Talking about gear (65)
I’ll come outright and say it: I love looking at and learning about gear. Gear porn makes the day go by so much faster, and it’s interesting to see what various players choose to have on their board, why they chose it, what worked with each rig and what didn’t. Off the rack guitars, custom guitars, pawn shop finds and killer deals. All of it. From the simplest rig to the biggest rig, each setup tells a little something about that player and what their tastes are, and often it either spurs GAS or makes you curious about something else. Down the rabbit hole you go. I’m apparently not the only one either, seeing as gear culture is probably more at the forefront than ever. If you had to take a guess, how many FaceBook discussion groups would you say there are associated with tone in some fashion? You’re talking brand groups, podcast groups, general discussion groups, groups dedicated to a certain style of guitar or style of music? I’ll guess on the low side and say hundreds, and those are just the ones I’ve seen personally or been on. That’s not even touching on other forums outside of FaceBook, or places like TGP or TDPRI or ILoveFuzz (all interesting boards for sure). It’s become a global culture, where if you’ve got a musical instrument and the internet, there’s a good chance you see or experience something gear-related throughout the day. I’ll admit that I’m so enthralled with gear that I often forgo watching TV to check my phone to see what the latest thread or blog or article discussing new releases have popped up. It’s truly an addiction, one that I barely keep at bay on most days.
Most of these groups and pages have quite a varied group of members, with diverse backgrounds that range all over geographically, and with that comes the differences in cultures and varied view on race, religion, and many other variables. Thankfully, most of the places that I frequent don’t pay any attention to any of those external factors, and the focus remains on gear. Other than the subjective opinions that come up about that gear, they’re normally friendly and great environments. But not always. I’ve noticed a trend on so many groups lately that it’s become second nature to expect it to happen, and it eventually will. Inevitably there will be a member that will join, and they do NOT agree with opinions that go against their own. They disagree with a post or take a cheap shot at another member, and things devolve from there. I’m not talking about trolls necessarily. (I wrote another blog on that very topic, you can check that out here). These are people who are whole-heartedly invested in their belief, and if you question or bring up a counter-point, an argument inevitably ensues. I’ve found this especially prevalent on certain hot topics, such as discussing Klon Centaurs, Relic Guitars, or specific guitar brands and their quality. Any of those topics will ignite a burning flame in someone, who can DEFINITELY hear the magic in the diodes, or who only buys from a certain place of origin because they’ve got a stigma in their mind that guitars from XYZ are just garbage, no matter what.
I’ve come to ask myself this question on a regular basis: Are we taking gear and gear discussions too seriously? We all want to chase those ever-elusive tones, but how we each do it is going to depend on a lot of factors. Personal tastes aside, monetary reasons can put a big damper in our plans. Yes, we’d all love a Dumble or vintage Les Paul or Strat, but that’s usually not in the cards for the average player. So, we chase those tones we have in our head with the funds we have at our disposal, and luckily there are enough brands with various offerings that can get you close to that (some closer than others). Opinions are like buttholes though, everyone’s got them. I think we can all agree that not everyone is going to agree on loving all the same things. Variety is the spice of life and all that. But when I brought up selling my Centaur in my last blog, I was met with various comments regarding whether that was a good move or not. Some agreed totally, agreeing with my point that the used prices are a bit absurd and that they were able to find a great alternative for a fraction of the cost just like I did. There were a few people, however, that went out of their way to express that I was wrong and my thought process was off and that the price truly is justified and it’s the greatest in the world. That’s great, more power to you. If that’s what hit’s the spot then cool, go for it. Some got so heated in their beliefs that they felt they needed to convince me I was wrong, and subsequently various members started arguing, which led to people almost being banned from that group. Why in the heck is that so important that it’s worth getting into an argument over?
