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),
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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
Last night I found myself in the middle of 5000 people watching a band and, to be honest, it was one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever had. Quite eye opening in fact, the band in question was Panic! At The Disco. I’m guessing that if you have teenage kids, who have at some point in the last couple of years ventured into the realms of “insanity” that most teenagers seem to do, you will be aware of them.
Now, at risk of sounding like my own Father, when I first heard about them – or I should say, the day my daughter walked into the house head to toe in Panic! merch, I took one look at the name and style and thought “Well, this is going to be crap” and wrote them off instantly. Over the following months, her songs made it on to our playlists in the car and I became somewhat of a silent fan. His voice, which originally annoyed me, now fascinated me. When I found out that for the last couple of albums it was basically a one-man band, my interest was even more peaked. I still didn’t really get it the levels of fanaticism my daughter was displaying, but the songs were catchy and most of them had a big chorus, and I’m a sucker for a big chorus.
For Christmas last year Lisa and I surprised the kids with 4 tickets to see Panic! in 2019. Tears were shed, mostly by me, because the closest one to us was the Cardiff Motorpoint Arena. I’ve seen a few bands there before and never experienced a good sound – it’s a pretty horrible room, kinda square and solid, so the natural reverbs are pretty immense. The sound engineer must have felt his stomach drop an inch or two when he first walked in.
As the calendar flipped over more and more towards the date of the show, our daughter was almost becoming feral about the whole thing, which was confusing me enormously. But as it was to be her first proper gig I went with it and enjoyed her anticipation. Last Monday (25th March), after school, we jumped in the car and went to Cardiff for the show. We did our usual Cardiff thing and met a couple of friends I went to University with, had something to eat, a quick pint and then entered the arena. The first support band was on and I was instantly dismayed as the sound was exactly as I remembered. We kinda walked around for a bit and found the best place to stand so that we could see the show and the sound was at its least bouncy.
After another support band, the lights dimmed and at the back of the stage a digital clock began to countdown from 10:00 to signify the start of the show.As the the clock was getting near to zero I had my first proper look around and discovered that I, Jason Wilding, aged 45 and three quarters (in combat shorts and Empire Strikes Back shirt) was indeed stood stock in the middle of about 4750 teenagers, mostly female, and about 250 slightly bemused looking parents.
BOOM… lights down, show starts. For the first few songs I was just watching my kids – their first proper show – I marvelled in their reaction. My youngest was singing and dancing (unfortunately at only 5’1” they couldn’t see much) so was just enjoying the atmosphere and music and our eldest, 15 who is a good 5’8” or so, was in floods of tears and singing every word perfectly, and some of those lyrics go past pretty quick. I think it was about the third song that I had another look around and noticed that the vast majority of the people around me were in a similar state. The first thing that went through my mind was the pied piper of Hamelin, his control of the audience was complete and all he was doing was performing his songs.
The band itself was at core a three piece (drums/bass/guitar) all clicked with some substantial backing tracks happening. Sax and trumpet players on one side of the stage and a 3 piece string section on the other it was a very tight. Panic! At The Disco is now basically the singer, Brendon Urie, writing and recording everything. The band he has with him on tour are extremely tight and very professional. In terms of a band performance, I’d say it was flawless.
I think it was about the 6-7 song I noticed that one song was ending and another was starting without Brendon talking to the audience at all, but it was slick, a couple of seconds between songs and he was jumping around and dancing like a mentalist and performing at the peak of a man on the top of his game. The thing about Brendon that used to annoy me but now intrigues me is his voice, he gives what I call the full gambit of Barry’s. Low to high, he goes from White to Gibb constantly and is phenomenal. Whenever he went very high the audience went bat shit crazy encouraging him to do it again and again.
I think it was about 20 minutes from the end that I realised that I was at this point having almost as much fun as my eldest was (my wife and youngest had by this point gone towards the back) and totally caught up with the atmosphere and energy of the show. Although, being of the age I am, my back was hurting so, you know, I was just happy to be singing along and enjoying the spectacle of the whole thing. It was about 2 songs before they finished (the main set) when Brendon started to properly talk to the crowd and this was when it hit me, this man – right now – is in complete control of my daughter and many, many, many other people’s kids, and for a split second I was terrified. However, you know, I’ve seen Vai live enough times to relate to that feeling.
