I’ve not let the contentious me out the box for a while but something has happened recently that’s made me a little prickly.
Guitar solo competitions. I hate them. I really really hate them. When did playing the guitar, or music in general, become a competition? Are we expecting to have it put into the Olympics? Man, if it does, I pity the people who have to dope test some of the pros! Lolololz, no – obviously, I put that in to make myself smile as after today, I’m kind of struggling… and before I start, have you noticed that it’s always the same people entering these things? Always the same guys winning, always the same faces submitting? I’m actually bored of the sight of some of them by now.
OK, so – today. Facebook lit up this afternoon (my own profile included) with the video of someone who was awarded 2nd place in a solo competition (as usual,Wampler Artist Levi Clay broke the news as this is a pet hate of his). The solo was awesome, the level of composition was fantastic and so far as musicality goes, I loved it. The trouble was, he was miming and if you pay attention you can see (and hear) that to play that fast at that level of gain you just can’t play that cleanly and accurately without cookin’ the books a little (I mean, I’ve watched Vai play “Building The Church” at a distance that I could see the hairs on the back of his hands and he wasn’t that clean and accurate, and let’s face it, love him or hate him, the one thing you can’t deny is that Vai has flawless technique). I’m pretty certain this guy he’s either slowed the track down, played his part and then sped it up again or even fired off some midi thing here. It’s just too perfect… When you watch the video closely, you can see that his picking is off, his vibrato is off, his whammy work is off and his left hand cannot keep up with it either. When you look at his other videos, he’s no where near as good on those videos either…
Let’s take a look at what this guy won. Mesa Boogie (Mini Rectifier & Cab) + Bare Knuckle (set of pickups) + Toontrack Ezdrummer 2 + Gruv Gear (set of accessories).
Yeah. You read that right. He won that by cheating – or did he?
Looking at the rules of the competition there is nothing in them about slowing stuff down, using technology to help the player along or anything like that, so, if this is about composition, then fair play – the boy done good. However, if you watch a load of videos for a solo competition would you not think that it was a prerequisite that they should be able to play it? As Levi mentioned – can you take a Beethoven written oboe solo seriously knowing that he couldn’t play oboe (I have no idea if he could play that instrument or not) but what is the expectation when it’s a “submit you playing the solo on a video” type thing? I expect, like me, you would expect to see someone playing, live, the solo they constructed.
Here is the problem. Legally, as per the terms of the competition, he’s not actually done anything wrong. But try telling that to the guy who missed the prizes by one spot though – Mr 6th place. He is the guy who actually wrote and played his solo live and has got nothing. Is that fair? The first thing that went through my mind is that if this guy is allowed to keep his prizes then we should give the gold medal back to Ben Johnson (sorry to you real young’uns, you might have to Google that one), give all 7 tour titles back to Lance Armstrong (if they have the balls) or allow Sharapova the chance to compete on the tour this year and grunt herself to a lot more sponsorship money while sitting around in her bikini for the paperazzi?
Fortunately, me being me and my habit of social networking, I was able to talk to one of the judges who is a mate of mine (who I didn’t realize was a judge when I originally ranted) and he came in with “Honestly when I find 20 minutes on tour to judge a thing like this I trust the top 10 entries to be correct and fine. Actually I DID doubt ****’s entry at one point at one lick but I thought maybe that was just an overdub and I honestly don't care about that too much. It was almost inhuman clean but I know several players that can do that, so I trusted the competition and awarded him with points. If he faked it he did it really well, and I fell for it in the little time I had judging this.”.
Before I spoke to him, my initial reaction to this whole thing was “The judges need shooting” but the reality is that not only were the rules poorly put out, the decision about who put the top ten together wasn’t done by someone good enough to spot a faker and in fact the whole concept is just crap. Totally crap. I understand how tiring it is for people as many years ago I judged one of these things in a competition we ran. I can tell you now that the process of reviewing and deciding the entrants is one of the most soul sucking things I’ve ever done. You get SO bored of the backing track you are ready to kick a kitten after about 10 minutes. I can understand how they didn’t see it, but surely when you get to the top ten the people who are responsible for putting those in front of the judges should be in a position to weed out the good from the, well, morally unacceptable. But they didn’t and now there is a social media firestorm happening and it’s going to look bad for the judges and the fine companies who sponsored it. They’ve been let down as much as we have (although not as much as the poor sod in 6th place who got nothing).
So, did he cheat? Is he wrong? Did he fool the panel? Should he give his prizes back? Before you sit there and think “well, he didn’t break any rules” consider this. In the thread on You Tube under a post from someone congratulating him on his work did he openly tried to take credit for the backing track as well by stating this? (The backing track was provided by the competition sponsors) “Very much appreciated for your compliment and watching, I wrote all the Time signatures, Chord progression and my guitar solo on some piece of papers in my way, I will translate them on Guitar Pro @ some point.” Or was he just saying that he wrote all the charts and progressions out to work out his solo? I don’t know – it’s hard to tell really. I guess the devil is in the details with these things. Which is where this whole thing went wrong. There was no detail and if this guy has been rumbled, he has a really good case for not sending his prizes back.
I’m not going to point you towards the competition, it shouldn’t be hard to find if you really want to see for yourself, but I’ll leave the final word to Levi - if you do go on to watch Levi's full rant about this - I must warn you, it is NSFW, Levi is passionate about this and he pulls no punches.
The Faux Spring Reverb was developed because Brian wanted a flexible, but authentic-sounding reverb without having to lug a reverb tank around. The idea to put it into a pedal format made it easy to travel with and allowed flexibility on the fly instead of having to go over to the amp to adjust. The FSR is a digital reverb, but it has an all analog signal path, so your base tone remains the same with the added reverb effect being blended in. This works well because it allows more flexibility to tweaking the reverb signal to exactly where the player wants it.
