Yesterday I had a guitar lesson with Brent Mason. I need to say that again, out loud, because it doesn't feel real. I had a private, one on one, guitar lesson from Brent Mason.
As you may have guessed, o regular reader of thine blog, there is a story attached to this (don't all my posts?), so I will abridge it as much as possible... I've been playing the guitar for as long as I can remember, literally. My brother (who is 3 years older than me) had a cheap nylon string and I always messed around on it, watching him and our friend Rob work stuff out, and then once they left the room instantly copy what they did. I've always learned by stealing others licks! When I hit my teens, I got my first guitar, this was the mid 80's so it was all Iron Maiden for a couple of years and then Satriani happened, then Vai.. and that was that. I was a shredder. I shredded morning, noon and night, a true bedroom rockstar complete with Brian May style hair and an Ibanez Jem. After years of working that stuff out and playing in pub bands I got bored. Completely, so, I effectively gave up. My social life still revolved around the music scene so I was always at jam nights and it was at one of those nights my life was forever changed.
I have complete lucid recall of what happened. It was a Monday night, early(ish) 1998. In pubs I usually shun company and peel off to be on my own, it's harder to offend people that way, and all of a sudden I noticed this beautiful guitar tone coming from the P.A. It was before the jam started, the background music was on, and I just listened. As it came to an end I realised I was captivated and looked around for the guy who put the music on. And then another piece started, stopped me in my tracks again. I listened for a while, it was beautiful - the phrasing... the tone... the musicality. I was in love. I went and found the guy who put it on, Rick (who I am now in a band with) and I asked him who it was - he said the unforgettable line of "A session player from Nashville, Brent Mason, he's on everything - this is his solo album. The next track will blow you away!". Just as he said that, the next track came on and I was blown away. Anyone who knows the album Hot Wired will know that those three tracks were "Caymon Moon", "Mellow Midnight" and "Blowin' Smoke". If by some insane reason you are not familiar with this album, I (you'll see why I say that later) stream it on brentmason.com, here. This moment restored my passion for guitar, for exploring the guitar and guitar music in general. Don't get me wrong, I still love the shredders and to shred, but a part of me will always be in gratitude to Brent, and of course Rick, for opening my eyes to another style of playing. The thing you have to remember is that country music just isn't popular over here, so the radio never played the songs he was on, I just never heard him, or of him, before.
Now we fast forward, I went off to University that year, played the album to death, worked out as much as I could, and tried to play like him. I finished Uni, got married, had kids, and sold most of my gear to buy nappies and shoes. Such is the life of modern parenting. In 2008 Facebook started the whole "like page" thing (as it was called then) and I wanted to do one for Brent, as there wasn't one. So, I contacted him through MySpace (lolololz, yeah, it's that long ago) asking for him permission for basically something I was going to do anyway, but I'm English, so I try to be polite when I can - he answered within about an hour, saying he was cool with it and to contact his wife, Julie, for content. So, nervously I contacted them both, got loads of pictures from them and away we went. As I started to sort through the materials to put on the page, avidly googling him, I kept coming across this pedal called the Hot Wired by some bloke called Brian Wampler. So, me being me, I messaged him asking for details etc... he answered back and well... you can see how that went. Safe to say Brian and I got on, and we have a long running joke about who is his biggest Brent stalker... Anyway, after a while Julie asked that if I could use the content I had collected for the page to put in a new website for Brent, just needed something static, nothing mega, just a communication portal, so I did it. There was I, a no one from Devon, making a website for one of the greatest session players, and musicians in general, alive today. This lead Brian to ask if I wanted to do the Wampler site... and that's where that started. So, I got my job at Wampler via Brent Mason.
Over the years I've got to know Brent and Julie quite well, we are long distance friends, we keep in touch - I maintain the website still and try to sell as many Hot Wired's as possible, around my 40th birthday and to say thank you for all I have done, Brent gave one of his new PRS Brent Mason signature guitars saying "Do with it as you want, you can keep it or sell it, it's yours". This was a really nice touch, they knew we have no money to spare so he was giving me the option of making a fast few quid... obviously, I didn't, it's my pride and joy and I cannot imagine gigging without it.