When the show was over we made it back to the car and I was looking around again, fascinated by all these young kids who were basically in some kind of euphoric trance. All I could hear, from every angle, was “Brendon did this” and “Brendon did that”… so I did that thing that all Fathers do at that point, I started to interrogate my eldest daughter. By the time I had paid for the parking and got back to the car our youngest was already fast asleep in the back (a talent inherited from yours truly, much to the annoyance of my wife) and the other was still buzzing.
As we drove out through Cardiff I started to ask her questions, probably something I should have done months ago, because I went into the arena as a fan of decent music prepared to be entertained somewhat, you know, it was for our kids mainly. But I exited a fan of the band and, more importantly, I left as a big fan of the band and a bigger fan of Brendon himself.
I asked the usual stuff, “why do you like the music so much”, “what’s so special about him”, “why do you think that demographic relates to him so much” and so on and so forth… and I was getting the same answer back and for virtually every question “He cares about us”. I soon realised this was going to be the answer to every question, which made me change track… “How do you know he cares about you?” I then received a master class in modern marketing and making your brand relevant to you audience. Brendon Urie, over the years, has had ‘issues’ – I’m not going to go into them here, but they are well documented if you care to search. It would appear that he is well on the path of coming out the other side of them – within his music he talks about his issues, how he got over them and how he moves his life forward.
He also (when not out on the road as much) does a lot of live streams talking about music and life, and all of it is overwhelmingly positive. He doesn’t care about people’s colour, creed, sexuality, class… anything like that, he just thinks that people are worth something and that they should love themselves and the life they live. He constantly communicates this to his fan base, which is overwhelmingly ‘millennial’ and they lap it up, as the world of social media and instant communication often leaves them feeling, well… shit. So, within his music and brand, he brings them up as much as he can. I like this attitude a lot, because as a parent you are painfully aware that as your kids get older you have less impact on their lives in terms of their self-worth and place in the world. On the flip side, I’ve also now realised that at times, Brendon Urie has my daughter in the palm of his hand in regard to her mental state. When she is feeling down his music – with the positivity it contains – brings her back up again. This scares me somewhat as he appears to be the kind of guy you want your kids influenced by, so right now him remaining like this is very important to me. If he were to let negativity overtake him, it would also have a negative impact on my kids. That is scary.
How the world has changed… when I was her age, all the music I liked was dark and designed to be hated by my parents. This band however, once you listen to them, is the exact opposite. Don’t get me wrong, she’s brought some utter crap in terms of music into our home over the years and I’ve diligently done my job by hating it, but right now, I’m a Panic! fan.
If your kids are into Panic! I suggest going with them to the show. The show will be enjoyable but that is nothing compared to the reaction of the kids that go to the show. Once you get over the fanatical hero worship levels of fandom (not that much different to when I first saw Iron Maiden in 1988 to be honest) you’ll see that music, in this instance, is doing exactly what you want it do – leaving the audience in a better place than they were in before they first listened to it. It’s safe to say that at times during the show it was the youngest I’d felt in years juxtaposed with feeling every day of my mid 40’s.
Oh yeah, this is a gear blog, right? Mike Naran – the guitarist - has a wonderful collection of weird and wonderful guitars and he was playing through a Kemper with no pedals. Sounded bloody awesome, no further comment required unfortunately, although I do think he’ll sound good with a couple of ours thrown into the mix.
Here are a few videos I shot on my phone on the night....
Seems like a weird question, doesn’t it? But the reality of your playing is completely different from your perception of it, I can almost guarantee that… well, it is if you are realistic about what you play and what you see/hear when you watch yourself back. Those with overtly sized egos might not see it.
