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

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

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

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

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

Oooops.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As you might expect, one of the things we hear a lot from some people is “How can you charge $200 for a pedal that I can buy the parts for, for less than $50, and make it myself?”

Right, let’s get comfy and pick this apart piece by piece. I’ll do my best to remain objective and not end up in a socio political rant about ethics, but you know, if you poke the bear sometimes you get bitten! But, I’ll try to keep my muzzle on and remain professional! lololz.

Let’s take the Thirty Something. A pedal that we sell for $239 USD. The first thing you have to remember is that Brian didn’t wake up one day and have it all mapped inside his head, he didn’t just do a “Let It Be” and have it ready from a dream. I kid you not that Brian took almost 3 years to design that circuit, it went through more prototypes than any other Wampler I know of (and I’m pretty certain I’m up to speed on this stuff), it was tweaked, changed, restarted, thrown in the bin so many times I actually stopped asking about it. When it was finally ready I remember Brian saying “I’m still not 100% happy with it, but I just can’t see how I can make it any closer”. That being said, when it arrived in Wildling territory and I plugged it in, I was staggered how it reacted and how it felt. I still think it remains the benchmark in AIAB pedals, it does the job perfectly. And I was brought up playing Edge, Queen, The Beatles and Hank Marvin songs… so, I’m kinda fussy with VOX tones.

Thinking about that, and thinking about how Brian is considered in his field, can you begin to imagine how much investment that is? To import a design engineer and have them work at something on and off for 3 years would be hundreds of thousands of dollars, I can’t comprehend how much it would be, but just think about that minute, that is a lot of R&D work, and you know, with a large family to support and employees to pay, that kind of work doesn’t pass unnoticed by the company accountant. R&D aside, then you have to imagine that once again, the designs of everything else doesn’t appear out of thin air, the pedal logo needs designing, the box art, the manual, the marketing, the demo videos, the promo shots… it’s actually quite ridiculous when you think about it, costs a bloody fortune.

Here is a picture I took for the marketing for the release of the Thirty Something. I am very lucky that I live near Manson's Guitar Shop and have a great relationship with them (they stock us). I go in, take over a corner of the shop, use their stock guitars as backing and then spend a long time photoshopping the picture to make it look like this. It all adds up! 

Now, we get to parts. Brian is RIDICOUSLY fussy about parts. He will only use parts that fulfil his requirements, and there was a stage at one point in time when we were ditching 2/3rds of a certain part because they didn’t come up to scratch - mere mortals like me can’t hear the difference, but let’s face it, I’m not Brian Wampler, his ears are better than mine and I expect most of yours as well, so you have to budget that as well.

So, let’s get back to the meat of this. You will find websites all over the internet that ‘kindly’ reverse every pedal ever made and post the schematic for all to plagiarise, errmmm, I mean “study". So, once we’ve spent ages designing and marketing a pedal and released it, someone can then probably go to their favorite online parts store and order the parts, an enclosure and get pretty close to how the original is. I say pretty close, because I can guarantee that the components won’t be to the spec Brian demands, it won’t be laid out as well and let’s face it, I expect the basic soldering won’t be that good. We stand by our 5 year guarantee, I bet the places the parts are bought from don’t! 

Let’s now look at this from another angle. And throughout this, I’m not going to mention any prices, because people will jump on it, but just think about where we are and what we are doing in this, and where you can buy it. We are not a retailer. We do not sell to the general public (we do offer direct sales through our site, but they account for next to nothing in term of units moved compared to our international sales team). We are a manufacturer. We manufacture a product, and then sell it to people who sell it through their own stores. Sometimes we sell it to a distributor who then sells it to a dealer… taking local and international taxes, shipping, the price goes up. Then I must mention the 5 year guarantee again… So, if you want to try a product in store, have that store stay open to offer you a service, you see where we, and everyone else, is coming from. Having said that, some pedals are overpriced for what they are. I’m not going to mention anything or anyone specifically here, but there are pedals out there that are basic reworked clones, with minimal R&D, with a crappy box, labelled with one of those crappy Embosser Label Maker gun things that are for sale direct from manufacturers that are silly prices, but that’s their conscience, not ours! 