Our favorite part of the Faux Spring Reverb is it’s natural sound and feel. It feels and reacts like a reverb tank, but allows you to adjust the tonality to fit any amp and guitar, going from a light room-ish vibe to add depth, or full on surfy wash.
Level: This knob controls the amount of reverb that is merged with your analog signal. This ranges from no mix at all fully counter-clockwise, to a full canvas of reverb that adds depth and feel to your tone like having a spring tank nestled on top of your amp. The key to reverb is finding the sweet spot where it’s got the depth that you want without drowning out your guitar tone (unless you’re using it for ambient washes). This allows you to tailor it precisely to the amount of reverb you want. We suggest starting it at Noon, setting your shade and depth, then adjusting the level to the desired effect level.
Shade: This knob controls the overall tonality of the reverb signal (it does not affect the dry signal). Setting the shade counterclockwise toward the dark side will yield a mellow, warmer reverb tone that sits nicely in a mix for added depth, without overpowering the guitars original tonality. Adjusting it clockwise toward the light side will give a more out-front and noticeable “spring effect” for your reverb tone. The darker setting is great for just adding a bit of depth in a dry room, where setting it lighter will give those classic surf tones of the reverb tanks. This knob changes the effect of the Depth knob, so adjusting each to find the right balance is key. We suggest starting it at Noon and adjusting to match your guitar and what type of atmosphere you'd like to create.
Depth: This control dictates the length or amount of time the reverb signal continues on before fading out. The max reverb time is 2.8s, so there’s plenty on tap to get a great ambient wash. Turning the knob counterclockwise will yield a quicker reverb effect and fade quickly as well which is reminiscent of a smaller spring tank. This setting works great for country picking with the shade knob on the lighter side. With the Shade knob darker it will be a more mellow feel, where it provides an ambient undertone that makes your guitar tone a more three-dimensional. This control is interactive with the other knobs, so adjust the shade will dictate the character of your reverb. The depth will then dictate how much decay occurs, and the level can be used to set it from light to heavy mix for any combination of great reverb tones.
- 5″ x 4.5″ 1.5″ (63.5mm x 114.3mm x 38.1mm) – height excludes knobs and switches
- Power draw: 78mA – Powered via 9v negative center tip (barrel plug like Boss). NOTE: You cannot use a battery with the Faux Spring Reverb, and it should not be run at a higher voltage than 9v.
- 8s max reverb time
- True bypass
- There have been 3 color variations on the Faux Spring Reverb. Early versions had a silver case with black knobs and lettering, later versions had a dark greenish-brown with white knobs and white lettering. The latest version has a brighter green with white knobs and lettering, and the Tone knob has a graphic denoting lighter or darker.
You can read more about the Faux Spring Reverb HERE as well as purchase factory direct.
I'm writing as I think, this will probably contain some bad language, so if you are offended by curse words, you might want to skip this!
Over the next few days, weeks, months and hopefully years a lot of words will be said about Nicholas Harris. Most of them will be full of praise, some will be controversial, some will make people laugh. I'm not going to sit here and talk about his achievements in tone as they are obvious, but I am going to talk about my friend.
I first met Nicholas at Winter NAMM a few years back. I was (obviously) fully aware of who he is and the company he built - his reputation had proceeded him... But, I was surprised at the softly spoken, quiet and unassuming man I was talking too. We discussed a few things about the industry but it was obvious that neither of us wanted to talk about pedals so we went our separate ways, politely and professionally and without incident. I was quite surprised at how uncontroversial he was and that I came out with all my body parts intact. My first impression was that the persona that other people attributed to him was well off the mark.
Fast forward a couple of months and I'm at our distributors booth at MusikMesse and I'm playing with either the BelleEpoch or EchoRec (I can't remember) and just having the BEST time with it. When I got home a few days later I pinged him a friend request on Facebook. After a few days a message appeared in my PM from Nicholas basically sounding me out and my intentions of asking to be his friend on social media... He explained how boring he was (!!!), how all he talks about is golf and his real friends and that I won't find it interesting. I responded that I digged his work, I hate the politics of business and I just wanted to be able to connect with him. There are a lot of people in this industry with their heads firmly up their own backsides and I liked the person I met and just wanted to get to know him better. He finally relented and we became "friends".
It quickly became obvious that we enjoyed each others (virtual) company and made each other laugh. I would often wake up to a drunken PM in FB from him (he was 8 hours behind me in terms of timezone) which was hilarious - often wildly offensive and TOTALLY honest about another manufacturer, a distributor we share, a dealer or about something irrelevant... often it was just a chat about nothing and everything... quite often about something specific to our business and their business, a path smoothed, a problem avoided. He quickly became one of my favourites in the industry because there was no bullshit with him, he was a very real person who took me at face value and allowed me to take him as such. He worked out that most of my online presence is a front, I am socially awkward and just allowed me to be me. Really quite refreshing as he had no interest in my online persona.
When it comes to products I am in awe of the way Nicholas led CatalinBread. I often called him "the f***ing Rock star" of our industry, that I'm pretty certain slightly annoyed him (which is why I kept doing it and because there are people who like to think they are a rock star when they are anything but... you need more than a beard, hair, vinyl and some well placed artist endorsements to make you that) because he didn't pander to customer expectation or market trends. He designed and built pedals based on what they thought was cool and what inspired them to play. Basically, the true essence of artistry. I am so jealous of that I cannot begin to tell you, but I am wired up differently. I am constantly looking at the market and what we need to do to be successful in it. He saw this in me and quite often made some wonderfully cutting remarks to me about it. We butted heads a couple of times about some things I'd said... it never ended bad though, just two guys who are basically the opposite ends of the spectrum with a common goal. I think we liked to remind each other often about those differences.
