Alex Clay

Alex Clay

Gear demos are a fantastic way to kill time. Whether you’re researching a piece of gear you’re interested in, or just checking out examples of how others used it, or just lusting over gear that’s just out of reach, demos are the gateway to the sounds the pedals make when someone can’t physically try them in person. As of late with the continued growth of the effects industry, there has also been more demo artists popping up, each lending their special touch to coax some great tones out, and hopefully give the end users a great, realistic example of how they can expect the gear to sound. For every fantastic demo artist, there’s also the inverse. For every stellar produced, well-executed video there is a poorly done mess. We try not to judge, but there are a certain set of unspoken rules of things to do (or not do) that most every successful reviewer has in common. I’m going to go through them here for anyone who may be considering starting to demo gear and feel free to add more in the comments section of the post that referred you here.
 
#1: Make sure the guitar is in tune - This seems like a fundamental thing that should be blatantly obvious, but it’s a bit crazy how many demos there are that the guitar is out of tune. In some situations, it’s not quite as noticeable to untrained ears to a certain extent…but in the other instances you question how the demoer can think “Yep, that sounds great. Nailed it!” It offsets the entire vibe and purpose of the video because it’s impossible not to be distracted by it. Taking a couple of minutes to be sure that the instrument is in tune can go a long way for future demos and even the reputation of the channel and the player. With headstock and pedal tuners being cheaper, more accurate and more accessible than ever, it’s worth the investment!
 
#2: NO BARE FEET – I completely get it, it’s comfortable to walk around and lounge about with bare feet, airing out the dogs and what not. However, on a demo (primarily referring to pedal demos), PLEASE take the opportunity to express your personality via some cool socks with crazy designs, or showcasing your favorite pair of worn-in kicks. Nothing can off put a demo like cutting to the pedal and seeing giant, hairy toes descending onto the footswitch like alien ships from the movie Independence Day. Feet don’t bother a lot of people, but they also bother just as many too. Many demoers just set the pedal on a desk and activate using their fingers, and that gives a great alternative where you can still be barefooted and comfortable without alienating some viewers.
 
#3: Choose the right gear for the application – With demos attempting to capture relatively real-life tones, it’s important to choose the right rig to adequately showcase the gear how it was designed to be used. For instance, though it may work to use a Schecter Hellraiser 7-string to demo a Vox-style amp-in-a-box into a Line 6 amp, it might not be the optimum setup to showcase what the pedal was designed to do. On the flip side, it’s not going to help if it’s out of touch too. “Here’s my [Insert brand here] $5k guitar, I’m going to be going stereo into this $10k amp in the left, and this $7,500 amp on the right. Let’s see how this $200 pedal is going to sound.” Having relatively easily accessible amps or something similar allows the player to know a little more clearly what to expect rather than the base tone being either incredibly immaculate or incredibly unwanted.
 
#4: Play to the pedal – Piggybacking off #3, along with knowing what gear to use it’s also important to play to the gear. If a delay/reverb pedal has been aimed at the ambient market, using a metal zone to sweep pick through it won’t give the best representation for what it’s designed for. The same goes for dirt; some genre’s just sound more pleasing using certain effects than others. Using a Klone to play Pantera riffs or a metal distortion to play 12-bar blues isn’t going to convey the product nearly as well as researching to see what each pedal is designed to go for. It’s okay (and often encouraged) to showcase the versatility of a pedal but within a context of something the average player would find usable. 
 
#5: No whammy bar antics when demoing wet effects – This is a personal one for me, and it’s one that I felt needed to be on its own  number. When demoing a pedal such as a delay, reverb, chorus, vibrato, tremolo, phaser, flanger, etc. PLEASE do not mess with the whammy bar the whole time. For me personally this is almost deceptive because it’s applying an effect that some may or may not want with their wet effects, and some may not be able to do it at all if they have a hardtail. It’s okay to do it at the end of a passage or during the outro of the video, but consistently using the bar makes it hard to focus on the true nature of the effect.
 
#6: Reduce dead space, and talking – This won’t apply to everyone because talking can be a vital tool for many YouTube personalities. I'm referring more-so about keeping the focus and not rambling. When doing a demo, it’s good to convey the basic functionality, but intersperse it with playing as well. Rambling and “Um’s” make the audience bored and antsy, sometimes leading them to click away without ever getting to the playing. This also swings back around to #1 with tuning regarding reducing the dead space that people won’t care about in a video. Tuning, switching amps, switching guitars, these things are fundamentals that need to be taken care of off-camera. We all do them every day that we play, and it’s fluff that isn’t needed to get the point across of a product. 
 
#7: Make sure it looks and sounds good – This sums up all of the things mentioned above into a single defining rule of thumb. Make it look and sound great. Using an adequate camera and recording software is essential in conveying the overall “branding” of the channel. Dress appropriately, ensure the mics aren’t clipping or overly compressing, record in an HD format so players can see what is going on in the video. Many YouTubers use multiple camera angles to showcase the playing as well as where the pedal is set. Combining stellar visuals with no dead space, and high-quality audio will result in a professional-looking and sound demo that will keep people and companies coming back for more. Worth noting, the background and setting of a video is just as important as the main focus point.
 
So, what do you think of the list? Are there any more you’d add that stick out immediately in your mind? Is there anything that stands out that you like the most about a particular demo artist? For a great frame of reference on what TO DO, check out the YouTube channels for Brett Kingman, Jay Leonard Jay, Henning Pauly, Pete Thorn, Jim Lil, Tom Quayle, Mike Hermans, Robert Baker, Andy Martin, Dave Weiner, Dan and Mick from That Pedal Show…the list goes on and on. The key is finding the right niche for the demo style that sets apart from the rest, aside from just natural playing skill. It’s the culmination and “whole package” that makes those fan favorites who they are.
 
 
Chasing tone has become a hobby as much as it has been finding the right tools for the job. There are a load of options out there for almost any sound you can think of, but despite the smorgasbord of readily available designs, there are some circuits that are incredibly popular that are less than accessible to get ahold of. Whether it’s the increased “mojo,” hype created by word of mouth, waitlists, or general obscurity from the builders and their marketing practices, a lot of gear lust has been generated over these types of circuits. I’m going to look at a few popular mojo-driven methods that may or may not have any plausible foundation in the grand scheme of things.
 
In many cases, most gear businesses start out small, with only a single employee (the owner) and maybe one or two extra people to help. When they’re fledgeling shops like that, it’s a simple way to keep things hands-on, and it’s relatively easy to keep up with demand usually. Small shops lead to less overhead for the business owner, but it also leads to slower production times due to fewer hands to do the work. As business grown, they usually add on employees to accommodate the increased workload, then before you know it there’s a small to medium-sized business with dozens of employees that all would like to make a living, as well as providing insurance and all that fun stuff. However, some shops decide NOT to expand their employees due to various reasons…it could be due to not wanted to increase the workload or the costs associated with employees, etc. So, what happens when demand exceeds the supply provided? Well, there are a couple of options that various shops have done. One way is to only release batches on a first come, first serve basis. This is fairly straightforward in the fact that specific quantities are available, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. This allows the builder to design and build at their discretion and doesn’t hold them accountable aside from the requests to create more.
 
