Greta Van Fleet are actually pretty good

If you’ve been in the trenches of the guitar community on Facebook, Instagram, TGP, Reddit, etc. then you’ll know Greta Van Fleet has become a bit of a hot topic lately. These are 4 guys between 19 - 22 years old from a small town in Michigan and blasted on to the scene playing some old school, riff-driven rock and roll. The more I got into their playing and reading up on them, the more I noticed a massive contention in the music community towards them. Immediate comparisons were drawn between them and Led Zeppelin, often in a disgusted manner. I saw many comments regarding how they were a knock-off of Zep, copycats, unoriginal, etc. Interestingly enough though, there were just as many people praising the band for bringing “real rock and roll” back to the masses. But who’s right?

I need to be upfront and say something that’s going to be controversial but worth exploring: I really dig what Greta Van Fleet is doing, and at the same time I’m not a huge fan of Led Zeppelin. If you close the browser right there then I understand, but at least hear me out. I’ve had some things going on in my life recently that have opened my eyes a bit, and it’s made me take a step back from the depths of the gear and music communities to look at the bigger picture and the fundamentals. I’m 32, and I grew up with a father that loved classic rock, but he leaned towards the Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Clapton, and AC/DC. Mom was into a lot of Motown stuff and my brother was into country music (he’s a HUGE Alan Jackson fan, same with Brooks and Dunn). During my pivotal years, I was hit with all sorts of music and came to appreciate all music because of it. I completely dig some of Led Zeppelin’s hits, and felt it was a necessity to learn some of them as a rite of passage as a guitarist. In general, however, aside from those few classics I wouldn’t say I’m a “fan.”

For me personally, it comes down to timing. I’ll admit that I was quite stuck in my ways when I was a teenager and viewed loads of artists purely in two categories of like or don’t like, and typically made my mind up VERY quickly before giving many songs a chance. I supposed with age comes experience and wisdom, and I’ve come to appreciate even an abundance of new music that I honestly didn’t give a chance to back in the day. With GVF, I discovered their music at what I consider a pivotal time where guitar-focused music is becoming less and less popular. I needed something or someone to reignite my passion for the instrument, and the rawness really hit home for me as a player. As of late I’ve either been plugging straight into the amp or going with the minimalist approach with an OD (95% of the time it’s the Pantheon now), a boost of some sort, and a delay. It’s really helped me refocus on what I love about the instrument without covering it up under layers of noise and effects. I guess you could say I identify with Jake Kiszka right now, as he’s just plugging into a single treble booster and a couple of Holy Grail reverb pedals straight into a cranked Marshall. It’s just a few brothers jamming, and absolutely loving it. Wouldn’t we all love to be able to get up there and do what we love if people dug it?

My favorite thing I’ve ready recently on a YouTube video (and I’m paraphrasing) is “Who cares if they sound like Led Zeppelin, Zep doesn’t make music anymore. At least these guys are putting out new rock and roll music. Bring on a (Pink) Floyd type band!” GVF is catching a ton of heat for people saying they’re derivative and completely unoriginal.  Why can’t people just accept things for what they are? They’re not meant to be a ground-breaking band, they’re playing classic rock at sold-out shows. If you watch some of their concerts on YouTube, there are just as many older people as there are younger. People are there for some good, old-fashioned rock and roll, and what’s so wrong with that? There are plenty of sonic pioneers that are creating some incredible and truly unique sounds that will inspire others to pick up their instruments. At the same time, I imagine (and hope) that maybe the guys from Greta Van Fleet will inspire new players to pick up the instruments and fall in love with the music like we started to with Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, The Who, and all of those other incredible bands. After all, the saying is that “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

Do we need the next guitar hero? No - we need the next guitar anti hero

I got name-dropped on the podcast this week (#239), it all stemmed from a conversation that Brian, Alex and I were having over the weekend about the future of rock music. Then subsequently, the future of the guitar, and the guitar heroes of our youth. As Brian said, I was naming Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, but unfortunately, my opinion was not expanded upon in the conversation properly, so I’m going to explain on here where I was coming from.

During my life I have seen 4 guitar related musical explosions that have directly affected the sales of guitars and guitar gear in general. Or course, I can only speak from my own observations, it’s probably different from your ‘angle’, whatever that may be!

The first one I remember was the late 1970’s (and I only really have a visual memory of this as I was young). We used to live in Greater London and one of the last memories I have of that area before we moved to Devon was seeing a full-on London Punk. Full Mohican haircut (is that moniker for a hairstyle appropriate these days? If it isn’t, I apologise for my ignorance) on top of the full Vivien Westwood style of clothing. At the time it scared me as I was only about 5, but, looking back at it now, I fully understand what was happening.

Punk came around due to the frustration of the music, the politics, modern culture and just about everything else. People needed an outlet, and that boiled up to the point of explosion and the extremes of these people became very famous. For us, it was the Sex Pistols who spearheaded this charge and at the time people thought “What the hell is that?”…

If you watch interviews with members of the movement discussing the musical aspect of this, it was frustration with music popular at the time and they need to push back against it. Just listen to John Lydon talk about the Eagles and you’ll understand where I am coming from. Subsequently (and most importantly, relevant this piece), legions of people picked up the guitar and joined in. This music was never on the radio, in fact, the major broadcasters of the day refused point blank to play any of the punk stuff. That is until it became SO big they couldn’t avoid it, even then it was only the parts that were the most commercialised, maybe one or two songs.

