We all do it…we all have one dream (or multiple dreams) that are on our bucket list as something we’d love to experience in our life time. Could be meeting your favorite guitarist in the world, or getting to see or even hold a guitar that is priceless, cost-wise or because of the history and sheer mojo instilled in it. Could be seeing a band you’ve always hoped to see, and the idea of all of these things combined provide a bit of “light at the end of the tunnel” and a thing to strive for as we progress through life. Now let’s look at the flip side…a company announces a signature pedal of your absolute favorite artist in the world. This artist has had a massive influence on your playing, and now there’s a new pedal that can help chase the tones to sound just like that artist! New signature guitar as a homage to your favorite classic guitarist, with the accoutrements that make it feel and play exactly how that artist would have (or does) currently play. How about finally acquiring that magical piece of gear…the one that has seemed so unobtainable for so many years and is held in such high regard that you’d have to either sell an organ or steal it to obtain it? The satisfaction of finally reaching your goal is unrivalled, or even finally solving that curiosity to see if whatever “it” is, is as good as everyone makes it out to be.
Now, let’s take a step back to reality and put things in perspective. In many cases listed above, the down and dirty of the situation is that unless you’re born with a horseshoe up your butt, these things take time (sometimes a LONG time). Yes, there are occasions where luck just makes things fall into place… “right place at the right time” type of stuff. Those times are magical and should be cherished, but definitely not betted on. My Mom always told me “Son, you’ve got to make good times happen. The world isn’t going to make it easy, so you have to enjoy it while you’re here because you don’t know when you’re gonna go.” And she’s right (like she usually is admittedly). Life is fleeting, and despite how it may seem long on some days/weeks/years, it’s short in the grand scheme of things. We all hope to be a perfect bill of health and live until we’re 100, but life throws curveballs. There are ups and downs aplenty, and our own versions of ups and downs differ completely.
Why am I talking about all of this you ask? It’s because there have been a lot of things going on recently where I, and many others, have had to step back and find the positives in a world full of negatives. TV, FaceBook, negativity is everywhere and you have to go out of your way to avoid it in most cases. So, what does that mean in the grand scheme of things related to guitar and music and all that? What I’m trying to say is that if you want something to happen, you’ve got to *make* it happen. If you want something, go get it! Want an original Klon Centaur, or a custom guitar? It might take months or even years, but set aside a bit of cash each week from your paycheck. Even if it’s $10, $5, or just spare change as you go along. It may take forever to get it, but if you hold steady and don’t touch that small pool of funds, it will eventually lead you to get what you want. Now, will the outcome be worth the investment? That’s really where it comes down to it. The expectations vs. reality part is that whatever you’ve saved for could very well be the absolute best thing in the world, and fulfil the void that has been in your soul that you didn’t know existed until you got the piece of gear.
There’s always that other possibility though, that it could not be what you were looking for, and the reality sinks in that hype and the hive-mind has kicked in to take something that truly is really good, and boost it to legendary status based on lack of accessibility and subsequent costs. This personally happened to me after I grabbed a Silver Centaur at a *relatively* good price (compared to the others). I wanted a Centaur as long as I could remember, and over the years I had tried pretty much every Klone on the market. Some stood out above the rest (as they always do), and I sold the ones that weren’t where I wanted them and held on to the couple that hit the spot for what I was using them for. I always had that urge to try the real thing, and it was an insatiable desire to try it that kept me pushing. I finally saved up and found one in good condition, took a gamble and went for it. Got it in, plugged it in, and spent 3 hours just jamming my heart out. I loved it…at the time. I held onto it, and as I played more in the coming weeks, I found myself not switching it on that often. Then time passed more, and I wasn’t using it at all except for the buffer. At this point, the honeymoon phase was over, and I came to realize that I just couldn’t justify owning something so expensive that I used so little. I realized after it was all said and done that the other pedals that pay homage to the circuit got SOOO close (within 5%, to me) that it wasn’t worth it for me personally. Maybe it was bragging rights? I don’t know, but I just couldn’t bring myself to keep it, even as a collecting/investment which was what multiple people recommended. My results won’t mirror everyone’s result… there’s a lot of love for the Centaurs, and they are really great boost pedals. To each their own, I’ll stick with the Tumnus. The point being is that I had the need to experience that for myself, no matter what people said regarding how close other circuits were. The reality was that it’s a killer circuit, but for considerably less money something very, VERY similar could be acquired.