Another example that I see frequently posted are the users posting pictures of large pedalboards with a wide range of effects, with comments to follow saying, “All you need is a guitar and an amp” or “You must be compensating for lack of skill” or “I only use amp dirt and a single delay”. I completely understand and can appreciate the traditional minimalist approach. Times change though, and if you’re in a band that covers a large variety of music, you’ll need the tools at your disposal to achieve whatever the song calls for. On the flip side, there are the players that flaunt their gear choices, going specifically into how many amps and how much each one costs (usually equaling a lot). That’s great, we get you have money and appreciate discerning tastes in gear. Owning a small fortune in gear doesn’t equate to knowing everything about tone. Just because something costs exponentially more doesn’t necessarily make the tone that much more superior, nor will it make someone play better. I refer to the video of Joe Satriani playing a cheap knock-off guitar into a Peavey Bandit and RP200. Granted, it didn’t sound like his rig, but raw talent got it close enough that you could immediately identify what was being played (Surfing with the Alien). It’s all just trivial, and it doesn’t matter if you invested $400 in a guitar or $4,000, if it hits the spot then that’s all that matters. Knocking another player’s rig solves nothing and if anything rains on their parade, instead of appreciating the effort they put into it and moving on.
Lately, the big topic everyone has been discussing is Gibson’s current releases and the quality control, after a recent catch showing an advertisement for their new Les Paul that had dings in it. Many people were immediately dogging Gibson and discussing how overpriced their models are and the subsequent decline in attention to detail. There were some extremely heated arguments regarding the amount of money spent on Gibson’s, some saying they are still fantastic guitars and still an icon of sorts, where others were saying they are complete garbage and trashing the brand and people who appreciate their Gibson guitars. Around the same time, Fender released their Brad Paisley signature guitar, and the internet lit ablaze at the cost of the instrument being too high because they’re made in Mexico, the fact that it didn’t feature a rosewood neck like the one it was paying homage to, and the fact that it didn’t have a G-bender. Let’s look at just those 3 things and break them down. Brad wanted them to be affordable, hence having them MIM. That doesn’t mean cheap, that just means more cost-effective than labor costs in the US. Regarding the neck, Brad doesn’t like rosewood, if you look at his current touring guitars there are only a couple of them with rosewood necks. He’s always been a fan of maple. Lastly, the G-bender mechanism Brad uses is from Charlie McVay, a small business owner who literally couldn’t produce that many benders to suit Fender’s needs, let alone at a cost-effective level. Yes, there are other companies out there with alternatives, but there’s also the issue of consistency and longevity and added cost, which all adds up to a more expensive guitar. I guess my point is that until all of the facts are known and verified, or unless someone has experienced using the instruments themselves, passing judgment just comes off as trolling and disconnected.
So why did I write this whole thing? I don’t know, maybe making the issues stare people in the face will make them realize what’s going on and thinking before just posting the first thing that comes off the top of their mind? One can dream. I’d like to just reinforce the point of taking gear discussions a little more lightly, most people are there to learn and enjoy guitar and gear with like-minded people. Not everyone will agree, and that’s totally okay. How you respond to the disagreeing part is what sets people apart. So sit back, enjoy soaking in the info and comradery over our favorite instrument. To summarize, I’ll leave you with this quote from Travis Feaster: “If you’re offended, I forgive you.”
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.
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’.
... yep, hear that all the time. It's almost up there with the meme of Jimi with the caption "Jimi plays without true bypass pedals and everyone still manages to enjoy his tone.
Those, amongst others, are the things guaranteed to make us roll our eyes and yawn. We've even had someone imply recently that professional guitar players don't really need fingers.
So, let's look at this properly. Let's have a think about the guitar signal, its path, pedals and what is needed and what isn't. Actually, let's not. Let's just remember this.
Guitar pedals are a tool that some people enjoy using. They are not essential. They are not invalid. They are a tool. Put it this way, if you were walking past a stone mason or carpenter working would you shout up to him "What you using that drill for bud, Christopher Wren didn't need that when he designed and built St Paul's Cathedral in 1675!" - I doubt you would, I doubt anyone would. Well, I hope no one would because basically, that would be a fraction silly.
We, as always, were having a discussion about this the other day. We'd seen many outrageous comments from certain people online and we were trying to contemplate it properly and we sort of came up with this. Guitar pedals are like a spice rack full of a wide range of spices. You sometimes pick on to make something a little better, you sometimes don't. We, and I'm guessing others in our industry, feel that we do not expect your entire playing life to revolve around pedals, we just expect that there are times when you feel like the tone you are chasing is not quite right and there may be something out there to help you get it. It's become more and more obvious over the years that more and more people are using pedals (helped that company's like ours make pedals that sound really good these days, as previously, not many of them truly did) because they give you better tones, they give you more options. If you have a decent clean amp, spend a few hundred bucks on your favourite pedals and they will be able to transform that amp into any number of other amps. Your Marshall can become a Fender and your Fender can become a Marshall... or a Vox, or a Randall, or... or.... or.... Certainly easiler than having to buy a new amp every time you want to change your gain choices!