Made in USA. What does that mean? You may have noticed we’ve shifted from Made in USA to Built in USA. Why I hear you ask? (and to be fair, it’s another question we get asked a lot at the moment.) Well, to be able to say “Made in USA” with complete honesty means that every component is made in the USA, and as far as I know (and I like to think I’m up to speed) most parts are impossible to source, let alone in the numbers we need them, from the USA. So, we source parts – as does EVERYONE else, from around the world - we just wear that information on our sleeves. The same burden of consistency and quality is applied, and we use only the very best. I would say that if a pedal is sourced from USA components (if it was actually possible) you’d be looking at a pedal that is at least 3 or 4 times the price, and you can imagine how many of them we’d sell! (worth noting that technically, it’s illegal for any pedal company to say “Made in the USA” due to the reasons above. We just found this out recently and changed the wording to be in accordance with US law).

When you think about a $199.97 pedal (also: inflation. www.usinflationcalculator.com a pedal that costs $199 today would have sold for $107 in 1990. Ever since 2007, we’ve had a main price of about $199 unless it’s a deluxe pedal. Accounting for inflation, that pedal SHOULD cost $235.10 in 2017, yet we’ve never raised that 199 price), remove the dealer margin, shipping, taxes and everything else (I’m not going to even go to how we manage to sell our stuff for virtually the same price all over the world, give or take $30 or so dollars) then start to think about production costs, there isn’t a lot of room to think about R&D and then the guarantee period. Now do the same with a pedal that is $149, $129 or $99 - think about how much it costs to build and how many compromises have to be made in those price reductions – kinda makes you wonder doesn’t it. Strip it back, work it out, and then you think about the Built in USA (as our stuff is) you’ll see that not only are we bringing you a quality USA product, but paying quality USA salary for the guys who design, build, test, market, sell and repair (which isn’t very often thankfully) our stuff… Then look at the guys who will sell you a clone of a pedal that is still in production for $50. Do you think that will give you the same pedal? Do you think that will encourage companies like us to continue to make quality products that will inspire you to sound the best you can do?

 

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of dropping by That Pedal Shed to drop off a Bravado demo amp... that we are hopefully will be featured in lots of videos of That Pedal Show in the future! ;)

After a horrendous drive up (I had to leave at silly o'clock not only to be there on time but to also miss the traffic bottlenecks at rush hour), I rolled into the Tone Shed just as the guys were setting up.

Dan and Mick had swung by the booth at NAMM this year and were interested in the Bravado amp and what it actually meant for guitar players, so once we had all got back Dan and I liaised and we set a date for me to go visit. Now, that Pedal Shed is in a gloriously normal Wilshire spot, tucked away in a completely uneventful business park, that is blissfully unaware of the magic that happens within, it always makes me smile when I go up just how unassuming the place is! The first time I visited Dan at the GigRig was about 3 or 4 years ago, back when it was just GigRig HQ and within it was a typically chaotic work space with pedals, amps, PCB's, switches, components and the general chaos of a productive workspace. Since then I've been back a few times, and each time it's been slowly transformed to the place we know today, GigRig is now run from an adjoining unit with the original location now the studio out back and general rig based workstation in front.

The best thing about walking into that place is the lovely welcome you get when you walk in, both Dan and Mick are genuinely lovely people so it's always a delight to walk in and start chatting (Mick and I had a lot of blushes to cover up, we'd last seen each other at a Joey Landreth gig crying like babies at the beauty of the music), so after that, I grabbed the Bravado, as well as my home made cab, and in we went.

These days, it's kinda strange to walk into that same room, the original workshop, as you know it so well as the Pedal Shed. Strangely enough, the only thing I can compare it too is when we took the kids to see the Harry Potter studio tour earlier this year, you just kinda knew the place before walking in!

