Alex Clay

Alex Clay

The Comfort Zone?

June 26, 2018

I’m a creature of habit, 100%. Borderline OCD makes me happy when things are “normal” and in a routine. It’s something I’ve noticed for many years that permeates through all of my daily life, down to food choices, what deodorant I use, all that stuff. When I go to one of our local restaurants, I’ll normally order one of the three or four different dishes I usually get. This same thing was overtly apparent after getting a Suhr a few months ago, then the PRS Silver Sky. My OCD kicks in, and when things are out of place, it’s just impossible for me to bond with instruments, pedals, amps, etc. A lot of it is expectation versus reality, then adding my desire for consistency it makes for a lot of gear flipping.

I was very fortunate to find an incredible deal several months back on a Suhr Antique heavy relic, with three Thornbuckers in it. It was an incredible sounding guitar, and the neck felt great in my hands. I had it for about two weeks, to where I was enjoying it but there just wasn’t something quite right. At the time, I had it built up in my mind that “It’s a Suhr, it has to be something wrong in my mind, these guitars are supposed to be perfect.” I played it for another couple weeks and found myself still feeling like it wasn’t quite where I wanted it. Despite my better judgment, and complete lack of experience, I watched a couple of YouTube videos, changed to my favorite strings that I use on every guitar (Ernie Ball Regular Slinky’s, I’ve been using them for over a decade now), and adjusted the truss-rod and the saddles on the bridge. Threw a set of Dunlop strap locks on there, and sure enough, that’s what it needed. It came down to it being a comfort level thing, where those strings and the security strap locks give me mentally helped complete the puzzle.

The strap lock thing is entirely for a reason, and to this day I’ll put a set of strap locks on every guitar I ever own in the future. When I was in my early to mid-twenties, I had a PRS Custom 22 in Scarlet Red. That PRS was a guitar that I had saved for over two years for, and it was my first genuinely nice guitar. I was in a hard rock band and did a lot of jumping around and carrying on, and we were practicing before a gig in a garage. We were mid-jam when I jumped in the air, and when I landed the back of the strap broke and my beloved PRS went flying and hit the concrete floor. I immediately felt like I was going to throw up. I was fortunate because it mainly took a 1’ chip of finish off down to the wood near the jack, but the back as absolutely scratched to death. I couldn’t repair the considerable chunk of finish that chipped off, but I was able to at least wax some of the scratches out of the back. No guitar to this day feels safe unless I have strap locks on it now. I soon stopped jumping around pretty permanently after that.

The string situation comes down to preference and comfort. I’m used to the tension and tone that the Regular Slinky’s (10’s) give me, and although I’ve played guitars with other strings that worked just fine, nothing quite feels like home like a set of Slinkys’. I’ve gone through the phases of trying heavier and lower gauge strings, and for me, heavier than 10’s make my carpal tunnel act up, and anything lower than 10’s feel like playing spaghetti. I’ve tried various brands, from NYXL’s, D’Addario’s, and even boutique strings, and though they all sounded good and played fine, it always comes down to a manner of familiarity and what my ears expect along with how the strings feel under my fingers. The same thing went on with my PRS Silver Sky, where I just wasn’t comfortable until I put my favorite strings on there, adjusted the truss rod how I liked it, and even adjusted the pickups down to better suit my tastes. After those small adjustments (and a set of strap locks), it immediately felt sturdier and like I was “at home.” It just proved that I’m horrendously set in my ways, sometimes to a fault. The irony is that I’ve changed “favorite picks” so many times that I can’t count on my fingers and toes (albeit most revolve around a thicker, JazzIII XL shape).  

Am I weird and the only one who does this? Not sure. I guess one way to look at it is that I know what I want more-so than in years past. The same has occurred recently with pedals too. I’ve moved more OD’s and fuzzes and dirt boxes on and off my board for so long now that there were days when I had a board full of nothing but dirt, to try them all. Now, I’m down to 3 dirt pedals that have stayed relatively consistent on my board, and they’re about what you’d expect: Klone (depends on the board size as to whether it’s a mini or a large one), Tubescreamer, and a Bluesbreaker of some sort. I like them versatile enough to cover lots of ground, but not so much that they overlap a whole lot. The same goes for most of the rest of my board, and I think it’s what it means when people talk about finding their own personal tone. I still flip pedals, but nothing like I’ve done in the past. I think in that situation, getting in the comfort zone can be kind of nice (especially financially).

I’ve been trying to write this blog for over a week, and each time I sit down it just hasn’t clicked. I normally have no problem with just starting to write and letting it flow, but here lately it’s just not clicking. I read Jason’s blog last week, and in the midst, it dawned on me what my deal was. I’m suffering from a bit of a slump. Not in a pity-party kind of way, but more accurately a social media and gear kind of way. In the past few weeks I’ve been extremely busy with work, the kids, working on the house, and just things pulling from every direction it seemed. That’s not unusual and accurately describes life in general, especially as a parent. But it hit me too that I couldn’t really nail down the last time in the past few weeks where I was able to truly jam without interruption for more than a couple of minutes. The combination of lack of playing plus spending more time on social media trying to stay connected with the every-changing gear world, I realized that I was starting to burn out on guitar. Not playing, but all of the other facets of gear culture. Overexposure to it made uninteresting and not nearly as fun. I took a step back this weekend, worked it out so my mother-in-law could keep the kids for a couple of hours, and let loose for a solid two hours. It felt like the stress melted away, and my shoulders felt lighter.

So, what is it that was burning me out? I don’t want to get back to that state again, and my goal is to cut it off at the pass and recognize the signs before it gets to me. For me, the overexposure to gear culture and the constant chase just wore me out mentally. Chasing tone is a self-imposed deal, so I’m not expecting any sympathy. It’s so easy to hop on Facebook and talk on whatever group you’re into at the time (there are hundreds to choose from, one for just about any sub-faction of gear you can imagine) and see what the current trend is. Most of it reflects the constant chase for the next tone (more on that later), some questions, some jokes, incredible or cool videos that keep your attention for 3-4 minutes. Then it’s on to the next group… and it’s the same stuff. There are the hardcore collectors of individual pieces of gear that are fascinating to watch, but then at some point, it becomes “Okay, we get it.” This is not a dig at collecting at all. It’s just the realization of what the gear community is in general. Mix in some of the things Jason mentioned in his previous blog, and things can get ugly, very quickly. Bad attitudes, light-hearted people trying to diffuse the situation, and the agitators, who have nothing to do with the argument but feel they need to interject something witty to get involved or push some more buttons for entertainment. The internet (and Facebook especially) is a fantastic place to meet great people all around the world, but it also becomes a soapbox for people to yell their ideas out to the world. Here lately it seems like people are actively looking to be ticked off or offended. Some days it’s, and everyone gets along, and some days it seems like someone collectively peed in everyone’s cornflakes that day. 

