Jason Wilding

Jason Wilding

Regular readers of this blog… I’ve been a good boy in recent times with almost no ranting, with little or no intention of deliberately highlighting things that will upset people… I know, quite unlike me. Forgive me, loyal readers of thine blog, if it has become boring.

Having said that, you might want to get the popcorn out. I’m not going to descend into some epic rant here because I believe in providing the evidence for you to make your own mind up - but I am also going to be cross-referencing stuff… So, get comfy, as to be able to fully understand what I’m saying you’re in for the full monty with reading this blog, two other pieces and watching a review of a competitor’s pedal. You might need to listen to a podcast as well (although to make it easier, I’ve transcribed what Brian and Blake said at the bottom).

Now, I hear you ask… what is this all about? Well, you could say I watched a video recently that pissed me right off. You could say that, and you’d be quite right. The video in question was full of such outrageous comments and statements that I feel the person who said it should have known better. Much better. Brian commented about it on the podcast (he basically stated his disbelief at what was said) and was then contacted by the reviewer in question who completely failed to understand why we, as pedal builders, would be upset by it. With this in mind, I’ve taken it upon myself to lay the facts out clearly.

Before I go further, I need to highlight a couple of things. I need for you to understand what a gear influencer is. It’s highlighted fully here. It talks about how they get paid (if they do), who pays them and goes on to explain what the difference is between a demo artist and a reviewer. If you still have the will to live after that one, read this one – it’s all about production techniques and why pedals cost as much as they do when a top-level USA based company produces them. 

The person that got this rant going is a gear reviewer. He did not receive any payment for the video, he bought the pedal himself, so it was an honest one from that perspective. He was under no obligation to paint the pedal in any light other than his own. However, regardless of that, I feel that when you are going to put yourself out there to do this, you need to be careful in what you are saying because the casual observer can take what is said and draw the wrong conclusions.

I need to make a statement now before I carry on… so here it is. I am completely and utterly bored of people talking the purest horseshit imaginable about production techniques and parts used, and then basing the value of the product on their misunderstanding of how all this actually works.

There. I said it. It’s out of the way… So, in order to make my point, I’m going to have to break some of this video right down, line by line, and expose just how dangerous saying this stuff is. I say these kinds of comments are dangerous because it gives an unfair perception to the customers about the value of pedals, and what goes into them to bring them to market. To put it simply, it’s dangerous because it’s total crap. 

During this video, in particular from the 6-minute mark onwards, he’s carelessly throwing around the price of things. “$1.50 for the power jack”, “$1.50 for the input and output jacks….” He even goes as far as saying “Parts wise, there is nothing to validate the cost of this $230 pedal.” 

The devil is in the details.

OK, let’s rip this little section apart a little. First of all, his estimation of the cost of parts is so far wrong you wouldn’t believe it. I’ve spoken to Josh Scott and Robert Keeley, looked at our own price/rate (who I’m pretty certain you can agree to represent a fair panel of this industry), and the average cost of an input/output jack is no-where near as expensive as that in the numbers we buy them in. One of those companies (based on the 2017 figures) had a failure rate of just over 0% (on 21K+ pedals produced during that period). Another had a failure rate of just over 0% (based on 29K+ pedals made) and the other had a failure rate of just over 0% (based on a total output of 35K+). Of all the information I could gather, the only issues happened were due to human error in the production process. So, tell me again how a more expensive jack from Switchcraft would increase the value of the pedal to the customer? You have to admit, a combined failure rate of literally just over 0% based on 85K+ units really is quite remarkable. 

Regarding pricing of parts, take a look at these.

One of them is $0.10, and the other is $2.26 (prices right at the time of writing, they are subject to change). Just for complete transparency - here are the places I am getting these pictures and prices from.

Here is the $0.10 part.

Here is the $2.26 part.

Although the page clearly states that these images are for illustration purposes only, I can assure you if you put the two different parts in a pedal and pointed to them with a screwdriver on a YouTube video you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. Also, I’m not saying that Josh uses either one of these parts in his pedals, I’m just showing what a pointless exercise this all was... One of these parts is 2260% more expensive than the other. So, what is the point of looking at them in a pedal and passing comment on their value to the product, or in fact, their literal fiscal value at all?

I could go on and rip the rest of it apart, but it would just descend into me ranting, and I’m really trying not to, so here are the direct quotes that really annoyed me.

8:11 “I think honestly though; this pedal should be 130 – 150 dollars tops.”

8:18 “Even though it sounds good, I betcha it would sound better with some better parts.”

8:27 “Looking at these parts these are about the same quality components you get in a BOSS pedal so, it’s not like you are going to go down a lot in quality when you go to BOSS, it looks like they were put together in the same way.”

Having read what I say in the original piece about production costs, R&D, guarantee, (and let’s also factor in that Andy Timmons is paid a commission on each unit sold), how the hell can someone ascertain the cost of a pedal by a cursory look at the circuit board in that way? How does this person then go on to KNOW what would make it sound better? And most importantly… how are they able to compare it to a pedal by another company – especially when the only thing that compares the two companies is that they both make guitar pedals… the processes and intentions are extremely different between the two.

I’m having a hard time in keeping this all on point, so I’m going to stop now… Just remember what I said in the other piece about costs associated with making a pedal in the USA and think about comparing a pedal like this one to a boss pedal and only using your eyes to make that comparison. Don’t think about the location of the manufacturer. Don’t think about a limited lifetime warranty (which is what JHS offers to a pedal bought in the USA). Don’t think about artist commission. Don’t think about anything at all. Just look at the pedal guts and openly make uneducated and outrageous bullshit assumptions about them, and then broadcast them to 128k subscribers.

I will, at this point, acknowledge that he does say "We know we are not paying for parts when we are buying pedals - that's a wrong road mentally and you'll upset yourself. it's kinda like when you go for breakfast and you think about how much eggs and bacon cost"... but if that's the case, why go on to say all the other crap?

I’d like to thank Robert and Josh for their openness in discussing the cost of parts and their failure rates so frankly with a competitor. Just goes to show what a wonderful relationship we have in our little corner of the industry, and also explains why we kinda stick up for each other.

 

Transcription of Blake and Brian's podcast conversation - original here (Episode 193, from 45:00).

Brian: “This particular You Tuber had a JHS pedals… he liked the sound of it, and he opened it up, and he started talking about how he didn’t feel it was valuable enough because it had surface mount parts and look at this, you know, the way this is done, I’m not a big fan of that, you know, I don’t like these kinds of…”

Blake: “For real?”

Brian: “And, I’m sitting here, like, getting…”

Blake: “Not the surface mount thing again?!”

Brian: “YES! And I’m sitting here… And this is the guy with 200k subscribers or something like that. And I know the guy… super nice guy… and I thought about it and should I and just be like “Dude, why didn’t you do three minutes of research – we have an entire blog about this discussion. Literally, you type in surface mount v. through hole and it like pops up. It takes like, no research. We did it for you.”

