Talking about gear

Talking about gear (93)

My back demanded I downsize my rig

As you can expect, half my life appears to be talking to people that have a new pedal day. Often it’s on Social Media congratulating them, or maybe it’s after I’ve advised them what to buy, or in rare cases talking to them if something isn’t right or they don’t bond with it.

This week marked my first personal NGD in over a year. A Helix HX effects.

Before I give you my thoughts on it, I want to tell you why I’ve gone down this route as it appears to surprise a lot of people, but in reality, it’s just the next logical step for me. So, before I write about that, I want to write about the board that I am saying farewell too and the reasoning behind it.

When I started gigging again it was after a short 17 year hiatus from being in a regular band. I was nothing short of prolific in the 90’s and I got bored. I went from guitar, to bass, to live sound… because you know, I still wanted to gig, but I got bored and stopped doing it... I soon then went to University in a different country. Well, in Wales, but you know, that’s a different country. Four years after going to University I was the proud owner of a nice and shiny law degree and a copious amount of debt. A crippling amount in fact. I had just met the person who would go on to change my life and we got married, two kids arrived completing our family in the 4 years that followed. Because of this, my gear was sold so gigging was just out of the question.

Once I started down the path I am today with Wampler (and back in the music instrument industry again) the gear started to reaccumulate around me and I found myself being able to gig again (I had played some over the years, but it was using someone else’s gear). The only local band that I wanted to play with lost their guitar player (of 24 years) and they asked me, so I said “Hell yes!” My first gigs with the band had a simple rig. My beloved PRS Brent Mason-Polytune 2-Mini Ego-Tumnus-Dual Fusion-FTE-TC Mini HOF into a Fender BDri. It was small, simple and sounded great. But I wanted more.

Over the following couple of years, the board changed from a PT Nano 16 to a two-tier Temple board, Line6 G30 wireless, One Control OC-10 looper that had in it the following… Polytune 2, Tumnus, Paisley Deluxe, Strymon Mobius (split pre and post), Strymon TimeLine, TC Quintessence, TC MiMiQ, TC Mini HOF, Digitech Drop… the TimeLine was replaced by the Source Audio Nemesis and the Mobius by the BOSS MD-500… into the Fender BDri (used as a head) and a Quilter 101MR into a homemade 2x12” cab.

Yes, it got silly.

This is my thought process throughout this. Back in the 90’s I adopted modeling early on with the Roland GP100, into a Marshall 100/100 tube power amp into a 4x12, purely because I liked the control of it. At the touch of a midi footswitch button, I could change everything from the amps to various delays and modulations… It was awesome. But, the dirt/amp channels didn’t sound great. These days, I’m more than happy with my Wampler dirt section as they are so responsive to my touch and volume control, so all I need is a basic decent amp with a good clean sound and my dirt needs are covered… but boy do I love having custom mod and delay patches set up for songs. It gives it that extra bit of sheen I couldn’t get from something that wasn’t programmable. I 100% compromised on the tone and purity of the FTE for the TimeLine… that was improved with the Nemesis. The Mobius was a new addition as I didn’t have any mod before… and the MD-500 improved on that. So, that was my gear journey up to this point.

And now the reason for getting the HXFX.

Three years ago I did something rather nasty to my spine which resulted in me literally spending 6 months on my back. I couldn’t stand, walk or even sit down. Fortunately, my job is a “home working” position so I was able to do everything I needed to from my bed. Once I finally had the operation to put it right (which the surgeon said “You have the 1 in a 1000 version of this, the worse it can be”) I was back up and about again, ready to get out there… and I joined the band 2 months after. It was between then (Feb 2016) and now that the board grew to the silly state it is in now.

Then, the horrible thing happened… Two weeks ago I was lifting my board into the back of my car and my back screamed “NO” at me. It was, fortunately, a warning shot across the bows. For a couple of months, I had been suffering a tightening across the small of my back after gigs, but I put that down to being 45 and generally unfit but this was different. This was my back say “That’s enough Jay, sort your shit out mate, I can’t do this much longer”. With that, I had a decision to make. It’s obvious that I can’t keep carrying around this monster board so I needed something that will meet me in the middle. And then I discovered the Helix HXFX. So, I got one. The main thing that attracted me was the ease of use of programming it, I detest reading product manuals and this is easy to use as it’s all on the little screen things, so for a Luddite like myself, it’s perfect.

First Impressions… it’s great. There are a few things I’m compromising on in terms of tone using this, but I can live with them. You see, I’ve gone back to the PT Nano 16 again. So, it’s Line6 G30 receiver, into the Helix, Tumnus and Plexi Drive in the loops, out to a Black 65 and into the Quilter 101MR. It can do everything the other rig can do, almost identically, but weighs ¼ of my previous board. The Quilter weighs literally 1/50th of the BDri and with a Black ’65 in front of it set to zero gain makes it sound like the Fender, or close enough in a live pub band situation. I’ve gone from 4 painful trips back and forth to the car each way to doing it all in one go easily.

I’ll come back in a couple of weeks and give you the full rundown of how the rig stands in a live situation, but so far, it’s looking and sounding really good. The Helix HXFX has a lot of limitations and a couple of glitches I will need to work around, but I am confident I’ll find a way. Most importantly, it gives me loads of opportunity to talk to my friend Ross at Line6 who just LOVES it when I start to pick apart their product and say things like “Why does it do that, that’s a bit silly” and “we would have done this differently” as only industry friends can… it’s the simple pleasure of this job!

 

 

The Pantheon and associated pedals...

You may have noticed that we dropped a new pedal last week - the Pantheon Overdrive - a pedal that we’ve been asked so many times for I’ve stopped counting… it was Brian’s take on the old Marshall BluesBreaker pedal that was released in ’91 and discontinued not too long afterward. Safe to say it’s been well received by virtually everyone who has seen it and there have been some amazing demo’s out in support of it that shows just how good, and bad, it can sound in any given situation. I must say, release day is stressful and delightful all at the same time, I love it when it’s over but not as much as Lisa does, as apparently, I’m an arse in the weeks running up to it… basically, I think we all are as every release matters. 

It’s been a blast reading all the internet arguments over it, so I thought I would do a little research and answer some of the questions that I’ve seen asked, maybe correct a few statements that have been said as fact, and give you an insight to the process that brought this latest tone machine to market.

This conversation started, as far as my failing memory allows, about 7 years ago, when myself and the Jeff Baker (who worked for us at the time) said to bDub that we need the following versions out of the following classic circuits. K, TS, and BB. The Clarksdale came a couple of years later once Travis and Max shouted about it enough, the Tumnus a couple of years after that because I was the one talking endlessly about it and finally, his take of the BluesBreaker is now here – because we kept seeing the same things on line. Not only were people asking for Brian’s take, but they wanted one NOW. The reason these three have taken so long to materialise is that Brian doesn’t actually enjoy making and designing pedals like this, for the want of a better phrase, something that is close to an existing circuit, he would rather start from scratch but the overwhelming amount of people made it impossible for us to ignore them, they wanted it bad, so we provided!

