Jason Wilding

Jason Wilding

 

One of the things I hear the most, and it’s literally almost a daily occurrence, is “why does this pedal eat batteries so much?” or something similar… 

Here’s the starting point, in my opinion of course… what we should all remember when thinking about guitar pedals is that, with the current scope of power supplies available to us, from the dirt cheap (ba doom tish) to the really expensive, there is really no real need to still use them… It would appear, on a global scale, we don’t appear to have any kind of system for disposing of used single life batteries right now, although local recycling is present in a lot of the Western World. So I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it’s probably best to try to avoid dumping them in the trash, or maybe we should be walking away from them as much as possible.

Now, before you say it, I will… “But Eric Johnson says…” let’s face it, we are not Eric Johnson… I consider myself to have a pretty good ear for stuff, and I truly cannot tell the difference between a fresh battery, of any kind, and a decent power supply (providing the same amount of power). Obviously, when a battery starts to die, it tends to make certain effects sound slightly different. But the power supply people have already thought of this and many now have variable amounts of output to emulate and reproduce the symptoms of a dying battery, but consistently.

Another thing we hear a lot, a sub question to the original, is “why do pedals appear to drain batteries so much quicker than they used to” well, the answer to that is simple, pedals tend to be considerably more complicated than they used to. Back in the good ol’ days you have a buffered bypass, volume, gain and tone. These days you often have relay switching bypass, 3 band EQ’s, multiple gain stages and so on therefor the simple equation is “the more stuff it has in it, the more it’s gonna drain your battery”.

With a pedal like the Tumnus, and other K styles (if the pedal is done properly) there will be some serious power shenanigans happening inside, it’s taking your 9v and bringing it up to about 25v. So that makes the pedal considerably more thirsty than if it was just taking the 9v… when you look at the Tumnus Deluxe you have the power coming up to about 25v, 3 band EQ, relay based switching, extra gain… so, that’s why it’s rated at 70mA draw which will chew up a regular battery in no time.

Keeping with the Tumnus Deluxe, if you are using a regular Duracell battery, or even an Energizer, they are rated at about 310 mAh (milliamps per hour). So, if you were to put one in a Tumnus Deluxe, it will start to feel the effects of the draw within a couple of hours. If you are lucky, it will drop below the 9v required and start to flash at you before that point, so I would very much doubt you’d get a gig out of a standard 9v battery. An Energizer MAX is rated higher than the Duracell, so you might get 30-45 minutes longer. Still not enough, I would say, to warrant the cost of a single use battery.

There is a simple equation to work out how long your battery will last, it’s not exact as it’s averaged down from the strict parameters…

Battery Life = Battery Capacity in mAh / Load Current in mA x 0.70

So, if your pedal takes 70mA, your battery is classed as 300maH, it will give you about 3 hours of power. At approaching $3 a piece, a power supply will very soon pay for itself and you won’t have to worry about it dying on you mid epic solo!

One thing to remember, if you use a single use battery, and it gets thrown straight into the bin and not recycled, the following heavy metals are within most batteries… Lead, copper, Cadmium, Lithium, Mercury, Zinc, Manganese, Potassium etc… so, we don’t want tons and tons of that stuff being thrown away, it’s not good for us when it breaks down and enters into the water system.

A decent power supply, you know it makes sense!

Quite often you see a thread on social media about how much poop modern music is, especially in ‘the charts’… Granted, the charts as we remember them (if you are as old as me) are gone, with streaming, YouTube and everything else, it doesn’t represent how music is consumed these days – long gone are the days of saving up and going into town on a Saturday to buy a Single, or listening to the latest chart update on radio etc, but the US Billboard charts now does take into consideration modern ways of consuming music, so theoretically, it’s still the same thing in terms of consumption, just calculated differently.

Music these days is ‘ranked’ for the charts the old fashioned way, by good ol’ fashioned sales, but also streams… Paid streams from the subscriptions platforms are now put in alongside radio air play… to quote Billboard themselves…

Billboard will have multiple weighted tiers of streaming plays for the Hot 100, which take into account paid subscription streams (representing a full point value per play), ad-supported streams (representing a 2/3-point value per play) and programmed streams (representing a 1/2-point value per play). Those values are then applied to the chart’s formula alongside all-genre radio airplay and digital song sales data. Streaming remains the most dominant factor on the chart, followed by radio airplay and digital sales in descending order of significance. 

So, does music suck these days, or has it that the way we consume it changed so much it just doesn’t happen like we remember it? If you think for a minute that popular music, as we know it, started to explode in the mid 50’s, reached epic levels in the 60’s and then grew from there, everything has changed. Popular music has always been, generally, the domain of the younger audience so right now, the younger audience that was there at the start is now the older generation, and they still listen to the music they listened to back then, as well as modern music. The previous generation that classed Rock and Roll, pop music, and all that as being ‘unsuitable’ are now gone… so, popular music has expanded geometrically in that times, especially the genres. In the 50’s (and this is off the top of my head and not meant to be exhaustive) you had rock and roll, doo-wop, pop, swing, rhythm and blues, blues, Country music, rockabilly, and jazz… 60’s bought a new level to all that including original R&B, British invasion, Surf and Psychedelic, Folk and Protest… the 70’s gave us Heavier Rock, Prog Rock, Southern Rock, Punk, Disco, Funk… the 80’s brought about Electro and the more modern side of Dance, Ska, New Romantics, Gangsta Rap, Thrash… the 90’s saw Grunge, BritPop, Boy and Girl Bands, Modern R&B, Dance music split up into so many sub genre’s etc etc… That’s the key, music has massively diversified over the last 70 years, but we are still judging everything on the same format… and generally, as we get older, we tend to be retrospective about our music habits. With the world’s population (from 4B in 1960 to 7B now) growing and ageing, music has been spread so thin, it’s impossible to classify music these days as ‘sucking’, it’s just different.

However, let’s look at the US charts for this week over the last 60 years. And then you can make your own mind up…

 

For those who can’t zoom in, here is the top 5 breakdown

1959

#1


2: Sleep Walk, Santo and Johhny. 3: Sea of Love, Phil Phillips and the Twilights. 4: I'm Gonna Get Married, Lloyd Price. 5: Red River Rock, Johnny And The Hurricanes. 

