Everyone at Wampler would like to congratulate Justin Budlow on winning the free Wampler pedal from our giveaway on YouTube last week!
Justin chose a Velvet Fuzz as his free pedal, and as you can see from this video on Instagram, he's been ripping it up ever since!
Here is the video in which Brian launched the giveaway...
We'd like to thank everyone for entering, and keep your eyes open... We have a giveaway coming that is enough to bring a tear to a glass eye. Or big enough to make an onion cry. Or...
Well, I’ve just one of the best weeks I can remember for a long time!
As you probably already know, I play in what bDub calls a “Dad-Rock” cover band and love every damn second of it. If I am honest, we are OK, we are tight and we always have good tone – we play the kind of music that would get us booted out of any US bar but over here, that kind of Americana/Blues/Country stuff is quite rare so we, at least around here, quite different to most other bands on the circuit. I’ve known all the guys I play with for almost 30 years and have been playing with them on and off for that time, although it was only a couple of years ago I fully joined them after the guitarist (the first guitar player I ever saw play live – albeit in a different band - in early 1988) unexpectedly had to quit the band after being there for 24 years. So… it’s not a serious musical adventure, it’s just some old friends who get on very well playing the kind of music they like to the best of their ability. The band, Dirty Money, is somewhat of an institution around these here parts. On Sunday we played in the afternoon, outside (in the last hurrah of the flailing UK summer) a lovely time was had by all – it was just a laid-back moment of loveliness that we all thoroughly enjoyed. I must admit, I like afternoon gigs as it means I’m home by 9 and can get a decent night’s sleep. 2am and I just don’t mix like we used too.
Then… Monday. Well, you may have read my last blog piece about it we saw the unbelievably perfect Joey Landreth. You can read about it here.
On Tuesday we were off again to see one of my favourite musicians, Mr Adrian Legg. Now, I have history with Adrian, I first saw him supporting Joe Satriani in March 1993 (the concert that provided the live track “Flying In A Blue Dream” for the album Time Machine) and for me, Adrian completely and utterly stole the show that night. You can picture it, lots of long-haired rock guitar god types all going to see ‘the master’ and in support is this wonderfully quietly spoken man with just an Ovation guitar. As he walked out we all kinda went “What the…?” but within the first 4 bars, the entire venue had their jaws on the floor in stunned disbelief what they were seeing. As we left the show that night, all around me all I could hear was talk about Adrian. I mean, everyone was blown away by Joe, but I’m pretty certain Adrian picked up a lot of fans that tour (he then went on to do a G3 tour with Joe and Vai) and I quietly just bought all his albums and retained my level of fandom over the years, I was delighted to connect with Adrian when the social media explosion happened and we often (and still do) talk about gear. He’s one of our artists in the most lovely way, he only uses stuff he likes that can make him sound incredible, and he still sound incredible - it’s so cool to see one of my favourite players sporting a Tumnus to make his acoustic guitar bite and growl in the perfect way. About an hour from us a small club run by a certain Mr and Mrs Quayle (who have a son you might be familiar with. Let’s just say… they created a Dual Fusion of their own), and they occasionally have some really good players performing so we go on up when we can. It was lovely to see Adrian again, not seen him for a couple of years and he honoured me by playing a request that I had asked for – “Mrs Jacks Last Stand” that is just one of the most beautiful pieces of solo guitar I can think of.
Adrian often tours the US, you can find tickets here. if you get the chance, you’d be mad not to go. It was a very, very, very special night for all concerned (this was the first time I could take Lisa with me so she was delighted to finally meet Adrian, Richard and Leslie - Tom’s Mum and Dad – in the flesh. You gotta love Leslie, she often starts a sentence with “Oh, I shouldn’t tell you this but there was this one time, when he younger, that Thomas…” and BOOM, there is my material for the next NAMM flight to wind him up!)
A couple of days followed that was just work and family stuff and then on Friday, we were off out again to see an exceptionally cool and fast-rising star named Kris Barras. Man. I wish you could have seen it. I’m not the biggest blues fan in the world, as a lot of it just gets repetitive after a while, but there are certain bands and players that take the mould and smash it to a million pieces, all the time retaining the core of what makes a great blues band. Kris, quite simply, is a phenomenal player. I was listening intently all night as I kept hear different styles flawlessly fall from his fingers… it was about halfway through I suddenly realised what was happening. Every time he changed guitars, his playing slightly changed with it – but not completely, just another version of him. I’ve never really seen that in a player before. You know what it’s like, when someone plays a different guitar they tend to be the exact same player just with a slightly different tone with a couple of specific tricks thrown in… but Kris was actually adapting his style and voicings to compliment his guitar which was a real mind bend for me. When he was on the Tele, some incredibly subtle yet perfectly placed country fills were coming out right alongside some more biting bluesy stuff, then when we went to the Strat, the attack changed, as did the note choice, as did the feel of his playing… same when he went to his HB equipped guitars (a PRS and Seth Baccus Nautilus) everything changed again… I think I could tell you what guitar he was playing ‘now’ (in a blindfold test) on any given gig not by the tone, but how he changes his playing. I really wish I could articulate this better as it’s probably reading like a nonsense but within his own unique style, I could hear Gary Moore, The Allmans, Brent Mason, Albert Lee, Skynyrd, Mr BB (The) King, JoBo, Derek Trucks, Clapton, Beck… the list is endless, but each of those influences came out, perfectly morphed into his own style, according to the instrument he was playing. Class.
Then, after seeing those three incredible players during the week, three players that are respectively either at the sitting at the top of their genre, or comfortable in the fact that they changed millions of players and can still shake them to this day or one that’s raising up so fast it’s hard to keep up with them… All these players inspire me to be the best I possibly can… on Saturday night, I took Lisa to see her favourite guitar player play live, fortunately for me, that actually is me… and that’s just about the best feeling in the world for this hapless romantic old fool.