Fast forward a few years to the mid ’80s. Now, from the blues came rock and from punk came the attitudes of thrash. These attitudes were existing quite happily until that mad moment when the kids of the day first heard players like Satriani, Vai, Gilbert, Malmsteen and so on. Everyone who had been enjoying riffing out suddenly heard all the virtuoso music and thought “What the hell is that?”. This was, if I am being honest, the time when I looked at the guitar in a different light. I was already fully embedded in rock music, in particular NWOBHM, and loving all the widdlywiddlywiddly stuff, but those guys are responsible for more hours of me woodshedding than any other. With this, guitar sales shifted away from the Strat’s, Tele’s and Les Pauls and the pointy headstock era was born. Over here, that music was never on the radio.

The next one is a weird one, as for me it was a two-part instance that happened 4 years apart, but it came from the same attitude. Firstly, in 1988 Guns ‘N’ Roses exploded here, they were anti virtuoso and relied on that Les Paul into a Marshall tone… unlike the other bands they benefited from being played on the radio, well, ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ was. Here they weren’t really regarded as a rock band per se, because the first song they became known for opened with the lines “She's got a smile it seems to me, reminds me of childhood memories, where everything was as fresh as the bright blue sky”.  That didn’t really sit with those of us that were used to headbanging along to “Ace Of Spades”. They were considered to be pop rock which explains why the ‘Use Your Illusions’ albums outsold ‘Appetite for Destruction’ at the time (although now, the first album flattens those completely) – I remember hearing ‘Welcome To The Jungle” for the first time and thinking “What the hell is that?” Sales of guitars peeked again and Marshall got to join in the party, although stopping making the 800 series in favour of the 900’s might not have been the best move ever as something was missing from those amps.

The second part of this joint explosion, and the one I think was the most important in my lifetime, was in 1992 when Nirvana fully exploded. Which, like G’n’R, happened because of one song on the radio… Nirvana gave the impression (to me at least) to be coming from the same direction as punk did. As a direct response to the music of the day, the virtuoso players seemed to have forgotten about the riffs and the songs, the over production. The reason this one sticks in my mind so much is because I was working in a guitar shop when this happened. Over the space of a couple of months my customers went from “Dad Rock” types or “Big Hair Shredders” to young moody kids who wanted to strum the hell out of their guitars, stare at their feet, and think the entire world was against them. Because, well, they thought it was. Strat’s, Tele’s, Jag’s, Mustang’s and interesting guitar sales went off the charts… the Les Paul’s died on their arse, we could shift a few Epiphones, but Gibson’s… nope. For years I had confused looking parents talking to me while their kids glared at me through their hair and grunted in response when I tried to talk to them. However, when they got a guitar in their hands their faces lit up. All I could see in the faces of the parents was “What the hell is that?”

After that everything kind of flatlined again, until the radio picked up on Oasis and Blur. I’m not going to say much, but, (as someone working in a guitar store at that time) if I ever hear a kid play Wonderwall again I’m going to scream. So, net result, guitar sales spiked for a few years. I can directly relate this movement to when the 60’s guitar music thing happened, the fact that most Oasis songs appear to have a riff directly borrowed from that era further proves my point. Bizarrely, this appeared to bring up the sales of acoustic guitars more than electrics, but the raise happened across the board. There was no “What the hell is that?” moment though, unless you happened to see Liam Gallagher be interviewed without an interpreter.

So, where does this leave us now? The thing I find most interesting about it is that half of these movements happened without the support of radio in any way. One (albeit two bands) came from just one song being on the radio and the other was pure pop music, so radio play was inevitable. Punk was NEVER on the radio. 80’s rock (whether it be NWOBHM or the more extreme elements of it towards the end of the decade) was never on the radio… Actually, that’s not entirely true, “Soft Metal” or whatever it was called, often was. it was usually some disgusting “oh baby I love you” style song with heavy guitars in the chorus and a nice wailing solo, but the rest wasn’t.

All this leads me to the discussion Alex, Brian and I were having over the weekend which prompted the podcast and which has now prompted this piece. I was saying that “we need the next Nirvana to hit” (and I say this as someone who isn’t really a big fan of them) but did they ever promote sales in guitars to the ‘kidz’. Brian’s main argument is that “People don’t listen to the radio anymore, so there will never been another big guitar group”… However (over here at least) that never stopped the punks of the 70’s and the rockers of the ’80s. In fact, it was what made them. Being overlooked was what defined them. 

What’s next? Who will be the next supergroup to explode sales of guitar gear? If you look at the way most of those bands came about, the ones that caused guitar sale peaks in my lifetime, it was because they were standing against something. Now, that may be a political stance but, at the core, mostly it was about the music. Right now, popular music (in my humble opinion) has never been so crap (yeah I know, I sound like my Father). Well, maybe the mid 90’s pure lollipop pop scene, but the jury is still out on that, time will tell.

Politics right now is at the most divisive I can ever remember it being, music is consumable. The music industry is churning out gallons of forgettable sewage and vacuous crap that does nothing more constructive than make the likes of Simon Cowell even more disgustingly rich than they already are. Instant fame is touted as the only answer, fame is handed to the lucky few, young impressionable kids on a plate on televised talent shows and most of them are instantly forgettable – and then forgotten. How many kids watch these talent show with a dream, not understanding the odds of even getting an audition for them? The internet affords us access to endless hours of new and great music, giving artists the impression that they have the chance to be bigger than The Beatles… but can they ever be? Of course they can’t. No one ever can be. But can a band come along that stands up against the drivel? Stands up against the politics? Stands up against the system and the ‘machine’ that runs everything?