I last saw Nicholas at Winter NAMM about 4 weeks ago. I went in early one morning to catch up with some faces before doors opened as once the people come in, you're tied to the booth for 8 hours flat. Being him, he wasn't in yet so I left a message and I hoped to see him soon... A couple of hours later he came up to our booth with Howard and we caught up. We talked about our eye sight (I had the same operation he did about a year before he had it so it was a conversation we often had), we talked about Hipsters and Portland (again, just to annoy him as I liked to poke him with a stick when I could) and loads of stuff that I wish I could remember. Later that day I saw Howard at the pedal builders social gathering and we chatted for bit, and that was that, we went our separate ways. Between then and now we chatted a bit, he popped up on a couple of my threads on social networks which ended up with us deciding (about a week ago) that I should go to Portland and go drinking and jamming with him. We thought it would be great fun and lots of laughter would be had. I last spoken to him on Wednesday, the day before he died - I asked him about getting wider HiWatt tones from the RAH and WIIO pedals and if they could be Gilmouresque. Looking back on it, the most disappointing conversation ever considering it was our last.
Mortality is a bitch. I'm 42 now, 5 years older than Nicholas will ever be. I'll never be able to have that drink with him. I've lost a valuable friend with whom I can compare notes about dealers and distributors with (yes, you should all be really scared as we talked openly and honestly about you ALL) and most importantly, someone I can make laugh and who made me laugh. Fortunately, we have have his legacy, his company and the circuits he designed with the team and I, as a simple guitar player, am thankful for that. I spent a long time in PM on FB, in several threads, with some other guys from the industry yesterday, talking about Nicholas and our memories of him. I laughed a few good times as I thought about conversations we'd had about these very same people before. He saw us all, with perfect clarity, I don't doubt there were some incredibly accurate perceptions about me floating around with his name on it someplace.
I have no doubt there will be the usual charity auctions pop up soon to give financial aid to his family in this horrible time. I don't doubt for a moment we will contribute and promote it fully. However, I'm kinda leaning towards this opinion - Just go to their website and buy one of their pedals. Direct from them. HERE. I'm pretty certain he would hate a charity auction in his name, would hate the concept of financial assistance so if you want to help. Go buy a pedal from them direct.
Sleep well my friend, I hope one day our paths will cross again someplace else and we can have that beer. I'll miss you, your quiet confidence, your humour, your wonderfully different to my own brain and your insight into this wonderfully diverse and complex little industry. I'll leave with this picture that sums how I feel for Nicholas, this was taken at NAMM 2016. Here I am displaying all my levels of social awkwardness, and here's Nicholas putting his arm around me for a photo. I liked that about him, most would sense I don't feel that comfortable and retreat from me, I like to think he did it just keep me on my toes. Or because he was just a down to earth nice guy.
UPDATE (11th March 2016, 19:39BST) A gofundme page has been set up to assist the Harris family in these horrible times. If you don't spring for a pedal from them, please give generously here.
A couple of weeks ago someone asked the following question in the Wampler Pedals Tone Group on Facebook… “How long do you guys let your amps warm up in standby? I used to play about 10 mins before switching it over. Now I'm doing it within the first 5 minutes, and no sound comes out for about 20-30 secs is that the sign of an amp issue?”
I sat there and looked at it for a while, and all I could think was "I don't think I've ever been told about the real use of a standby switch, I just turn on, about a minute later flick the standby switch to on, rock out. When I stop playing, I leave the amp on but flick it to standby”. This period can be either a couple of minutes, between sets at a gig or even virtually all day when at home. I always thought “if your amp is on standby, everything is good”. The trouble is the more I thought about this, the more I realised I’d never even read what to do anywhere, I just did it – the same thing I’d been doing for years and years and years. I didn’t know if what I was doing was right, wrong, standard, naïve or anything else. I just saw the standby switch on my current amp (Fender BDri) and used it the same way I’ve always used it on every valve amp I’ve ever had.
Using the glorious medium of social media I put a question out on out my personal FB about standby switches, their use and what would be the best way to deal with them, or even use them. I tagged some extremely (and some not so) reputable amp builders and asked the question “Can someone please tell me WHY we put valve/tube amps on standby”. I wanted to leave it generic, leave it open… Wanted to hear the opinions of the people who work in the business – let’s face it, 5 minutes on Google had given me so much conflicting information that I was about to switch to solidstate as they are obviously much better and less likely to melt your face or burn your house down. So, having done this I went away to do something else and when I came back didn’t expect the response I got, it would seem this is quite the talking point.
The simple answer to this question is there is no simple answer. It would appear that the standby switch is put in place mainly due to customer expectation than anything else! Here are some of the choice comments from some of the guys.
First to respond (within seconds) was Roland Lumby from The Amp Clinic in North West England, Roland is the go to man in the area for the maintaining and upkeep of your vintage and modern amps… He said “You put it in standby to stop it making a noise while the band takes a comfort break. There's no technical requirement! Using standby means you don't have to wait for the valves to warm up.” I must admit, this threw me a little as I was not expecting such a dismissive answer basically stating that the standby switch is just not ever needed. So, I read on…
Next up to offer something was James Hamstead of Hamstead Ampworks. “Better to turn the master down or unplug the guitar. Standby doesn't do the valves any good. The cathode emits electrons, but they have nowhere to go, so they go back down to the cathode. It's called cathode poisoning, and it will change the characteristic of the valves for the worse - noisier, reduce gain etc.” – The theory of cathode poisoning was bought up a couple of times. I must admit, this kind of made sense to me in a “sounds logical but I have zero scientific logic or reasoning to support my thought process” type of way. So, after this I started to think that maybe the standby switch would start to harm my amp rather than protect it?