Now, back to the constant chase for tone I mentioned earlier. I’ve chronicled my quest for tone starting early in my guitar-playing life, and it kind of arced to a peak the past few years and is slowly arcing back down to less desire to chase tones and acquire new stuff at the rate I previously had been. Along with the social media overexposure of talking gear day in and day out, I’ve come to learn awhile back that no matter how expensive the pedal, it’s not going to change the way I play *usually*. Again, (in general) a lot of the pedals I’ve tried from all manner of builders have been excellent, but it got to where it was more of the same with slight variations than something overtly new and exciting. No matter what pedals I play through, I still sound like me. It’s been a bit refreshing as it’s eased the GAS off a bit, but it’s also very enlightening how much time I spent twisting knobs instead of learning and playing the instrument. It was very apparent when my buddies and I got together for a jam a few weeks ago, where I had forgotten more than I care to admit…but my TOAN WAS SICK! Yes, I sounded great, but some of the theory I knew before had a lot of dust that had to be cleaned off, and some I forgot altogether. That was officially the day that it hit me that no piece of gear makes up for skill and knowledge of what the heck you’re going to play, and how well you adapt and improvise using the experience you have. That same day, I let someone talk me into unnecessarily selling a piece of gear before I honestly had time to bond with it because it didn’t fit a “traditional mold.” I ended up repurchasing the guitar back from who I sold it to and love it even more now than I did before. I know that sounds cliché to let other’s play so heavily on how I feel, but I’m truly guilty of it, and I dare say that many others are on social media as well. How many times has someone bought a pedal or guitar or amp off a recommendation from a friend you trust, only to find out it doesn’t gel with you and your playing style and rig? There’s a large element of “keeping up with the Jones’” that happens a lot in gear culture, and the desire to like what’s currently popular despite it not hitting the spot. The idea of such a popular pedal means there shouldn’t be a reason not to like it, but sometimes it’s just simply the case.

I know this entire article seems a bit cynical, but it’s the side-effect of doing something you love to the point where you don’t necessarily love it as much as you did before (or that’s what it was in my case). Yes, there are incredible new offerings by a multitude of companies that are still pushing the boundaries, and it’s not knocking them at all. For me it’s more so the need for a hard reset, disconnecting for a bit, reassessing what’s real and enjoyable in life outside of Facebook. I also have been letting the race of the gear culture pass by a bit before jumping back on the freeway to chase again (so many euphemisms in this article). Yes, there are pedals that still interest me, but I'm gear-fasting a bit to try to hone my craft instead of covering it up with effects. For me, disconnecting from social media this past weekend, cranking my amp and genuinely practising and learning some new songs was a bit of a therapy session for me that was much needed. It made me value what gear I love, sold off ones that had been sitting for a while, and gave me a bit of a renewed interest in learning and growing in my guitar knowledge again. It’s like I spent so much time wanting to play and not being able to that social media and gear flipping filled that void for a bit, but it’s not substantial or sustainable. But the feeling of picking up that slab of wood with strings on it and the joy it brings will never go away.

 

 

I’ve had the fortune of owning the Silver Sky from PRS for about a week now, tried it through several different amps and even played it out with my buddies this past weekend to get a feel for it. I figured there’s no time like the present to take a look at what I found that I like, what I’m not a huge fan of, and my overall impression of the instrument that has divided the gear community more than just about anything in recent memory. Keep in mind this is a personal view, may ramble on a bit but I’m trying to be thorough for anyone who is truly on the fence about these guitars.
 
I’ll start off with straight out of the box. I’m not one of the lucky ones that won the lottery and got a case with my Silver Sky (for any who aren’t aware, the first 500 shipped with a gig bag, the rest ship with a padded gig bag). First impressions are positive; it’s a solid gig bag with padding on the inside that keeps the guitar from moving all around. Decent pockets for all your stuff, and backpack shoulder straps for when you want to throw it on your back. It’s not overtly protective, but it was protective enough that the only thing in the box was a bit of light bubble wrap around the top and bottom of the bag and put in there to roll, and it survived the trip (but freaked me out upon first seeing it). Upon removing it from the gig bag, I immediately noticed how light it was (lighter than my American Pro strat). Upon initial views, the finish (I got the red, Horizon finish) was expertly done, no flaws, blems or quirky stuff anywhere on the guitar. I instantly noticed the slightly darker paint shade on the lower bout of the horn, which was subtle but kind of accentuates it to make it have a 3d quality. All of the edges were clean; no hair-line paint cracks around the neck (which admittedly my American Pro had out of the box).
 
Upon the first strum, it was already in tune. It made the trek from Texas to here in VA in relatively frigid weather and was ready to roll out the minute it landed. The neck has been a big talk of the guitar, talking about the 7.25” radius instantly turned a lot of players off. For me and my small hands, it was comfortable. The frets are smaller than the modern jumbo’s I’ve been playing for years, but it didn’t detract from the experience at all. They’re a bit taller than my friend’s ’64, but the thickness of the neck and overall feeling of playing it felt like playing an old friend. As to be expected with a guitar at that price, the attention to the frets was perfect. No sharp fret ends, everything was just smooth, all the way around. The rosewood used on the fretboard has some gorgeous figuring to it, and the birds are there but not as “in your face” as my old Custom 22 and other PRS’s are. Unplugged, it’s a relatively loud guitar compared to some of the others I’ve played. Chords ring out really well with plenty of sustain and bending feels great. Now, the dreaded question associated with the 7.25” radius is…does it fret out? The answer is 97% NO. The only time I experienced a single fret-out was on the high E string, playing way up around the 20-22nd fret. That’s ONLY on the high E string though, and I had to do well over a step and a half bend to get it to fret out. It also doesn’t do it on the other strings, but admittedly I’m personally not playing up that high very often, so it’s not a deal-breaker. The bridge itself is great, very sleek and stays in tune quite well even when bombing on the trem arm. I’ve always put my bridges down to the body on my strats since I was a teenager anyway, so that felt right at home. The tuners are solid and work very smoothly, and of course, the PRS locking option is just one of my favorites anyway out of ease of use.
 
All that stuff is well and good, but it only means but so much unless it sounds excellent. I only had about 5 minutes the first night, and it left me feeling a bit bewildered at how to describe the sound of the pickups. There was something different, but I couldn’t put my finger on it without spending more time with it. Now that I’ve played quite a bit on it, the easiest way I can describe the pickups are strat-like, but with rather hefty variations on some of the frequencies. Overall, I’d say that they’re not as warm and boomy as a strat is. The Silver Sky’s pickups are much…brighter isn’t the word I’m looking for. Present maybe? They have this air about them that is different from any strat I’ve owned. Overall there seems to be less compression on the low end, more presence, and much more percussive quality when reacting to picking dynamics. Generally, on a strat, I would be a neck, neck+middle, and bridge+ middle type person. I’m just fond of the 2, 4 and five positions and often overlook the bridge standalone and the middle standalone. The bridge on the SS is quite nice sounding, and I understand what JM meant when he said: “the lows have high end, and the highs have low end.” The bridge is quite warm, still single-coil but leaning ever slightly toward P90-ish in nature (especially with dirt). The middle was the most surprising for me of all the pickups because it feels like it has the best of both worlds so to speak. It’s got quite a bit of low-end, but there’s some quack and brightness that lets it cut without being like an ice-pick. I never played the middle before to its true extent, but it’s quickly becoming my favorite. You can definitely see John’s influences in each pickup setting. The neck pickup does the SRV-ish thing but doesn’t quite snarl like my strat does outright, but when you dig in with your pick, it really responds almost like hitting the amp with a boost (see my comment above about being very reliant on picking dynamics). The four position has the quack but is smooth and kind of sexy, with some low end that really blooms as you play. The middle is very much Jerry Garcia-ish, and you can definitely see the effect Jerry had on him playing with Dead and Company. Bridge + middle had that great classic sound but compared to my strat it seems to have a bit more mids that smooth but fatten out the overall sound of that position. 
 