The main interesting thing I’ve seen is that one of the dealers put the pedal up on their site for sale using a version of the dealer copy we sent them. Now, it may surprise you to know that we consider ourselves a B2B business and we sell to businesses far more than we do to end customers. So, we have different versions of our copy that goes to different customers. Different things are highlighted, different benefits are shown. Basically, when we ‘write’ with the end customer in mind, it’s all about the tone and how we think it will make a player sound the best they can. When we 'write' to the retailers, it’s all about “look at how many of these you can sell”. After all, you know, we are a business and we intend to stay in business for as long as we can - so we market hard to all of the customers in the way that appeals to them the most… Most retailers aren’t interested in tone, they are more interested in a pedals USP and how many they can sell.

A lot of people jumped on a few things from this straight away, and it was jumped upon extremely passionately. It always is. The gear market, when you look at it objectively, is sometimes hilarious in its partisan views about companies. We have customers who love us and appear to want to fight to the death in order to protect our reputation, and others do so as well for other companies… which is the reason heated debates happen... As a point of interest though, one of the guys who was shouting the loudest about us being cloners on Facebook did so with a profile picture of him with a Suhr classic S in his hands. Pretty certain I don’t have to explain that one too much...

OK, so back to the point of this. Yes… the Pantheon is a direct descendant of the old Marshall Bluesbreaker  (note - the Pantheon was originally going to be called Paragon, but we changed it). In that respect, it’s no different from the JHS Morning Glory, or the AnalogMan King of Tone, Prince of Tone, the Snouse BlackBox and countless other pedals I can mention. The only one of those that is an original is the Marshall, the rest are variations of. Please note, the Xotic BB is NOT a Bluesbreaker style, it’s a TS with a baxandall active bass and treble, but that’s another story. 

I have written this from my own limited knowledge of circuits, so forgive me if it’s not 100% accurate – pretty certain it’s on point though, I didn’t feel the need to properly learn this stuff as I know a guy who’s fairly well versed in it all. It’s the same reason he didn’t learn PS, AI, FCPX etc etc. To show good form though, I’m not going to publish our own schematics of these pedals, but take the ones that are readily available online - but I will show you part of the Pantheon schematic, although part of it will be obscured… but worry ye not, I expect the full reverse engineer of it to appear online before I’ve finished writing this sentence.

To quickly go back to the Xotic BB, here is the schematic of that, as you can see, it’s got 4558 in it so it MUST be a TS, right? But seriously, it’s basically a modded TS circuit. One that sounds amazing… so, let’s not have any more BB is a BluesBreaker conversations please!!

Here is the original schematic of the BluesBreaker… for the purpose of this conversation, I’m going to be mainly referring to the one marked as “Original Wiring” that has been presented with Comic Sans. I apologise for you having to witness something in Comic Sans, it is out of my control. Please take the time to look at it and then compare it to the others that follow.

BluesBreaker schematic

Next up, the JHS Morning Glory. The cornerstone of virtually every P&W board I’ve ever seen.

Morning Glory schematic

As you can see, it’s pretty bloody close to the original. There are some obvious changes most importantly there is a jFet volume booster at the end that has the potential to be really very loud on the output (other pedals afterward beware lolol)… Which is interesting as the main issue I remember from the original BB was that it was just too darn quiet, so Josh identified the main issue and boom, fixed it. You’ll also notice that it has a switch on it, which flits between normal amounts of presence and some more, giving it a little more flexibility.

From here, let’s go to the GrandDaddy of all the descendants of the original BB, the mighty King Of Tone. There is nothing I can say about this pedal that hasn’t already been said, it’s got the greatest reputation for good reason, because it nails that tone perfectly. In my opinion, it was the BB that Marshall should have made in 1991.

Here is the schematic.

KoT schematic

As you can see, once you adjust to the fact that there are two identical circuits running side by side, if you look at one side only there is once again a handful of difference between this and the others, we have some internal dip switches to change the clipping style, an internal trim pot for presence and the high gain version just has a different value gain pot IIRC. Therefore, neither of these pedals could be deemed to be an original, just a development of the original theme.

Moving on… here is the actual schematic for the Pantheon as drawn by Brian. 



Once again, it’s pretty bloody close to the original, with a couple of changes put in for good measure that Brian always puts in. But, fundamentally it’s the same thing as the others with a couple of tweaks. All controls are on front and there is a bass control done in the way he prefers. We have soft, hard and combined clipping… same thing, just done differently.

If you want to know the differences, here they are in a nutshell.

BluesBreaker
The original = noninverted opamp, through some EQ stuff, into an inverting opamp, into fixed/set presence control and out again.

Morning Glory
Increased quality of parts, has increased output and presence switch. In terms of the circuit, it’s louder and more versatile.

KoT
2 pedals in one, exclusive style diodes that are of increased quality (that are hard to come by), presence and clipping options inserted easily inside and the option to have the gain pot replaced for a higher gain version. The differences are in the circuit that around R3 you get a little more highs and a little more gain – overall, it’s just more flexible.

Pantheon
All controls on front, increased quality of parts, 3 way selection of clipping diodes, 3 switchable stages of gain, converts the signal upon exit to a much lower impedance than the others (meaning, it “buffers the signal”), adds even more stability due to the style of parts used… we think it’s the best so far.

What do we have in conclusion… well, each offers something different in terms of user interface and options. They all sound pretty similar and you can make each sound like the other if you are that way inclined… it’s all down to, I think, this. Which one turns you on the most for whatever reason. All are built in the US, all have increased quality of parts, all are more stable than the original, all have increased outputs… but in terms of originality and ‘mojo’… well… the evidence shows you otherwise – the last original BluesBreaker circuit came out in 1991!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is tone all in the fingers? Does Satriani sound the same with cheap gear?

A very, very, VERY interesting vlog was released from Brian today, and it is about a subject that has perplexed me for many years. It’s directly related to one of the most common and least thought our retorts on social media “Tone is all in the fingers, man”. This may be a controversial subject, but you know, what’s life without a little controversy now and then?!

As many of you who have regularly read my blog over the years will know, I came up through the local scene by being a prolific jammer. Back in the day (not so much anymore, unfortunately) several local pubs would either have straight up jam nights or booked bands to play with the sole intention of knowing it was going to end up as a beer sozzled jam with everyone just playing with everyone else. Not only was this immense fun for all involved, but as a young player this was an invaluable learning ground for me and made me the player I am today. The most prolific I regularly went to were the Sunday afternoon gig at “The Old Firehouse” and the now legendary local jam night at “The Bowling Green”, both in my hometown - Exeter, Devon. UK. The great thing about these jams/gigs was the fact that every week the same faces would turn up and a carousel of about 50 other players that made it when they felt like it would also turn up, so over a long period of time, I got extremely familiar with all kinds of players. As we are all friends, most people couldn’t be bothered to bring their own instruments and once the beer had started to be consumed, everyone just played whatever was there, at all times. Because of this, I heard the same players on various pieces of gear multiple times.

What did I learn during these years… well, in the times I can remember clearly (remember, beer), every player had their own style and technique, obviously, which gave their playing a certain character and this character always shone through. But, their overall sound was determined by the gear they were using. When you really listened, and I mean really listened, you ‘could’ say that tone was in the fingers, but I think it’s actually a different word that should be used here… maybe a couple of words. Those are ‘character’ and ‘personality’.