Another option is taking preorders. This is a slippery slope, due to the genuine possibility of taking people’s money but not having the quantity available to fulfil all of the preorders if the staffing isn't adequate. This leads to long wait-times with customers having money tied up in a product that may or may not have a first date of when they’ll get their gear. Sadly, there are things that happen that are out of many people’s control that cause delays, or in some cases, the builder just can’t build but so fast and lead times get longer and longer. The result is agitated customers who often want their money back. And finally, there are wait lists. These are lists that you sign up for that require no money down but often have a varying lead time of a few weeks to over a year. There’s no obligation, so it’s just a pleasant surprise when your name finally comes up. The real kicker with all of these cases just mentioned, is that all of this waiting leads to massive amounts of hype and gigantic markups in the used market. It’s a way for the lucky few to capitalize on the good fortune, offering to fulfill the GAS immediately (at a price), instead of making the player wait for an indeterminate amount of time to get their pedal. The result is hyping up these harder to find offerings as rare and mysterious and highly sought after. The Klon is a perfect example, and the KTR is a more current version of it. When the KTR first came out, shops sold out almost instantly when they were priced right around $269 or so, but looking on Reverb and eBay, they were marked up to $450 - $700. It’s a pay to play market, and time is money when it comes to rare gear. 
 
Next up, let’s look at one-offs, special events, and custom or limited colors/graphics, and “accidents.” We all like something a bit different that stands out from the crowd. It’s fun and unique and sits like a fun little nod to being awesome on your board. I love custom color pedals or custom graphics that are different from the production model. There’s a certain “something” to them. The same goes along for special event things, like themed pedals (holiday, jokes, etc.). It’s a kind of nostalgic, cheeky way of chasing tone and having a bit of fun with it. But let’s look at the reality of the situation: unless otherwise stated by the company as being unique or coming with a different set of functions, these are the same production models internally, but with a recase for a special color. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that at all, and I love them, but it’s interesting how that becomes a marketing tool for the used market as well as the company. For companies, it’s a nice little nod to the players who enjoy their products, and often they’ll be a limited or very limited run. But if you search used ads there will definitely be a tag-line of “Custom color – rare.” Though it may be true that it’s limited, I suppose it just depends on the buyer as to what the value of a rehoused pedal would be? In situations like ours, we did a limited-edition batch of pink Tumnus’s, along with a few pink offerings over the years with all proceeds going to breast cancer research. The goal was to raise money for a charity, but we’ve seen used prices on these pedals skyrocket lately. The same goes for the Underdog, except it was also for charity but used prices have jumped to $400 or more. Not that the tones aren’t spectacular, but even Brian was taken back by how much markup things had due them being a bit harder to find. This is not meant to crap on companies who do limited runs; it’s more so a look at it from the business side as well as the consumer side.
 
Next up, let’s talk about eras of gear and the lust for certain versions or periods of time that these pieces of gear are manufactured. Generally speaking, new versions come about because the company felt a need to improve or change the design. This could be to increase the longevity of a pedal by upgrading components, swapping parts for less noise or adding features. Despite these facts that the new versions are designed to improve the overall sound, longevity, and ease of use for the players, there are still some out there that feel certain versions or eras of pedals have more mojo compared to current models. Again, some of these models may be harder to come by (but not always), and they supposedly sound much better and respond much better than the later version. I’ve seen this a lot with the Fulltone OCD and several others; we even have some of our older discontinued or revised pedals being collected. Admittedly there are some things that warrant thoughts like that, such as the Pinnacle Deluxe v1 having a very different control scheme than the Pinnacle Deluxe v2. In that case, it’s just a change of functionality and not necessarily a mojo thing. In the end, pedals are like puzzles, where all of the pieces have to be put together to reach the final project. Most of the time, it’s the same parts going in the same positions on the board, using the same solder. All that changes are the hands that solder the parts in or setup the boards. Sonic differences that may occur are the results of part tolerances being slightly different because it’s not always a scenario where every part is identical. The end goal is to make them as consistent as possible, and tuning them to be that way has been a vital part of keeping the pedals consistent over the years.
 
Jumping back a bit, I’m sure you saw me mention “accidents” earlier. Some of these truly are accidents, some of them are sadly not. Before releasing a pedal, Brian typically sends out prototypes to be tested (maybe one, maybe two or three). There are also some prototypes that are sent to trusted higher profile artists, their band and things like that. With the way the world is, people come, and they go in positions, and sometimes gear goes with them. The instances where those prototypes end up for sale is where it’s disheartening. Those prototypes are lent out expecting honesty and trust that they’ll be kept out of the reach of the public. This isn’t because there’s some magic, it’s because the circuit may or may not be complete, and the end goal of an excellent product that sounds great, functions great and is reliable is the end goal. However, the prototypes are considered gold, because it’s a scenario where it’s an opportunity to get something that no one else has. As someone once said regarding grabbing an unreleased pedal, “I just had to, ya know?” When in fact, no they didn’t. If you’ve been keeping up with our social media outlets (and especially our tone group on Facebook), we’ve been experiencing a few more leaks than we’d like to of unannounced pedals being posted for sale or shared by dealers. We plan ahead for months on a release, down to the smallest detail. It’s not necessarily the result of the release but more so the process we use to allude and build up to it. This is completely undermined and destroyed when leaks happen. We completely understand the excitement and the urge to share the info with fellow tone-chasers, but it also hits us hard mentally because of having the rug pulled out from under us so to speak. It’s discouraging and infuriating and sad at the same time.
 
So why did I write this blog and kill hopes and dreams? Mainly to set the record straight and clarify what’s going on with the magic in these sought-after pedals. Mojo is what you make it out to be. If it’s a pedal or guitar or amp that just feels right and connects, then that emotional connection can be considered mojo. On the other hand, there are many times where mojo created as a byproduct of desiring what can’t be obtained, the chance to try something that has been so hyped up, and the desire to stick out from the crowd. 