While we’re talking tones, the Silver Sky works exceptionally well with most any pedal you use it with. Pairing it with a TS gives that fat and powerful tone you’d come to expect from its lineage, while still adding a bit of extra clarity to it. Utilizing a K-style OD makes your signal cut like a hot knife through butter and fills out the sound to the point where I could see myself only using a Klone if it came down to only choosing one form of dirt. In all honesty, it’s one of the first guitars in a very long time that I haven’t had the desire to use effects on much. I've instead been opting just to play clean or edge of breakup with a bit of spring reverb on for depth and just adjusting my playing style and pick attack to really bring out the nuances. Speaking of which, this guitar it’s overtly forgiving when it comes to playing. Being that it’s so touch-sensitive and all that, every nuance (good and bad) are amplified tenfold. For me, it was eye-opening because I would just play kind of sloppy on a strat with rakes and all that, and the Silver Sky made me take a look at my attack and adjust to clean my chops up a bit already. It’s undeniable that you can hear John’s tonal choices in each of the pickup positions and the reaction to the string attack, which are very much his trademark thing. Overall, it’s effortless to channel JM tones, but I also feel it’s easier to NOT sound like some of the classic strat players, and you have to almost channel their playing style more so than on say my American Pro to get those classic tones. Again, it’s going back to reinforce that it’s a very responsive guitar. You get what you put into it, nothing more, nothing less.
 
Getting into the nit-picky part of my review and some of the things I’m not as big of a fan of are based on the knobs and selector switch and the headstock. The sweep of the pots themselves is very nice and musical the whole way through, no issues there. The knobs themselves, unfortunately, feel very cheap and aren’t snug on the pot itself. They each wiggle just a bit on top of the pot, and despite trying to push down harder (thinking maybe they just weren’t on there good), but to no avail. They’re not majorly shaky, but there’s some wiggle movement going on, even if it’s relatively slight. It’s something I can overlook in the long-run. The pickup selector clicks much more securely into each of the five positions than any of my other strats do, but overall it also has this cheap, fisher-price toy kind of feel to it (same as the knobs). They might not be cheap at all, but just from the onset, they FEEL cheap. I have a couple of friends who have gotten theirs as well, and they said the same thing. Regarding the headstock, the shape is fine and I kind of dig that it’s unique and quirky. The truss rod cover and tuning handles are a matching dark grey plastic, which I also feel makes the look and feel a bit cheap aesthetically. I would have at least opted for black, or maybe even just a different shade of grey, but again I'm just being nit-picky now.
 
Overall verdict? It’s a very solid, well-engineered instrument that pays homage to the legacy of the strat, but then branches off and does its own thing. It admittedly plays more like a PRS than a strat, and the pickups and feel of the neck are just different enough to justify owning both a Silver Sky and a Fender Strat. Did it reinvent the wheel? Heck no. Was PRS aiming to? Not that Paul or John ever mentioned in any of their interviews. It’s another viable option for people who love S-style guitars, with PRS’s impeccable attention to detail on their finishing work. I am a fan of John’s, but despite it being a signature model it doesn’t feel pigeon-holed into just his tones. Other’s mileage may vary considerably, but I for one am glad to see PRS step into that world that so many other brands have been occupying for so long (with FAR less fuss than PRS got). Check one out if you get the chance, and you’ll see what I mean about it just being *different*. 
 
 

What is it about classic or vintage gear that just oozes mojo? In general, many of the circuits aren’t made of magic unicorn dust or rainbow farts and hen’s teeth; just electronics soldered together that culminate in a particular circuit. These parts aren’t necessarily designed to be used with music-related devices, but over the years that’s what’s been adopted by the industry and progressed even further into modern technology. So, what is “mojo,” and why does it play such a huge part in our gear selections? It dawned on me the other day as I was taking stock of my gear, looking at what I would be willing to move (for space and to have a bit of extra spending cash), and things that I immediately will not sell in any way, shape, or form. I think it comes down to mojo, which is a combination of several factors. It made me start looking at WHY I’m keeping the gear I’m keeping, and so easily “thinning the herd” so to speak on some other things.

Several of my friends and I were discussing vintage gear in a group chat, and lust for various pieces of classic gear that are essentially unreachable in our lifetime (financially). The more I thought about the cost. However, I started questioning why I would want something so freaking expensive? One part is nostalgia and kind of a hive-mind of what we grew up around. Many of the older guys we idolized in high school always lusted after vintage instruments, and I think it keeps being handed down through the generations. Again, it goes back to reflecting gear communities and the thought processes behind them (even pre-internet days). 1958 and ’59 Les Paul’s are considered the holy grails of the Gibson world and the idea of playing or owning one seems incredible. Same with an original ’57 Strat, or a ’68 Fender Paisley, or whatever you’d like to use as the defining unobtanium, magic instrument of love and lust as your example. Many were lucky enough to be around to experience those instruments when they were new, but as time goes on fewer players are around that have owned yet alone played a true vintage instrument. But that’s the thing; many people still lust for them despite having never laid their hands on one. Why is that? Well, mojo of course! 

The IDEA of holding an instrument that old would feel like holding an ancient relic from civilizations long gone. I’ll admit that I don’t know a load of vintage instruments, but I’ve heard a lot about them lately. Paul Reed Smith did a live video in the U.K. when people asked why a vintage Strat was so great, and his answer was “Because those guys knew what they were doing.” It’s apparent because the designs haven’t changed much at all in over half of a century.  At the same time, I’ve also seen many people saying that many of those old instruments are inconsistent and that some are magic, but some don’t click for lack of a better way to describe it. Despite the proposed inconsistency, some are willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars to own a piece of history. I suppose it’s about collecting anything, preserving history for future generations and all that. It’s also a very cool talking point to be able to show off that cool, now-rare gear. The same goes for pedals. The Klon Centaur is probably the most famous of all of them, and despite being a relatively simple boost and overdrive, it’s an item of lust for MANY people (and a point of contention for many more).

These pieces of gear fetch massive costs in the used market, and subsequently, many companies have tried to take the tried and true formula that players lust over and create a modern, relatively affordable (comparatively) version for the current generation that captures that nostalgia and inherent mojo. Some get excessively close in recreating the feel and response and tone of the originals, some take them to new extremes and approach the old as a springboard for creating something grounded in nostalgia, but with modern amenities. It’s the reason why we (Wampler) have two variants of klones, as well as dozens and dozens of other companies as well. It’s the same reason so many places make strat and tele-style guitars. Are the tones quantifiably different? In some cases, yes, in some cases no. There are many people on the internet that would argue that other companies than Fender make a better strat, while many believe there’s nothing like the classic. Are vintage tubescreamers from the early 1980’s completely better than the ones available today? Likely not. There may be a 5% difference or so based on part tolerances and a wider variance in manufacturing, but they’re subjective… and that percentage factors in when you’re looking at substantial differences between the costs. At that point, it’s just a personal decision as to how much that sound and difference means in monetary value. Is it worth *paying* for “mojo”? That’s up to the person making the payments! 