Here is a great example, Joe Satriani was recorded using extremely ‘low rent’ gear playing one of his more famous tracks, “Surfing With The Alien”. Please, give it a watch…

 

And, in case you didn’t read the description, Joe is playing ‘Pignose’ (I know, I’ve never heard of them making guitars either) S style (single coils), a Digitech RP200 into a Peavey Backstage 30. Joe is using the Wah on the Digitech and I expect amp modelling etc from the unit as well, so… you know. It’s not going to sound like his rig when he’s touring/recording!

When you watch it, there is, without doubt, all of Joe’s character and personality is shining through. There is no doubt that it’s Joe playing. It’s in the way he picks, the way he attacks the strings and the way he uses vibrato is what is defining the music that is coming from the gear, but the gear is still defining the tone… unfortunately. When you listen hard, the tone is quite nasty, and I’m quite glad it’s only a phone that’s capturing it as if this was mic’ed properly it would sound sharp and gnarly. But, you know, it still sounds like Joe. Up to a point.

Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to over the many many years I’ve been seeing the same players playing their own and different gear over and over. Fundamentally, your tone that the audience hears will be defined by the gear you are playing. Because the gear will be dictating how much clipping you have, how much gain that works alongside that clipping, the EQ before, during and after that clipping, the type of guitar you are playing and what pickups it is – style of bridge – wood…, how the amp is constructed, the speakers you use and their size, and all the parts variables that go into each of those and just about everything else… the list is endless. However, an accomplished player will still maintain their musical character and personality regardless of the gear it is being played on. So, the picking hand attack, the vibrato, the note choices… will all be the same. Does this define tone? I don’t think it does, it defines who they are as a musician, but not their note as such.

Here is the video with Brian and Travis playing the same gear.

The interesting things that come out of this video ties up with what I was discussing above. You can hear Travis’ playing style and also Brian’s shining through, but fundamentally, their tone was changing each time they swapped amps. They keep discussing Brian’s pick attack (as he is quite a hard player on the right hand) compared to Travis’ (as he is the opposite, really quite gentle) so in that regard, the attack and bite from these amps is coming from the player, but the core tone is coming from the gear.

I think I’d like to make the case for completely and utterly banning the phrase “tone is in the fingers” and have anyone saying it severely punished. I don’t know what that punishment should be, but I’m pretty certain we can decide on a case by case basis as and when it is used as an argument! 

I would like to propose it be amended to the following statement. “Musical personality and character will always shine through regardless of the gear it’s being played on”… but, you know, that’s not quite as catchy and by no means as divisive and controversial, and as I said above, what’s life without a little controversy now and then?

 

 

Girl guitarists gear thoughts

We asked Haley Powers, a guitar teacher and blogger from Nashville, about her experiences in the world of guitar, gear and finding your way in the male-dominated world of the music industry...

Haley says as part of her introduction to her lessons page on Facebook - "Haley Powers Music is specially designed to help women feel great about their guitar playing so that they can confidently share their music with others." 

"Before I start talking about my perspective on being a female in the world of gear and electric guitar, I want to first say this is my completely biased perspective of what I have experienced. It’s definitely not every female’s opinion or experience, my personal story. So let me take you back to when I was a very beginner at electric in Jr. High (picture me- very skinny, converse high tops, and braces. Very cool obviously.)!

At my first electric group lesson, when my Dad dropped me off, I didn’t really think about the fact that there were all guys in my lesson. I had a lot of guy friends and we all listened to classic rock and loved guitar, so making friends wasn’t really an issue. Playing with all guys wasn’t weird or something I really thought about and I was always included. The guys thought it was great that I was right along with them jamming to Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix! My sister and I had also recently become obsessed with School of Rock and Spinal Tap so this was the world I lived in. 

It wasn’t until about Junior year of High School that I even considered that the electric guitar world was possibly difficult for a female. That year I had just started playing at church with my Dad and most of the guys were actually in his other bands. There was a keyboard player, however, who was not a good friend and seemed to think it was weird that I played the guitar. Not only that, but I had one of those pink paisley Strats that he relentlessly teased me about it being a Hello Kitty guitar (yikes!). Playing in this kind of setting I had really tried to put on my professional shoes and something about these comments started seeping into my little high school brain despite my dad telling me that was dumb and not to worry about it. So a few years later just to avoid any sort of embarrassment, I sold that guitar to get my now ’62 Reissue Teal Stratocaster (which to be fair was a great choice!). Honestly, I hadn’t really looked back at that guitar until I saw Brad Paisley perform before I graduated high school. And guess what - he had a pink paisley Tele just like I had (but way nicer)! That experience taught me no matter what kind of stereotype or prejudice may be out there, whether that be being a girl in the world of electric guitar, an older adult being around younger cooler people, someone who doesn’t fit the current look that’s in etc., owning who you are and being thankful for the things that make you unique is your biggest strength. Someone could always make fun of you or poke holes in your validity, but if you know deep down that you like who you are, those comments can easily roll off you.

So no, I’m not one of those forward-thinking people who kept their first guitar for the memories, but I did learn a major lesson that has spurred me on throughout my life. Because I’m in a bit of a unique position, I wanted to give a few tips if you are wondering how best to support the female musicians you know. Many of the little things that have happened to me that may have seemed sexist I think we're out of genuinely really not knowing how something was coming across. As we all know, when you are doing something near and dear to your heart, little jokes or hurtful things can feel stung a bit more than they are usually intended! 

1) Finding What You’re Looking For?
This is the classic area I have heard female musicians be a little dumbfounded about. The other day, in fact, my friend was telling me about a situation at a music store where the employee could not let go of the fact that she was intentionally looking at electric strings and was not in fact lost in her search for acoustic strings. Personally, most of my experiences looking at gear or guitars are 98% positive and there’s maybe the 2% out there who will explain about a product I asked about only making eye contact with my bass playing husband! Everyone has room to grow and learn and there are a ton of new things I learn about gear on a regular basis. It’s almost like the feeling of being micromanaged in a job when your boss is hovering over you and even though you know what you are doing! In this scenario, treating everyone looking at gear the same is definitely the way to go and if you want to earn extra points, saying something like “You sound awesome” or something can bring out the best!

2) Come jam
As we know, there are not as many females who play guitar backing for people in bands. I’ve thought a lot about why this may be and part of me wonders if it has to do with social norms. When you are younger this isn’t as much of an issue, but if you are married, inviting someone over of the opposite sex to hang and play music with you is a little weird. That’s why you should always marry a bass player so they can work as a nice buffer and still jam along. Kidding (but really, it’s the best!). I have heard being a “good hang” is one of the biggest factors to getting touring gigs. As people get older, friend groups can become a bit more separate with guys and girls. Music is such a great connector though that mixing it up as your next jam and inviting both genders to play (not just have a female singer!) can be really fun and a good way to include everyone. Also making sure everyone gets a chance to solo!