Pick a Partscaster

October 20, 2017
If you are in the market for a new guitar, there’s no better time than right now to be into the chase for tone. It seems in the past few years that a plethora of builders have popped up, each excelling at their craft with the ability to take the ideas you’ve always dreamt of and make them a reality. We’ve come to a stage in the gear community where artistic expression is at a peak, where if you want something unique and feature-laden, it’s certainly doable. Want an accurate recreation of your favorite vintage instrument, down to the pickups and even decades of wear and tear? All those options are entirely possible and at varying price points. The market lets the player decide how much to spend, and a dream guitar can be had by various methods; whichever suits the player the best. The first thing that people often bring up when discussing custom guitars is pricing. More often than not, the pricing for a custom guitar can rival or significantly surpass the cost of an off the shelf guitar. There are a lot of factors that go into why that’s the case, which I’ll dive into a bit later. I’m going to look through a few variables and options regarding custom guitars and ways to go about achieving them, and what makes them great and what some of the drawbacks are.
 
Let’s start off by looking at traditional guitars, and why guitarists prefer the tried and true designs as the basis of the perfect personalized instrument. If you look back to the 50’s and 60’s of guitar history, you’ll see that the likes of Leo Fender, Les Paul, and a few others seemingly hit the proverbial nail on the head when they created their takes on the electric guitar. So much so that each of the aforementioned builders and their subsequent companies have built stellar, roadworthy guitars that have been in the hands of millions upon millions of guitarists worldwide. They’ve become so iconic that the sound of these guitars is instantly tied to our favorite guitarist through the years. When you hear a Strat, a plethora of artists spring to mind (in no particular order): Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, John Mayer, Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix, Rory Gallagher, David Gilmour, Dick Dale, Robert Cray…the list of Strat players is staggering. Teles are the same with the likes of Albert Collins, Prince, Andy Summers, Keith Richards, James Burton, Muddy Waters. Gibson? Billy Gibbons, Slash, Jimmy Page, Angus and Malcolm Young, Peter Green, Albert and B.B. King, Randy Rhoades, and these are only just barely scratching the surface of prominent players that I’d be willing to bet have had some form of influence on every player, in some way. At the same time for all of these incredible players listed, a massive amount of them have delved into the custom realm, whether it’s through artist-series guitars, creating their own unique designs, or using boutique builders. These are our guitar heroes, and their sound shaped generation after generation of players to come, even to this day after many have long passed. It’s no wonder many players would use those famous tones and the foundation and springboard for crafting their own sound. Each used their respective instrument to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack.
 
I won’t go too much into current models of various companies, but there are still a load of different models by too many companies to list that follow the traditional approach. Companies like Fender, Gibson, Gretsch, etc., or revised versions of the classics with personal accouterments like unique finishes or relicing, and so on. Along with standard models that have a streamlined setup with neck shape, pickup combinations, and finishes, many of those companies offer signature guitars that famous artists regularly use (most of the time). These are customized versions that match the player, and great options for providing a variety of different guitars at a cost-effective price point. Sometimes though, these standard models can get the player close to where they want the guitar to be, but not exactly. This is why the guitar parts business has been a boisterous endeavor. There are a considerable number of shops you can visit online that let you piece out the perfect build, down to neck radius, finish and inlays to the routing options for various bodies and bridges control cavities. All things that are made to be easily swappable on the stock instruments to make them a bit more customized to the player. Swapping and upgrading is a cost-effective way to make a guitar customized to the player without going out and fully commissioning a custom build. Many of these online shops offer custom finishes, and some even offer relicing services to make the guitar look like something that had been used on tour for 40 years with tones of use and abuse.
 
These pieces and parts lead me into partscasters. Partscasters are the amalgamation of various parts in the attempt to find the right fit and feel and sound by creating it from a pile of parts sourced from various locations. Eddie Van Halen was one of the pioneers that led people to start hacking into the guitars and building what suited their personal needs when companies didn’t offer it. He used a Gibson PAF in an old strat-style body and created some of the most memorable music that would spawn hundreds of thousands of guitarists. He found what worked for him and made it his own. When going for a partscaster build, the sky is the limit. It could be a neck based off of a vintage-style Strat paired with a MIM Telecaster body with a pre-wired set of pickups from a small shop that hand-winds their own pickups. Or you could get a Flying V-shaped body with a neck setup for 12 strings, with pearl inlays and a figured ziricote fretboard. See what I mean? You can get as “out there” and intricate as you’d like, or build after the classics. Sites such as Warmoth and USA Custom Guitar allow you to pick the various details of your build, so they come as finished or as unfinished as you’d like them to be. This allows the player to simply screw everything together and do a bit of soldering and have a functional guitar on a relatively decent budget. I say relatively because depending on what choices are made with the types of woods used and various finishes, the costs can add up quickly. In the end though, if you’re coming out of it with the exact guitar that you want, then it’s worth it. The Pros are that you get control in the details of the construction of the guitar within a set number of given parameters, but the negative is that it does require a bit of experience and knowledge to get the guitar to where you want it properly. Setups are vital for having them stay in tune and function properly, and for inexperienced players, it can be an exercise in frustration. The same goes for soldering, especially if it’s not using a prewired kit. Without proper soldering, it can lead to increased noise or no sound at all. 
 
The next thing that truly takes the guitar into the “custom” realm is having one commissioned from a company that builds to spec. These are often more expensive, but the player gets considerably more control, with the bonus of the attention to detail and experience that comes from the builder’s history. Many builders still offer a standard line of body shapes that they will do, some traditional and some very modern and unique. Like the partscaster, you get to pick out your dream instrument, from the type of wood the body is made of, pickup routes, a plethora of finishes, the scale length of the neck, radius, neck shape, what frets are used, nut type, tuners, pickups, custom wiring…everything. The attention to details is what sets these guitars apart from the standard guitars that are off the shelf. Having a guitar that’s perfectly fitted to your playing style, the feel, and sound of the pickups makes you want to pick the instrument up more because you enjoy playing it. These builders have become experts in their fields and have listened to customer feedback, evolving and honing their craft to provide those little nuances that make each creation so special. A big question that comes up is “Is it $$$ better?” It depends on how you look at it. In some cases, depending on what is commissioned, there won’t necessarily be a huge difference. If it’s a T-style with a fairly run of the mill setup with two pickups and a 3-way selector and a fairly known color, then to some that may not be worth it. The details of the fret leveling and action and overall playability would be the biggest upgrade.  Is it worth several hundred dollars extra to some people? Most likely not. That’s the beauty of chasing tone and falling in love with the guitar, is that everything is subjective and will be different for everyone. Variety is the spice of life, so they say. The quest for tone is unending, and finding the perfect feeling and sounding guitar is another piece to that puzzle. What are you willing to pay for it?
 