I’ve got a few pieces of gear that are purely sentimental and will be intended to be heirlooms for my kids because they are either unique and quirky, have some form of emotional connection (such as my first MIM Strat) or completely special (gifts, etc.). In the end, it comes down to the tone and how it feels to play it for each person. For me, mojo is that smile I get when I plug into a piece of gear, and it sounds great, responds great with the rest of my rig and does EXACTLY what I’m hoping it will do. It’s the feeling of nostalgia, how playing through a piece of gear makes me feel connected to an era, or a guitar hero that I’m a massive fan of. It’s not quantifiable magic, but it hits the spot for me, where it may not do anything for anyone else. That mojo is self-driven, and I’ve bonded with pedals and guitars that were considered “budget-level,” along with not falling in love with pedals and guitars that are obscenely expensive and theoretically there was no reason NOT to love it. In the end, I can’t say that for me, mojo can necessarily be bought. It’s just the right time, the right feel, the right tone, the right look that grabs my attention when I plug in.

 

 

 

Hey, guess what? PRS is making a John Mayer signature guitar! I bet you’ve never seen or heard of that before?!?! \Sarcasm. Honestly, at this point, if you have been on any form of media at all, you’ll likely have had it plastered all over everything. Facebook, emails from dealers, Instagram, everywhere. It’s become a lightning rod of polarity in the guitar community, spawning countless memes joking about it, intense arguments with people loving it and people loathing it. It’s become more than a bit overboard with the sharing, so I thought I’d take a look at it from a different angle and attempt to address some of the common themes I see pop up in threads and my thoughts on it.
 
Fundamentally, John Mayer (and all musicians really) isn’t just a guitar player but is a brand unto himself. Due to his playing skills and his rapid rise to stardom, he became known for some of his personality traits years ago that were… less than favorable and its divided players ever since. He has an ego that precedes him, and that often shuts down so many people without looking any further. At the same time, it would be hard to not develop a bit of a complex gaining that much praise from legends like Eric Clapton and BB King and many others early on in his career. Regardless, his attitude, gear choices, lifestyle, playing ability and social media posting habits on top of bridging the gap between the blues and modern pop have made him a lightning rod for divisiveness. It seems there are three tiers of people when it comes to Mayer: 1) Super Fans – folks who dig what he does entirely, plain and simple. Generally speaking, the negative stuff is looked past because of his proficiency on the instrument. 2) People who dig his playing, but can’t stand pop music, or consider his playing a rehash of SRV, etc. or 3) People who just don’t like or care about him at all, or fervently dislike him based on some of the things listed above. Regardless of which tier a person falls into, every one seems more than happy to vent their points of view or completely defend their line in the sand. Enough about that though, let’s talk about the guitar. 
 
John was a long-time Fender artist, and as a business person as well he was looking to expand his branding. You can find all sorts of articles guessing and theorizing his reason for departing Fender, but either way, they parted ways a few years ago. He then found his way to PRS and has actively been using that brand of gear since then. A Mayer signature amp was spawned out of the relationship, the Super Eagle collectible PRS, and now this signature guitar the “Silver Sky.” But at a base level, it’s just business. You have a person looking to expand their branding, one of the top companies in the world wasn’t able to accommodate his wishes for whatever reason (there are enough conspiracy theories on the internet to take up a good half of a day). His next option was to find one that could meet his expectations and standards of what he was aiming to do. For those that wonder why PRS would break their mold and go for a much straty-er guitar than ever before, you only have to look at the source. Just like mention Mayer as a brand, he’s a brand that MOVES PRODUCT. Generally speaking, if something has John Mayer’s name attached to it, then it will sell very well. Like him or not, John Mayer is a modern guitar hero for this generation.
 
When the initial demos first came out, two comments that stuck out upon the initial unveiling were “It’s just a strat with an ugly headstock.” And “Not trolling, but it sounds exactly like a Strat to me.” Well… that’s the point. When you are building a brand, you attempt to maintain consistency. In this case, John has been using Strats his whole career, and it’s synonymous with his tone and playing and his songs and what he loves as an artist. It’s instantly what he’s identified with as part of his signature sound, just like Brad Paisley with a Telecaster, BB King with Lucille, Angus Young with an SG, etc. It’s just what’s engrained as their iconic sound. Fundamentally there are a few key features that separate it from a Strat, such as the radius of the body, altered pickguard shape, proprietary hardware, different headstock that push it away from any legal issues, while staying close enough to the idea to keep with the folks who enjoy a bit of nostalgia. Another comment I saw was regarding “It’s way too expensive for a strat copy.” Well, taking a look at the Fender JM Strat, the cost isn’t that far off when including PRS’s lineage of quality and the design of the new Silver Sky is much more diverse visually than his Fender model was compared to SRV’s or other Fender artist guitars for instance. Is it redefining the wheel? Nope, not in the least bit. Is it relatable but a varied take on a classic that is spec’d to what John likes and uses? Yep.
 
The biggest thing I find interesting is that no one really cared about strat copies until Mayer had one built by a company not known for strats if you really think about it. If you look at all the companies who have made strat variants (some less different visually than the Silver Sky), PRS is by far not the first to do it, and not the most expensive version either. Suhr, G&L, Whitfill, Crook, Nash, Palir, Tom Anderson, Xotic, Don Grosh, Ibanez, Samick, RS Guitarworks, King Bee… there are many I’m missing out on naming, but you get the picture. None of them have ever truly caught too much flak for their S or T-style guitars that are as close to spec on some of Fender’s instruments as you can legally get. And as long as there’s nothing going on legally, then there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s no different than choosing what restaurant you want to get a cheeseburger or a salad from. It’s all a varied take on the initial idea, but with a personal twist on it. 
 
 
Regarding most of the drama, I think it has a lot to do with John himself and public perception of him, and the overall fact that he went from one brand with a signature guitar and had the new company build one that was quite similar with the response that it was 2.5 years in the making. I’ve seen that quite a bit on internet forums and groups, saying that 2.5 years is a massive amount of wasted research and development time that PRS wasted on Mayer when he already had a former signature guitar as a reference point. However, considering that tastes change, and PRS was set on giving Mayer exactly what he wanted, and the time that’s invested in creating these parts with the changes. After alterations, they require John test them on the road for a while to confirm what he liked and didn’t like, and confirming they meet their QC specs, that’s not that long in the grand scheme of things. The 7.25” radius has been a massive contention for players discussing it on forums, subsequently saying that radius instantly turns them off. The idea behind it (for those who haven’t played a 7.25” radius) is that vintage guitars had a habit of fretting out on big bends. If you’re familiar with Mayer’s playing at all, you’ll know he bends pretty constantly, so if fretting out was an issue that’s likely something that had to be addressed by PRS to accommodate his playing style on that radius. I’m confident that in the end, if JM signs off on it, then it’s going to be as right as it can be. Early demos have found no issues with fretting out, but only time will tell as they show up in the wild and guitarists get their hands on them.
 
In the end, it all revolves around personal taste. Mayer fans will be overjoyed, and the first 500 preorders have been completely sold out with the next batch not coming until later this year, and even many of those are sold out. If you’re a strat purist, then this guitar likely won’t be anything worth hollering about, and that’s understandable… it’s hard to beat a classic. But as a fan of all things guitar, I can’t wait to try it. I own a Fender American Pro strat as well as a Suhr S-style, and can’t wait to compare it. Again, it’s all what tickles your fancy and spawns your creativity and stokes the fire on the urge to pick up the instrument and play. Knocking an instrument without having played it, or judging the company or the artist without knowing the backstory doesn’t do any good aside from fueling the drama via assumptions. So, to those who bought it, have fun and happy new guitar day! I hope it’s what you’re looking for and hits the spot. If those who aren’t into it, you’re not wrong either. A strat is a beautiful thing to behold, and there’s a reason it’s a classic and so highly copied. In the end, I just hope everyone will let people enjoy what they want to enjoy, and welcome the fact that you can say you were there when John Mayer and PRS divided the industry for a few weeks (until the next big thing occurs and we all forget about this).
 