1969

#1
 

2: A Boy Named Sue, Johnny Cash. 3: Sugar, Sugar. The Archies. 4: Green River, Creedence Clearwater Revival. 5: Get Together, The Youngbloods.  

1979

 #1

2: Good Times, Chic. 3: After The Love Has Gone. Earth, Wind & Fire. 4: Don't Bring Me Down, Electric Light Orchestra. 5: The Devil Went Down To Georgia. The Charlie Daniels Band

1989

#1

2: Cold Hearted. Paula Abdul. 3: Don't Wanna Lose You. Gloria Estefan. 4: Heaven, Warrant. 5: Right Here Waiting. Richard Marx

1999

#1


2: Unpretty, TLC. 3: Summer Girls. LFO. 4: Genie In A Bottle, Christina Aguilera. 5: Lost In You. Garth Brooks as Chris Gaines

2009

#1

2: Down. Jay Sean Featuring Lil Wayne. 3: Party In The U.S.A. Miley Cyrus. 4: Use Somebody. Kings Of Leon. 5: You Belong With Me. Taylor Swift

2019

#1

2: Senorita, Shawn Mendes & Camila Cabello. 3: Bad Guy, Billie Eilish. 4: You Need To Calm Down, Taylor Swift. 5: Old Town Road. Lil Nas X Featuring Billy Ray Cyrus.

 

Now, let’s look at it again. You know what, although a lot of the bands/songs in the top ten this week decades ago have some amazing songs, can you remember all of them? There are some there that I’d not forgotten, just never heard of… and also an awful lot of utter crap in there as well (in my opinion).

So, does modern music suck, no it doesn’t. I think a lot of us just looking back fondly and love what we grew up with and let’s be honest, a lot of music has been, you know, sucky since day 1!



Which order do you put your delay and reverb pedals? For years and years I was a firm subscriber to the most common way of delay into reverb… once I had started to play in LogicX, you know - just messing around, I was surprised at how different, albeit quite subtly, the order of these two effects can make the final ‘product’. When I’m in full gig mode, and I’m guessing this is the same with you, it’s not really something I think about too much, but in recent times I’ve been running them parallel and really started to notice how cleaner and clearer everything is. Which is quite an achievement when you consider what a noisy bugger the drummer is.

I’m going to approach this quite scientifically, with the exact same guitar line running through the various options… the line is only 36 seconds long, it’s not a song – just some ‘stuff’ with some intentional stabby bits in so you can hear what is happening. I suspect you might get bored of the same line by the time you’ve got to the last example, but stick with it, as it’s the end one that really highlights how important this is.

First of all, here is my clean tone (is that copyright Andy Martin yet??). To make this simple for myself I used the Helix Native plug-in set on a fairly standard clean Deluxe style model running through a 2x12”. All you are hearing is my PRS Brent Mason, single coil mode, pickup position 4, straight in. There is a fraction of compression up front (and of course whatever YouTube applies at the end…), I’ve recorded it at 41k, .wav and crunched it out at 1080p in the hope that the sound is as clear as possible. I would definitely recommend listening to this under headphones or through a decent set of speakers, as your phone speakers will mush it up further. 

The compression, amp, delay and reverb settings are unchanged in any of the examples – they are the same throughout.




Here is the delay line. As you can hear, it’s a modulated delay with a few repeats, nothing startling, but it’s intentionally quite overbearing.



Here is the reverb line. It’s quite a large ambient thing, definitely not something I would usually use, but I needed something large!


 Here is the delay into the reverb. As you can hear, the reverb sounds bigger as it’s also reverberating the delay repeats as well, this is where things start to get kinda mushy if you really listen to it. – the reverb feels like it is starting to take over, and the end result is that the whole ambient reverb side is overpowering the main playing line.


Here is the reverb into the delay. To my ears, the delay has lost a little edge and is further back in the mix. It sounds more ambient and bigger as the reverb is also taking the delay lines and reverberating them. The modulation on the delay is falling over itself in places… it’s kinda cool, and a little trippy, but it’s even further lost in terms of the original piece of playing.

Here is final one. As you can see from the signal chain path on the video, the delay and reverb are running parallel to each other so they are not feeding into each other in any way. The feel of separation is clear and everything rings out the way it does in the separate videos. Now, this is easy on the Helix as you can drag a separate path for each, but these days there are a lot of products out there that allow you to separate them and, run in parallel, and then put them back together afterwards, for example the EHX Tri-Parallel mixer and the EQD Swiss Thing. Personally, I particularly like the WetterBox from the GigRig for this… it has the options and features to make sure your signal path is flawless.


If you would like to hear it all again, running one after the other, here is a longer video with them all back to back! I’ve put the Parallel one in the middle of this, because it I wanted you to listen again with (what I think is the) best way before it gets mushy.

Like I said, it’s subtle when using normal delay and reverb style (normal for me anyway), but I’ve tried to use delay and reverb sounds that will show the difference it would make in the real world, even if these aren’t the kind of delays and reverbs you would normally use, you can hear what a difference it makes how you stack them – remember though, there is no right or wrong way to do this - you need to try it, explore it, see what works for you and then go in that direction, it might be that you use multiples ways of doing it within your playing!


 

 

 

Well, I had my first EVER refret last week. I’ve never really cared enough about a guitar to get it done… well, either that or I haven’t kept a guitar for long enough and played it hard enough to even think about it. Or maybe, in the case of my favourite PRS, the frets have never been so darn weak as these are… were.

When you hear PRS talk about his guitars, all he cares about is the tone they produce. Everything is picked according to their place in the tonal spectrum… I’m all for that as my guitar is the most lively I’ve ever heard (unplugged as well as plugged in), but it would appear that in part of this trade off, the fret wires they chose for the Brent Mason signature modal are about as strong as a soggy piece of paper.

It all started to go really wrong about 18 months ago when I noticed I was getting a ‘sitar’ effect from my open D string, then about 9 months later it also started to happen on the open A string. Not only were the frets weak (I was at this point worried about the wear on them), it would appear that the nut was as well. So, I made do like a proper Englishman and stuck a small piece of cardboard under the strings in the nut. This not only meant my tuning stability went out the window, but also, some of the attack and brightness I love about my guitar went as well. Once this had become completely out of control I thought “Sod it, I’m going to have to get this fixed.” 