Why am I asking this? Well, since I went back into gigging just over 3 years ago, I’ve started to see and hear myself play in the cold light of day a lot more. Back in my day, when I were a lad etc. etc. it was extremely rare for a local cover band to be recorded in any way and have that recording even listenable. These days, as everyone has an HD camera in the pocket that can take high sound pressure levels, you are probably going to be recorded every time you pick your guitar up. For a good couple of years I steadfast ignored any recording that came up, purely because I didn’t need to see it as we are just a Dad band and we don’t care about our image, we don’t play the songs that everyone expects, we just play what we play to the best of our ability. It wasn’t until someone recorded us last year during a laid-back Sunday afternoon gig and I thought I played well at, I thought “I’m going to have a watch of that” mainly because I didn’t know I was being filmed until quite a while afterwards.
That’s the most important thing. I didn’t know I was being filmed. Because, you know, at the time I suffered from red light terror and all that. What did I discover? Well, I think my vibrato is crap, my phrasing is off and I am the most heinous lick thief that’s ever lived.
What I’ve done to try to expand on my playing is record myself… which in itself has presented itself with a whole new problem – a proper case of “Red Light Syndrome”. I’ve found out that when I know I’m being recorded, whether it be out in the wild or at home, I clam up. Completely. I revert back to tried and tested safe stuff, my timing goes out the window and all the bad bits within my playing become all the more obvious. The only way to do this is to keep doing it, over and over, and then share it with people.
This is the big one for me… sharing it with people. I’m a confident player, I know that I’m not crap, but I also know I’m not great. So, when I shared something (usually carefully picked, the best take of many) into the open playing field it’s in the knowledge that the people who have me in their news feed will see it. Now, in this regard, it’s a real dice with death for me... My social media ramblings fall into the feeds of some seriously good players, probably because I have what is perceived to be a cool job, so I am connected to them professionally. Fortunately, they overlook my stream of everyday grumpiness and bullshit in order to maintain the relationship. I cannot begin to explain the terror I feel when I post a video of something I’m working on and I get a notification of “Brent Mason commented on your video” or “Andy Wood reacted to your video”. My stomach falls about 6” and I can barely look. But I have to. Fortunately, it’s complementary, but you know, I think as a general rule they are playing nice. I’m not a pro player, but because of the job, I have to be quite good in order to pull it off – or at least give the impression of being quite good.
I eventually found myself in a position of doing either of two things. Continue to share stuff, or not. For a long time, I went with the latter. I shared nothing, but continued to record myself… As is my usual way, I eventually got bored with that and stopped doing it. And then, about a week ago, I was talking to a mate about playing something or another and I recorded it and sent it to him. He recorded something and sent it back, and we went back and forth like that for several hours. I learned more about my playing in that couple of hours than I had in a long time before because it was one on one sharing, there was no-where to hide. It was recorded and sent instantly before I’d even had the chance to watch it back myself… so, I was seeing it the same time he was. I was actually offering myself up in my most raw format for critique. I can’t begin to tell you what a different that made – I found that in doing this I lost the red-light issue as well, and I felt more comfortable and was properly able to see where I was going wrong.
The following day I shared one of the videos on to our group in Facebook that showed the issues I was working on the most, but also, the one that I felt was the least crap… because, you know, I still have an ego and I’m not ready to have it openly demolished! I posted it with the title “What are you working on right now?” and put in the description what I felt my playing needed the most work and asked for advice. For the first time it was an open share looking to get better rather than showing off. I got a great response and a couple of ideas on how to improve. I’ve since gone back and rerecorded it and noticed a difference… the main issue I have is time feel – I tend to grab phrases if I am not 100% confident on them, and my natural bent note vibrato… well, unfortunately, it really does suck - there is no flow or subtly to it. But I’ve learned a couple of techniques now that have improved it, I have a long way to go but at least I can see a way out of the woods. I am going to record that solo every week in order to keep track of my progress, and once I feel I’ve nailed it, I might share the results!
Here is one of the videos from that lazy Sunday, that shows my lick thievery to it's maximum extent.
Here is the video I shared into the tone group that shows my (bent note) vibrato that needs work.
Let’s face it, we’ve all used them before and I imagine that like me you’ve got them confused or not really understand what makes each different. As I started playing properly in the 80’s each of these pedals carry HUGE memories for me and I’ll always have a love/hate relationship with each.