Personally, own a few of each configuration mentioned above. I’ve got a ‘12 Les Paul Traditional that I upgraded with 50’s wiring and bumblebee capacitors to increase the range of tones available in the tone knobs. The new American Pro Strats just hit the spot, stock off of the shelf (admittedly I always block the trem, just because I’m a hardtail guy). I’ve also got a couple of Crook Custom telecasters that are decked out completely with custom finishes, neck specs, and even G-Benders. There’s a soft spot and something special about each one that makes them fit what I’m looking to do. The one thing I will say, that for me (I don’t speak for everyone), that custom guitars do not necessarily make me play any better, skill-wise. I may enjoy playing more when it fits just right, and I can get into it more, which subsequently makes me practice and the long game is an improvement, but switching from one guitar to another doesn’t have a dramatic effect. The guitars output what your mind and yours hands put into them and no amount of money can buy technique. That’s something I had to learn as I was starting off, and it’s stuck with me all this time.
With the release of the Paisley Drive Deluxe right around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to discuss and a recurring topic that's come up for years, but especially more frequently now that details have emerged about the Paisley Deluxe (or as Brad Paisley refers to it, the "Paisley Dog"). I'm talking about the limited edition Underdog overdrive. Released in 2009, with a limited run of just over 100, the UnderDog is based on a Nobels ODR-S but modified to clear up some of the shortcomings Brian felt were inherent in the design. Along with the transparent and flexible 3-band EQ, there is a toggle for higher or lower gain settings, and the Underdog became a favorite of Brad Paisley and Nashville players all around due to its versatility. It's very transparent, the gain can be set minimal and used as a hefty volume boost with a bit of grit where the guitar's voicing stays the primary focus, or it can get extraordinarily crunchy and fat, bordering on fuzzy distortion. It's hard to miss, being in a larger enclosure with bright pink sparkly paint, with a decal for the graphics. 
 
Here's an excerpt from Brian in 2010 regarding the cause behind the Underdog: “A close friend of mine has breast cancer and has no insurance, no family, and the government will not pay any medical costs for her to get the treatment she needs. Now, I’m not rich by any means, but I had to do something to help her. My wife and I came up with the idea of creating a pink pedal that is rich, dynamic, and very tweakable, and donate ALL the profits to her. Out of that limited run, famed country artist Brad Paisley bought one and loved it. A number of guitarists saw the pedal on Brad’s pedalboard and asked me to build one more for them, so I decided to start building more to keep up with demand. We are still donating all the profits to my friend, Ivy East, who is struggling to pay the doctor bills to combat this terrible disease.”
 
When the Paisley Drive Deluxe information initially was shared, and that it contained the Underdog circuit as Channel 1, there were a lot of mixed reactions. Overall most of them were overwhelmingly positive and excited, but there were a few discussions that immediately popped up regarding having the Underdog as a standalone pedal, not paired with the Paisley Drive. My goal with this blog is to set the record straight on where Brian and the company itself stands regarding this. It's easier to give the full scope of the discussion in a centralized place for everyone to refer to instead of commenting on dozens of threads, which are still overlooked due to how fast comments pile up on FaceBook.
 
At this time, there are no plans to rerelease or reissue the Underdog as a single pedal. Let me explain why. As you read in the excerpt above, the Underdog was created for a particular purpose, and it was successful in alleviating the financial burdens that came about from a terrible situation. That being said, there's a level of integrity and respect that comes along with that period and what the pedal stood for. It feels wrong to try to cash-in on that moment in time, and doing so would dilute the meaning behind the Underdog and it's creation. After discussing that on FaceBook in our Tone Group, the question arose about changing the name and graphics and just rereleasing it under a different label. The same theory still applies. The Underdog is just that, a limited thing for a special friend who was in dire need. Changing the name won't make it feel any less dirty or wrong by using that circuit setup for that purpose for personal gain.
 
So why does Brad Paisley have the circuit in his new signature pedal? The answer is pretty simple and straight-forward. Brad has utilized the Underdog alongside the Paisley Drive for years (see picture below), having one of the original Underdogs and buying several used version up as time went along to be sure the pedal was always there. It's an integral part of his tone. Touring all over the world has its constraints on gear, and it was at his request that we build the Paisley Deluxe. "But you said you wouldn't reissue it." Correct, as a standalone pedal under the banner of Underdog. With the high number of requests and high used prices, we wanted to be able to offer the circuit for our customers, but without sacrificing the basis of what it meant at its core. The compromise is the Paisley Deluxe. 
 
I'd like to start this blog out with a question to anyone reading this. Have you ever found the PERFECT tone, documented the settings in some fashion (in a notebook, taking a picture, etc.) only to discover that when you return the next time to play, it just doesn't sound right anymore?  How about going to practice or just jam and it feels like your entire rig just sounds awful and wrong? I can give a resounding answer of YES to all of those above. It baffled me for awhile because I knew that my settings hadn't been messed with in the least bit, so it made no sense why it was happening.
 
I decided to record myself for a few days, seeing if it was something that was going on with the amp or my setup or whatever the heck it was. Aside from fluctuations in my skill level (Hey, we all have good and bad days playing), the tones were consistent despite sounding different each day to my ear. One day it was a bit too bright, another day sounded phenomenal, and another day my tone was too muddy. Again, I was using the same guitar, pedals, and amps. Of course, the next instinct was to go to Google, and it's apparent that I'm not alone. It's become a bit of a joke at this point that *something* must happen to make it not sound as good. Maybe someone bumped the board or the amp, or the magic pedalboard gremlins are up to some form of trickery.
 
So what's the deal then? Long story short, one part is life. Not to sound overly cliche, but that's the simple way of putting it. Everyday things that we experience during life all add up to how the human body reacts to external stimulus. Stress in all forms is proven to wreak havoc on the body, and it can definitely do a number on your ears. Looking back at those days where my tone wasn't as good, I realized that the first day I recorded, I had stayed up late the night before and subsequently woke up earlier for work the next morning. That night after playing a few minutes and being dissatisfied with my tone, I cut everything off, got our two little boys to bed (5 and almost 2) and my wife and I went to bed at 8:30 that night out of sheer exhaustion. I got a lot of sleep that night, and sure enough my tone the next day sounded like the life was back in it again. The following day at work was hectic and erratic, so when I went to play my mind wasn't focused, and my tone wasn't very appealing at all. I haven't been able to find a fix for this yet, but my solution has been to take a break and just either play acoustic or my electric unplugged. There have been many times where I just decided to put it down and walk away from it for a day or two, maybe more. Usually when I come back and plug in it's because the craving to play has kicked in and a reinvigorated love for it has sprung back up.
 
Now let's talk about tone consistency at various locations. The scenario is that you've got a great tone dialed in at home, you go to your practice space, and it sounds completely off when turning up your level to match the people you're jamming alongside. Several contributing factors can cause this, and the rig can be adjusted accordingly to increase the consistency of the tones produced. One major point that needs to be hammered home is that a guitar rig will react very differently at bedroom-level volumes versus gigging volumes. The layout and acoustics of the room play a massive role in the overall tone and feel of the amp and rig. For instance, if the practice space is a bedroom or basement, our ears become accustomed to that room, and the amp and pedals are setup accordingly to sound good in that room. Let's say hypothetically that the usual practice space is in a basement or garage with a concrete floor. Alternatively, if the band is at a gig with a large stage made of wood, the amp can sound excessively boomy due to the wood resonating the frequencies in the room. On the flip side, going from playing on a wooden floor to a concrete floor can make the amp feel stiff. While we're on the subject of playing out, power fluctuation needs to be mentioned as well, and that can play a big part in tone. If the space at home is running at 109v out of the wall, but the output at a gig is 115v for instance, then there will undoubtedly be a tonal difference because your amp is receiving more voltage. Increasing or starving the power can lead to an array of tone fluctuations, which is a reason companies have been making power conditioners to keep a steady flow of current to the amp, no matter what the gig is. 
 