Cardboard under the strings to stop 'sitaring"

I contacted an excellent luthier who lives some distance from me, and discussed it with him, told him about the nut and showed him this photo of my current fret wear. We arranged for the long ol’ trip to his workshop, so I put my beloved guitar in the car (as I knew I had a week without gigs) and drove it up to him, which was about 150 miles away. As we discussed the work that needed doing, we came to the conclusion that I needed a shim under the nut (as it would appear the nut wasn’t cut correctly in the first place) and a total refret… I decided to go all in and get stainless steel. The PRS BM model ships with PRS’ version of 6100 jumbo frets, which have always been a little high for me, so I took the leap of faith and went down to the slightly lower 6150s.


6 years of fret wear

The only guitar I’d ever really spent any time on with SS frets was Tom Quayle’s signature Ibanez and I liked the attack of them, the slight zing they provide and maybe some brightness… maybe. So, I thought “why not”. At this point, I put the question out on our FB group “Stainless Steel frets, pros and cons” and quickly got a thread full of “My Suhr has them, they are amazing” and so on, so I was confident I had made the right choice!

When my guitar arrived back with me, I had 1 day to familiarise myself with it before I was due to play an all-day gig. But, as work is mental busy right now, I literally only had the time to make sure the neck was good, all the notes sung out and I could still do some of the ridiculous bends I like to show off with (I bend up to a 4th). Once I had this clear in my mind, my guitar went back in the case and the first time I properly played it was at the gig. I know, crazy, right?

The first thing you notice is that they are SO smooth it’s like there’s almost nothing there, it feels like there is hardly any resistance between your strings and the frets, so bending is MUCH easier. The first song in our set has no guitar solo in it, so I was feeling fine… when my first solo arrived in the second song, I totally over-bent the minor 3rd bend and it was hideous, but as I’ve been doing this for a ‘few’ years, I could quickly adapt and from there on in, my intonation was pretty much on point. I found that the bends were easier and took much less effort, but most surprisingly, vibrating the note at the top of the bend was considerably easier as well (my bent note vibrato isn’t great, so any help is appreciated).


Oh!!! Shiny new Stainless Steel frets for the win!

One of my biggest fears is that my string life is going to reduce somewhat, but it’s a minor worry as I am extremely picky about having new strings for each gig. I just can’t play live unless they are new and slinky to the feel and yes, that does mean I use Ernie Ball strings – after 30 odd years, they just feel right under my fingers. I’ve tried all the others, but always come back to EB regular slinky’s. As those strings are nickel wound, they aren’t the strongest strings on the planet, and going up against the SS frets I expect they won’t last as long… purely due to the fact that nickel frets against nickel strings means that the ‘damage’ caused by playing will be pretty well evenly split between the frets and strings. But, as these are now up against a much harder fret material, they will take the majority of wear and tear. However, every time I do break a string, it’s over the bridge or over the pickups (I tend to play hard when I’m really “in the zone” - lol at myself for saying that) and have never, according to my failing memory, broken a string over the fretboard, so time will tell if this will happen. 

Tonally, SS frets appear to make everything a little zingier, maybe a little brighter. Although, to be honest, I don’t know if that’s my head playing tricks on me. As they are bright, shiny and new, does it mean my brain is telling the tone is? To test this I recorded my guitar direct through my sound card, the same line I had recorded a week before (this is how I test effect plug ins) and the difference was negligible, maybe slightly more attack. I’m almost certain to the point of arrogance that once it was going through my pedals and amp, the sound coming out the speakers was not that different. I’ve seen a lot of talk online about the frets being brighter, but I’m not sure I can hear it that much, maybe a little, but certain nothing major. It’s more of an attack thing, and that’s more of a response issue than tonal, I think.

The tech who did the job used the phrase “You’ll never regret it, or have to refret it” which is reassuring as I play really hard when I’m in country mode and that tends to be a lot of what I am doing these days. So I am hopeful that the massive expensive I have laid out will be an investment for life. After spending a lot of the day playing this guitar at an all-day gig on Saturday, I’ve come to the following conclusion about SS frets. If you have a guitar you love and you want a refret, just get them done with the SS frets… it’s almost like your finger strength has been increased! 

PROS: considerably longer fret life, bends are much smoother, vibrato is much easier, more responsive to your attack, they never get dull.
CONS: string life (if you are using nickel strings) will be diminished, expensive.

Seems to be a no brainer really!


As regular readers of this blog will know, I’m what’s known as a ‘part time’ gigger, or a semi professional musician, or the type of person who sinks every spare penny into a hobby without any monies coming back in… pretty certain many of you can relate! I’ve been gigging now for about 30 years – including some time as a FOH sound engineer - within a variety of different styles of music. So, I thought I would take this moment to pass on some of the hard-earned knowledge I’ve picked up over the years and present it to you in a three-point checklist to make you sound better when you are playing live. I say hard-earned, because all of this was learned the hard way: by sounding pretty crappy before I sounded good (well, I hope I sound good, that’s what I tell myself anyway). 

  1. Understand your EQ and how it changes with the room and the people in it
    When we are sat at home, making our tones, or programming our tones, (or however we do it) we have to understand that the room we are in will sound and react differently to the one we end up playing in. It’s massively likely that this room is smaller, with a lower ceiling, with carpets and curtains, or softer chairs… basically, things that soak the sound up. When you go out into a gig situation, the room may well be different – in fact, I’d go out on a limb here and say that 99.9% of the time it will be the complete opposite. It’s likely to be MUCH bigger, with a higher ceiling and  fairly sparse in terms of softer material to soak the sound up. You get what are known as ‘hard reflections’ coming back at you, from the hard floor, the back wall, windows, absolutely everywhere. Remember, sound waves are not transverse waves like the pictures we see of a nice sine pattern, but a longitudinal wave (think of a worm squeezing itself together and stretching out to move forward, rather than a sidewinder snake wiggling it’s way), so the pressure from the speakers is pushing the air in front of it in a certain direction. As the bass wave is longer, it will push further and as bass is omnidirectional, it will go everywhere.

    This will result in three things happening. The low end of your tone will travel much further than the highs (this is why when you are outside somewhere with loud music, you hear the bass through the walls – those long waves are almost unstoppable) and the high end could sound very shrill, or sharp. This leaves you in a dichotomy, as it appears you won’t be able to win. You can win, definitely, but you have to play wisely.