Blake: “Right”

Brian: “And he used to have music stores! You know how this works! There are profit layers… From distributors to retailers etc etc. And that’s the only way you can sell it around the world. You are not going to make a pedal in your garage and sell it in 500 stores. It’s just not going to happen.”

Blake: “It’s a different thing and we’ve beat that horse to death”

Brian: “Yeah, and I don’t want to hit that again – I guess… It was just a disappointment. To see one of my favourite YouTube channels not do due diligence. And research it a bit more thoroughly.”

 

For the sake of balance, here was the response to Brian's original comments, in a blog piece. I note how the real issues were not addressed, hence this blog being written.

 

 

 

My NAMM 2018 diary

February 01, 2018

Day 1, Wednesday – “…there’s two L’s in Hell…”

It started like any normal day, not enough sleep and getting up to get the kids off to school…  Once they had gone there is that horrible moment when I catch Mrs Wilding’s eye and she looks sad. She doesn’t like me going away - we are one of those weird couples that spend 24/7 together and thrive on it so it’s very hard on her as let’s face it, I’m off to California with my peers and she’s at home - but she accepts that it’s a vital part of the job so she puts a brave face on. Once I’d got my shit together and packed up, I got in the car ready for the drive to Heathrow. Now, the journey up is usually indicative of my week and unfortunately, this year was the drive from hell. It was absolutely pouring down, in the most English way, all the way there. I don’t mind driving in the rain, but when you have visibility of about 50’ and people are going past you at what looks like about 100 and they don’t even have their lights on it’s just plain scary. The English, what are we like?

Arriving at Heathrow I quickly found my travel buddies, Tom Quayle (who was about to have the biggest show of his life due to his Ibanez signature model being officially released), Jay Henson, Jake Willson and David Beebee, and we started settling in for the long journey to LaLaLand. We got on early due to Jake being picked out as needing extra attention by the customs guys (so we blagged on through the line with him) and found our seats. The flight was barely 1/10th full so we spread out and for once, got as comfy as possible. The best thing about the flight is that this is the chance I get to truly catch up with Tom (who everyone who is connected to me on Social Media knows I love like a brother) and as usual he unwittingly gave me about 10 guitar lessons during the flight! Bonus. The conversation with everyone was as random as usual - it went from theology to philosophy, music to movies, life to death and a lot about how our kids are trying to send us to an early grave. The highlight for me was when we were talking about how people misspell, or mispronounce, our names that led to a conversation about what our Darts names would be, Jake “There’s two L’s in Hell” Willson and Tom “Legatenstein” Quayle. Believe me, 9 hours into the flight when half of the group had been drinking somewhat it was much funnier than it sounds written here.

The absolute worst thing about the NAMM journey is US Customs. We’ve usually been up for 24 hours at that point and you are made to feel like a terrorist coming through… So, we puckered up and prepared for the inevitable. For once, we sailed through with barely any waiting and I found myself on the shuttle heading to the Wamplers and NAMM. Arriving at the hotel at around 9pm, I was almost dead on my feet – I got a text from Brian saying he had just left the convention center (he’d had to rewire one of the boards) so I had time to unpack… when I got the message they were back. I walked to their room and Amanda was half passed out already (not a good sign) and the first thing we said to each other was “You look as tired as I feel”. You would have thought that we’d all just hang for a bit and get some sleep, but no, that would be far too logical. I poured myself into bed at 2:25 having drunk a little too much.

 

Day 2, Thursday – “…my wife really fancies you…”

BOOM, 4 hours sleep. Thanks Jetlag, you are a cruel mistress. I Facetimed my family then staggered down to breakfast. We got to the show and I had a nightmare getting my badge so was about 30 minutes late getting to the booth. I was greeted with the booth being packed and poor Greg facing it on his own… This is the busiest Thursday I can remember at NAMM. It seemed like we were packed ALL day. The first couple of days tend to be all about the meetings and I was lucky that I didn’t miss any (a wise man doesn’t book the early slots). It’s usually the day that we all fly off in order to see industry friends around the immediate area as well and them dropping in to see us – it was a delight to see the likes of Seymour Duncan and Phil X – who I actually got a photo with this time based on the statement “Hey Phil, let’s have a photo together as my wife really fancies you”. Thursday is a bit of a blur to be honest, we had a LOT of people come by and they all loved the new pedals.



After the show we went out to someplace somewhere to eat. I don’t actually remember where. But, I think it was a Pizza. Probably was. We went back to the hotel via Target to get some supplies, accidently bought a ton of beer, and went back with the intention of being in bed by 11 so we would be prepared for the day ahead. Amanda did this… Brian and I on the other hand… 2:05 I went to bed after we talked about the new releases, next releases, our kids, our lives, absolutely everything. And we had the first discussion about my favourite time of the year… April 1st

  

Day 3, Friday - “…Nah mate, you’re talking bollocks.”

4.5 hours sleep. **sigh**. Up, Facetime, breakfast, show. Got there on time so had a moment to properly catch up with the guys on the booth. It still kinda freaks me out a little to see Groover Jackson and Bruce Egnator just walking around, and then there’s Dave Friedman, and Joe Morgan… most importantly Jerry Best, Steve Elowe, Paul Wilson and Avi Elkiss – the guys who make Wampler work from the manufacturing and distribution perspective, in other words, the guys that do the real hard work! Friday was also insanely busy, even more so than Thursday. It’s great, but it’s a nightmare. However, getting to meet Andy Martin was a highlight, he’s as cool in the flesh as he is on video!

Lord Thomas of the Quayle rocked up to the booth about 11:20, he was due to play on the booth at 12 but he had no patience so instead of 30 minutes everyone got almost an hour of unadulterated Quayle. That was the strangest part of the trip for me, it was the first time we got a little PA on the booth so Tom could use backing tracks… When I met TQ at Heathrow airport for my first NAMM in 2012 (effectively my first NAMM buddy) I instantly liked him and what a journey it’s been since then. We are now what you might call family friends, we talk regularly about the real world, he’s been a musical mentor to me… we did the Dual Fusion in 2013, I’ve seen him progress into this world class virtuoso and I don’t mind admitting that I got a fraction emotional when he was surrounded by a large group of people just marvelling at what he does best. Improvising. Yep, this was mainly improvised.