A solid example of this in practice is that we had a person on our Tone Group on FaceBook (Wampler Pedals Tone Group, you should check it out). He mentioned having fantastic tone in his room where he practices, but when opening the window, it seems like he lost a tremendous amount of depth to his tone and everything sounded thin. After discussing it, several members chimed in and said it had to do with the pressure changes and the layout of the room, and how the frequencies coming from the amp disperse differently. In that scenario, the bass frequencies weren't bouncing back and stayed confined in the space, and that's why the tone sounded so much fuller when the windows weren't open. 
 
As the output of an amp increases, several things can come into play. Preamp's can begin to clip once they're pushed to a certain point, so if a rig sounds overly dirty, it could be that the preamp is distorting, where at lower volumes the output isn't as high. One thing you can try is to use an active volume pedal in the effects loop of the amp, which will lower the signal hitting the phase inverter and cutting down on the clipping ab it. If your amp doesn't have an effects loop, you can try putting a volume pedal at the end of your signal chain, which will cut some of the incoming signal and subsequently lower the gain. A relatable way to think of it is plugging directly into a dirty amp, and adjusting your guitar's volume to reduce gain. The same premise applies. Yes, this will change the tone a bit, but in reality, EVERYTHING alters the tone. Clipping is a reason a lot of players like really high-headroom, high wattage amps because it eliminates the chances of the amp distorting at gig volumes. Along with the preamps reacting differently, speakers begin to compress as they attempt to move more air. The harder an amp is pushed, the harder those speakers naturally compress. 
 
Taking all things into consideration, the chase for tone is never-ending, and more often than not leads to just as much frustration sometimes as it does elation. Give it time, think things through and start from the bottom and work your way up in chasing your perfect tone.
I’ve got a question for you: How often would you say you use your Tone control on your guitar? How about the volume? Pickup selector? With all the goodies we’ve got for tone-shaping at our disposal, I’ve found a very drastic split between people who always tweak the controls on their guitars, and those who set and forget. Admittedly, I fell into the second category of diming the controls for the first 2/3rds of my guitar playing life. The source of this approach came from my early years of starting out playing punk rock, where the idea was that everything needed to be on 10, as loud and as fast as it possibly can go. It was bad enough that I would plug in and it would sound like a blanket was over my amp, immediately making me think that something was wrong with my setup. Nope, just the tone knob had been rolled back some and made my heart skip a beat for absolutely no reason. Sounds kind of wonky or careless, but I’m betting I’m not the only one who has done that (more on that later). It wasn’t until I started digging into songs and learning the nuances of verses and choruses and solos that I realized how much of a difference the controls on my guitar can make in association with how my amp is EQ'd and how I have my pedals set. It took a long time to adopt the differing process, but once I did it opened a boatload of tonal opportunities I had been missing out on utilizing all that time. 
 
Years ago, my normal process for setting up my base tone revolved around amp first (where all of the EQ controls used to be on ten like I mentioned above), then using my pedals to add whatever flavor I was looking to add, usually with the gain set excessively too high. My resulting tone was always completely overbearing, a bit harsh and sometimes flubby on the low end, or overly mid-honky. Again, at the time it wasn't about tone, but being loud and obnoxious. The problem that occurred is that I had no idea how the frequencies needed to sit in the mix, or how it would mesh with other instruments in the band. But alas, it was punk rock, and it was fun. That process of cranking the amp controls doesn't always lead to awful tone, quite the contrary on some amps. I suppose you could say that there's a time and a place for everything, and my combination of Strat into Danelectro pedals, into a Fender Stage 160 combo amp was NOT the place for it. On a nice vintage amp, I could completely see turning everything up and basking in that glorious tube amp tone. Again, I was in my late teens and had no clue of the bigger picture.
 
A few years later, my musical tastes started to develop and refine a bit more, and I started digging into what made some of my favorite artists sound just so doggone good. Through trial and error, I finally developed my ear to learn to approach things from another angle. At this point, I still use the amp as my first act of tone-shaping, but I approach it a bit differently. The amp and speaker(s) are the last things my signal sees before the tone is released into the wild, so that will play a huge role in the overall character of your chase for amazing tone. My initial settings on a 3-band EQ amp consists of Bass on 6, Mids on 4, and treble on 7. That's my starting point, but depending on the amp and where I'm playing I'll tweak from there. The reasoning behind these particular settings is because I've found that I prefer to use my pedals as my method to alter the mids in my tone, and I'm partial to a neutral but still "full" sounding clean tone. Next, I focus on my guitar a bit which might be a bit odd, but I'll explain. I've gotten to the point now where I instinctively roll off a bit of tone on my guitar. Crazy, right? I'll roll it back to seven or 7.5, along with my guitar's volume. My theory behind this is that I've always got a bit of extra volume and tone left in reserve in case I need it in a given situation. Sometimes you don't want to bend down and mess with your controls, so just adjust the tone knob a bit and get that added bit of extra clarity or high-end roll off that you're needing. Same goes for volume, where rolling back the guitar's volume will lessen the input on many gain pedals (especially fuzzes), and it gives you that extra bit of grit when you kick into a solo. 
 
A couple of years ago I adopted a volume pedal into my rig, mainly for ambient swells and all that fun stuff, but after awhile I noticed a practical side to it. I put mine after my drives, before my modulation and delays and reverbs. Placing it there allowed it to act as a "master volume" of sorts that let me set my gain and output for multiple stages of volume, all controlled by my handy-dandy foot. I'm in turn left with my guitar to add a bit of grit and oomph or clarity with the controls on me no matter where I'm standing in relation to my board. I then have several gain stages with my pedals, and the ability to set the overall output as unity or a boost with the volume pedal. *(Handy tip - you can also put a volume pedal in your FX loop to act as a master volume as well). Having those options leaves me constantly tweaking the knobs on my guitar when I'm playing, so much so that if I'm playing unplugged I still habitually twist the knobs. Once you get it down pact and you find your sweet spots, it opens up a load of tonal control right at your finger-tips.
 