3) Gear chats!
Helping someone see why something is so special to you and getting them excited about it is a skill I think everyone has. When it comes to gear, some of the girls I’ve taught have started by seeing their bf’s pedal board or gear, but haven’t been invited into the experience themselves. I’m the type of person who gets really excited about things and can’t help but want other people to jump on board with that too (I’m pretty sure there have been zero interesting TED talks/ Podcasts/ cool licks I have learned about and not shared with my husband!). When my students have started playing electric, I love talking to them about pedals and seeing them light up when they see all the possibilities and sounds they have heard on a song they love and being able to so easily recreate it. Assuming they will definitely be interested in pedals and love them as much as I do is usually a self-fulfilling prophecy! I think more women would be interested in electric guitar and pedals if that was expected of them. Something that’s always baffled me too is guitar doesn’t rely on physical strength like football or something, so it really can be for everyone!

I hope a few of these tips were helpful for you if you are a guy! I know most all the guys I know are inclusive, fun to jam with, and really excited to start seeing more females playing electric guitar. There will obviously always be some people who will say offensive things or try to make something feel invalid out of insecurity (especially online!), but my sister always says, “Don’t feed the trolls!” meaning we don’t need to engage with those types of comments or people. Focusing on the people who need you, thinking the best of people, and doing what you love will always make you happiest!"



You can connect with Haley on her website about lessons or to ready her blog - www.haleypowesmusic.com, her Facebook or Instagram. We would like to thank Haley for sharing her experiences with us!

 

 

But the audience can’t tell the difference!!

How many times have you seen that comment as part of an argument online and kinda rolled your eyes at it? Well, if you are anything like me, you stopped counting when you ran out of fingers and toes. 

So, to counter that, here is a bold statement. “Who cares if the audience can hear the difference?”

OK, so let me expand on that a little. When I play live (and I’m pretty certain that this applies to everyone I play with and coming to think about it, everyone I’ve spoken too about it), a great guitar tone (or bass tone – or drum tone or whatever) is about one thing and one thing only, giving the person who is behind the instrument the opportunity to feel as comfortable as possible in order to play at their very best. The audience, generally, only cares about two things. “Is the band any good?” and “Do I like the music?”. We can do nothing about the second statement, but the first we have total control over - I doubt very much if the audience is thinking about the composite parts that result in that what they are hearing.

An integral part of any live performance is whether or not the band is any good. It’s extremely rare that a band will sound good to the audience as a whole if they sound simply awful (unless of course, their whole existence is that rough around the edges feel). I’ve seen some amazing bands in the past that have given me a terrible night because they sounded awful – and that could be the FOH mix, the individual instrument tones or anything else. I remember one night were an entire pub emptied within 3 songs because the band sounded awful. And this was the same band that went on to sell out endless world tours and go on to become one of the biggest and influential bands currently performing.

In order for the band to sound great, each person has to be at the top of their game and a lot of the time you can peel that back to ensuring that every person on the stage is comfortable and loving what they are doing and hearing. Have you ever been on stage when for some reason your gear doesn’t react the way you expect it to and it go on to ruin your night? I have, many times. That’s the ‘beauty’ of playing in bars and clubs, some rooms naturally sound amazing and some kill the sound. The key to this, for me anyway, is that in order to feel comfortable I have to be in the right ‘zone’. And that zone is all about my mental state and the relation between me and my gear. If I’m not comfortable, then I don’t play as well. My wife can spot it by the time the first song is halfway through if I’m not comfortable.

Quite often, either during a break or after the gig, people wander over to the stage area and say “You don’t need all that… etc etc” and then go on to say how good it sounds and how much they enjoy/ed my playing. This always strikes me as a little odd, surely the only thing they care about is if it sounds good. It shouldn’t matter if I have one pedal and a £50 guitar into a crappy amp, or if I have boutique level stuff from start to finish… as long as it sounds good as part of the end product. In order for it to sound good, then I have to be stood there and feel 100% comfortable and ready to melt some faces. I think this is key to this debate and a word I've used several times already in this piece – 'comfortable'. Is the player comfortable? and is the gear making them comfortable? I am fully aware that my epic board is somewhat of a comfy blanket for me, I rely on it and most of the effects on it are used once, which is a lot of money to spend on something that is only used in that way – but consider this. I am there for two reasons. Firstly, to satisfy my desire to play live and make music with my buddies, and to see the audience enjoy themselves. The one song that flies into my head at this point is “Runaway” by Del Shannon, latterly covered by Gary Allen – and the version we go is somewhere in the middle of the two. The intro to that is quite a specific tone, and it uses a one time only patch from the Mobius and Timeline (although the TimeLine is used constantly throughout the gig the Mobius only features in 4-5 other songs, 1 for vibe, 1 for tremolo and 3 or so with chorus) -  does it make having a £450 pedal worthwhile? My answer is a resounding YES! On that song, as when I hit that big Am riff to start it, people jump up and start dancing. That makes me comfortable, that makes me happy and so I play better.

The main question I have to ask myself is this. Would it sound any worse to the audience if I didn’t use those patches and just got myself a crappy cheap trem pedal. Or not use those sounds at all and just use a normal tone. Well, it may well do… but the fact it’s all midi controlled so the tempo is right makes me a happy boy. There is no tap dancing, there is no tweaking of speed, it’s just there and I know that it’s going to sound killer every night (not taking into consideration if the room is awful). This means I can relax, concentrate on one of the most finger bending solos I have to do later in the song and not worry about anything not sounding the way I expect it to. 

There are a lot of players out there who survive beautifully going straight in, or using cheaper pedals and everything else, but as a player I need to know what to expect when I hit that button. When I know what to expect, I relax, when I am relaxed I play better. And the only thing the audience does care about, I’ve found, is that I play to the best of my abilities every time I get up on that stage. It’s not about sounding the best because the £2K Klon has more mojo than the £150 Tumnus, it’s about only having to concentrate on the playing. For me, the Klon is excessive as I feel I don’t need it as the Tumnus does the trick for me every night, but I know many players that only feel comfortable when they have a real vintage Klon in their chain. Now, I can barely tell the difference when I play them side by side, so incorporated into a band mix I’m 100% confident I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, and I would go as far as saying that they can’t either… the audience wouldn’t have a chance – but if the player is happy, and therefore playing their best because they are so happy, then for me – it’s worth every penny spent.

For reference, here is my rig and I’ve taken the liberty of adding up the total cost of it all new. 

Guitars
PRS Brent Mason signature.
’94 Fender MIM Strat with hand wired Seymour Duncan Antiquities
Epiphone Mandolin 

Outboard
Line6 G30, TC Electronic Polytune 2 into One Control OC-10 looper that contains…. Wampler Mini Ego Compressor, Wampler Mini Tumnus, Wampler Paisley Drive Deluxe, TC Quintessence, Strymon Mobius (split into pre and post), Strymon TimeLine, TC Electronic MiniHOF, Wampler dB+… All wired up with Evidence Audio SIS/Monorail.

Amps and Speakers
Fender BDri
Custom made 2x12” speaker cab loaded with WGS Reaper HP and WGS ET65.
Spare amp – Quilter 101 MR 

Yep. That’s £7k of gear to play covers in pubs once or twice a week. But, let's face it – I could double that figure EASILY! Yes, I know, that original figure is insane. I really know it is, but it makes me happy and this is my only hobby and I know whenever I go out to make a noise I sound as good as I personally can - so in that regard, it’s worth it. All of it!

