As I watching the news here in 'sunny' England yesterday i was confronted with a picture of a rather serious looking Robert Plant and Jimmy Page and the headline of "Stairway Heaven in copyright trail". I expect like most people did, I just rolled my eyes and thought "... not again" but then the more I thought about it, the more ridiculous it became.
Before I start, let's look at a couple of copyright trials in terms of music in recent years. Famously Joe Satriani took Coldplay to court because of the claims he made that their song "Viva La Vida" from 2008 was based on his 2004 track "If I Could Fly". Here they both are....
I can hear some similarities in the two, but I'm not certain enough to bring about a court action. Now, I love Satch - big love for him and his career but I don't get this - there are parts of the Satch song I can take over to the other but for me it's not that obvious... Waaaaaaay back in the 90's I worked in a music shop in Exeter and Chris Martin was a regular in there as a young 17/18 year old music freak. I remember him having a talent several miles wide and hated it when I dropped Vai and Satriani licks in when there was a shop jam happening. He just didn't like that style of music and never listened to it... But, that's incidental. Anyway, it is strongly rumoured that this was settled out of court under the banner of being "dismissed".
George Harrison was famously found to have subliminally plagiarised "The Chiffons" track "He's So Fine" for his track "My Sweet Lord"... now, this one I can hear completely. Have a listen to the melodies throughout... I do find it 'amusing' that after the case was found against Harrison he went on to buy the publishing company that owned The Chiffons track!
So, Stairway to Heaven. Apparently, this copyright infringement action has been brought by Michael Skidmore, a trustee for the late Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe, who played on the same bill as Led Zeppelin in the 1960s, and claims he should be given a writing credit on the track. Let's have a listen to them put together (man... I love the internet).
I think everyone can hear the hooks in the intro being similar. But let's be honest, it's not exactly an uncommon progression/feeling in either of these songs is there. At what point does a song become solely identifiable from one section of the track, in this case, it would appear to be the intro and maybe a hook in the middle. At what point do we draw the line at what is obviously an inspiration and what is blatantly plagiarism. As I said above, Zep and Spirit shared the the same bill in 1969 and Spirit played Taurus that day. Could it have been the case that Page heard it and it stuck in the back of his head? Probably. Could it be the case that Page/Plant sat down in that cottage in Wales and said "Remember that band, Spirit, we played with them a couple of years back - they did a song called Taurus and it had a couple of great hooks in it, let's use them in a new song"... Unlikely. I mean, it's not as if Zep were struggling for hooks or general abilities for songwriting was it?
I'll think I'll just leave you with this to think about before I start ranting about lawyers and the pointless pursuit of money, something for nothing and creativity...
Actually, I'm not going to rant but I will say this... If this is decided in favour of Spirit on May 10th, I will just transfer all my future gig earnings to Messers. Gilmour, Vai, Satriani, Mason, Reed, Edge, May, Paisley, Smith, Murray, Bettencourt, Gill.... and everyone else's who's licks I've picked up over the years and are all bastardised together to make me sound like me. I wonder if I can just set up a direct debit to their accounts, or maybe I should just stop playing. Maybe the fear of litigation will stop is all from playing soon anyway. How I wish I was the person who can claim rights to the 12 bar progression... Imagine that!
Since early on, Brian has been a major fan of country music, and the one person synonymous with country music and Nashville is one of the most renowned studio musicians in history, Brent Mason. Brent’s style, touch and phrasing are unparalleled, where each note is played exactly how and when it should be with complete precision. Recording so often with many different artists, Brent wanted his dirt tones to be highly tweakable to allow his guitar to fit perfectly in the style and character of each individual song he works on. Brian originally created the Hotwired v1, which was meant to the THE pedal for chickin' pickin'. Fast forward a few years and the country music industry has changed, so the tools had to change to keep up to date. After discussing what Brent wanted, the Hot Wired v2 was born.
Our favorite part of the Hotwired v2 is its ability to adapt to just about any genre of music (even some degrees of metal!). The clean blend on the overdrive side allows the player to specifically tailor the precise amount of overdrive they want blended with their natural tone, so it’s similar to running a dirty and clean stereo amp setup! The distortion side is also very versatile, and allows you to cover loads of classic rock, country, and even harder rock tones.
Volume: This knob controls the overall level of the overdrive side of the Hotwired v2. Counterclockwise will give less overall output (fully counterclockwise will have no output), where turning it clockwise will allow you to reach unity in correlation with the overdrive knob, as well as providing a boost to the front end of your amp to push it into natural overdrive.
Overdrive: This control dictates the overall amount of clipping that is happening on your signal. It can go from the lightest, edge of breakup tone to a very saturated overdrive tone and all levels in between. Counterclockwise will yield less gain, which is great for adding just a bit of punch to lead lines and fattening up your attack. Turning the knob clockwise will up the saturation, but still retaining the overall characteristic of your guitar’s natural tone.
Blend: This knob controls how much of your clean signal is blended with the overdrive signal from the Hotwired. Fully counterclockwise will result in only your clean tone passing through with no effect, and turning the knob clockwise will begin to introduce your overdrive tone mixed in with your clean tone. Fully clockwise will yield only your tone passed through the overdrive side of the Hot Wired. This knob allows you to have complete control over your tone with the right blend of clean sparkle and gritty crunch to suit any situation. The effects are most noticeable with the overdrive knob turned up, but the key is finding the sweet spot on the overdrive knob in conjunction with the blend to get the deepest, most three-dimensional overdrive tone that Brent has used as his characteristic tone for years on end on countless records.
Tone: This knob controls the overall high-end frequencies that are present in your overdrive tone. Fully counterclockwise on the knob will give a much mellower, darker tone which is great for jazz and smoky blues. Turning the tone knob clockwise will add in high-end content which provides a sparkle and depth to your notes, allowing you to cut through the mix at just the right amount of high end. The tone knob works in conjunction with the switch to provide loads of tone shaping options. We suggest setting your gain level and the fatness on the switch position, and then starting at Noon add or remove the highs from your tone.