We asked Haley Powers, a guitar teacher and blogger from Nashville, about her experiences in the world of guitar, gear and finding your way in the male-dominated world of the music industry...
Haley says as part of her introduction to her lessons page on Facebook - "Haley Powers Music is specially designed to help women feel great about their guitar playing so that they can confidently share their music with others."
"Before I start talking about my perspective on being a female in the world of gear and electric guitar, I want to first say this is my completely biased perspective of what I have experienced. It’s definitely not every female’s opinion or experience, my personal story. So let me take you back to when I was a very beginner at electric in Jr. High (picture me- very skinny, converse high tops, and braces. Very cool obviously.)!
At my first electric group lesson, when my Dad dropped me off, I didn’t really think about the fact that there were all guys in my lesson. I had a lot of guy friends and we all listened to classic rock and loved guitar, so making friends wasn’t really an issue. Playing with all guys wasn’t weird or something I really thought about and I was always included. The guys thought it was great that I was right along with them jamming to Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix! My sister and I had also recently become obsessed with School of Rock and Spinal Tap so this was the world I lived in.
It wasn’t until about Junior year of High School that I even considered that the electric guitar world was possibly difficult for a female. That year I had just started playing at church with my Dad and most of the guys were actually in his other bands. There was a keyboard player, however, who was not a good friend and seemed to think it was weird that I played the guitar. Not only that, but I had one of those pink paisley Strats that he relentlessly teased me about it being a Hello Kitty guitar (yikes!). Playing in this kind of setting I had really tried to put on my professional shoes and something about these comments started seeping into my little high school brain despite my dad telling me that was dumb and not to worry about it. So a few years later just to avoid any sort of embarrassment, I sold that guitar to get my now ’62 Reissue Teal Stratocaster (which to be fair was a great choice!). Honestly, I hadn’t really looked back at that guitar until I saw Brad Paisley perform before I graduated high school. And guess what - he had a pink paisley Tele just like I had (but way nicer)! That experience taught me no matter what kind of stereotype or prejudice may be out there, whether that be being a girl in the world of electric guitar, an older adult being around younger cooler people, someone who doesn’t fit the current look that’s in etc., owning who you are and being thankful for the things that make you unique is your biggest strength. Someone could always make fun of you or poke holes in your validity, but if you know deep down that you like who you are, those comments can easily roll off you.
So no, I’m not one of those forward-thinking people who kept their first guitar for the memories, but I did learn a major lesson that has spurred me on throughout my life. Because I’m in a bit of a unique position, I wanted to give a few tips if you are wondering how best to support the female musicians you know. Many of the little things that have happened to me that may have seemed sexist I think we're out of genuinely really not knowing how something was coming across. As we all know, when you are doing something near and dear to your heart, little jokes or hurtful things can feel stung a bit more than they are usually intended!
1) Finding What You’re Looking For?
This is the classic area I have heard female musicians be a little dumbfounded about. The other day, in fact, my friend was telling me about a situation at a music store where the employee could not let go of the fact that she was intentionally looking at electric strings and was not in fact lost in her search for acoustic strings. Personally, most of my experiences looking at gear or guitars are 98% positive and there’s maybe the 2% out there who will explain about a product I asked about only making eye contact with my bass playing husband! Everyone has room to grow and learn and there are a ton of new things I learn about gear on a regular basis. It’s almost like the feeling of being micromanaged in a job when your boss is hovering over you and even though you know what you are doing! In this scenario, treating everyone looking at gear the same is definitely the way to go and if you want to earn extra points, saying something like “You sound awesome” or something can bring out the best!
2) Come jam
As we know, there are not as many females who play guitar backing for people in bands. I’ve thought a lot about why this may be and part of me wonders if it has to do with social norms. When you are younger this isn’t as much of an issue, but if you are married, inviting someone over of the opposite sex to hang and play music with you is a little weird. That’s why you should always marry a bass player so they can work as a nice buffer and still jam along. Kidding (but really, it’s the best!). I have heard being a “good hang” is one of the biggest factors to getting touring gigs. As people get older, friend groups can become a bit more separate with guys and girls. Music is such a great connector though that mixing it up as your next jam and inviting both genders to play (not just have a female singer!) can be really fun and a good way to include everyone. Also making sure everyone gets a chance to solo!
3) Gear chats!
Helping someone see why something is so special to you and getting them excited about it is a skill I think everyone has. When it comes to gear, some of the girls I’ve taught have started by seeing their bf’s pedal board or gear, but haven’t been invited into the experience themselves. I’m the type of person who gets really excited about things and can’t help but want other people to jump on board with that too (I’m pretty sure there have been zero interesting TED talks/ Podcasts/ cool licks I have learned about and not shared with my husband!). When my students have started playing electric, I love talking to them about pedals and seeing them light up when they see all the possibilities and sounds they have heard on a song they love and being able to so easily recreate it. Assuming they will definitely be interested in pedals and love them as much as I do is usually a self-fulfilling prophecy! I think more women would be interested in electric guitar and pedals if that was expected of them. Something that’s always baffled me too is guitar doesn’t rely on physical strength like football or something, so it really can be for everyone!
I hope a few of these tips were helpful for you if you are a guy! I know most all the guys I know are inclusive, fun to jam with, and really excited to start seeing more females playing electric guitar. There will obviously always be some people who will say offensive things or try to make something feel invalid out of insecurity (especially online!), but my sister always says, “Don’t feed the trolls!” meaning we don’t need to engage with those types of comments or people. Focusing on the people who need you, thinking the best of people, and doing what you love will always make you happiest!"
Seeing Joey Landreth again and knowing that music has a future, just by meeting up with someone from your hometown...September 04, 2018
Once again, last night, I had the distinct pleasure of seeing quite possibly my favourite guitarist perform at close quarters… Mr Joey Landreth.