 

Yep, I know it’s portrait instead of landscape but this was for FB – people tend to hold their phones upright ;)

After the show (which included me sliding down the railings outside that Amanda assured me looked cool, but the massive bruise I’ve been left with meant it was anything but) we went out to meet up with some of the members of our Facebook Tone Group which was just ace. We all sat around drinking beer and eating food, just hanging out – for us this is what it is all about. The people, we do this as we are all the same, just people looking for great tone, so to directly connect with the people we help along the way is incredible. I ate too much, drank a little and just had the best time. Thank you guys for coming out, it was awesome. So… back to the hotel for an early night. As usual Amanda went to bed and Brian and I went to the firepit by the pool for a quick drink… we were joined this evening by a few other residents, one who quickly and with the deduction skills of Sherlock Holmes realised I was “European, probably British” and basically took over the conversation for an hour. The conversation actually started with him telling me that Princess Diana was murdered by MI5, to which I replied “Nah mate, you’re talking bollocks” and the conversation went on from there. He was mainly interested in talking about politics… which considering we appeared to be polar opposites on that subject it went quite well, he was much more drunk than I was so I’m not ashamed to admit I kinda walked him around in circles for a bit and then forced him to contradict himself repeatedly without him realizing it. I was actually being my online internet troll persona in real life! And no, he’s never been to a shithole country before... Once he had left the inevitable happened… we went to bed around 2:30 after Brian fell asleep mid conversation after a few beers were drunk!

 

Day 4, Saturday – “…two middle-aged guys loaded with camera equipment trying their hardest to get into a high school dance…” 

The mad day. I arrived really early so actually got to try the new pedals properly. Although I was slightly hungover, I really enjoyed the day as so many people came by just to chat and hangout. We had Andy Wood on Synergy, another performance from Tom and it was all just incredible. I just don’t know where the day went. So many people! I had a load of meetings with dealers, saw some incredible playing and hung with friends – in particular PapaGates himself, Brian Haner, who is one of my favourite NAMM buddies and one of the few people who can talk as much rubbish as I can with the sole intent of saying everything and nothing at the same time... Perfect.

As the show was ending and it quietened down, I ran over to see the “competition” and had a great play through a load of Keeley pedals (Super Phat Mod is HUUUGE), hung and chatted with Robert, sat on Stefan Fast, trolled Josh Scott, checked out Chase Bliss and popped up to see CatalinBread which was kinda weird. It felt empty, obvious since Nic’s death it’s not the same as he would always be there, but no Howard… Scott… I dunno what’s happening, but I didn’t hang around long enough to properly find out. I just couldn’t.

After the show we popped into Downtown Disney to see our friend’s band play, and Brian and I trundled off to the annual pedal builders party… Rather stupidly we didn’t check the address and rocked up to the place it’s always held. We were denied entry by a well-dressed woman stating it was a private party. We told her we had been invited… when she dropped the bombshell that this was a high school dance did we realise how bad it looked… I mean, two middle aged guys loaded with camera equipment trying their hardest to get into a high school dance… we made our excuses and left VERY quickly. Once we arrived at the correct location it was wonderful, this is the only time we all get together so the conversations are tremendous. I shared a lot of abuse with Stefan Fast, trolled the crap out of Josh, laughed with Robert and shot some video with Andy Martin. We had a very interesting conversation outside that concerned how one of us had been totally disrespected by a heavyweight of the regular effects industry. I won’t go into details, but there is a video up, and it’s been heavily edited. Us ‘boutique’ guys kinda stick together and there are a lot of us now that have lost a lot of respect for that one guy. I’ll leave you to work out how that was! The venue was open to the public and there was Karaoke happening as well – a lovely lady called Bunny who must have been about 60 sang some incredible older lounge Jazz stuff in a really low register so everyone who sang after her was just treated to a load of drunken pedal builders chanting “BUNNY! BUNNY! BUNNY!” over and over. I honestly have no idea who started that **ahem**.

We got back, intended to go to bed early… beers, firepit, 2:10….

 

Day 5, Sunday “…Where’s Heidi?”

Got up super early as it’s the day I go home and I’m always really excited. The booth is always quieter on a Sunday so we all did loads of playing and everyone just floats around to see everyone else. April 1 was discussed a lot, hugs were had, goodbyes were said and at 5pm I walked outside, got smashed in the face by the heat and jumped on the shuttle to the airport. I arrived at the airport before TQ did, and he woke me up when he arrived (I know, how classy am I – I was snoozing as I was sat forward in my seat) and as with the rest of the journey, we just flew through customs and made our way to the plane via the Sushi bar. A couple of years ago we were served by a hilarious woman called Heidi and we wanted to be entertained by her again, but our calls of “Where’s Heidi” were greeted with “She got fired because she… well… kinda…” and we stopped him there, we didn’t want to taint her memory!  

The plane was half empty again so we spread out and slept for 6 glorious hours. Once again, Passport control was easy and before I knew it I was doing 100 miles an hour past Stonehenge, home and into the arms of my family and one stupidly excited dog.

NAMM is great, but it’s bloody hard work and extremely tiring. It’s the only time I get to spend one on one time with Brian and we make more plans in those 5 days than we do in the next 360. I see the most inspiring players and come back a better player. Unfortunately for me and my family I was completely dehydrated when I got back and the next 2 days were a complete write off. I blame Brian. It’s always his fault.

 

Following on from bDub’s video about the 12 things he’s learned making videos for YouTube (see below), I thought I’d piggyback that and make 12 things I’ve learned being the main social media guy for Wampler in the last 7 years. For those of you who don’t know, I’m the guy that has been the constant with the social media for Wampler since early 2011. Other people have worked with me during that time, most notably Alex who’s been with us for almost 3 years now, but, most of it has been me and my warped sense of humour. 