I was lucky enough to be invited to stay for the filming of a couple of episodes, the Pedal Platform special and the Binson EchoRec (in fact, it's my crappy brown Adidas you can see in the top left of the screen when the EchoRec is shown) and was treated to a behind the scenes view of the entire thing. Dan and Mick work so well together, they intentionally don't really discuss the products that are on the show that much, preferring to see how they react to each others thoughts and comments. Dan is generally the nerd, what he doesn't know about pedals you can write on the back of a postage stamp with a paint roller, and Mick's practical experience of gear journalism makes a great blend. Plus, they've been mates for years so the jokes you see are unrehearsed, just two mates trying to make each other laugh as often as possible.

Before filming, we had a really long chat about the concept of pedal platforms, what they are, what people think they are, what other companies think they are, how much is marketing faff, how much of it is reality and what is what. They had a quick play through it to make sure levels were correct and then the filming started. So, what you see on screen is them discovering it properly, we didn't specifically select the effects, Dan just took the ones he wanted to try and played them. I was a little nervous when I noticed that we were up against a Mesa Lonestar head, which retails at around £1000 more than the Bravado and has a stellar reputation, so it really was a trail by fire, and a trail that was likely to be viewed by almost 50K people in the first 7 days.

In the room, the Bravado sounded phenomenal - hopefully you can hear on the video about how much more articulate it was than the mesa when using pedals!

Here is the other video filmed that day, Bravado is all over it! Can't wait to see what they do next with it!

So, this weekend marked the annual country music festival in the UK, C2C - or to give it its full title, Country 2 Country. Country music is largely overlooked here in the UK, it's never on mainstream radio or in the 'charts' (but let's face it, there hasn't been much in the charts I like to listen to for years anyway) and most people don't have any country music in their collection, they can't see past Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton and if you say Brent Mason to them they look blank. Sometimes though, in the defence of some UK pubs, you can often hear a Cash tune bouncing around if you are lucky.

This year had an interesting headline act for the first day (Friday), a certain Mr Paisley. Now, before I started to work for Wampler I was completely unaware of Brad - I was fanatical about Brent Mason at the time, but BP has passed me by. One of the first jobs for Brian was designing the logo for the "overdrive for Brad Paisley we've got coming out" (the rest is history, but safe to say my first venture into graphic design went rather well) so I took a punt on the "Play" album and from that moment, I was a fan. Mrs Wilding and I trudged up to London (us English don't like to spend more than an hour in the car so a trip to London is a big deal), checked into the hotel next door (show seat to bed, 10 minute walk, lovely) and went for a wonder around the arena. 

Once we'd been around trying on Cowboy Hats and fringed jackets for a while (yes, all being sold there, so many clichés) we went in to get our seats, Chris Young was half way through his set (not heard him before, was good) and we got comfy. We were lucky, very lucky, we were sat stage left, about 10 rows from the font and about 30' up in the raised seats. I love positions like that because you can see the monitor desk, the tech area and slightly back/side stage. It does have to be said that it drives Mrs Wilding nuts as I'm often not watching the show but the tech work on the guitars etc.

OK, so all of that doesn't mean anything to you, but it sets you up for the position I was in for the show and being the second time I'd seen Brad at this festival (he was there a couple of years ago as well) we knew what to expect. The o2 in London is a fantastic venue, not much in the way of sound ‘bounce-around’ and there is unrestricted sight access for all, I did a quick DB check on my phone and they were banging out 95db, which made me chuckle as that is the maximum sound level permitted at Winter NAMM, which is generally only 2 or 3db above the ground floor level.

Bang on time, the lights went down (the band were already in place) and the place went nuts when we saw the famous white hat walk on stage. BP had arrived and was owning the stage! Before I get into the main point of this, I do want to say - being in a country that is famous for not liking this style of music means that when artists do come over, we are treated to a list of "greatest hits" within the set list - so, there is barely any new music to get through, you just hear the good stuff - yeah, I know, I'm shallow, but you know what it's like...