While we're on the subject of guitar controls, it would be worth delving more into the heart of your guitar's control scheme. Beyond the typical 5-way or 3-way pickup selections, possibly modifying or upgrading can make a significant difference in your overall tone and the amount of control you have over it. To start off, upgrading your pots can make a big difference in the sound and feel of your guitar. Upgrading from 250k pots to 500k pots can give you an extra bit of oomph if you feel like your pickups just aren't coming alive. Along with upgrading pickups, it may be worth looking into various wiring options for your pickup configuration, such as a 4-way telecaster pickup selector, that allows you to run your pickups in series along with the standard ways. A Les Paul with 50's-style wiring can greatly improve the responsiveness of your tone controls. Upgrading inductors and capacitors in your guitars can also drastically change what tones you have on tap, from major frequency changes to slight treble roll-off. There's an enormous variety of simple upgrades and modifications you can make to your instrument to improve the response and playability. There are push/pull pots for allowing the player to split the coils in humbuckers, or blender pots that allow the player to blend various pickup configurations on the fly, as much or as little of each as desired.
 
Last but not least, let's talk about pickups. Sometimes, no matter how much we want to love everything about our instrument, it's always possible to fall out of love with the tone of it. There's nothing wrong with the way that it plays, but the tone just isn't there anymore. Luckily there are so many options out there for different pickups that it's almost dizzying. Depending on what guitar you have and how the body was routed, a pickup swap is a quick and easy way to drastically change the overall character of the voice of your guitar. Humbuckers, P90's, Single-Coils, Mini Humbuckers...the list is quite long of the various pickups that can be mixed and matched to find what you're looking for. Pick swaps are a relatively easy thing to do, but it requires a basic knowledge of soldering. If you're not comfortable with soldering, there are companies out there that offer pre-wired pickguards and control plates and switches that you can easily have a tech put in fairly quickly. Taking the time to understand and experiment with just your guitar can open a broad spectrum of control and tones that aren't available if everything is set wide open.
 
How do you set your guitar's controls? Have you done any upgrades to your guitar to allow added flexibility and tweakability to shape your tonal voice?

I’ll come outright and say it: I love looking at and learning about gear. Gear porn makes the day go by so much faster, and it’s interesting to see what various players choose to have on their board, why they chose it, what worked with each rig and what didn’t. Off the rack guitars, custom guitars, pawn shop finds and killer deals. All of it. From the simplest rig to the biggest rig, each setup tells a little something about that player and what their tastes are, and often it either spurs GAS or makes you curious about something else. Down the rabbit hole you go. I’m apparently not the only one either, seeing as gear culture is probably more at the forefront than ever. If you had to take a guess, how many FaceBook discussion groups would you say there are associated with tone in some fashion? You’re talking brand groups, podcast groups, general discussion groups, groups dedicated to a certain style of guitar or style of music?  I’ll guess on the low side and say hundreds, and those are just the ones I’ve seen personally or been on. That’s not even touching on other forums outside of FaceBook, or places like TGP or TDPRI or ILoveFuzz (all interesting boards for sure). It’s become a global culture, where if you’ve got a musical instrument and the internet, there’s a good chance you see or experience something gear-related throughout the day. I’ll admit that I’m so enthralled with gear that I often forgo watching TV to check my phone to see what the latest thread or blog or article discussing new releases have popped up. It’s truly an addiction, one that I barely keep at bay on most days. 

Most of these groups and pages have quite a varied group of members, with diverse backgrounds that range all over geographically, and with that comes the differences in cultures and varied view on race, religion, and many other variables. Thankfully, most of the places that I frequent don’t pay any attention to any of those external factors, and the focus remains on gear. Other than the subjective opinions that come up about that gear, they’re normally friendly and great environments. But not always. I’ve noticed a trend on so many groups lately that it’s become second nature to expect it to happen, and it eventually will. Inevitably there will be a member that will join, and they do NOT agree with opinions that go against their own. They disagree with a post or take a cheap shot at another member, and things devolve from there. I’m not talking about trolls necessarily. (I wrote another blog on that very topic, you can check that out here). These are people who are whole-heartedly invested in their belief, and if you question or bring up a counter-point, an argument inevitably ensues. I’ve found this especially prevalent on certain hot topics, such as discussing Klon Centaurs, Relic Guitars, or specific guitar brands and their quality. Any of those topics will ignite a burning flame in someone, who can DEFINITELY hear the magic in the diodes, or who only buys from a certain place of origin because they’ve got a stigma in their mind that guitars from XYZ are just garbage, no matter what.

I’ve come to ask myself this question on a regular basis: Are we taking gear and gear discussions too seriously? We all want to chase those ever-elusive tones, but how we each do it is going to depend on a lot of factors. Personal tastes aside, monetary reasons can put a big damper in our plans. Yes, we’d all love a Dumble or vintage Les Paul or Strat, but that’s usually not in the cards for the average player. So, we chase those tones we have in our head with the funds we have at our disposal, and luckily there are enough brands with various offerings that can get you close to that (some closer than others). Opinions are like buttholes though, everyone’s got them. I think we can all agree that not everyone is going to agree on loving all the same things. Variety is the spice of life and all that. But when I brought up selling my Centaur in my last blog, I was met with various comments regarding whether that was a good move or not. Some agreed totally, agreeing with my point that the used prices are a bit absurd and that they were able to find a great alternative for a fraction of the cost just like I did. There were a few people, however, that went out of their way to express that I was wrong and my thought process was off and that the price truly is justified and it’s the greatest in the world. That’s great, more power to you. If that’s what hit’s the spot then cool, go for it. Some got so heated in their beliefs that they felt they needed to convince me I was wrong, and subsequently various members started arguing, which led to people almost being banned from that group. Why in the heck is that so important that it’s worth getting into an argument over?  

Another example that I see frequently posted are the users posting pictures of large pedalboards with a wide range of effects, with comments to follow saying, “All you need is a guitar and an amp” or “You must be compensating for lack of skill” or “I only use amp dirt and a single delay”. I completely understand and can appreciate the traditional minimalist approach. Times change though, and if you’re in a band that covers a large variety of music, you’ll need the tools at your disposal to achieve whatever the song calls for. On the flip side, there are the players that flaunt their gear choices, going specifically into how many amps and how much each one costs (usually equaling a lot). That’s great, we get you have money and appreciate discerning tastes in gear. Owning a small fortune in gear doesn’t equate to knowing everything about tone. Just because something costs exponentially more doesn’t necessarily make the tone that much more superior, nor will it make someone play better. I refer to the video of Joe Satriani playing a cheap knock-off guitar into a Peavey Bandit and RP200. Granted, it didn’t sound like his rig, but raw talent got it close enough that you could immediately identify what was being played (Surfing with the Alien). It’s all just trivial, and it doesn’t matter if you invested $400 in a guitar or $4,000, if it hits the spot then that’s all that matters. Knocking another player’s rig solves nothing and if anything rains on their parade, instead of appreciating the effort they put into it and moving on. 