Then in swoops Mike Fortin. Designer of signature amps of Ola Englund, Scott Ian and Kirk Hammett. So you know, he understands gain structures and valve amps! He just posted this link which to save you trawling through it (you should, it’s great and not that long) had the following line: “Fender essentially misinterpreted the requirements, and everyone else copied Fender. Leo tended not to put anything into the circuit that he felt was unnecessary - but he came from a repair background where a standby switch is a service convenience.” This was supported by Jamie Simpson of Booya Amplifiers. So, obviously – the valves carry a lot of juice when they are in full flow so you’ll want to restrict the flow to a safe level when servicing them, so the standby switch appears to have been put in to protect the health and safety of the people working on the amps rather than any need in normal operation. The article even goes as far as stating that the best way to deal with your standby switch is “Bypass the standby switch internally so that it does nothing.”
After this the answers started to get more specific and silly (it is Facebook after all) yet some interesting points were made. “Unnecessary if your output tubes see 500v or less. If they see 800 like in a musicman (on not half) it might prolong their non microphonic life” (Harald Nowark). “When you turn the first switch on you send 6.3 volts to the heaters... This warms the cathode which is treated or coated with material that promotes the expelling of electrons. By warming up the cathode before hitting the tube with high voltage it protects the coating on the cathode. When you take the amp off standby the big voltage hits the tube. Also, I think you should turn the entire amp off if you take more than a 10 minute break... No use baking your components for no reason when it only takes a minute to warm it back up....” (Phil Bradbury – Little Walter Tube Amps). Questions were asked about unplugging speakers in standby mode “Still wouldn’t do it” (James Hamstead) and so on and so forth. This really jumped out at me “You see all those amps warming up before a concert? They're not on standby... your amp won't start to cook (class A amps excepted) without the HV on, the amp barely gets warm with just the filaments (when biased right, I must add). And... it's not the tubes warming up that does the most for your tone... it's the electrolytic caps... the ESR goes way down as the temperature goes up... so warm your big tube amp up good before you play. Standby is good for soft-start... cathode stripping is not really a problem with indirectly-heated cathodes (like all tubes we use now), so using standby and separating the HV from the filaments just lowers the inrush current, doesn't really prolong cathode life. There have been wars fought over this, google cathode stripping for more. Cathode stripping happens to thoriated (directly heated filament) cathodes, found on large transmitting tubes.” (Stephen Cowell). “The standby switch is for convenience as a way of keeping your amp ready to go between sets or a quick way to mute when making changes to your rig. There have been millions of pieces of tube gear made (tv's, radios, hifi, etc) that never had standby switches and worked just fine. If there is any validity to the "cathode stripping" theory, let me just say I have seen more tubes blown from the instant surge coming off standby than from improper warm up. And yes, an amp does sound better after it is fully warmed, but you don't have to have a standby switch in order to warm it up. All this being said, most Shaw Amps will continue to be produced with standby switches for your convenience.” (Kevin Shaw – Shaw Audio)
In regard to Cathode Stripping, Roland made this excellent point: “During the 40s,50s and 60s, the best sound we heard was from a Juke Box. This machine stood all day, all week, for many years in the corner of the Cafe, waiting for the coin. How did it play right away? That's right, it was in standby. The valves were heated by the main jukebox transformer .. The amp had a mains transformer which was switched off, it fed the rectifier valve which was directly-heated (usually a 5U4) When you put a coin in, the amp transformer was powered up, and HT would appear after 5 seconds or so, quick enough to beat the record onto the player. This meant that the valves were running the heaters continuously. Cathode poisoning was such a problem that they would have to put a new set of valves in the Juke Box every thirty-forty years!”
Trace Davis, head of Voodoo Amplification came in with this marvellous insight, not only into the industry but to tone. “When it comes to manufacturing amps it’s a great deal easier & faster to include a Standby Switch than to deal with daily emails & phone calls from those asking 'Why is there no Standby Switch? My local tech said that's bad for the tubes?' As one can imagine daily emails & phone calls like this consumes a great deal of time so consequently most companies continue to implement Standby Switches as it’s more cost effective” and “To varying degrees this also enters into the topic of tone. Does an amp sound & feel better once the tubes have come up to temperature & the bias has settled in? In my very humble opinion, yes, so once you do engage the Standby Switch into the ready-to-be-played mode it takes a minute or so (depending on the design, how long the power switch has been on, etc) for everything to settle in to where the tone is consistent.”
To support this, Roland came in with “Trace is right about the amp sounding better when hot, particularly when the output valves get older, they don't achieve full emission until the cathode has been heated for around 2 to 5 minutes. This is actually testable, and is not speculation”.
So, you know, I could rip apart all the comments by all the fantastic amp builders and repairers who contributed but instead I will summarise with the following, written in language that we can all understand.
Your standby switch is a hangover from Fender being more interested in the early days of repair and servicing. In terms of normal playing, in a normal amp, your standby switch is pretty useless. It’s just there as we guitarists expect it. Your amp will probably sound better after a few minutes once everything has warmed up and settled down. Cathode Stripping, do you want to risk it? I don’t, so I won’t be leaving my amp on standby when I’m not playing it. I’ll just turn it off (as like most people, my amps sits in that fraction of a millimeter between “Can’t hear it?” and “Ermhagerd!” so turning the volume down isn’t really an option). Please do not turn your amp on at all without the speaker plugged in and please – if you love your amp - give your valves a few minutes (minimum) to cool down before moving your amp after use. And, of course, there are no user serviceable parts inside – leave it to the professionals!
And who said social media is full of cats, politics, beard combs and pictures of people’s lunch?
Artist relations – A tale of two Dave’s.