 

 

 

Does gear make you a better player?

Quite often you will see a conversation on the internet - usually started by a meme - that ends up with a few people arguing that playing isn't all about the gear, it's about the player. But what happens when the gear transforms the player? Here is a short piece sent to us regarding this by a moderator of our tone group on Facebook, Andrew Gordon. 

"Can a new guitar pedal really make you a better player?
If you had asked me this question two months ago I would have "No! Don’t be ridiculous!" But since finding a couple of key pedals that really work for me I appear to have levelled up in my playing. Now, is it the pedal that is making me play better or is it that I am playing more and understanding more and really starting to find myself as a player?

I think the answer is, in fact, both, but it may not have happened without that pedal.

Let me put some context to this, I play the guitar as a hobby and buying and selling gear has also been my hobby for several years. Of late I’ve finally got an interest in theory and becoming a better player than I currently am. I’ve been watching more theory videos on youtube than gear videos and really trying to implement what I am learning. I have hit a point where I feel I have a much better understanding of some of the theory and where and how I can actually use it. It appears that you really do get out what you put in and you would think at my age that this would be a no-brainer, but if I am being honest I let the gear chase get in the way of actually playing and getting better. I’ve not only seen this in myself but I have seen it some of my other “tone chaser” friends and even some in real life too! It’s easy to lose sight of what’s really important, playing. 

It’s been quite a few years since I have been in a band and I am starting to feel now that it is really time to get something together not only to have fun and jam, but to keep getting better as a player and to also make my gear relevant apart from my love of it.

But how did a pedal bring on this realistic revelation?

It started with one video on youtube about one pedal and I watched it over and over and over again to point where I pinpointed the exact sound that I had been hearing in my head for the last five years or so, but I had finally heard it in gear. I have chased many different tones over the years but this one had always been what I thought was my “core” tone. A while back I found out that I am a better player on Telecaster, I don’t know exactly why or how this happened as I always thought I was a strat player and that was it. But again I was wrong. For some reason, I am more melodic, more honest and expressive player with better tone on a Tele. I ordered the pedal at my local store and waited for its release. Once I got it and plugged it in and dialled it in over a couple of days something had changed. I was playing better! I was sounding better too!

Now we all love chasing tone, I know I do but sometimes the chase is not as good as the results you can achieve. The truth is you need to chase gear to find out what makes you, you, and how you can get to the point where you are sounding and feeling your best. It can take some time to find the right gear, but you also need to put the time in getting to know how the gear works for you properly rather than just playing it for a weekend and then flipping it straight away. It’s kind of like finding your life partner, it takes time and effort and you do get what you put in. Happy chasing and finding the tone zone."

 

I've read this a few times and finding myself agreeing with it more the more I re-read it. The reason I relate to it personally so much is because the latest interpretation of my tone, from my gig board, has complete revitalised my playing. I use three gain stages on my board, the Tumnus and the Paisley Deluxe. I was previously using the Dual Fusion instead of the PaisleyDog, but needed some more 'grunt' so swapped it out when the PaisleyDog was released. What I found is that because the UnderDog side is more gainy, more aggressive, I was starting to dig into my guitar more and finding more inspiration when improvising with the band. Not only did this make me sound more convincing in being me, I was also setting up my rig at home to just play it more. When I do this, I found that because I relating to my tone that much more I was wanting to learn more about what I was playing... Now, I'm no slouch when it comes to music theory, but then again, Tom Quayle is one of my favourite friends so I am painfully aware that I actually know very little. The more I played, the more I was analyzing what I was playing and then looking up teaching sites to work out what I was doing... this then pushed me into new areas which pushed me into more and the cycle of learning is now at it's most prominent it's ever been. The more I enjoy my tone, the more I play. The more I play, the more I wonder how I can make myself sound more interesting. The more I make myself sound more interesting, the more I want to make myself sound even more interesting. So, as far as Andrew and I are concerned, that by way of inspiration to play, gear can and does make you a better player. 


 

Coming full Circle on Gear Buying

The time has come where I’m burnt out on gear, and my chase for tone has come full circle. In 2011 I was probably the happiest with my playing that I had ever been. My tone was great, my rig was stable, and I was focused on playing more than anything. My skillset was at an all-time high, which for me, was being able to cover a few Brad Paisley songs note for note along with the recording. Admittedly they were some of the easier songs, but I had set my own bar of expectation relatively low as I have minimal self-esteem, and surpassing and completing that gave me the most pride in the world. I was actively playing regularly, with friends in a band as well as at church. I was using the same guitars for several years and GAS didn’t really exist aside from unobtainable guitars and amps that were completely out of reach. I had a PRS Custom 22 that I had worked for and saved up several summers worth of money to get, and my Crook tele that was a graduation present from my parents for graduating college. I had those two, an acoustic and that was it. I knew everything both instruments were capable of, and there wasn’t a need for anything else. I had a small board with a handful of pedals on it, and a Hot Rod Deluxe that served me perfectly. 
 
I started out my addiction to trying pedals in 2012 to have something for “me”. At the time, we had just had our first child and life had flipped upside down. Free time was a thing of the past, and I’ll be the first to admit that it took several months to adapt. It was one of the most joy-filled times of my life, but also some of the hardest as I had to come to grips with being a Dad, getting very little sleep (he woke up every two hours until he was 2 years old). I felt like there was nothing left of me, just a bit of a warm body. So, at the time I tuned to TheGearPage.net and lost a bit of my soul in the emporium as I proceeded to flip pedals for the next two years. I won’t admit how many came and went, but I will say it was enough that I’m ashamed of it. The flip side was that I learned A LOT about tone, and that ended up leading me to a job in the industry, but at what cost? That was the slow descent into GAS-fueled craziness that went on up until a few months ago.
 
Gear became a distraction for me. It was (and still is) so easy to jump on Reverb or Facebook and browse around and think about the possibilities and ideas that *could* potentially come from owning such gear. There were times that I didn’t touch a guitar for weeks, just because of work or family obligations. I’ve always tried to make family first, but I’ll admit that the quick “escape” to looking at gear was far too easy to do, just like looking at any form of Social Media. I didn’t have time to practice, and chalked it up to “I wouldn’t remember what I practiced anyway, so what’s the point?” It became the same old tireless riffs, noodling and lead lines I’ve played hundreds of times in the past few years. I remembered bits and pieces of the songs I knew before, but for the most part my mind was blank from mindlessly noodling. 
 