 
About once a quarter, my cousins and I attempt to meet up somewhere and do a family jam. Nothing serious at all, just a reason to get together and play loud music and try out each other’s gear. It was way more frequent, but we all live a few hours away from each other, all have kids, and daily life gets in the way. But, we still try to do it whenever we can. We were texting last night trying to arrange it, and the topic came up about doing a “minimalist” setup. The challenge we set for ourselves was only to bring the bare minimum of what we think we would honestly need…well, need is subjective so it’s more so a challenge as to how few pedals we can whittle ourselves comfortably down with. Seems easy at the start, but then gets complicated the more we thought about it.
 
I should preface this that we each play drastically different, enjoy different genres and enjoy how much of a mix-match of stuff we have going on. You could say “Dad Rock” applies to a lot of it, but it’s a mix of blues, harder rock, some country, a bit of metal, and a dash of funk. Again, it’s a hodge-podge of different collective inspirations. Our gear varies quite a bit too. I lean heavily in the Wampler and Keeley camp, sprinkling in various things as necessary (usually effects neither of us makes). My big board has about ten pedals on it, and it covers just about anything I can throw at it. I’m running a Tone King Imperial MKII as the platform for my clean tone and some dirty tones as well. My older cousin is an Earthquaker Devices fanatic, having a board that consists of roughly 9 EQD pedals, a Klon KTR, Strymon El Cap and a HoF Mini. He's normally going into a ’71 Fender Pro Reverb (that his father-in-law found at a garage sale for $25!!!), and is looking heavily at a Fender Twin. My younger cousin is more heavily influenced by the older, tried and true classics. He’s packing some original vintage blues driver, an original Klon Centaur, an 808, a Rotosphere…all sorts of that great stuff into either a Two Rock Studio Pro 50 or a Matchless. So, as you can imagine, when the stars align, and we can get together it’s a gear smorgasbord. 
 
It seems for now only my older cousin and I will be able to catch up, so we were trying to pick apart our boards to see what we would bring in this minimum setup. That’s not to say it’s limited to the number of pedals, but more so just bringing absolute essentials we could get by with, not the extra stuff we only use occasionally. His was reasonably simple: Klon KTR, EQD Hoof, El Cap, and Hof Mini with his Pro Reverb or Deluxe Reverb Reissue. The only reason he’s still debating the amp choice is that the Pro needs a bit of work done to it, and despite being serviced doesn’t produce the output it’s supposed to. So more than likely it’ll be the DRRI. Relatively simple setup, boost/OD, fuzz, delay and reverb. Truly the essentials if you break it down and think about it. He hasn’t decided on bringing his new telecaster or his suped-up orange strat with Bareknuckle pickups in it (I’m partial to the Strat, those pickups are KILLER).
 
For me, the amp choice is clear, which is my Imperial MKII. Realistically that could cover most of what I need with the built-in features, but I still like pushing each of the channels a bit with different boosts to taste. So, I think in the end, it will be the Tumnus Deluxe, Bondi Del Mar, Pelican NoiseWorks Germanium Pelitaur, and a Boss DD-500. The lead channel of the Imperial (tweed-flavor) loves the klones boosting it, and the active EQ on the Tumnus Deluxe helps shape it to exactly the right amount of push in the right area. The Del Mar covers the TS and Bluesbreaker deal, which both sound great into the rhythm channel (blackface-inspired). The GE Pelitaur was my wild-card, which is a collaboration between Pelican Noiseworks and Spruce Effects and can do either Big Muff-ish tones, Tonebender tones (that can get a bit splattery) and a mix of both because of the design of the circuit. There’s also a footswitchable germanium boost that just adds some girth to everything with some of that germanium squishy feel when cranked. The DD-500 has been my favorite delay as of late. Granted, it’s not minimalist at all, but considering everything that’s in it, it’s quite the monster for the price. I never gelled with the TimeLine, but the menus and usability and tone of the DD-500 were just naturally more appealing for my personal use. I normally run two delays on a consistent basis, a straight digital delay with 3-4 repeats mixed low, or the analog setting with 2-3 repeats set at about 40% mix. For guitar I’m probably going with my Suhr with the three humbuckers in it just for fun. Now that I think about it, it's still overkill with just what I listed. I may drop the Del Mar or the Tumnus Deluxe. The Tumnus Deluxe has the buffer, so that'll probably stay. While I'm at it,  I guess I could substitute the DD-500 for the Faux Tape Echo v2... it sounds great and I don't NEED access to two delays...there are too many choices!
 
The entire goal of this challenge is mainly for us to play some music. We’ve all been chasing the tones for so long that it’s an attempt to decompress, go back to basics and play some tunes without losing track and just messing with gear the whole time. That’s one thing I’m guilty of completely is the whole “Less eBay more Mel Bay” thing. We all want to try the new gear each of us has, and before we know it most of our time has been sent messing around and not playing songs like we used to. Admittedly, there’s nothing wrong with that at all; it’s incredibly fun. But this is more for us to get out of our comfort zones of having a giant board (to hide behind somewhat). In reality, I know we could plug straight into the amp and be done, but we’ve got to ease into it to prevent withdrawal. We’ll have our jam in a couple of weeks, and I’ll report back. Thinking it’s time to hit the woodshed, so I don’t make even more of a fool of myself!
 
 
We’re all in this together, so when I address some of the scenarios in this blog, try keeping a tally as to how many you can identify with and share similar concepts or stories of your chase for tone in the comments.
 
The “perfect” tone is something I’ve chased my entire guitar-playing life. Early on when I first picked up the instrument, it was a combination of what I could afford (more like what I could beg my parents for and attempt to work off to “pay them” in labor to get) and try to emulate my heroes. I started playing guitar because of my love of Eric Clapton’s clean tone on the “Riding with the King” album he did with B.B. King, along with the tone I heard on the song “Wake Up” from the Matrix soundtrack (Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine). I loved the way they made their guitar seem as if it was conveying emotion, so much so I could almost feel those notes in my heart every time I listened. So, I convinced my parents to let me enroll in a guitar class my freshman year in high school, and they bought me an Ovation Applause acoustic-electric they found at a local shop for maybe two hundred bucks. It wasn’t glorious, but man did I cut my teeth (and my fingers) on it. It wasn’t about tone at that point; it was just learning and “writing songs” (3 barre chords and melodramatic teenage angst lyrics for days). Being that I loved Eric Clapton, my dream guitar at the time was a Strat. Mom and Dad found a Wine Red 2000 MIM Strat at the shop I was taking lessons at, and I drooled over it every single time we would walk in the shop. I was very fortunate to wake up Christmas morning and see that wine red strat and a small 10-watt Fender amp (can’t even remember what model). All I know is it was solid state and at the time had the dreamiest reverb I had ever heard. It was my “perfect” tone at 15.
 
