. Curiosity above all else makes me wonder what cool sounds I can coax out of these pedals, even though they’re not in my wheelhouse in the least bit. I’ve seen a lot of comments regarding the musicality of such noisemakers, and if they’re just noise for the sake of noise. That’s to be debated because tone and musicality are generally one of the most subjective things in existence. Out of all of this, I broke it down into two groups of mindset, but there are a lot more people that fall in between or don’t fit into it at all.
 
Ode to the Classics - The classics are classics for a reason, these guitar heroes and their tones are what sparked generation after generation of players to want to pick up a guitar. Many of their setups have become the go-to standards for measuring tone, from EVH’s “brown sound” using hot-rodded plexi’s to Eric Clapton’s “Woman Tone,” and how many people try to nail SRV’s tone…thousands? Literally hundreds of artists that created their niche at the time of their heyday have sparked the love of many players who desire to chase those tones. As we all know, a lot of tone is in the fingers, but that’s part of the equation. The tools were limited years ago, so the players used what they had and literally pushed them to the boundaries at all times. Now there are a plethora of options (amps, pedals, modeling software, etc) designed to take those vintage and sought-after effects and make them accessible in the modern world. All the same while, vintage instrument prices are soaring through the roof because players want that authentic “mojo” that older equipment has.
 
Free Spirits - On the flip side of the coin, you have no non-traditionalists and players who don’t want to sound like anyone else. Guitar and music are voices to the world, and in many cases copying others can make the feeling seem less authentic. Having so many great tones already defined by artists and genres, it’s forced gear companies to think outside of the box in terms of users want to leave their unique mark on the world in their own way. This has led to an influx of stompboxes that give more control than ever to shape tones. Look at Chase Bliss Audio, Montreal Assemble, Hologram Electronics…the list goes on and on. These companies are leading the forefront in terms of “out of the box” tones and tweakablility, with some truly mind-bending effects being created on a daily basis. It’s allowing true artistic freedom by not having any boundaries in the least bit. This can be a bit terrifying for some (me included) because there’s no telling how you can get to a tone, no guarantee that you can replicate it, and that’s the beauty of it. There is no box, so to speak.
 
So where do you fall on the spectrum? Are you a traditionalist with tones built on the foundation of some of your favorite players, or do you like going outside the box and defining your own style, even if it defies convention? Somewhere in the middle? Don't care? Let us know in the comments!
 
*The original words were substituted due to the obscene nature of some comments left online in some comment threads.

What would I say to my younger self about learning the guitar?

A question was asked on our main FB page last weekend that made me sit and think, it was a question that made me peer into the rabbit hole of my own history. Fortunately, for my own sanity and those who read it, I managed to stop myself going into it completely as that’s a place no one wants to visit too much!

“If you could go back in time and give your younger self any piece of advice when starting out playing guitar, what would it be?”

I started playing guitar in the early 80’s. It was one of those childhood memories that sticks out with complete clarity. I watched my older brother and his friend Rob working out a song by the Shadows called “Shazaam”. I just sat there and watched for about an hour, while they worked it out. When they got bored and left, I picked up the guitar and then copied what they did. I was surprised that I seemed more physically able to do it than they were, as I was playing it quite quickly. I then copied whatever they did on guitar until some point soon after I had about 10 Shadows songs under my belt and started working stuff out for myself. We all shared the knowledge between the three of us (Rob introduced me to a lot of rock and roll stuff and then my brother went off to explore U2) I learned quite a nice and interesting range of stuff as a kid, I thought at the time I was cool because I could play songs for 4 or 5 different artists!

To my younger self, I say this… in fact, I’m going to capitalize them as I want to shout them at me… 

GET SOME BLOODY LESSONS: It’s taken me years to remove the bad habits I’ve learned from when I first started - I was only exposed to the music I really liked so I was narrow minded, had a narrow field of musical exposure and my theoretical knowledge is shockingly bad. It’s better now (thank you Tom Quayle) but it’s no where near where it should be considering I’ve been playing for over 35 years. So, get lessons, play properly and embrace the music your teacher suggests you listen to!

LEARN TO READ THE BLOODY DOTS YOU IDIOT: This is probably my greatest regret. By the time I was in my late teens and early 20’s I was, in terms of physicality, a great player. I could do almost anything. But, my lack of reading meant once again I was narrow viewed, I couldn’t stand in, I couldn’t work as a player professionally as easily as it would have been had I learned to read properly.

LISTEN TO EVERYTHING AS EVERYTHING IS COOL: I never listened to jazz, blues, country… anything other than what was in my CD collection. I didn’t properly first listen to the Beatles until I was in my mid 20’s. I had never heard Johnny Cash, Jerry Reed, Rory, Chet, BB King, Robert Johnson, Jimi, Muddy Waters, Grant Green, SRV, Jansch, Larry Charlton, Django… none of it until I was much much older than I should have been. I thought that because I had the “Still Got The Blues” album by Gary Moore I could play the blues. I missed out on SO much it’s hard to comprehend.