Normal/Fat/Fatter switch: This switch allows the player to fine-tune their overdrive tone in conjunction with the tone knob. On the normal setting, there is no effect on your tone, it’s just the base signal from the overdrive knob and wherever your tone knob is set. The Fat setting adds an low-mid punch that works exceptionally well paired with brighter guitars to fatten up your tone. On the Fatter setting, it’s designed to make your tone sound MASSIVE. The lows and low-mids are the most pronounced in this setting, creating a much warmer and thicker overdrive tone.
Channel 2 (Distortion):
Level: Just like with the overdrive side, this level controls the overall output of the distortion side of the Hot Wired v2. Being a distortion, there’s plenty of gain on tap to give a great lead boost with the gain on tap, and unity is directly correlated with where the distortion knob is set. If the distortion is set lower, then you will have to compensate by raising the level. As the distortion goes up, you can back down the level to reach unity.
Tone: The tone controls works in the same fashion that the overdrive side does. Counterclockwise will result in a darker distortion tone (great for single coils), where turning it clockwise will give more brightness to your signal for darker guitars. We suggest starting the tone control at Noon and adjusting to taste based the tone you’re looking for and what guitar you’re using.
Distortion: This knob controls the overall crunch and amount of distortion that is happening on your signal. The gain range goes from slight breakup to full on rock glory and all things in between. It’s based on a Plexi-ish tone, but with a much more neutral tonal profile and less aggressive clipping. The distortion tone is based directly on where the tone knob and normal/fat/fatter switch is positioned. It can go from a light crunch to a fat wall of searing tone.
Normal/Fat/Fatter switch: Just like the overdrive side, the distortion side has a 3-way switch to adjust the low and low-mid presence of your distortion tone. Normal will have no effect, Fat will increase the “oomph” of your tone and fill out your sound more, and Fattest will give a great wall of fat sustain.
- 5” x 4.5” x 1.5″ in size (114.3mm x 114.3mm x 38.1mm) – height excludes knobs and switches
- Power draw: 17mA – The Hot Wired v2 can be run on an internal 9v battery, or a Boss-style negative center tip barrel connector. The Hot Wired v2 can be run at up to 18v, doing so will increase the headroom of the overdrive and distortion.
- Completely true-bypass, Handbuilt in the U.S.A.
- Built to the exact specifications of world renowned session artist Brent Mason.
- There have been 2 versions of the Hot Wired, with v1 having several different graphic iterations before settling in on the current closest graphic layout. The v2 is the most up to date version.
You can read more about the Hot Wired v2 or purchase factory direct HERE
Several years ago, Brian created an overdrive called the Cranked AC, which was loosely based on the legendary Class-A amps many famous users such as the Brian May, the Beatles, Tom Petty and the Edge used to achieve some of their most signature sounds. The Cranked AC mimicked those tones to a degree, but not as much as Brian wanted for a true amp-in-a-box. A Class-A style pedal was one of the most requested pedals for years, thus the Thirty Something was born.
Our favorite part of the Thirty Something is its ability to be paired with any amp and guitar and still obtaining that great glistening clean tone that made those old amps so great. We really wanted the clean tone to be the foundation of the pedal, then identified the characteristics of those classic overdrive tones to create the pairing that we feel nails those fantastic clean and overdriven Class-A tones.
Volume: This knob controls the overall output on the Thirty Something. It has plenty of volume on tap to boost your amp into natural overdrive, or to set as another “gain channel” for your amp. The volume is directly affected by the amount of gain that is set, so more gain may result in needing to adjust the volume down, where less gain will warrant raising the volume to get the proper volume to overdrive ratio.
Bass: This knob controls the overall low-end frequency of your overdrive signal. This really helps to tailor the Thirty Something to whatever amp and guitar you are using. For darker amps or some guitars with humbuckers, you may want to reduce the bass to prevent it from getting “woofy”. When using an inherently bright amp or singlecoils, the bass control can be used to thicken up your tone or fill out the sound if playing at lower volumes. We suggest starting at Noon and adjusting to fit your guitar from there.
Treble: This knob controls the overall high end frequencies present in your overdrive signal. This works exceptionally well paired with dark amps or humbuckers to sit better in the mix, or rolling it off will help with spikiness from too much treble from singlecoils. This control works at a different frequency than the Top Cut, as it’s more based on the high and upper mids. We suggest starting at Noon and adjusting based on what type of tonality you’re looking for.
Top Cut: This knob is similar to those old Class A amps that were inherently very bright (the Thirty Something is also inherently bright), and it allows you to roll off some of the upper high end frequencies which can be brittle or too aggressive for use with some guitars (singlecoils especially) or amps. Fully counterclockwise none of the frequencies are affected and everything is neutral. Turning the knob clockwise will begin to roll off a bit of the top high end to smooth out your tone. We suggest starting it fully counterclockwise and adjusting from there to suite your needs.
Gain: This knob dictates the overall amount of overdrive present in your signal chain. The level of gain is dependent on what position the Headroom Switch is set to. The Thirty Something goes from a clear, chimey clean tone enhancer with loads of cut like those old amps all of the way to full on saturation and copious amounts of overdrive. It can go from Edge-inspired riffs with delay to Brian May-inspired crunch with the turn of the gain knob. As you increase the gain, the volume will also raise and likely need to be adjusted. We suggest starting around 9am and exploring the cleaner-side of the gain range, then cranking it to get those soaring lead tones that defined some of rock’s early years.
Boost Level: The boost knob is based around a Top Boost like many players used on those Class A amps to boost them further into overdrive. This boost accentuates the highs and high-mids to increase the gain and punch of the overdrive and add sustain and a clarity to jump out front in the mix. Being an independent boost, it can be paired in front of any pedal to add that extra high-mid crunch and cut.
Headroom Switch: This switch selects between two different gain settings on the Thirty Something. Set on 15, the Thirty Something will clip into overdrive faster because it’s a "smaller wattage” amp-style compared to the 30 side, thus having more gain on tap and achieving it quicker. On the 30 side, there is much less gain and it stays cleaner with just a bit of added grit like an old 30w Class-A amp (which were loud and clean). This switch directly affects how the gain knob reacts, so we suggest starting on the 30 side (cleaner) and switch to the 15 for more gain.
