General Chat (62)
We had the pleasure of having one of the world’s finest Steel players sit in with us a couple of weeks ago, Sarah Jory. Now, this doesn’t reflect on the quality of the band I am in, we are not so good we command the world’s greatest players to come and play, we’ve just known her for forever – in fact, the bass players Dad taught her how to play when she was a kid. So, when she’s not touring the world and we are playing locally to her, she rocks up and we jam.
Obviously, this is both a massive relief for me and hugely terrifying, because I get to throw a hard pass on 50% of the solos but then again, this is a musician that has literally just come back from playing with the world’s best players at any given moment, so I also feel exposed as a musician. Fortunately, we know each other well enough for that to be an issue, I know my place! (yeah right, my ego wishes she would say “Jay that was amazing, come and tour the world with us”)
The one thing that always amazes me when Sarah plays with us is that how adept she is in the concept of ‘jamming’ with the band. She’s played with us literally hundreds of times but as the core of the band has been together for 40 years, there are a lot of numbers available to be pulled out of the hat (fortunately, I’ve been playing with them on and off for about 30 years so I can usually keep up) without notice – as the only musician within the band that is a soloist (the band is drums, bass and the singer strums acoustic) she feeds from me all the time about when to play and when not too, so in a way, I’m kinda in control of it all and also have the best seat in the house to see how a real player reacts when stepping into a band… so with that in mind, I’ve come up with the 10 essentials of playing live with a band that is not your own or when jamming... As inspired by Sarah Jory!
- Respect those who are standing with you. You are part of a unit and the unit only ever sounds good when the entire unit is working together. Listen to the band, listen to what they are doing and only play when you can add something to it.
- Listen to the song. You are the bricks that make the building, you are not the building itself. If you listen to the song that you are playing, you’ll know at which point you are the foundation stone, the regular brick, the cornerstone or the decorative slab that makes everything perfectly pretty.
- Play with the feel the song requires. It’s very easy to see a gig as a chance to show off your chops, especially when you are in a new band situation. A seasoned musician will show more respect for you if you can play one note that destroys everyone in one song, and a thousand notes in the next… if the feel of the song calls for it, do it. If it doesn’t, then don’t.
- This is not a paid rehearsal. If you are lucky enough to be playing with other musicians and making a noise together, don’t step too far outside your comfort zone, if you respect those you are playing with, you’ll bring you to the gig, not the player you want to be. Perfect your stuff at home and then use that stuff in the best possible way. You can take risks, because what’s life without risk, but don’t push it too far.
- Play it like you wrote it. Even if you didn’t. Play what you play and own what you play. Even if you are doing a direct copy of the original, play it with conviction and the love it took to write it originally. There’s nothing worse than seeing a lacklustre performance of a song… I mean, you don’t have to jump around like a lunatic and do your bit to forward the beauty of the guitar gurn movement but play those notes like your life depends on them.
- Don’t be afraid to shut the hell up. Sometimes, there may not be anything to add to a certain part of a song. If you stop playing, when the time is right for you to come back in, the dynamics between of the space you left and the hole you now feel will sound amazing.
- Someone is leading it, and if it’s not you, watch them like a hawk. If you are not the one that is directing everyone on stage, look to them for cues – especially if you are sharing lead duties with someone. If you are standing into an established band and encroaching into someone else’s space, watch them for the cue’s. If they are worth their salt and respect you, they will give you ample room to shine, but don’t get into an ego fight with them, you’ll likely lose.
- Watch your stage volume. Make sure your stage levels are in tune with everyone else’s, they may run backline only, or through the PA as well, but you have to sit in the mix they are used too, if you are too loud, they’ll hate you quickly, if you are two quiet, they won’t see the point of playing with you. Communication is everything.
- Remember, people are watching. If not the audience, then the people you are playing with. Look up at them, even if you don’t know what the hell is going on, look up, engage with your band mates, engage with the audience. They’re more likely remember you smiling at them and making them feel like it’s for them than they are if you pull off a sweet diminished run at the end of a solo.
- Respect the music. If you are in a country band, your Yngwie licks ain’t gonna work. Just like your Brent licks aren’t going to work in a Nickelback cover. The band will have a style, or a voice, and remember that. If you don’t like the music you are playing, then ask yourself two questions. 1. Why are you playing in the band anyway? and 2. If you are there for the money, give the people who are paying you the value for the money they passing over to you. If you are playing in a band you don’t like, then I’m guessing it’s because of number 2. If you do dislike it, the guys you are playing with are likely to love this music, so show them the respect they deserve and play it like they want it to be played. If you are a guest on their stage, you want them to be happy with how you did it afterwards, especially if they know it’s really not your bag to begin with!
You can check our Sarah here!
As usual I’ve been watching some geeky stuff on the uTubez and, as always, one of the first videos that was recommended for me was something from That Pedal Show. This time it wasn’t a pedal thing, it was a video of Mick changing the saddles on his favourite Strat, Blue. As he was talking away to camera in an offhand way he spent several minutes philosophising about “taking out the middle person from his playing” and it resonated with me in a massive way.
Who is the middle person? Well, if you’ve not seen the video, Mick refers to the middle person as the person you become when you are not ‘just’ playing – so, that’s either rehearsing, practicing, teaching, or for me at times, assisting Brian and Jake with circuits. It’s easy to become a player that spends too much time listening, thinking about what you are doing and what you want to achieve, instead of just being the person in the middle of the event of playing music.
For me, the middle person is the perpetual show off, the professional tone chaser, the person thinking about his tax bill, booking the dog into the vets, what challenges the kids are going to present this week. Or, does this pedal work, does this pickup work, is my amp set up right, should the speaker cab be vertical or horizontal, why isn’t my wife dancing, why is the drummer so loud and everything else that flits through my mind when I’m playing.
When I play at home, the vast majority of playing I do is when the kids are working something out and I have to show them. Either that or I am playing the same riff over and over when setting the Leslie on the Terraform, or trying to be the player I was in the 90s. So, my playing is mainly the middle person. It’s not Jason the musician in 2019, expressing the sum of his (well in excess of) 30 years of playing. It’s Jason the guitar player who is achieving a separate goal from the one he intended to achieve when he first picked the guitar up. That goal was to make myself happy. To make myself smile. To express myself. To make other people smile. To simply enjoy the experience of making music with my friends.
Over the years I’ve played in lots of bands and in every one I had at least 2-3 moments during every gig where I could get lost and fully express myself as the musician I was at the time. Which, usually, means I walked away wishing I had done something different, been better, been more musical… you know what it’s like. There is always something.
I don’t know if it’s because I’m now an old git, or my ego plays a much smaller part in me being a musician, but I generally don’t give a crap what other people think of my playing. That may be because over the last few years I’ve become good friends with players who are literally some of the greatest players to ever walk the earth. I am under no illusion about my place in the world of music, I mean, I’m a good player, but you know, when you have sat down and jammed with players like Tom Quayle many many times, you know who you are.
Mick calls this moment in his playing life as being a “mid-life crisis”. For him it came to a head when sitting down with Ed O’Brien from Radiohead. As he is an artist for originality, someone who uses the guitar as a form of expression that only a few of us can ever truly achieve, it hit him massively hard. Due to this he has identified things in his life and they run parallel to things I’ve had in my life. Anyway, if you want to listen to what Mick has to say, the video is at the bottom of this ramble and I’ll get back to where I was going with this!
My middle person, I think, is generally compartmentalised these days. When I am playing for work, with the kids, or whatever, I am thinking about the stuff I need to think about that revolve around the mechanics of playing. Whether that be my technique, my tone or something else I’ve found I am completely and utterly disconnected from playing the guitar for the reasons the 7-year-old me first did it.
However, sometimes, when I am out with the band, that 7-year-old me surpasses the middle person and I am just playing, properly, without a care in the world. I know that I can only do this because I am comfortable with myself as a player, comfortable with the music I am playing and am 100% comfortable with the people I share a stage with. Because of this I can close my eyes and feel at one with my instrument. It stops being a PRS or a Tele, it just becomes an extension of myself. As long as I can stay in that state, I play at my very best. I take risks I never would at home, I play the runs I wouldn’t even think of, I find the chord inversions I never knew existed, purely because I am in it. Right in the middle. I can become in the middle instead of being outside being the middle person.