    A lot of players set their amp EQ to be a nice smiley face, because at home, that’s what sounds best when you are jamming along with a record (do we still say record? Maybe track?) and there will be nowhere else for your sound to go. As soon as you take that tone into a live situation, you will notice that without a suitable amount of mid-range, your tone will mush in with the bass guitar and the top end will pierce the ears of all those who stand before you. If that big ol’ room you are playing in isn’t full to the rafters straight off with people standing/dancing right in front of you, your tone will be lost.

    When you do your soundcheck, or line check, or level check (which ever you do), try to remember the space you are occupying with your tone. The low end is not necessary, so you need to drop it somewhat from what you had at home. The mid-range needs to be there as that’s what people hear - the human ear is trained to hear the frequencies of the human voice, so balance it at the point where it sounds full, but not woolly. Be very careful with your high end, it needs to sit right there on the top of the mid-range, but not attack the people at the back of the room like a drunken ninja looking to test their new Katana blade. As the room fills up, you may well be able to add a little more top end to your tone, but it’s unlikely you will need to if you balance it properly in the first instance.
    Note – in a larger room, turn your reverb and delay levels down, they will just swamp your tone. 
  1. Watch your ‘gain’ levels – consider stacking rather than using a full-on dirt pedal
    When playing at home, it’s kinda hard to get that high-volume response from a gain pedal, or even a gainy amp, at lower sound levels. I fully expect there to be a mathematical or physics-based reasoning for that, but quite frankly there’s no need to go into it (translation – I don’t know). In order to make your guitar respond at lower volumes, you need to increase the ‘gain’ to replicate the feel. As you get louder (if you have even a slightly responsive amp), you will find that you can literally put your gain knob at almost halfway back to where you have it at home to get the same response… the same level of ‘alive’ under your fingers.

    If you like higher gain tones for your solos, it would definitely be worth considering two (or if you are silly like me, three – three is heavenly!) lower gain overdrives stacked up together to give you that tone, rather than a separate gain pedal for solos. This is a personal favourite of mine, the reasoning behind it is that your solo tones should ALWAYS be different from your rhythm tones (even the most foot stomping rock has surprisingly low gain in rhythm work) but at the same time, not too different unless the song calls for it, this is YOUR tone after all! The best way to achieve tonal stability in your sound is to take what you already have and add to it with an inherent EQ curve rather than a completely different tone. This is why TS pedals are so popular, as well as K style pedals. The midrange hump that they both provide don’t necessarily add a higher-level of gain to your signal, but boy does it feel like it. The power and response is increased beautifully… if you have a favourite pedal (for example, my current squeeze is the Plexi Drive Standard) and add a K style pedal with unity level, low gain and a higher level of treble/tone, your tone will fatten up and cut through. It’s like putting your amp on 6 instead of 4. If you put a TS with a similar setting between the two, your amp will sound and react like it is now on 8. Very little gain is being applied to the front end, but enough to make your end pedal, the one that creates your tone, ‘dirt up’ hugely… you’ll find that the harmonics and response within your playing will jump out at you as well.

  2. Play into the spaces, don’t fill every gap you can find
    In other words, learn when to shut up! This is the one that comes naturally to me as the first band I was in had two lead/rhythm guitar players, so everything was split pretty well 50/50 and we quickly became aware it sounded boring if we played the same thing. So, we used basic chord inversions to fill out the sound rather than duplicating. We also learned pretty quickly that, in order for the band to sound bigger, one of us had to stop playing at certain times. Because when the one who stopped came back in, the sound became huge. These days, the band I am in only has me on electric guitar, we do have an acoustic strummer type, but also quite often a keys or steel player sits in - and they exist in the same sonic space I do.

    When it’s just me, I often will play something to compliment the acoustic player as he just strums on regardless. So, I will use a different inversion of the chord, or an arpeggiated strum line thing at the start of the bar, or maybe a complimentary line with the bass player. When the song hits the chorus, I come in properly and the band sounds bigger. When playing alongside a keys or steel player, I tend to sit back even further, giving them the room to fill those spaces and they do the same so, when we are all in there, the sound (the ‘width’ of the band) increases dramatically.

    That phrase is the key to this – “leave the spaces clear”. Consider your band sound to be like taking a road trip in a car. If you have four people in the car it’s comfy and you all have the room to do what you want to do, if you put a fifth person in the car with you, space is limited so you all adjust to the situation. It’s the same with the band, as soon as someone is in there and occupying the same space as you are, you HAVE to adjust what you are doing, or it will feel very crowded very quickly.

    So, there are three small hints for you to take to your next gig, rehearsal, get together etc. Just remember, you don’t need all that gain, you probably don’t need all that low end and don’t be afraid to shut up now and then to increase the dynamics of the band you are in!!

 

Some sneaky geeky tips:

  1. When setting up your PA and the room is boxy, or you are on the stage, consider putting the PA speakers on the floor rather than the stage. Or if they are on the stage, try to get the top cabs slightly pointing downwards. If they are too far above the heads of the people who are in the audience, the sound will fly straight to the back wall and back towards you, and so your nightmare begins!
  2. Try to never put your PA speaker against a wall. If it is flush with a wall, the bass end from that speaker could be increased by up to 6db.
  3. If you put your amp on the floor and you not on a stage, your amp is playing to your legs and you’ll have to have it much louder for you to be heard. If the room is emptier than you’d prefer, by the time your sound hits the back of the room, you are likely to be considerably louder than the band.
  4. If you are using a 2x12” cab for your guitar, also consider bringing your cab up off the floor. The bass response from the floor makes a difference as per above, and if you have the cab up off the floor, you can lift your sound up away from people’s legs. Dependent on the room and whether or not I’m mic’d up, I sometimes have my 2x12” running horizontally as it fills my part of the stage up perfectly. If I am not mic’d up, I will run it vertically (with the best sounding speaker at the top) so the sound flies around the head height of people, as rumour has it that is the place where you hear stuff best!!
  5. Here’s something that may well blow your mind a little, where you place your P.A. bass bins and your top boxes could mean they are out of synch. If your top box is on a pole that sits in the bass bin, your sound will hit the audience at the same time. If your top box is on a tripod and the bass bin is sitting in front of it (so about a yard in front) your bass frequencies will hit your audience about 3ms before your top end. If your top box is on a tripod on the stage and the bass bins are on the floor in front of the stage (about 2 yards in front), the bass will hit the audience about 6ms before. It may not seem like much, but once you know this, you KNOW it!