I can almost guarantee that the FIRST thing people ask when you tell them you work for a company like Wampler Pedals is something like this… “I bet it’s great hanging out with artists all the time.” Many people actually apply to work with us based on the fact they think we spend all day playing guitars and hanging out with Brad Paisley. If only that was true, life would be considerably more interesting than sales meetings, product development discussions and manufacturing scheduling… Having said that, someone does have to work in artist relations and sometimes that aspect of the job IS awesome. You do get tickets for gigs, or invitations to hang out and things like that but the reality is that those days are incredibly rare. Most of the time, if I’m being totally honest, artist relations is usually just disappointing people who want to be part of our artist “family”.
When considering the artist list, we have to be choosy about who we work with. There has to be a reason for the both of us. The artist has to offer us something that no one else does, or have the ability to open the brand to a new audience (a classic example of this is the relationship we have with Tom Quayle. No one was targeting the modern fusion market until we released the Dual Fusion and Tom was the perfect person to do that with). Making the decision about bringing someone in is not as easy as you may think because quite often that person has already bought loads of our pedals and spends a large portion of their life working extremely hard to be successful in the music business. It’s not easy to let down people like that without in some way damaging their view of us.
Anyway, back on topic. After doing this for years I have found that most people really don’t seem to know how to sell themselves to us. They appear to make the same mistakes when approaching us that venues make when approaching them for gigs. Rarely does an offer that involves “you’ll get great exposure” as its unique selling point end well, especially when like gigs, you probably won’t.
I’m going to highlight this issue with two examples. Each are from opposite ends of the spectrum and will give you an indication of how you should approach a company about working with them – how to start the relationship that allows them to actively endorse our product and our company, and be able to use us in their own marketing. For those of you who are hoping for me to provide a sure fire script or check list on how to be accepted you are going to be disappointed, but if you read on, you’ll get the idea of how the decision makers brain works in this situation.
OK, so I bring you “A Tale of Two Dave’s” and everything you read here is true (and yes, it was really hard not to start this piece with “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times).
Dave 1 is Dave Murray. Dave is the only guitar player to have appeared on every Iron Maiden record from the Soundhouse Tapes to the Book of Souls. Take a moment to reflect on that, take a moment to consider the amount of gigs he’s done with Maiden, the world tours, the live albums – and most importantly (considering the subject matter of this post), the potential for albums and tours of the future. Our first contact with Dave came through the “contact us” form on our website from a guy called Johnnie. Johnnie is Iron Maiden’s touring manager and also has the general responsibility for all of the bands gear. That initial contact was extremely polite, brief and requested the opportunity of testing some tones for the forthcoming album, basically it was an exploration about making this happen. Now, as you may or may not know from previous posts on this blog, I’m a long standing fanatical Maiden fan so once I’d taken a moment to get myself together, I emailed him back (acting dead cool) saying “Sure, we can do that”. Johnnie quickly put me in touch with Dave’s longstanding guitar tech Colin to sort out the details.
It turned out that Colin was already a Wampler user having at the time a Hot Wired v2, so when Dave mentioned to him trying out some new tones for the album Colin thought of us. We sent out a Triple Wreck as per the request but we quickly heard back that wasn’t right. Colin and I chatted quite a bit about Dave’s tone and worked out that as Dave generally subscribes to the school of “stuff a Tubescreamer in front of a screaming amp” to get his lead tones, a Clarksdale would be worth testing out. We sent one out, he loved it and subsequently the Clarksdale is all over his lead tones on the new album.
Now, here is the important bit. Throughout this whole experience the bands representatives had zero expectation of free gear and offered to pay for everything at all times. Any unit that wasn’t used was returned to us instantly by first class post. There was absolutely no hint at any time of “yeah but, look at the exposure you will get” or “excuse me, you do know who we are, right?” about it. Just professional people acting professionally. I’m pretty certain you can imagine how much credibility it offers us to have an artist such as Dave Murray “outed” as a Wampler user, but not once was this leverage used by them. For me that was extremely refreshing and put the approach of others into perspective.
Now, because I’m not a horrible person – well, most of the time I’m not - I’m not going to tell you Dave 2’s full name or which band he is from. I can confirm though he really is called Dave (or at least that was what his now deactivated Facebook profile said, but I do have my suspicions) and unlike Mr Murray and his representatives, he had zero professionalism and no sense of how professional relationships work.
He initially contacted me via my personal Facebook profile having adding me as a friend some days before. His message told me that his band has enjoyed minor success with their first album and have managed to work a tour across the U.S.A. in support of the album. He was honest about the size of the venues, about how many people were in them and the likely exposure he was getting. He told me of their plans for the future, future bookings and how the second album was in the works. When written like that, it’s quite an attractive prospect – we actually support more emerging artists than established ones, so he has a fighting chance based on the evidence above. He was obviously an extremely hardworking guy who was determined to make his way in the music industry. On that basis alone, I could almost forgive the “PM through Facebook” thing.
The thing I can’t forgive is when approaching us about working together is the use of this phrase, or something like it (and some of you will have heard this in terms of being paid for gigs… yeah, you guessed it) and I quote directly from Dave 2’s initial contact: “I can give you significant exposure for your brand if you give me the gear and some t-shirts so I can use them on tour and the album, we are really keen to partner up with a reputable brand such as yours and I’ve been told how great you are and how great your gear sounds”.
Hang on a minute, is that a generic cut and paste statement put to many other companies? Is that a generic statement that isn’t even pedal specific? Is that how a professional person approaches a professional company? The pedal industry is actually quite close knit, we all talk to each other and actually have each others backs (there are some personality clashes but I can say with almost 100% certainty that every company talks to all the others in one way or another). I spoke to the guys I was closest to at the time (and the ones who happened to be available on Facebook at the time) and we’d all received the same thing in quick succession. I since found out that he had approached some other boutique guitar luthier’s and amp builders the same way. Well, way to go to make us feel special Dave 2, way to go.