The middle person that Mick talks about was one that I knew existed, but also didn’t know existed. Having watched that video the concept of the middle person has come out and punched me clean in the face. It has given me some kind of revelation as to why I play differently at gigs than I do at home.
Here is the down side - I really need to find a way of letting ‘me’ out more when gigging, however - I know that I am lucky. I have great gear, I know I can play pretty good and I am lucky enough to play with outstanding musicians. I have the luxury of being ‘comfortable’ so I don’t have to think about that stuff. I know I am not about to be asked to play something that I have no chance of pulling off and I know that it’s unlikely my guitar is going to go out of tune just because I played it a bit bloody hard.
However, it has identified something in me that leaves me envious of Mick. A couple of weeks ago Lisa and I went up to TPS to pick some gear up and drop something off. As usual we had a cup of tea and a good chat (which lead to a conversation about how very English we were because we got into a lengthy discussion about how tea should be made which lead to Dan looking at us like we were insane) and during this chat Mick was talking about how, when he is gigging, he hates having to change stuff, patches and effects because it detracts from his playing. At the time I was saying that I don’t mind that because I spent so long as a FOH sound engineer, part of the deal for me (when gigging) is to have a produced/polished sound with various things happening at the right time. We don’t have a FOH engineer in the band I am in so I have to balance my levels for intros/outros/solos. I like to use modulation effects and I use many, many different delay patches, often within one song. So, even though I am using a fully programmable rig, I am always changing patches mid song and this detracts from my playing head space.
This was confirmed for me at the weekend when I was visiting an old friend of mine called Ray, who is a “strat into a deluxe and nothing in-between” type player who uses the volume control on his guitar (and the internal preamp on his Clapton Strat) to give a wide range of tones… when I see Ray playing, which I do often and have done for almost 30 years, I’m always slightly envious about this, but it’s just not me. I like to have different sounds and different textures. How can I bridge this gap?
I am left in a bit of a quandary. I want those moments in my gigs where I am at one with my guitar to get longer. I want them to be more of a standard than an exception, but how can I do that? I can’t have both. I can’t have the control of soundscapes and also get lost in what I am playing with my friends. How can I achieve that? Do I need a tech to do the patch changes? I can’t justify that for many reasons – mainly because we are just a crappy pub band but most importantly it would take away the freedom I enjoy of trying to catch the bass player out by playing stuff he’s not expecting, but I can’t do that without bringing in the correct patch for it. I need to find a way to change my playing so there’s less tap dancing and more playing.
My new Telecaster has an onboard preamp which enables me to increase the output of the guitar radically if I need to. So this could mean that I may not have to worry about as many patch changes, I don’t know… actually, I do. Knowing myself as I do, finding out what that preamp can do will open up a whole new world of potential of effects and tones I didn’t have before which will lead to more patches changes to manage them and utilise it properly. Maybe I just need to try to go out with a single dirt box. And a compressor. And a delay. Oh, can’t go out without a chorus or vibe… and then I’ll need to control it. Shit. I’m back to square one. Can I press hard reset and start again please?
March 20, 2006.
That’s the day I originally created my youtube channel.
Originally, I wasn’t intending on creating a lot of youtube videos, but to be fair I don’t think many people that it would take off as big and as fast as it did. This was back when Myspace was still somewhat of a ‘thing’, before Facebook was popular, and basically before Social Media in general was what most of us would use the internet for when we were in line at McDonalds waiting to place our order. Forums were huge during these days. “Boutique” pedals were just beginning to become mainstream, and a majority of my business was built around DIY, pedal mods, and writing DIY books.
On October 11, 2006 I uploaded my first two videos. They were simply discussing the similarities between the tubescreamer and the Boss SD-1 circuits. My voice, in all of it’s youthful naivety, displayed calm, introversion, and a meekness that is quite unlike me these days. My reason for creating the video was simply to help explain a question I was getting frequently.
Being that Youtube was just a video sharing website at that time, I uploaded another video of my then 6 year old son playing drums in order to share with my family who didn’t live nearby.
Around the beginning of 2007, I started noticing how quickly Youtube was growing. Periodically I would upload videos of different things, trying to gauge what others might want to see. My thought was that if I could provide something entertaining or valuable in some way to guitar players, then perhaps they would take notice of Wampler Pedals (which was called IndyGuitarist at that time), and hopefully I could make a living by turning my part time business into a full time business. Videos that year ranged from a demo of a Crate Blue Voodoo, to my thoughts on designing guitar pedals, showing prototypes, and a few videos from hanging out with Brent Mason. Around this time I had started a podcast as well, but it wasn’t called Chasing Tone. It’s no longer around though.
2008 was a year when many things changed, both in my personal life and the business. I went through a divorce in February, and ended up moving 3 times that year. I went full speed ahead with the business. I stopped doing remodeling completely, which was what my main job was up to that point. Remodeling work completely dried up due to the economy at that time. Working out of a 400 square foot apartment I barely slept and worked around the clock trying to build the business up. Later that year I ran into Amanda and we began dating, eventually marrying.
Little by little we began growing, despite the lagging economy. I soon realized that I couldn’t continue focusing on both DIY projects and a pedal company; I had to choose one. I was fairly indecisive on it…. Both IndyGuitarist (DIY) and Wampler (pedals) were both bringing in about the same revenue at the end of the day. I simply took a chance, picked one, and hoped for the best.
The pedal business continuously kept growing, slowly but surely. I was starting to realize that building the actual pedals was not my forte… it’s fun building them for sure, but building the same pedal over, and over, and over grew very boring and tedious for me. We started hiring staff. I began using an outside manufacturer to build our pedals based in Kentucky.
We moved offices multiple times. Once we decided to hire staff we rented a small house to work out of. We grew out of that quickly into a bigger office. Then, a bigger office.
I’ll be brutally honest. Around this time the pedal business stopped being fun. I was having to focus more on the day-to-day running of the business rather than creative endeavors like designing new pedals. We had outgrown our manufacturer and it was limiting our ability to supply our retailers. I was completely stressed out 99% of the time. I needed a change, I needed it to be fun again.
So, I changed our model completely. In 2016 I connected with Boutique Amps Distribution which was building Bogner Pedals, Friedman Amps, Morgan Amps, and also had several other brands under their umbrella. We struck up a deal that would change everything yet again, but in a good way. Partnering with them, I was able to still specify exactly how I wanted them to build our pedals, but was now able to let them handle the B2B sales (business to business) and distribution, which meant I was completely able to focus on working with end users (our customers), work on new designs including branching out into DSP, and create fun youtube videos.
And here I am… having fun once again!
So there you go, there’s some behind the scenes history that you may or may not have known. If you’ve watched our Youtube channel since then you’ve probably noticed it’s changed multiple times since 2006.
It’s been a fun 13 years, I’ve enjoyed the journey with some amazing people who I’ve been lucky to work with, and I’m curious to see where we are in another 13 years!
Seems like a weird question, doesn’t it? But the reality of your playing is completely different from your perception of it, I can almost guarantee that… well, it is if you are realistic about what you play and what you see/hear when you watch yourself back. Those with overtly sized egos might not see it.
Why am I asking this? Well, since I went back into gigging just over 3 years ago, I’ve started to see and hear myself play in the cold light of day a lot more. Back in my day, when I were a lad etc. etc. it was extremely rare for a local cover band to be recorded in any way and have that recording even listenable. These days, as everyone has an HD camera in the pocket that can take high sound pressure levels, you are probably going to be recorded every time you pick your guitar up. For a good couple of years I steadfast ignored any recording that came up, purely because I didn’t need to see it as we are just a Dad band and we don’t care about our image, we don’t play the songs that everyone expects, we just play what we play to the best of our ability. It wasn’t until someone recorded us last year during a laid-back Sunday afternoon gig and I thought I played well at, I thought “I’m going to have a watch of that” mainly because I didn’t know I was being filmed until quite a while afterwards.
That’s the most important thing. I didn’t know I was being filmed. Because, you know, at the time I suffered from red light terror and all that. What did I discover? Well, I think my vibrato is crap, my phrasing is off and I am the most heinous lick thief that’s ever lived.
What I’ve done to try to expand on my playing is record myself… which in itself has presented itself with a whole new problem – a proper case of “Red Light Syndrome”. I’ve found out that when I know I’m being recorded, whether it be out in the wild or at home, I clam up. Completely. I revert back to tried and tested safe stuff, my timing goes out the window and all the bad bits within my playing become all the more obvious. The only way to do this is to keep doing it, over and over, and then share it with people.