I know, ask me tomorrow and my favourite will be someone else, but right now the endless carousel of my ‘favourites’ is quite often leaning more towards Joey than other players. It may be a phase I’m going through, it may not be, but if it is a phase, it’s one that’s been going on for a couple of years now and I can’t see it stopping anytime soon.
Those who’ve not heard me talk about Joey before here is the obligatory backstory… I met him by chance a couple of NAMM’s ago when I was out partaking in a ‘couple of beers’ with the legend that is Andy Wood (insert name drop horn here) and he introduced me to “my man Joey”… It was dark and noisy in the bar so I turned to Andy and said “Is that Joey f$%&ing Landreth?” and he laughed and said “Yes sir!”. I proceeded to talk at Joey for about an hour and have since been to see him here in the UK every chance I get… And he never, ever disappoints.
Fortunately for us over here it’s never very far to travel to see great music, I live at the arse end of nowhere so people rarely come down this far, but in about an hour or so I can see great music (although truth be known, I hate travelling anywhere so I’m in grumpy mode when the tickets are released and they don’t come down here… but, moving swiftly on)… The venue was small, busy… standing room only – I would say no more than 140 people all packed in like a tightly packed box of Lego. I looked around the room and noticed 6 ‘That Pedal Show’, 4 ‘Fender’, 1 ‘Gibson’ and 2 ‘PRS’ shirts on display… Yep, the place was full of guitar players. Fortunately, we had arrived early so I got a small chance to catch up with Joey before the first act, who Joey described as “My drummer, Roman”… so, we thought that would be interesting, as I’ve never seen a drummer as a support act. Roman is not just a drummer. He is so much more. Sitting behind a piano we were treated to some masterful playing and a voice that was outstanding. High in register, so not only perfect for harmonies but on his own was the kind of voice that was absolutely mesmerizing. I would say Roman is picking up a lot of new fans on this tour, including us.
I’m sitting here trying to find superlatives about Joey and the band (Roman Clarke on drums and Meg Dolovich on bass) and I’m trying my hardest to not sound sycophantic, or overtly gushing, but there are times when you see an artist who is not at the start of their career, but most certainly still very much on the ascent, and you just know you are in the presence of something extremely special. I get the feeling that providing ‘this’ carries on as it already is, Joey Landreth will be held at the highest esteem by the wider population as he already is by the fanatical fans that are already following him.
I guess you are wondering why I am writing about this - as Joey is not one of our artists, he doesn’t use our gear but to be honest, you could say this is about me wanting to make as many people as possible aware of this monumental talent so you can see him now before the only chance you get is at festivals or bigger gigs. But, this piece is more about the guy we took up to the gig, a young musician from the small town I live in that I’ve been aware of for a while, just a name I knew from kids at the school and the small community we live in – although I was aware of him, we’d never met and not spoken to before.
He, Jake, contacted me through Facebook as he was desperate to get to the gig – he’d got himself a ticket and failed in his efforts to get his Dad to take him up – so he contacted me to ask if he could come up with us (myself and Lisa, my wife) - we said “Sure” but at the same time, feeling kinda weird as we were not knowing what to expect. I mean, we are both in our mid 40’s and the thought of spending around 3 hours in the car with a college kid in his late teens… what do we talk about? In the first few minutes he managed to blow away any worries I had as he was everything you expect an atypical teenager not to be. He is an articulate tone chaser, works like an animal in his job (He’s also in college studying music production) in order to buy the gear he GAS’s for, is exceptionally well read on gear, experienced in everything and could easily talk for hours on end about pickups, pedals, guitars, amps, valves and just about everything else related to gear. Also, from the videos I’ve seen he’s a great player and great singer. When you spend as much time as the marketing side of this business as I do you sometimes notice the divisions in the customer base and quite often a lot of the younger gearheads are very focused in their views, opinionated towards certain styles of music and the gear associated with them, but he was – is – an open book. Only interested in one thing – the quality of the product. Whether that be gear or what is going into his ears in terms of music, as long as it’s good, he’s good with it. Obviously, he leans in a certain direction with his musical tastes, but the way he was talking about old and new music alike, across many genres, was fantastic. He approaches music and gear with a wide-eyed wonderment that is so rare to see these days in anyone, let alone a teenager. So, those who knock millennials can think again as there are great young musicians out there who work hard for their craft and are so respectful for the wider aspect of the industry and the results of it… People like him give me a great feeling for the future of music and the guitar.
Back to Joey Landreth… had to happen really. What can I say, other than open up Spotify and listen to his music. If he’s playing anywhere near you, cancel whatever you have planned and go and see him. You won’t regret it. Joey is a man of such musical beauty you will walk away from the gig in a better place than when you entered. If you take the time to get in line and get to talk with him as well, you will probably walk away thinking either: 1: You wish you were married to him; 2: You wish your daughter was married to him; 3: You were him; or at the very least, 4: You had one of the four things he has in abundance… a rare talent for singing, a rare talent for playing the guitar, a rare talent for songwriting, and a rare talent for being the coolest and straight up nicest guy on the planet.
To be honest, if I didn’t love the man so much I’d probably be obliged to hate him for any one of those reasons listed above.
Anyway, enough about all this. This week I’m also off to see Adrian Legg, the acoustic master who can terrify any player from a distance of 100 yards and Kris Barras, the most exciting young blues player the UK has spawned since Matt Schofield (who was there last night who I walked straight into and exclaimed at high volume with much vulgar surprise something along the lines of “Good golly gosh, you’re that Matt Schofield chap aren’t you?” - but slightly more to the point).
Yeah, it’s a good week to be me. Here is a small clip of last night, I would have filmed more, but I didn't want to watch him on my phone, I wanted to see it all properly.
It’s been literally AGES since we’ve done a giveaway, so we thought it was about time we caught up with ourselves and give you the opportunity to win a pedal, for doing very little at all.