It’s time we had another Nirvana, another Sex Pistols. It’s time for another band that can rise up and smash everything to pieces. Like Punk, 80’s rock and grunge, this explosion will NEVER happen on the radio. The radio is as much about music these days as MTV is. This explosion will happen from the internet. From an independent source as that is always where the life-changing music comes from. There are endless great bands out there at the moment, my daughter spends most of her free time these days working out “Panic! At The Disco” riffs on my guitars so the hope is there, but it’s not fully realised yet. What band is going to come along and speak to her fully like the Pistols and Nirvana did to people of her age at that time? I have no idea, but the world is begging for it.

We don’t need another guitar hero at all; the age of the guitar hero is dead. We need another Steve Jones. We need another Kurt Cobain. These were the anti-heroes that exploded guitar sales. We need someone to put a finger up to the industry and make a stand against it. The guitar itself is not dead (as Blake points out on the podcast, everyone is looking at Guitar Center and saying “Man, the guitar is dying” as their sales are going down) but are those people looking at the underground independent manufacturers that are thriving? No, they are not, because the media is only interested in reporting the companies that have shareholders to keep happy....

The one thing that is obvious to me is that what is actually dying, albeit slowly right now, is the corporation strong hold on the MI industry and music in general. The underground is rising, the next Sex Pistols or Nirvana are posed to maximise on the ambivalence of the general public and I hope that they will shake it to the core.

We need another “What the hell is that?” moment. We need another guitar anti-hero.

 

Black Friday - is it all insane? YEP!

Yes, you love it, we love it, EVERYONE loves it. So much so, last year the amount of money the great British public parted with was up +11.7% to £1.39B (thank you America, we are now adopting your retail trends) according to data from IMRG. And this was online sales only. In the US, the period known as Black Friday (including CyberMonday) was $19.6B. Approximately 58 million people chose to do their shopping online only, versus roughly 51 million at physical stores only (a drop of 1.6% from 2016 in physical stores) (practicalcommerce.com). 2018 is projected that the average adult is expected to drop $483.18 each (finder.com). Yeah, I could bore you stupid with stats here, but I won’t.

What does this mean, well – you know, it’s a time of year that we at Wampler spend a lot of time planning to making sure our big hitters are released on the run-up to this period – the eagle-eyed amongst you would have heard Brian say in numerous NAMM videos last January that we didn’t really have anything new to show this year as everyone shows the new stuff, so it all gets lost in the mix, and also if you show it in January there isn’t a big retail opportunity to drop them for about 10 months. Doesn’t make sense really. Does that mean we won’t be showing anything this January? Well, you’ll have to wait and see, but from what I can see from here we may show a proto of something quite extraordinary, but then again we might not. Who knows? Well, we do, but we aren’t in a position to speak about that yet!

Looking around the market place this week has been fascinating… I’ve seen lots of companies like us who are giving a flat 15% off everything, to reward the people who buy from us all year round… then there are the stores. A lot of them are just banging stuff out at a discount, and it’s awesome, but some stuff has been NOS that is cheap, which is even more awesome, but a lot of it is the just dead stock that needs to go. So far today I’ve been tempted by a guitar I don’t need and won’t ever play, an amp that is COMPLETELY unsuitable for my house and gigs and about 8 plugins for Logic and FCPX that I simply don’t understand. And my inbox… I’m on the verge of turning it all off… PLEASE stop emailing me, or I might just unsubscribe from you, I don’t mind receiving your news once a week, but one company has sent me 6 emails in the last 48 hours. I might get something from one of their competitors just to air my displeasure at their overbearingness… is that a word? Did I just make that up?

Black Friday is insane. I love it. Please, before you go anywhere else today and this weekend, make sure you pick up the brand new Fuzztration from our site, or a Pantheon… or one of our older models, direct from the factory, at 15% off. That’s 15% you can put to your next piece of gear... and buy them right here

 

 

 

Designing pedals - From frustration to Fuzztration

You may have noticed we released details of our new pedal recently – a fuzz/octave called “Fuzztration”. Instead of waffling on about the origins of it, the circuit, and the tones within; I’m going to talk about the name, the look and the marketing angle of the Fuzztration as this is quite a departure for us, we are breaking our mould somewhat with it – and to be honest, it was a long and painful journey to get to this point.

This is a pedal that has been in discussion for a while and the earliest reference I have of it in my “Wampler: Pedals – Logos” folder is from July 2017. Brian had been talking about it for probably a year or so before that… so, when we say we throw stuff around for literally years before a release, this is a case in point!

In order to tell the story properly, I have to give away a little of the process. When Brian has decided on a circuit, and what controls it is going to have, he cracks on and breadboards it. Once that is done and he is happy with it the tones/response etc, he forwards all the relevant information to our chief engineer Jake Steffes to ensure his vision of tone will work in the confines a pedal. I can clearly remember Brian telling me about it and describing it as “it’s a versatile fuzz, rea thick and the octave can kinda sound like the solo tone from KWS ‘Blue on Black’ tone, as well as all the regular stuff”. With that in mind, the original concept of the pedal was to be called “Blue on Black”.

As soon as the pedal has been allocated its place in the release schedule; Brian, Alex and I started on the long a tortuous process of naming the thing. Avi, head of production and distribution, had a stock of matte black powder so it was decided really quickly that it would be that colour, because ‘cool’. 