This is the big one for me… sharing it with people. I’m a confident player, I know that I’m not crap, but I also know I’m not great. So, when I shared something (usually carefully picked, the best take of many) into the open playing field it’s in the knowledge that the people who have me in their news feed will see it. Now, in this regard, it’s a real dice with death for me... My social media ramblings fall into the feeds of some seriously good players, probably because I have what is perceived to be a cool job, so I am connected to them professionally. Fortunately, they overlook my stream of everyday grumpiness and bullshit in order to maintain the relationship. I cannot begin to explain the terror I feel when I post a video of something I’m working on and I get a notification of “Brent Mason commented on your video” or “Andy Wood reacted to your video”. My stomach falls about 6” and I can barely look. But I have to. Fortunately, it’s complementary, but you know, I think as a general rule they are playing nice. I’m not a pro player, but because of the job, I have to be quite good in order to pull it off – or at least give the impression of being quite good.
I eventually found myself in a position of doing either of two things. Continue to share stuff, or not. For a long time, I went with the latter. I shared nothing, but continued to record myself… As is my usual way, I eventually got bored with that and stopped doing it. And then, about a week ago, I was talking to a mate about playing something or another and I recorded it and sent it to him. He recorded something and sent it back, and we went back and forth like that for several hours. I learned more about my playing in that couple of hours than I had in a long time before because it was one on one sharing, there was no-where to hide. It was recorded and sent instantly before I’d even had the chance to watch it back myself… so, I was seeing it the same time he was. I was actually offering myself up in my most raw format for critique. I can’t begin to tell you what a different that made – I found that in doing this I lost the red-light issue as well, and I felt more comfortable and was properly able to see where I was going wrong.
The following day I shared one of the videos on to our group in Facebook that showed the issues I was working on the most, but also, the one that I felt was the least crap… because, you know, I still have an ego and I’m not ready to have it openly demolished! I posted it with the title “What are you working on right now?” and put in the description what I felt my playing needed the most work and asked for advice. For the first time it was an open share looking to get better rather than showing off. I got a great response and a couple of ideas on how to improve. I’ve since gone back and rerecorded it and noticed a difference… the main issue I have is time feel – I tend to grab phrases if I am not 100% confident on them, and my natural bent note vibrato… well, unfortunately, it really does suck - there is no flow or subtly to it. But I’ve learned a couple of techniques now that have improved it, I have a long way to go but at least I can see a way out of the woods. I am going to record that solo every week in order to keep track of my progress, and once I feel I’ve nailed it, I might share the results!
Here is one of the videos from that lazy Sunday, that shows my lick thievery to it's maximum extent.
Here is the video I shared into the tone group that shows my (bent note) vibrato that needs work.
I got name-dropped on the podcast this week (#239), it all stemmed from a conversation that Brian, Alex and I were having over the weekend about the future of rock music. Then subsequently, the future of the guitar, and the guitar heroes of our youth. As Brian said, I was naming Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, but unfortunately, my opinion was not expanded upon in the conversation properly, so I’m going to explain on here where I was coming from.
During my life I have seen 4 guitar related musical explosions that have directly affected the sales of guitars and guitar gear in general. Or course, I can only speak from my own observations, it’s probably different from your ‘angle’, whatever that may be!
The first one I remember was the late 1970’s (and I only really have a visual memory of this as I was young). We used to live in Greater London and one of the last memories I have of that area before we moved to Devon was seeing a full-on London Punk. Full Mohican haircut (is that moniker for a hairstyle appropriate these days? If it isn’t, I apologise for my ignorance) on top of the full Vivien Westwood style of clothing. At the time it scared me as I was only about 5, but, looking back at it now, I fully understand what was happening.
Punk came around due to the frustration of the music, the politics, modern culture and just about everything else. People needed an outlet, and that boiled up to the point of explosion and the extremes of these people became very famous. For us, it was the Sex Pistols who spearheaded this charge and at the time people thought “What the hell is that?”…
If you watch interviews with members of the movement discussing the musical aspect of this, it was frustration with music popular at the time and they need to push back against it. Just listen to John Lydon talk about the Eagles and you’ll understand where I am coming from. Subsequently (and most importantly, relevant this piece), legions of people picked up the guitar and joined in. This music was never on the radio, in fact, the major broadcasters of the day refused point blank to play any of the punk stuff. That is until it became SO big they couldn’t avoid it, even then it was only the parts that were the most commercialised, maybe one or two songs.
Fast forward a few years to the mid ’80s. Now, from the blues came rock and from punk came the attitudes of thrash. These attitudes were existing quite happily until that mad moment when the kids of the day first heard players like Satriani, Vai, Gilbert, Malmsteen and so on. Everyone who had been enjoying riffing out suddenly heard all the virtuoso music and thought “What the hell is that?”. This was, if I am being honest, the time when I looked at the guitar in a different light. I was already fully embedded in rock music, in particular NWOBHM, and loving all the widdlywiddlywiddly stuff, but those guys are responsible for more hours of me woodshedding than any other. With this, guitar sales shifted away from the Strat’s, Tele’s and Les Pauls and the pointy headstock era was born. Over here, that music was never on the radio.
The next one is a weird one, as for me it was a two-part instance that happened 4 years apart, but it came from the same attitude. Firstly, in 1988 Guns ‘N’ Roses exploded here, they were anti virtuoso and relied on that Les Paul into a Marshall tone… unlike the other bands they benefited from being played on the radio, well, ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ was. Here they weren’t really regarded as a rock band per se, because the first song they became known for opened with the lines “She's got a smile it seems to me, reminds me of childhood memories, where everything was as fresh as the bright blue sky”. That didn’t really sit with those of us that were used to headbanging along to “Ace Of Spades”. They were considered to be pop rock which explains why the ‘Use Your Illusions’ albums outsold ‘Appetite for Destruction’ at the time (although now, the first album flattens those completely) – I remember hearing ‘Welcome To The Jungle” for the first time and thinking “What the hell is that?” Sales of guitars peeked again and Marshall got to join in the party, although stopping making the 800 series in favour of the 900’s might not have been the best move ever as something was missing from those amps.
The second part of this joint explosion, and the one I think was the most important in my lifetime, was in 1992 when Nirvana fully exploded. Which, like G’n’R, happened because of one song on the radio… Nirvana gave the impression (to me at least) to be coming from the same direction as punk did. As a direct response to the music of the day, the virtuoso players seemed to have forgotten about the riffs and the songs, the over production. The reason this one sticks in my mind so much is because I was working in a guitar shop when this happened. Over the space of a couple of months my customers went from “Dad Rock” types or “Big Hair Shredders” to young moody kids who wanted to strum the hell out of their guitars, stare at their feet, and think the entire world was against them. Because, well, they thought it was. Strat’s, Tele’s, Jag’s, Mustang’s and interesting guitar sales went off the charts… the Les Paul’s died on their arse, we could shift a few Epiphones, but Gibson’s… nope. For years I had confused looking parents talking to me while their kids glared at me through their hair and grunted in response when I tried to talk to them. However, when they got a guitar in their hands their faces lit up. All I could see in the faces of the parents was “What the hell is that?”
After that everything kind of flatlined again, until the radio picked up on Oasis and Blur. I’m not going to say much, but, (as someone working in a guitar store at that time) if I ever hear a kid play Wonderwall again I’m going to scream. So, net result, guitar sales spiked for a few years. I can directly relate this movement to when the 60’s guitar music thing happened, the fact that most Oasis songs appear to have a riff directly borrowed from that era further proves my point. Bizarrely, this appeared to bring up the sales of acoustic guitars more than electrics, but the raise happened across the board. There was no “What the hell is that?” moment though, unless you happened to see Liam Gallagher be interviewed without an interpreter.
So, where does this leave us now? The thing I find most interesting about it is that half of these movements happened without the support of radio in any way. One (albeit two bands) came from just one song being on the radio and the other was pure pop music, so radio play was inevitable. Punk was NEVER on the radio. 80’s rock (whether it be NWOBHM or the more extreme elements of it towards the end of the decade) was never on the radio… Actually, that’s not entirely true, “Soft Metal” or whatever it was called, often was. it was usually some disgusting “oh baby I love you” style song with heavy guitars in the chorus and a nice wailing solo, but the rest wasn’t.