It’s pretty simple to work out that Dave 1 is in a better position than Dave 2 to obtain gear and to work with the people who will represent him well. Companies will want to work with Dave 1 regardless because he’s Dave 1. The thing is though, Dave 1 is acting like Dave 2 should and Dave 2 is acting as if he is Dave 1 (or at least how people would expect someone as 'big' as Dave 1 to act). If you think about it, there is the cornerstone of this issue, the moral of the story - If you want to work with us, or want to have access to our products and create that professional relationship – because even if you are a significant rock star don’t act like one. Be Dave 1. Then buy Dave 1’s last album with Maiden, the Book of Souls and go see them on tour (or try to spot their private 747 being piloted by singer, Bruce Dickinson), his solo tones are nothing short of magnificent!
*please note – as a rule, we don’t send out pedals to be auditioned by artists, but certain situations allow.
It’s that time of year again! NAMM is upon us and we are all gearing up for the trip out to California to show at what is arguably the biggest and best musical instrument trade show in the world!
Descending upon L.A. from Indiana, Virginia and the U.K., the 2016 Wampler team are geared up for a great show and are excited at the prospect of potentially (emphasis intended) showing some prototypes! We are currently in a blind panic rush to get them ready, it’s looking good but we may even be at the position where we are putting them together on the show floor on Wednesday… if this was Facebook we’d make a meme asking for positive vibes/good wishes/prayers etc to help us along! ;)
So, what do we expect from NAMM this year? Well, for a start MUCH nicer surroundings than the last 3 years. Let’s put it this way, last year we were directly opposite a cymbal manufacturer, the year before within the main drum section and the year before that we were directly opposite a Korean metronome manufacturer, who had about 80 on display, all going, all the time, completely out of synch with each other. I remember looking at Travis at one point and the look in his eyes were telling me he was plotting the same ill fates for those things as I was! This year we are in B5267 which is right in the middle of the guitar sections, we back onto companies like Friedman and Morgan, we are opposite Martin, round the corner from Seymour Duncan and within reach of Marshall, Randall and some of the other serious manufacturers! I must admit, when I saw the show map I was delighted to be no where near the drum section!
The run down of gear this year is as follows, Max has spent a couple of days wiring up the show board with the following… to ensure we have enough clean power with masses of headroom we’re utilizing 3 Voodoo Labs Pedal Power 2 Plus supplies, that way we can be certain that all of our digital and analogue based pedals receive enough power to make sure they perform to Brian’s exacting standards. We are of course having a complete board with the potential of 3 new prototypes… As I mentioned above, these are going to be on the line in terms of time to get them ready so fingers crossed!
The boards, as usual, are from the brain of Bob Hebert who makes all of our cabs and boards. The board will be fed into the front end of our trusty Port City 50w Pearl into a stock 2x12” Port City non ported. Both of these are kept in solid Bruton Road Cases. We’ll of course be having a couple of tiered show boards (just so people can rock up and have a good look at the pedals) there as well - all instrument cables are our branded ones, because they just sound ace. Patch cables was interesting, we started off with an extremely well known brand of cable, but they sounded so bad we ditched them instantly. So, we went with some pretty generic low cost ones because they don’t suck too much tone, but enough for us to show what out buffer does so well… We thought that we should get some cables that people are likely to use themselves that way they can hear exactly what difference it will make.
We hope to have a fair selection of guitars at NAMM for testing, at this stage I can only guarantee Brian is bringing his Whitfill Telecaster and the HSS Strat made famous in the Dual Fusion video when he broke it… Helping us demo on the booth this year are ace players Greg Marro and Tommy Baldwin. Notes will be plucked and a couple of faces will be melted, in the best possible way. It is NAMM after all...
So, that’s our run down of pre NAMM stuff… between Brian, Max, Alex and myself we’ll be jamming our social network channels with all manner of stuff from the show floor, and uploading many photos when we get back to the hotel… Make sure you are subscribed to our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter channels... Also, this would be the prefect time to download Periscope and have that ready, you never know what or who you might see on it!
We will be filming the last ever Chasing Tone Podcast from NAMM, would be great if you'd all check it out when it's released! See you on the other side tone chasers!
There are going to be a lot of pieces written today and most of them will come with more personal insight, fandom or knowledge than I can ever bring, but I wanted to give an insight to the level of his impact to our world from a non-fan, from someone who never really understood the vast majority of his work... I know, shame on me. I hope you find it as confusing as I do that I feel the need to write down how I feel and the need to grieve and mourn the loss of this incredible artist.
David Bowie was a simply that, and incredible artist. An artist who lived at a level that is rare in humanity. He wasn't just a singer; he was a songwriter, a producer, a dancer, an actor... He was theatre in the best possible way. He was nothing more than an artist. Every performance he made, every piece he wrote, was just delivered on his own terms and for no other reason than to have that art freed from a mere mortal constraint.
The world needs more people live David Bowie.
I'm 42, I wasn't aware of the whole 70's thing at the time, I visited it in the 80's and 90's and I remember being amazed at the level of sheer genius that was so freely available to us within a mere record. I didn't understand it, but I could see it, I saw it in the dedication of some of my friends who totally understood it on a deeply personal level (in a way today I am mourning for their loss as I can feel it coming from them even through social media), I can't think of many people who provide that level of love and dedication from strangers whilst deliberately changing himself at every opportunity, almost daring those people to leave him behind and then follow him again. When I think of him, I think of the Goblin King, dancing with Mick Jagger in the headlights, singing Under Pressure with Annie Lennox, looking at me from countless record covers, videos, posters and making me feel like I was falling into something I didn't understand.
The world needs more people like David Bowie.