Fast-forward about two years, and I’m in my first band. We were an alt-rock/pop-punk band that was aiming for an Incubus meets Sum 41 amalgamation. My music choices changed due to the environment I was in and the people I was surrounded with, so I migrated from wanting a classic strat clean tone to more dirt. It started off with a friend selling his Fender Stage 160 (because we wanted to be LOUD), and the start of my pedal addiction. I was working after school and all summer, so I saved up to buy a Danelectro Fabtone…. yea. I proceeded to crank the gain and wail. Little did I know that it sounded like a wall of angry bees swarming wherever we played (are the Fabtone and the Metal Zone distant cousins?). As I said before, Incubus and Mike Einziger were my new tone obsessions, so I stupidly sold off my MIM strat to fund an off-brand PRS copy that was at that local music store I mentioned. It was a fight to play, and it was more about looks than functionality and tone. I finally wised up a few months later, worked my tail off and sold off all of my excess gear and bought an American HSS strat  (sienna sunburst, maple board), and took my graduation money and working the summer after and got a Marshall AVT150. At the time, THAT was my perfect tone for what I was looking aiming to achieve. (Can you see a recurring theme here?)
 
In college, I was in another band that was into much heavier music, and once again my music tastes changed. All of my guitar heroes at the time were playing PRS’s, and the shop that was close to my apartment had a used Custom 22 with bird inlays in ruby red that I fell in love with. Admittedly I stretched myself way too thin and put it on layaway, sold the American Strat to a friend (who ended up putting stickers all over it and destroyed it), and got my PRS. The PRS and my AVT150 were my main setup for a few years, again...perfect tone at the time. My wife and I started dating “officially” when I was in college (though we dated in high school too, I was just too stupid to realize how amazing she was and broke it off to go move to the big city, etc.). She's always been into country music, which I loathed for some unknown reason. I grew up on listening to country music, but at the time it wasn’t in my wheelhouse, and I couldn’t stand it. Over the course of our dating my disdain for country music slowly melted away, and eventually, my mom told me about Brad Paisley, who was just about to release his Time Well Wasted album. That started me down another path…
 
Fast-forward to about a year later, and I’m borrowing my Dad’s Tele and Hot Rod Deluxe, and grabbed a Paisley Drive and that was the PERFECT TONE! I got heavily into Brad Paisley and discovered Brent Mason again now that I was older and able to appreciate his style, and all of the sudden the PRS and Marshall weren’t cutting it anymore. My graduation present (which has always been a major deal for our family) was a Crook Custom Telecaster. My dad was playing at the time as well, so we both ordered one (this is 2006, prices were a bit more lenient then). We took a road trip up to meet Bill and pick up our guitars, and to this day was one of my greatest memories getting to spend that time with him. I was working full time and traded in my Hot Rod Deluxe and PRS, and grabbed a Dr. Z RX Jr. It was a great clean platform, and it fit the bill NEARLY perfectly. I wanted the Brad Paisley tone, but with a personal touch. This was when I dove head first heavily into pedals, realizing they were a quick way of changing your overall sound at a relatively inexpensive price compared to an amp or guitar. I’ve gone through a few hundred pedals since then, slowly acquired some great amps, and still fervently chase the tone as much as I possibly can. In the end though, I still just sound like me now, and I accept that.
 
So, what is the whole point of this recurrent theme of finding the perfect tone? Essentially, finding the “perfect” tone is an evolutionary process, and it grows easier to understand as you gain more experience. In the beginning, you aim for what your heroes have, and what you can afford. As you gain knowledge of the instrument and tone, you realize that your tastes evolve as you do, and it molds into finding your sound, drawing from all the past experiences and creating a style that’s unique to you. We’ve all said the famous saying of “my board is done.” No, it isn’t, but it’s nice to think for a brief moment in time that satisfaction is obtained. Again, this might not apply to everyone, but I know quite a few that are right there with me. The chase for tone is a never-ending one because what’s perfect now might not be right for where you are later down the road. Embrace it and enjoy the chase!

The road to NAMM

January 15, 2018

Winter NAMM is right around the corner, and with the weeks leading up to it come the crazy of preparations to setup the booth, layout the board and get any marketing materials (shirts, stickers, etc) together. One of the biggest things that NAMM is known for is the plethora of new gear that is showcased by most every company. Some designs are reworkings and updated versions of existing products, brand new designs, or something completely out of the ordinary designed to make a huge impact on the patrons and tone chasers who keep up with NAMM news down to the wire.

Herein lies the issue with presenting at NAMM: what’s the best practice in regard to showcasing new products? In years past our brand-new pedals were given first looks on our social media platforms, either from visitors to the booth snapping a photo, us uploading a sneak peak, or your favorite YouTube or gear channel doing a quick video where someone showcases what we’ve got new. This year is a bit different for us though, because our ideals have shifted a bit with what we’re aiming for. NAMM is a stellar event, but it’s also a tidal wave of new information that overtakes all gear outlets for the days leading up to it, during it, and for weeks to come after it. We’ve got several new designs that we’re extremely proud to have ready, but the question comes in as to whether they’ll get lost in the shuffle of new stuff? Each product Brian and our team has worked on has many hours invested, tone-wise along with aesthetics, marketing plans, and the usual release details that often go unnoticed by most people when we release something new. Are we doing a disservice to ourselves showing our whole hand starting out? 

So, our question comes down to this: Despite the designs being done for upwards of 5 new pedals, what do we show at NAMM? Do you go full-blast and hit everyone with all of the information at once, or take a select few and really hammer them home before introducing more? We’ve seen some companies showcasing their NAMM releases already, with the same idea applying of getting ahead of that tidal wave of information and making sure their product is visible and not lost in the mix. We follow a fairly punctual release schedule, so if a design isn’t mentioned at NAMM then it’s a pretty sure bet it will be following suit in a timely manner. This gives us time to prepare, get demos together and the pedals ready to ship to dealers without the tease…or is teasing part of the fun of it?

What do you think? Would you rather know in advance what’s coming up to prepare your wallet and board, or is it like knowing what you’re getting for Christmas, where the magic of the surprise isn’t there? In the end we want happy customers, so we’re curious to know what you personally think and would like to see?

This is going to be a bit of an odd blog for me because it’s going to be a bit personal. At the same time, I feel after talking with several others in similar situations, that it’s a relevant and worth sharing. I’ll preface this with a bit of background info to fill in the gaps. I’m 31, father of two little boys, married to my high school sweetheart for nine years by the time this is posted. Happily married, love my children, working a full-time IT job that’s 9-5:30 and then I work for Wampler about 20-25 hours a week. Most know my background about the kidney stuff, but a quick rundown that’s completely oversimplified: On my 5th kidney, 3rd kidney transplant, 24 years total of dialysis (4 hours, every other day connected to a machine unable to move my left arm, sitting in a chair). All started out when I was 16 months old, and even now with the kidney transplant I require infusions every two weeks to maintain the health and well-being of the longest lasting kidney I’ve ever had, but it’s working, and it’s the closest semblance to “normal” I’ve ever achieved. That’s the quick and dirty.
 
Now that you’re caught up, we can discuss what I’ve found to be a recurrent theme amongst many people my age and older. I’m talking about the balance of adult responsibilities and trying to find time to fit in my hobby. Before becoming a father, I was told: “enjoy your free time; you won’t have much once you have kids.” I never realized how true this was. Not that it’s saying it’s a terrible thing in the least bit to have children (I believe quite the opposite), but it was a shock for me and quite an adjustment the first few months after having our first little dude. I had to forgo quite a few of the personal things I enjoyed doing recreationally to help provide for our family, assist my wife as she had to give up a lot of her free time as well, and help fall into the role of Dad. I eventually got into the groove of things, and we’ve since had another little boy, and the two have brought us more joy, headaches and overall unconditional love than I could have imagined before having kids. This is my best recollection of the events and thoughts that went through my mind during those times.
 