So, consider your base tone, the one you love more than anything, a nice juicy perfectly cook steak (apologies to the vegetarians out there, but this is the best way to describe it). Sometimes you want it straight up, nothing fancy, just as it comes. Other times you might want it to have some pepper on it, or pepper sauce… other times you might want the full cumin rub, or even mustard… you can have it any way you like.
Your pedal box IS your spice rack, and let’s face it, would you want to go to dinner repeatedly with a person who cooks in the same bland way every time? Sometimes it would be great, others…. Just boring.
Anyone know how Keef likes his steak?
… I’m on a learning curve, so we might as well carry on! As I said in my previous idiot's guide, that name firmly applies to me, so I’m researching subjects that I don’t know about, but as someone who has been playing for years should, and posting my findings in this blog. Hope that in reading this you will find it as interesting as I did when I was researching it. I’m going to use some visual metaphors in here that doesn't make much sense, but they have helped me understand what is happening much better.
What causes overdrive, distortion, gain? Well, the first thing we HAVE to get out the way is that those are actually buzzwords that don’t really mean anything other than a term we use to consolidate it in our heads, the true word to use in this is CLIPPING.
Yes, clipping. Overdrive, distortion, fuzz, etc. comes from ‘clipping the signal’. But what does that actually mean? Clipping occurs, in real terms, when the audio signal amplitude exceeds the maximum voltage capability of the system it is in. Or, in real terms, when the wave is trying to get through a hole that it’s too big for. Does that make sense? A true sound wave, a pure one, is a sound wave that is a classic sine – fully up and down movement moving at a certain speed. It is the way this wave moves that gives sound character, so if you listen to this – this is about as pure as it gets I suppose, this is a note produced by vibrating the signal at 440 times a second, or to name it, ‘Hertz’ (let’s not go to the 432hz thing, I might come to that in a later piece).
So, when this signal is pure and it’s vibrating in an unrestricted way, you get a ‘clean tone’ (I’m not going to get into how different amps and guitars effect that tone, as this is a scratching of the surface piece). In order to distort the signal, or overdrive it – or force it through the hole that it’s too big for, we ‘clip’ it. We take the top off, take the bottom off, usually take them both off. Gain is a misnomer, increasing gain actually means increasing volume within a circuit, but after it's been messed with, it increases clipping.
So, here is a basic ‘clean tone’ sine wave.
When we clip that signal, it will look something like this…
This occurs by amplifying the signal a lot and placing a limit on the wave, so it gets ‘clipped off’ before it hits its natural peak/trough and comes back round again, the demonstration above would probably be more in line with soft clipping, as the amplification isn’t too great and the wave is pretty well intact apart from the extremities.
We get more severe levels of clipping, by increasing the initial amplification and making the clip more angular. Like this…
I fully expect that the more scientific/mathematical among you are looking at those and thinking “That’s not right, it needs to be more etc. etc.” but I’m not a scientist or a mathematician, I’m just a guy who knows his way around photoshop and this is the easiest way to show it.
One thing we have to remember here is that clipping is not the same as compression of limiting. We are not clipping the top and bottom of the wave with compression and limiting, we are just reducing the depth of the wave and bringing it more in line with the other waves, so the dynamics will be reduced but the shape of the wave will be retained.
The real joy of clipping comes with, as you may expect, adding in EQ (putting it before or after the clipping), low or high pass filters, or making the clipping asymmetrical and the millions of other things you can do to it… If you think about the classic OD circuits and how they change the tone as well as clip it, you start to teeter closer to the edge of the rabbit hole that is designing effects pedals.
The main thing that surprised me when I started to learn about clipping the signal is that it’s not how you would expect, as when you get to different reactions and requirements, you request the signal be clipped in different ways. For example, the classic ‘tube overdrive pedal’ works best when hitting an already clipping amp, the process aligns up and the result is truly glorious. For this reason, our Clarksdale – with the inherent EQ hump – will just accentuate what is already happening – with soft clipping. A distortion pedal, like the Dracarys, is treating the process completely differently – mostly hard clipping - needs a cleaner platform to work.