All this brings us to 2017. Julie has said to me that Brent was considering giving private Skype lessons and could I give advice, so I offered my thoughts on quality of sound, how to get it, and what I would expect if I was paying for it... and then a few weeks later I find myself sitting in front of my screen, waiting patiently when the magic call arrived on my Skype!
Obviously, over the years, I've stopped seeing Brent from the fanboy perspective (mostly) and just 'Brent', but I must admit, seeing him on my screen with the '68 and hearing him talking to me kinda blew me away. We initially caught up briefly (we've met before, at NAMM etc - that prompted the now infamous "Let's look like we are about to start a fight picture" and have spoken on Skype quite a few times), asked about family (he quickly said hi to my wife and kids who were floating around), and he asked about the PRS, and then what I wanted to learn from him. I imagine that many people in that situation will say "Show me how to play 'I don't even know your name'." (or as Brent brilliantly calls it 'the waitress song') but I didn't want that, I can play most of it but the thing that has always floored me about Brent is his note choice and his phrasing. So, I asked him about where all that comes from, which can't be an easy thing to answer, because he just does it. It is his style and I'm asking him to explain a thought process. Not easy, but I'm delighted in the fact he instantly understood exactly what I wanted to know and really opened up about everything. Now, I know some harmony so I can say about the Mixo mode, the dominant 7th and how the chords roll into each other, but what I didn't know was the way he constructed his playing around that and so many other things. He explained fully what he saw in terms of the neck when constructing his lines, how he uses open strings to make them sound interesting, the influences that are behind his playing (I have homework!) and how it falls into place around the rhythmic patterns that exist in his head when playing, what he uses to balance it all, the lead notes, the blue notes, the outside notes, the chromatics, everything that makes him, 'him'. We went over the hour mark, it was closer to 1:20, because once we got going it was hard to stop - the man was beyond generous with his knowledge and imparted it perfectly. I'm not going to tell you what he said, you'll have to have your own lesson with him for that, but I've come away with a completely different thought process about constructing my own voice in guitar, that's twice he's done that to me now. All I say is this, when being Brent Mason, you don't think like any other guitar player I can think off, you think differently, and that through process is available to you. He will tell you what he does and how he does it, now, if you are a Brent fan, isn't that the greatest thing that can happen to you musically?
If you want to have your musical world turned upside down and your imagination fired, or just want him to show you how to play Hot Wired, than you simply HAVE to do this. He tells you exactly what you need to hear, not necessarily what you expect, but what you need. I get the feeling my playing is going to change radically over the next few weeks, as I have a completely different approach to country guitar playing now... My head has been melted. Imagine what it would have been like if you asked him about his approach to Western Swing or Jazz (which, let's face it, is what he's best at)... I expect my head would be melted completely away...
Over the last few weeks or so, I’ve been wiring up my (current) dream pedal board. Those of you who are connected to me on social media are probably bored of it already, as I may have taken some pictures and talked about it a bit, but you know, it’s 2017 and that’s what we do!
Now, when I say my dream board – I mean that “with the materials I have in front of me, what is practical to play in the pubs and clubs around here, and what I can be arsed to program”. Obviously, there are things I would change in a heartbeat should I have unlimited funds (GigRig G2 and associated power modules spring to mind) but let’s not have a “desert island dream board” thing, just a “what is best and most practical for me” piece! We all know the Mobius can't touch a CE-1, but you just can't program it and control it via midi!
At the heart of it all is the One Control OC10 ‘crocodile tail loop’. It’s a pretty basic true bypass looper, with 70 presents, midi control and all that. I obtained it about 18 months ago as part of a wider deal and I’ve been sat on it ever since, waiting for the rest to fall into place. The analogue section of my board is extremely obvious, Wampler all the way – I have to tell you now, I am under no obligation at all to use Wampler gear personally, but you know, it’s bloody great so I use it. It’s as simple as that! So, my analogue section is as follows.