During those first 6-10 months after having each child, I seriously considered selling all my gear. Not a fleeting thought, but a point where I felt I literally wouldn’t be able to play and that it was pointless to own the great gear that I had if it was never going to get played. Between trying to be a good dad and husband, I went for weeks and at one point over a month without touching a guitar. At the time I was playing regularly at church, along with jamming with my buddies at least once a week, maybe more with the hopes of just doing some cover gigs locally for fun. After our first boy was born, my meager skills I had spent 13 years (at the time) developing seemed to be fading into distant memories, because when I did pick up a guitar, it felt alien. My hands wouldn’t work right; I couldn’t remember specific notes in songs or parts I had played hundreds of times. It was depressing, in a nutshell. The old saying “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it” definitely applied to me. I think it stung so much for me because playing guitar was one of my primary stress relievers, even if it was playing my electric unplugged in a spare bedroom for 3 minutes. The moments I would get, I was so tired that I mostly just sat there and vegetated, maybe hitting a few notes, but more so taking solace in holding the instrument I so dearly love. For the first two years of his life, my first son suffered from chronic reflux, and woke up every 1-2 hours, every single night. There were many days I didn’t quite understand how I had made it to work without hurting myself or others because of being so sleepy during my commute in. Coffee went from being something I enjoyed drinking, to a life-sustaining fuel required to function. During those times guitar became an afterthought, a faraway pipe dream of a forgotten time.
 
In the weeks after our first son was born, pretty much immediately my days of getting together with the guys to jam were cut to a minimum, then to nothing. Not because of any reason particularly, my priorities just had to shift to my family. In all honesty that’s when I was feeling the most down because at that very moment when I hadn’t touched my guitar for several weeks, I felt like I had lost part of myself somehow. “My” identity felt like it no longer existed, and it was more part of the collective of trying to survive this new uncharted voyage we just set out on. The one thing I did learn though is that the balance is NEVER going to be 50/50. There’s always going to be a sacrifice to be made; it’s just part of life. I noticed I dove into work to keep my mind occupied, and I was lucky enough to find a second job in the music industry. To the people who say that working for Wampler isn’t work, then they have no idea what it’s like to work in the music industry. It’s a constant thing that needs attention, from social media posting on all outlets, content creation, blogs, videos, writing manuals, picking out colors and names and doing the research to be sure nothing is trademarked or copyrighted. The flip side of my son not sleeping meant I was able to get a lot of work done during all hours of the day and night. Jason is 5 hours ahead of me, so he was often awake and was my sounding board as a new father, and for that, I’m forever grateful. He and Brian helped me so much during that first couple of years that it’s impossible to put into words. I highly recommend talking to someone close to you, because if nothing else expressing your inner thoughts helps you cope with changes and good and tough times. I relied heavily on them more than I relized now that I look back. I’d often text Jason at 3am (8am his time) while holding our son that finally fell asleep after screaming for a few hours with a belly ache, saying “I’m about to lose my mind, I REALLY wish I could play guitar right now to decompress.” Whether he was being honest or just trying to make me feel better, he told me it was normal and that it would get better. And he was right.
 
[On a side note: Have you ever had the urge to play guitar SO BADLY that it almost makes your muscles hurt? It’s like this insatiable desire to play, where nothing can quell that urge until you get to (at best) hold a guitar in your hands and strum a chord or play a few notes. It’s like a core sensory urge, like craving food when you’re hungry or water when you’re thirsty? Am I the only one?  Sorry, getting off track.]
 
Just like everything, time passes, they got older and luckily took a liking to guitar-oriented stuff. Our second son started sleeping through the night after a few months and was more comfortable for us because we felt like veterans at that point, but the moments of wanting to play guitar and not being able to be still there. Between working my regular 40 hours a week, and doing the Wampler stuff (more on that in a bit) on the side, my wife working and all that, I felt guilty not spending my time off with my sons. I would pick it up for a couple of minutes, then set it back down and be with my family. My priorities had shifted entirely, but I didn’t have that feeling of being down or feeling regret for not being able to play. I finally “balanced” what worked for me that made me feel right in my mind. Granted it’s not the same for everyone, but that worked for me. Life happened, my chops took a major hit, but were found a new “normal.”
 
Our boys are now five and two now. Our oldest is in kindergarten, and has played soccer and baseball, and wants to try basketball starting in a few weeks. Our youngest is two…if you have ever had a two-year-old, then you know what I mean. You can’t take your eyes off them, because they’re so sweet and cute and all that awesome stuff, but they’re mischievous as hell too for lack of a better word. Even though they’re out of the diaper stages, they still require (and deserve) time. So, when I get home from work, the boys follow me into our room where I change and fire up my amp. 9/10 times I get about six chords in or half of a lead run in before they’re tackling each out on our bed, or attempting to dive off something, trying to emulate some wrestling moves our oldest has picked up at school. So, I attempt to break them up and go back to playing. Inevitably (usually 2-3 minutes later) one of them is going to hurt each other, or they’ll go back in the other room and start going nuts around my wife, which I try to avoid since she has them during her days off (Nurse, x3 12-hour shifts a week). Someone will bump their noggin, or the other won’t do a certain thing the other wants them to do, and it ends up being some crying or messing with each other. I shut down, and we go in the other room. That’s it. There were my couple minutes. On the weekend we're always going, so I may pick it up for a couple of minutes if we’re home and don’t have anything planned, but you can bet if the weather is decent we’re off doing stuff because I couldn’t before (see first paragraph, the whole dialysis thing). But it’s gotten better, and it gets better. 
 
I’m thankful that on occasion, one or both of our boys choose to come in there with me and do something associated with it. The latest trend is for our 5-year-old to want to strum my MIM strat (wine red with a maple neck, my original first electric guitar), and our 2-year-old to strum his toy guitar while I’m playing. I freaking love it. Yes, it’s a bit of a cluster because of course our youngest wants whatever his big brother has. So I have to separate them so they don’t slam each other or hit the guitars together, or sit between them so I can keep an eye on both of them. But for a few brief, fleeting seconds it’s incredibly fun and the proudest Dad moment you can imagine. Or sometimes, our 5-year-old will want to turn up whatever my loudest pedal is (gain and volume) and just strum, saying he’s writing a song. Or our 2-year-old will want to strum as hard as possible and just yell “LOUD!” with a big cheesy grin on his face. I cherish those moments more than I can put into words. 
 
What’s my point with all of this? Being a parent is one of the most challenging and rewarding things I’ve ever done. It’s a daily struggle to try to be a good husband and father, but still, incorporate guitar into my life. I’m very fortunate to have a wife that supports me in my pursuit of gear (that’s a whole other topic for another day), but it’s an internal struggle for me personally where I think “I REALLY want to play guitar, but she’s had the kids all day.” Or there’s loads of laundry that need to be done, or my wife needs help getting dinner sorted, or trying to get our oldest boy’s homework done before it gets too late. In general, my self-guilt leads me to omit time to play, and do what needs to be done. I want to spend time with my boys and maintain my relationship with my wife, and try to help her keep the house in relatively organized chaos instead of looking like a warzone (again, if you have had young ones, you get what I mean). Guitar has taken a backseat to life, but in the end, it’s still there riding with me, no matter what. On occasion I get a few minutes at the house to myself, I dime everything and let it wail. Our dog goes to the other side of the house, the pictures and windows rattle, but it feels like the air moving from the speakers is literally blowing the stress out of my body. It’s rejuvenating and provides a moment of zen. I should mention that there are days where I have a truly “Eff it!” attitude where the dishes and all that crap can wait. If the kids aren’t tearing the house apart and are just playing, then I’ll go and play for a bit. To be completely honest, after about 20-30 minutes of playing I get it out of my system (see the side note above) and then go and do whatever chore our household thing needs to be done. But it’s there when I need it.
 