Lately, the big topic everyone has been discussing is Gibson’s current releases and the quality control, after a recent catch showing an advertisement for their new Les Paul that had dings in it. Many people were immediately dogging Gibson and discussing how overpriced their models are and the subsequent decline in attention to detail. There were some extremely heated arguments regarding the amount of money spent on Gibson’s, some saying they are still fantastic guitars and still an icon of sorts, where others were saying they are complete garbage and trashing the brand and people who appreciate their Gibson guitars. Around the same time, Fender released their Brad Paisley signature guitar, and the internet lit ablaze at the cost of the instrument being too high because they’re made in Mexico, the fact that it didn’t feature a rosewood neck like the one it was paying homage to, and the fact that it didn’t have a G-bender. Let’s look at just those 3 things and break them down. Brad wanted them to be affordable, hence having them MIM. That doesn’t mean cheap, that just means more cost-effective than labor costs in the US. Regarding the neck, Brad doesn’t like rosewood, if you look at his current touring guitars there are only a couple of them with rosewood necks. He’s always been a fan of maple. Lastly, the G-bender mechanism Brad uses is from Charlie McVay, a small business owner who literally couldn’t produce that many benders to suit Fender’s needs, let alone at a cost-effective level. Yes, there are other companies out there with alternatives, but there’s also the issue of consistency and longevity and added cost, which all adds up to a more expensive guitar. I guess my point is that until all of the facts are known and verified, or unless someone has experienced using the instruments themselves, passing judgment just comes off as trolling and disconnected. 

So why did I write this whole thing? I don’t know, maybe making the issues stare people in the face will make them realize what’s going on and thinking before just posting the first thing that comes off the top of their mind? One can dream. I’d like to just reinforce the point of taking gear discussions a little more lightly, most people are there to learn and enjoy guitar and gear with like-minded people. Not everyone will agree, and that’s totally okay. How you respond to the disagreeing part is what sets people apart. So sit back, enjoy soaking in the info and comradery over our favorite instrument. To summarize, I’ll leave you with this quote from Travis Feaster: “If you’re offended, I forgive you.”

Expectations vs. Reality

September 14, 2017
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.
Music culture has changed a lot over the years, and to accompany the shift in musical preferences the gear community has also shifted to meet the needs of all players. It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking to play I-IV-V blues tunes in a dive bar, play to 10,000 people in a stadium, or to make speaker-destroying noise in your room, we’re currently in the golden age of guitar effects where nearly anything is possible. Want to make your tone sound like one of your guitar hero’s? Easier than ever. Want to make your guitar sound absolutely nothing like a guitar? Done. There are so many effects on the market and constantly in development that if you can dream it, there’s a good chance you can achieve it.
 
Recently there has been a slew of unconventional products released by various companies, and the reaction has been a mixed bag at best. There are people who absolutely love some of these pedals and immediately want to purchase them, and there’s also the counter group of players who despise the idea completely and think that the designs are garbage* and want nothing to do with them. It’s a stark line drawn in the sand, and admittedly I’ve found myself hovering over top of the line in regard to a love/hate feeling for some of the noisemakers and more out-there effects. They’re so bizarre that they’re repulsive but intriguing at the same time. Usually, for me, all it takes is one demo with a single cool sound to catch my ear and then the GAS just grows from there.
 
My first thought with a pedal is normally “How is it versatile enough to be usable in multiple musical contexts, while also not overlapping too much with the stuff I already have?” Noisemakers blow that out of the water typically because despite my love of a plethora of different genre’s and styles, noises aren’t in there (except for self-oscillation on a delay, which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea either). All that being said, I do totally get why they’re interesting. There’s NOTHING like some of the current pedals being released, or rather nothing widely available at a reasonable price. Curiosity above all else makes me wonder what cool sounds I can coax out of these pedals, even though they’re not in my wheelhouse in the least bit. I’ve seen a lot of comments regarding the musicality of such noisemakers, and if they’re just noise for the sake of noise. That’s to be debated because tone and musicality are generally one of the most subjective things in existence. Out of all of this, I broke it down into two groups of mindset, but there are a lot more people that fall in between or don’t fit into it at all.
 
Ode to the Classics - The classics are classics for a reason, these guitar heroes and their tones are what sparked generation after generation of players to want to pick up a guitar. Many of their setups have become the go-to standards for measuring tone, from EVH’s “brown sound” using hot-rodded plexi’s to Eric Clapton’s “Woman Tone,” and how many people try to nail SRV’s tone…thousands? Literally hundreds of artists that created their niche at the time of their heyday have sparked the love of many players who desire to chase those tones. As we all know, a lot of tone is in the fingers, but that’s part of the equation. The tools were limited years ago, so the players used what they had and literally pushed them to the boundaries at all times. Now there are a plethora of options (amps, pedals, modeling software, etc) designed to take those vintage and sought-after effects and make them accessible in the modern world. All the same while, vintage instrument prices are soaring through the roof because players want that authentic “mojo” that older equipment has.
 
Free Spirits - On the flip side of the coin, you have no non-traditionalists and players who don’t want to sound like anyone else. Guitar and music are voices to the world, and in many cases copying others can make the feeling seem less authentic. Having so many great tones already defined by artists and genres, it’s forced gear companies to think outside of the box in terms of users want to leave their unique mark on the world in their own way. This has led to an influx of stompboxes that give more control than ever to shape tones. Look at Chase Bliss Audio, Montreal Assemble, Hologram Electronics…the list goes on and on. These companies are leading the forefront in terms of “out of the box” tones and tweakablility, with some truly mind-bending effects being created on a daily basis. It’s allowing true artistic freedom by not having any boundaries in the least bit. This can be a bit terrifying for some (me included) because there’s no telling how you can get to a tone, no guarantee that you can replicate it, and that’s the beauty of it. There is no box, so to speak.
 
So where do you fall on the spectrum? Are you a traditionalist with tones built on the foundation of some of your favorite players, or do you like going outside the box and defining your own style, even if it defies convention? Somewhere in the middle? Don't care? Let us know in the comments!
 
*The original words were substituted due to the obscene nature of some comments left online in some comment threads.

Gigging - Part 2

August 31, 2017
Following up on my last blog regarding the shining example of where things can go very wrong at a gig (you can read that here: http://www.wamplerpedals.com/news/blog/general-chat/gigging-what-not-to-do-part-1) , I’ve compiled this quick list with the help of some friends from the industry regarding things that will help prepare anyone for a successful gig.
 
1.    Know the material – Practicing learning and knowing the songs back and forth is a major thing. If you’re not comfortable with a part, discuss it with the band and see what options there are. In the end though, there’s nothing that can replace good practice. Practicing the full set will help get the bugs out of the performance. Your singer can even practice the banter with the crowd during each set. Locking down that show to where it’s second nature will make your performance and the audience’s experience much more enjoyable for everyone. In the end that’s the main goal, right? We all love playing music and the audience is there because they love the music. It’s far more fun when you don’t have to worry about whether you recall the chord changes in the verse or what key the solo is in!
 