Ego Compressor (full size one, don’t have the Mini one – it disappeared into ‘That Pedal Shed’ when I went up with the Bravado some months ago and I’ll never see it again, which is a shame, as I need the space on my board – I could get a wah in there…), Tumnus and Dual Fusion (I order the DF C2 – C1, so the ‘screamer’ hits the front end of C1). The Dual Fusion is separated (whoever had THAT idea is a bloody genius *cough*) so each side can be controlled via the OC10 independently. A Strymon Mobius straddles the Drive section, the pre-gain section sits between the Ego and the Tumnus and the post-gain section directly after, a TimeLine, which then goes into an ‘always on’ TC Electronic Mini HOF and then a Wampler dB+ for clean boost is after. I also have a TC Electronic Polytune 2 mini in the tuner send of the OC10… Right, so that’s that.
So, in a nutshell –
- PRS Brent Mason signature;
- Line6 G30 (wireless);
- TC Electronic Polytune 2 noir;
- OC-10 (loop order... )
- Ego Compressor;
- Pre-gain Mobius (so great for Vibe and Phaser);
- Tumnus – on the edge of dirt, so it adds width and a little high end;
- C2 Dual Fusion – ‘Throaty’ (used primarily as a solo boost);
- C1 Dual Fusion – ‘Fat’ (main overdrive sound);
- Post-gain Mobius (Chorus, flangers, trem, etc);
- dB+ (clean boost for solos etc);
- TC Mini HOF;
- Carl Martin ProPower2;
- Fender BDri (running it as a head);
- Custom built (by my friend Rick who plays bass in the band!) 2x12”, loaded with WGS Reaper HP and ET-90. I run the cab vertically with the Reaper at the top, as it sound more natural than the ET-90 but that adds some lovely colour so combined – out the front - it sounds amazing.
The thing about this rig is that it does not represent the best effects you can get to do for each individual position (although I defy you to find anything better in terms of overdrive and compression), but in so far as the best for the space used in the context I’m using it for, definitely. I chose the Strymon stuff as I prefer the through tone to the comparable stuff on the market today, and they have the most options available within. I know a UniVibe, a CE-1, Electric Mistress and a Phase90 will be better, but the Mobius does it all well enough to get away with live, and it still sounds awesome. Same with the TimeLine, the Faux Tape Echo is infinitely better for delay… but patches. I need that control. MiniHOF, sounds perfect for the space it uses (and I don’t do different reverbs so…). So, for me, this is the best rig that fits on my medium sized Temple Board that I can control via midi and a looper.
So, that’s that. Why blog it then? Here is why, I need to tell you about the cables I’m running on this rig and how they have blown me away…
First of all, a little history (you thought you’d got away with it, didn’t you – but you know me, there is always a back story). I stopped playing when I got married and had kids, I’d not gigged for about 5 years before that so I sold all my gear apart from my acoustic and 2 high quality 30’ cables I’d had since 1993. When I got back in to playing, right before I started with Brian, I started to accumulate gear again but never, ever, once considered quality patch cables of being important. Pretty soon I had a decent guitar, a decent amp and some incredible effects… All wired up with ‘£4.99 for 10’ moulded plastic patch cables. This changed on my 40th birthday, a dear friend that I’ve known forever who distributes Evidence Audio cables sent me a few of the SIS plugs and a length of the Monorail cable. I reluctantly tried them and was instantly blow away by the quality of the tone coming from my amp. Yeah, that was an ‘oh shit’ moment as these things aren’t cheap! I started to buy them when I could… I now have my entire board wired up with them – which is about 25 cables of various lengths, using around 24’ of cable!