As the gear kept coming in and out of the house, I started noticing that the excitement of getting the new gear was dwindling. The Silver Sky was a prime example. I was SO excited to get it; the excitement of the chase was exhilarating. Finally got it, had it for a few weeks, and ended up selling it. My mistake was viewing it as a collectible instead of a tool to make music, and I didn’t want to get comfortable with it and risk messing it up. So, my wife wanted a new deck on the back of the house, and I sold it to fund that. Two weeks later (after I realized the deck wouldn’t cost as much as I thought it would), I had a yearning for the Silver Sky again. My thought process was that I hadn’t given it enough time to properly get comfortable with it and make it work for my style of playing. I was very fortunate that the person I sold it to was willing to let me buy it back and lived locally and is a great friend, so I got it back. I immediately made the tweaks that I felt made it more playable and comfortable…and it did…for a while. After playing it for a few weeks, I decided that I’d sell my American Pro strat and just consolidate my gear down. If it wasn’t being used, then it’s time for it to go. I decided to plug the strat in one last time before boxing it up to sell and realized that I was honestly was more comfortable with the strat than the Silver Sky. I decided to wait, and compared them head to head again after my few adjustments on the SS. In the end, it came down to comfort and sound. The strat just had that more classic sound that my ears wanted to hear, which is the exact reason I wanted to own one in the first place (after a decade of not owning one).
 
It definitely dawned on me a few months ago when someone said “Alex plays guitar. Play something!” I locked up tighter than you can imagine because it’s been WAY too long since I’ve played in front of a group of people that aren’t my family. All of the things I could have easily pulled out of my mind in 2011 were nearly gone, and I found myself cutting pedals on, switching guitars, and overall just making a fool of myself (despite the compliments) because I haven’t played that much in the past few months. The thing was that I didn’t feel comfortable on any of the stuff I was using because I had a revolving door on gear, more interested to see what sounds they could make out of sheer boredom or curiosity than putting them into context in a song or how they would fit my playing needs. My distraction became my addiction, which has led to my passion for it dwindling significantly. Gear-buying and flipping have become a quick outlet to solve boredom and other typical life stuff, a quick thrill that is way too easy and generally has left me feeling lackluster in most respects. 
 
Working at Wampler has really opened my eyes to the market, and what people like and don’t like, and what other companies strive for, excel at, and fall short on (including us). Jason put it best (and this has stuck with me since he said it) that “If you have to use a gimmick to sell it, it’s usually because it can’t stand on its own without it.” And in many cases, that’s completely true. Just because something has fancy bells and whistles doesn’t mean it’s practical or sounds that great. Learning a wealth of knowledge from Brian and Jason has opened my eyes to think more critically of what I’m thinking about buying, and for the most part, my addiction has slowly started to dwindle. Some of the pedals I would have bought immediately, I take a step back and question whether I’d actually use them, or if I’m just curious to try them? 9/10 times it’s because I’m just bored and curious, and now even the curiosity has gone somewhat. The good part is that my board has had minimal changes, my guitars and amps are more solid than ever with very little moving gear, and my comfort is growing back. Brian sent a prototype to me about a month ago, and that has truly inspired me more than anything lately. Not to noodle, but to get whatever I can get out of it (and the rest of my gear) without thinking “Well it would be cool to be able to make this sound now and then.” The reality of it is that if it’s not fun anymore, what’s the point? Admittedly over the past couple of years, fun HAS meant just trying pedals. But at the end, I felt like despite all of the stuff I’ve used, it didn’t add much value to me as a player. Yes, I know what each one of them is capable of, but aside from talking on gear forums, what good is it really going to do me?
 
I know this has drawn on and has a lot of information you’ve seen before, but for me, I think this is a step in the right direction to admitting I have a problem, and I’m trying to take steps in making my own life a bit better. I’ve been on a mass exodus with gear, anything that’s not being frequently used is pretty much being sold. It feels pretty good to get the space back, not having the money essentially just sitting on the shelf not being used doesn’t hurt either. Since I’ve started decluttering and dropping the excess, my playing has started improving again, my desire to mindlessly search YouTube for demos and Reverb for killer deals have decreased too. GAS still exists, but it’s not frantic like it has been over the past few years. My point with this whole blog is basically to say do what makes you happy but also think critically about what you’re doing and what you hope to be able to achieve in the future and adjust your trajectory accordingly.
 
I’ll leave you with a quote from Jack Canfield that seems appropriate (at least to my situation): “As you begin to take action toward the fulfillment of your goals and dreams, you must realize that not every action will be perfect. Not every action will produce the desired result. Not every action will work. Making mistakes, getting it almost right, and experimenting to see what happens are all part of the process of eventually getting it right.”
 
 

The Comfort Zone?

I’m a creature of habit, 100%. Borderline OCD makes me happy when things are “normal” and in a routine. It’s something I’ve noticed for many years that permeates through all of my daily life, down to food choices, what deodorant I use, all that stuff. When I go to one of our local restaurants, I’ll normally order one of the three or four different dishes I usually get. This same thing was overtly apparent after getting a Suhr a few months ago, then the PRS Silver Sky. My OCD kicks in, and when things are out of place, it’s just impossible for me to bond with instruments, pedals, amps, etc. A lot of it is expectation versus reality, then adding my desire for consistency it makes for a lot of gear flipping.

I was very fortunate to find an incredible deal several months back on a Suhr Antique heavy relic, with three Thornbuckers in it. It was an incredible sounding guitar, and the neck felt great in my hands. I had it for about two weeks, to where I was enjoying it but there just wasn’t something quite right. At the time, I had it built up in my mind that “It’s a Suhr, it has to be something wrong in my mind, these guitars are supposed to be perfect.” I played it for another couple weeks and found myself still feeling like it wasn’t quite where I wanted it. Despite my better judgment, and complete lack of experience, I watched a couple of YouTube videos, changed to my favorite strings that I use on every guitar (Ernie Ball Regular Slinky’s, I’ve been using them for over a decade now), and adjusted the truss-rod and the saddles on the bridge. Threw a set of Dunlop strap locks on there, and sure enough, that’s what it needed. It came down to it being a comfort level thing, where those strings and the security strap locks give me mentally helped complete the puzzle.

The strap lock thing is entirely for a reason, and to this day I’ll put a set of strap locks on every guitar I ever own in the future. When I was in my early to mid-twenties, I had a PRS Custom 22 in Scarlet Red. That PRS was a guitar that I had saved for over two years for, and it was my first genuinely nice guitar. I was in a hard rock band and did a lot of jumping around and carrying on, and we were practicing before a gig in a garage. We were mid-jam when I jumped in the air, and when I landed the back of the strap broke and my beloved PRS went flying and hit the concrete floor. I immediately felt like I was going to throw up. I was fortunate because it mainly took a 1’ chip of finish off down to the wood near the jack, but the back as absolutely scratched to death. I couldn’t repair the considerable chunk of finish that chipped off, but I was able to at least wax some of the scratches out of the back. No guitar to this day feels safe unless I have strap locks on it now. I soon stopped jumping around pretty permanently after that.

The string situation comes down to preference and comfort. I’m used to the tension and tone that the Regular Slinky’s (10’s) give me, and although I’ve played guitars with other strings that worked just fine, nothing quite feels like home like a set of Slinkys’. I’ve gone through the phases of trying heavier and lower gauge strings, and for me, heavier than 10’s make my carpal tunnel act up, and anything lower than 10’s feel like playing spaghetti. I’ve tried various brands, from NYXL’s, D’Addario’s, and even boutique strings, and though they all sounded good and played fine, it always comes down to a manner of familiarity and what my ears expect along with how the strings feel under my fingers. The same thing went on with my PRS Silver Sky, where I just wasn’t comfortable until I put my favorite strings on there, adjusted the truss rod how I liked it, and even adjusted the pickups down to better suit my tastes. After those small adjustments (and a set of strap locks), it immediately felt sturdier and like I was “at home.” It just proved that I’m horrendously set in my ways, sometimes to a fault. The irony is that I’ve changed “favorite picks” so many times that I can’t count on my fingers and toes (albeit most revolve around a thicker, JazzIII XL shape).  