- 5″ x 4.5″ x 1.5″ (88.9mm x 114.3mm x 38.1mm) – height excludes knobs and switches
- Power draw: 13mA – Powered by a 9v center negative tip cable (Boss style) or internally via a 9v battery. The Thirty Something can be run from 9v up to 18v and anywhere in between. Increased voltages will lead to higher headroom and less gain.
- Boost can be used when main pedal is off to drive amp/other pedals
- True-Bypass switches
- There have been two naming iterations of this pedal. The first with the name being the “Ace Thirty”. Due to a nasty-gram from a certain company (long story), it was lovingly renamed the Thirty Something. There is no difference in the circuits whatsoever, it was merely renamed.
You can read more about the Thirty Something HERE and also buy factory direct.
I’ve not let the contentious me out the box for a while but something has happened recently that’s made me a little prickly.
Guitar solo competitions. I hate them. I really really hate them. When did playing the guitar, or music in general, become a competition? Are we expecting to have it put into the Olympics? Man, if it does, I pity the people who have to dope test some of the pros! Lolololz, no – obviously, I put that in to make myself smile as after today, I’m kind of struggling… and before I start, have you noticed that it’s always the same people entering these things? Always the same guys winning, always the same faces submitting? I’m actually bored of the sight of some of them by now.
OK, so – today. Facebook lit up this afternoon (my own profile included) with the video of someone who was awarded 2nd place in a solo competition (as usual,Wampler Artist Levi Clay broke the news as this is a pet hate of his). The solo was awesome, the level of composition was fantastic and so far as musicality goes, I loved it. The trouble was, he was miming and if you pay attention you can see (and hear) that to play that fast at that level of gain you just can’t play that cleanly and accurately without cookin’ the books a little (I mean, I’ve watched Vai play “Building The Church” at a distance that I could see the hairs on the back of his hands and he wasn’t that clean and accurate, and let’s face it, love him or hate him, the one thing you can’t deny is that Vai has flawless technique). I’m pretty certain this guy he’s either slowed the track down, played his part and then sped it up again or even fired off some midi thing here. It’s just too perfect… When you watch the video closely, you can see that his picking is off, his vibrato is off, his whammy work is off and his left hand cannot keep up with it either. When you look at his other videos, he’s no where near as good on those videos either…
Let’s take a look at what this guy won. Mesa Boogie (Mini Rectifier & Cab) + Bare Knuckle (set of pickups) + Toontrack Ezdrummer 2 + Gruv Gear (set of accessories).
Yeah. You read that right. He won that by cheating – or did he?
Looking at the rules of the competition there is nothing in them about slowing stuff down, using technology to help the player along or anything like that, so, if this is about composition, then fair play – the boy done good. However, if you watch a load of videos for a solo competition would you not think that it was a prerequisite that they should be able to play it? As Levi mentioned – can you take a Beethoven written oboe solo seriously knowing that he couldn’t play oboe (I have no idea if he could play that instrument or not) but what is the expectation when it’s a “submit you playing the solo on a video” type thing? I expect, like me, you would expect to see someone playing, live, the solo they constructed.
Here is the problem. Legally, as per the terms of the competition, he’s not actually done anything wrong. But try telling that to the guy who missed the prizes by one spot though – Mr 6th place. He is the guy who actually wrote and played his solo live and has got nothing. Is that fair? The first thing that went through my mind is that if this guy is allowed to keep his prizes then we should give the gold medal back to Ben Johnson (sorry to you real young’uns, you might have to Google that one), give all 7 tour titles back to Lance Armstrong (if they have the balls) or allow Sharapova the chance to compete on the tour this year and grunt herself to a lot more sponsorship money while sitting around in her bikini for the paperazzi?
Fortunately, me being me and my habit of social networking, I was able to talk to one of the judges who is a mate of mine (who I didn’t realize was a judge when I originally ranted) and he came in with “Honestly when I find 20 minutes on tour to judge a thing like this I trust the top 10 entries to be correct and fine. Actually I DID doubt ****’s entry at one point at one lick but I thought maybe that was just an overdub and I honestly don't care about that too much. It was almost inhuman clean but I know several players that can do that, so I trusted the competition and awarded him with points. If he faked it he did it really well, and I fell for it in the little time I had judging this.”.
Before I spoke to him, my initial reaction to this whole thing was “The judges need shooting” but the reality is that not only were the rules poorly put out, the decision about who put the top ten together wasn’t done by someone good enough to spot a faker and in fact the whole concept is just crap. Totally crap. I understand how tiring it is for people as many years ago I judged one of these things in a competition we ran. I can tell you now that the process of reviewing and deciding the entrants is one of the most soul sucking things I’ve ever done. You get SO bored of the backing track you are ready to kick a kitten after about 10 minutes. I can understand how they didn’t see it, but surely when you get to the top ten the people who are responsible for putting those in front of the judges should be in a position to weed out the good from the, well, morally unacceptable. But they didn’t and now there is a social media firestorm happening and it’s going to look bad for the judges and the fine companies who sponsored it. They’ve been let down as much as we have (although not as much as the poor sod in 6th place who got nothing).
So, did he cheat? Is he wrong? Did he fool the panel? Should he give his prizes back? Before you sit there and think “well, he didn’t break any rules” consider this. In the thread on You Tube under a post from someone congratulating him on his work did he openly tried to take credit for the backing track as well by stating this? (The backing track was provided by the competition sponsors) “Very much appreciated for your compliment and watching, I wrote all the Time signatures, Chord progression and my guitar solo on some piece of papers in my way, I will translate them on Guitar Pro @ some point.” Or was he just saying that he wrote all the charts and progressions out to work out his solo? I don’t know – it’s hard to tell really. I guess the devil is in the details with these things. Which is where this whole thing went wrong. There was no detail and if this guy has been rumbled, he has a really good case for not sending his prizes back.
I’m not going to point you towards the competition, it shouldn’t be hard to find if you really want to see for yourself, but I’ll leave the final word to Levi - if you do go on to watch Levi's full rant about this - I must warn you, it is NSFW, Levi is passionate about this and he pulls no punches.