Here is the thing, this is why I love them – not only do they sound great (and they really do) they are SO easy to make you just wouldn’t believe it. I have experienced many versions of the solderless cable in past, they either are a bitch to make, only 50% of them work first time out, or the plugs are stupidly large or a strange shape – never quite understood that – but these are discrete (they stand out less than 15mm from the socket), OK, so they aren’t a pancake but as far as right angled cables goes, that’s easily in the discrete ballpark! The great thing about the SIS plug is that once you strip the cable back (I do it with a pair of kitchen scissors, no need for all the fancy tools and stuff) you place it in the plug and then turn. If the cable is in the correct state (you have to leave the right amount of core showing and wrap the shielding stuff round properly etc) once you have screwed it in the plug will not come off. So you know it’s connected. You then put the cap of the plug on and boom, you’re away. It currently takes me about 2 minutes (again, with the scissors) to make a cable and with this board I’ve had a 100% “first time” success rate. I’ve not had one that’s not worked… There isn’t a knack to it, you don’t have to have special tools, once you know how much cable to leave bare, you are away. That, if you think about it, for a solderless system is quite incredible.
Now, there are other cables in play here as well… I took a punt, as I’m now an Evidence Audio fan, and order some Forte Cables. Now, these aren’t cheap – they really aren’t cheap. I read all the stuff about them, apparently you need to break them in, they sound best going in a certain direction… I’m always quite dubious when I read stuff like this, but you know, once I plugged it in, the signal was clearer. The sound fuller. They are extremely bendy and flexible (handy as the guys that help us pack away the gear at the end of the night can be a little brutal with gear), extremely strong and as always built like a tank. I played them for 4 gigs and then did a little experiment. I turned it around and it sounded not as clear, not as full… can a cable be directional? I don’t know, but it didn’t sound as good as when I was using it the right way round! There was life missing, top end absent (not missing, just not as ‘there’) and an overriding sense of loss of life and a little power. I thought it might be my accountant trying to justify it the purchase in my head until one of the guys in the band confirmed it as well. The old cables I had all these years, that were quite expensive at the time and guaranteed for life still work, they just don't sound very good anymore!
So, what started as me wanting to show off my new board, ended up as an advert for Evidence Audio cables (don’t worry, I have no financial stake in them, I’ve payed for most it, and am under no obligation to promote them - so this isn’t a sales pitch). I see so many people getting frustrated with their patch cables, people who can’t solder, people who get large failure rates. My advice to you, get the Evidence Audio SIS/Monorail system, you can’t go wrong. Well, you can, but I’ve only seen it once!
Here is a little video of Dan Steinhardt construction the MonoRail/SIS system cables... (cable making start at 17:50)
Seriously, Evidence Audio cables... there is no better system!
Here we go, another blog piece from me that has far too much waffle in about guitar players I like, please bear with me, it gets tone related toward the end! So, I had a rare treat last week – it’s not often an artist with the pedigree and reputation comes close to where I live, but this year appears to be bucking that trend… It started with Joey Landreth in February and in April I get Adrian Legg. Perfect.
As always, I’m going to bore you with the history (there is always a history, isn’t there?). I was blissfully unaware of Adrian the first time I saw him live, I was 19 (this was February 1993) and if it wasn’t Vai or Satch I didn’t give a crap. Acoustic players were pointless, they just strummed and I was right and if I was wrong I didn’t want to be right. So, I rocked up to see Satch on the Extremist Tour with my Brother and my mate Graeme full of excitement and ready to be transported away to fly in a blue dream (etc).
We got there a little early, took our seats and found out that there some bloke called Adrian Legg in support… Lights went down and this (what appeared to be a) little middle aged guy came out the curtain and sat in a chair on the stage with an Ovation and said “Hello”. My brain groaned and I sat there already bored of this man… And then he started playing. Within seconds I was converted, this guys was incredible. My socks were blown clean off… I’d never seen or heard anything like it. I was wrong about the acoustic guitar!
Fast forward to 2008 or so, Facebook was taking off and up in my feed came “Adrian Legg”, I looked, it was him, so I sent him a request and he accepted. This was before I started with Wampler so I had no reason to talk to him, didn’t want to be a fanboy so I just left him there, he would comment on my status now and then, I would on his (we are somewhat politically aligned and view a lot of things the same way), and it went on like that for ages… then I started with Wampler and we started to talk about tone. During these conversations I sent him a couple of my own pedals for him to try and he loved the Black ’65, he gigged it for years… then came the Faux Tape Echo and finally the Tumnus… With touring in the way he does everything is about size and weight so out reaching out to the mini market really appealed to him.