Am I weird and the only one who does this? Not sure. I guess one way to look at it is that I know what I want more-so than in years past. The same has occurred recently with pedals too. I’ve moved more OD’s and fuzzes and dirt boxes on and off my board for so long now that there were days when I had a board full of nothing but dirt, to try them all. Now, I’m down to 3 dirt pedals that have stayed relatively consistent on my board, and they’re about what you’d expect: Klone (depends on the board size as to whether it’s a mini or a large one), Tubescreamer, and a Bluesbreaker of some sort. I like them versatile enough to cover lots of ground, but not so much that they overlap a whole lot. The same goes for most of the rest of my board, and I think it’s what it means when people talk about finding their own personal tone. I still flip pedals, but nothing like I’ve done in the past. I think in that situation, getting in the comfort zone can be kind of nice (especially financially).

PRS Silver Sky Hands-On Review

I’ve had the fortune of owning the Silver Sky from PRS for about a week now, tried it through several different amps and even played it out with my buddies this past weekend to get a feel for it. I figured there’s no time like the present to take a look at what I found that I like, what I’m not a huge fan of, and my overall impression of the instrument that has divided the gear community more than just about anything in recent memory. Keep in mind this is a personal view, may ramble on a bit but I’m trying to be thorough for anyone who is truly on the fence about these guitars.
 
I’ll start off with straight out of the box. I’m not one of the lucky ones that won the lottery and got a case with my Silver Sky (for any who aren’t aware, the first 500 shipped with a gig bag, the rest ship with a padded gig bag). First impressions are positive; it’s a solid gig bag with padding on the inside that keeps the guitar from moving all around. Decent pockets for all your stuff, and backpack shoulder straps for when you want to throw it on your back. It’s not overtly protective, but it was protective enough that the only thing in the box was a bit of light bubble wrap around the top and bottom of the bag and put in there to roll, and it survived the trip (but freaked me out upon first seeing it). Upon removing it from the gig bag, I immediately noticed how light it was (lighter than my American Pro strat). Upon initial views, the finish (I got the red, Horizon finish) was expertly done, no flaws, blems or quirky stuff anywhere on the guitar. I instantly noticed the slightly darker paint shade on the lower bout of the horn, which was subtle but kind of accentuates it to make it have a 3d quality. All of the edges were clean; no hair-line paint cracks around the neck (which admittedly my American Pro had out of the box).
 
Upon the first strum, it was already in tune. It made the trek from Texas to here in VA in relatively frigid weather and was ready to roll out the minute it landed. The neck has been a big talk of the guitar, talking about the 7.25” radius instantly turned a lot of players off. For me and my small hands, it was comfortable. The frets are smaller than the modern jumbo’s I’ve been playing for years, but it didn’t detract from the experience at all. They’re a bit taller than my friend’s ’64, but the thickness of the neck and overall feeling of playing it felt like playing an old friend. As to be expected with a guitar at that price, the attention to the frets was perfect. No sharp fret ends, everything was just smooth, all the way around. The rosewood used on the fretboard has some gorgeous figuring to it, and the birds are there but not as “in your face” as my old Custom 22 and other PRS’s are. Unplugged, it’s a relatively loud guitar compared to some of the others I’ve played. Chords ring out really well with plenty of sustain and bending feels great. Now, the dreaded question associated with the 7.25” radius is…does it fret out? The answer is 97% NO. The only time I experienced a single fret-out was on the high E string, playing way up around the 20-22nd fret. That’s ONLY on the high E string though, and I had to do well over a step and a half bend to get it to fret out. It also doesn’t do it on the other strings, but admittedly I’m personally not playing up that high very often, so it’s not a deal-breaker. The bridge itself is great, very sleek and stays in tune quite well even when bombing on the trem arm. I’ve always put my bridges down to the body on my strats since I was a teenager anyway, so that felt right at home. The tuners are solid and work very smoothly, and of course, the PRS locking option is just one of my favorites anyway out of ease of use.
 
All that stuff is well and good, but it only means but so much unless it sounds excellent. I only had about 5 minutes the first night, and it left me feeling a bit bewildered at how to describe the sound of the pickups. There was something different, but I couldn’t put my finger on it without spending more time with it. Now that I’ve played quite a bit on it, the easiest way I can describe the pickups are strat-like, but with rather hefty variations on some of the frequencies. Overall, I’d say that they’re not as warm and boomy as a strat is. The Silver Sky’s pickups are much…brighter isn’t the word I’m looking for. Present maybe? They have this air about them that is different from any strat I’ve owned. Overall there seems to be less compression on the low end, more presence, and much more percussive quality when reacting to picking dynamics. Generally, on a strat, I would be a neck, neck+middle, and bridge+ middle type person. I’m just fond of the 2, 4 and five positions and often overlook the bridge standalone and the middle standalone. The bridge on the SS is quite nice sounding, and I understand what JM meant when he said: “the lows have high end, and the highs have low end.” The bridge is quite warm, still single-coil but leaning ever slightly toward P90-ish in nature (especially with dirt). The middle was the most surprising for me of all the pickups because it feels like it has the best of both worlds so to speak. It’s got quite a bit of low-end, but there’s some quack and brightness that lets it cut without being like an ice-pick. I never played the middle before to its true extent, but it’s quickly becoming my favorite. You can definitely see John’s influences in each pickup setting. The neck pickup does the SRV-ish thing but doesn’t quite snarl like my strat does outright, but when you dig in with your pick, it really responds almost like hitting the amp with a boost (see my comment above about being very reliant on picking dynamics). The four position has the quack but is smooth and kind of sexy, with some low end that really blooms as you play. The middle is very much Jerry Garcia-ish, and you can definitely see the effect Jerry had on him playing with Dead and Company. Bridge + middle had that great classic sound but compared to my strat it seems to have a bit more mids that smooth but fatten out the overall sound of that position. 
 
While we’re talking tones, the Silver Sky works exceptionally well with most any pedal you use it with. Pairing it with a TS gives that fat and powerful tone you’d come to expect from its lineage, while still adding a bit of extra clarity to it. Utilizing a K-style OD makes your signal cut like a hot knife through butter and fills out the sound to the point where I could see myself only using a Klone if it came down to only choosing one form of dirt. In all honesty, it’s one of the first guitars in a very long time that I haven’t had the desire to use effects on much. I've instead been opting just to play clean or edge of breakup with a bit of spring reverb on for depth and just adjusting my playing style and pick attack to really bring out the nuances. Speaking of which, this guitar it’s overtly forgiving when it comes to playing. Being that it’s so touch-sensitive and all that, every nuance (good and bad) are amplified tenfold. For me, it was eye-opening because I would just play kind of sloppy on a strat with rakes and all that, and the Silver Sky made me take a look at my attack and adjust to clean my chops up a bit already. It’s undeniable that you can hear John’s tonal choices in each of the pickup positions and the reaction to the string attack, which are very much his trademark thing. Overall, it’s effortless to channel JM tones, but I also feel it’s easier to NOT sound like some of the classic strat players, and you have to almost channel their playing style more so than on say my American Pro to get those classic tones. Again, it’s going back to reinforce that it’s a very responsive guitar. You get what you put into it, nothing more, nothing less.
 