The Faux Spring Reverb was developed because Brian wanted a flexible, but authentic-sounding reverb without having to lug a reverb tank around. The idea to put it into a pedal format made it easy to travel with and allowed flexibility on the fly instead of having to go over to the amp to adjust. The FSR is a digital reverb, but it has an all analog signal path, so your base tone remains the same with the added reverb effect being blended in. This works well because it allows more flexibility to tweaking the reverb signal to exactly where the player wants it.
Our favorite part of the Faux Spring Reverb is it’s natural sound and feel. It feels and reacts like a reverb tank, but allows you to adjust the tonality to fit any amp and guitar, going from a light room-ish vibe to add depth, or full on surfy wash.
Level: This knob controls the amount of reverb that is merged with your analog signal. This ranges from no mix at all fully counter-clockwise, to a full canvas of reverb that adds depth and feel to your tone like having a spring tank nestled on top of your amp. The key to reverb is finding the sweet spot where it’s got the depth that you want without drowning out your guitar tone (unless you’re using it for ambient washes). This allows you to tailor it precisely to the amount of reverb you want. We suggest starting it at Noon, setting your shade and depth, then adjusting the level to the desired effect level.
Shade: This knob controls the overall tonality of the reverb signal (it does not affect the dry signal). Setting the shade counterclockwise toward the dark side will yield a mellow, warmer reverb tone that sits nicely in a mix for added depth, without overpowering the guitars original tonality. Adjusting it clockwise toward the light side will give a more out-front and noticeable “spring effect” for your reverb tone. The darker setting is great for just adding a bit of depth in a dry room, where setting it lighter will give those classic surf tones of the reverb tanks. This knob changes the effect of the Depth knob, so adjusting each to find the right balance is key. We suggest starting it at Noon and adjusting to match your guitar and what type of atmosphere you'd like to create.
Depth: This control dictates the length or amount of time the reverb signal continues on before fading out. The max reverb time is 2.8s, so there’s plenty on tap to get a great ambient wash. Turning the knob counterclockwise will yield a quicker reverb effect and fade quickly as well which is reminiscent of a smaller spring tank. This setting works great for country picking with the shade knob on the lighter side. With the Shade knob darker it will be a more mellow feel, where it provides an ambient undertone that makes your guitar tone a more three-dimensional. This control is interactive with the other knobs, so adjust the shade will dictate the character of your reverb. The depth will then dictate how much decay occurs, and the level can be used to set it from light to heavy mix for any combination of great reverb tones.
- 5″ x 4.5″ 1.5″ (63.5mm x 114.3mm x 38.1mm) – height excludes knobs and switches
- Power draw: 78mA – Powered via 9v negative center tip (barrel plug like Boss). NOTE: You cannot use a battery with the Faux Spring Reverb, and it should not be run at a higher voltage than 9v.
- 8s max reverb time
- True bypass
- There have been 3 color variations on the Faux Spring Reverb. Early versions had a silver case with black knobs and lettering, later versions had a dark greenish-brown with white knobs and white lettering. The latest version has a brighter green with white knobs and lettering, and the Tone knob has a graphic denoting lighter or darker.
You can read more about the Faux Spring Reverb HERE as well as purchase factory direct.
I'm writing as I think, this will probably contain some bad language, so if you are offended by curse words, you might want to skip this!
Over the next few days, weeks, months and hopefully years a lot of words will be said about Nicholas Harris. Most of them will be full of praise, some will be controversial, some will make people laugh. I'm not going to sit here and talk about his achievements in tone as they are obvious, but I am going to talk about my friend.
I first met Nicholas at Winter NAMM a few years back. I was (obviously) fully aware of who he is and the company he built - his reputation had proceeded him... But, I was surprised at the softly spoken, quiet and unassuming man I was talking too. We discussed a few things about the industry but it was obvious that neither of us wanted to talk about pedals so we went our separate ways, politely and professionally and without incident. I was quite surprised at how uncontroversial he was and that I came out with all my body parts intact. My first impression was that the persona that other people attributed to him was well off the mark.
Fast forward a couple of months and I'm at our distributors booth at MusikMesse and I'm playing with either the BelleEpoch or EchoRec (I can't remember) and just having the BEST time with it. When I got home a few days later I pinged him a friend request on Facebook. After a few days a message appeared in my PM from Nicholas basically sounding me out and my intentions of asking to be his friend on social media... He explained how boring he was (!!!), how all he talks about is golf and his real friends and that I won't find it interesting. I responded that I digged his work, I hate the politics of business and I just wanted to be able to connect with him. There are a lot of people in this industry with their heads firmly up their own backsides and I liked the person I met and just wanted to get to know him better. He finally relented and we became "friends".
It quickly became obvious that we enjoyed each others (virtual) company and made each other laugh. I would often wake up to a drunken PM in FB from him (he was 8 hours behind me in terms of timezone) which was hilarious - often wildly offensive and TOTALLY honest about another manufacturer, a distributor we share, a dealer or about something irrelevant... often it was just a chat about nothing and everything... quite often about something specific to our business and their business, a path smoothed, a problem avoided. He quickly became one of my favourites in the industry because there was no bullshit with him, he was a very real person who took me at face value and allowed me to take him as such. He worked out that most of my online presence is a front, I am socially awkward and just allowed me to be me. Really quite refreshing as he had no interest in my online persona.
When it comes to products I am in awe of the way Nicholas led CatalinBread. I often called him "the f***ing Rock star" of our industry, that I'm pretty certain slightly annoyed him (which is why I kept doing it and because there are people who like to think they are a rock star when they are anything but... you need more than a beard, hair, vinyl and some well placed artist endorsements to make you that) because he didn't pander to customer expectation or market trends. He designed and built pedals based on what they thought was cool and what inspired them to play. Basically, the true essence of artistry. I am so jealous of that I cannot begin to tell you, but I am wired up differently. I am constantly looking at the market and what we need to do to be successful in it. He saw this in me and quite often made some wonderfully cutting remarks to me about it. We butted heads a couple of times about some things I'd said... it never ended bad though, just two guys who are basically the opposite ends of the spectrum with a common goal. I think we liked to remind each other often about those differences.