Any person who can inspire so much love and emotion from sharing their art is a genius, and I hope that if you should read this one day, you'll join me in wishing this giant of a man safe travels into the next stage of his incredible being. The journey into our memories. As an imprint of art into humanity that I hope lives in our consciousness as long as any other legend. Whether that be Rhembrandt, Mozart, Chaplin or Sinatra, we should feel lucky that he chose to share it with us, allowing us to rejoice in his freedom of expression of love and life.
The world needs more people like David Bowie.
Today the colour has been turned down, it's all looking slightly more monotone out there today. Although I fully expect someone far more qualified to share his music than I will be horrified by my choice of song, I simply have to chose this one. Originally just a song under construction, destined to be an album filler it was at best going absolutely nowhere. There to sing backing on another song, Bowie wrote with them to gave it direction and took it to a place that touches me deeply every time I hear it. My favourite collaboration between two independently enormous artists, it's just art.
The world needs more people like David Bowie... Our only solace is that I believe the world to be almost 5 billion years old and has another 5 billion or so to go and we were here the same time he was.
As 2015 disappears into the distant memory of broken strings and replaced tubes, I've decided that my final post of the year should be a tongue in cheek look at how to use the internet, and mainly social media, in 2016. As always, this is just me talking nonsense and doesn't represent the feelings of Wampler Pedals etc ;)
- A friend buys a new toy (guitar, amp, pickups, pedals, house, car, planet, underwear, tevz): Instantly post in the thread about how "XYZ" is better because you own it (as you probably don't like them getting new stuff and you, obviously, are the world expert on this item and other associated with it);
- Someone posts a clip of their playing or whatever they are working on musically at that time. It's your duty to undermine it and point out what they do wrong. After all, they aren't that good anyway because they couldn't play that tapping bit you could at the age you first played it at!;
- You must take 5 selfies a day and post so we can share in your constant need to see your own face (let's face it - when man first went to the moon in 1969 they took 5 pictures which is approximately 1/100th of the amount taken in the restroom mirror of by virtually every girl in every nightclub in every country on every night);
- You once met *insert famous person here* and had your photo taken with them. Make sure you use this as your profile pic whilst calling them "your good friend" at all times (guilty as charged on this one ;) );
- You microwave a meal: Sprinkle a tasteless herb over the top, put it on your best plate on a nice wooden table and then Instagram it. You must then share the post on FB making out you are Gordon freaking Ramsey;
- You have a "fan page" on Facebook: Repeatedly invite all your friend list into submission (so they eventually like it just to shut you up) and then you make a gushing post about how humble you are that people have liked your work; After all, you're just a humble musician and it's amazing how many people "get" you musically;
- There is slight adverse weather forecast/upon you: Educate the world on the situation as you obviously have a degree in Meteorology and after all, you've been outside and got jolly wet and there is no knowledge like the knowledge gained from having boots on the ground;
- You are bored and lonely: Post pictures of cats, or maybe "comedy" memes involving cats, all the time;
- Attention seeking posts. You must, infrequently, post things like "WTF...." or "I've had enough!" as your Facebook status. This way, all your lovely friends can fill up the thread with "s'up hun", "txt me babez", "u OKz?" or other various deviations from the language that only apply to attention seeking Facebook status updates that will make you feel better, or self important, or something I don't quite understand;
- You are lucky enough to see a popular TV first compared to the rest of the world. You openly talk about the most important part of the plot and don't give a crap how much it ruins the enjoyment for others, because you've seen it, so who cares!;
- The R.I.P. race. You must be the first person to post R.I.P. about someone who has just died, that way you be the person to tell everyone the news. You then have approximately 1 hour to research that person on the internet so you can give the impression of being a lifelong fan of them and regail all your favourite memories of them on other peoples threads;
- You are the member of a gym: Tell everyone all the time you are going and post repeated pictures of your weight/loss gain to improve your self esteem safe in the knowledge you are probably intimidating others at the same time. Total win/win. But please, don't forget, there is nothing better than posting pictures of your veiny arms with the word GAINZ written under it;
- Remember, you own You Tube so have the right to destroy anyone who posts on it. And yes, writing "First" is still hilarious and makes you immensely important and a valuable part of humanity;
- Speed is everything. You must upload a video 'proving' to the world you can play at 3200bpm. Speed is all that matters despite every other guitar player on the planet knowing that playing at this speed is both impossible and the concept is utterly nonsense. Speed is great, at the right time, speed competitions are... well.... I better move on before I say something I shouldn't;
- You are the world expert on politics or theology. Your view is the only one that counts so you must make sure you tell everyone you can what is right and wrong and should they have a differing opinion, they are wrong and you must destroy them intellectually; and
- You spot a spelling mistake in someone's post: Mark their work like some FB teacher and delight in pointing out their errors. After all, you are the Oxford English freaking Dictionary and invented the language in the first place.
DISCLAIMER: *of course, my constant mocking of people and winding them up on FB is excluded from all of the above.
Happy New Year tone chasers I hope that 2016 lives up to expectation, may it be full of great tone, love, light and laughter. Remember, you are beautiful, talented and most importantly you are wonderfully unique. Take what you have been born with and make the most of it. Work hard and play harder.
Tomorrow is the first blank page of a brand new 365 page book, make it your best story yet.
Most importantly, if you love someone, tell them - there is no feeling better than being loved. :)
(apologies for sounding like Jerry Springer at the end there)
2015, The End. I'm off to get drunk, see you in 2016... :)
A couple of months ago I asked the question to many people in our industry what does the word boutique mean to them and how does it relate to their company/business and the industry we work in…
The reason I did this is because I have an issue with the word - as long as I've worked for Wampler (over 5 years) I've never really understood it as I've never been able to relate to it properly. When I first met Brian he was describing the company to me and he kept using the phrase 'a lot of people would class us as boutique'. I’m not sure he related to it either thinking about it, so, I looked in to this ‘concept’ and discovered that it appeared to be everything Wampler Pedals shouldn’t be - so it's safe to say everything I've done in this time has to move us away from that label, usually against Brian's wishes I’d say, but sometimes you have to take a step out of the marketing hype and take a reality check.