2.    Be Prepared – I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying of “It’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.” This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to pack an extra amp and 15 guitars, but you can if you want! We do our best to maintain our gear, but often it’s at the least opportune timing that something is prone to failure. Having a few backup items can really help when the time comes and you’re in a pinch. An extra set of strings, extra picks, extra patch cables and long cables, a headstock tuner, super glue, a multi-tool, and even in some cases a fallback for when an amp goes down. If your amp goes down mid-gig, it’s not a bad idea to have some backup setup, maybe a cheap cab sim that you can run directly into the mixer from your board. The hopes are that you’ll never need it, but again it’s better to have it. Having trusted and reliable gear will cut out a lot of worries. Make sure you’ve got solid patch cables that can handle a bit of contorting and movement. If you notice a short at any point then troubleshoot or swap it out. If a guitar has a problem, it’s good to bring a spare just in case as well.
 
3.    Tuning – This seems like a no-brainer, but there are still some that jump in head first without tuning, and that’s completely preventable. Take the time to ensure each band member with applicable instruments are in tune (also part of #2). There’s nothing worse than an out of tune instrument. Pedal tuners and headstock tuners are cheaper and more reliable now than ever. They’re also great because you can tune silently so you’re not bothering the audience while you’re getting setup. If you’re having problems with your guitar staying in tune, throw on a new set of strings and stretch them properly before the gig. If there’s still a problem it may be worth taking it to a tech to see if it needs a setup. Also, if you have songs in different tunings, be prepared to either tune quickly and quietly, or have a backup guitar that’s already in the alternate tuning (see #1).
 
4.    See #1
 
5.    Stage Prep and Presence – Before getting to the gig, practice setting up and tearing down your rig. Getting it down to a science will make it quick and efficient (especially if playing with another band at the gig). It’s a good idea to get a feel for the stage if possible. When plugging in your guitar, be sure to loop it through your strap to ensure that when it’s stepped on, that it won’t rip the cable out of the input jack. Make sure cables going into and out of your pedalboard are away from high traffic areas if possible. You don’t want your drummer or singer stomping on the output cable and breaking the jack on your pedal. Aesthetics are a big part because the audience will be looking at the band as their source of visual entertainment. That may seem contrived or like selling out, but people judge with their eyes first (it’s just the way the world is now). Trying to keep a cohesive attire that’s appropriate for the gig is great. Stage presence, lights, all of it adds up to the combined experience for the audience, so plan accordingly to give the best visual representation of where you want the band to be. Again, it’s leaving a lasting impression on the audience as to what they will remember. 
 
6.    In the Mix – After setting up, it’s good to test the mix with a soundcheck. Be sure to take the time to setup each instrument so the level sits right in the mix. Nobody wants to hear only one instrument drowning out the others. If you can find a way to do so, step back from the stage to where the audience will be to see how it sounds. Having the levels right can really make a dramatic difference, especially when it comes to guitar tone. Depending on the height of the stage, you don’t want to blow the ear drums of the people in the front row, so the position of the amp makes a difference too. An important thing to remember is that your tone at home is going to be very different than in a live situation. Each room has its own contours and obstructions that absorb or reflect the sound, and the natural compression of the speakers and the added character of a louder amp will make your drives sound different. All of those goes back to #1 (can you see a pattern yet) where practice makes perfect and eliminating variables can make for a smoother gig. Usually, more often than not, the venue that you’re playing in won’t need a 100w half stack. Finding a nice combo amp (1x12 or 2x12, etc) makes for easier portability and less overkill on volume. 
 
7.    Identify Yourself – It’s good practice to make sure that your band’s name is very easy to see, so that way it leaves an impression and something memorable. If you can have it advertised by the venue, perfect! The goal is to create brand/band awareness to create an image for the band and subsequently what kind of a show people will expect when they see or hear the name. It’s not a bad thing at all to promote your social media pages, so long as it’s tastefully mentioned. Having a defined name that’s memorable and easily searchable will make it easier for users to find your page and your music going forward.
 
8.    See #1
 
9.    Promote the Venue – Venues have bands come play because it offers a show for their patrons. The end goal is that everyone likes getting paid, so the more the venue makes, the higher chances there are of being asked to come back and subsequently fostering that relationship with venues. While we’re on venues, it’s not a bad idea to have a contract signed by the band and the venue owner, just to be covered. You never know sometimes…
 
10.    Promote Yourself – The goal is always to spread the word and help people identify your band. Taking the time to make sure your band’s name and social media usernames are present makes a significant difference in our age of technology. You want to be easily searchable, so a banner or something that has the username of your pages is great to have posted somewhere for people to easily see. Have the singer promote the pages and repeat the band name periodically through the gig to leave that impression on people’s minds.
 
11.    Make People Move – People come out to have a good time, and they’re choosing to spend their money and time to see a show. Playing covers establishes a connection for a feeling of familiarity, and depending on the song it can make people dance (fast or slow songs), sing along, etc. Original songs are fine sporadically mixed in, but when just starting out it’s good do have a set of songs that will keep your audience entertained and wanting more. As much as it may not be fun to do, top 40 songs and songs that are currently relevant go a long way. Not saying that originals are terrible in the least bit, but gradual introduction will go a lot further to building your audience. If you can get people moving and involved, you’ve done your job! 
 
12.    Be good to your audience – I recently saw a video of Nickelback in Portugal that was having rocks thrown at them. Despite the hate they receive, they were there to play their music and the people paid to see them. After the second song, the band gave them the middle finger and walked off the stage. I know I’m beating a dead horse here, but keeping the audience happy is an integral part of any gig. Reading the crowd and gauging their responses as you go along is key. If things aren’t going so well (maybe a low-key crowd, etc), have a few songs that are a bit different than ones you played before. 
 
13.    See #1
 
14.    Play for the Song – We all want to include massive solos in songs, mainly because they’re insanely fun to play. That being said, knowing when to play is just as important as knowing WHAT to play (see #1). Just like Miles Davis said: “Don’t worry about playing a lot of notes. Just find one pretty one.” It’s okay to embellish some, but it’s also good to let the song “breathe” so to speak. 
 
15.    Have Fun – The main thing is to have fun! Yes, it may be a gig that will put food on the table, but most of us picked up the instrument because we love it and love playing. Most of the things listed above are all precautionary and once you do a once-over on your rig they’re done for good. Play the music you love, soak in the moment and enjoy yourself. You put in the work to get there, you deserve a bit of fun!
 
These are definitely not all of the things that can help create a successful gig, but it at least gets you started!