PLAY FOR THE SONG: I played to (try to) look cool and (try to) attract the girls. I never played for the song, when I think about some of the inappropriate Vai licks I put into Blues songs it makes me cringe now. I never played for the song. Only for me and my sex drive.

GEAR DOES NOT COMPENSATE POOR TECHNIQUE: I got a compressor early, this meant I could do a note for note copy of “It’s a Monster” by Extreme without warming up as the band opener, but only if I had my compressor with me and enough gain. Again, showing off. If you can’t play it totally clean, you can’t play it properly.

WORK OUT EVERY SONG YOU HEAR, BY EAR: I wish I had done this, I’ve learned so much from working out songs by ear and then thinking about “why did they do that?”. You don’t do that when you go and buy the tab books, which of course was what I did. I almost feel sorry for the people learning now as they have so much in the way of short cut respouces available to them via the internet.

EVERYTHING BETWEEN YOUR FINGERS AND YOUR EARS IS IMPORTANT: In my first band I had a wonderful guitar. An Ibanez JEM 77FR. Unfortunately, I put it through a Boss BE-5 into a stock Peavey Bandit 112. In other words, I successfully made a great guitar sound bloody awful night after night. These days all of my gear choices are for a reason. My guitar, my wireless, my pedals, my patch cables, the cable running to the amp, the amp, the speaker cable, the cab and the speakers. Everything is considered and chosen to make me sound as good as I possibly can. I don’t really have any weak links in my signal chain, although it leaves me vulnerable in terms of what goes in comes out, I’m a better player for it and much more pleasing on the ear of the audience.

PLAY WITH AS MANY BANDS AS POSSIBLE: I don’t know about you, but I remember mistakes on stage far more than I do if they are made at home. So, I would tell myself to go and join a blues band early on. Join a wedding band. Join ANY band, because you learn so much in those bands it will make you an infinitely better player.

DON’T TAKE THE PEOPLE THAT MAKE THE EFFORT OF COMING TO SEE YOU PLAY FOR GRANTED: When you play live in front of a fee paying public, or people that are supporting free venues by drinking the beer, give them the best musical experience you can. They don’t care how great you think you are.

FFS, PRACTICE MORE: Once again, as I was a flashly player and had the gear to allow me to keep the notes I didn’t quite hit, I thought I was much better than I was. It’s taken me YEARS to get my right hand up near to where my left is now, and it’s still waaaaaay off from where it should be all things considered. I’m actually a little embarrassed by my rhythm playing. I didn’t practice my right hand technique anywhere near as much as I should have, also my timing is awful, without a drummer or a click track I can’t keep in time worth a beat, although in my defense, I am considerably better than I was 10 years ago. So, young Jason, practice practice practice.

DON’T BE A DICK: Pretty certain that one doesn’t need any further explanation.

There, I feel better for that. I just wish I’d been around to tell me this all these years ago. And yes, that statement and all the contradictions within confuses me as well!

Gigging - Part 2

Following up on my last blog regarding the shining example of where things can go very wrong at a gig (you can read that here: http://www.wamplerpedals.com/news/blog/general-chat/gigging-what-not-to-do-part-1) , I’ve compiled this quick list with the help of some friends from the industry regarding things that will help prepare anyone for a successful gig.
 
1.    Know the material – Practicing learning and knowing the songs back and forth is a major thing. If you’re not comfortable with a part, discuss it with the band and see what options there are. In the end though, there’s nothing that can replace good practice. Practicing the full set will help get the bugs out of the performance. Your singer can even practice the banter with the crowd during each set. Locking down that show to where it’s second nature will make your performance and the audience’s experience much more enjoyable for everyone. In the end that’s the main goal, right? We all love playing music and the audience is there because they love the music. It’s far more fun when you don’t have to worry about whether you recall the chord changes in the verse or what key the solo is in!
 
2.    Be Prepared – I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying of “It’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.” This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to pack an extra amp and 15 guitars, but you can if you want! We do our best to maintain our gear, but often it’s at the least opportune timing that something is prone to failure. Having a few backup items can really help when the time comes and you’re in a pinch. An extra set of strings, extra picks, extra patch cables and long cables, a headstock tuner, super glue, a multi-tool, and even in some cases a fallback for when an amp goes down. If your amp goes down mid-gig, it’s not a bad idea to have some backup setup, maybe a cheap cab sim that you can run directly into the mixer from your board. The hopes are that you’ll never need it, but again it’s better to have it. Having trusted and reliable gear will cut out a lot of worries. Make sure you’ve got solid patch cables that can handle a bit of contorting and movement. If you notice a short at any point then troubleshoot or swap it out. If a guitar has a problem, it’s good to bring a spare just in case as well.
 