All this leads me to the discussion Alex, Brian and I were having over the weekend which prompted the podcast and which has now prompted this piece. I was saying that “we need the next Nirvana to hit” (and I say this as someone who isn’t really a big fan of them) but did they ever promote sales in guitars to the ‘kidz’. Brian’s main argument is that “People don’t listen to the radio anymore, so there will never been another big guitar group”… However (over here at least) that never stopped the punks of the 70’s and the rockers of the ’80s. In fact, it was what made them. Being overlooked was what defined them.
What’s next? Who will be the next supergroup to explode sales of guitar gear? If you look at the way most of those bands came about, the ones that caused guitar sale peaks in my lifetime, it was because they were standing against something. Now, that may be a political stance but, at the core, mostly it was about the music. Right now, popular music (in my humble opinion) has never been so crap (yeah I know, I sound like my Father). Well, maybe the mid 90’s pure lollipop pop scene, but the jury is still out on that, time will tell.
Politics right now is at the most divisive I can ever remember it being, music is consumable. The music industry is churning out gallons of forgettable sewage and vacuous crap that does nothing more constructive than make the likes of Simon Cowell even more disgustingly rich than they already are. Instant fame is touted as the only answer, fame is handed to the lucky few, young impressionable kids on a plate on televised talent shows and most of them are instantly forgettable – and then forgotten. How many kids watch these talent show with a dream, not understanding the odds of even getting an audition for them? The internet affords us access to endless hours of new and great music, giving artists the impression that they have the chance to be bigger than The Beatles… but can they ever be? Of course they can’t. No one ever can be. But can a band come along that stands up against the drivel? Stands up against the politics? Stands up against the system and the ‘machine’ that runs everything?
It’s time we had another Nirvana, another Sex Pistols. It’s time for another band that can rise up and smash everything to pieces. Like Punk, 80’s rock and grunge, this explosion will NEVER happen on the radio. The radio is as much about music these days as MTV is. This explosion will happen from the internet. From an independent source as that is always where the life-changing music comes from. There are endless great bands out there at the moment, my daughter spends most of her free time these days working out “Panic! At The Disco” riffs on my guitars so the hope is there, but it’s not fully realised yet. What band is going to come along and speak to her fully like the Pistols and Nirvana did to people of her age at that time? I have no idea, but the world is begging for it.
We don’t need another guitar hero at all; the age of the guitar hero is dead. We need another Steve Jones. We need another Kurt Cobain. These were the anti-heroes that exploded guitar sales. We need someone to put a finger up to the industry and make a stand against it. The guitar itself is not dead (as Blake points out on the podcast, everyone is looking at Guitar Center and saying “Man, the guitar is dying” as their sales are going down) but are those people looking at the underground independent manufacturers that are thriving? No, they are not, because the media is only interested in reporting the companies that have shareholders to keep happy....
The one thing that is obvious to me is that what is actually dying, albeit slowly right now, is the corporation strong hold on the MI industry and music in general. The underground is rising, the next Sex Pistols or Nirvana are posed to maximise on the ambivalence of the general public and I hope that they will shake it to the core.
We need another “What the hell is that?” moment. We need another guitar anti-hero.
You may have noticed we released details of our new pedal recently – a fuzz/octave called “Fuzztration”. Instead of waffling on about the origins of it, the circuit, and the tones within; I’m going to talk about the name, the look and the marketing angle of the Fuzztration as this is quite a departure for us, we are breaking our mould somewhat with it – and to be honest, it was a long and painful journey to get to this point.
This is a pedal that has been in discussion for a while and the earliest reference I have of it in my “Wampler: Pedals – Logos” folder is from July 2017. Brian had been talking about it for probably a year or so before that… so, when we say we throw stuff around for literally years before a release, this is a case in point!
In order to tell the story properly, I have to give away a little of the process. When Brian has decided on a circuit, and what controls it is going to have, he cracks on and breadboards it. Once that is done and he is happy with it the tones/response etc, he forwards all the relevant information to our chief engineer Jake Steffes to ensure his vision of tone will work in the confines a pedal. I can clearly remember Brian telling me about it and describing it as “it’s a versatile fuzz, rea thick and the octave can kinda sound like the solo tone from KWS ‘Blue on Black’ tone, as well as all the regular stuff”. With that in mind, the original concept of the pedal was to be called “Blue on Black”.
As soon as the pedal has been allocated its place in the release schedule; Brian, Alex and I started on the long a tortuous process of naming the thing. Avi, head of production and distribution, had a stock of matte black powder so it was decided really quickly that it would be that colour, because ‘cool’.
Jake forwarded me the controls and it was clear it was going to be “deluxe” sized so I did what I always do, take a look at the market and see what’s cool and what isn’t. One of my favourite dirt pedal concepts is Jamie’s exquisite Acapulco Gold with the massive ‘gain’ knob. So, I decided early on a large knob controlling the clipping would look great. Other than that, it was pretty straightforward. 2 stomps, 4 other knobs, 2 switches, power and in/out jacks. I quickly spoke with Jake about putting a big knob for the clipping, and he said it would be cool, so… I wanted it on the top right with the other controls on a nice shallow W formation to the left. The first thing I had to do was to find a larger knob that would still look like a Wampler and fortunately for me, Alex told me that the knobs on the Bravado were the same as our pedal ones, just bigger. So I made him measure one... With these measurements confirmed, Jake laid it out and we quickly had the basic layout in the bag. Jake nailed this process and I tip my hat in his general direction. I try to change things around a little now and then so I requested a blue and green LED because I’m kinda bored of red and blue and I knew that this was coming on the Paisley Deluxe (that was still months out from being released) and we’ve used it many times before. This is always a gamble, as we didn’t know what the rest of the pedal is going to look like yet.
Once Jake has laid it out, he sends me the ‘drill pattern’ and I can transfer it to the templates I have in photoshop and start to work out the look/name. These are pictures from Aug 9th 2017, three concepts for the Wampler “Blue On Black” – Only one was ever printed, and it looked… well… crap.
From here, must have been April ’18 (it was decided a long time ago it would be released some time forward so it went on the back burner) I was distracted and inspired by a piece of music by my favourite composer, Camille Saint-Saëns - Danse Macabre. I simply LOVE this piece of music, it’s dark and deliciously spooky which I thought would be amazing for a fuzz pedal. I went as far as a couple of mock ups for it, but unfortunately, it just didn’t work. I would have loved to have the first demo recorded to be that piece of music on a Fuzz/Octave though… I might do it one day, just for the lololz.
The name was abandoned. From there, I thought of Valkyrie, for two reasons. Lisa and I had just watched “Vikings” on Amazon and I’m a long-time player of the game Clash of Clans which has Valks in it. I actually really liked this, as it was dark and nasty, aggressive and cool. Two concepts were quickly done, and the one I liked (on the right) was drawn by an extremely talented artist from Seattle called Stacy LeFevre – we couldn’t agree on terms so the concept, name and design, were put to rest.
So, we are back to the drawing board once again. At this point, myself, Brian, Alex and my partner in designcrime – Richard Oliver were going quite insane. Frustration levels were reached and breached and there would be literally weeks between conversations. Names did go back and forward, but we were so annoyed with it we distracted ourselves with other releases that were more pressing. I love working with Richard as he understands me (bonus) and has become a great friend during this time. In fact, it was Richard who nailed the artwork for the Pantheon (which was named by Matt Kimes). After the Valkyrie idea had been shelved, Richard came up with a ‘big list o’ fuzz names’ – some great, some silly…. Even at one point suggesting “Chewbacca; and have the octave switch called ‘Laugh it up Fuzz Ball’, it’ll be funny if not really really litigious and not in a good kind of way.”
Another name came forward at this point, I think from our good friend Frank Falbo, and we still like it even though it’s been decided not to be used for this pedal. So, I’m not going to talk about it here! I have it in mind for a couple of pedals down the line… time will tell.