Jake forwarded me the controls and it was clear it was going to be “deluxe” sized so I did what I always do, take a look at the market and see what’s cool and what isn’t. One of my favourite dirt pedal concepts is Jamie’s exquisite Acapulco Gold with the massive ‘gain’ knob. So, I decided early on a large knob controlling the clipping would look great. Other than that, it was pretty straightforward. 2 stomps, 4 other knobs, 2 switches, power and in/out jacks. I quickly spoke with Jake about putting a big knob for the clipping, and he said it would be cool, so… I wanted it on the top right with the other controls on a nice shallow W formation to the left. The first thing I had to do was to find a larger knob that would still look like a Wampler and fortunately for me, Alex told me that the knobs on the Bravado were the same as our pedal ones, just bigger. So I made him measure one... With these measurements confirmed, Jake laid it out and we quickly had the basic layout in the bag. Jake nailed this process and I tip my hat in his general direction. I try to change things around a little now and then so I requested a blue and green LED because I’m kinda bored of red and blue and I knew that this was coming on the Paisley Deluxe (that was still months out from being released) and we’ve used it many times before. This is always a gamble, as we didn’t know what the rest of the pedal is going to look like yet.

Once Jake has laid it out, he sends me the ‘drill pattern’ and I can transfer it to the templates I have in photoshop and start to work out the look/name. These are pictures from Aug 9th 2017, three concepts for the Wampler “Blue On Black” – Only one was ever printed, and it looked… well… crap.




From here, must have been April ’18 (it was decided a long time ago it would be released some time forward so it went on the back burner) I was distracted and inspired by a piece of music by my favourite composer, Camille Saint-Saëns - Danse Macabre. I simply LOVE this piece of music, it’s dark and deliciously spooky which I thought would be amazing for a fuzz pedal. I went as far as a couple of mock ups for it, but unfortunately, it just didn’t work. I would have loved to have the first demo recorded to be that piece of music on a Fuzz/Octave though… I might do it one day, just for the lololz.



The name was abandoned. From there, I thought of Valkyrie, for two reasons. Lisa and I had just watched “Vikings” on Amazon and I’m a long-time player of the game Clash of Clans which has Valks in it. I actually really liked this, as it was dark and nasty, aggressive and cool. Two concepts were quickly done, and the one I liked (on the right) was drawn by an extremely talented artist from Seattle called Stacy LeFevre – we couldn’t agree on terms so the concept, name and design, were put to rest.

So, we are back to the drawing board once again. At this point, myself, Brian, Alex and my partner in designcrime – Richard Oliver were going quite insane. Frustration levels were reached and breached and there would be literally weeks between conversations. Names did go back and forward, but we were so annoyed with it we distracted ourselves with other releases that were more pressing. I love working with Richard as he understands me (bonus) and has become a great friend during this time. In fact, it was Richard who nailed the artwork for the Pantheon (which was named by Matt Kimes). After the Valkyrie idea had been shelved, Richard came up with a ‘big list o’ fuzz names’ – some great, some silly…. Even at one point suggesting “Chewbacca; and have the octave switch called ‘Laugh it up Fuzz Ball’, it’ll be funny if not really really litigious and not in a good kind of way.” 

Another name came forward at this point, I think from our good friend Frank Falbo, and we still like it even though it’s been decided not to be used for this pedal. So, I’m not going to talk about it here! I have it in mind for a couple of pedals down the line… time will tell.

At this point we were extremely frustrated with it. We’d all had enough. No one dared mention it for a while, apart from Brian who would remind us it needed to be done. We are now in about July or so. Texts were coming and going because it was getting to the point where we couldn’t avoid this any longer…

Whilst on holiday in Tenerife, Richard got a text from Brian saying we are still struggling for the name for the fuzz, and everyone felt their creative well for this name had run a bit dry… so, he followed Marketing 101 and asked the nearest young person for help. This happened to be his daughter, Leila, who was 15 at the time and we’ve been told has impeccable musical taste (despite hating on Pink Floyd and Iron Maiden which in my book is a travesty and I blame that squarely on the parents). She came up with a couple that were funny, then randomly said “Fuzztration”. He initially dismissed it but then thought - wait - that's EXACTLY the feeling we get from naming this pedal… That day, I received this in messenger from Richard:

I instantly copied and pasted his message and text it to Brian and Alex and we all thought that it was a killer name. The next hurdle was the graphic and the logo. Richard asked what I thought and said something along the lines of “Some kind of artsy vision of someone who’s screaming, or got their head in their hands or something, I just need to find the thing that triggers it in my head”. I really wanted a screaming face because Edvard Munch is a genius and that’s one of the most symbolic pictures of all time, also it perfectly fitted the process of getting here. And then there’s Pink Floyd… The Wall. The symbolism of both are iconic.

Here is the process Richard and I went through – I resisted the scream originally, as we were at the time keeping our designs simpler.

So, images 1-4 are me getting annoyed and it not working, 5 is me working towards the font to use with the new name, 6 is Richard’s concept for the screaming man I had previously mentioned (that was a strong contender) and then through my thought process of the face and the colour scheme. I wanted to put a heart beat on it as the more frustrated I got, the more my heart started to pound… The face is a mixture of my face from this picture (taken August 29) and one from a free site on the internet mashed up and put together with elements of both - you’ll have to work out which bits are me and which bits aren’t.

Here are the print tests. As you can see, the eyes didn’t work, nor did Richard’s face, but my screamer did. Once we had decided on the knob colour, on we went...



As this pedal is hot on the heels of one of our most successful releases ever, I knew that we had to go big on the teasing. So, if you scroll back through our social media for the last month or so, you will see that fuzzes are mentioned a lot more. Brian starts to talk about fuzzes on the podcast, he even mentioned this one a few times. I started to tease the graphic style and on Oct 31st I released this graphic for the Halloween moment of silliness that contained literally hundreds of lines of text in the back ground, I talk about everything in there... there are song lyrics, undying declarations of love for my wife and kids, my desire for a holiday, a new amp… so many things – including a little troll moment for one of our customers, Jeff. Within the lines of text were also clear and large hints about this next pedal release, I’m quite delighted and annoyed that literally NO ONE zoomed in to check.