As a final point, analog clipping is fantastic, digital clipping currently is just plain awful… however, alot digital overdrive/distortion will replicate the characteristics and traits of analog clipping so progress is there and it's coming...
...let me introduce myself, my name is Jason and I'm a gear idiot.
Now. Having said that, I have been playing the guitar for WELL over 30 years, but I've always been more concerned with trying to play this virtuoso piece or if I can perfect the art of using the whammy bar to drop a note by a perfect 5th rather than thinking about why one amp sounds different than another, I'm guessing that many other players out there are like me as well, so following on from the piece I did about standby switches last year, I'm going to try to educate myself on these things, write them down, and hope that you guys join me on the learning journey as well. I can't guarantee that this is going to be 100% unbiased as I'm considering it all out loud in a real world situation from an uneducated perspective, but here goes, hopefully, it all makes sense...
One of the things that has often comes up, especially in the more expensive amps, is that having a tube rectifier is a good thing (I when I started reading about this I couldn't even begin to understand why some amps even have an option for both) - but, I've always just accepted that, but to be fair I have no idea what one is. So, I've asked people, Google, the dog, and my local milkman and here is the answer. A rectifier converts the power coming in from the wall from AC to DC. Well, that's that answered then. Shall we go jam and have a beer?
Of course, we can't, we have to ascertain the differences between different rectifiers, how different tubes make it sound different, why some amp builders insist that solid state is best - case in point - which was part of the first thing I read when looking at this, Mr Mike Soldano:
"In my opinion, all amps should have solid state rectifiers. I don’t believe there are any really good rectifier tubes on today’s market and, even if there were, why use them? The technology is obsolete; they are horribly inefficient, and far more expensive and troublesome to build into an amp. These tubes, no matter how good, will routinely need replacing, adding to your maintenance expenses. Besides that, tube rectifiers kill the headroom of an amplifier. If you want that spongy, vintage sound, there are other ways to do it. I have successfully designed and built amps that have replicated that soggy bottom, vintage tube rectifier sound using solid state rectifiers and various circuit modifications."
This melted my head a little to start off with because I always thought that tube was best when it comes to tone. So, trying to ascertain why, I read further and talked to the dog some more.
I found that the beauty of the tube rectifier, which in real terms can also be the beast of it, is SAG. And yes, there's that word again. Starting to think it's a nonexistent word invented by guitary types to describe something that the literary genius of before could not describe. So we just call it SAG. Now, SAG occurs when the rectifier is hit with a request for massive amounts of current, usually if it's working really hard. Almost like my understanding of the SAG that happens when you are at high gain and you slightly palm mute, everything goes crunchy and saggy, because the low end is requesting a HUGE amount of power and something has to give. In my head, this is a very good thing, but also it can be a bad thing as well, because if the power you are getting from the wall is under par, you will achieve SAG quicker... if the tube is on it's way out, you will achieve SAG quicker. So, once again (as with ANY discussion with tube amps), consistency is the key. Trouble is, most of us prefer the sound so much we are prepared to run this risk. The effects of SAG on a rectifier is that there is a slight delay, literally milliseconds in the response which then goes on to make the note bloom (as the rectifier catches up) which at the same time evens out the high end. Pretty certain most of us players will read a line like that, gently nod and maybe give a little smile, as that is ALWAYS a good thing. Then you get into differing types of tubes that force this behavior to make it happen quicker (for example, a 5Y3 is quicker than a GZ34), you start to understand that part of the rectifiers character and how it is dealt with plays a massive part in amps, and also plays a massive part many of guitar pedals trying to rectify that sound... Let's face it, if you are anything like me as you were reading that last paragraph you probably thought at some point about a decent compressor and a tube screamer!
Let's look at the other end of the scale now. The Solid State rectifier. These are made from silicon and do the same thing as the tube version, just extremely consistently. In my head, my first reaction to that is "YAY, consistency, GREAT" but then I remember those gigs I've played where my amp has never sounded bad because of the rectifier, just the times when it has sounded glorious. You know the ones I mean, the ones where something happens somewhere and for some reason, everything is compressing at the right time, the right amount, at the right volume, the notes are blooming, harmonics are leaping out and just everything else... I just wish it would happen more often. I suppose the challenge the builders of the future have it to make that happen, all the time, at all volumes.