At this point we were extremely frustrated with it. We’d all had enough. No one dared mention it for a while, apart from Brian who would remind us it needed to be done. We are now in about July or so. Texts were coming and going because it was getting to the point where we couldn’t avoid this any longer…
Whilst on holiday in Tenerife, Richard got a text from Brian saying we are still struggling for the name for the fuzz, and everyone felt their creative well for this name had run a bit dry… so, he followed Marketing 101 and asked the nearest young person for help. This happened to be his daughter, Leila, who was 15 at the time and we’ve been told has impeccable musical taste (despite hating on Pink Floyd and Iron Maiden which in my book is a travesty and I blame that squarely on the parents). She came up with a couple that were funny, then randomly said “Fuzztration”. He initially dismissed it but then thought - wait - that's EXACTLY the feeling we get from naming this pedal… That day, I received this in messenger from Richard:
I instantly copied and pasted his message and text it to Brian and Alex and we all thought that it was a killer name. The next hurdle was the graphic and the logo. Richard asked what I thought and said something along the lines of “Some kind of artsy vision of someone who’s screaming, or got their head in their hands or something, I just need to find the thing that triggers it in my head”. I really wanted a screaming face because Edvard Munch is a genius and that’s one of the most symbolic pictures of all time, also it perfectly fitted the process of getting here. And then there’s Pink Floyd… The Wall. The symbolism of both are iconic.
Here is the process Richard and I went through – I resisted the scream originally, as we were at the time keeping our designs simpler.
So, images 1-4 are me getting annoyed and it not working, 5 is me working towards the font to use with the new name, 6 is Richard’s concept for the screaming man I had previously mentioned (that was a strong contender) and then through my thought process of the face and the colour scheme. I wanted to put a heart beat on it as the more frustrated I got, the more my heart started to pound… The face is a mixture of my face from this picture (taken August 29) and one from a free site on the internet mashed up and put together with elements of both - you’ll have to work out which bits are me and which bits aren’t.
Here are the print tests. As you can see, the eyes didn’t work, nor did Richard’s face, but my screamer did. Once we had decided on the knob colour, on we went...
As this pedal is hot on the heels of one of our most successful releases ever, I knew that we had to go big on the teasing. So, if you scroll back through our social media for the last month or so, you will see that fuzzes are mentioned a lot more. Brian starts to talk about fuzzes on the podcast, he even mentioned this one a few times. I started to tease the graphic style and on Oct 31st I released this graphic for the Halloween moment of silliness that contained literally hundreds of lines of text in the back ground, I talk about everything in there... there are song lyrics, undying declarations of love for my wife and kids, my desire for a holiday, a new amp… so many things – including a little troll moment for one of our customers, Jeff. Within the lines of text were also clear and large hints about this next pedal release, I’m quite delighted and annoyed that literally NO ONE zoomed in to check.
So, here it is, the Fuzztration and that was the cliff notes version of how it came to be called this. There is quite a lot missing, because I don’t have records of it all as much of it was deleted in several fits of rage along the way. A lot of people have been asking us for a LONG time that we needed to release something kinda muff like, but make it better. Based on the work we did on the Tumnus and Pantheon, I was very confident that Brian can take the concept of a classic circuit, and make it infinitely better. And he did.
Frustration over, Fuzztration lives.
This past weekend was a bit of an anomaly for me. My wife was working two 12-hour shifts at the hospital, and my mother-in-law was keeping our two kids on Saturday, so I had a day pretty much to myself. Of course, there’s always something to do around the house like laundry, dishes, vacuuming, etc. but I decided to take the day and have a bit of fun. I loaded my Strat, Pantheon and vintage Twin head up and hit the road, off to visit a great friend of mine who lives two hours away. I had to get stuff done that day and couldn’t shuck everything I was doing, so I left the house at 6:30am and drove in the cold, wet rain up to the coast and proceeded to have a great time. Roxy and I have been Facebook friends for several years, and we’ve also traded and sold gear to the point it’s almost comical. I swear he’s got half of the stuff I’ve ever sold, and some of the gear I’ve even bought back from him and inevitably sold back. We jammed for about two hours and had an awesome time just hanging out and talking gear. He got to try my original ’68 Twin, and I got to try some of the amps he’d mentioned in our conversations (including a hand-built 20w from Bruce Egnater, his home-built amp, and one of the coolest little amps I’ve ever played in my life (more on that in a second). We messed with some pedals (including our Black Friday release) and just had a blast. It was great catching up, and it made me realize several things about myself and my gear choices.
First things first, I’ll discuss that amp I was talking about above. This was a 1-watt Marshall head and cab with a .25 watt switch on the back called the Offset. To be completely honest I’ve always sort of written off sub-20 watt amps as not being something that would ever tickle my fancy. I play into a clean platform almost exclusively, so the idea of such a low headroom amp seemed like a waste of time. I will be the first to admit that it was a stupid idea and that they are incredible. I plugged straight in and for only 1 watt and a single 10” speaker, it sounded MASSIVE. I was a bit shaken to my core because of it and I’ve pretty much been thinking about that amp constantly since then. I’m trying to work out a deal, as it’s a limited-edition amp and I WANT IT SO BAD. GAS hasn’t been quite this furious in a long time. It’s got extremely simple controls: Volume (Labeled Loudness) and Tone, then the Hi and Lo setting for the power scaling. That’s it. No frills. No FX loop, no drastic EQ changes. Simple and to the point. I REALLY liked it.
Enough about that epic little amp, onto more self-reflection and epiphanies (lol). Normally I’m one to pack up a big board and maybe bring a couple of guitars to a jam. Variety is the spice of life and all. I felt like I was going out on a bit of a limb and leaving my comfort zone by just taking a single pedal and a Strat that I’d only recently just modified with upgraded pickups and hadn’t taken it out for a jam yet. There was no real reason to worry, as it’s an American Pro strat that I had a guard wired-up from David Maue from Tonal Concept Pickups, where he had an original set of John Mayer Big Dippers that were wired in the neck and middle, and one of his custom PAF’s in the bridge. He put a push/pull pot in the bridge tone control to split the coil in the humbucker, and the other tone control allows me to use all 3 pickups together. As I said before, the only pedal I took was a Pantheon with a fresh 9v battery, and a TC Electronic headstock tuner for good measure. The greatest feeling was plugging into each amp and feeling confident in what I was doing. Admittedly my playing wasn’t perfect as I rarely get to practice much anymore (life, you know how it is), but overall there wasn’t a tone I felt I couldn’t achieve with that setup. Being totally honest it would have to be the fingers and the mind behind it to make that combo sound bad, but it was nice not having to hide behind a board like I’ve used as a safety net for so long. It did, however, dawn on me that with my lack of practice came the lack of remembering how to play most of the songs I used to know how to play. I’ve spent so much time noodling and learning riffs and just messing around that it was a bit disconcerting. Good thing is I know exactly what to work on, as I do want to get back to being able to play some covers like I used to. The old adage of “If you don’t use it, you lose it” was abundantly clear.
I guess the biggest thing I can take from all of this is that I’m thankful to have close friends who can talk gear, inspire GAS, and allow me to just be myself and play. It was nice having the guitar I had schemed over for so long and mess with to be just right turned out exactly how I wanted. That’s the first guitar where I sat down at the end of the day and had absolutely nothing to find wrong with it or a desire for it to do more. In the end, I will say that a lot of the tone comes from the hands, but having the right tools to translate what you’re putting out helps quite a bit and inspires confidence as well.
It's story time.
Hello, my name is "Us" and I am ‘somewhere’. It’s very noisy and there are a lot of people I know, along with some that I don’t, all around me. I feel quite light-headed, it’s like some kind of intense sensory overload being here. As I look around, I notice that in front of me are a large set of double doors set into a wall, kind of like the famous gates of Jurassic Park. The walls are too high for me to see over them, but, short enough for me to see that behind them is a large open park type place with a few buildings rising up.
Over the doors, written in huge letters, it says, “Welcome Guitar Players!” Obviously, I enter. In the back of my mind, I seem to understand that I can enter this place because of something I have previously signed up for, something that gives me access to the other area. However, this was a LONG time ago and I vaguely remember that the personal information I used to gain access was really basic and was in no way cross-checked or verified.
The first impression I have, once inside, is that it is quite exciting. It is a lot more peaceful than outside and it feels comfy, it’s the kind of place I would like to hang out...
All around are small gatherings of people talking to each other. I am instantly drawn to a crowd of people looking at someone’s new piece of gear. As I walk up, giving the gear more than a cursory look, I hear various people saying “Congrats” and “Nice one!”… but there are also a small amount shadowy figures lurking around them saying things like “Should have got this instead” or “it would have been better if…”… these conversations are happening all over the place, all with their own set of shadowy figures. I don’t think the shadowy figures are here for the same reason I am, at least in part, maybe they are here for another reason as well.