Right, so here we go. The first song was Crushin' It. And I don't know what happened, either a string broke or the strap failed, because towards the end of the first song he took his guitar off and held it as he carried on singing, the tech ran out and gave him a different guitar and by the time song two started, American Saturday Night, he was leading the band in usual BP fashion. Unfortunately for BP, this was the least of his woes for the night... As I said above, I was watching with interest the side/back stage action as much as I was watching I got the feeling that something was up extremely early on. Brad's tech was running around like a mentalist, there was frenetic action going on by the racks of wireless receivers and BP kept stopping playing almost every song. I think it was the second or third song (Water) that he first slightly put his hat down slightly and turned his head towards the monitor guy and started to gesture frantically, albeit quickly, to his belt pack. I don't know if this was intentional, but in putting his hat down slightly the cameras in his face (from afar) didn't see what he was saying so from what I can see, the majority of the crowd where blissfully unaware of there being any issue. The more he stopped playing at certain points the more I understood what was happening, it appeared that he had really inconsistent in ear monitors (IEM) throughout. I am guess that they dropped out about 10 times in total, as he motioned towards side stage each time, but the amazing thing was no one noticed. His vocal, considering he couldn't really hear himself, was outstanding - flawless in fact... he was sincerity personified, he told us it was the greatest night of his life, he loved coming over and all 20k people believed him. He did the entire show having a completely crap time yet everyone thought it was perfect. The only outward expression of his uncomfort was the heavily covered communications with the monitor guy, the often stopping of playing and his general demeanor once he had come off stage (from my place I could see how upset he was once he was out of the public eye).

The following day, after I got home, I realised I had seen a completely masterclass in professionalism. I had spoken to someone within team Paisley who confirmed that there was complete IEM loss, repeatedly, throughout the show for them all, it was "one of those nights". I remembered all the tantrums I had seen on stage, at a local level, even hearing one singer say "I'm a professional, I need more than 6 hours preparation for a gig" and this from a bass player "if I can't have the monitors there, I'm not going on" and thought about being stood in front of 20k people, in a foreign country, having to sing and not being able to hear yourself. I spoke to a few guys I know that were at the show and were at places around the arena that they couldn't see what I could, and they knew something was up but didn't know what. They told me that the people they were with had NO idea that there was any issues, although one guy was asked by his friend if he'd broken a string in the first song. 

 ^ A video I took, although this was obviously part of the show where everything was working, you can see my view of the side of the stage and monitor desk.

So, Brad Paisley, I take my hat off to you. It was straight up one of the most professional displays I’ve ever seen, not just from him but everyone else also in the band as they all suffered, yet the show ran on time and without breakdown. I sincerely hope that you return back to the UK soon and it hasn’t put you off! Oh, and of course – both BP and his guitar player Gary Hooker are both big Wampler users and both had immaculate tone. Their tone was almost, almost, as outstanding as their professionalism!

 

Wampler are proud to announce the release of the Dracarys, Brian's take on the the modern high gain sound!

It all started when Brian was sent a link of Ola's band Feared, the song Pyscho Logic. There is a section at around 1:58 to 2:08 (just after the solo) that sounds phenomenal... With that in his ears, Brian started to hunt down other contemporary high gain sounds, listen to loads of tones and then started to chase them.

So, after listening to as many pieces of high modern high gain gear as possible, and talking to players, and listening to as much of the music he could find, Brian set out to make the pedal that will melt the faces of anyone who dares to listen!

You can purchase the Dracarys here, or it is available from your favorite local Wampler dealer or online. 

Here's Ola Englund showing us what this pedal is designed to do! 

www.olaenglund.com

 

www.rabeamassaad.com

 

We get a lot of questions about breadboarding. It is an essential for any DIYer. Using software from 123d.circuits.io, we are able to give you the following tutorial on how to build a voltage amplifier circuit, or as many guitarists call it, a JFET booster. This is a basic breadboard layout. The battery, of course, represents your power supply, but any power supply will work.