I asked Brian why he opted for a tube rectifier in his amp designs, his answer was simple:
"To rectifier has a little bit more natural compression, and notes that are distorted sometimes feels more pronounced. Since this amp is fairly clean it just feels better with the tube. Solid-state will be much stiffer feeling"
So, we are back with the whole consistency feel and that "X Factor" thing of things magically happening under your fingers, why is it that when we talk about tube amps, we always come back to that? Playing the guitar is fundamentally an organic experience, for most of us anyway, we tend to dig that whole signal chain reaction that comes from a great player, great guitar, great cables, great pedals, great amp, great speakers. There is something delightful when those things work together to get that point, many many players rely on the inconsistencies of tube amps to get their tone and to keep them on their toes... yet many companies provide their amps with either both, or just SS. Why? I'm guessing that in amps where the gain response (clipping) is everything and the signal is being carefully balanced across gain stages, you will want the same thing, day in and day out and you don't want your amp to one minute to have a much more saggy low end appearing at random times, because with a lot of natural clipping happening, it would legitimately change the entire personality of the amp. Notable amps that have an SS (or both) rectifier: Soldano SLO100, Many Marshall Plexi's, Blackface Twin reverbs... the list is extensive!
OK, it’s story time – you didn’t think I would write a piece without a story did you? Pretty certain you all know me better than that!
Picture this, it’s late 1997 or so, maybe early 1998, and I get in from a gig to find my dear ol’ Mum waiting up for me… As I walked in she stood up, looking slightly mad, and just said “You HAVE to watch this, it’s amazing!”. She pressed play on the VCR and there on the TV was Robbie Williams, on a program called TFI Friday, performing his latest single – “Let Me Entertain You”, completely live.
It was a truly stellar performance.
Many of you lovely lot over on the other side of the pond won’t know of Rob too much as he’s massive everywhere but there, so I’ll fill you in. He was part of the first boy band to really take off over here in the UK in the early nineties - left in truly spectacular fashion after a few years and has been somewhat of an interesting character ever since. A lot of it has been expanded by the media, but safe to say that Rob has spent the last 25 years bouncing through life, living it to the maximum, and telling many a good story along the way. When he ‘went solo’ the vast majority of us expected it to be a flash in the pan, his first single I heard was, well, 'not my cup of tea'. After that he released a stunning ballad (that has more than stood the test of time – this was what we were expecting him to do) so by the time this performance came around most of us had written him off.
Seeing him perform that song was quite a moment. Gone were the visions of him being a boy band member who was only releasing stuff to maximise on the teenage girl market, and here was someone who was prepared to unleash his potential on a largely unsuspecting general public. I’m not sure who was more surprised at the success he had back then, us or him. Since then he has grown to be the complete pop star in the truest sense of the world, massive albums, massive singles, massive tours. I’m pretty certain that right now, and for the last 10-15 years, there hasn’t been a bigger star in Europe than Robbie Williams.
OK, enough of the back story, let’s talk about Tom. About 5 years ago Rob parted company with his band and got a new one (as you do), and just as his album was about to be released there was a big gig televised here in the UK – you could say it was somewhat of a comeback after a couple of years off. I was blown away with the band that night, it was far more in your face than the previous band, the guitars were more much more prominent, great tone was everywhere and all in all it was just an incredible gig. I spent a good 10 seconds on Google looking up the new band members, tweeted the new lead guitarist (from the company twitter account) to compliment him on his great tone and how much I enjoyed the show. To my delight he quickly tweeted back with the now legendary comment of “Thanks, I use some of your stuff!” (he was using Plextortion and Ego Compressor)… BOOM! This to me is perfect, this is what I love to find out, someone is using our gear already, loving our tone so much they bought the gear – it took me about 5 seconds to offer an artist deal. Let’s face it, when you find someone who plays that well, has a perfect grasp of what is required to be in a band like this, rocks the pants off a stadium while being part of an outfit that tours the world (playing to literally millions of people) it is one hell of a relationship to make for the company… So many people STILL consider us to be a country brand, but it’s artists like Tom that show that we are so much more than that.