Before we go any further, let’s put on the (my level of) nerd goggles and dig into what separates them. They all come into the family of “modulation”, because… well, they all modulate the signal! Yeah, that doesn’t help much does it… Usually, this means that the signal is in some way split, the something happens to one of the signals and then it is laid back on top of the original one. This creates movement, modulation, and if you go too far, chronic seasickness.
As your signal goes into the pedal, it is instantly split into two. One of those has its phase shifted and then they are laid on top of each other before exiting the pedal. Because you have two opposite phases of the same note sitting within each other, a notch is created where they cancel each other out and then these notches are swept along a range of the frequency band. This where you get that wonderful sweeping ripple.
Name: Phaser Splitter… “Phaser”
Here is my favourite example of a phaser (totally obvious!)
A Flanger is not too dissimilar to a Phaser, but can be much wetter sounding. A flanger happens when the signal is split into 2, one is delayed and then put back on top of the other. The most audibably pleasing Flangers are running at somewhere under 15ms delay, but the rate control changes that. The effect of the flanger going swoooosh is where the delayed signal then has the delay time varied in a constant cycle, up and down.
Name: Legend has it that a producer was running two identical copies of audio and pressed against the flange of the reel to slow one down slightly to make it run ever so slightly out of time… “Flanger”. This is hotly disputed though as George Martin has said that the phrase comes from Lennon during the recording of the Revolver album, Lennon was enquiring about “artificial double tracking” and Martin answered with a nonsense “Now listen, it's very simple. We take the original image and we split it through a double vibrocated sploshing flange with double negative feedback”. Lennon thought he was joking and Martin responded with “Well, let’s flange it again and see”… Lennon went on to call it “Ken’s Flanger” after Abbey Road engineer Ken Townsend performed the process of copying the vocal line and slightly delaying it. The concept was later expanded into stereo and was first credited to Eddie Kramer during the recording of Axis Bold As Love by Hendrix in 1967.
My favourite flanger example
The one that was TOTALLY overused in the 80’s, hence my love/hate relationship with it. Like the flanger, the signal is split, slightly detuned and then delayed, and put back on top The main difference is that the delay used to create the chorus is somewhat longer, usually between 20-50ms . Chorus was first given to us, the guitar community, in the mid 70’s within the legendary Roland JC120 amp. The Chorus element of this amp was then released as a stand alone unit as the BOSS CE-1. To this day, this is, to many people the ultimate chorus pedal. Personally, I love it, but the best one I’ve ever heard was in a Roland RE-501. Although, it does have to be said, I’ve not physically heard one for well over 20 years, I just remember it being the fattest and most lush chorus I’ve ever heard!
Name: Imagine two large vocal choirs singing as close they can get, you could call it a chorus of vocals… put them wide apart, stand in the middle and because it’s almost impossible to singer perfectly on key and at the same time, when they are separated it provides the chorus effect.
One of the best uses of chorus I hear is when the rate is set really low and it’s in stereo. You don’t get the movement but you get the width. Brian May live was the best I’d heard this used, it was so massive I can’t describe it.
Here is my favourite example of regular Chorus
A dimension chorus differs in that it creates two clones of the original signal, both are delayed and then one is flipped 180-degress and then laid back on top. This gives a much bigger effect.. the most interesting thing for me is that the Dimension C pedal gives you four options, which just changed the regular controls… was this the first boss with presets?
My favourite example of Dimension Chorus (once again, totally obvious!)
It’s well worth noting the difference between vibrato and tremolo. Because, well, I don’t know why, in the early days Fender appeared to get these two names the wrong way round, a lot of effect pedals are still incorrectly named. Vibrato changes the pitch of the signal, tremolo dips the volume up and down! One modulates the pitch, one modulates the volume… So, your trem bar, it’s actually a vibrato bar. Or to give it the correct name, the whammy bar!
Following on from Brian’s video about wattage/power/dB, I thought I’d share something that has happened to me recently that has confused me considerably, until I quizzed Brian about it in regard to the video (released 26th Feb 2019, you can see it below).