The top and bottom two rows are all connected horizontally.

In the middle section, the holes are all connected vertically. This is important to remember, as this is key to how our signal will flow.

First thing we will do is run power into the board. We accomplish this by running a wire from the positive lead on the battery snap to one of the top rows. It can be any hole in that line, we just chose the closest. That entire row is now 9 volts power. And you do the same with the negative feed to the other row. That entire row becomes our ground.

If you are building a circuit using op amps, you will want to run power to both sides of the board. This is done by using a jumper wire from the positive row and the ground to the bottom two rows.

We are going to need an input and an output jack. Heat up that soldering gun. You will need to solder wire to the lugs on the jack. Notice how the negative lug is connected to the ring? This is where you will connect ground. The positive lug, which is connected to the tip, carries your signal into the signal chain.

We will now run a wire from the positive lug to one of our columns in the middle section. You would then run a wire from the negative lug to ground.

Now that we have the basics in place, we want to start this circuit out with a J201 JFET transistor. Notice how the three legs fit in three different rows.

Next we will need to add a .022 capacitor to the input.

Next we will place a 1k resistor in parallel, in the same row, with the capacitor.

Now we want to run a jumper wire to the first leg of the JFET.

The middle pin of the JFET can be given many different values dependent on what frequency response you want or how much gain you desire from the circuit. You can use any size resistor, however we will use a 1k resistor for this demo. We need to attach one end of the resistor to ground and the other to a hole in the middle section. We will then run a jumper to the middle leg of the transistor.

Now we need to run power to the JFET. We do this by attaching it to out 9v line and then to a hole in the middle. Again we need to use a jumper wire to get to the third leg of the JFET.

This is a little tricky here. As this resistor value will be dependent on what is needed to get a 4.5 reading on a voltage meter.

To check your voltage, you will need to attach the black probe to ground, and the red probe to the powered pin of the JFET. Then trade in resistors until you get a reading of 4.5 minimum.

It does not need to be 4.5 exactly, but I don’t like to go below that. Generally 4.5-5 volt is where you would like to be.

Okay, so the transistor has power and is working, but we need sound. Now we will add a capacitor where the power is coming in at the JFET. So we will connect it with the jumper wire that is going to the third pin on the transistor.

The other leg of the capacitor is where the sound will be coming out to your output jack. (Remember, when connecting your jacks to hook your negative to ground)

Warning: When you connect this breadboard to your amp it is going to be very loud compared to your usual guitar signal. This is because we have not added a volume pot yet. So let’s add a potentiometer. There are two types, wired and plug-in. For this demo we will use a wired type. We will be using a 500k for this circuit.

We will connect the third lug to the output of the capacitor. The first lug will go to ground and the second lug will go to a random hole in the board and then out to our output jack.

You may notice an added resistor in the diagram there. Very observant grasshopper. That is a 1 meg resistor that we forgot to add. It is attached to the first leg of the transistor, and then jumpered to ground. Our bad. So if we were to translate this to a schematic it would look like this.

As you can see, it would run input to capacitor to resistor to ground to JFET to ground. R5 is going to change in value as you bias it to reach 4.5 volts, then the signal continues to our capacitor (c4) to our volume pot to negative to our output. And so we just breadboarded a JFET booster. Well done!! :)

It's Wednesday afternoon and I'm just about back in the land of living after getting back from NAMM on Monday. It's a killer trip, both in the new cool way of saying it (please infer from 1990 onwards) and in the old, I'm knackered. Totally. 12,000 miles in 6 days, 3 18 hours days, lots of beers drank, hand shaken, too many notes played, too many burgers eaten and most importantly, too many hugs that will probably end up with me getting NAMMthrax (despite us having branded hand sanitiser on the booth).