It was 6 months later when I first met up with Tom at Wembley Stadium, June 30th 2013, during the “Take The Crown” World Tour. Unfortunately, it was a 9 days after my Mother had passed unexpectedly (I feel that she is linked to all this as it was her who waited up that day to show me the live performance, which prompted me to buy this album the following day - she was so excited we were going to the show as well). I was a little wobbly, understandably, but in that day I was convinced that this new incarnation of the RW band with Tom was a force to be reckoned with. It was emotional, there are a couple of songs that hit me, but I was bowled over with the power of the band, and how well Tom made our gear sound. To this day I am still a little overwhelmed with the show I witnessed that day. It was great to hear Wampler tone flattening 90k people at the iconic Wembley Stadium!
Fast forward to the present day. Here we are; Cardiff, the Principality Stadium, 21st June 2017 – the hottest day of the year. It was exactly 4 years to the day since we lost my Mother and Mrs Wilding and I were once again in the boiling hot weather, (it was the same 4 years previously, absobloodylutely boiling and this causes issues in itself, my wife suffers from a condition called Fibromyalgia and the heat makes and already terrible condition, unbelievably worse) about to go in… At this point I’d like to say that we nearly didn’t go, the recent events in the UK where concert goers were targeted was playing on our minds, but bollocks to that, we won’t let them win. We won’t let them disrupt our life.
We rocked up to the Stadium early as I had arranged to meet Tom for some photos and general chat about his gear. Tom is a tone chaser, he loves his gear, so it’s always a pleasure to get an insight into what goes into driving the biggest stadium pop tour of the summer. We got through security and were met by the lovely Jaeki Hildisch, Rob’s long time tour manager, who led us through backstage while giving us all the do’s and don’ts. Security is tight, so you have to do as you are told (you know me, so you you’ll know that ain’t easy), but it’s always incredible to walk in behind something like that, the ‘show’ itself is huge, mind-blowingly huge, consider the biggest show you’ve ever seen in terms of set, gear, people… it’s that big. You’d need days to drink it all in properly.
We found Tom and his tech Adam in Adam’s tech area. It’s always a pleasure to meet up with Tom, he’s extremely personable, quiet, and there is no evidence of ego, so once we’d had a catch up chat the first thing I noticed was the rack of guitars…. Unfortunately for my desire to play the guitars personally owned by people I really dig, Tom is left handed, so I can’t pick them up and have a go… never mind!
Tom is more of a Gibson man than anything else, his main squeeze being a ’97 SG (loaded with Bare Knuckle Mules) that has been with him for years. I noticed some recent additions to his armoury, those being a ’01 335 (Bare Knuckle Stormy Mondays), an ’08 Les Paul ’58 reissue (also with Mules), a Bill Nash telecaster (Lollar pickups) and there is an ‘07 ’62 reissue Strat (Bare Knuckle Irish Tours) lurking. Also in there is a Nik Huber Krauster II. The infamous Ibanez LP copy that was his first real guitar is now retired from active duty, and is in the dressing room.
In the middle of Adam’s den are another new addition to Tom’s rig, Kemper profilers. They only use 1 patch, a profile of Tom’s beloved 1983 JCM 800 2204 - The last time I saw them they had 4x12”s under the stage in ISObooths so as you can expect, this is a considerably easier method for them to set up and control during a tour. And, let’s be honest, in a situation like this, it’s the perfect tool for the job.
After this we headed out on to the stage (now, this is where I must gently enter story mode again. Mrs Wilding comes to some artist visits, not many, but as she is a massive fan of Rob as a song writer/musician/performer, she comes with me to these. The look on her face as Tom leads us out on to Rob’s stage is always wonderful, her just face lights up. It’s a beautiful thing to see – probably the best part of the day for me, because she gets to live her dream while I live mine)… Anyway, back to the gear...
At the heart of everything is the impeccable GigRig G2. This controls everything. The cornerstone of Tom’s live tone is kinda clean, just sitting on the edge, and this is enabled by our dear old friend the Tumnus. Tom uses his volume control to balance his level of dirt and power, and uses the Tumnus perfectly to add extra dimension to what is already there. Tom told me afterwards that it was on for virtually the entire show – he just loves the way Tumnus brings everything to life - “The Tumnus is the latest addition to the board and is one of those ‘always’ on pedals! I’m using it a lot. Great mid range boost with amazing transparency.”