Like I’m guessing some of you, I’ve been blissfully ignorant of almost everything to do with the whole power thing until that video, it wasn’t a conscious ignorance, but one that I’d never really thought about before, and the question came extremely pertinent once I’d started messing around with digital control of effects.
For the band (we have no sound guy) I run a clean boost at the end of my chain so I can make sure my solos are lifted above the general mix of the band. When I was using a regular pedal booster, I found I had to find the sweet spot that boosted the solos manually, which meant I often had to change it according to my tone. What I found was that my clean solos weren’t as prominent as my dirty ones. I had no idea why, I just thought it was one of those things. It wasn’t much of a turn of the knob, but enough to warrant it…. Once I started using something that was digital I noticed that the actual increase was huge depending on what effects I was using.
Before I go into it properly, here is a run down of my tone and how it is made. I don’t run my rig bass heavy, and it’s not overtly bright, but it’s definitely not the same as when I play at home. This is obvious, because at home you are hearing everything in a sterile environment and you want to enjoy the full scope. When you are live, you need to leave room for the others in the band… so, I don’t encroach on the bass player and I also like to leave room for the acoustic guitar to shine through, so my place is pretty well in the middle and the amp is set as such. My clean tone is never totally clean, a Tumnus at 9 oclock gain and treble at 12 is the best way to describe it with unity level. My main OD is the Pantheon, set at a nice break up – 18v, lowest gain setting with the gain at around 2 oclock… bass and treble are both about 10 oclock, presence all the way off. When I want more grunt for it, the K style drives the Pantheon and it is quite gainy. This is also my main dirt solo tone… when we do the rocky stuff, the Pantheon/Tumnus is the rhythm tone and I bung a TS between them, set at higher output than gain, with a little tone control boost. My rhythm sounds are all pretty unity, none are ‘louder’ to the ears than the others.
Here is the issue, when I wanted to boost the solos for the dirtiest tones, I need just under 3dB to get to the level. About 5dB for when the TS isn’t on, and upto 10db when it’s clean. And yes, this confused the living daylights out of me!
Here is what is happening… and how it also ties in with bDub’s video about power/wattage/dB.
Everything is relative to the EQ of what you are hearing.
When I am boosting the clean tone, it’s about as full range as I can get. There is a slight 1k hump due to the K style pedal being bought in, but it’s not huge. So, when I am boosting that signal, my ears (that are tuned to hear human speech – between 1k and 5k) say I need a lot more power because it’s also boosting the lower frequencies a lot, as you know, bass takes a lot of power, so it’s needing a lot more literal volume to boost it to the level my ears are telling me is an acceptable volume. When the Pantheon and the K style are on, the mids are more focused due to both the circuits being on, so my ears are picking up on the frequencies more as the bass is kinda removed, so it needs less. When I have the TS on as well, that’s three circuits that are pushing the frequencies my ears already picks up on, so it needs even less.
All this for the same physical level of sound, according to my ears.
Once you put this in with the points bDub was making in the video, the physical level of sound cannot directly be related to either the wattage the amp is claimed to sit at (in my case either a Fender BDri or Quilter 101R (on the smaller gigs where I can’t get the amp to it’s sweetest spot), or the dB coming out, or change of dB within the chain. Because EQ and headroom change everything completely. Before you are even hitting the amp, the levels are all over the place so the output of the amp, in terms of actual volume, are going to be wildly different…. And I didn’t even mention that on the clean stuff the pickups on my Brent Mason PRS are tapped for single coil sound and the dirty stuff is often on HB… as the HB ones need about 1dB less of boost, despite to the ears there being NO level drop between the two (one of the main selling points of the PRS BM model).
When scrolling through social media - especially gear groups - you tend to see a lot of the same misnomers and inaccurately assigned labels put on things… One of the most common is the “transparent” overdrive. I mean, how many times have you seen a K style pedal called Transparent? Quite a few I expect. It’s right up there with people saying “I need a clean boost” and someone saying “tubescreamer”.