  1. People have opinions and they think they are facts. People are passionate about music, and they are passionate about their opinions associated with them. Especially when it comes to favourite guitar players. They may love the blues, or shredders, or whatever, but there are a LOT of people who misunderstand the concept of opinions. They have the final word and are prepared to destroy all those who dare to disagree! Let’s face it, we’ve all got into arguments on social media over pointless crap with strangers, but recently it appears to have hit new highs. My ban hammer finger seems to get twitchy much quicker these days.
  2. Memes are made to be stolen. One of the things that has caused me the most headaches is irate people shouting (well, typing in caps) “YOU STOLE THIS FROM MY BLOG WOT I MADES IN 2013” or something. The unfortunate thing about meme’s and graphics is that once they are on the internet, they spread like wildfire and it only takes one person to download it and put it somewhere else and all traces of the originator are lost forever. Subsequently, there have been times when things I’ve made have come full circle and come back to us, which makes me chuckle, and there have been cases when well-known outlets have been downloading stuff from us directly to reshare… It’s a difficult one, and one I try not to get grumpy about, but… you know… sometimes when a repeat offender does it over and over it becomes obvious and I let myself down and make a snide comment on their thread. I should know better really.
  3. Everyone thinks that you are the face of the company and you better not show any trace of personality. This is one that happens to me often. I quite often get a *insert expletive here* who thinks he can come on to my own social media presences and tell me off for putting them down when they act like an arse to either me or my actual real-life friends. I’ve been called many names, most recently a Nazi. As you can imagine, that wasn’t particularly nice but I’m a big boy now and sticks and stones and all that...
  4. Everyone thinks that because you work for a company like Wampler it’s all jamming with Brent Mason, making fancy meme’s and drinking fine wine with Seymour Duncan at NAMM and nothing else. Nah… it’s mainly planning strategy for marketing, B2B selling, watching market trends, trying to predict market trends, justifying decisions made about the current market, the future market and maintaining relationships. Basically, it’s about moving little grey boxes around the world. Sometimes you get the fun stuff, but it’s really really rare.
  5. Everyone is a world leading expert. On everything. No matter what evidence you place in front of them about running a business, they still don’t see why they should buy a pedal for $200 when they can buy a soldering iron and parts from “Hanks fishing tackle and Radio Spares for $35 and making it their damn self and it being just as damned good”.
  6. People think that who you are online is who you are in real life. What people have to remember is that working from home and doing online stuff can be kinda boring. When I get bored I partake in the age-old English past time of taking the piss. Although I do it in my real life, I pretty certain I’m not the stereotypical grumpy Englishman people think I am, or appear to be – here’s the thing, I often have to play bad cop to Alex’s good cop when dealing with trolls and people who don’t know when to stop talking. I dunno, maybe I am grumpy… but my wife tells me I’m not, and I’m not man enough to disagree with her on anything.
  7. People will tell the world with righteous indignation about bad things with a company on social media before even venturing into speaking with the company about the issue. Or, they will expect you to be online to sort their problem out 24/7 and have the answer for you in seconds. How many times have you seen “I’ve not received a response from them when I mailed them”… most of the time it will be 2 am on a Sunday, they’ve emailed you through the website and 10 minutes later they’ve gone out in public slamming you for the problem and your unprofessional way of not getting back to them. It’s massively frustrating, but you know, I’ve got to poop at some point!
  8. People will look for a correlation of events and try to draw conclusions from them, and they’ll do it all the time. “Yeah, well, Brian said he likes Uni-Vibes and next doors cat looks like Brian’s, he said the word vibe and wet in the same paragraph in a video in 2016 so I KNOW that a WampVibe is coming this year!”. Or something like that. You’ll know when stuff is coming because we’ll tell you. I mean, it’s not in my nature to tease people at all or anything like that **ahem**
  9. You get free stuff, all the time. I expect some of you have seen the pictures I post online of ‘my’ gear. The main thing is, it ain’t my gear. It belongs to the company (and others). I actually own 2 electric guitars, about 5 or 6 pedals (none of them are overdrives or distortions) and no amp. So, when I do gigs and take amazing gear, people think I’ve got amazing gear coming out of my arse. I don’t. I’m just lucky that this particular job means I have to have it here, for marketing. So, you know, it ain’t all bad…
  10. You spend all day chatting on social media. This is the one that confuses me the most. I am prolific on social media when I’m working, within the realms of my job – watching and analysing. But, once I take the work hat off, I disappear completely for a period of time. I am a family man and I protect the relationship with my wife and kids fiercely, so when I walk away from the computer, you won’t catch me on Facebook. I work from home and it’s 7 days a week, virtually 365 days a year, making multiple posts over multiple platforms for multiple brands. I keep in touch with a lot of our artists and dealers on FB and most of my relationship building is done there, so when I walk away, I walk away. It’s that, or I’ll end up being divorced.
  11. Fundamentally, most people (and companies) do not understand the concept of social media marketing. Which, in terms of other companies is great!! Hahahaha – KIDDING! But, I spend a lot of time watching and learning on social media, seeing what others are doing, analysing what we are doing and then making decisions on how to proceed based on what I see. I do have to say though, it’s a big rush when I see some of the biggest companies in the world blatantly taking our style and doing their version of it. It’d be better if I got 10% of the fee though! I speak to a lot of people who are allegedly marketing experts and most of them don’t get it. Don’t get demographics, don’t get what it means to try to get into people’s heads in the best possible way. A few do, and when I find them, I talk to them a LOT!
  12. A lot of people want to take your job. I understand that, completely. I have a cool job and people can think they can do better. Especially on the graphical side. We’ve, well – I’ve, really honed the look of the range in recent years graphically. We made a conscious decision on our look and I’ve continued to produce the graphics according to that plan. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read “Your pedals look shit mate” or something. It’s usually a graphic designer from the other side of the world who’s looking to get the work for themselves. Unfortunately, unless they want to do all the other stuff I do as well, it probably won’t happen. Because you see, we don’t all have one job at Wampler, we have about 4! 

Thank you for listening to me ramble and for your support of this blog, this is my first one of 2018 and I hope to be filling your eyes and minds with more irrelevant crap in the future! Despite what I have written above, I genuinely adore my job and interacting with people as much as I do. It's one of life's simple joys to be able to connect with so many people, from so many cultures, from so many countries, each and every day...

... and, there is a lot more to this, but I'm not going to give all my secrets away!

 

We had a great year here at Wampler and for that, I'd like to thank you all for your part in it.

Throughout this year we've launched ourselves back into the release schedule (after an extremely quiet year before) and seen some instant classics being put into boards all over the world!

First up was the Dracarys, a brutal high gain pedal that not only brings the brootalz but also more classic rock tones.

 

Ethereal - finally! Yeah we know, we first showed it 18 months ago and many people felt like we kept delaying it, we didn't, we just wanted to make sure it was right. And safe to say, Brian made it perfect!

 

Next up came The Doctor... inspired by a conversation that Brian had with Brad Paisley that led to some prototypes (SkyLine and WheelHouse) a few years back, finally released into the main line in 2017.

 

Speaking of Brad Paisley... The Paisley Drive Deluxe was up next. Having used the Paisley Drive now for 7 years Brad, Brad wanted us to incorportate his other favorite Wampler pedal into a unit, the Underdog. The Underdog has not been available for years and years now, so this was a welcome release for Brad fans everywhere!

 

And finally, the big one. Our most requested pedal EVER. When we bought out the Tumnus 2 years ago it was so well received it kinda blew us away, but we couldn't help but notice people wanted a full-size version and, well, they wanted it to be Wamplerized. Mainly with a three band EQ. We had a few hairy moments upon release as there was an issue with it, but we did everything we can to put it right for our dealers and most importantly, for you. 

 

So, that was our year in pedals. We are extremely excited to bring you new stuff next year, I'm telling you now, it's already shaping up to be an amazing set of releases! Watch this space!

As always, it's not just about the pedals, we get up to all sorts of nonsense online as well, we host THE best gear group on Facebook, we have our regular FB page that we post stuff ranging from useful right down to extremely silly, we have a lively Instagram page, we tell stupid jokes on Twitter and Brian is always bringing it on our You Tube channel. What it is, I'm not sure, but he brings it. As you are reading this, you probably know about our blog, but it's worth checking out should you stumble across it. Finally, as tone chasers ourselves, we bring you the Chasing Tone podcast... We sometimes even talk about gear on there!