After all these years I’d never had the chance to see him perform again, he attended the only NAMM show I’ve not been too since 2012, a couple of dates in the UK didn’t line up but out of the blue he was booked in a town about 25 miles from me, in a glorious old church hall, so I snapped up a couple of tickets instantly.
I finally saw Adrian perform again last Saturday April 22nd 2017. Just over 24 years after the first and last time I saw him. I arrived just as he was about to start, sat with an old friend of mine who is a fan also, and we thoroughly enjoyed every second. I had asked Adrian to do my favourite song (if he could) a few weeks before and about 4 songs in, Mrs Jack’s Last Stand was played, I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t tears.
During the break I wondered forward and I finally met the man I’d been a fan of all these years, the man who had changed my view on acoustic players, the man I could now call a friend thanks to the beauties of social networking. I got a friendly hug from Adrian Legg. Win!
Adrian’s tone and playing was exquisite all the way through, his guitar is not really an electric and not really an acoustic, with a magnetic pickup and piezos, mixed together at times. The Tumnus brings out the harmonics of both pickups beautifully, the lower mid hump (that we think is about 800-1k) just makes everything sound alive and ‘there’, right in front of you. When he kicked it in, the guitar appeared to jump out at you tonally, it was quite the experience to hear it played that way, not pushing another drive pedal, not pushing an amp, just making the guitar jump up and out. Once again, that little gold pedal surprised me. Kinda thinking we should market it as the worlds first 3D guitar pedal!
Received an email from Lee this morning that was a great thing to wake up to!
It's great that something so good can come of something so silly!
Wampler Pedals would like to thank: Lee, Avi, Chappers, Bea, Dan, Mick, Danish Pete, Mr Paul freakin' Gilbert and everyone who bought the pedal!
Follow up video:
My absolute favourite part of this job is the creative process and the sometime silly things that come of it. Over the years I've had the pleasure of working with Brian, Travis, Max, Jeff, Alex... so many people and with each one we've had moments of utter brilliance (even if I do say so myself) that have created some great products and moments.
One of the best parts of it all, for me, has been the concept of the silly pedal graphics. I did my first for Christmas in 2011 and we've been doing them regularly ever since, I have an extremely short attention span and when I have photoshop in front of me things tend to happen to relieve my boredom - I think we might have been the first to do an April Fool pedal graphic way back then, and then we upped the game in 2014 when we did the video for the HAIRstortion (that came from a drunken conversation between Brian and I over dinner at NAMM, we were crying with laughter in a very nice restaurant and receiving some extremely interesting looks from the staff and other customers, but you know.... meh).
Come the start of March I had realised we'd not even considered an April Fool thing, and had all but conceded to the other companies that have also started to do it, as we were going to miss out this year. Shame, but we've been really busy and the inspiration hadn't hit yet...
All this started on March 9th, a Thursday at about 17:50 or so, Lee Anderton posted a video on his page and I commented on his tone, which was lovely. He shot straight back with a typical Lee comment (I first met Lee in January 2012 at NAMM, over the years we've done dinner, we've done banter, they've become one of the biggest selling dealers we have, he's cut me some great deals on some gear... so, you know, this wasn't random, I've known him as an industry guy for years), and within 20 minutes the idea was born!
You can take a look at the conversation here (look for my "nice tone mate" comment and then read the thread that came from it), kudos to Lee for the initial idea, and then it went to email and we had the entire thing planned out in 30 minutes from my first comment to me making this in photoshop and sending it to Lee as a concept for April Fool...
When thinking about things like this, especially if you intend to make a couple for a video, you tend to use a casing etc that is already in production, that way there will be units already around and it's much easier for the guys in manufacturing to complete. As this was basic, I used the casing of the dB+. Font was a free one from one of the free font sites, happy days, and it was done. I sent it to Lee, he absolutely loved it... As you can imagine, in order to get this filmed and ready for April first, we had absolutely no time to mess around. Lee needed them ASAP so it was all systems go.