Admittedly, I’m just starting out this journey. Based on stories Brian and Jason have told me about the teenage years, I fear a bit for my mental state when it’s all said and done. My only hopes are that when they’re older, that I’ve provided a good foundation and example for them to learn from, and hopefully I didn’t mess them up too bad. I hope they find the love of the instrument that I did, and that it provides as much joy and comfort as it shows me in my best and worst times. I know my story is very different from many people, but it’s my best recollection of what I recall and the thoughts that went through my head as I was going through them. No, I don’t play music professionally, and I never will. It’s my love, my vice and my therapy all rolled into one. I have a feeling you know exactly what I mean. I’m not bringing religion into it at all, but for lack of a better term, it’s almost a spiritual feeling, like all is right with the world when all the stars align and your tone and playing hit all the right spots. The stress melts away with every note. 
 
I don’t know why I wrote this, to be honest. Maybe it’s hope that someone will identify with it when they’re going through rough times or those transition years and realize that it does get better. The boys will only be young but for so long, and eventually, they won’t want anything to do with me. When they’re gone out on their own, it’ll be my wife and my guitar that I’ll lean on as I miss the times when they were little and the world was realistically simpler than I thought it was.

The cost of tone-chasing

December 11, 2017
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” --Mark Twain
 
I love the quote above because I’ve found it’s true in most cases when it comes to musical experiences and gear. There are bands I saw in concert that I'd never get to see again, and there were guitars/pedals/amps that I have been able to snag over the years for an insane price that I lucked into. Still to this day I’m glad I decided to take a risk on it. On the flip side, I’ve been burned more times than I can count because I made a bad judgment call and either had to backpedal because I spent too much too quickly, or bought something thinking I had a deal and it ended up being a loss (time and money). But, it’s hard to beat the trusted wisdom learned from hands-on experience. For me, I’ve always learned the hard way with everything, including gear. So, the question comes down to the chase for tone, and what’s the ultimate end goal? Is there some grand, elaborate dream setup that we’re all collectively chasing on an individual level, or is it more than that? I’ll refer to my own experiences with this, hoping that some will identify with it or hopefully use it as an example of “Well at least I’m not THAT bad.”
 
My GAS and the lust to for chasing tone started out fairly casually at 16, two years after I started playing guitar. I originally wanted to sound like Eric Clapton when I started playing, but in my freshman year of high school, my cousin (who I rode to school with) introduced me to Incubus. I was hooked, and the chase was on. If you’ve ever seen a picture of Mike Einziger’s pedalboard, you’ll notice that he doesn’t shy away from using a multitude of tools at his disposal. I didn’t have a lot of money, so I started out with the Ibanez Tone-Lok pedals for phaser, flanger and a couple of other things I don’t recall, and a Danelectro Fab Tone. Those suited me for a while, and I slowly added some more pedals or subbed some out as we went along. The Metal Zone was soon on there, and I thought it kicked ass… Regardless, my intentions were pure, and my focus was more on learning and playing rather than effects. 
 
Later in high school, I developed a love of the sound of Marshall amps, and my graduation present was a Marshall AVT150 and a 1960A 4x12” cab. I was over the moon, and shelved most of my pedals for the sake of using the amp gain (which was sorely needed). I used that rig through college in various bands, and still focused on playing mainly more than tone chasing… mainly I’d say because I didn’t have any money to chase with. I would dream of owning various things, but again it was what felt like a faraway pipe dream. I eventually moved back home after college while working to save up, also was dating my high school sweetheart and planning a life together. I was working and contributing to the house, but I still had more money that I knew what to do with. That’s really where it TRULY started. During all of this time I had been on dialysis, so I had 4 hours, every other day to just sit. Trust me when I say you can only watch but so many movies, TV shows and listening to music so much before it gets old. Now multiply those 4 hours every other day times 24 years…you get my point. I wasn’t able to use my left arm, so the guitar wasn’t an option. Internet forums became my escape, places like TDPRI and TheGearPage, Facebook, etc. It was in these places that I started cutting my teeth on better gear, reading and absorbing and my curiosity growing every day. That’s what started my path down the rabbit hole.
 
I started off small, with my very first “boutique” pedal being a Keeley-modded Boss TR-2 tremolo. I fell in love with it and realized that maybe there were better sounding options than I had known about before. My second boutique pedal was a Lovepedal Kalamazoo, also another pedal that sounded phenomenal and was outside of the run-of-the-mill stuff available at my local Guitar Center or Sam Ash. My third boutique pedal pushed me over the edge completely, and that was the Paisley Drive, from Wampler Pedals. I was on a HUGE Brad Paisley kick at the time (see previous blogs), and that was the exact sound I was looking for going through my Fender Hot Rod Deluxe. It was so good in fact that I sold my AVT150 to fund more pedals. Next up were the Pinnacle and the Ego Compressor, followed by the Analog Echo. The cycle continued until I had a board full of boutique pedals, lusting for more and needing a bigger board. Looking back, I had time to kill because my wife (newly married) was working 12-hour shifts at the hospital every other weekend, and I was bored and loved experiencing new sounds.
 
Since that time, I’ve been chasing tone, obscenely. There was a period from 2012-2014 that I’m particularly not proud of, where I was buying and selling and flipping pedals faster than I could keep track of. It gained me a TON of experience and knowledge in so many ways, but it took a toll on the wallet. As time has gone on, I’ve tried to reign it in some, but GAS always rears it’s ugly head when new stuff comes out. It’s just so easy to go browse Reverb.com and look at gear, and that “make an offer” button is going to be the death of me. I’ve made crazy low-ball offers before expecting to immediately be turned down, and the seller turns around and accepts my offer. I’ve also sold stuff for less than I wanted to to get a quick sale. I’ve found in general with Reverb that if you want to sell fast, of course, you want to sell cheap. I refuse to add up how much money I could have potentially gotten due to not holding out for a better offer because GAS had taken its tolls and made me lust for another piece of gear.
 
To summarize, Gear Acquisition Syndrome truly is a thing, and it’s the excitement of the purchase, the unknown, dreaming about the tones that could or could not be unlocked from the new piece of gear. But all of those things don’t just cost money. I’ve spent a LOT of wasted time browsing for gear, watching YouTube videos for gear I lusted for, etc. I’ve recently had to put the phone down because I noticed I would be in a restaurant or at a holiday party or kid’s birthday party and browsing for gear or talking on forums or Facebook or Instagram instead of having face-to-face interactions. 
 
My main goal with this blog is that I hope someone else out there will identify with my thought processes or path on the pursuit of tone, and they don’t get to the point where I was with taking financial risks and neglecting the important things in life. At the same time, there are experiences that I have had and things I’ve tried that I had only dreamt of. The key is BALANCE. It took me quite a long time to find mine, but I at least feel like I’m in the ballpark.