I left home at 10am on Wednesday, only had to return twice to pick up stuff I'd forgotten and had a glorious drive through England to Heathrow airport. Cold, clear and crisp meant I had stunning views of this fine country all the way. No matter how many times I see it, Stonehenge is not to be taken lightly. As usual I met up with the legend that is Tom Quayle at the airport, this time he was flying with his Guitar Hour colleagues Dan Smith, Dave Brons and David Beebee. Travelling with us this year was Ibanez and Laney demo legend Lee Wrathe. Many laughs were had. Unusually I'd not seen Tom since last NAMM so we had a lot to catch up on, especially as in August him and Cheryl had a baby girl, Inara, and I had a lot of photos to get through :)

 

You know that the show is going to be a good one when you rock up to the hotel, dump your stuff and find your boss in the restaurant opposite the hotel already several pints deep into tomorrow's hangover. I had some catching up to do... As usual, we had to set the scene for the rest of the trip. So that means Brian's atrocious English accent had to be deployed and my feeble attempt at redneckery was dusted down. They are both so bad and so relentless it was no surprise that Amanda beats a hasty retreat every time we get going. 

Brian may have had a couple of pints already...

After 24 hours awake obviously my body would only give me 4 hours sleep so I stumbled into the show early and was delighted with the booth set up. Not only are we now fully esconsed into the larger booth area of Boutique Amps Distribution (no, they haven't bought us) but we are right in the middle of the golden area. Surrounded by Marshall, Martin, Seymour Duncan, Friedman and other stellar brands, it feels like we've really progressed in the last few years.

Taking control of playing duties this year was the wonderful Greg Marra, a lovely guy from the East Coast who is living the dream on the West Coast - endorsed by Ibanez and Fishman - a great player and an even better person. A true asset for us to have on the booth. With only Greg on playing and Brian, Amanda and yours truly working the booth it was bound to be a busy time, and it was. 

This was the first time I'd been able to properly review and see the pedals after the rebrand last year and I must say, I am delighted with how everything came out. A lot of time and money was invested into manufacturing this year and to see the consistency and quality at this level was amazing, it's really obvious that we are stepping up and up each year. Kind of feels like we are entering the big league! Every morning I tried to be in early so I could properly play test each of the pedals through the amp as with the rebrand came a new manufacturing situation, so for my own peace of mind I had to make sure they were as I thought they were going to be. You all already know that they are, but I just had to be sure. I know, tough job isn't it, having to play all of those.

The Bravado was the star of the show for me. People were amazed at what we were throwing through it and it not cracking under the strain, in fact, most of the time the amps controls were set to high noon and it just sounded amazing with every pedal, no matter what level of gain or how they were all stupidly stacked, it just sounded incredible - it truly is the perfect pedal platform. I think it made a lot of fans over the weekend! I do hope you get to try one in store soon, I promise you, you will not be disappointed.

The best part of the show for me is the people - the people are hilarious. There are some classic LA types who look like they still haven't quite got round to celebrating the New Year of 1985 yet and are still loving 1984, people who don't have mirrors in their hourse, people outside who want to save my soul, people who want to talk to you for hours on end about input impedance, people who just want to hang and have their photo taken and people who just love great tone. The best bit though, it does have to be said, is that I have NAMM buddies who I only see once a year, from Frank Falbo to Robert Keeley. From Brian Haner to Seymour Duncan the list of people is so long I won't list it here, but safe to say I am proud to know each and every one of those lovely people and call them friends. 

Andy Wood

In case you are wondering about the title of this blog, only when you've been in a big room with 9000 booths and literally thousands and thousands of people walking around, nose in the NAMM app, looking for which celebrity they can get their picture taken with next it's like a massive game of Pokemon GO - I only wanted to destroy about 10 people and their phones when they kept walking into me. 

Jason Wilding, Brian Wampler, Amanda Wampler, Greg Marra

Enduring memories about NAMM, listening to Andy Wood almost nailing "Pick It Apart" by Brent Mason at 10am from a standing start (impossible to play almost when you are fully warm), trolling Josh Scott when ever I saw him and Tom Quayle breaking his elbow in the terrible terrible weather. One to remember, that's for sure.