3.    Tuning – This seems like a no-brainer, but there are still some that jump in head first without tuning, and that’s completely preventable. Take the time to ensure each band member with applicable instruments are in tune (also part of #2). There’s nothing worse than an out of tune instrument. Pedal tuners and headstock tuners are cheaper and more reliable now than ever. They’re also great because you can tune silently so you’re not bothering the audience while you’re getting setup. If you’re having problems with your guitar staying in tune, throw on a new set of strings and stretch them properly before the gig. If there’s still a problem it may be worth taking it to a tech to see if it needs a setup. Also, if you have songs in different tunings, be prepared to either tune quickly and quietly, or have a backup guitar that’s already in the alternate tuning (see #1).
 
4.    See #1
 
5.    Stage Prep and Presence – Before getting to the gig, practice setting up and tearing down your rig. Getting it down to a science will make it quick and efficient (especially if playing with another band at the gig). It’s a good idea to get a feel for the stage if possible. When plugging in your guitar, be sure to loop it through your strap to ensure that when it’s stepped on, that it won’t rip the cable out of the input jack. Make sure cables going into and out of your pedalboard are away from high traffic areas if possible. You don’t want your drummer or singer stomping on the output cable and breaking the jack on your pedal. Aesthetics are a big part because the audience will be looking at the band as their source of visual entertainment. That may seem contrived or like selling out, but people judge with their eyes first (it’s just the way the world is now). Trying to keep a cohesive attire that’s appropriate for the gig is great. Stage presence, lights, all of it adds up to the combined experience for the audience, so plan accordingly to give the best visual representation of where you want the band to be. Again, it’s leaving a lasting impression on the audience as to what they will remember. 
 
6.    In the Mix – After setting up, it’s good to test the mix with a soundcheck. Be sure to take the time to setup each instrument so the level sits right in the mix. Nobody wants to hear only one instrument drowning out the others. If you can find a way to do so, step back from the stage to where the audience will be to see how it sounds. Having the levels right can really make a dramatic difference, especially when it comes to guitar tone. Depending on the height of the stage, you don’t want to blow the ear drums of the people in the front row, so the position of the amp makes a difference too. An important thing to remember is that your tone at home is going to be very different than in a live situation. Each room has its own contours and obstructions that absorb or reflect the sound, and the natural compression of the speakers and the added character of a louder amp will make your drives sound different. All of those goes back to #1 (can you see a pattern yet) where practice makes perfect and eliminating variables can make for a smoother gig. Usually, more often than not, the venue that you’re playing in won’t need a 100w half stack. Finding a nice combo amp (1x12 or 2x12, etc) makes for easier portability and less overkill on volume. 
 
7.    Identify Yourself – It’s good practice to make sure that your band’s name is very easy to see, so that way it leaves an impression and something memorable. If you can have it advertised by the venue, perfect! The goal is to create brand/band awareness to create an image for the band and subsequently what kind of a show people will expect when they see or hear the name. It’s not a bad thing at all to promote your social media pages, so long as it’s tastefully mentioned. Having a defined name that’s memorable and easily searchable will make it easier for users to find your page and your music going forward.
 
8.    See #1
 
9.    Promote the Venue – Venues have bands come play because it offers a show for their patrons. The end goal is that everyone likes getting paid, so the more the venue makes, the higher chances there are of being asked to come back and subsequently fostering that relationship with venues. While we’re on venues, it’s not a bad idea to have a contract signed by the band and the venue owner, just to be covered. You never know sometimes…
 
10.    Promote Yourself – The goal is always to spread the word and help people identify your band. Taking the time to make sure your band’s name and social media usernames are present makes a significant difference in our age of technology. You want to be easily searchable, so a banner or something that has the username of your pages is great to have posted somewhere for people to easily see. Have the singer promote the pages and repeat the band name periodically through the gig to leave that impression on people’s minds.
 
11.    Make People Move – People come out to have a good time, and they’re choosing to spend their money and time to see a show. Playing covers establishes a connection for a feeling of familiarity, and depending on the song it can make people dance (fast or slow songs), sing along, etc. Original songs are fine sporadically mixed in, but when just starting out it’s good do have a set of songs that will keep your audience entertained and wanting more. As much as it may not be fun to do, top 40 songs and songs that are currently relevant go a long way. Not saying that originals are terrible in the least bit, but gradual introduction will go a lot further to building your audience. If you can get people moving and involved, you’ve done your job! 
 
12.    Be good to your audience – I recently saw a video of Nickelback in Portugal that was having rocks thrown at them. Despite the hate they receive, they were there to play their music and the people paid to see them. After the second song, the band gave them the middle finger and walked off the stage. I know I’m beating a dead horse here, but keeping the audience happy is an integral part of any gig. Reading the crowd and gauging their responses as you go along is key. If things aren’t going so well (maybe a low-key crowd, etc), have a few songs that are a bit different than ones you played before. 
 
13.    See #1
 
14.    Play for the Song – We all want to include massive solos in songs, mainly because they’re insanely fun to play. That being said, knowing when to play is just as important as knowing WHAT to play (see #1). Just like Miles Davis said: “Don’t worry about playing a lot of notes. Just find one pretty one.” It’s okay to embellish some, but it’s also good to let the song “breathe” so to speak. 
 