It’s all contained within the video that Brian posted yesterday… In the video, he’s dissecting the classic track from Alice In Chains – Them Bones. As you may remember from my blog post a couple of weeks ago about breaking down Bohemian Rhapsody, listening to the raw tracks is most definitely our thing at the moment, I mean… I’ve even been listening to songs by Rick Astley in stem form – it’s like an addiction that is almost impossible to break once you get into it!
This track is enormous… well, the guitars are anyway... Brian takes them apart track by track to give you an idea of how HUUUGE the tones are.
We got a great insight from Wampler Artist Andy Wood about the recording process, how he hears it… “Judging by the tones there definitely seems to be multiple mics on each track, that’s where the real magic is happening. It sounds like maybe even a pair of stereo room mics are involved that creating that 3D effect. once you go left and right with that it ends up HUGE. None of what I.m saying is based on anything other than what I’m hearing and my own experience in the studio.”
What I love about this song is that the guitar groove that dominates the song gives a times signature of 7/8 with the chorus reverting to a straight 4/4 groove (this, of course, is open to interpretation but that's how I hear it)… certainly makes it stick out from the rest of the field!
Guitarist Jerry Cantrell said in an interview with Guitar World in 1998 when asked about the time signature – “I really don't know where that comes from; it just comes naturally to me. I could sit down and figure it out, but what's the use? Off-time stuff is just more exciting — it takes people by surprise when you shift gears like that before they even know what the hell hit 'em. It's also effective when you slow something down and then slam 'em into the dash. A lot of Alice stuff is written that way — 'Them Bones' is a great off-time song.
Drummer Sean Kinney said about it in an interview with Rhythm Magazine in 2016 -
"I remember that one p**sing me off because it was a pretty straightforward sort of metal-edged tune. I remember working on it but not wanting it to be straightforward. I had to figure out what kind of groove to put on it. The grooves were disjointed, timing-wise. I remember getting pretty frustrated, knocking over the drums and wondering what I could do there. It took a little time to figure it out and make it more unique than it could have been. I had to wrap my head around it and once it clicks you think, 'Ah, I'm gonna try it this way.'"
Anyway, enough of me geeking out about cool time signatures (I really hope he doesn’t dissect anything by Dream Theatre or Rush anytime soon), here is the video that gives details about the giveaway…
For reference, here is the original track from the official Alice In Chains YouTube channel.
Good luck people!
How many times have you seen that comment as part of an argument online and kinda rolled your eyes at it? Well, if you are anything like me, you stopped counting when you ran out of fingers and toes.
So, to counter that, here is a bold statement. “Who cares if the audience can hear the difference?”
OK, so let me expand on that a little. When I play live (and I’m pretty certain that this applies to everyone I play with and coming to think about it, everyone I’ve spoken too about it), a great guitar tone (or bass tone – or drum tone or whatever) is about one thing and one thing only, giving the person who is behind the instrument the opportunity to feel as comfortable as possible in order to play at their very best. The audience, generally, only cares about two things. “Is the band any good?” and “Do I like the music?”. We can do nothing about the second statement, but the first we have total control over - I doubt very much if the audience is thinking about the composite parts that result in that what they are hearing.
An integral part of any live performance is whether or not the band is any good. It’s extremely rare that a band will sound good to the audience as a whole if they sound simply awful (unless of course, their whole existence is that rough around the edges feel). I’ve seen some amazing bands in the past that have given me a terrible night because they sounded awful – and that could be the FOH mix, the individual instrument tones or anything else. I remember one night were an entire pub emptied within 3 songs because the band sounded awful. And this was the same band that went on to sell out endless world tours and go on to become one of the biggest and influential bands currently performing.
In order for the band to sound great, each person has to be at the top of their game and a lot of the time you can peel that back to ensuring that every person on the stage is comfortable and loving what they are doing and hearing. Have you ever been on stage when for some reason your gear doesn’t react the way you expect it to and it go on to ruin your night? I have, many times. That’s the ‘beauty’ of playing in bars and clubs, some rooms naturally sound amazing and some kill the sound. The key to this, for me anyway, is that in order to feel comfortable I have to be in the right ‘zone’. And that zone is all about my mental state and the relation between me and my gear. If I’m not comfortable, then I don’t play as well. My wife can spot it by the time the first song is halfway through if I’m not comfortable.
Quite often, either during a break or after the gig, people wander over to the stage area and say “You don’t need all that… etc etc” and then go on to say how good it sounds and how much they enjoy/ed my playing. This always strikes me as a little odd, surely the only thing they care about is if it sounds good. It shouldn’t matter if I have one pedal and a £50 guitar into a crappy amp, or if I have boutique level stuff from start to finish… as long as it sounds good as part of the end product. In order for it to sound good, then I have to be stood there and feel 100% comfortable and ready to melt some faces. I think this is key to this debate and a word I've used several times already in this piece – 'comfortable'. Is the player comfortable? and is the gear making them comfortable? I am fully aware that my epic board is somewhat of a comfy blanket for me, I rely on it and most of the effects on it are used once, which is a lot of money to spend on something that is only used in that way – but consider this. I am there for two reasons. Firstly, to satisfy my desire to play live and make music with my buddies, and to see the audience enjoy themselves. The one song that flies into my head at this point is “Runaway” by Del Shannon, latterly covered by Gary Allen – and the version we go is somewhere in the middle of the two. The intro to that is quite a specific tone, and it uses a one time only patch from the Mobius and Timeline (although the TimeLine is used constantly throughout the gig the Mobius only features in 4-5 other songs, 1 for vibe, 1 for tremolo and 3 or so with chorus) - does it make having a £450 pedal worthwhile? My answer is a resounding YES! On that song, as when I hit that big Am riff to start it, people jump up and start dancing. That makes me comfortable, that makes me happy and so I play better.