So, here it is, the Fuzztration and that was the cliff notes version of how it came to be called this. There is quite a lot missing, because I don’t have records of it all as much of it was deleted in several fits of rage along the way. A lot of people have been asking us for a LONG time that we needed to release something kinda muff like, but make it better. Based on the work we did on the Tumnus and Pantheon, I was very confident that Brian can take the concept of a classic circuit, and make it infinitely better. And he did.

 

Frustration over, Fuzztration lives.

 

Chasing the tone of Billy Duffy - Love Removal Machine

Was extremely excited to hear Brian’s latest chasing tone song choice last week, as it was featuring one of my favourite bands from the 80’s, and one that I consider to be HUGELY underrated… The Cult.

The Cult signified a massive moment for me growing up, as they introduced me to the concept of taking a song, a small but perfectly formed one, and exploding it into a huge extended remix – or what us people of a certain age call “A 12” remix”. From what I can remember, they didn’t record anything different, just took the composite parts of the original and cut them all together and mixed them up to make what I can only imagine be the perfect version of the song to hear live! I remember the thing that really grabbed me was the different textures of the guitars, tones, riffs, and hooks that went in to make a 4-minute hit and be able to bring it out to a 6-minute epic. Anyway, enough of that, here it is…



So, this was all about 1985 or so, when I was deep into Iron Maiden and all that stuff, so it was a departure for me to concentrate on a three chord band who were all about the hooks. In 1987 they followed up the massively successful “Love” album (that featured ‘Rain’ and “She Sells Sanctuary”) with “Electric” that took them one stage further, more hits on both sides of the Atlantic and them fairly well cemented into history. On this album was the track “Love Removal Machine” that was a pretty decent smash the dashboard, roof down, foot down type of track… and it’s this one that Brian gives the full breakdown treatment to. It was classic Cult of this era: open, riff-laden and more hooks than a tackle shop. Although for me, on a personal Love remains the pinnacle of the Cult’s output (you know, it’s that time and place thing), “Electric” is by far a better album in terms of hits and just great rock and roll songs. 

So, Billy’s gear on this. What do we know? Although Billy is well known for using a Gretsch (and now has a signature with them that is based on a ’75 Baldwin era White Falcon) this album was ultimately revolving around Les Paul’s, in the words of Billy himself it was “...purity and method were the keys to this recording... so it all boiled down to the right amp and cab with correct mike(s) and the Les Paul... no pedals used at all on the session apart from a wah were obvious on certain tracks...” which to me makes sense as the low ends are WAY too tight to be a hollow body, it’s tighter and more under control. 

The album was produced by Rick Ruben (this was the first album he had recorded with a full band in a studio) after the band was not feeling the ‘first draft’ of the album (due to be called ‘Peace’) with the producer of the Love album, Steve Brown. Rick agreed to remix the album providing they could re-record “Love Removal Machine”. Rick stripped Billy back and made Ian more aggressive vocally. At the time, in the studio, Rick was listening to a lot of AC/DC, in particular “Back In Black”, so there is an element of guitar driven rock and roll to it, hence the reduction in the signature swirly stuff that we all fell in love with on “Love”.

What do I hear in this track? Well, we already know that Billy loved his Marshalls, and this just screams a Marshall that is clipping beautifully. Pushed hard by a Les Paul and not a trace of effects, so no tubescreamer’s or anything else (although I think that solo tone has something happening). Really puts me in mind of the players that came before, and some of Billy’s heroes in particular Malcolm Young, Mick Ronson, and Paul Kossoff. There is a lot of room in the tone, so not only is it close mic’ed but some serious room mic happening. The whole thing with the Electric album compared to Love was that it was more rock and roll, more of that classic 70’s thing happening… Which, for me, is why it’s never going to be quite as classic as Love was… I mean, listen to the intro of “She Sells Sanctuary”… JC120 with the inbuilt stereo chorus, flanger, phaser, two delays, compression, and reverb… just amazing and most certainly groundbreaking. In fact, if you are not really that familiar with The Cult, start with Electric and then once you’ve digested it all, hit up Love and then marvel at 1985 in all its glory!

 

 

 

 

 

Brent Mason plays other guitars shocker - you won't believe what happened next!!

 

Yep, that's clickbait. But I only use clickbait when whatever drove me to write a piece is somewhat silly.

Had one of those moments on Facebook a couple of weeks ago that was most definitely a moment of disbelief. I think it was the first one in a long time that I couldn’t understand what I was reading, so… you know me… thought I’d put this out there in the vain hope of correcting a misconception. 

It all started with this picture...