So, the title of "The world's luckiest guy who's employed by a Gear Company" probably went to me last week, actually, a few weeks ago but let's just say it wasn't completely obvious until Saturday night.

First, let's get a little perspective here. A lot of people think I get given gear all the time, I don't really - I have stuff here for work, that I have to use for promotional purposes - it's not mine and I have to hawk it round to various places, photographic, promote it - yeah I know, sucks to be me doesn't it. But it's not mine - I have to test run everything (in a live situation where possible) and one of the reasons I am still here after all these years is in part I never bullshit Brian, if something sounds great I tell him, and if it doesn't, I tell him twice. I don't tell everyone blindly how great our gear is, I will advise stuff that I think fits the player - I mean, anyone who is connected to me on social media knows I am very unflattering about tube screamers, which probably doesn't help our sales of the Clarksdale (our version of the 808 with expanded EQ and clipping options) much... but those people also know I am honest and I understand that each to their own... How many people do you know who love TS circuits? ;)

Getting back to the main part of this piece, I received the Wampler Bravado here at Wilding Towers in the UK on December 19th (which is actually my daughter's birthday so it stayed in the box that day while I was trying to be SuperDad). When I opened it, I must admit quite excitedly, I was surprised to see an America power cable in the box, so I looked on the side and saw the dreaded.... 120v. D'OH. Great. I had an un-useable amp. As you may expect, I text'd Brian and said "Well, that's a bit silly" (or something like that) and what do I do now, seems insane to send it back to the US... Over the next couple of days Brian had spoken to the transformer people, and the people who finalise production on the amp and I was told that it's a simple fix, the change over of a couple wires inside. That would be great, except I can't solder for shit. Great x2. Armed with explicit instructions on how to change it I dropped the amp off at my mate Bob's house, who is an audio electronics engineer, with the instructions and £20 later I have a 240v amp... This was December 23rd.The date of our last gig of the year - I got the amp fixed, I went over to my friend Ray's house to borrow an old yet delightful 2x12" cab with the view of giving it a run out that night. And then, 2 hours before I'm due to leave to the gig my car decided to die. Great x3. 

So, I didn't have the opportunity to test it that night, I borrowed a car from my lovely friend Kate and I went to the gig with my usual gear (which is a stock Fender BDri with a WGS Veteran 30) and as usual, my tone was lovely, mostly thanks to this little board of delight.

So, after Christmas I had time to play. I tested it with the Orange 2x12" (Celestion Vintage 30's inside), it wasn't great as they are designed to break up WAY early in the sweep, and I needed it clean. Unfortunately, they were soldered in so I couldn't swap then out (remember, I can't solder at all). Great x4. Here is where it becomes interesting. I have 4 WGS speakers here: the Veteran 30, ET-65, Reaper HP and the Blue Alnico thing, can't remember its name. So, I tried the Bravado plugged into the speaker in the Fender, first with the Veteran 30, then the ET-65, then the Reaper - all the time, comparing it to the 2x12" with the Vintage 30s. It quickly became a geek fest of tone, response, articulation, break up and everything else. Let's just take a moment to pass our good wishes onto my long suffering wife who had to listen to my crap playing, really loud, ALLLLLL day. 

Here is what I found.

The Celestion Vintage 30's are fabulous for that dirty thing, when using an overdrive to push it, the sound is incredible. But that's not what I want - I play in what is effectively a country/blues/rock band in pubs, so I need clean headroom. One can't play Brent Mason solo's when the amp and cab is clipping... So, I'm keeping that tone in the bank for when I need something more aggressive... The real magic arrived when I put the Reaper in. 

The Reaper. WOW. I just can't begin to tell you how perfect it is to my ears, for my style of playing, for my rig, in the places I play in. The Reaper is based on the G12H30 Anniversary edition, and it's perfect for this. Gone was the high end edge of the Veteran 30, gone was the break up of the v30's and here was the full spectrum tone of clarity and cleanliness of the Reaper.  It would appear that my speaker choice was made and I set off to the gig. 