15.    Have Fun – The main thing is to have fun! Yes, it may be a gig that will put food on the table, but most of us picked up the instrument because we love it and love playing. Most of the things listed above are all precautionary and once you do a once-over on your rig they’re done for good. Play the music you love, soak in the moment and enjoy yourself. You put in the work to get there, you deserve a bit of fun!
 
These are definitely not all of the things that can help create a successful gig, but it at least gets you started!

Gigging - what not to do - Part 1

Gigging… the term is often very fluid in its definition. When someone says they are going to a gig, it could mean a lot of things: It could be a massive outdoor show with thousands of audience members in attendance, or a small obscure bar on a weekday night with a hand few of people listening and all sorts of other things in between. Either way, no matter where you’re playing, it’s in front of a group of people outside of a controlled environment (practice space, home, etc.). Getting out there and playing music in front of an audience is an unrivaled feeling. Equal parts excitement, nervousness, focus and a plethora of other emotions washing over you in waves before, during, and after the gig. A great gig can truly connect with the audience and it just feels like the crowd and the band become one cohesive unit, moving and singing together that everyone can feel the collective sonic aura that is in the air. It’s a truly awe-inspiring moment. Conversely, a poorly executed gig can really wreak havoc that could prolong past the gig in question. Bad gigs turn away customers, which in turn hurts the venue and the band's subsequent change of returning (and even procuring other gigs). I’m not necessarily saying that a bad gig will ruin everything, but with a few minor tweaks and preparations, it can eliminate variables that are possible to mess up. 
 
I’d like to share a story about a gig I recently attended that sparked this blog piece. My wife and a few friends of ours went out to celebrate my wife’s birthday. We ended up at a local restaurant and bar that has been known for having quite good bands play in the past. Everyone ordered drinks around 8 pm with the band starting at 9 pm. We had no clue who the band was, the sign only said, “Live music”. At around 8:15 a few guys started showing up, one carrying pieces of his drum kit, the other carrying a combo amp with a Mesa/Boogie cover and a small pedalboard (We’re guitar players, I can’t imagine I’m the only person who scopes out other rigs at places).  The drummer sets up and begins testing his snare and it was easy to tell outright that he was a heavy-handed guy. The guitarist pulls out his sticker-covered black 70’s-era headstock Strat with the string ends flopping around the headstock. He proceeds to tune (unmuted) and starts riffing. I’m not talking about just quiet noodling; the guy was full-on digging in with his Dunlop Crybaby Mini and Boss DD7 raring to go. Finally, about 8:45 they stop and go to the bar.
 
Prior to taking positions at 9 pm, each of the band members takes between 3-5 shots each of some sort, then they head up and start their set. Prior to playing a single note, the bassist proceeds to inform the crowd that they were playing all original music and no covers, or as they like to call them “Future covers.” They proceeded to play a ska/reggae song that was… okay. The guitarist took an extended solo that lasted about 7 minutes with his wah and delay on with the mix set REALLY high no tap tempo, off beat). After finishing the song, they followed up with reinforcing they were playing future covers, and noted, “One day other bands will be covering our songs. Just remember Led Zeppelin had to start out playing original songs too.” … more on that later. After the first song, the bassist and the guitarist switched and started playing the other’s instrument for the remainder of the time we were there. Into their second song, the bass player started getting a little wound up. The rest of the band was low-key and had a swing feel, where the bassist was jumping around like he was at a punk gig. Amid his carrying on, he proceeded to jump on his cable and rip it out of the input jack. We’ve all been there… you know exactly what that sounded like. He fumbled for a moment then mid song you could hear him crackling the amp trying to plug the cable back in. We endured a few more songs that were accompanied by cliff notes such as, "We wrote this one while we were doing acid on the beach in Australia" and similar things. At 9:45 we decided to move on a check out what else was going on in the city, so we departed.
 
Ever since that night, I’ve been thinking about what went on and how they could have prevented or improved the experience with a few adjustments in the process. In my next blog, I’ll run through a few good practices and tips and tricks of what works and what doesn’t after discussing the topic with colleagues who gig regularly in all sorts of venues.
 
Part 2, coming on Thursday. I know, exciting isn't it! :D

Pride and Ego my lads, it's what makes the world rotate

I was talking to Alex about a forthcoming blog he has coming and I (as usual) ended up quoting an Iron Maiden song to him. The song is B side from 1986, so you know, not one of their most well-known, but me being the Maiden geek I am, it did seemed appropriate.

Alex’s blog is going to be about common problems for people starting out in bands, and I instantly thought of the Maiden’s song “The Sheriff of Huddersfield” which was basically them mercilessly taking the piss out of their manager Rod Smallwood. There is a wonderful line in that (Bruce doing an impression of Rod) that says “Pride and Ego my lads, pride and ego, it’s what makes the world rotate.”

As I was then thinking about what he said, I had somewhat of a revelation myself, so I thought I would put it down on th’internet (one for the good people of Huddersfield there, and Yorkshire in general to enjoy) to remind myself in the future about my place in the universe and playing in a band.