Firstly, what is a transparent overdrive? Well, it’s one that doesn’t fundamentally change the EQ of whatever is coming into it. So, all that happens is that the pedal/circuit clips the signal, sending it to overdrive and then comes out again. These kinds of pedals are actually EXTREMELY rare as all the fun is in the EQ stack and when you start putting multiple EQ stacks into circuits, that’s when the fun really starts! bDub made a video last week that was discussing this, so I thought I would expand on it further, concentrating on the most famous transparent OD of them all – Paul Cochrane’s “Timmy”.
The Tummy has very little in the way of EQ colouration so what you put it just comes out, but clipped (on certain settings)… but before I jump head first into that rabbit hole, here is some basic information about how EQ is handled and how it is performed on most dirt pedals. Like a LOT of pedals the Timmy tone controls is not active, but passive, so it doesn’t add anything it only takes it away – think of it this way – a basic treble control is a LPF (low pass filter) that is wired backwards. It restricts the amount of bass coming through - it does NOT add treble. So, when the knob is all the way round clockwise, the treble isn’t being added, bass is being taken out. The more you bring it counter clockwise, the more bass is taken out giving the impression that there is treble being added. This is obviously different from a lot of the tone stacks that bDub puts in his pedals (which are 100% active EQ’s) so in those when the control is theoretically at noon there is nothing changed, but take the relevant frequencies away when turned counter clockwise, and then added when turned the other way. Worth noting, the bass control on the Timmy is active, but only adds bass – this is integral to the circuit and the style of clipping, and is quite similarly handled in the Euphoria pedal.
One of the things I’ve ALWAYS loved about the Timmy is that the tone pot is actually wired the correct way, so everything appears to be backwards for people who are used to other pedals. When you have the treble control all the way “off” (counter clockwise), all the treble is still in the circuit, when it is “on” (clockwise), the treble is taken out - so it’s working in the correct way… if you look at it from a nerdy perspective. This means that if you have the gain on the Timmy ALL the way down and the tone and bass control all the way up, you are hearing what I think is the most transparent overdrive currently available. Of course, as it’s going through ‘stuff’ before it gets there, and inside it, and what comes after, it will never be truly transparent but I think it’s the closest you can get, and most people won’t be able to hear any EQ difference in it – the pedal in this state is basically acting as if it were a buffer within minimal difference to anything else. The active bass control is also round the other way as well, so when the pot is all the way counter clockwise, you are getting maximum bass, and none added when it is all the clockwise.
To show this literally, we’ve made a few graphs to demonstrate it visually. Please bear in mind that these graphs start at about 50hz and go all the way up to the 10kHz, most guitar rigs won’t go lower or higher than this, so we’ve removed what happens above and below.
Here is the Timmy at its flattest, so that’s gain off and bass and tone all the way round clockwise. As you can see, that is what we would call over here in England as ‘flat as a pancake’, with a slight roll off at the very top end.
From here, we’ll change the EQ and gain controls to show what is happening in terms of the cut…
Gain 50%, Bass 0%, Tone 0%.
Gain 50%, Bass 0%, Tone 50%
Gain 50%, Bass 50%, Tone 50%
Gain 50%, Bass 0%, Tone 100%
Gain 100%, Bass 0%, Tone 0%.
Gain 100%, Bass 50%, Tone 0%.
Gain 100%, Bass 100%, Tone 0%
Gain 100%, Bass 50%, Tone 100%
Gain 100%, Bass 100%, Tone 100%
To round this up, I want to quickly remind everyone why a lot of us industry types scoff so much when TS and K style circuits are called transparent… the whole point of them is that they add a mid boost, which is what makes them push tube amps so well… the TS has its main peak at around 723hz and the K at 1k. They are anything but transparent!
When I first started with Wampler, all those years ago, the conversion about Midi was often happening… if I am being completely honest, we didn’t have the need for it because our corner of the market wasn’t really there yet – but as we’ve got bigger and far more in depth with all the technical ‘stuff’, it’s got to the point now where we feel it’s madness not to go down that route. This makes me really happy as I’ve been using midi controllable rigs on and off since the 90’s so for us to be going down this path it’s one that excites me massively!