If you are anything like me, for the longest time you treated compression as a big ‘meh’ and didn’t understand why virtually all guitar players need it. Yes, I did say that, virtually all guitar players need it. I thought that compression was something country and funk players used, so I thought I didn’t need one when I was younger… this all changed when I got a BOSS BE-5 that had a compressor in it (a CS-2 I think) and I thought it’s only job was to fill some of the holes within my sloppy solo playing.  I couldn’t be more wrong, I couldn’t have been using it more incorrectly if I tried. But, it lit a little fire in me to discover what compression was really for, in terms of guitar tone and how, when used with a degree of subtlety, it was the most important pedal to own.

Compression probably IS the most valuable item in your toolbox and one that should be used appropriately. By appropriately, I mean almost all of the time, but in the right way. However, the true key is working out what ‘appropriately’ is…. to truly understand what compression is, you first need to understand all the different elements of compression. More importantly, what they do and how they work together.

The initial logic of compression is to reduce the audible distance between the quieter parts of your playing and the louder. It will make all aspects of your playing heard, the softer will come up and the louder will be reduced. You could say it’s limiting the dynamics of your playing. A great example is when you are watching TV and the person whispering will be loudest thing you can hear… it’s been compressed so you can hear it. Transfer that to your playing - you still want your softer parts heard clearly, you don’t want them to disappear in behind everything else but also, you don’t want your loudest moments overtaking everything. Reducing the amount of space between the softest elements of your playing and the loudest will make your tone more user friendly to just about everyone.

Let’s look at some of the more common parts of a regular guitar-based compressor to understand what each control does. 

THRESHOLD
This is the point at which the compressor activates. So, until you hit the desired level, the compressor will be dormant. The higher the threshold, the longer it takes to kick in. The lower the threshold, the quicker the compressor activates 

ATTACK
This is the amount of time the pedal will take to fully compress the signal. The faster the attack, the quicker the compression. This often causes confusion as a lot of compressors attack faster when the knob is CCW and slower at CW. So, the more attack is when this control is turned down! The classic sound for this is country, that instantly recognisable vintage country squish comes from a fast attack, with the more modern style of country being much slower. 

RELEASE/SUSTAIN
The opposite of attack. The longer it takes the note to be released back to its uncompressed state. So, if you are looking to sustain your notes, the release is what you need to tweak to bring the level of those notes up. Release usually happens anywhere from about 50ms up to several seconds, depending on the unit… this has to be treated with respect though, as this is the knob that will quickly send you into feedback – which at times can be great, but at others, can be horrible.

RATIO
Quite often this is missing on a regular guitar compressor, it has been defined by the engineer at design stage at the optimum place for guitar. However, on more comprehensive pedals it will be there. The ratio is the mathematical aspect of the compression… 1:1 is no compression, 2:1 is when it goes over 2db over the threshold limit the compressor brings it back to one over the limit of 1db – for 10db it brings it back to 5db and so on. When considering the ratio the simple guide is that the higher the first number, the more compression will be added.

3:1 is light compression, 5:1 is medium, 10:1 is getting strong and 20:1 is getting severe. You can get ∞:1 (infinity) which would be ‘limiting’, the hardest compression you can get – a hard shelf of “none shall pass”. 

KNEE
The knee is the shape of the compression and it’s called the knee in order to give you a visual representation of what is happening. A hard knee will be like a leg that is fully bent, as the signal hits the compression level it cuts it off almost at a right angle, the attack is instant and you really hear and feel it. A soft knee will place a curve in there so, as it approaches the limit, it will start to attenuate and level out – looking more like a knee half bent. If the knee is soft enough, you will hardly feel or hear it, until it is turned off.

How to use a modern compressor pedal
A lot of people have tried compressors before and not liked them. Quite often it is because they tried one of the standard basic units that don’t have a lot of control to the finer aspects, or the all-important blend control. Something with a basic “attack” and “release/sustain” setting will often be frustrating and anything but musical. A lot of older compression units also coloured the tone as well (they had a tone of their own) which was delicious if you liked it, but horrendous if you didn’t. Let’s face it, when you are considering a compressor you probably have your tone pretty well thought out… from the strings and pickups on the guitar, the guitar itself, the pedals, the cables, the amp, the speakers, the speaker cab… you like it and more often than not, you don’t want to change it all by adding one pedal. This is where modern compressors come in as they are - and yes, here it comes - they are transparent. They don’t colour your signal, they don’t change your tone, they just compress. It’s my opinion, and we all know what they are worth, but a perfectly compressed guitar signal is one you don’t know is compressed until you turn the compressor off and everything just disappears.

One of the most important aspects of modern compression is something I mentioned above, the blend control. The blend is what is also known as parallel compression – a favourite of the studio engineer. If you have a blend control on your compressor, there will be two, obvious, sonic reference points. 100% compression path and 100% non-compressed path. Straight up the middle will give you 50% compressed and 50% dry. As most compression is heard at the point of attack, you bleed in the blend to reduce that, that feel of your note being compressed. Once that balance of blend is set, the initial squish of the compressed signal is not really heard. You can still feel it, but the rest of the note duration is compressed. You get more sustain, more control, more stability, but without that hard first hit… as the natural signal dies out, the compressed signal overtakes giving you a fatter, longer lasting and fuller tone.

Once you have balanced your compression, you then have the whole “where do I put it in the chain” dilemma. Most people put it up front, so by the time your signal hits your gain stages everything is on the level. This is usually the case when the player is leaning on the heavier side of compression. A lot of players like it after gain stages, this is very handy when using it as an effect rather than as a regulator. Kicking in a subtle amount of compression after your gain stages makes everything fatter and wider, it almost feels like you are going into a cooking tube amp when you are not… the down side of this, obviously, is that any floor noise from your dirt pedals will then hit the compressor and be brought up, this can make your rig much noisier and harder to control. Also, the higher amount of gain (clipping) in your path will add compression as well, so a compressor might not be so obvious a requirement for heavier players (although it’s great for making your chuggachugga sound more CHUGGACHUGGA).