The main question I have to ask myself is this. Would it sound any worse to the audience if I didn’t use those patches and just got myself a crappy cheap trem pedal. Or not use those sounds at all and just use a normal tone. Well, it may well do… but the fact it’s all midi controlled so the tempo is right makes me a happy boy. There is no tap dancing, there is no tweaking of speed, it’s just there and I know that it’s going to sound killer every night (not taking into consideration if the room is awful). This means I can relax, concentrate on one of the most finger bending solos I have to do later in the song and not worry about anything not sounding the way I expect it to.
There are a lot of players out there who survive beautifully going straight in, or using cheaper pedals and everything else, but as a player I need to know what to expect when I hit that button. When I know what to expect, I relax, when I am relaxed I play better. And the only thing the audience does care about, I’ve found, is that I play to the best of my abilities every time I get up on that stage. It’s not about sounding the best because the £2K Klon has more mojo than the £150 Tumnus, it’s about only having to concentrate on the playing. For me, the Klon is excessive as I feel I don’t need it as the Tumnus does the trick for me every night, but I know many players that only feel comfortable when they have a real vintage Klon in their chain. Now, I can barely tell the difference when I play them side by side, so incorporated into a band mix I’m 100% confident I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, and I would go as far as saying that they can’t either… the audience wouldn’t have a chance – but if the player is happy, and therefore playing their best because they are so happy, then for me – it’s worth every penny spent.
For reference, here is my rig and I’ve taken the liberty of adding up the total cost of it all new.
PRS Brent Mason signature.
’94 Fender MIM Strat with hand wired Seymour Duncan Antiquities
Line6 G30, TC Electronic Polytune 2 into One Control OC-10 looper that contains…. Wampler Mini Ego Compressor, Wampler Mini Tumnus, Wampler Paisley Drive Deluxe, TC Quintessence, Strymon Mobius (split into pre and post), Strymon TimeLine, TC Electronic MiniHOF, Wampler dB+… All wired up with Evidence Audio SIS/Monorail.
Amps and Speakers
Custom made 2x12” speaker cab loaded with WGS Reaper HP and WGS ET65.
Spare amp – Quilter 101 MR
Yep. That’s £7k of gear to play covers in pubs once or twice a week. But, let's face it – I could double that figure EASILY! Yes, I know, that original figure is insane. I really know it is, but it makes me happy and this is my only hobby and I know whenever I go out to make a noise I sound as good as I personally can - so in that regard, it’s worth it. All of it!
Quite often you will see a conversation on the internet - usually started by a meme - that ends up with a few people arguing that playing isn't all about the gear, it's about the player. But what happens when the gear transforms the player? Here is a short piece sent to us regarding this by a moderator of our tone group on Facebook, Andrew Gordon.
"Can a new guitar pedal really make you a better player?
If you had asked me this question two months ago I would have "No! Don’t be ridiculous!" But since finding a couple of key pedals that really work for me I appear to have levelled up in my playing. Now, is it the pedal that is making me play better or is it that I am playing more and understanding more and really starting to find myself as a player?
I think the answer is, in fact, both, but it may not have happened without that pedal.
Let me put some context to this, I play the guitar as a hobby and buying and selling gear has also been my hobby for several years. Of late I’ve finally got an interest in theory and becoming a better player than I currently am. I’ve been watching more theory videos on youtube than gear videos and really trying to implement what I am learning. I have hit a point where I feel I have a much better understanding of some of the theory and where and how I can actually use it. It appears that you really do get out what you put in and you would think at my age that this would be a no-brainer, but if I am being honest I let the gear chase get in the way of actually playing and getting better. I’ve not only seen this in myself but I have seen it some of my other “tone chaser” friends and even some in real life too! It’s easy to lose sight of what’s really important, playing.
It’s been quite a few years since I have been in a band and I am starting to feel now that it is really time to get something together not only to have fun and jam, but to keep getting better as a player and to also make my gear relevant apart from my love of it.
But how did a pedal bring on this realistic revelation?
It started with one video on youtube about one pedal and I watched it over and over and over again to point where I pinpointed the exact sound that I had been hearing in my head for the last five years or so, but I had finally heard it in gear. I have chased many different tones over the years but this one had always been what I thought was my “core” tone. A while back I found out that I am a better player on Telecaster, I don’t know exactly why or how this happened as I always thought I was a strat player and that was it. But again I was wrong. For some reason, I am more melodic, more honest and expressive player with better tone on a Tele. I ordered the pedal at my local store and waited for its release. Once I got it and plugged it in and dialled it in over a couple of days something had changed. I was playing better! I was sounding better too!
Now we all love chasing tone, I know I do but sometimes the chase is not as good as the results you can achieve. The truth is you need to chase gear to find out what makes you, you, and how you can get to the point where you are sounding and feeling your best. It can take some time to find the right gear, but you also need to put the time in getting to know how the gear works for you properly rather than just playing it for a weekend and then flipping it straight away. It’s kind of like finding your life partner, it takes time and effort and you do get what you put in. Happy chasing and finding the tone zone."
I've read this a few times and finding myself agreeing with it more the more I re-read it. The reason I relate to it personally so much is because the latest interpretation of my tone, from my gig board, has complete revitalised my playing. I use three gain stages on my board, the Tumnus and the Paisley Deluxe. I was previously using the Dual Fusion instead of the PaisleyDog, but needed some more 'grunt' so swapped it out when the PaisleyDog was released. What I found is that because the UnderDog side is more gainy, more aggressive, I was starting to dig into my guitar more and finding more inspiration when improvising with the band. Not only did this make me sound more convincing in being me, I was also setting up my rig at home to just play it more. When I do this, I found that because I relating to my tone that much more I was wanting to learn more about what I was playing... Now, I'm no slouch when it comes to music theory, but then again, Tom Quayle is one of my favourite friends so I am painfully aware that I actually know very little. The more I played, the more I was analyzing what I was playing and then looking up teaching sites to work out what I was doing... this then pushed me into new areas which pushed me into more and the cycle of learning is now at it's most prominent it's ever been. The more I enjoy my tone, the more I play. The more I play, the more I wonder how I can make myself sound more interesting. The more I make myself sound more interesting, the more I want to make myself sound even more interesting. So, as far as Andrew and I are concerned, that by way of inspiration to play, gear can and does make you a better player.