I last saw Nicholas at Winter NAMM about 4 weeks ago. I went in early one morning to catch up with some faces before doors opened as once the people come in, you're tied to the booth for 8 hours flat. Being him, he wasn't in yet so I left a message and I hoped to see him soon... A couple of hours later he came up to our booth with Howard and we caught up. We talked about our eye sight (I had the same operation he did about a year before he had it so it was a conversation we often had), we talked about Hipsters and Portland (again, just to annoy him as I liked to poke him with a stick when I could) and loads of stuff that I wish I could remember. Later that day I saw Howard at the pedal builders social gathering and we chatted for bit, and that was that, we went our separate ways. Between then and now we chatted a bit, he popped up on a couple of my threads on social networks which ended up with us deciding (about a week ago) that I should go to Portland and go drinking and jamming with him. We thought it would be great fun and lots of laughter would be had. I last spoken to him on Wednesday, the day before he died - I asked him about getting wider HiWatt tones from the RAH and WIIO pedals and if they could be Gilmouresque. Looking back on it, the most disappointing conversation ever considering it was our last.
Mortality is a bitch. I'm 42 now, 5 years older than Nicholas will ever be. I'll never be able to have that drink with him. I've lost a valuable friend with whom I can compare notes about dealers and distributors with (yes, you should all be really scared as we talked openly and honestly about you ALL) and most importantly, someone I can make laugh and who made me laugh. Fortunately, we have have his legacy, his company and the circuits he designed with the team and I, as a simple guitar player, am thankful for that. I spent a long time in PM on FB, in several threads, with some other guys from the industry yesterday, talking about Nicholas and our memories of him. I laughed a few good times as I thought about conversations we'd had about these very same people before. He saw us all, with perfect clarity, I don't doubt there were some incredibly accurate perceptions about me floating around with his name on it someplace.
I have no doubt there will be the usual charity auctions pop up soon to give financial aid to his family in this horrible time. I don't doubt for a moment we will contribute and promote it fully. However, I'm kinda leaning towards this opinion - Just go to their website and buy one of their pedals. Direct from them. HERE. I'm pretty certain he would hate a charity auction in his name, would hate the concept of financial assistance so if you want to help. Go buy a pedal from them direct.
Sleep well my friend, I hope one day our paths will cross again someplace else and we can have that beer. I'll miss you, your quiet confidence, your humour, your wonderfully different to my own brain and your insight into this wonderfully diverse and complex little industry. I'll leave with this picture that sums how I feel for Nicholas, this was taken at NAMM 2016. Here I am displaying all my levels of social awkwardness, and here's Nicholas putting his arm around me for a photo. I liked that about him, most would sense I don't feel that comfortable and retreat from me, I like to think he did it just keep me on my toes. Or because he was just a down to earth nice guy.
UPDATE (11th March 2016, 19:39BST) A gofundme page has been set up to assist the Harris family in these horrible times. If you don't spring for a pedal from them, please give generously here.
A couple of weeks ago someone asked the following question in the Wampler Pedals Tone Group on Facebook… “How long do you guys let your amps warm up in standby? I used to play about 10 mins before switching it over. Now I'm doing it within the first 5 minutes, and no sound comes out for about 20-30 secs is that the sign of an amp issue?”
I sat there and looked at it for a while, and all I could think was "I don't think I've ever been told about the real use of a standby switch, I just turn on, about a minute later flick the standby switch to on, rock out. When I stop playing, I leave the amp on but flick it to standby”. This period can be either a couple of minutes, between sets at a gig or even virtually all day when at home. I always thought “if your amp is on standby, everything is good”. The trouble is the more I thought about this, the more I realised I’d never even read what to do anywhere, I just did it – the same thing I’d been doing for years and years and years. I didn’t know if what I was doing was right, wrong, standard, naïve or anything else. I just saw the standby switch on my current amp (Fender BDri) and used it the same way I’ve always used it on every valve amp I’ve ever had.
Using the glorious medium of social media I put a question out on out my personal FB about standby switches, their use and what would be the best way to deal with them, or even use them. I tagged some extremely (and some not so) reputable amp builders and asked the question “Can someone please tell me WHY we put valve/tube amps on standby”. I wanted to leave it generic, leave it open… Wanted to hear the opinions of the people who work in the business – let’s face it, 5 minutes on Google had given me so much conflicting information that I was about to switch to solidstate as they are obviously much better and less likely to melt your face or burn your house down. So, having done this I went away to do something else and when I came back didn’t expect the response I got, it would seem this is quite the talking point.
The simple answer to this question is there is no simple answer. It would appear that the standby switch is put in place mainly due to customer expectation than anything else! Here are some of the choice comments from some of the guys.
First to respond (within seconds) was Roland Lumby from The Amp Clinic in North West England, Roland is the go to man in the area for the maintaining and upkeep of your vintage and modern amps… He said “You put it in standby to stop it making a noise while the band takes a comfort break. There's no technical requirement! Using standby means you don't have to wait for the valves to warm up.” I must admit, this threw me a little as I was not expecting such a dismissive answer basically stating that the standby switch is just not ever needed. So, I read on…
Next up to offer something was James Hamstead of Hamstead Ampworks. “Better to turn the master down or unplug the guitar. Standby doesn't do the valves any good. The cathode emits electrons, but they have nowhere to go, so they go back down to the cathode. It's called cathode poisoning, and it will change the characteristic of the valves for the worse - noisier, reduce gain etc.” – The theory of cathode poisoning was bought up a couple of times. I must admit, this kind of made sense to me in a “sounds logical but I have zero scientific logic or reasoning to support my thought process” type of way. So, after this I started to think that maybe the standby switch would start to harm my amp rather than protect it?
Then in swoops Mike Fortin. Designer of signature amps of Ola Englund, Scott Ian and Kirk Hammett. So you know, he understands gain structures and valve amps! He just posted this link which to save you trawling through it (you should, it’s great and not that long) had the following line: “Fender essentially misinterpreted the requirements, and everyone else copied Fender. Leo tended not to put anything into the circuit that he felt was unnecessary - but he came from a repair background where a standby switch is a service convenience.” This was supported by Jamie Simpson of Booya Amplifiers. So, obviously – the valves carry a lot of juice when they are in full flow so you’ll want to restrict the flow to a safe level when servicing them, so the standby switch appears to have been put in to protect the health and safety of the people working on the amps rather than any need in normal operation. The article even goes as far as stating that the best way to deal with your standby switch is “Bypass the standby switch internally so that it does nothing.”