And don’t get me started on multiband compression… you can choose which part of the frequency you want to compress… it could be the lows, the highs, the high mids… absolutely everywhere. This is the reason I want 5 compressors in my rig. But that’s just excessive. Or is it?

   

Dear Gibby,

I feel I have to write as I am really worried about you. I would normally pop over so we could have a drink and a chat, but you know, you’re literally miles away. Let’s face it, we’ve been friends for… man, I don’t know, seems like forever… and yeah, I know, the friendship has been one sided – I expect you might not be as familiar with me as I am with you (does that make me a stalker lol), but it doesn’t mean I don’t care.

So, how are you? You OK? You seem a little weird recently. You seem a little lost. I know you’ve had some money issues, but I thought you’d got over that and were about to reinvent yourself, but it seems there is still something happening. Something not good. But hey, just wanted to say I’m here and that I get it. I get where you are coming from. I understand you are pissed. I understand you feel that everything has got away from you and I understand that you want it back, but hang in there mate, you need to think about how you are going to do it.

Let’s take a moment to remember. Do you remember years ago when you were the most popular kid at school? Man I do, we all wanted to hang with you, there’s nothing more I wanted than for you to be hanging with me. You were SO cool, you were beautiful… no matter who we were, we all wanted you. Boys, girls, everyone. I would be lying if I said I didn’t still feel this way, sometimes.

I don’t know what happened after we kinda lost contact. Well, I say lost contact, but I kept up with you on social media, looked at your pictures, loved seeing your travels, loved seeing you hang with all the cool people, both old and new… but, you know, I kinda feel that along the way you were losing yourself. You were not ‘you’ anymore.

Here is how I see it, you look pissed. I’ve seen the people you work with talking about stuff, and it seems a little strange – almost aggressive - so I’m doing what every friend should do, and talking to you.

You are still one of my favourites. You are still the one we look up to, but you know, don’t worry about all those ‘big boys’ around you, if they are emulating you, it’s more of a tribute. Fighting them for wearing a style that is a little like yours isn’t going to stop them from doing it. And hey, let’s be honest here, you yourself have, in the past, borrowed from other people’s styles and let’s face it, it looked as good on you as it did on them. In fact, Marty still has that original strut, yours is the same, but it’s yours now. In fact, it looks as bracing on him as it does on you. And man, you know Deano, he’s been around forever, he’s always been up to all kinds of crazy stuff, but he looks up to you man, we all do.

I want you to get your swagger back. I want you to be the one we all look up to, but there is only one way to do it. Make sure you do you better than anyone else does. It’s no good stopping the tribute acts if their tribute is better at you than you are, if you just do you and do it like only you can, the tribute acts won’t be able to compete. Reinventing yourself and saying “I feel like a new person” but not acting any differently, and then shouting at those who are not even really copying your style, just won’t cut it with the people around you. Let’s be honest, let’s be completely straight here, you rely on these people around you, so why are you doing this? Come on man, you’re still the guy. You’re still the coolest kid in town, but you know, you have to be YOU first and foremost. Do you remember that kid in the big hat all those years ago that made you popular again? You know the one, he had a huge appetite for destruction at the time… Such a sweet child. Do you remember that he wasn’t even with you and Lester at the time, it was someone who looked like you both, and we all thought it was, but it wasn’t. And boy, didn’t you ever maximise on that. That took you back to the top and you stayed there for years, I think in fact you fed your family for the longest time because of him.You really used that illusion! Crazy days, amirite? lol

Here’s what I see happening. There are people, people without scruples that are straight up copying you. Everything about you. Dude, they have even forged your signature. They are hard to get to, because they are hiding far, far away, but you know, you have the reach to get to them. These are the guys who are hurting you, I mean, they can’t be you on a budget and we all know it, but because they do this, in your exact style, people are losing trust in you. The ones you are currently pissed at aren’t causing you trouble, it’s those others that are trying to be you on the cheap. Those are the people you need to be talking to. They are coming on strong, they are everywhere. Take them on first, and take them on completely, then take them down. All your friends, the people who work in the same kinda place you do, will love you forever if you do, because they are killing us all man! lol

Mate, I hope you understand that this is done from a position of love. I care about you. I want you to be THE man around town, but taking swipes at others ain’t gonna cut it my friend. You’ve had the chance to be yourself again, take it. Embrace it. Excel at it. Be the best, because if you do you at your best, no one can touch you.

So, I’m gonna sign off now Gibby…. But please, be strong. Be you, and stop losing your head. You’ve been losing your head for ages, be stronger and we will love you even more, especially if your head stays on top of your neck.

Faithfully yours, and always up to have you come and hang around me, or in my dreams around my neck (lol),

 

Jason.

 

 

 

Being a confirmed gear head has its down sides, you often have to traverse through the nine levels of Hell to realize your perfect rig… or, as we know it, the nine levels of G.A.S.

  • You are shopping online, your offer has been accepted, you transferred the money at least 2 minutes ago and you are sitting there, in a cold sweat, absolutely terrified, waiting for the shipping notification to arrive in your inbox.

    You are in G.A.S. Limbo.

  • So, you have a great new pedal… it’s everything you could ever want. Well, it is today anyway. You go to bed the happiest you have been since the last pedal. Tomorrow you wake up, and during your morning ablutions you open up your phone and someone will talk about something else and it all starts again, nothing else matters, you have to have it.

    You are in a state of G.A.S. Lust.

  • Already got 10 gain pedals, 6 delays, 4 reverbs, 3 chorus’, 9 amps, a partridge in a pear tree and 96 fuzzes? Someone drops a GE Fuzz with cool graphics and you have to have it, you don’t care that your friends are all saying “another one?” at you continually.

    You are in a state of G.A.S. Gluttony.

  • Your favourite store sends out a catalogue, you sit there like an overexcited child on the run up to Christmas working out their ideal present list. You want that. And that, and this and that and this and that and that and that and that.

    You have achieved the advanced state of G.A.S. Greed. 
  • You are flipping gear, you need to raise a certain amount to get the latest toy… you receive an offer… you open it and scream “You offered me HOW MUCH??” This level of G.A.S. is dedicated to the constant reverb low baller. The kind of person that makes you want to reach through the screen of your phone and stick their low ball offer right where the ball ends of their strings go.

    Welcome to G.A.S. Anger.

  • “Jimi didn’t need no true bypass”… or “If it’s good enuf for Keef”.