I play in a pub band, doing covers. Nothing outrageous, but we make good noises at all the right times. We do our favourite songs in the hope that the people coming to see us enjoy them also. We are not a note for note type of band, we do everything our way – sometimes that way is like the record, sometimes it’s really not. This means I have a lot of scope as the guitar player to go off on one and enjoy myself with rather long and protracted solos. 

Last week we played a gig and did a song we don’t do very often, “Bring Back The Sunshine” by Eddie Rabbit. We do it nothing like the original, it’s more done in a rock ballad style and I get the opportunity every time to pretend to be David Gilmour.

In my opinion, I did the greatest improvised solo of my life last week in this song, I literally gave myself goosebumps as I was playing it. Mrs Wilding comes to virtually every gig (she often plays the piano with us as well, but wasn’t on the night in question) as she just loves listening to me play. As we’ve been married for over 15 years she knows my playing well and knows when I am happy playing and when I am not, once I had finished my solo I looked up at her and she was beaming at me, smiling all the way up to her eyes and back down again, so I know that she appreciated it also.

Once the set had finished I went outside to cool down and waited for the inevitable glory to be poured on me by my bandmates. You may think I’m joking but we’ve all known each other for literally decades and I’ve been playing with them for that long, not as a regular member of the band but I’ve been dropping in and out for ever, so we know each other really well and we have absolutely no issue with telling each other when one of us does something really good, or really bad. I think it makes us a better band as we trust each other implicitly. I joined the band full time 18 months ago and we’ve often commented on how musically we are a good fit as we are all just fans of each other’s playing. I’ve said before I consider Rick, the bass player, to be the greatest I’ve ever seen and stand by that.

So (there it is again, I really must stop going that), I’m outside and out they come and I say “That was great”… the bass players says “Love that picking thing you did on Liza Jane” and the singer said, “Bring Back The Sunshine…” (here we go, I was about to receive the glory I so richly deserved) “… would be great if you went down low at some point, give it some more dynamics”.

I was devastated. Literally felt like my heart dropped into my stomach. Nothing about my mega solo at all. Mrs Wilding had said it was great, she loved it, she even recognised some of the set pieces I had done within it

It’s taken me until today to realise that my pride and ego have got the better of me, and for that, I openly and publically apologise to them. If I think the solo was that good, but it didn’t catch their attention enough to comment, then I need to make it better. I can remember exactly what I did and how I did it (which is rare when you are a prolific improviser) as a lot of it was sections of some tasty licks from other players put together to make my own version of a solo. I obviously need to make it better, I need to think about its structure and a way to make it more memorable. If I want to catch their attention, I need to actually catch their attention with something and not just assume that because I think something was good, that they should notice it.

Basically, I need to work on me. Pride and Ego my lads, pride and ego. It’s what makes the world rotate.

Gear snobbery in 2017

<rant>

I’ve not had a good internet based rant for ages so I think it might be time to dust off my sword and shield and dive on in…

Part of my job is to answer questions, research products, keep an eye on the competition and the like so I quite often tour the forums (or, as this is 2017, the social media equivalent) as it’s the best way of discovering what is around, what is coming, and what people are leaning towards. Mostly, it’s a very rewarding process but sometimes I read things that make me want to stop the world and get off. My main frustration tends to be geared towards the attitudes that appear to be forming, as you watch them grow and become a thing, it’s very frustrating because once you do this long enough you see it coming and you want to be able to stop it, but you are powerless.

The latest one, or should I say, the one I’ve been noticing for about a year or so now is in full flow.

Inverted Gear Snobbery.

You may have noticed this, as it often revolves around brands such as PRS, Strymon, Two Rock and even sometimes the high-end effects manufacturers such as ours (yes, I know Strymon are that as well but let’s face it, they are a force of their own these days and stand above the resst of the market in that particular field). You’ll notice several reoccurring comments. “Praise and Worship” and “Blues lawyer” and both of these send me postal.

 

Praise and Worship

I despise labels in music, to me, it’s either rock and roll or it’s not. I tend to personally dislike the things that aren’t in my head rock and roll, but you know, that’s me. However, rock and roll isn’t what its common label is, it’s anything cool, edgy, different, powerful, emotional. So, Justin Beiber’s “Love Yourself” is rock and roll, and "Rockstar" by Nickleback isn’t. It’s not about the chord structure or being guitar-based, it’s about the passion, performance and the delivery. If a song is delivered on a Sunday morning, in a church and delivered with passion and power, who cares. To me, it’s still rock and roll. It’s just a genre of music, it has its own style, its own way of doing things… so, there tends to be the Trifecta of Strymons on the board as let’s face it, if you want mental delays, reverbs, modulations to be all over the place, all the time, and have it under control, is there a better tool for it? Nope. Not right now. So why is it a problem? I don’t know, I’ve asked people why and they just laugh and make derogatory comments. It’s all a little strange really, but boy, do they enjoy making disparaging comments about those Strymons and lots of booteek level pedals that are on the board.

 

Blues Lawyers.