As some of you have noticed, especially if you saw my blog piece from July 2018 and are connected to me on Social Media, I’ve been on a real Queen trip recently. Dusting down those old and vintage records is always great, but every now and then you get your hands on something that is so mind blowing you can’t quite comprehend it. Case in point, I was sent the original 24 track stems for Bohemian Rhapsody.
I instantly loaded them into LogicX and started to listen intently to all the various parts and marvelling how 4 guys in the 70’s could do all that, without the help of modern high tech gear (as the only gear they had were their instruments and the ability to record them). Basically, it’s incredible.
I’m guessing that BoRap is a song that everyone knows and at some point in their life, loved. Whether you were around when it first came out, or were familiar with it when you were young then fell about laughing at Wayne’s World, or just over the years that have followed discovered it on the radio and been fascinated, it’s one of those songs that will always be with us.
There are many videos around that discuss it all but they can get a little nerdy… so I thought I would isolate each track (there are 24) and just tell you, as a fan of the band and of music in general, what I can hear – I’m by no means a recording engineer or producer so this is as basic and real as it can be... So, this could be deemed to be a reaction piece, but in reality, it’s just me marvelling at being able to listen to a moment in history in my headphones.
Track 1: “KIT kick”
The first thing you notice is how big, loose and flabby the bass drum sounds. There is a LOT of overlap in the recording, you can just about hear the hats, the ride and the crash cymbals are fairly prominent. Seriously, the bass drum sounds like an old marching band one, with the player having it strapped to their chest. I can almost imagine an oompah band playing along with it! In the rock bit after the operatic section, Roger has a heavy 4 on the floor… you just can’t help hearing the guide guitars in the background from when they were recording it.
Track 2: “KIT Snare”
This is one of the more fascinating, before Taylor starts playing, you can hear Deacy’s bass and the piano leaking in, also copious amounts of snare rattle… but, the all time best thing a Queen fan can hear is contained in this track. Right at the start, you hear Freddie make a little giggle and then count in “1,2,3,4”… Every time a bass note is hit, the snare rattles and fizzes, it’s amazing that it wasn’t gated or something to remove this, maybe in the final mix they had 24 fingers on the console making sure this wasn’t heard. The snare is tight, once again, quite marching band like – quite gunshot in character - a lot of cymbal overlap, the toms are in this as well. The toms are quite loose and huge. Hearing Roger’s dynamics under the first guitar solo is amazing, he really is hitting them extremely hard. As soon as the operative bit starts, you can hear the sticks click together, sounds like he put them in one hand for a moment before starting again. The toms are all over the operatic section as well, absolutely huge in isolation, referring back to the record they sound a lot more in moderation... It would have been awesome to hear them more up in the mix. All the way through to the end of the operatic section you can hear the bass and the snare rattling… then you hear the guitar overlap into for the rock section once more.
Track 3: “Kit Toms”
This is the one where you start to hear the bouncing… The first thing you hear on the track is “No escape from reality” in perfect (what sounds like) 4 part harmony. Then, utter silence until your start to hear the bass overlapping. All the drums are overlapping into this track, but when the toms hit they are thunderous, loose and powerful.
Track 4: “Kit Room”
Once again, bounced over is “No escape from reality”. In what sounds like the higher part of the chord from the one on the toms track. Once again, lots of bass overlap, this time piano as well, and then later on the guitar. You hear everything with the drums, as it’s obviously capturing the room ambience… man, the toms really come through though and so do the hats in the rock section.
Just the drum tracks in Isolation.
The first thing that catches you out, obviously, is the “no escape from reality” vocal. When put into balance you hear how they’ve managed to put these simple four track together to make a huge drum sound, makes me wonder… how would modern producers handle getting such a huge sound from only 4 tracks with massive amounts of overlap from the other instruments?
Track 5: “Bass1”
Exactly what you would expect, although some of Deacy’s note choices are odd, never noticed them before. The tone is thing and almost hollow, just seems to be high mids with no power and balls across the bottom. Loads and loads of drum overlap, especially with the bass drum, cymbals and a little snare.
Track 6: “Bass2”
This appears to be EQ’d to the opposite of Bass1, loads of low end and a nice amount of tightness around the top end.
Track 7: “Bass3”
Another EQ change, a lot warmer across the lower mid range almost giving it a nasal, honky feel... although by his playing style it doesn’t honk like a more funky bass, you can just really hear the wood in the tone. It’s really quite weird tbh.
Just the bass in isolation.
This is where you sit back and say “Ahhhhh” as it now all makes sense. The three put together just compliment each other perfectly (based on the bits at the end that you don’t hear, I am guessing that it was one line, split into three and each EQ’d differently to adjust during the final mix) making this a truly beautifully balanced bass tone. There is the right amount of low end, the mid is punchy and definite and the highs just add that clarity. I’m guessing these guys really knew what they were doing.
Rhythm section in isolation.
Now it’s starting to sound like the record we all know and love, your brain plays tricks on you and adds the piano, guitars and all those vocal lines.
Track 8: “Piano1”
This is where the recording technique and all the behind the scenes stuff comes into play, on the record the intro is 100% vocals... this track contains the guide piano line for that as well. Picking out the harmonies and then going into that famous cross hand line…. As always, copious amounts of drum and bass overlap… and then a little guitars as well. The piano just sounds beautiful. Makes the listener remember what a dynamic and expressive piano player Freddie was… Right in the middle of the “Let me go” vocal cascade section you can clearly hear Freddie say “one” as well, I don’t know why… Right after that, one of the more interesting spill over happens, you can clearly here Roger in falsetto singing “Mama Mia!”