After this the answers started to get more specific and silly (it is Facebook after all) yet some interesting points were made. “Unnecessary if your output tubes see 500v or less. If they see 800 like in a musicman (on not half) it might prolong their non microphonic life” (Harald Nowark). “When you turn the first switch on you send 6.3 volts to the heaters... This warms the cathode which is treated or coated with material that promotes the expelling of electrons. By warming up the cathode before hitting the tube with high voltage it protects the coating on the cathode. When you take the amp off standby the big voltage hits the tube. Also, I think you should turn the entire amp off if you take more than a 10 minute break... No use baking your components for no reason when it only takes a minute to warm it back up....” (Phil Bradbury – Little Walter Tube Amps). Questions were asked about unplugging speakers in standby mode “Still wouldn’t do it” (James Hamstead) and so on and so forth. This really jumped out at me “You see all those amps warming up before a concert? They're not on standby... your amp won't start to cook (class A amps excepted) without the HV on, the amp barely gets warm with just the filaments (when biased right, I must add). And... it's not the tubes warming up that does the most for your tone... it's the electrolytic caps... the ESR goes way down as the temperature goes up... so warm your big tube amp up good before you play. Standby is good for soft-start... cathode stripping is not really a problem with indirectly-heated cathodes (like all tubes we use now), so using standby and separating the HV from the filaments just lowers the inrush current, doesn't really prolong cathode life. There have been wars fought over this, google cathode stripping for more. Cathode stripping happens to thoriated (directly heated filament) cathodes, found on large transmitting tubes.” (Stephen Cowell). “The standby switch is for convenience as a way of keeping your amp ready to go between sets or a quick way to mute when making changes to your rig. There have been millions of pieces of tube gear made (tv's, radios, hifi, etc) that never had standby switches and worked just fine. If there is any validity to the "cathode stripping" theory, let me just say I have seen more tubes blown from the instant surge coming off standby than from improper warm up. And yes, an amp does sound better after it is fully warmed, but you don't have to have a standby switch in order to warm it up. All this being said, most Shaw Amps will continue to be produced with standby switches for your convenience.” (Kevin Shaw – Shaw Audio)
In regard to Cathode Stripping, Roland made this excellent point: “During the 40s,50s and 60s, the best sound we heard was from a Juke Box. This machine stood all day, all week, for many years in the corner of the Cafe, waiting for the coin. How did it play right away? That's right, it was in standby. The valves were heated by the main jukebox transformer .. The amp had a mains transformer which was switched off, it fed the rectifier valve which was directly-heated (usually a 5U4) When you put a coin in, the amp transformer was powered up, and HT would appear after 5 seconds or so, quick enough to beat the record onto the player. This meant that the valves were running the heaters continuously. Cathode poisoning was such a problem that they would have to put a new set of valves in the Juke Box every thirty-forty years!”
Trace Davis, head of Voodoo Amplification came in with this marvellous insight, not only into the industry but to tone. “When it comes to manufacturing amps it’s a great deal easier & faster to include a Standby Switch than to deal with daily emails & phone calls from those asking 'Why is there no Standby Switch? My local tech said that's bad for the tubes?' As one can imagine daily emails & phone calls like this consumes a great deal of time so consequently most companies continue to implement Standby Switches as it’s more cost effective” and “To varying degrees this also enters into the topic of tone. Does an amp sound & feel better once the tubes have come up to temperature & the bias has settled in? In my very humble opinion, yes, so once you do engage the Standby Switch into the ready-to-be-played mode it takes a minute or so (depending on the design, how long the power switch has been on, etc) for everything to settle in to where the tone is consistent.”
To support this, Roland came in with “Trace is right about the amp sounding better when hot, particularly when the output valves get older, they don't achieve full emission until the cathode has been heated for around 2 to 5 minutes. This is actually testable, and is not speculation”.
So, you know, I could rip apart all the comments by all the fantastic amp builders and repairers who contributed but instead I will summarise with the following, written in language that we can all understand.
Your standby switch is a hangover from Fender being more interested in the early days of repair and servicing. In terms of normal playing, in a normal amp, your standby switch is pretty useless. It’s just there as we guitarists expect it. Your amp will probably sound better after a few minutes once everything has warmed up and settled down. Cathode Stripping, do you want to risk it? I don’t, so I won’t be leaving my amp on standby when I’m not playing it. I’ll just turn it off (as like most people, my amps sits in that fraction of a millimeter between “Can’t hear it?” and “Ermhagerd!” so turning the volume down isn’t really an option). Please do not turn your amp on at all without the speaker plugged in and please – if you love your amp - give your valves a few minutes (minimum) to cool down before moving your amp after use. And, of course, there are no user serviceable parts inside – leave it to the professionals!
And who said social media is full of cats, politics, beard combs and pictures of people’s lunch?
The Plexi Drive Deluxe is the next step in the evolution of the classic Plexi Drive, which is one of Brian’s earliest designs. He always wanted to be able to have those great Plexi tones used in classic rock recordings from AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, and countless other bands on any amp he was using.Those famous guitarists would crank their plexi up to the max for massive walls of sound and sustain, but that's not always feasible in certain scenarios. Many famous players are still using the standard Plexi Drive today, from Brad Paisley to Jake Owen and countless rock and blues players (as well as other genres). For years since its release, customers have been requesting the circuit with added flexibility to help tailor the overdrive sound even more to whatever amp and guitar combo they were using. Brian tinkered with the circuit and added the active 3-band EQ, bass and bright boost switches, and an independent footswitchable pre gain boost. Thus the Plexi Drive Deluxe was born.