 

 

Had the most horrible experience at a gig on Friday, and if I am being honest, one that has thrown me sideways all weekend. It’s been in the forefront of my mind ever since and I think.. I think… I’ve worked out what the problem was.

A little bit of background for those not familiar with my ramblings about the band. I play in a basic cover band, 5 normal guys playing the music that they like. We aren’t what you would call a Top 40 band as we generally refuse to play the songs that most pub crowds want to hear, and when we do give in and do a popular song, we make it our own. Basically, this means I get a load of opportunity to show off with various styles and quite a few elongated solos. Sounds kinda great doesn’t it!

I don’t consider myself to be a great player, but I can certainly hold my own in this band. Obviously, when I sit down with Tom Quayle I come away thinking I’m a complete novice, but relatively, in this situation, I’m good enough to be the sole guitar player in this cover band, playing the circuit we play. I’m confident about what I do and most of the time I come away quite happy - I always try to play for the song and try not to overtake the basic intention, just try to add to it, in my own way. So, you know, generally, it’s all a good experience for me (sounds like I’m trying to convince myself here).

Right, now all the background crap is over, here is what happened. We played two sets on Friday and the first set was great and the second set was utter crap. Not the band, just me. Everything felt wrong. I usually don’t suffer from any kind of nerves when playing – I’ve been doing this a long time - I just get up there and enjoy myself. I love my guitar and my gear in general – playing live with this band is my ‘comfy space’.

Looking back at it objectively (which is what I try to do with most things whenever possible), I can see the following things that happened. During the first set I played right at the top of my game, I was more than happy with it. My tone was spot on, my guitar felt like it was part of me and everything went well. We did our usual set and I think, in terms of my own capabilities, I pretty well nailed it. My musical barometers (the bass player and my wife) came up to me in the break and said it was all going rather well, and pointed out a couple of moments that really worked (I tend to improvise most stuff so you know, it’s a bit of a gamble). The people who were there and who were listening enjoyed it. So, thus far, it was all going swimmingly. The second set, from the moment I stepped up to make sure my guitar was in tune, my guitar felt like an alien in my hand. I honestly felt like I’d never touched it before and it just felt wrong. Absolutely everything about it wasn’t familiar to me. I felt like I was stood there on my own and sticking out like a big sore thumb, exposed as a complete fraud. To compound the issue, when I started playing it felt like my tone had changed also, considerably for the worse. When we finished the second set I couldn’t wait to get home, curl up in a ball and never think about it again. Yeah right. The reality is that I’ve been thinking about nothing else since. The thing that confuses me about this is that after the 2nd set my barometers said it was still great – just as great, but my wife did comment that she could see I wasn’t comfortable up there until it was coming to a close, when I looked more like myself. She said at some points I really didn’t look like myself and I was struggling, but my playing was on point.

When I got my guitar out of its case last night (I couldn’t bear to see it until then, which for me is unusual as I like to see it as I am around the house) it was exactly what I expected it to be. The action was how I like it and it felt like part of me instantly. I have no idea what made it feel different. Now, to counter the obvious questions - I don’t drink when gigging, so it wasn’t as if I had had one too many in the break, I don’t smoke anything I shouldn’t, I didn’t have any kind of bad experience in between, in fact, for the life of me, on the surface, I couldn’t think of anything tangible to give reason for this.

Here is what I think happened. I’m pretty certain that at the moment I picked my guitar up for the second set, something in my head said “NO” to me and I didn’t pick up on it. Generally, in my life, I quite often have an argument with myself about myself, and when my head says no about something I can identify it and move forward without too much stress – and yes, that is oversimplifying it immensely, but you probably don’t want to read about my process in full. What I didn’t do on Friday was identify this properly. The only way I can describe it – well, kinda, is like this. Have you ever been in a crowd and all of a sudden felt claustrophobic? Every been in a social situation and everything suddenly felt wrong and you have to leave for no apparent reason? It was like that – something was just wrong and everything around me was wrong and I had to get out, which I obviously couldn’t, so I had to stay and play. Now, I suffer from both of these feelings at times and I have learned how to deal with them both - I have things I can do to make sure I can overcome any sense of uncomfortable and move on. Trouble is, I’ve never had it on stage before in my comfy place, nor have it happen so sneakily and for it to have such a weird effect – basically, I just didn’t spot what this was. I don’t consider myself an overtly anxious person but I’m pretty certain I had somewhat of a subtle anxiety attack as I stood there. As usual with these things, there was no reason for it other than it just was.

OK, so what can I do to make sure I don’t suffer from this again. Well, right now I don’t really know. I can’t. All I do know is that it’s possible it might happen again - so I need to be able to identify it quicker and work with myself to contain it. As a 44 year old man with a fairly long history of ‘interesting emotional issues’, I’m in a position to work through most situations that come up (usually by talking to the people who can understand me, or as I am doing here, to total strangers) and I’m a long way forward from my lowest point in life, but I am aware that things like this can drag you down extremely quickly. I’ve learned, again, that when you are in your most comfy of places your head can totally mess with you and seemingly only do so for its own amusement. Should this happen again, I will be (hopefully) be able to identify it and concentrate on my space, my space within that space, and know what to do and how to bring myself through. There are focus things I can do, breathing things, internal headspace things, that help.

I do think that creative people, ‘artists’, are the most likely to suffer from issues such as these which leads me on to think I am going to have to write about this more, in depth, soon. I know there are a lot of people who are emotionally crippled by anxiety and I just can’t imagine what that must be like. What we see here is but a tiny snapshot, a token experience, one that (fortunately for me and those around me) I can deal with on my own.

Thank you for listening. I suppose that I should just shut up and play my guitar, and will do so. I’m only talking about this now because I’m pretty sure this happens to a lot of people,  and in more extreme situations, that happened to me. My relationship with the guitar is deeply personal and one that I treasure, I’m guessing that I need to be careful that I can’t let myself take away the thing I love the most from… errmm... myself. I'm lucky enough to have my guitar hanging on the way in front of me as I work, I keep looking at it and thinking "I love that thing" so I'm guessing as long as I'm thinking that, I'm still winning?