This gets right on my nerves as well, so what if someone has worked hard in their career and now has a massive amount of disposable income. So they buy a $4k PRS and play blues licks on it, who cares? What difference does it make? If someone wants to spend their money on a nice guitar, why shouldn’t that, why does it mean we should mock them and make fun of them? Music is being played, and that’s a good thing.

 

So (and yes, I also hate paragraphs that start with that as well), what is this about? Why do people instantly judge people based on the fact they have nice things. Why is it an issue if a random P&W guy uses 3 Strymons for 6 songs on a Sunday morning, or if a successful lawyer owns a few extremely nice PRS. The only issue should be “are they being put to good use”. If they are bought to be put into a bank vault, then yes, we should be in an uproar, but in my experience, they generally aren’t. A lot of people wear their gear as a badge of honour, as a status symbol, but that’s no difference to a young guy and his impressive jewelry or sneaker collection, someone who collects books, paintings, watches, cars… anything. What difference does it make? Do people with a PS1 mock the people with a PS4? No, they don’t.

A lot of this, I think, stems from inverted snobbery that maybe comes from a little jealousy. You’ll often notice that the guy making the most noise is the one with the old TS and Strat into a Fender amp. Or a Gibson into a Marshall. Often runs alongside the “If it wuz good enuf for Jimi” comment or similar. I quite often respond to “what difference does it make, it’s a subjective issue”. Gear is here for one reason and one reason only, to make the people using it happy. If the gear does that, then job done. Just don’t look down on the people who choose to do it differently than you do. Both styles are good. Both are valid. Both have a place. I see a lot of it come from people perceive that 'blue lawyers' drive the price up, do they? How many 'blues lawyers' do you see that have a Klon, or a Dumble... in my experience, none. All their stuff tends to be new and shiny. 

As an ending to this rant, I have to declare this. I play a PRS. I gig with 2 Strymon's and 4 Wampler's. The picture above is my board. I have a law degree, but I don’t play the blues much and it’s pretty well-known I’m hugely unlikely to be playing in any given P&W setting anytime soon. How about you listen to my tone and what I play instead? How about we listen to what the guys with the Strymon's and the nice PRS do instead? Why do we listen and judge something so easily with our eyes when in this case it’s our ears that we should be using, not any gear based preconceptions that are invariably saying more about the person saying them than the person under ‘discussion’.

</rant>

Relic vs. New - Where do you stand?

“Relic” guitars have become an ever-growing popular trend in gear culture lately, and with any trend, there’s always a division of people who love or hate it and all things between.  For those wondering, a Relic is an instrument (the term applies to more than just guitars) that is intentionally beaten up, scratched, chipped, dented and made dirty to simulate extensive use and abuse on the road for decades. There are varying ranges, from barely noticeable light wear to full-on beat to death, where some extreme cases look like they tied the guitar to the back of a truck and proceeded to drag it down a gravel road for a dozen miles or so. There are very well-known companies that have sprung up over the past few years that their business model is making a brand-new guitar look like it’s 50 years old and seen some sh*t.
 
The interesting side of it is that it’s a very divided line of people that either loves them or despise them. I’m on the like/love side of relicing, but my motto is always that everything is great in moderation (more on that later). Nothing truly beats the feeling of a brand-new guitar. Pristine paint, smooth neck in flawless condition, hardware that is still shiny with no fingerprints on it…. even the smell of a new guitar is fantastic. There’s nothing like finding that blank canvas, ready for hundreds of hours of blood, sweat, and tears to be poured into it during its journey with whatever player acquires it. There’s also something to be said about preserving that majesty. There are a plethora of waxes and polishes and lemon oil for the rosewood fretboards… all steps to try to keep the cherished instrument in the top quality that it can be in. 
 
After some time though, despite our best efforts inevitably you’ll encounter that first dreaded ding. It’s a truly sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach, where you can feel all your nerves firing in your body as you brace yourself to check what awful fate befell the spot that just took the brunt of the impact. If you’re lucky, it’s a surface ding or scratch where it’s nearly invisible to the naked eye, and it requires odd light angles to be able to truly see it.  In the bad scenarios, you’re looking at potentially evasive maneuvers to attempt to fix whatever happened. Therein lies the problem: it’s something that is gut-wrenching and makes you just feel like crap as soon as it happens. It’s the curse of a gorgeous guitar: it’s pristine and amazing, but if you ding it up then it detracts from the overall look (and the feel if something happens to the neck), and it also affects resale value in the end. I know, I know… the person with the most guitars wins, right? But sometimes a fit of GAS strikes, or just life, in general, brings up the need to move some gear, and the condition it’s in plays a huge role in that sale.
 
Then there are the old favorites. Some of them earned their badges along the way in smoky bars, gig after gig every weekend. The road warriors, the guitars that have some love… dents, dings, paint missing, dirty fretboard…the opposite of pristine. You can see a lot of famous guitar players with guitars that they’ve obviously played the life out of to the point where they are barely recognizable from the original: SRV’s Strat comes to mind, same with John Mayer’s Strat. Keith Richards tele, Muddy Waters tele, Rory Gallagher’s Strat, Brad Paisley’s ’68 tele, Willie Nelson’s “Trigger” … the list just goes on and on and it’s impossible to list all of them. These guitars have had hundreds of hours of playing and thousands of gigs to get them to look like that, and they have become signatures for each of those artists to where they’re instantly identifiable (because those beat up guitars ooze vibe and look incredibly cool). 
 