Right along the board sits the Velvet Fuzz, for those moments when you need to melt the faces. As we were talking about the Velvet, Tom grabbed the SG so we could get a feel for the power (he has a solitary 4x12” on stage that he brings in via a volume pedal to give feedback when required, and to also give Tom the ability to have the reaction that you just don’t get when purely playing with IEM’s). He uses the Velvet on tight mode so it’s sitting between fuzz and distortion and the sound with that SG was outrageously good, so much power and depth. As Tom says “The Velvet Fuzz is the best Fuzz pedal I’ve tried to date, and I’ve tried a few! I love the ‘tight’ setting to really punch through the mix.” Right there next to it is the old favourite, the Ego Compressor. Not used for much on this tour - but when Tom has to break out his slide in the set the Ego just gives it the sustain, control, depth and consistency you need. I’m telling you, that guitar was just sustaining for ever. “The Ego Comp is a big part of my sound when playing slide. I love the blend feature, as it allows you to retain your original tone and not get too mushy…” (I have to give a little mention to the look on Mrs Wilding’s face as we were on the stage and he played the solo lines of ‘Feel’, one of her (and mine) favourite songs, just for us, to show how he uses the Ego).
All too soon it was time for us to go, sound check time… Jaeki reappeared so we made our way out of the stadium. These are actually the times I enjoy the most, as you get to just talk to the people who are instrumental in making the show happen, you get to see all the backstage stuff, you also get a feel of what it is like to be part of the show. After we left the staging area, we were going through the area where the buses/trucks are and a black SUV pulled up and out poured the rest of the touring band. Tom instantly grabbed the other guitar player, the legend that is Gary Nuttall, for a picture. Realising that I didn't have a picture with Tom and myself, I gave Mrs Wilding my camera to get the shot. Now, she’s not used my camera before so as I was telling her how to do it, and while she was getting confused, Rob’s long time song writing partner and keyboard player Guy Chambers stood behind her… she is a keen piano player as well so she’s a fan of him… I said “Lis, Guy Chambers!” and pointed. Unfortunately, she didn’t hear and just took the pictures - as she handed me the camera she realized what I had said, turned around but he had gone… Such a shame, as she would have loved to meet him and he was right there, inches from her!
After we left, we met up with some old friends in town (we used to live just outside Cardiff and had not been back in 15 years), had a bite to eat, went to the box office to pick up our tickets, and generally soaked up the atmosphere. Safe to say that the people who wish to disrupt events like this did not win. Not at all. We then had to return to the hotel for Mrs Wilding to rest, that heat was killing her, but fortunately we had a hotel that was 5 minutes walk from the stadium so we could make sure she was ready for the show and get properly rested - We hit the show in time for the support act, and then waited patiently for the show to start...
And yes, the show – and that’s what these events are, a show in the truest sense of the world, was incredible. I won't post a review of the show, as that is another story, also there are literally thousands of reviews, videos, comments and everything else you can imagine online to give you a feel of how these events go... Attendance to a show like this should be mandatory for all musicians - I find things like an education on how to play for the song, play for the band, play for the audience.
Walking away, here’s the main thing that struck me after the show. As I was talking to Tom and when I was watching him demo how he uses the Wampler’s, it’s plain to see that guys like Tom are no different than you and me. We are all chasing tone, all the time. We all balance what we want to do in a song with what is required in the song. We are all looking to make sure our tone works perfectly, within every given situation, every night. We just want great tone. It’s a fantastic feeling to know that we can produce gear that “a massive pop tour in Europe” isn’t considered in the design stage, but fits in so perfectly with a show like this.
In regard to the disruption that is in the back of our minds at the moment, I’d like to leave you with the words of Rob who amended the lyrics of one of his biggest hits to send a message to those who think killing innocent people to send a message is acceptable, those who want to stop our way of life. “You know that we’re strong, we’re strong, we’re strong. We’re still singing our songs, our songs, our songs”. To hear the entire stadium singing that back, only a few weeks after the Manchester attack, was incredible.
I’d like thank Tom, Adam, Jaeki and the rest of the crew for a truly amazing show and their hospitality. You all rock, in the best possible way.
About a month or two ago I took possession of a Quilter 101 Mini Head. About time I posted a review of it I think as these amps are causing a big stir in the world of normal gigging guys, guys like me, and probably guys like you.