As I walk around I see a lot of friends. Some of them I know well, but in a strange way, I get the impression I’ve never actually met them before. It’s like I don’t really know them, but at the same time, I kind of do. It is amazing to see each and every one of them and it makes me feel great if not sometimes a little awkward.
I can see some old guard musical heroes who I can actually go and talk to, but they look like they might be borderline grumpy, so I just say hello and tell them I’m a fan. I sometimes try to draw a commonality with them via a shared experience of their music before I carry on, but only if I can manage to catch their eye of course. There are new musical heroes who are casually talking to everyone, lots of up and coming players attracting a lot of attention and loads of just normal players - players just like me, walking freely between them. It would appear, upon closer inspection, that a lot of these normal players seem to think they belong in the other categories. Some have even made their own nametags declaring this!
Some of the players are excitedly playing people music, sometimes their own, sometimes their version of famous songs. Some are just listening to the music that is readily available elsewhere. Available outside. Available outside outside. On the first impression, it appears that a lot of people are being introduced to music they have not heard before. This is great! But, then again, when I look a little closer, I notice that some of them are literally holding people close to the speakers and shouting “LISTEN TO THIS” and not letting go. Some of them are repeatedly asking if I want to buy a t-shirt, some of them are talking about anything other than guitar gear in the vain hope that other people are listening...
I pause now and then to take in the people who are standing on tall soapboxes, shouting at random people about almost anything. They have a few people close to them, hanging on to every word they say and just blindly agreeing with everything. Those who have the audacity to not actually be listening to them, or those who dare to offer a different point of view, are treated with nothing short of the utmost disdain. Once again, I notice that the shadowy figures are literally everywhere, they seem to like to be wherever there is an element of chaos.
Around the perimeters, there are countless market stalls – some small, some big, and some that are huge. They vary from the ones that have one or two people working on them, desperately trying to keep up with the people who visit, to the ones that appear to have an endless amount of resources and people to respond to the random questions that are being asked. Some are provoking conversations in the hope of catching the attention of the casual passerby while some are tempting people with shiny new gear. At almost every stall there appear to be people who think they are straight up comedians – while some of them are hilarious, a lot of them are very ‘niche’ at best.
Some of these stalls look just like guitar stores and others appear to be set up by gear manufacturers, many are a mixture of both. A lot of them are really colorful, some with hilarious posters hanging on the walls (that seem to change quite often) and there are a lot of people playing the products… A really strange thing I notice is that it’s the same people playing at almost every stall simultaneously. It’s all really weird. There are a lot of people approaching these stalls, but most don’t stay for very long. A lot of the people working the various stalls seem to know each other. Some seem to be legit friends but some appear to be friendly to each other’s faces while being angry and bitter behind each other’s backs. There are a lot of stalls that look the same – similar looking products, similar advertising, similar silly jokes. It’s hard to see which of the stalls was there first so I don’t know who is being original. The most intriguing thing I can see is that some of the stalls appear to be in open warfare with the others. It’s funny watching people openly poaching people from other stalls to bring them to their own.
Scattered around just about everywhere there are, what appear to be, large meetings of people who are talking as if there are old friends. These meetings seem to be named as well, possibly to grab the attention of the people walking around. They all look as if they are having the best time, comparing gear, ideas, music and pretty much anything else you can think of.
As before, there are shadowy figures who jump in to say something controversial before ducking out again… I manage to watch one shadowy figure flit between many of these meetings, start a problem at each one, quickly leave and then do the same thing again and again at other meetings. The shadowy figures are mostly ignored but sometimes they are challenged and, in some cases, quite a violent verbal altercation takes place. Although I can’t identify them at all, I glimpse a look at some of their faces and they do seem to be having the best time imaginable.
Now and then there are what appear to be closed meetings, held within a contained area (the buildings I saw from outside), you can’t see or hear anything that happens within until you are permitted entrance. You have to formally request to go into a lot of these, sometimes it looks easy, some of them have rules posted on the doors and in some, you even have to answer a specified set of questions to gain admittance. The rules of these ‘meeting places’ are absolute and the rules of outside do not apply. In fact, the rules published are the only ones that are in any way policed, although it would appear a lot of people think that the rules of the outside should take precedent.
These meetings are sometimes very busy, sometimes not. Some are just like minded people hanging out but some appear to be sponsored by one of the market stalls around the outside. I go into a couple and mostly they are great. Sometimes, the people inside get very rowdy, acting up, just blatantly going against the rules. These people are usually thrown out, or somehow have their volume turned off for a specific amount of time. It would appear that when people are removed from these places they often get extremely angry and go to other places, (similar to the ones they were in) and straight up insult the people from the other meetings. Once outside the meetings they have just been expelled from, they form into the shadowy figures I have seen running around.
I spend what feels like hours in here, listening, watching and looking at all the people. I’ve really learned a lot in my time here! Once I have really had enough, (it is now excruciatingly loud and overbearing) I can see that a lot of people are angry and I can, and cannot, quite understand why. All around there appear to be people who are thoroughly miserable and can’t find the exit, but at the same time don’t appear to want to find it either. I decide to leave and fortunately find the way out and it’s by the very same set of doors I came in by. As I walk towards the doors, with the noise of everything and everyone ringing in my ears, I look up and notice the sign above them. On the on the back of the sign that welcomed me through the doors is written: “Thank you for visiting the Guitar Community on Facebook, we’ll see you in about 10 minutes (or less, I expect)”.
As I walk away, the doors shut behind me. But it’s even louder out here and everything is chaotic so I look over my shoulder. I look at the doors. I focus on the sign above them. I listen to the delightfully busy murmur from the other side and decide right then to turn around and go straight back in.
The first impression I have, once inside, is that it is quite exciting. It is a lot more peaceful than outside and it feels comfy, it’s the kind of place I would like to hang out... All around are small gatherings of people talking to each other. I am instantly drawn to a crowd of people looking at someone’s new piece of gear. As I walk up, giving the gear more than a cursory look, I hear various people saying “Congrats” and “Nice one!”…
As some of you have noticed, especially if you saw my blog piece from July 2018 and are connected to me on Social Media, I’ve been on a real Queen trip recently. Dusting down those old and vintage records is always great, but every now and then you get your hands on something that is so mind blowing you can’t quite comprehend it. Case in point, I was sent the original 24 track stems for Bohemian Rhapsody.
I instantly loaded them into LogicX and started to listen intently to all the various parts and marvelling how 4 guys in the 70’s could do all that, without the help of modern high tech gear (as the only gear they had were their instruments and the ability to record them). Basically, it’s incredible.
I’m guessing that BoRap is a song that everyone knows and at some point in their life, loved. Whether you were around when it first came out, or were familiar with it when you were young then fell about laughing at Wayne’s World, or just over the years that have followed discovered it on the radio and been fascinated, it’s one of those songs that will always be with us.
There are many videos around that discuss it all but they can get a little nerdy… so I thought I would isolate each track (there are 24) and just tell you, as a fan of the band and of music in general, what I can hear – I’m by no means a recording engineer or producer so this is as basic and real as it can be... So, this could be deemed to be a reaction piece, but in reality, it’s just me marvelling at being able to listen to a moment in history in my headphones.
Track 1: “KIT kick”
The first thing you notice is how big, loose and flabby the bass drum sounds. There is a LOT of overlap in the recording, you can just about hear the hats, the ride and the crash cymbals are fairly prominent. Seriously, the bass drum sounds like an old marching band one, with the player having it strapped to their chest. I can almost imagine an oompah band playing along with it! In the rock bit after the operatic section, Roger has a heavy 4 on the floor… you just can’t help hearing the guide guitars in the background from when they were recording it.