The reality of the situation is that not everyone can put that much time into their instrument, and subsequently personalize it to its full road worn glory through their own personal musical escapades. I’m not going to get into details of poly vs. nitro, but that plays a huge factor when it comes to the natural wear of the finish on a guitar. I’ll use myself as an example of why I love relics, and I think that a few people may be in the same boat. I’m a 31-year-old IT desk jockey that enjoys jamming on the weekends. Rarely gig anymore due to work and family obligations, but playing guitar is still my outlet that provides stress relief more than anything in this world. I love the look of a well-done relic, but I literally will never be able to do that naturally to a guitar. There are a lot of my friends in the industry that has been playing for a very long time, and despite them gigging all the time their guitars haven’t worn very much at all after a decade or more of heavy use. The reason being that many builders/manufacturers have improved the processes and quality of the finishes they’re applying, and subsequently they’re less likely to fade/chip/etc. compared to the materials used 30, 40, and 50+ years ago.
 
The number one thing that we see people say that are anti-relicing is “just play the crap out of it and let it wear naturally. It looks fake, etc.” If you refer to my scenario above, that’s just not an option for me or many others. Relic’s provide the ability to experience the feel of a worn-in instrument in a scenario where it couldn’t happen naturally. Again, I work a desk job and personally can’t guarantee that I’ll get another 20-30 years to attempt to relic something myself naturally. We live in one of the greatest technological times ever, and if the craftsmanship and skill are there, why wait 30 years when you can have the guitar that you’ve wanted, often immediately available (or whatever build time some shops may take, which is 9/10 times always less than 20-30 years)? If a relic is not someone’s favorite thing, then there are a plethora of builders that can create a pristine, immaculate work of art to suit those tastes as well. There are people that wouldn’t like those guitars just as much as there are people who don’t like relics. That’s the beauty of guitar gear, is that everything is subjective, and I can guarantee that not everyone will agree with each person’s gear habits. That’s completely cool, and that’s what makes us unique!
 
Back to why I like relics: I’m a bit clumsy. There, I admitted it. I’ve made my fair share of “oops” moments that sometimes ended up with no issues at all, but I’ve also had some doozies (spinning a PRS and the strap coming undone, with it subsequently hitting the floor and beating up the back… I’m particularly not proud of that). I’ve been playing my Crook Custom paisley telecaster and bumped up against a desk and put a ding in it that made me sick to the stomach. However, with a relic guitar, it's already beaten up! That dreaded first ding mentioned above is nothing but a beauty mark to personalize it and add its own story to the life of the guitar. I’ll never forget my Jason Wilding saying that the moment he gets a new guitar, he drops it on the floor to get that first ding out of the way. I was appalled at the notion of that, but the more I thought about it that’s one of the most liberating feelings imaginable. Not having to worry about whether you bump into things and what aesthetic damage will occur is such a free feeling. Guitars are tools and should be treated as such I suppose.
 
I mentioned earlier about “everything is good in moderation”. This is where I’m sitting with the whole relic thing: If it’s done tastefully and in a realistic fashion, then a relic can be a gorgeous thing. I’m not a huge fan of the heavy relics, but that’s just a personal thing. I can respect that people like those and would never put anyone down for liking those. The key thing that sets these custom builders apart is the attention to detail. Doing your research and seeing what builder fits best to your end goal is the key to a great finished product you're happy with. The other option is DIY relicing which would save some money, but there’s a learning curve and it may take a few trials and errors to get the technique down to fit what you’re going for. If you want to get into relicing your own gear, I highly suggest perusing the catacombs of Google and TheGearPage.net and other forums like that to see what has worked and what hasn’t for others before diving head first into banging up your favorite instrument. Buy a couple of cheapo guitars and see what kind of trouble you can get into, what methods work and what doesn’t. It can get expensive, but the feeling of completing a DIY project successfully is unparalleled.
 
To summarize, yes, I’m looking at it a lot aesthetically. That’s not necessarily the main thing with relics, but that’s a large part and the first thing that people comment on is the visual aspects of it. I didn’t even touch on the ways that the neck can feel even better when it’s bare wood, or how having some of the finish off of the body can let the wood breathe a bit and add some sustain…etc. That may seem like voodoo to some people, but if others think it makes a difference, then why argue? I guess my main goal with this entire article that I’ve rambled on about is that whether you like relics or not when you see one that you don’t like, don’t automatically bash it. If it’s not your thing, then it’s easier to skip over the thread and ignore it than to just openly bash someone’s happiness. I've got guitars that I try to keep in pristine condition, and I've got guitars that I really don't care if they get dinged up or bumped into things. There doesn't have to be a clear line drawn in the sand on the subject, you can like or not like any of what I just wrote and there's no problem with that. Tone and gear preferences are purely subjective in every sense of the word, so have some fun with it!