Getting into the nit-picky part of my review and some of the things I’m not as big of a fan of are based on the knobs and selector switch and the headstock. The sweep of the pots themselves is very nice and musical the whole way through, no issues there. The knobs themselves, unfortunately, feel very cheap and aren’t snug on the pot itself. They each wiggle just a bit on top of the pot, and despite trying to push down harder (thinking maybe they just weren’t on there good), but to no avail. They’re not majorly shaky, but there’s some wiggle movement going on, even if it’s relatively slight. It’s something I can overlook in the long-run. The pickup selector clicks much more securely into each of the five positions than any of my other strats do, but overall it also has this cheap, fisher-price toy kind of feel to it (same as the knobs). They might not be cheap at all, but just from the onset, they FEEL cheap. I have a couple of friends who have gotten theirs as well, and they said the same thing. Regarding the headstock, the shape is fine and I kind of dig that it’s unique and quirky. The truss rod cover and tuning handles are a matching dark grey plastic, which I also feel makes the look and feel a bit cheap aesthetically. I would have at least opted for black, or maybe even just a different shade of grey, but again I'm just being nit-picky now.
 
Overall verdict? It’s a very solid, well-engineered instrument that pays homage to the legacy of the strat, but then branches off and does its own thing. It admittedly plays more like a PRS than a strat, and the pickups and feel of the neck are just different enough to justify owning both a Silver Sky and a Fender Strat. Did it reinvent the wheel? Heck no. Was PRS aiming to? Not that Paul or John ever mentioned in any of their interviews. It’s another viable option for people who love S-style guitars, with PRS’s impeccable attention to detail on their finishing work. I am a fan of John’s, but despite it being a signature model it doesn’t feel pigeon-holed into just his tones. Other’s mileage may vary considerably, but I for one am glad to see PRS step into that world that so many other brands have been occupying for so long (with FAR less fuss than PRS got). Check one out if you get the chance, and you’ll see what I mean about it just being *different*. 
 
 

Is Mojo all in the head?

What is it about classic or vintage gear that just oozes mojo? In general, many of the circuits aren’t made of magic unicorn dust or rainbow farts and hen’s teeth; just electronics soldered together that culminate in a particular circuit. These parts aren’t necessarily designed to be used with music-related devices, but over the years that’s what’s been adopted by the industry and progressed even further into modern technology. So, what is “mojo,” and why does it play such a huge part in our gear selections? It dawned on me the other day as I was taking stock of my gear, looking at what I would be willing to move (for space and to have a bit of extra spending cash), and things that I immediately will not sell in any way, shape, or form. I think it comes down to mojo, which is a combination of several factors. It made me start looking at WHY I’m keeping the gear I’m keeping, and so easily “thinning the herd” so to speak on some other things.

Several of my friends and I were discussing vintage gear in a group chat, and lust for various pieces of classic gear that are essentially unreachable in our lifetime (financially). The more I thought about the cost. However, I started questioning why I would want something so freaking expensive? One part is nostalgia and kind of a hive-mind of what we grew up around. Many of the older guys we idolized in high school always lusted after vintage instruments, and I think it keeps being handed down through the generations. Again, it goes back to reflecting gear communities and the thought processes behind them (even pre-internet days). 1958 and ’59 Les Paul’s are considered the holy grails of the Gibson world and the idea of playing or owning one seems incredible. Same with an original ’57 Strat, or a ’68 Fender Paisley, or whatever you’d like to use as the defining unobtanium, magic instrument of love and lust as your example. Many were lucky enough to be around to experience those instruments when they were new, but as time goes on fewer players are around that have owned yet alone played a true vintage instrument. But that’s the thing; many people still lust for them despite having never laid their hands on one. Why is that? Well, mojo of course! 

The IDEA of holding an instrument that old would feel like holding an ancient relic from civilizations long gone. I’ll admit that I don’t know a load of vintage instruments, but I’ve heard a lot about them lately. Paul Reed Smith did a live video in the U.K. when people asked why a vintage Strat was so great, and his answer was “Because those guys knew what they were doing.” It’s apparent because the designs haven’t changed much at all in over half of a century.  At the same time, I’ve also seen many people saying that many of those old instruments are inconsistent and that some are magic, but some don’t click for lack of a better way to describe it. Despite the proposed inconsistency, some are willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars to own a piece of history. I suppose it’s about collecting anything, preserving history for future generations and all that. It’s also a very cool talking point to be able to show off that cool, now-rare gear. The same goes for pedals. The Klon Centaur is probably the most famous of all of them, and despite being a relatively simple boost and overdrive, it’s an item of lust for MANY people (and a point of contention for many more).

These pieces of gear fetch massive costs in the used market, and subsequently, many companies have tried to take the tried and true formula that players lust over and create a modern, relatively affordable (comparatively) version for the current generation that captures that nostalgia and inherent mojo. Some get excessively close in recreating the feel and response and tone of the originals, some take them to new extremes and approach the old as a springboard for creating something grounded in nostalgia, but with modern amenities. It’s the reason why we (Wampler) have two variants of klones, as well as dozens and dozens of other companies as well. It’s the same reason so many places make strat and tele-style guitars. Are the tones quantifiably different? In some cases, yes, in some cases no. There are many people on the internet that would argue that other companies than Fender make a better strat, while many believe there’s nothing like the classic. Are vintage tubescreamers from the early 1980’s completely better than the ones available today? Likely not. There may be a 5% difference or so based on part tolerances and a wider variance in manufacturing, but they’re subjective… and that percentage factors in when you’re looking at substantial differences between the costs. At that point, it’s just a personal decision as to how much that sound and difference means in monetary value. Is it worth *paying* for “mojo”? That’s up to the person making the payments! 

I’ve got a few pieces of gear that are purely sentimental and will be intended to be heirlooms for my kids because they are either unique and quirky, have some form of emotional connection (such as my first MIM Strat) or completely special (gifts, etc.). In the end, it comes down to the tone and how it feels to play it for each person. For me, mojo is that smile I get when I plug into a piece of gear, and it sounds great, responds great with the rest of my rig and does EXACTLY what I’m hoping it will do. It’s the feeling of nostalgia, how playing through a piece of gear makes me feel connected to an era, or a guitar hero that I’m a massive fan of. It’s not quantifiable magic, but it hits the spot for me, where it may not do anything for anyone else. That mojo is self-driven, and I’ve bonded with pedals and guitars that were considered “budget-level,” along with not falling in love with pedals and guitars that are obscenely expensive and theoretically there was no reason NOT to love it. In the end, I can’t say that for me, mojo can necessarily be bought. It’s just the right time, the right feel, the right tone, the right look that grabs my attention when I plug in.