...which as you can see is long time Wampler signature artist Brent Mason in the studio playing a rather nice looking white Gibson SG. I fully expect you to all know who Brent is, but in case you don’t, let’s just say this… Brent has been one of, if not THE, first call session musicians on the Nashville studio scene for over 30 years for guitar. In a nutshell - Brent is one of the most recorded guitarists in history. As well as being a Grammy Award-winning artist he is also a 14 time winner of the Academy of Country Music (ACM) Guitarist of the Year Award and a 2-time winner of the CMA Award Musician of the Year (being nominated every year since 1991). In 2011 he was inducted into the Thumbpickers Hall of Fame. He has played on well over a thousand albums and shows no sign of letting up yet, in fact, click here to see his list of credits on Allmusic (although it does have to be said, this list is woefully incomplete… About 6 years ago many record labels stopped putting the musicians who played on albums on the sleeves, and that would appear to be where AllMusic get their credits from, so a lot of the more recent work is uncredited. When you consider the last 3 George Strait albums and the most recent Blake Shelton, of which Brent recorded for and not listed on AllMusic, this becomes a glaring omission. I do believe that AllMusic tends to only note music recorded and released in the US so stuff outside is also missing… it also only shows music that has been released, so all the demos are not on there, songs that didn’t make the album or released on Indie labels… So, by my estimations, take the AllMusic list of credits and at least double it to get an idea of how many recordings Brent has made over the years) – now (rant over about AllMusic) if you have the patience to go down that list all the way back to 1985 then props to you, but in case you don’t, here is what you will see. He has played on a lot of country music over the years. And I mean a LOT. I’m not wrong if I were to say ‘He’s just about played with everyone”. However, if you look closely, you’ll also notice that he’s played on a lot of things that aren’t country as well. In fact, if you don’t know about the other side of Brent, I strongly suggest you check out the album he recorded and self released with his brother Randy in 2006, “Smokin’ Section”. His knowledge and vocabulary in jazz and western swing is his strength (in my opinion), which often surprises people as they think “He’s a country guy”… which of course he is, but as a wider part of the puzzle of his playing.

I get what you are thinking now… Jason, why are you writing this piece? Well, the thing that shocked me was the number of people on the thread (that went with that picture) saying things like ‘The SG threw me for a second’, 'why are you playing an SG', 'what happened to your tele' and comments similar to that.

I’m in the VERY lucky position of knowing Brent (in fact, it was getting to know Brent about 10 years ago that ended up with me working for Brian), so I got into a little bit of a conversation about this with him as I was staggered by it, I thought everyone knew that he played other guitars. I mean, we ALL know that THE highly modified Grey ’68 Tele is his number one, but you know… a telecaster only works on the songs that a telecaster works on. What happens when he needs something that requires an LP, an SG, a PRS, a Strat, an ES335? Well, this is what happens. Brent puts down the Tele and picks up his LP, his SG, his Strat and so on… you see, he’s got a LOT of guitars at his disposal. You don’t get to where he is musically and reputationally without having the right tools for the job. I look at it this way, Brent is an artist (let’s say for the purpose of this comparison a painter). If Brent was going to paint a picture would he only use one brush? Nope. He’d use what he needs to get the job done. He may have a favourite brush that he likes to use, but you know, other brushes will be used to create the perfect picture. 

One of the best things I’ve seen said about Brent over the years I’m been an avid fan is the description that he is a musical chameleon - he is able to switch between many many styles at the drop of a hat, instantly camouflaging himself into his surroundings. This is why he is in such demand, which is why he has to have so many guitars at his disposal… Here is a snapshot of the guitars that Brent uses in the studio

  • Fender ’68 Telecaster, modified by Joe Glaser – probably the guitar people most associate with him, because… well, you know, it’s legendary. Seymour Duncan pickups… all pretty stock apart from the SD ST2 in the middle (that only has half the stack wired that he brings in via that third pot, a ‘blend’ pot). Mini Gibson HB in the neck and Glaser B bender.
  • Fender Cream Tele, with Glaser B Bender.         
  • Several PRS “Brent Mason” signature models
  • Gibson ’71 Les Paul gold top, with mini HB
  • White Gibson 1972 SG
  • PRS Mike Mushok Baritone (tuned to down to B)
  • Whitfill Turquoise Baritone
  • 1998 Red Gretsch 6120 Duane Eddy model, with Bigsby
  • PRS 12 string
  • Fender ’65, stock – survived the flood of Nashville 2010 and was bought back to life by Glaser.
  • Gibson 1968 335 (also survived the flood and Brent is on record in saying that it sounds better now than it did before the flood after going through Glaser’s workshop).
  • Blue Ridge 371 Parlor Acoustic
  • 2011 Buddy Holly Tribute J45, made for Brent by Daniel Roberts
  • 2016 Gretsch Resonator Acoustic
  • 1986 Alverez gut string 

I guess the reason I’m writing this is that, well, Brent is one of my favourite players to have ever walked this earth, so any excuse to write about him is good with me. Also, to act as a stark reminder that just because a player is famous for using one guitar, it won’t be their only one. The great thing about being a musician is all the gear we get to play with, all the time, and that applies to the players who achieve legend status as much as it does to a humble player like me.

I’d like to thank Brent and Julie Mason for indulging me, once again (they have been doing this for years now and I’m eternally grateful), and providing me with the info that completed this piece.

 

The Weekend Jam Excursion

This past weekend was a bit of an anomaly for me. My wife was working two 12-hour shifts at the hospital, and my mother-in-law was keeping our two kids on Saturday, so I had a day pretty much to myself. Of course, there’s always something to do around the house like laundry, dishes, vacuuming, etc. but I decided to take the day and have a bit of fun. I loaded my Strat, Pantheon and vintage Twin head up and hit the road, off to visit a great friend of mine who lives two hours away. I had to get stuff done that day and couldn’t shuck everything I was doing, so I left the house at 6:30am and drove in the cold, wet rain up to the coast and proceeded to have a great time. Roxy and I have been Facebook friends for several years, and we’ve also traded and sold gear to the point it’s almost comical. I swear he’s got half of the stuff I’ve ever sold, and some of the gear I’ve even bought back from him and inevitably sold back. We jammed for about two hours and had an awesome time just hanging out and talking gear. He got to try my original ’68 Twin, and I got to try some of the amps he’d mentioned in our conversations (including a hand-built 20w from Bruce Egnater, his home-built amp, and one of the coolest little amps I’ve ever played in my life (more on that in a second). We messed with some pedals (including our Black Friday release) and just had a blast. It was great catching up, and it made me realize several things about myself and my gear choices.