 

 

 

 

Demo Artists v Reviewers

December 04, 2017

I got in a bit of trouble last week with some people - purely because I encouraged a mass troll of a troll. A lot of people thought it was the wrong thing to do, but in my defence, the guy who was trolling us said something so silly I just couldn’t help it. My bad, I should have known better. This guy was dropping one liners on demo videos saying things like “*insert demo artist name here* will endorse anything that is put in front of him”. Once I’d got over the incredulity of such a ridiculous statement, and having discussed it with Brian and Alex (to be fair, we often have discussions about statements online that are plainly ridiculous and wonder what people are thinking when they say them), I came to the conclusion that there are people out there that don’t appear to have a clue what the difference is between the two. So, I thought I’d lay it out in front of you – I will stick with the pedals as it’s all slightly weird, but this will apply to all aspects of the MI industry…

Demo Artists
These are the guys that receive some kind of payment to produce a demonstration of a product. Often paid for (in one way or another) by the company that makes the pedal themselves (or by their distributor) and it’s a fantastic way of getting the pedal out there quickly into the ears and eyes (and then hopefully the hands) of the customer. Now, there are a lot of people out there that want to do this so the competition is fierce. When you look at the demo’s that are turned out by people such as Ola EnglundBrett Kingman or Tom Quayle, not only are you seeing the product, but you are seeing expert levels (with pro-level gear) of photography, videography, audio recording, composition and decades of crafting their playing talent. These are not some chancer with an iPhone 4S and a nice guitar who knows a few riffs, these are people that do this as part of their wider job, therefore they receive payment (and this element is not standardised, some people cost a LOT of money compared to others).

In order for them to maintain our business, as the manufacturer looking to get the product into the customer’s hands, it is well worth their effort to make the pedal look and sound as good as possible. Let’s face it, if a demo artist comes onboard with us and their first attempt is utter crap, they won’t get anything else from us, ever again. So, they HAVE to make it sound good for our sake, but most importantly, for their own.

This is where it becomes an art form. I’ve seen countless videos of Brett Kingman where he has straight up said that “it’s a great pedal, if you like that kind of thing” which can be translated to be saying “It’s not for me”… but, he does everything he does to make it sound the best he can in the video. What does that mean? Well – on a personal level, it makes me trust him, I don’t want to sound like him but I know if I listen to his demos, he makes it pretty clear what it can and can’t do, and I know what it will sound like in most situations. Brett has been doing this for a LONG time, he was the first demo artist I dealt with when I started with Brian in 2010 and he’d been going for a good few years then. It’s safe to say that for me, Brett remains the benchmark in terms of professionalism, honesty and dignity in this business. You know what you are going to get, not only from the demo but also from the unit if you buy it.

Reviewers
I think this is where people get confused, as this is where opinions come into play, and as a manufacturer, it’s a bloody nightmare and has legitimately caused me sleepless nights in the past. A great example of people who review pedals who walk this very fine line are Henning Pauly and Dan and Mick on That Pedal Show. Although, to be fair on the both of them, they aren’t really reviewers, they just do what they do but in this industry, they are the closest I can get.

They are both extremely experienced in their appreciation of music and the weapons that are waged war on to make it, but they have both built their channels based on “I’m not going to bullshit you”. So much so, there are times when I’ve watched them both with our pedals and my heart has sunk out the bottom of my shoes, out the front door, into the gutter and then washed out to sea. BUT… they are both ridiculously popular, so we listen to them, and we learn from them. I, and we, have learned very valuable lessons from their videos that have been invaluable to us as a company in the past. Why? Because they approach it differently, Dan and Mick are the excitable tone chasers that know what they like and everything in their show is done to their liking – so, if they like your pedal, you’re going to sell a shitload, if they don’t… Well, some you win and some you don’t. Henning is a no-nonsense kind of guy that says it like it is, you can’t hide ANYTHING when you send a product to Henning, if he thinks something is stupid, he will say so, and is probably right to do so. Probably. Do they demo? Do they review? It’s hard to gauge, but I think they both kinda review, but not in the way you would expect.

Magazine Reviews
I’m not going to get too far into this one as it can get political, but you know, have you noticed how quite often the companies with the biggest adverts in a magazine quite often have the most products reviewed in that issue? ANYWAY... moving swiftly on...

And, in conclusion…
What are the differences? Well, a demo artist is paid to make a pedal look and sound bloody brilliant – it’s an advert. S/He is paid to advertise the product, by playing it, and for it to be launched either to their own following or you use it to communicate to your own. So, it’s all about reach and getting it into newsfeeds and incite that condition known as G.A.S.. A reviewer is someone that will be more open and honest and give you their opinion on it. Which should you rely on and trust more? The answer, obviously, is both and neither at the same time. What you should do though is not take either of them as gospel and watch and read as much as you can about any given piece of gear and then base your decision purely on how it makes you sound, when you play it, with your own gear.

As you may (but you probably may not) know, I use somewhat of a complicated pedal board for the band I play in. We are just a pub band that generally play to a couple of hundred people, with at least 50% of those are generally too drunk to care about what they are hearing. But still, every gig I walk into the venue with literally thousands of pounds of gear. I know a lot of people will say “why bother”, but I do it because it makes me happy and I want to have great tone. So, let’s nip that one in the bud before we get started!

However, an incident at a gig a couple of months ago has made me relook at a couple of items on my board and made me realise I bought a lot of my gear because it’s considered to be the industry standard and it was expected to have that piece of gear if I wanted the feature set. Yes, this means I play each gig with a Strymon TimeLine and Mobius. Before I go any further I do want to say that I bloody love the both of them, they are incredible pieces of kit and it’s easy to see why they are considered to be the industry standard and sell so many every week, month and year.

However… would you be surprised to know that the TimeLine has been out for 6.5 years and that is a LONG time in terms of tech. Granted, it’s received software upgrades in that time (currently on v1.84 as we speak), but from what I understand, the hardware on the new ones you buy in store today is the same as the ones that were first released. Let’s put that into context in a more accessible format. The TimeLine is like having an iPhone 4. Loads of people have them (including my kids) but it’s safe to say, it’s in no way considered to be the cutting edge of technology. If you were considering paying hundreds of pounds for a new phone, would you choose an iPhone 4? No, you wouldn’t. If we are being honest here, the display of the big three Strymons are straight out of a Nokia 3310 rather than an iPhone X.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen a lot of new products come out that challenge the mighty TimeLine as the first call MIDI controllable programmable delay pedal. BOSS have come out hard and strong with the DD-500 and to pick the one I have personal experience with, the Source Audio Nemesis is fantastic, albeit a very slimmed down version. I know about the Eventide and TC Electronic (haven’t we all seen endless arguments about which is better), but I’m going to stick with the ones I know properly, otherwise, this will be very long and very boring. When I first got my hands on a TimeLine, I spent hour after hour marvelling over what it could do, how amazing it sounded (I’m a big fan of the analogue through signal that many other pedals do NOT have) and spent literally hours playing with the ICE setting, The Filter, The Dual, Duck, Swell… well, you know, the list is endless. It was great, great fun.

BUT… (and yes, hardened viewers of Game of Thrones may chuckle at that, consider Ned Stark’s opinion of that word) when I had programmed my gig board (which if I am honest, generally only gets played properly at gigs) I realised I didn’t use any of that, I use the dBucket and Digital setting, regular quarter notes and a dotted 8th, and it never goes over 500 or so milliseconds. I have 6 patches I use and they are all pretty standard stuff. Now, if I played a lot of U2 songs or some of the more interesting Floyd stuff etc etc etc, I would use more, but I’m guessing that in so far as a regular gigging musician, I’m pretty much the same as the vast majority of players out there… So, why do I have this beast? It’s simple… because everyone else does and it’s considered, still, to be the best in its class.