When I arrived, I set up, level checked and over comes the bass player, Rick - who in my opinion is one of the greatest I've ever heard - he's so far in the pocket it's a thing of beauty, his tone is flawless, everything about his playing is perfect. Plus, I met him when I was about 15 so I've known him and played with him off and on for almost 30 years. He is a real tone chaser... he simply has the best tone of any bass player I've ever heard in a pub/club setting. ANYWAY... he asked about it, so I played a bit and he started to smile - we played with the bright control, the EQ and levels and we settled on position 3 for the bright switch, my guitar is quite dark (PRS Brent Mason) and I don't like harsh top end so my effects aren't set harsh... here are the settings (taken right after the first set):

We found that even at full brightness the tone wasn't sharp at all, it didn't bite, it didn't hurt (which it would have with the Fender), it just sounded a little more VOX like, which was as odd as it was unexpected (at that moment in time I was regretting not playing any Brad Paisley, but that's another story). As the gig went on, my I had a lovely time - my tone was INCREDIBLE. I have never, ever sounded like that before. Everything was clear, articulate and powerful. Everything was perfectly balanced and the levels across the entire spectrum was perfectly balanced. We had a great gig, loads of people danced, drunk people came up to me and were talking incoherently to me, but while shaking my hand and smiling a lot, so I'm guess they enjoyed it. I was a happy boy.

As we were driving home (across beautiful Dartmoor, 1am on a clear winters night but that's just me showing off about where I live, it's outstanding!) my wife said something that made me think. Now, my wife comes to every gig I play - let's face it, she didn't marry a guitar player to be sat at home on a Saturday night to watch the bloody X-Factor now did she - she knows my playing better than anyone - she's a great musician - piano player, and she is a fan of the music we play so if I have a great night, she tells me and if I don't, she tells me. She's always honest and is only interested in my development as a musician, so there is no bullshit.

"I've never heard you like that before, you sounded amazing. You must have known that because you were smiling all night and you played stuff I've never heard you play before". It would appear I'd been more thoroughly inspired by the amp than I realised. I'm pretty certain that this was the Bravado. It sounded SO good. The wife said it was amazing, the drunk people said it was amazing, Rick said it was amazing. I'm pretty certain that basically, the Bravado makes you sound amazing. I put it down to the following. I have 4 basic tones. Clean, Tumnus, and both channels of the Dual Fusion. I run them Tumnus -> c2 DF -> c1 DF. So, I run clean, I run Tumnus, I run c1 DF, I run c1 DF with the Tumnus, I tun c1 and c2 of the DF stacked, and I stack the Tumnus into that... basically, I use a LOT of variations - we are a cover band, and there's not a lot worse than a sole guitarist bands who only have 1 tone. With the PRS (that is extremely versatile) I have so many tones, I can't actually begin to count them and every one of them was utterly perfect. Previously I would have a great clean tone, nice OD tone or a nice face melting tone. I could never balance them all out and them all sound amazing. Not even good. Sometimes, the higher gain stuff was pretty muddy, still nice, but muddy.

So, if you want an amp that is clean, all the way (well, as much as it can be) that EATS pedals for breakfast and can take everything from low gain all the way up to the other end, this is probably the amp for you. It ain't cheap, but if you have a £2K guitar and a £1K of effects (like many players in my postition have), why put it through a £1K amp. By my reckoning, people often buy an under performing amp, just because they have a famous name on them. With the Bravado, you will never sound better, providing you have the right speaker. This is why SO many high end amp makers appear to have own brand speakers, they get companies to make a speaker to their spec and then stick a label over it... Maybe we should do that!

Speaking of all this (pun intended), Rick and I are making a 2x12" - the WGS Reaper is going in as is the ET-65. It's based on the spec of the Wampler cab, can't wait to play it out. Keep an eye out for the amp, it'll be in stores - selected stores - try it with pedals in front of it... Outstanding.