First things first, I’ll discuss that amp I was talking about above. This was a 1-watt Marshall head and cab with a .25 watt switch on the back called the Offset. To be completely honest I’ve always sort of written off sub-20 watt amps as not being something that would ever tickle my fancy. I play into a clean platform almost exclusively, so the idea of such a low headroom amp seemed like a waste of time. I will be the first to admit that it was a stupid idea and that they are incredible. I plugged straight in and for only 1 watt and a single 10” speaker, it sounded MASSIVE. I was a bit shaken to my core because of it and I’ve pretty much been thinking about that amp constantly since then. I’m trying to work out a deal, as it’s a limited-edition amp and I WANT IT SO BAD. GAS hasn’t been quite this furious in a long time. It’s got extremely simple controls: Volume (Labeled Loudness) and Tone, then the Hi and Lo setting for the power scaling. That’s it. No frills. No FX loop, no drastic EQ changes. Simple and to the point. I REALLY liked it.

Enough about that epic little amp, onto more self-reflection and epiphanies (lol). Normally I’m one to pack up a big board and maybe bring a couple of guitars to a jam. Variety is the spice of life and all. I felt like I was going out on a bit of a limb and leaving my comfort zone by just taking a single pedal and a Strat that I’d only recently just modified with upgraded pickups and hadn’t taken it out for a jam yet. There was no real reason to worry, as it’s an American Pro strat that I had a guard wired-up from David Maue from Tonal Concept Pickups, where he had an original set of John Mayer Big Dippers that were wired in the neck and middle, and one of his custom PAF’s in the bridge. He put a push/pull pot in the bridge tone control to split the coil in the humbucker, and the other tone control allows me to use all 3 pickups together. As I said before, the only pedal I took was a Pantheon with a fresh 9v battery, and a TC Electronic headstock tuner for good measure. The greatest feeling was plugging into each amp and feeling confident in what I was doing. Admittedly my playing wasn’t perfect as I rarely get to practice much anymore (life, you know how it is), but overall there wasn’t a tone I felt I couldn’t achieve with that setup. Being totally honest it would have to be the fingers and the mind behind it to make that combo sound bad, but it was nice not having to hide behind a board like I’ve used as a safety net for so long. It did, however, dawn on me that with my lack of practice came the lack of remembering how to play most of the songs I used to know how to play. I’ve spent so much time noodling and learning riffs and just messing around that it was a bit disconcerting. Good thing is I know exactly what to work on, as I do want to get back to being able to play some covers like I used to. The old adage of “If you don’t use it, you lose it” was abundantly clear.

I guess the biggest thing I can take from all of this is that I’m thankful to have close friends who can talk gear, inspire GAS, and allow me to just be myself and play. It was nice having the guitar I had schemed over for so long and mess with to be just right turned out exactly how I wanted. That’s the first guitar where I sat down at the end of the day and had absolutely nothing to find wrong with it or a desire for it to do more. In the end, I will say that a lot of the tone comes from the hands, but having the right tools to translate what you’re putting out helps quite a bit and inspires confidence as well.

Welcome Guitar Players! Come on in! Everyone is welcome!

It's story time.

Hello, my name is "Us" and I am ‘somewhere’. It’s very noisy and there are a lot of people I know, along with some that I don’t, all around me. I feel quite light-headed, it’s like some kind of intense sensory overload being here. As I look around, I notice that in front of me are a large set of double doors set into a wall, kind of like the famous gates of Jurassic Park.  The walls are too high for me to see over them, but, short enough for me to see that behind them is a large open park type place with a few buildings rising up.

Over the doors, written in huge letters, it says, “Welcome Guitar Players!” Obviously, I enter. In the back of my mind, I seem to understand that I can enter this place because of something I have previously signed up for, something that gives me access to the other area. However, this was a LONG time ago and I vaguely remember that the personal information I used to gain access was really basic and was in no way cross-checked or verified.

The first impression I have, once inside, is that it is quite exciting. It is a lot more peaceful than outside and it feels comfy, it’s the kind of place I would like to hang out...

All around are small gatherings of people talking to each other. I am instantly drawn to a crowd of people looking at someone’s new piece of gear. As I walk up, giving the gear more than a cursory look, I hear various people saying “Congrats” and “Nice one!”… but there are also a small amount shadowy figures lurking around them saying things like “Should have got this instead” or “it would have been better if…”… these conversations are happening all over the place, all with their own set of shadowy figures. I don’t think the shadowy figures are here for the same reason I am, at least in part, maybe they are here for another reason as well.

As I walk around I see a lot of friends. Some of them I know well, but in a strange way, I get the impression I’ve never actually met them before. It’s like I don’t really know them, but at the same time, I kind of do. It is amazing to see each and every one of them and it makes me feel great if not sometimes a little awkward.

I can see some old guard musical heroes who I can actually go and talk to, but they look like they might be borderline grumpy, so I just say hello and tell them I’m a fan. I sometimes try to draw a commonality with them via a shared experience of their music before I carry on, but only if I can manage to catch their eye of course. There are new musical heroes who are casually talking to everyone, lots of up and coming players attracting a lot of attention and loads of just normal players - players just like me, walking freely between them.  It would appear, upon closer inspection, that a lot of these normal players seem to think they belong in the other categories. Some have even made their own nametags declaring this! 