Our favorite part of the Plexi Deluxe is the immense tweakability of it. With the 3-band active EQ and two tone-shaping switches, you can tailor the pedal to match any guitar and amp combination to get that powerful, cranked plexi tone that has been driving classic music from every genre at whisper quiet or extremely loud levels. The EQ is fully integrated with the Post Gain circuit, so even the smallest tweaks can change your tone into a different flavor. Our other favorite part is the Pre Gain circuit. It’s based on the wildly popular overdrive that is famous for it’s mid-hump that people have been using to boost their plexi’s for years. Pairing the mid-based boost with the Plexi Drive’s circuit gives even more gain and tonal coverage to make it usable for any genre of music. The pre gain boost also works really well stacked with other overdrives and distortions for a great versatile boost to every pedal in your signal chain. The Plexi Deluxe works exceptionally well with any type of guitar, whether it's outfitted with single coils, humbuckers, P90's, etc. and isn't picky on what amp it goes into.
Volume: This knob controls the overall output of the Plexi Deluxe. Just like most overdrives it’s reactive to the gain control. As you raise the gain you may need to adjust the volume down to compensate, and vice versa. There’s plenty of volume on tap to set the gain low and boost the front of your amp with a fine-tuned boost on the EQ.
Bass: This controls the overall low-end frequencies of your overdrive signal. Being an active frequency control, you can add or remove low end from your signal. Removing it would help with bass-heavy amps if there’s too much thump to keep them from flubbing out. Adding in low end will fill out the sound and give your tone a thicker, meatier feel at lower gain levels, or to add some depth to a really bright amp. We suggest starting at Noon (which is neutral on the signal) and adding or subtracting from there. Small increments will open up sweet spots between different guitars and pickup positions.
Mids: This control dictates the overall mid-range presence in your overdrive tone. Also being an active EQ knob, you can add or remove the midrange to tailor the sound exactly to where you want it. Scooping the mids (counterclockwise) will yield an edgier and more aggressive, modern tone. Adding in mids (clockwise) will add midrange frequency which helps to cut through in a live mix, or to get some classic vintage recorded tones from the 60's and 70's. Similar to the bass control, we suggest starting at Noon and adjusting in increments from there. One thing to note is that adding in mids will typically increase the perceived volume of the overdrive, so you may need to adjust the volume knob accordingly to compensate.
Treble: This knob dictates how much overall high-end frequency is present in your overdrive signal. Just like the other EQ controls, it’s an active control and allows you to add or remove exactly the amount of high end you want. We always suggest starting at Noon, and adjusting from there. For extremely bright amps you could cut the treble and boost the bass, or on bass-heavy amps you can boost the treble by several dB’s and cut through the mix really well. This control works directly with the Post Gain knob, and will change the overall flavor of the overdrive.
Post Gain: This knob controls the overall amount of gain from the Plexi Deluxe. The range of overdrive available goes from a barely broken up, slightly hairy tone to full-on saturated rock n’ roll and all things between. At 9am there it will be as if you’re just starting to get some of that great plexi breakup, but the natural tone of your guitar still takes center stage. Heading up to Noon the added sustain and grit will really start to show and you’ll have that identifiable “KERANG” that plexi’s are known for (weird guitar term, but I think you get my meaning). Around 3pm there will be a major amount of overdrive happening, and the Plexi Deluxe emits the feeling of a powerful, cranked and screaming hot plexi amp. The gain is very reactive to your guitars volume knob, so rolling it back a bit will lower the gain while still maintaining volume for rhythm parts, then rolling it back up for solos for that extra saturated punch. For an overdrive pedal, the Plexi Deluxe has a considerable amount of gain, and just tweaking the knob will take you through all of the classic plexi tones from decades of great music in every genre. Running the pre gain boost will increase the amount of gain as well.
Pre Gain: The pre gain boost is is an independent footswitchble mid and gain boost that is based on a classic circuit that has been used for years by nearly every guitar player since its inception. This circuit is known to make tubes scream with a mid-presence that pairs wonderfully with other overdrives and distortions. With the one control knob, it will raise the volume and the gain in conjunction to give more of a punch to the Plexi side of the Plexi Deluxe, which will add gain and also help cut through the mix really well for leads. Because it is independent (it can be used by itself without requiring the plexi drive being engaged) it can be used with any overdrive or distortion on your board, or even as a standalone overdrive. Don't hesitate to crank that thing up well past Noon to get some great grit and sustain happening.
Bass Boost Switch: This switch is activated in the UP position, and disengaged in the down position. The bass boost changes the character of the overdrive by increasing the frequency which makes it feel like you’re going from into a cranked 4x12” cab (or two!). This isn’t a traditional bass boost which will make the drive fuzzier, but it evokes more feeling when playing live or recording. It works exceptionally well at lower volumes where it will make your tone seem much more full and 3-dimensional.
Bright Boost Switch: This switch is also engaged when it is in the UP position, disengaged will be pointed down. Activating the bright boost will add a crisp high-end frequency which works really well for dark amps or pickups, and it also gives your overdrive a different tonal sound and feel. It’s much more aggressive and bordering on the JCM territory with a more aggressive feel depending on how high the gain is set. Engaging this switch may warrant adjusting the active EQ section to find the sweet spot.
- 5” x 4.5” x 1.5″ in size (88.9mm x 114.3mm x 38.1mm) – height excludes knobs and switches
- Power draw: 22mA – Powered by a standard 9v center negative tip barrel connector (Boss style) or an internal 9v batter. The Plexi Deluxe can be run from 9v up to 18v, and doing so will increase the headroom and the overall openness of the overdrive.
- True bypass, top mounted jacks and soft switches
You can read more about the Plexi Drive Deluxe or purchase factor direct HERE.
Artist relations – A tale of two Dave’s.
I can almost guarantee that the FIRST thing people ask when you tell them you work for a company like Wampler Pedals is something like this… “I bet it’s great hanging out with artists all the time.” Many people actually apply to work with us based on the fact they think we spend all day playing guitars and hanging out with Brad Paisley. If only that was true, life would be considerably more interesting than sales meetings, product development discussions and manufacturing scheduling… Having said that, someone does have to work in artist relations and sometimes that aspect of the job IS awesome. You do get tickets for gigs, or invitations to hang out and things like that but the reality is that those days are incredibly rare. Most of the time, if I’m being totally honest, artist relations is usually just disappointing people who want to be part of our artist “family”.