I emailed Brian, Avi and Steve (Avi is the boss of manufacturing and distribution so EVERYTHING goes through him eventually... Steve is the director of marketing for the company that Avi heads - Steve is in overall charge of transferring my pedal graphics on to the unit and their general appearance etc) with the outline, the graphic, the assets for the graphic and most importantly the timeline... I knew I didn't have to convince BW that this was a good idea as he gets 'it' and he did, the trouble I saw was convincing Avi that this would be something worth doing from a marketing perspective. Avi got it straight away, he saw what this was, who it was, and why we were doing it and just said "No need to keep me in the email chain, just do what you need" which was tremendous! Steve printed a couple of cases up, we put the dB+ circuit in and they overnighted it all the way from California to Andertons over here in sunny ol' England.
Lee had already said he was trying to get others involved, I asked Brian to shot the breadboard section (I love things like this, because I get to script and direct the worlds best analogue pedal designer at a breadboard and he just trusts me and does it and he always does it perfectly) and we sent it over, Lee told me about a week before the reveal they'd got Paul Gilbert in on it, Chappers, Bea and Danish Pete, and of course Dan and Mick from That Pedal Show... I was SO excited to see it as not only are all of those guys ace, but each are individually funny in their own right, I knew that Andertons were putting full production values into it, so this was going to be amazing... I hoped! Lee and I were spending a lot of time trying to convince the guys that we should make a run of these to sell for charity, and it didn't look like we have the capacity to do a small individual run like this, but once Antony (the sales sale rep for Europe) got involved it happened! More about that later!
March 31st... TC Electronics and JHS Pedals released their April Fool videos a day early, the cheeky monkeys! I thought Tore's was genius, the Vacuum Compact Kill Switch Pedal, hats off lads, excellent work - they do keep us on our toes ...
Here is the video!
As you can see, it turned out fantastic. Each person in the video played it perfectly, tremendous display of dead pan humour and the production is incredible. :)
The following day, Andertons released this...
18 hours after the launch of the first video and it's already been viewed over 47,000 times. The follow up over 6,000... Andertons put 25 pedals up for sale at 10am and within a matter of minutes they had all gone, so that's £1500 to the Teenage Cancer Trust for what was effectively a silly idea and some banter... Wonderful.
So, 2018... I'm already thinking about it. :)
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!
Sometimes a chain of events happens that results in your life being changed forever. I could trace this story back to how a pointless gobshite (to all those not familiar with British vulgarity, you're welcome) from England started to work for the fastest growing 'booteek' effects company in the world in 2011, but that's another story, instead I will start this on the NAMM floor, Friday the 20th January.
I was hanging with my bud Andy Wood on the booth, I met Andy through Tom Quayle about 5 years ago at the show, he's used our pedals for a while and we quickly became friends, as you may expect I am an ENORMOUS fan of his playing, he's amazing, but also of him as a human. Funny, intelligent and just a down to earth great guy, he's a joy to be around. So, as usual, we were hanging and he said "Hey man, let's go out and have a beer" and usually at NAMM we are too busy to do this, but I knew we were off to the Celestion Party that night so I said to Andy, you should come. Fortunately, he did!
We arrived somewhat late (no surprised there) and after enjoying the Arnie Newman Band for a while I found Andy at the back with about 5 other guys so I went to hang for a while. As we are guys, the introductions weren't quick, we just drank and laughed and had a great time. Eventually Andy introduced me to the guys, which transpired to be most of the upper echelons of Suhr. To one side and being quite quiet and reserved was this guy in glasses and a beard who Andy introduced me to as "Joey". Now, as we say here, the penny dropped from a great height, it was Joey Freakin' Landreth. I'd been quietly accumulating a massive man crush on Joey for about a year, marvelling at his playing and songwriting (let alone his voice) and here I was completely unsober and face to face with him. I played it cool, said I was a massive fan (fortunately I had good knowledge to back it up with) and we hung for a bit. I was picking his brain about his intonation (was delighted to hear that it's mostly down to hard work and dedication) and other stuff. He mentioned that he was doing a tour of the UK in a couple of weeks. Usually when this happens I get all excited for nothing as to most artists a UK tour means "London, Manchester, Glasgow" which are all hours from me (and let's face it, in the UK, if it ain't within a half hour most people claim it's not local enough to bother with) but it turns out that Joey was playing in my home town, 15 minutes from where I live. He gave me a CD (Whiskey) and put me on the guest list for the show - I was a little uncomfortable about this, as I was a little drunk and I didn't think he would remember, plus, I have absolutely NO issue in paying for a ticket to see an up and coming artist such as this.