Some of the players are excitedly playing people music, sometimes their own, sometimes their version of famous songs. Some are just listening to the music that is readily available elsewhere. Available outside. Available outside outside. On the first impression, it appears that a lot of people are being introduced to music they have not heard before. This is great! But, then again, when I look a little closer, I notice that some of them are literally holding people close to the speakers and shouting “LISTEN TO THIS” and not letting go. Some of them are repeatedly asking if I want to buy a t-shirt, some of them are talking about anything other than guitar gear in the vain hope that other people are listening...

I pause now and then to take in the people who are standing on tall soapboxes, shouting at random people about almost anything. They have a few people close to them, hanging on to every word they say and just blindly agreeing with everything. Those who have the audacity to not actually be listening to them, or those who dare to offer a different point of view, are treated with nothing short of the utmost disdain. Once again, I notice that the shadowy figures are literally everywhere, they seem to like to be wherever there is an element of chaos.

Around the perimeters, there are countless market stalls – some small, some big, and some that are huge. They vary from the ones that have one or two people working on them, desperately trying to keep up with the people who visit, to the ones that appear to have an endless amount of resources and people to respond to the random questions that are being asked. Some are provoking conversations in the hope of catching the attention of the casual passerby while some are tempting people with shiny new gear. At almost every stall there appear to be people who think they are straight up comedians – while some of them are hilarious, a lot of them are very ‘niche’ at best.

Some of these stalls look just like guitar stores and others appear to be set up by gear manufacturers, many are a mixture of both. A lot of them are really colorful, some with hilarious posters hanging on the walls (that seem to change quite often) and there are a lot of people playing the products… A really strange thing I notice is that it’s the same people playing at almost every stall simultaneously. It’s all really weird. There are a lot of people approaching these stalls, but most don’t stay for very long. A lot of the people working the various stalls seem to know each other. Some seem to be legit friends but some appear to be friendly to each other’s faces while being angry and bitter behind each other’s backs. There are a lot of stalls that look the same – similar looking products, similar advertising, similar silly jokes. It’s hard to see which of the stalls was there first so I don’t know who is being original. The most intriguing thing I can see is that some of the stalls appear to be in open warfare with the others. It’s funny watching people openly poaching people from other stalls to bring them to their own.

Scattered around just about everywhere there are, what appear to be, large meetings of people who are talking as if there are old friends. These meetings seem to be named as well, possibly to grab the attention of the people walking around. They all look as if they are having the best time, comparing gear, ideas, music and pretty much anything else you can think of. 

As before, there are shadowy figures who jump in to say something controversial before ducking out again… I manage to watch one shadowy figure flit between many of these meetings, start a problem at each one, quickly leave and then do the same thing again and again at other meetings. The shadowy figures are mostly ignored but sometimes they are challenged and, in some cases, quite a violent verbal altercation takes place. Although I can’t identify them at all, I glimpse a look at some of their faces and they do seem to be having the best time imaginable. 

Now and then there are what appear to be closed meetings, held within a contained area (the buildings I saw from outside), you can’t see or hear anything that happens within until you are permitted entrance. You have to formally request to go into a lot of these, sometimes it looks easy, some of them have rules posted on the doors and in some, you even have to answer a specified set of questions to gain admittance. The rules of these ‘meeting places’ are absolute and the rules of outside do not apply. In fact, the rules published are the only ones that are in any way policed, although it would appear a lot of people think that the rules of the outside should take precedent. 

These meetings are sometimes very busy, sometimes not. Some are just like minded people hanging out but some appear to be sponsored by one of the market stalls around the outside. I go into a couple and mostly they are great. Sometimes, the people inside get very rowdy, acting up, just blatantly going against the rules. These people are usually thrown out, or somehow have their volume turned off for a specific amount of time. It would appear that when people are removed from these places they often get extremely angry and go to other places, (similar to the ones they were in) and straight up insult the people from the other meetings. Once outside the meetings they have just been expelled from, they form into the shadowy figures I have seen running around.

I spend what feels like hours in here, listening, watching and looking at all the people. I’ve really learned a lot in my time here! Once I have really had enough, (it is now excruciatingly loud and overbearing) I can see that a lot of people are angry and I can, and cannot, quite understand why. All around there appear to be people who are thoroughly miserable and can’t find the exit, but at the same time don’t appear to want to find it either. I decide to leave and fortunately find the way out and it’s by the very same set of doors I came in by. As I walk towards the doors, with the noise of everything and everyone ringing in my ears, I look up and notice the sign above them. On the on the back of the sign that welcomed me through the doors is written: “Thank you for visiting the Guitar Community on Facebook, we’ll see you in about 10 minutes (or less, I expect)”. 

As I walk away, the doors shut behind me. But it’s even louder out here and everything is chaotic so I look over my shoulder. I look at the doors. I focus on the sign above them. I listen to the delightfully busy murmur from the other side and decide right then to turn around and go straight back in.

The first impression I have, once inside, is that it is quite exciting. It is a lot more peaceful than outside and it feels comfy, it’s the kind of place I would like to hang out... All around are small gatherings of people talking to each other. I am instantly drawn to a crowd of people looking at someone’s new piece of gear. As I walk up, giving the gear more than a cursory look, I hear various people saying “Congrats” and “Nice one!”…

 

My back demanded I downsize my rig

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, it got silly.

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

And now the reason for getting the HXFX.

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

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

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

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

 

 

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