Over the years we’ve gently asked our customer base about incorporating midi into our products and the one thing that always comes up from many people is either “wut?” or “I don’t understand Midi”… so, with the Terraform about to be released, I thought I would give an introduction, written in a way I understand and use it, to help you if you are in anyway confused about what it can do for you.
Midi is an acronym for “musical instrument digital interface”. What it does, fundamentally, (we won’t even go near Midi v2 that has recently been announced), is send control information digitally between various pieces of equipment. The best way to explain this is in terms of a keyboard. If you separate a regular keyboard into it's most basic elements will have two parts. The keyboard (user interface) and the sound module (the thing that produces the sound). The keyboard receives a command from you – usually “this key has been pressed and it’s been pressed this hard” and it fires off that information to the sound module via a midi signal. The module receives that information and then activates “that note, this hard” and you hear it from the speakers.
Midi is basically run on a numbers system from 0-127 and those numbers are what is transmitted. So, if key 40 is pressed at a velocity of 127 on a full size midi keyboard, you are going to get a middle C blast out at the highest velocity you can get. What gets really interesting is when the nerds start to sample instruments at 128 differing levels of being struck, which is where touch sensitivity comes into it. If it has 128 different samples of the instrument being struck at 128 ever increasing velocities… no touch sensitivity (heeelllloooo 1982) would be present and the note is either “on” or “off”. Touch sensitive transmits the velocity as well as the location… Hopefully, you are still with me!
What does this mean for guitar players? Well… firstly, I’m not going to go down the route of midi guitars here (although I truly feel that within a few years they will be FAR more common because technology is finally catching up to the concept from where it started in the 80’s, and it’s still my ultimate goal to have a completely midi guitar rig one day that acts and feels like my favourite guitar, but sounds like anything I can think of from a Strat, Les Paul, Telecaster, Nylon Strung etc etc), but more about how it can control multiple pieces of equipment simultaneously with patch changes, making your life a LOT easier.
We can start off by looking at my old rig (as I love any opportunity to talk about my gear, past and present). If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll be aware of it I expect, but in case you haven’t, here it is in a nutshell (effects section)… Signal chain:
One Control OC10 Looper, containing:
- Strymon Mobius, pre gain;
- Wampler Mini Ego;
- Wampler Tumnus;
- Wampler PaisleyDog – c2;
- Wampler PaisleyDog – c1;
- TC Electronics Quintessence;
- Strymon Mobius, post gain;
- Strymon TimeLine
- TC Mini HOF; and
- Wampler dB+.
Obviously, I had the pedals set and used the looper to bring in each when I wanted them (usually multiple pedals being brought in and out with the touch of one stomp). It was a massively versatile rig with those three gain stages and I could literally pull out any sound at any time and it would always sound amazing (humblebrag). When you add in the additional control I had via midi using the two Strymons, it very quickly got to the point where I was using upwards of 60 or so patches across 8 banks on a two hour gig. Obviously, you don’t need to do that, you can just use however many you like, but when the options of differing modulations and delays instantly available you can get waaaay deep, really easily. And I can tell you now, it’s a LOT of fun.
What has midi got to do with this? Well, the OC-10 is a midi controller looper and both the Strymon's receive midi commands. Here is how it was used. Before we go any further, I need to point out a little annoyance I have with some of the more complex pedals, and how they are not midi mappable…. Alright, OK, I’ve gone there, so here is what midi mappable is all about and what is unfavourable with some systems who don’t have it.