Keeping with the whole expectations vs. reality theme, let’s look at signature gear (again, your mileage may vary greatly). If it’s not apparent at this point, I’m a MASSIVE Brad Paisley fanboy. Not stalker level at all, but I’ve been a massive fan since about 2003. So much so that when I got his Mud on the Tires record, I dove into his recordings up until that point and it converted me to loving country music (to this day). In 2006, my graduation present from my parents was a Crook Custom Guitar (I think Dad was just tired of me never putting his tele down, and he wasn’t into PRS’s much). I talked with Bill for hours and finely tuned it down to exactly what I wanted, which leads to the first prototype of his green and silver sparkle paisley finish (you can see it here, that photo is actually the one my wife took). My Dad also had one built and we took an 8-hour road trip to West Virginia to pick them up. Again, I told you I was a fan. You know what? Those Crooks sounded like amazing Telecasters! Like the best ones I’ve ever played, even to this day over a decade later. But at the time, aside from the G-Bender, it didn’t rocket me into sounding exactly like Brad Paisley…just a bit easier to poorly rip off his licks. However, the design, from the feel to the sound to the aesthetics of the birdseye maple board and finish all made me want to play more. I knew going into it that it wouldn’t make me sound exactly like Brad, but it’s about that endless chase for tone, and that was one of the keys to it.
Fast forward to 2010 as I’m frequenting TDPRI and I discover that this company called Wampler Pedals were coming out with a signature pedal for Brad, called the Paisley Drive. My GAS ignited stronger than ever, and I immediately had to have it. I received it for Christmas that year, and guess what? I sounded a lot like Brad Paisley (tone-wise), or at least my closest approximation of it! I was so in love with it that I had to grab an Ego Compressor and a Pinnacle. A few years later I acquired a Dr. Z RXjr (my first boutique amp) and at that point, I was about as involved as I could be. The thing that I realized moving along is that yes, all of the tools gave me the ability to get in the realm of what I was chasing for, but it also solidified the old saying of “tone is in the hands”. Even with all the tools at my disposal, I could only approximate within a certain percentage of covering his tone because a lot of it has to do with the style he uses, from his choice of notes, picking habits, personalized tricks (like transitioning through speedy passages by incorporating open string licks or the G-bender) and the overall personal touch that is very difficult to master.
I’m sure you already know all of this and think I’m crazy, but we still receive questions from people saying “I have XYZ pedal, why don’t I sound like that artist?”. It’s a combination of a lot of things, gear and technique all play a factor. When a company releases a pedal, or guitar, or amp, for an artist it’s designed as something specifically at the request of or for the artist to aid in their quest for tone. In some cases, it’s the basis of their tone and rig, but in other scenarios, it’s one effect of many that the artist uses in their tonal utility belt. Many artists change gear like they change their socks, so any given night they could have a different set of pedals or different amp to do what they want to do. Yes, these pedals are designed to get *that* or group of sounds, and still be versatile to achieve said sound in a plethora of various configurations of rigs. The reality is that sometimes it nails it, sometimes it doesn’t. Therefore companies (us included) try to show many different tones from many different demo artists to try to give the most comprehensive portrait of what the pedal will sound like. In the end, it comes down to the player’s rig and technique and tweaking to see if a pedal fits the bill. Again, those demos are designed to bring the distance between expectations and reality closer together. Will you like some demos but hate others? Sure! Could you get the pedal and love it? That’s always the goal. Could you try it and hate it? We hope not, but tastes vary we appreciate you at least trying them.
Finally, let’s talk about music events. This is a topic that comes up constantly between Brian and Jason and I, regarding the desire to see an artist when they’re in the area and the reality of obligations, time-wise or financially. Concerts are expensive, and depending on the artist the can be REALLY expensive. Several of our favorite artists have been touring in our general area lately, and the desire to go see them has been overwhelming. Back to the Brad Paisley thing, Brian met him by throwing a modded pedal on stage with his business card attached, and his tech ended up picking it up. Most of Brian’s story revolves around being out there and meeting people and being in the right place at the right time. It’s proof that sometimes if you take a chance then it could pay off in the long run. Not all of us build and mod epic pedals though, but we all love to see our favorite artists nonetheless. I can’t count the number of times each of us has passed up going to see a band, and have kicked ourselves ever since. So I say this, if you can swing the money, do it. Don’t regret it, take the leap and go see the ones you’ve always wanted to see, they won’t always be around (playing together, or alive) so you must seize the chance while you can.
You don’t know if it’ll end up being the dream you always hoped for, or completely underwhelming. You’ll never know until you try and make good times happen.