To go back to something I mentioned earlier, there was an incident that made me rethink this properly and was somewhat of an enlightening moment for me. The lummox of a bass player that is in the band I play in dropped an XLR on the tap tempo switch of my Mobius and snapped it clean off. I was pretty horrified to notice it had a composite plastic shaft and broke extremely easily. I had a little trouble with Strymon when I tried to order a replacement, but they stood up to the mark and sorted me out, so this isn’t a bitter retort about customer service, but more of a contemplation on how we view and buy gear. I challenged them about the shafts and they said they were the best option for the pedals. Considering they sell replacements for them on their site for $4, I am thinking maybe they aren’t. But, that’s only here because it was the catalyst for my change of thought process.

Simply and honestly, I got the Strymon’s because everyone had one and G.A.S. - I didn’t really think about it.

A good mate of mine distributes Source Audio in the UK and let me borrow the Nemesis after I told him what I actually wanted rather than what I thought would be fun… and guess what, it does absolutely everything I need and no more – and, it’s also over $200 cheaper than the TimeLine in-store. I’m currently in the process of changing the TimeLine over to the Nemesis, and it’s almost hilarious the number of people who say “WHAT? WHY!!!?” when I tell them.

Let’s look at the Nemesis for a minute. It has all the silly stuff, including some interesting pitch shifting type features etc, but it appears to have been designed by gigging guitar players. There are no endless submenus through an awful display to get a decent effect, the selections on the ‘main delay type selector thing’ are incredible – for example, the slapback feature is sublime, the tape setting sounds much more tape like than the Strymon and everything is just there, and just right. Granted, if you are a tweaker, the amount of variables in the TimeLine is quite remarkable, but… for me… well, there is a reason I work for an analogue effects manufacturer I suppose, I just get pissed off with scrolling through things to tweak the lo-pass filter and the subdecaytrouserfilament etc. (on a crappy numerical LCD display - you may be sensing a theme here).  I just want something that I can program in a heartbeat, using only the knobs on the top, and save it quickly to a location and then call up that patch via MIDI.

Since then, I’ve also got a BOSS MD-500 here that will probably replace the Mobius. Because for the price I can sell the Mobius for, I can replace with a brand new BOSS pedal (I know, if you are reading this and thinking “Bloody hell, how much do they sell for in the UK?” but I got offered a great price for one… so….) The BOSS outperforms the Mobius in absolutely every situation, much higher processing power, much stronger unit physically and the display is gorgeous, I can see everything I need to see in order to program the thing. So, pretty soon, I imagine I will be Strymon free.

Like I said above, this isn’t me knocking the Strymon, they are fantastic and have served me well. It’s just about time they updated them, physically – because pretty soon, their age and awkward displays are going to be outdated, if not so already. So, I challenge you Strymon, stop messing around with digital distortions and v2 the big three. Updated with OLED displays, increased processing power (as the Source Audio and everything else that is more reasonably priced has either the same, or more powerful, levels of processing) to refine the tones that are in there (at least attempt to put a decent tape emulator in, PLEASE) -  because if you do, you will once again set the benchmark that other companies will take literally years to catch up on.

The Gauntlet has been thrown down. Let’s leave 2011 tech where it belongs and show me something that will melt my mind… not with silly pointless effects, but something that a regular gigging guy (with a MIDI controller) can really hit ‘that’ mark and do justice to the G.A.S. your products are still kinda generating. If not a v2, but with maybe a streamlined TimeLine v2 to go with it… Because pretty soon, reputation alone just won’t cut it – your reputation is still there, just, but there are others are gaining momentum, and gaining it VERY quickly.

Unfortunately, an issue has been found with a select number of the new Tumnus Deluxe pedals that have been sent out. We have identified the problem and have already taken steps to rectify it. Unfortunately, a small number of units were sent out before this was completely identified so it may be that the unit you have in your hands is affected.

In a nutshell, the Tumnus Deluxe circuit is immensely complex compared to the mini and other pedals of its kind, and in order to maintain the core tone and response of the circuit, the signal is routed through so much ‘stuff’; the balance of response and tone has been intense, to say the least. The nutshell within a nutshell is that a few of them have issues with the PCB. Although all units shipped will still sound great, they just aren’t working absolutely perfectly. 

Obviously, we want to make sure that every unit that goes out fits in with the vision that Brian had in his head, specifically his ears, so we are recalling the units that may be affected for a free mod. There is no easy way to do this, so we are offering you to return the unit to us, on our dime, to be rectified. We will send you a prepaid return label, and as soon as we receive notification (for this, we will require you to email us the tracking details) we will send you a replacement unit that is up to the standards that we, and you, demand from a Wampler product. They will cross in the post, and you will have a perfect unit as soon as humanly possible.

There is a quick way to tell if your pedal has the mod: Any Tumnus Deluxe pedal that have a serial number starting with "M" are ones that have already been fixed and will not require sending it to us. However, there have been a few retailers that have had their tech do the fix so make sure you ask them as well (at least for the batch affected... it may be a different method if you're reading this in 2018 or later).

Brian and all of us at team Wampler are extremely sorry that this has happened, but assure you our attention to the detail that drew you to us originally, is the reason behind this recall and our determination that every single unit out there is exactly right is driving this.

Please email us from here if you are a proud owner of the Tumnus Deluxe and you want the universe of awesome tone to be perfect with this free mod!

 

*Please note. Free shipping back to Wamp HQ only applies to USA customers, international customers should return the pedal back to the dealer it was bought from!

Tumnus Deluxe

November 10, 2017

Oooops, they did it again. Unfortunately for us, and you, a few dealers saw fit to release details of the Tumnus Deluxe before the release date, so this pedal will come as no surprise to many of you. Shame really, but I’m guessing when a pedal is as eagerly awaited as this one is, it’s fairly inevitable that people will want to get ahead of the game. 

But, that as we say, is already history. We are managing the release now, we’ve officially announced it, so it’s now out there – let’s just get on with what this thing actually does. As usual, I gigged the pedal last week to get a feel for it, and here is what I found from that night and playing with it afterwards. I’ve also extensively A-B’d it with the mini so…

The pedal. First of all, I must say, it’s bloody beautiful. I’m pretty self-deprecating when it comes to my work, but with this, I give myself a pat on the back. It looks ace. Taking the original concept and expanding on it, complete with white LED in the lamppost :D

When I first plugged it in, my initial reaction was that it was much smoother than the mini. Everything seems to be a little more rounded, a little more pleasing to the ear when using it as standalone overdrive. I always found the mini to be a little gnarly and out the box, the Deluxe has been smoothed a little, with a tweak of the gain and the EQ, you can replicate that gnarliness, but you can get a much smoother tone if you require it. For me, this is a massive bonus. Setting the bass and mids at 12, normal mode, buffer in, you get pretty close to the Tumnus. Increase the gain a fraction and the treble a little, you have an almost identical replication of it. However, when you then drop the mids back a little it smooths out somewhat, and when you bring them back up past to where it was, the tone just jumps out at you. Flicking on to true bypass doesn’t do a huge amount initially, it’s a fraction smoother again, but that just shows what a wonderful buffer Brian put in the mini. However, when I started stacking up over drives over the top (more about this later) the true bypass really started to shine.