What many people don't understand about Wampler Pedals is that Brian's absolutely loves marketing – I’d say it’s his passion, as much as he loves to breadboard and get new releases out there, the most excited I've seen him get is over a marketing direction or a plan that has worked out how we wanted it to. This is why when the rest of our peers were hiring builders in 2010, he was hiring me to take ownership of the internet marketing and social networking. Is boutique about marketing? Is it just a marketing phrase? Anyway, as usual, I digress...
So, what is boutique? Let’s look at what it was in 2010. Boutique then meant a small company, handmade by a guy in his basement making unique designs (tubescreamer variants usually ;) ) and presenting them in a fancy painted box. So, from what I could see – that was not Wampler Pedals! We had maybe 1 pedal that could be associated with a TS, our boxes looked awful and we were being built in a factory. But, everyone called us boutique… I think the label came from us because of the price point, the level of care that Brian insisted on with each stage of the process and after sales service. After bringing them to them to life on the breadboard he then worked extremely close with Justin in the PCB layout to ensure the signal path remained as pure as possible (this is why our pedals are usually so quiet in terms of floor noise compared to others), the parts used are to his spec (and not to price, for example – 2/3 of the PT2239 delay chips were binned upon first inspection because they weren’t good enough and at least 60% of the jfets were also thrown out), the 7 part quality control process during manufacturing include a play test for each pedal... so, from that respect I can understand it why people called us that, there is a huge element of care and love put into each one.
Let’s fast forward to 2015. What is boutique now? Well, those of you connected to me on social media will know how much I like to poke Hipsters with a stick – need to get this out the way, I don’t mean any of it, some of my favourite people are hipsters, one of the hippest people I know taught my kids for years and I love the man dearly, but you know – sometimes they ask for it! A classic example of what boutique means these days can be found in here. Really fancy packaging, unashamed beard growing (I do hope that ‘tache comb is organic and made in Portland sir) and moody photographs (I’m trying really hard not to insert a barrage of jokes here) and what can only be classed as a mediocre product. It would appear that boutique has flipped on it’s most fundamental principle. A quality hand built product.
Let’s look at Wampler Pedals now. We are much much bigger than you probably expect, because we’ve somehow managed to retain the ‘boutique’ image. I think also we have retained it because of our communication channels, we run a massively successful group on Facebook dedicated to Tone Chasers – it’s the only group I know that isn’t just full of idiots arguing about who the best is and what flavor picks they like etc., it’s just people talking about gear. We are actively open on other social network feeds as well. Myself and my good friend Alex Clay do all the social media and we try to demonstrate a sense of humour in what we do, we’ve both been playing for ever so we understand the customers well so I think they relate to us so the posts we make strike home in one way or another. The legend that is Max Jeffery (one of the unintentionally funniest people on the planet) and Brian do the Chasing Tone podcast every week, Brian personally does a lot of stuff on the Periscope app… so we are approachable, does that make us more boutique that others (although, I must admit to noticing that many other companies now have Podcasts going as well these days)? It probably does.
Looking around at our peers, our friends in our industry I find it hard to see any of them being 2015 boutique. Look at Robert Keeley. He made a video for me when I asked the question originally (also check out Pt 2) to show what he thinks about the whole boutique thing. And, being Rob, he also cross referenced the literal meaning of the word boutique from the dictionary! If you look at Rob’s set up, it’s all in-house. From the moment he decides on the pedal to the when it get’s sent to a customer/dealer – it never leaves the building. Everything is done in house, right there under his watchful eye. Then look at Josh Scott from JHS (he despises the label boutique as for him the whole hipster substandard product and customer service infuriates him), every part of his product is cool and is intentionally made that way. Nick from CatalinBread, he and Howard lock themselves away and make products that they think are cool and they think their customers would dig, it’s almost an artform to them – they paint their tones with a fine brush and hope people hear them properly. Philippe from Caroline Guitar Company – the coolest and most intelligent guy I have ever met, a lot of thought goes into the entire design process, a sense of humour and personality is present in everything he does... is that boutique?
My thought process in 2015, going into 2016 is this – boutique companies are dead, but the boutique industry is alive. I"m pretty sure that of all the companies that work at their product full time are not boutique, but, the collective of companies are. We, and they, are determined to bring you the best toys we can, the best tones we can, but in the way we do it. We aren’t truly handmade any more, they aren’t either – most companies employ SMT to populate their boards, most companies effectively mass produce their products (to order), most of the companies are dedicated to provide excellent customer service, most of the owners/builders/marketers are friends who regularly chat, compare notes, help each other and support each other in times of need. I guess you could say we are boutique family, from the small to the large. And yes, I do include companies like Strymon and TC Electronic in that…
What about you, what does boutique mean to you as a customer? What makes a company boutique? Are we, Wampler Pedals, boutique on our own as a brand or are we part of the wider boutique as the collective?
Most of you guys out there who have like me played one too many wedding gigs for all the right reasons (basically, money) you'll appreciate this. I often used to play the game of inserting lines/licks/chops in to the most inapprorioate places, actually I've done this in every band I've been in. Satriani into Pink Floyd songs, Vai into Sting, Iron Maiden into Steve Earle and even managed to get a hook from Dimebag into a major blues jam last year. It's never boring when you get bored!
I've never quite taken it this far though, I've never tried to insert basically the entire song into something with differing rhythms. I'm quite in awe of putting Metallica into a Bossanova number...