Track 2: “KIT Snare”
This is one of the more fascinating, before Taylor starts playing, you can hear Deacy’s bass and the piano leaking in, also copious amounts of snare rattle… but, the all time best thing a Queen fan can hear is contained in this track. Right at the start, you hear Freddie make a little giggle and then count in “1,2,3,4”… Every time a bass note is hit, the snare rattles and fizzes, it’s amazing that it wasn’t gated or something to remove this, maybe in the final mix they had 24 fingers on the console making sure this wasn’t heard. The snare is tight, once again, quite marching band like – quite gunshot in character - a lot of cymbal overlap, the toms are in this as well. The toms are quite loose and huge. Hearing Roger’s dynamics under the first guitar solo is amazing, he really is hitting them extremely hard. As soon as the operative bit starts, you can hear the sticks click together, sounds like he put them in one hand for a moment before starting again. The toms are all over the operatic section as well, absolutely huge in isolation, referring back to the record they sound a lot more in moderation... It would have been awesome to hear them more up in the mix. All the way through to the end of the operatic section you can hear the bass and the snare rattling… then you hear the guitar overlap into for the rock section once more.
Track 3: “Kit Toms”
This is the one where you start to hear the bouncing… The first thing you hear on the track is “No escape from reality” in perfect (what sounds like) 4 part harmony. Then, utter silence until your start to hear the bass overlapping. All the drums are overlapping into this track, but when the toms hit they are thunderous, loose and powerful.
Track 4: “Kit Room”
Once again, bounced over is “No escape from reality”. In what sounds like the higher part of the chord from the one on the toms track. Once again, lots of bass overlap, this time piano as well, and then later on the guitar. You hear everything with the drums, as it’s obviously capturing the room ambience… man, the toms really come through though and so do the hats in the rock section.
Just the drum tracks in Isolation.
The first thing that catches you out, obviously, is the “no escape from reality” vocal. When put into balance you hear how they’ve managed to put these simple four track together to make a huge drum sound, makes me wonder… how would modern producers handle getting such a huge sound from only 4 tracks with massive amounts of overlap from the other instruments?
Track 5: “Bass1”
Exactly what you would expect, although some of Deacy’s note choices are odd, never noticed them before. The tone is thing and almost hollow, just seems to be high mids with no power and balls across the bottom. Loads and loads of drum overlap, especially with the bass drum, cymbals and a little snare.
Track 6: “Bass2”
This appears to be EQ’d to the opposite of Bass1, loads of low end and a nice amount of tightness around the top end.
Track 7: “Bass3”
Another EQ change, a lot warmer across the lower mid range almost giving it a nasal, honky feel... although by his playing style it doesn’t honk like a more funky bass, you can just really hear the wood in the tone. It’s really quite weird tbh.
Just the bass in isolation.
This is where you sit back and say “Ahhhhh” as it now all makes sense. The three put together just compliment each other perfectly (based on the bits at the end that you don’t hear, I am guessing that it was one line, split into three and each EQ’d differently to adjust during the final mix) making this a truly beautifully balanced bass tone. There is the right amount of low end, the mid is punchy and definite and the highs just add that clarity. I’m guessing these guys really knew what they were doing.
Rhythm section in isolation.
Now it’s starting to sound like the record we all know and love, your brain plays tricks on you and adds the piano, guitars and all those vocal lines.
Track 8: “Piano1”
This is where the recording technique and all the behind the scenes stuff comes into play, on the record the intro is 100% vocals... this track contains the guide piano line for that as well. Picking out the harmonies and then going into that famous cross hand line…. As always, copious amounts of drum and bass overlap… and then a little guitars as well. The piano just sounds beautiful. Makes the listener remember what a dynamic and expressive piano player Freddie was… Right in the middle of the “Let me go” vocal cascade section you can clearly hear Freddie say “one” as well, I don’t know why… Right after that, one of the more interesting spill over happens, you can clearly here Roger in falsetto singing “Mama Mia!”
Track 9: “Piano2”
Double tracked to give a wider sound… the difference in dynamics is subtle, but oh so obvious once you get right into it.
Both Piano’s together.
Well, hello Freddie. There is it. I would be lying if I said I didn’t see him in my mind during Live Aid playing it
Track 10: “Rhtm Gtr1”
Guitars. What guitars? Once again, you hear Freddie count it in… and then there are vocal harmonies all over it, and then what sounds like the most insane cymbal crescendo that sounds like it’s gone either through a filter or a something that appears to change the pitch… I had to listen to it 4 times to try to work it out. About 2 bars in from when the guitar starts, the mic opens up and all you can hear is the ground noise of Brian’s guitar hissing like mad… the tone is exactly as you would expect, screaming – it’s been pushed hard at the front end. It’s almost fuzzy at times, you can hear the sixpence scratching the strings… After the main solo, there are interesting out take notes from Dr May that I have omitted from the capture to save his dignity.
Track 11: “Rhtm Gtr2”
More vocal harmonies… man, this is getting complicated. Obviously double tracked for width and power. More interesting notes and outtakes after the first vocal section… and then the operatic section. Vocal stabs and harmonies everywhere. It’s almost like Freddie is in my head singing “Bismillah” – probably the most freaky thing on the entire track. Main vocal line for “So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye”… wow. Just wow. Tons of vocal harmonies, high end… probably Freddie and Roger… this track ends with the main vocal line of “Nothing really matters etc”.
Track 12: “BGR VOX & Gtr”
Hello Freddie, 1,2,3,4 again… then the main vocal line harmony in the intro. He is really pushing to the top of his range here, his voice is almost crapping out on his at some points. Loads and loads of overspill with Piano. The track then goes completely quiet until the “Thunderbolt and Lightning” then it’s all just lower harmonies, more Bismillah to freak me out… All the high end Mama Mia’s are on here as well. Then, hello Brian. It’s that riff that made us all laugh in Waynes World. Never heard him sound like that before, pretty certain this didn’t make the final track. The gain is insane, almost out of control… then during the second run through, before all the nice runs it tightens up again and you are hearing a more familiar tone.
Track 13. “BGR VOX1”
This, I’m guessing, is where the harmony nuts would get lost. In this track appears to be one half of the beautiful harmony opening. I think I can hear 6 different tracks bounced in. There are some unbelievably high harmonies on the section up to the first solo and then during the first few bars. Probably Roger Taylor, ridiculously high… opera. Scaramosh. High harmonies everywhere… the full Magnifico chordal break down. Full vocal chords on “No, we will not let you go”. The whole Beelzebub section is far more complex than the record gives away. How did they do this?
Track 14: “BGR VOX2”
The other side of the intro harmonies. The complexities of the chords they are creating here with their voices… Once again, insanely high harmonies running up to the solo and following bars. More operatic harmonies, more Magnifico… just a poor boy, from a poor family. More insanity around the Beelzebub line.
Track 15. “Lead VOX”
By now, you would have thought I would have expected the track to just contain what it’s labelled as! First line is the harmony from “caught in a landslide” and continues on into the harmony vocal line for ‘poor boy etc’… the main vocal line starts with “Mama, just killed a man”. Surprisingly breathy and laid back.. and then when he ramps it up, that classic Freddie metallic rasp as he’s really pushing it. Into the operatic sections, sounds like Roger doing the high “Let him go”. Low harmonies on “put aside for me”… piano for the main guitar rock section… And we welcome Brian in with some runs during the exit… main lead line for the outro… pretty breathtaking.
Track 16: “VOX1 & Snare”
More harmonies in a landslide, more eyes opening and ‘look up the sky and see’… ‘poor boy’ harmonies, ‘I don’t want to die’ harmonies… just everything… Full chords of vocal “Let him go”…. The “let me go” main vocal cascade… And then a snare overdub for the rock section. Tight, loads of attack and punch.
Track 17: “VOX2”
More complex harmonies from the intro… all Freddie. Double tracked lines for the main line and harmonies for “poor boy”. Double tracked “wind blows” and “to me…”. More double tracks for the “just killed a man” and on to the guitar solo. More full vocal chords of “Let him go” including Roger’s high parts… And we have Brian back with the rock guitar section… Man, that guitar tone is brutal!
Track 18: “VOX3&LdGtr”
More of the above… more intro harmonies. All the way through, so many double tracks and multiple harmonies. And then, that solo. Pretty sure that’s not his Vox amps, but the Deacy amp… the mid range is so nasal! More freaky Bismillah. I’m going to hear that in my sleep tonight I think! And then you hear the guitar, open amp floor noise… that big Bb before the runs and then the big sound for the rock section, but it drops out quickly… then there is tons and tons of overspill from everything. This tracks ends with huge harmonies of the whole “oh yeah” section, layers upon layers upon of layers… Then there is that Brian exit that he plays with his fingers on his right hand. Right at the end of this track you hear Freddie say “Oh, fuck it, let…” – I’d love to know what bought that on.