I dropped the pedal straight into my gig board in place of the mini (it was most amusing, I had a glove covering it on my board just in case a camera phone was out, highly unlikely, but you never know – the singer thought this was hilarious and made repeated jokes about me throwing the gauntlet down) So, my gain section was Tumnus Deluxe into 2-1 of the PaisleyDog. Right away, I noticed that smoothness and clarity that the true bypass gave, I got the original Tumnus tone by tweaking, but ended up using the smoother version. I found that I was boosting the mids slightly, not quite so much top end and keeping the bass ever so slightly rounded off. This gave me a much fuller sound. The Tumnus for me is almost an always-on pedal, the Bravado is immensely unforgiving in its cleanliness, so I use it to break it up a little. Also, when you have the Underdog growling at you, bringing the Tumnus in behind it makes it sound massive with considerable bite. The Tumnus Deluxe with its expanded EQ options gave me slightly more control over that, and allowed me to really tailor that bite and hone it exactly where I wanted it. The one thing I really noticed was that the whole thing was just slightly fuller due to the EQ, it was slightly more pleasing to listen too as the gnarlyness was gone - when I was stacking two overdrives on top of it, as well as compression before, it wasn’t jumping to feedback so quick. I had much much more control over my tone because the base tone was somewhat more refined.

I’m not going to wax lyrical about it, I want you to make up your own minds when you get the chance to play it, but my initial thoughts of this pedal and what it does remain from when I first plugged into it. And those are: it’s smoother, it’s eminently more tweakable to nail THAT exact tone you are chasing and most of all, it has a white LED within a streetlamp on the graphic. Worth it just for that alone I’d say!

Being stuck in a rut

November 06, 2017

Yesterday, this question was asked on the Wampler Pedals tonegroup on Facebook.

Do you ever get to a point in your music that you just feel stuck where you’re at? And that you find yourself losing sight of where you need to be in your music to inspire yourself to learn new things? What do you do to re-inspire yourself to get you back on track?

This struck somewhat of a chord with me (da daaaaaa) and my personal experience is why I have so many strings (da daaaaaaaa) to my bow as a player. You see, I’ve been in so many ruts with my playing I think I could write a book on how to get out of them. Well, maybe not a book, but probably a blog piece. 

So, in the many ruts I’ve historically been in, how did I elevate myself out of them? The trouble I’ve been in is that I’ve been in one for a while and I was lifted out of it this weekend. But, I’ll get to that in a minute. 

  1. The first and most important thing I’ve done as a player is to see live music. As much as I could, as often as I could. My wife always kinda laughs at me when we see music together as, apparently, I stare at the guitar player’s hands, all the time. My concentration levels are so high I am barely aware of the world around me, I’m just drinking it in. Absolutely everything they do. Notes, rhythms, vibrato, phrasing… everything. I just watch them. Any decent player, that doesn’t have to be decent on the level other than playing in a local pub band, will have something to offer you if you only pay attention. For example, on Saturday our band shared a bill with a Reggae/Dub band called The Barefoot Bandit. I quite like Reggae and Ska, so I was always going to like it, but they had a guitarist in that band (Harry) that enthralled me. He had the kind of right hand you don’t come across often, his rhythm work was sublime – yet subtle, his chord inversions were perfect (he was complimenting the other guitar player of the band) and his solos were genre perfect. When we went on after them I was so inspired to make my right hand stand out better. I didn’t play anywhere near as many notes as I usually do, but I hope I was a little funkier. Ever since then, I’m been working on my right hand, I hadn’t planned to, but it’s opened a new door for me.
  2. The second most important thing I’ve done is learned that it’s not all about your preconception/expectation of a player. View every player you hear/see as a potential teacher and take something away from them for yourself. If you pick something up from a player, take it home and incorporate it into your own. For example, the one thing Vai has taught me over all the years I’ve been listening to him is phrasing. It’s the same lesson I got from Clapton, Nuno, Beck and Quayle. When I first heard those players the last thing I thought about was their phrasing, but that’s what I’m left with from them. I looked past my expectation and found something they had that I didn’t. I unexpectedly learned from them, after I first got into them.
  3. Listen to everything you can bear to listen to. Don’t just listen to your comfy music, the stuff you love, stick something on you wouldn’t normally and try to hear something different in it. When I am coming home from a gig (when the wife isn’t with me) I often listen to Classical Music, or Jazz, or something else I would never listen to at home – so, use your radio. Put a channel on and listen to it. There will be something there for you to latch on to, even if it’s just one thing – the more you do it, the better you will become at picking stuff up. And DON’T just listen to the guitar parts, listen to the phrasing and attack of brass sections, listen to the depth and power that a certain inversion of a chord that is being made by the strings in an orchestra… It’s all the same thing, it’s all just the application of the notes and the intervals between them. Then think about that in your own playing, something will pop out at you.
  4. Don’t be afraid to stop playing, or go to a different tuning, or pick up another instrument. A piano in the house is the best thing for me to have as a guitar player, I often sit down at it and play with chord inversions or different scales over chords on the piano… I look at the patterns on the piano I wouldn’t normally look at on guitar - I try to play guitar stuff on piano and then piano stuff on guitar. Most of the time it sounds like utter crap but the thought that has gone into it ALWAYS opens another door in my head, and when I get back to being me on the guitar again I usually notice something has changed somewhere, something new has arrived.

How does all my waffle above deal with the question posed? When I’ve been in a rut I’ve found that someone, somewhere, will pop me out of it. Harry did it on Saturday, I heard something that I wasn’t expecting, and dived into it. I’ve also found that if I take something from someone musically and put it into my own playing, it will then open another door. So, if you want a challenge, learn a song by someone you never normally would. Then look at the chords underneath it, then take a hook from that song and put it in a completely different one and see what happens. You will find that your playing will become more interesting and you will discover a new direction to play. This is the reason I successfully play a lick from Steve Vai as part of my stock solo in “Bring Back The Sunshine” by Eddie Rabbit - and I’ve been told it sounds good.

Most of all, do not limit yourself to one genre or group of players. Listen to everything, take a walk with a different tuning or a different instrument. Primarily, just stop worrying. Someone will come along and scare the crap out of you enough to make it all exciting again.

Thank you Harry, you did it for me on Saturday.