When you get into loopers, you create banks of sounds according to the band you are playing in and the songs you play. For example, my board was set up with Bank 1 (8 presets in a bank) for “general” which had a mixture of clean, dirt and dirty solo sounds in it, as that is what I used most of the night. Bank 2 was my “clean” bank, so that was clean stuff, slap back delays, vibes etc… Bank 3 was where I started to get into specific songs that needed specific sounds, so it was a real hotchpotch of tones including various sounds that had flangers, chorus’. Vibes etc etc. I know… get to the point, Jason… but this is exactly where I am going. When I was creating these tones, and because the units I was using were not midi mappable, here is how the pedals saved the patch information coming to them… My first modulation sound on my board was bank 2, patch 3 (clean vibe sound). My second was bank 3, patch 4 (dirty vibe sound). Then was Bank 4, patch 1 (clean big chorus), Bank 4, patch 8 (dirty solo sound with the same big chorus across it) – it was like this all the way up to bank 8. As the units were not mappable, that means that my first Mobius preset was saved on patch 23 (bank 2, patch 3 on the OC-10), my second was patch 34 (bank 3, patch 4 on the OC-10), the next one was patch 41 (Bank 4, patch 1 on the OC-10) and so on. So, if I was playing around with the Mobius away from my rig I would get 22 blank user patches, then one of mine, then nothing to patch 34 and so on… It becomes really bloody annoying when you are messing around with the unit on its own.
When this became even more annoying was when you get into the delays… I like to use a LOT of delay, and I don’t mean have it overbearingly loud, but it is on everything. A small amount of delay just gives me a lovely element of width. As most of the tones within my board were splittable into two sections “basic rhythm” or “ basic lead” (obviously, there were ones outside this), I would say I had about 30 individual patches set up that were EXACTLY the same within the TimeLine. That being a basic rhythm delay setting. On top of that about I had almost the same amount of the same patch duplicated over for solos… All because the units were not mappable and they created a new patch location every time I used a new preset on the looper.
Here is the point (…to loud cheers from the readers…) If they were mappable ALL of my rhythm patches for rhythm would have pointed to ONE patch only on the TimeLine instead of creating 30 or so duplicates. So, across the first bank of my controller that had 5 rhythm patches (clean, clean loud, dirty, dirtier and filthy) all using the same delay, 5 different patches were saved on the TimeLine. If they were mappable, all 5 patches on the looper could have pointed to the ONE patch on the pedal. As you can imagine, when you want to tweak ALL of your rhythm delay lines a fraction for any reason, having to change 30 patches is a pain in the arse. It’s much better if you only have to change one…
This is why you are seeing a LOT of new midi controllable pedals come out that appear to have a lot fewer preset locations on them, because – quite frankly, the VAST majority of people just don’t need 128 or 256 locations as most of them will be duplicates (note that numbers, 128 and 256... because midi sends numbers between 0-127). Once you get into providing 128 patch locations you start to get into the realms of needing display screens on the pedal, you start to get into banks and banks of duplicate patches, which can be solved with basic midi mapping.
Obviously, as the Terraform has 8 saveable preset locations, we have jumped straight in with midi mapping. The terraform will recognise 128 different commands coming into it (presets commands from your looper), and then allocate the desired patch from the 8 saved to that command. So, Bank 1, preset 5 (on the lopper), Bank 1, preset 6 (on the looper) and Bank 3, preset 2 (on the looper) etc etc will all be able to point to a single patch within the Terraform. We have worked extremely hard to make how this is handled on the Terraform as easy as possible – so much so that when I explained how we are doing it to a good friend of mine who is of the attitude “I don’t get midi, it’s so confusing” he understood it instantly and said “Yeah, I get that, it’s easy”. So, all those who are considering going down the midi controllable looper route, we’ve made this extremely easy for you.
The midi in and out/thru (thru is essential as you can run multiple units in a chain that all receive the same command from the controller, making it so you can change multiple units from the press of one button) are right there on the back and are in the format of a TRS mini jacks (WHAT???!!!??, I thought they were 5 pin plugs??)… it has ALWAYS baffled me why most units have a 5 pin midi plug on them, as the cable itself only uses two of the pins – 2 and 4 with 1, 3 and 5 not connected at all (there is probably a historic reason for this, but I am unaware of it). So, as the industry moves forward with the mini TRS cable, so have we… those 5 pin ones are huge and effectively a complete waste of space and as one of the major concepts of design with the Terraform was pedalboard real estate, we are not wasting a single millimetre on oversized, unnecessary plugs.
There you have it, a VERY basic guide to midi for guitar pedals, midi mapping, and players like me. If you have any questions about this, feel free to hit me up on social media, I’m pretty easy to find, especially in our Tone Group on Facebook!