So, I spend the next two weeks quietly (and not so quietly) trying to get as many people to this gig as possible, I wanted Exeter to be good enough for Joey to come back for. The last thing I wanted was him to be in this quiet big room and there be not enough people there for it to be comfortable for anyone.
Last night was the night of the show. My long suffering wife, Lisa, and I picked up our good friends Phil and Hazel (I've know Phil for literally years and years, he saw my first gig that was bizarrely 26 years ago that day, but that's another story) and off we went. The venue was a new one to me (last time I was in town it was a shitty discount sportswear store) and was desperately trendy and cool. Name was on guest list, result! As I walked in, I noticed large beards where everywhere, the fridges were stocked with beer that I had never seen before and being offered around there were pulled Pork or some strange Cauliflower canopé things. I'm more of a "pint of Guinness and a packet of Peanuts" kind of guy. So from the outset I was out of my comfort zone.
As I went to the bar (full of dread as these places are never cheap) I noticed a familiar face at the bar and it was non other than the lovely Mick Taylor, a long time industry legend who I first became aware of years ago as the editor of Guitarist magazine and more recently as one of the hosts of That Pedal Show with Dan Steinhardt. We had a quick catch up and a little business talk (I'm going up next week for something exciting to be featured on the show, although hopefully not me personally) had a quick chat with Joey - looks like he did remember me, which was nice - and off we went to find a seat. Fortunately (for Joey), the place had a very healthy attendance so we had to make do with a crappy seat at the back. The support acts came and went and then it was show time...
Now, it's taken me a while to get to this point because I wanted to set the scene. Sometimes, you go to a show and you get blown away and that's that (for example, every time I see Vai I am left speechless) but other times you go to something and the whole experience is what takes it from being blown away all the way up to a defining moment in your life. This was a defining moment, it was a masterclass, it was everything a musician - and most importantly a guitar player - needs to see at one point in their life.
Starting with just an acoustic guitar, he built the set foundation perfectly. There wasn't any of the trademark genius of Joey's slide playing, but rare moments of complete wonder within the songs that caught you and carried you on to the next one. His ability to hold the attention of the room, and to be heard in every corner at a reasonable volume (3 people talking at the back would have been heard everywhere but it just didn't happen) was spellbinding. As he eventually moved onto the Suhr superstrat and then the Collings he is most associated with, the tension and almost unbearable anticipation of what he was going to be doing next was palpable in the room. I first "lost it" during his well known cover of Eddie Cochran's "Hallelujah, I love her so" and then struggled to keep it together throughout. His last song was dedicated to his Grandfather who died a couple of weeks before was just stunning, there were many of us who couldn't keep their emotions in check, it was just one of those evenings.
So, why am I writing this - you could say I am on somewhat of a mission to make as many people as possible aware of Joey Landreth. His star is rising, and rising fast, and it is my hope that everyone who reads this gets to see him live sooner rather than later. It's one of those experiences that not only restores your faith in a music industry that appears to spew out nothing but shit, but makes you realise that the guitar is a vehicle for so much beauty it's our duty to make it talk, weep or shout as often as possible. I can't think of anyone who can do the above as well as Joey, but I walked out as inspired as I've ever been to play more, practice more, use different styles/voicings/tones/expressions and just be a better musician. I can't think of many other players who can do that to a middle aged cynic like myself.
Please buy his CD, see him live, or do whatever you can to make sure this guy - and lest we forget his incredible work with his Brother in the Bros. Landreth so we should include David and that band in this - are as huge as possible. The future of music will thank you for it.
Thank you Joey, for restoring my faith in music, and being just a lovely lovely man.