The first thing that strikes me about this thing is the size and weight, well, lack of weight really. It literally weighs the same as a bag of sugar. 2lbs. That kinda freaked me out a little as I know it’s a 100w head and can flatten the first three rows of any audience in any bar. For this very reason I didn’t plug it in straight away because I was already judging it, as a valve amp guy, weight usually signifies tone. The beefier the transformers, the better the tone. Which means literally, the heavier it is, the better it is more likely to sound.
After a day or so I plugged it in to my 2x12” cab, with a flat EQ (more about that later) and put it on Full Q, which is their cleanest setting. I was surprised, it sounded great! Full, punchy, and was quite alive. So, already it had worked its way up in my estimations and was outperforming most straight up analogue solid state amps.
The EQ on it is bloody confusing, I must admit it leaves me, even now, scratching my head as to why they’ve done it like this. A straight B/M/T stack would have made it easier to use and easier to dial in, but you have to balance a control that can give you a EQ like a smiley face, dead flat or a hi pass, and a Hi-Cut control that goes from flat to low pass. This wasn’t easy to find as I’m more of a turn it and see type of guy and I had to stop and think about how I want my tone forged, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it did take an exercise of patience to find a tone I could build on. This leads me onto the “gain stage” selector. The Quilter boasts 5 different voicings, that brings in differing amounts of gain. Full Q is totally clean, Tweed, Jazz, Surf and Lead are quite self-explanatory… I found that for my needs (a clean platform to build on) Full Q or Surf was the best option.
The most important question for me is, how does it take pedals… well, to be completely honest it takes them like a dream. No matter what I shoved in the front it just took them without issue. I even started to bung random stacking options in front to see if I could break it, but it refused point blank to buckle and break. I’m telling you, if it can take the Dracarys maxed going into the Tumnus maxed and not fart out, it’s going to take anything you can put its way.
The only time it showed a weakness was, and this is probably the most important test, was when I gigged it. As most of you know, when I gig I either use a Wampler Bravado head and 1x12” cab, or a Fender BDri into a custom 2x12” loaded with WGS speakers. I tried the Quilter into both cabs and it sounded more than passable into the Wampler cab, but in the 2x12” it really lacked clarity, sparkle… you know, that glass element of a really good clean valve amp. The bass player in the band I’m in happens to be one of musical heroes (he was the person that introduced me to the music of Brent Mason after all) and has ears like a deer. He can hear everything and knows instantly how good something is. His comment was “That would be the perfect back up amp if yours goes down again”. That was enough for me to know that in this band, with this band mate, I can’t use it live.
So, what do I think of the Quilter. Does it have a place in my musical life? The answer most definitely is “definitely”. I will use it live going forward if I play in a band that doesn’t demand such pristine and glassy cleans (I still have my eye on an 70’s-80’s 90’s rock band), and I am severely tempted to follow Brian’s advice and get a TC Electronic Mimiq for the ‘other guitar’ feel – because that pedal doesn’t work in mono into one amp, if you use two it’s amazing. It would be perfect for that also as a wet/dry rig, the possibilities are endless. However, if you stick the Wampler Black ’65 in front of it there is no better option for a live clean rig using an amp you can legitimately put in the front pocket of your gig bag... Simple home recording, definitely. Practice, definitely.
Final verdict – can it legitimately be used to replace as a high end valve amp in a pure clean setting? For me… not quite. Maybe if the EQ was more logical and better laid out, and if they make the EQ of the front end more responsive and make it sound glassy, it would be a killer product and one that would take the world by storm. Maybe we should make a D class amp with some of Brian’s genius in the front end. As for this, right now I won’t ever leave home without it for a gig, as if my amp does go down, I can plug this thing in and it will do a fantastic job of covering the amps I use and love. It is the perfect amp for home use, simple recording and practice? Absolutely. I've put it to such good use already I can't begin to tell you. Right now, I don't think there's anything better out there for these purposes... Plus, let's revisit something I said earlier. I carry a spare 100w amp on a gig day in the slot in my pedal case that is designed for my cables. That alone makes it an invaluable addition to my rig.
Many thanks to my good friend and fellow tone chaser, Justin Hize for organising this for me and throwing it over the pond. It's been quite the eye opener!