    You are witness to G.A.S. Heresy.

  • No matter what your best friend from school tells you when you’ve had a ‘couple of beers’ on a Friday evening, you cannot relic that Strat yourself to make it look like Stevie’s. He just wants to witness you trash your gear.

    You are being being encouraged to perform G.A.S. Violence, by proxy.

  • Ever looked at the price of original Klon’s for sale on Reverb? How about Dumble Amps? Have you ever opened up a listing for a ’59 les Paul, or a ’52 Telecaster or absolutely anything pertaining to be new music from Jimi Hendrix?

    This is G.A.S. Fraud.

  • You walk into a store… you see a guitar that you love… I mean, you really love it, it’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen… you take a picture of it as you just can’t afford it right now as your car needs work and the kids might want some food this week. You make the mistake of posting it on social media, bemoaning your lost love and one of your friends buys it. They offer to let you play it. The may even offer to lend it to you.

    Make no mistake, this is the worst of all the 9 levels of G.A.S. The very bottom of the sulphurous pit of tone chasing... You have been royally shafted by G.A.S. Treachery. They are no friend of yours and probably already want to sleep with your significant other and will without doubt never return anything you loan them. Cut this person out of your life as soon as possible.

 

 

We had the pleasure of having one of the world’s finest Steel players sit in with us a couple of weeks ago, Sarah Jory. Now, this doesn’t reflect on the quality of the band I am in, we are not so good we command the world’s greatest players to come and play, we’ve just known her for forever – in fact, the bass players Dad taught her how to play when she was a kid. So, when she’s not touring the world and we are playing locally to her, she rocks up and we jam.

Obviously, this is both a massive relief for me and hugely terrifying, because I get to throw a hard pass on 50% of the solos but then again, this is a musician that has literally just come back from playing with the world’s best players at any given moment, so I also feel exposed as a musician. Fortunately, we know each other well enough for that to be an issue, I know my place! (yeah right, my ego wishes she would say “Jay that was amazing, come and tour the world with us”)

The one thing that always amazes me when Sarah plays with us is that how adept she is in the concept of ‘jamming’ with the band. She’s played with us literally hundreds of times but as the core of the band has been together for 40 years, there are a lot of numbers available to be pulled out of the hat (fortunately, I’ve been playing with them on and off for about 30 years so I can usually keep up) without notice – as the only musician within the band that is a soloist (the band is drums, bass and the singer strums acoustic) she feeds from me all the time about when to play and when not too, so in a way, I’m kinda in control of it all and also have the best seat in the house to see how a real player reacts when stepping into a band… so with that in mind, I’ve come up with the 10 essentials of playing live with a band that is not your own or when jamming... As inspired by Sarah Jory! 

  1. Respect those who are standing with you. You are part of a unit and the unit only ever sounds good when the entire unit is working together. Listen to the band, listen to what they are doing and only play when you can add something to it.
  2. Listen to the song. You are the bricks that make the building, you are not the building itself. If you listen to the song that you are playing, you’ll know at which point you are the foundation stone, the regular brick, the cornerstone or the decorative slab that makes everything perfectly pretty.
  3. Play with the feel the song requires. It’s very easy to see a gig as a chance to show off your chops, especially when you are in a new band situation. A seasoned musician will show more respect for you if you can play one note that destroys everyone in one song, and a thousand notes in the next… if the feel of the song calls for it, do it. If it doesn’t, then don’t.
  4. This is not a paid rehearsal. If you are lucky enough to be playing with other musicians and making a noise together, don’t step too far outside your comfort zone, if you respect those you are playing with, you’ll bring you to the gig, not the player you want to be. Perfect your stuff at home and then use that stuff in the best possible way. You can take risks, because what’s life without risk, but don’t push it too far.
  5. Play it like you wrote it. Even if you didn’t. Play what you play and own what you play. Even if you are doing a direct copy of the original, play it with conviction and the love it took to write it originally. There’s nothing worse than seeing a lacklustre performance of a song… I mean, you don’t have to jump around like a lunatic and do your bit to forward the beauty of the guitar gurn movement but play those notes like your life depends on them.
  6. Don’t be afraid to shut the hell up. Sometimes, there may not be anything to add to a certain part of a song. If you stop playing, when the time is right for you to come back in, the dynamics between of the space you left and the hole you now feel will sound amazing.
  7. Someone is leading it, and if it’s not you, watch them like a hawk. If you are not the one that is directing everyone on stage, look to them for cues – especially if you are sharing lead duties with someone. If you are standing into an established band and encroaching into someone else’s space, watch them for the cue’s. If they are worth their salt and respect you, they will give you ample room to shine, but don’t get into an ego fight with them, you’ll likely lose.
  8. Watch your stage volume. Make sure your stage levels are in tune with everyone else’s, they may run backline only, or through the PA as well, but you have to sit in the mix they are used too, if you are too loud, they’ll hate you quickly, if you are two quiet, they won’t see the point of playing with you. Communication is everything.
  9. Remember, people are watching. If not the audience, then the people you are playing with. Look up at them, even if you don’t know what the hell is going on, look up, engage with your band mates, engage with the audience. They’re more likely remember you smiling at them and making them feel like it’s for them than they are if you pull off a sweet diminished run at the end of a solo.
  10. Respect the music. If you are in a country band, your Yngwie licks ain’t gonna work. Just like your Brent licks aren’t going to work in a Nickelback cover. The band will have a style, or a voice, and remember that. If you don’t like the music you are playing, then ask yourself two questions. 1. Why are you playing in the band anyway? and 2. If you are there for the money, give the people who are paying you the value for the money they passing over to you. If you are playing in a band you don’t like, then I’m guessing it’s because of number 2. If you do dislike it, the guys you are playing with are likely to love this music, so show them the respect they deserve and play it like they want it to be played. If you are a guest on their stage, you want them to be happy with how you did it afterwards, especially if they know it’s really not your bag to begin with!

You can check our Sarah here!

As usual I’ve been watching some geeky stuff on the uTubez and, as always, one of the first videos that was recommended for me was something from That Pedal Show. This time it wasn’t a pedal thing, it was a video of Mick changing the saddles on his favourite Strat, Blue. As he was talking away to camera in an offhand way he spent several minutes philosophising about “taking out the middle person from his playing” and it resonated with me in a massive way.