When considering the artist list, we have to be choosy about who we work with. There has to be a reason for the both of us. The artist has to offer us something that no one else does, or have the ability to open the brand to a new audience (a classic example of this is the relationship we have with Tom Quayle. No one was targeting the modern fusion market until we released the Dual Fusion and Tom was the perfect person to do that with). Making the decision about bringing someone in is not as easy as you may think because quite often that person has already bought loads of our pedals and spends a large portion of their life working extremely hard to be successful in the music business. It’s not easy to let down people like that without in some way damaging their view of us.
Anyway, back on topic. After doing this for years I have found that most people really don’t seem to know how to sell themselves to us. They appear to make the same mistakes when approaching us that venues make when approaching them for gigs. Rarely does an offer that involves “you’ll get great exposure” as its unique selling point end well, especially when like gigs, you probably won’t.
I’m going to highlight this issue with two examples. Each are from opposite ends of the spectrum and will give you an indication of how you should approach a company about working with them – how to start the relationship that allows them to actively endorse our product and our company, and be able to use us in their own marketing. For those of you who are hoping for me to provide a sure fire script or check list on how to be accepted you are going to be disappointed, but if you read on, you’ll get the idea of how the decision makers brain works in this situation.
OK, so I bring you “A Tale of Two Dave’s” and everything you read here is true (and yes, it was really hard not to start this piece with “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times).
Dave 1 is Dave Murray. Dave is the only guitar player to have appeared on every Iron Maiden record from the Soundhouse Tapes to the Book of Souls. Take a moment to reflect on that, take a moment to consider the amount of gigs he’s done with Maiden, the world tours, the live albums – and most importantly (considering the subject matter of this post), the potential for albums and tours of the future. Our first contact with Dave came through the “contact us” form on our website from a guy called Johnnie. Johnnie is Iron Maiden’s touring manager and also has the general responsibility for all of the bands gear. That initial contact was extremely polite, brief and requested the opportunity of testing some tones for the forthcoming album, basically it was an exploration about making this happen. Now, as you may or may not know from previous posts on this blog, I’m a long standing fanatical Maiden fan so once I’d taken a moment to get myself together, I emailed him back (acting dead cool) saying “Sure, we can do that”. Johnnie quickly put me in touch with Dave’s longstanding guitar tech Colin to sort out the details.
It turned out that Colin was already a Wampler user having at the time a Hot Wired v2, so when Dave mentioned to him trying out some new tones for the album Colin thought of us. We sent out a Triple Wreck as per the request but we quickly heard back that wasn’t right. Colin and I chatted quite a bit about Dave’s tone and worked out that as Dave generally subscribes to the school of “stuff a Tubescreamer in front of a screaming amp” to get his lead tones, a Clarksdale would be worth testing out. We sent one out, he loved it and subsequently the Clarksdale is all over his lead tones on the new album.
Now, here is the important bit. Throughout this whole experience the bands representatives had zero expectation of free gear and offered to pay for everything at all times. Any unit that wasn’t used was returned to us instantly by first class post. There was absolutely no hint at any time of “yeah but, look at the exposure you will get” or “excuse me, you do know who we are, right?” about it. Just professional people acting professionally. I’m pretty certain you can imagine how much credibility it offers us to have an artist such as Dave Murray “outed” as a Wampler user, but not once was this leverage used by them. For me that was extremely refreshing and put the approach of others into perspective.
Now, because I’m not a horrible person – well, most of the time I’m not - I’m not going to tell you Dave 2’s full name or which band he is from. I can confirm though he really is called Dave (or at least that was what his now deactivated Facebook profile said, but I do have my suspicions) and unlike Mr Murray and his representatives, he had zero professionalism and no sense of how professional relationships work.
He initially contacted me via my personal Facebook profile having adding me as a friend some days before. His message told me that his band has enjoyed minor success with their first album and have managed to work a tour across the U.S.A. in support of the album. He was honest about the size of the venues, about how many people were in them and the likely exposure he was getting. He told me of their plans for the future, future bookings and how the second album was in the works. When written like that, it’s quite an attractive prospect – we actually support more emerging artists than established ones, so he has a fighting chance based on the evidence above. He was obviously an extremely hardworking guy who was determined to make his way in the music industry. On that basis alone, I could almost forgive the “PM through Facebook” thing.
The thing I can’t forgive is when approaching us about working together is the use of this phrase, or something like it (and some of you will have heard this in terms of being paid for gigs… yeah, you guessed it) and I quote directly from Dave 2’s initial contact: “I can give you significant exposure for your brand if you give me the gear and some t-shirts so I can use them on tour and the album, we are really keen to partner up with a reputable brand such as yours and I’ve been told how great you are and how great your gear sounds”.
Hang on a minute, is that a generic cut and paste statement put to many other companies? Is that a generic statement that isn’t even pedal specific? Is that how a professional person approaches a professional company? The pedal industry is actually quite close knit, we all talk to each other and actually have each others backs (there are some personality clashes but I can say with almost 100% certainty that every company talks to all the others in one way or another). I spoke to the guys I was closest to at the time (and the ones who happened to be available on Facebook at the time) and we’d all received the same thing in quick succession. I since found out that he had approached some other boutique guitar luthier’s and amp builders the same way. Well, way to go to make us feel special Dave 2, way to go.
It’s pretty simple to work out that Dave 1 is in a better position than Dave 2 to obtain gear and to work with the people who will represent him well. Companies will want to work with Dave 1 regardless because he’s Dave 1. The thing is though, Dave 1 is acting like Dave 2 should and Dave 2 is acting as if he is Dave 1 (or at least how people would expect someone as 'big' as Dave 1 to act). If you think about it, there is the cornerstone of this issue, the moral of the story - If you want to work with us, or want to have access to our products and create that professional relationship – because even if you are a significant rock star don’t act like one. Be Dave 1. Then buy Dave 1’s last album with Maiden, the Book of Souls and go see them on tour (or try to spot their private 747 being piloted by singer, Bruce Dickinson), his solo tones are nothing short of magnificent!
*please note – as a rule, we don’t send out pedals to be auditioned by artists, but certain situations allow.