Track 9: “Piano2”
Double tracked to give a wider sound… the difference in dynamics is subtle, but oh so obvious once you get right into it.
Both Piano’s together.
Well, hello Freddie. There is it. I would be lying if I said I didn’t see him in my mind during Live Aid playing it
Track 10: “Rhtm Gtr1”
Guitars. What guitars? Once again, you hear Freddie count it in… and then there are vocal harmonies all over it, and then what sounds like the most insane cymbal crescendo that sounds like it’s gone either through a filter or a something that appears to change the pitch… I had to listen to it 4 times to try to work it out. About 2 bars in from when the guitar starts, the mic opens up and all you can hear is the ground noise of Brian’s guitar hissing like mad… the tone is exactly as you would expect, screaming – it’s been pushed hard at the front end. It’s almost fuzzy at times, you can hear the sixpence scratching the strings… After the main solo, there are interesting out take notes from Dr May that I have omitted from the capture to save his dignity.
Track 11: “Rhtm Gtr2”
More vocal harmonies… man, this is getting complicated. Obviously double tracked for width and power. More interesting notes and outtakes after the first vocal section… and then the operatic section. Vocal stabs and harmonies everywhere. It’s almost like Freddie is in my head singing “Bismillah” – probably the most freaky thing on the entire track. Main vocal line for “So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye”… wow. Just wow. Tons of vocal harmonies, high end… probably Freddie and Roger… this track ends with the main vocal line of “Nothing really matters etc”.
Track 12: “BGR VOX & Gtr”
Hello Freddie, 1,2,3,4 again… then the main vocal line harmony in the intro. He is really pushing to the top of his range here, his voice is almost crapping out on his at some points. Loads and loads of overspill with Piano. The track then goes completely quiet until the “Thunderbolt and Lightning” then it’s all just lower harmonies, more Bismillah to freak me out… All the high end Mama Mia’s are on here as well. Then, hello Brian. It’s that riff that made us all laugh in Waynes World. Never heard him sound like that before, pretty certain this didn’t make the final track. The gain is insane, almost out of control… then during the second run through, before all the nice runs it tightens up again and you are hearing a more familiar tone.
Track 13. “BGR VOX1”
This, I’m guessing, is where the harmony nuts would get lost. In this track appears to be one half of the beautiful harmony opening. I think I can hear 6 different tracks bounced in. There are some unbelievably high harmonies on the section up to the first solo and then during the first few bars. Probably Roger Taylor, ridiculously high… opera. Scaramosh. High harmonies everywhere… the full Magnifico chordal break down. Full vocal chords on “No, we will not let you go”. The whole Beelzebub section is far more complex than the record gives away. How did they do this?
Track 14: “BGR VOX2”
The other side of the intro harmonies. The complexities of the chords they are creating here with their voices… Once again, insanely high harmonies running up to the solo and following bars. More operatic harmonies, more Magnifico… just a poor boy, from a poor family. More insanity around the Beelzebub line.
Track 15. “Lead VOX”
By now, you would have thought I would have expected the track to just contain what it’s labelled as! First line is the harmony from “caught in a landslide” and continues on into the harmony vocal line for ‘poor boy etc’… the main vocal line starts with “Mama, just killed a man”. Surprisingly breathy and laid back.. and then when he ramps it up, that classic Freddie metallic rasp as he’s really pushing it. Into the operatic sections, sounds like Roger doing the high “Let him go”. Low harmonies on “put aside for me”… piano for the main guitar rock section… And we welcome Brian in with some runs during the exit… main lead line for the outro… pretty breathtaking.
Track 16: “VOX1 & Snare”
More harmonies in a landslide, more eyes opening and ‘look up the sky and see’… ‘poor boy’ harmonies, ‘I don’t want to die’ harmonies… just everything… Full chords of vocal “Let him go”…. The “let me go” main vocal cascade… And then a snare overdub for the rock section. Tight, loads of attack and punch.
Track 17: “VOX2”
More complex harmonies from the intro… all Freddie. Double tracked lines for the main line and harmonies for “poor boy”. Double tracked “wind blows” and “to me…”. More double tracks for the “just killed a man” and on to the guitar solo. More full vocal chords of “Let him go” including Roger’s high parts… And we have Brian back with the rock guitar section… Man, that guitar tone is brutal!
Track 18: “VOX3&LdGtr”
More of the above… more intro harmonies. All the way through, so many double tracks and multiple harmonies. And then, that solo. Pretty sure that’s not his Vox amps, but the Deacy amp… the mid range is so nasal! More freaky Bismillah. I’m going to hear that in my sleep tonight I think! And then you hear the guitar, open amp floor noise… that big Bb before the runs and then the big sound for the rock section, but it drops out quickly… then there is tons and tons of overspill from everything. This tracks ends with huge harmonies of the whole “oh yeah” section, layers upon layers upon of layers… Then there is that Brian exit that he plays with his fingers on his right hand. Right at the end of this track you hear Freddie say “Oh, fuck it, let…” – I’d love to know what bought that on.
Track 19: VOX4
As you can guess, it’s just layers and layers of intro harmonies and double tracking. This track also contains the chimes from “shivers down my spine”… based on the floor noise, I’d say this was a guitar, with the strings being played behind the nut. Operatic harmonies… just everywhere, more “magnifico’ cascades… The very high harmonies of “For me” before the rock section, appears then to have a double track of the “stone me”. More Brian playing the exit arpeggios.. and finally, the exit gong makes an appearance!
Track 20: VOX5
I’m guessing you know what is on here. More doubling, more harmonies, more opera… more mayhem. More ‘stone me’ including a wonderful moment where Freddie’s voice sounds like it’s right on the edge, pushing it further than he should.