Who is the middle person? Well, if you’ve not seen the video, Mick refers to the middle person as the person you become when you are not ‘just’ playing – so, that’s either rehearsing, practicing, teaching, or for me at times, assisting Brian and Jake with circuits. It’s easy to become a player that spends too much time listening, thinking about what you are doing and what you want to achieve, instead of just being the person in the middle of the event of playing music.

For me, the middle person is the perpetual show off, the professional tone chaser, the person thinking about his tax bill, booking the dog into the vets, what challenges the kids are going to present this week. Or, does this pedal work, does this pickup work, is my amp set up right, should the speaker cab be vertical or horizontal, why isn’t my wife dancing, why is the drummer so loud and everything else that flits through my mind when I’m playing.

When I play at home, the vast majority of playing I do is when the kids are working something out and I have to show them. Either that or I am playing the same riff over and over when setting the Leslie on the Terraform, or trying to be the player I was in the 90s. So, my playing is mainly the middle person. It’s not Jason the musician in 2019, expressing the sum of his (well in excess of) 30 years of playing. It’s Jason the guitar player who is achieving a separate goal from the one he intended to achieve when he first picked the guitar up. That goal was to make myself happy. To make myself smile. To express myself. To make other people smile. To simply enjoy the experience of making music with my friends.

Over the years I’ve played in lots of bands and in every one I had at least 2-3 moments during every gig where I could get lost and fully express myself as the musician I was at the time. Which, usually, means I walked away wishing I had done something different, been better, been more musical… you know what it’s like. There is always something.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m now an old git, or my ego plays a much smaller part in me being a musician, but I generally don’t give a crap what other people think of my playing. That may be because over the last few years I’ve become good friends with players who are literally some of the greatest players to ever walk the earth. I am under no illusion about my place in the world of music, I mean, I’m a good player, but you know, when you have sat down and jammed with players like Tom Quayle many many times, you know who you are.

Mick calls this moment in his playing life as being a “mid-life crisis”. For him it came to a head when sitting down with Ed O’Brien from Radiohead. As he is an artist for originality, someone who uses the guitar as a form of expression that only a few of us can ever truly achieve, it hit him massively hard. Due to this he has identified things in his life and they run parallel to things I’ve had in my life. Anyway, if you want to listen to what Mick has to say, the video is at the bottom of this ramble and I’ll get back to where I was going with this!

My middle person, I think, is generally compartmentalised these days. When I am playing for work, with the kids, or whatever, I am thinking about the stuff I need to think about that revolve around the mechanics of playing. Whether that be my technique, my tone or something else I’ve found I am completely and utterly disconnected from playing the guitar for the reasons the 7-year-old me first did it.

However, sometimes, when I am out with the band, that 7-year-old me surpasses the middle person and I am just playing, properly, without a care in the world. I know that I can only do this because I am comfortable with myself as a player, comfortable with the music I am playing and am 100% comfortable with the people I share a stage with. Because of this I can close my eyes and feel at one with my instrument. It stops being a PRS or a Tele, it just becomes an extension of myself. As long as I can stay in that state, I play at my very best. I take risks I never would at home, I play the runs I wouldn’t even think of, I find the chord inversions I never knew existed, purely because I am in it. Right in the middle. I can become in the middle instead of being outside being the middle person.

The middle person that Mick talks about was one that I knew existed, but also didn’t know existed. Having watched that video the concept of the middle person has come out and punched me clean in the face. It has given me some kind of revelation as to why I play differently at gigs than I do at home.

Here is the down side - I really need to find a way of letting ‘me’ out more when gigging, however - I know that I am lucky. I have great gear, I know I can play pretty good and I am lucky enough to play with outstanding musicians. I have the luxury of being ‘comfortable’ so I don’t have to think about that stuff. I know I am not about to be asked to play something that I have no chance of pulling off and I know that it’s unlikely my guitar is going to go out of tune just because I played it a bit bloody hard.

However, it has identified something in me that leaves me envious of Mick. A couple of weeks ago Lisa and I went up to TPS to pick some gear up and drop something off. As usual we had a cup of tea and a good chat (which lead to a conversation about how very English we were because we got into a lengthy discussion about how tea should be made which lead to Dan looking at us like we were insane) and during this chat Mick was talking about how, when he is gigging, he hates having to change stuff, patches and effects because it detracts from his playing. At the time I was saying that I don’t mind that because I spent so long as a FOH sound engineer, part of the deal for me (when gigging) is to have a produced/polished sound with various things happening at the right time. We don’t have a FOH engineer in the band I am in so I have to balance my levels for intros/outros/solos. I like to use modulation effects and I use many, many different delay patches, often within one song. So, even though I am using a fully programmable rig, I am always changing patches mid song and this detracts from my playing head space.

This was confirmed for me at the weekend when I was visiting an old friend of mine called Ray, who is a “strat into a deluxe and nothing in-between” type player who uses the volume control on his guitar (and the internal preamp on his Clapton Strat) to give a wide range of tones… when I see Ray playing, which I do often and have done for almost 30 years, I’m always slightly envious about this, but it’s just not me. I like to have different sounds and different textures. How can I bridge this gap?

I am left in a bit of a quandary. I want those moments in my gigs where I am at one with my guitar to get longer. I want them to be more of a standard than an exception, but how can I do that? I can’t have both. I can’t have the control of soundscapes and also get lost in what I am playing with my friends. How can I achieve that? Do I need a tech to do the patch changes? I can’t justify that for many reasons – mainly because we are just a crappy pub band but most importantly it would take away the freedom I enjoy of trying to catch the bass player out by playing stuff he’s not expecting, but I can’t do that without bringing in the correct patch for it. I need to find a way to change my playing so there’s less tap dancing and more playing. 

My new Telecaster has an onboard preamp which enables me to increase the output of the guitar radically if I need to. So this could mean that I may not have to worry about as many patch changes, I don’t know… actually, I do. Knowing myself as I do, finding out what that preamp can do will open up a whole new world of potential of effects and tones I didn’t have before which will lead to more patches changes to manage them and utilise it properly. Maybe I just need to try to go out with a single dirt box. And a compressor. And a delay. Oh, can’t go out without a chorus or vibe… and then I’ll need to control it. Shit. I’m back to square one. Can I press hard reset and start again please?