Track 19: VOX4
As you can guess, it’s just layers and layers of intro harmonies and double tracking. This track also contains the chimes from “shivers down my spine”… based on the floor noise, I’d say this was a guitar, with the strings being played behind the nut. Operatic harmonies… just everywhere, more “magnifico’ cascades… The very high harmonies of “For me” before the rock section, appears then to have a double track of the “stone me”. More Brian playing the exit arpeggios.. and finally, the exit gong makes an appearance!
Track 20: VOX5
I’m guessing you know what is on here. More doubling, more harmonies, more opera… more mayhem. More ‘stone me’ including a wonderful moment where Freddie’s voice sounds like it’s right on the edge, pushing it further than he should.
Track 21: VOX6 & Guitar6
Yep, harmonies, harmonies, harmonies, harmonies. Also, Brian doubling up on the high notes from the main theme (the octave piano part in the main theme) that I’ve always heard him do live but never picked out on the original. During the operatic section, you can clearly hear Brian and Roger adding their sections, but mostly it’s just Freddie either doubling what is already there or adding yet another harmony. Brian outtake for the rock section, I don’t blame them cutting that bit, not a great tone! More exit scales from Brian, completing the exit runs…
Track 22: Vox Ovdub1
This feels like this was when they had it almost there and Freddie was dropping the final piece’s of the puzzle in… the main vocal line “Carry on, carry on” followed by ‘matters’ in here as well. Also, the overdub for “wish I’d never been born at all”. Full harmony chords of “scaramoosh” and “fandango”… more parts of ‘magnifico’… tons of Roger high harmonies… Timpani drums. Full vocal chords of “No no no no no” and some more Beelzebub”. Drum overdubs for the rock section… And then, my favourite bit. Brian’s beautifully constructed guitar harmonies at the end. There must be at least 5 guitars in there.
Track 23: Vox Ovdub2
More bits and pieces tidying up the into vocals… any way the wind blows… some oohs and ahhs over the solo… Rogers very highest Gallieo’s, the highest “he’s just a poor boy etc”. There’s that Bismillah again. More beelzebub harmonies… I never knew how complicated that little section was.. and then finally, we are treated to more Brian’s runs at the end of the rock section!
Track 24: Vox Ovdub3.
Even more overdubs of the main and harmony lines… obviously not all of these made it to the mix… when you put them all on… it’s insane. There is only the slightest amount of modulation coming from the pitching, so Freddie’s voice is on note, every times. Almost to a freaky level. Exit rock guitars in the rock section, sounds like this was the one that was used… I can hear that sixpence again! And the rest of Brian’s harmony exit…
This was a total guilty pleasure for me, and one I was reluctant to look at too deeply as I didn’t want it to ruin the masterpiece we have all heard countless times. But, you know, when you are presented the opportunity to look into something so monumental, you take the chance and have a listen. I’m so glad I did as the respect I have for their talent, especially the producer who managed to get this on 24 tracks has been blown out of all proportion… Basically, the word genius undersells it.
This week, I am giving the floor to a FB friend of mine called Nik Harrison… Who is Nik I hear you ask… Well... “I teach music (piano, guitar, theory, GCSE, A Level etc) but I also teach thinking skills. Critical thinking, applications of (and limitations of) logic, exam revision etc. Also do commentary and debates on various matters concerning philosophy etc for educational purposes, and “thinking horizon expansion”. Play acoustic gigs. Do demos at guitar shows for Stormshadow guitarworks. Run the contemporary guitar performance workshop, and conduct quite a lot of pedagogical (relative to teaching) research for that. Occasionally go out as a professional magician for corporate functions... A pretty broad range."
This all came about because I saw a question on FB… “Why is it called music theory? Shouldn’t it be called music rules?”
And Nik answered… “Music theory is the codification of the most commonly used frameworks within music. It’s a language, and as a language, it’s essentially a set of protocols. It’s not the ‘message’. The message is the music, and the music exists independent of any language that we may use to explain, quantify, or record it (which is essentially the three things that music theory serves to achieve). The music comes first. It’s for theory to keep up with music, not for music to keep up with the theory, or otherwise be dictated to by ‘theory’. Rules are for sports.”
I was quite fascinated with this response, so I asked him to expand on it for our blog… Over to you Nik...
There are essentially two means by which a ‘music theory’ may be devised (inclusive of the amalgamation of both). Firstly, there’s the analysis and quantification of music that people have created when drawn to the sounds and structures that they instinctively feel to be congruent with their musical taste. Secondly, you can take the fundamentals of sound itself, and analyse this. The only naturally occurring phenomena which could be used as a foundation for creating a music theory is the harmonic series. This would lead us to consider the overtone scale (or Lydian Dominant mode) to be the most ‘natural’ place to start, but we don’t do that, we use other things. What may be ‘natural’ may not always be (what we would identify as) ‘musical’ to some people... To my understanding, most ‘scales’ that we now consider to be commonplace evolved by means of primitive instrument engineering evolving to accommodate greater pitch accuracy, together with the influence of the harmonic series which supplied an acoustic physics-based foundation for the subdivision of octaves.
In extension of this, it’s worth noting that the only thing that makes music theory conversations and debates worthwhile is the fact that it's in a state of permanent evolution. This means that right and wrong are not as clear cut as they may be when debating other topics. To suggest that ‘rules’ come into music theory would require consensus amongst academics and scholars alike who are not actually qualified (either individually or collectively) to ascribe ‘rules’ to such a topic as music theory. This is because music (and its associated theory) belongs to the people. It doesn’t belong to academia, no matter how much it may be implied, or how much academia may attempt to take ownership of it. Music theory is very much a living and breathing 'language'. Worthy of note however, is that music itself isn’t a language. This is a common misconception, but it isn’t a language because music isn't authoritatively definable in terms of the same criteria (and respective fulfilment thereof) that a language would need to fulfil (and adhere to) in order that it may be defined as a 'language'. Analogies between music and languages might work at a very simplistic level, but there are a number of misconceptions, misunderstandings, and errors that are all too easy to make if this analogy is taken beyond the simplest of examples. Within a language the objective of communication is served by means of encoding meaning and concepts into syntax which is then assembled within a grammatical framework. There are a number of pre-requisites which need to be in place before it can be understood.
When it comes to music, the pre-requisites that are necessary for any spoken or written language to be successful don't exist (unless you're operating from a number of assumptions regarding a very fixed definition of what music can be). As such, music doesn't operate in the same way, or within the same parameters as 'languages'. A listener needs no familiarity with any 'encoding' of meaning to understand the inherent 'truth' that is music, and this makes the formulation of any manifestation of “music theory” all the more complicated, challenging, and interesting.
Music evolves, and always came first. Theory comes second, and has only been devised (and subsequently evolved into the language of music that we now use) as a method by which we express, record, and preserve music. Because music is evolving, the language that we use to explain it needs to evolve with it, although because of the rate at which music evolves, theory will always be "behind", not at all helped by academics who misunderstand the true relationship "music" has to "theory", who seem to desire it's absolute preservation and maintenance (without really offering any consideration as to how appropriate this actually is). I would suggest that an understanding of music and the understanding of theory are two very different things. They are every bit set apart in the same way that and understanding of "meaning" is not the same as an understanding of "language".
Within a system where 15 key signatures are used to express 12 keys, any engineer would conclude that this is 3 too many than necessary and it’s about time we just got rid of them. I know where these key signatures have come from, and have a strong understanding of why we have ended up with 15 key signatures, but since evolution is a process of simplification, not complication, I think we can reasonably predict what will happen here as theory evolves anyway, so why don’t we just dispose of 3 unnecessary key signatures now? A more prominent over-complication in music theory can be seen in the time signature. Where the bottom "number" which is used represents a note value, why has it gone through an unnecessary process of "encoding" into a number? Why don't be just draw the note value as it would appear in the piece underneath the number telling us how many beats are in each bar?
To my mind, not enough people challenge these theoretical concepts and as such, I fear that it’s best hope of "catching up" with the music (which theory actually serves to record, explain, and preserve) is being systematically eroded by every music theory publication presenting this information and framing it as “the way it is” rather than thinking about it and offering appropriate consideration to what kind of future it actually has?
Thank you Nik! You can connect with Nik on Facebook.