Tone is all in the fingers?

As you may know, we run an extremely lively group on Facebook, imaginatively named “The Wampler Pedals Tone Group”. Feel free to click on that and join us.

We are quite proud that in the most, it’s very unlike MANY other pages that talk about gear, as generally there isn’t much trolling and everyone is there because it’s a ‘safe’ place to talk openly without much in the way of come back. I say ‘much’ because as we’ve got 10k members, it does sometimes kick off in there, and when it does Alex and I have to make like Gendry and bring the axe to any particular party that might be in full flow.

At the start of the weekend, there was a classic post that ended up in somewhat of a 'heated debate'. It was the classic "Tone is in the fingers" comment that people reacted too, and then others reacted back. It was one of those posts, you know what it's like...

ANYWAY... This started me thinking. How can we look at this issue objectively and see if it’s true. Or if it’s half true. Or if it’s crap. At the very moment in time i as thining about it I received a barrage of texts from my friend Jamie, utterly pointless ones (because if I am being honest we have a similar sense of humour, that of a 12 year old boy, and are constantly texting each other stuff just to make the other laugh), but as usual they were very funny. As I was texting him back I had what you might call a lightbulb moment, because the best thing about Jamie in regard to the question mentioned above is that he has spent a lot of the last 10 years as the guitar player in the show “We Will Rock You” (where they are very very fussy about tone and you HAVE to sound like Brian May does as much as possible to be even considered). He is unique in this thought process because he has the rare position of being friends with Brian May and has toured with him... So, as he has spent his time using gear to sound like someone and then had the opportunity to play though that same person’s real rig, I thought I’d put the question directly to him…

JW: “Hey Jamie, I want to ask you a specific question but before I get there, I'd like a little back ground first... So, the We Will Rock You (WWRY) show, how long have you been doing that?”

JH: “I first started in 2007 as the sub guitarist and went on to be “Guitar #1” in Europe (at Brian’s request). So far I’ve played the show in UK (including the tour), Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Austria. All this means I have to do all the signature Brian stuff and I'm the one that goes out on to the stage every night and plays the solo from Bohemian Rhapsody as a visual part of the show.”

JW: “What was the requirement for gear in the WWRY show?”

JH: “We had to sound as much like him as possible, so that includes a Red Special guitar, Fryer Treble Booster, big chorus and authentic AC 30’s. I went on a personal mission to get as close as I can so I got a different treble booster, the one that is worn on the strap, had the pickups replaced on my Red Special to the ones wound the same as Brian’s with old 60’s magnets and even the Bourne Pots which are slightly different. All this is integral to the tone, THAT tone.”

JW: “So, how close do you think you got to Brian’s tone with that gear?”

JH: “To be honest, the gear is really important but it’s more about getting into the headspace of how Brian plays and using his techniques. For example, the sixpence, the belt pack booster BEFORE the wireless system, the using of the finger to brush the string, the almost regal way he phrases his runs, pre-bends and his vibrato. So, it’s just as important to use the fingers in the way he does as it is to have the gear, but it’s more important to get into his mindspace and work out what he plays and how he plays it. There are so many different things that make up his sound.”

JW: “You also toured with Brian – so when you played Brian’s gear, how close can you get to him”

JH: “I think as close as anyone can get by getting into that mindset, but it was still only really close, because I’m not Brian. When I am playing like him, I exaggerate the things he does to make it sound more like him to make those signature parts work, but I’d say it’s impossible to truly 100% sound that way, but I think we (the guys who really really try) can get close enough for a lot of people to question who it is, providing we have the right gear and right mindset. When we played Hyde Park in London, I got to rip through his entire rig at huge volume, because that’s my childhood right there, I was so happy… and it sounded so good, Brian and Pete (Brian’s long serving tech) where there, and they said I was really really close to ‘THAT’ sound”

JW: “So, is tone all in the fingers or all in the gear?”

JH: “It’s in the fingers, and the gear, but most importantly, it’s in the mindset and the approach to how you make the gear work and appreciating that the phrasing along with it, that is actually as much to do with the tone than anything else. It’s all as important as each other.”

So, what do we make of all that? Let’s think about what Jamie was saying, and let’s face it, he’s employed to sound like Brian as much as possible and he went the extra mile to do it (and, as Queen own the show he's employed by Brian to play like him). He can get really close by employing the same gear, the same touch and most importantly the same mindset. So, it would appear that tone is not all in the fingers, or the gear after all. Everything is important, everything makes the tone, but you have to be thinking in the right way first.

Jamie is a session musician from the UK, now based in Sweden. He endorses and is endorsed by: Music Man, Mesa Boogie, Massive Unity, Two Notes, Steinberg, DiMarzio and many other incredible manufacturers. You can catch him on tour this year with The Champions of Rock in Scandinavia, see his instructional videos on LickLibrary and buy materials from his website, jamiehumphries.com