Track 21: VOX6 & Guitar6
Yep, harmonies, harmonies, harmonies, harmonies. Also, Brian doubling up on the high notes from the main theme (the octave piano part in the main theme) that I’ve always heard him do live but never picked out on the original. During the operatic section, you can clearly hear Brian and Roger adding their sections, but mostly it’s just Freddie either doubling what is already there or adding yet another harmony. Brian outtake for the rock section, I don’t blame them cutting that bit, not a great tone! More exit scales from Brian, completing the exit runs…
Track 22: Vox Ovdub1
This feels like this was when they had it almost there and Freddie was dropping the final piece’s of the puzzle in… the main vocal line “Carry on, carry on” followed by ‘matters’ in here as well. Also, the overdub for “wish I’d never been born at all”. Full harmony chords of “scaramoosh” and “fandango”… more parts of ‘magnifico’… tons of Roger high harmonies… Timpani drums. Full vocal chords of “No no no no no” and some more Beelzebub”. Drum overdubs for the rock section… And then, my favourite bit. Brian’s beautifully constructed guitar harmonies at the end. There must be at least 5 guitars in there.
Track 23: Vox Ovdub2
More bits and pieces tidying up the into vocals… any way the wind blows… some oohs and ahhs over the solo… Rogers very highest Gallieo’s, the highest “he’s just a poor boy etc”. There’s that Bismillah again. More beelzebub harmonies… I never knew how complicated that little section was.. and then finally, we are treated to more Brian’s runs at the end of the rock section!
Track 24: Vox Ovdub3.
Even more overdubs of the main and harmony lines… obviously not all of these made it to the mix… when you put them all on… it’s insane. There is only the slightest amount of modulation coming from the pitching, so Freddie’s voice is on note, every times. Almost to a freaky level. Exit rock guitars in the rock section, sounds like this was the one that was used… I can hear that sixpence again! And the rest of Brian’s harmony exit…
This was a total guilty pleasure for me, and one I was reluctant to look at too deeply as I didn’t want it to ruin the masterpiece we have all heard countless times. But, you know, when you are presented the opportunity to look into something so monumental, you take the chance and have a listen. I’m so glad I did as the respect I have for their talent, especially the producer who managed to get this on 24 tracks has been blown out of all proportion… Basically, the word genius undersells it.
This week, I am giving the floor to a FB friend of mine called Nik Harrison… Who is Nik I hear you ask… Well... “I teach music (piano, guitar, theory, GCSE, A Level etc) but I also teach thinking skills. Critical thinking, applications of (and limitations of) logic, exam revision etc. Also do commentary and debates on various matters concerning philosophy etc for educational purposes, and “thinking horizon expansion”. Play acoustic gigs. Do demos at guitar shows for Stormshadow guitarworks. Run the contemporary guitar performance workshop, and conduct quite a lot of pedagogical (relative to teaching) research for that. Occasionally go out as a professional magician for corporate functions... A pretty broad range."
This all came about because I saw a question on FB… “Why is it called music theory? Shouldn’t it be called music rules?”
And Nik answered… “Music theory is the codification of the most commonly used frameworks within music. It’s a language, and as a language, it’s essentially a set of protocols. It’s not the ‘message’. The message is the music, and the music exists independent of any language that we may use to explain, quantify, or record it (which is essentially the three things that music theory serves to achieve). The music comes first. It’s for theory to keep up with music, not for music to keep up with the theory, or otherwise be dictated to by ‘theory’. Rules are for sports.”
I was quite fascinated with this response, so I asked him to expand on it for our blog… Over to you Nik...
There are essentially two means by which a ‘music theory’ may be devised (inclusive of the amalgamation of both). Firstly, there’s the analysis and quantification of music that people have created when drawn to the sounds and structures that they instinctively feel to be congruent with their musical taste. Secondly, you can take the fundamentals of sound itself, and analyse this. The only naturally occurring phenomena which could be used as a foundation for creating a music theory is the harmonic series. This would lead us to consider the overtone scale (or Lydian Dominant mode) to be the most ‘natural’ place to start, but we don’t do that, we use other things. What may be ‘natural’ may not always be (what we would identify as) ‘musical’ to some people... To my understanding, most ‘scales’ that we now consider to be commonplace evolved by means of primitive instrument engineering evolving to accommodate greater pitch accuracy, together with the influence of the harmonic series which supplied an acoustic physics-based foundation for the subdivision of octaves.
In extension of this, it’s worth noting that the only thing that makes music theory conversations and debates worthwhile is the fact that it's in a state of permanent evolution. This means that right and wrong are not as clear cut as they may be when debating other topics. To suggest that ‘rules’ come into music theory would require consensus amongst academics and scholars alike who are not actually qualified (either individually or collectively) to ascribe ‘rules’ to such a topic as music theory. This is because music (and its associated theory) belongs to the people. It doesn’t belong to academia, no matter how much it may be implied, or how much academia may attempt to take ownership of it. Music theory is very much a living and breathing 'language'. Worthy of note however, is that music itself isn’t a language. This is a common misconception, but it isn’t a language because music isn't authoritatively definable in terms of the same criteria (and respective fulfilment thereof) that a language would need to fulfil (and adhere to) in order that it may be defined as a 'language'. Analogies between music and languages might work at a very simplistic level, but there are a number of misconceptions, misunderstandings, and errors that are all too easy to make if this analogy is taken beyond the simplest of examples. Within a language the objective of communication is served by means of encoding meaning and concepts into syntax which is then assembled within a grammatical framework. There are a number of pre-requisites which need to be in place before it can be understood.
When it comes to music, the pre-requisites that are necessary for any spoken or written language to be successful don't exist (unless you're operating from a number of assumptions regarding a very fixed definition of what music can be). As such, music doesn't operate in the same way, or within the same parameters as 'languages'. A listener needs no familiarity with any 'encoding' of meaning to understand the inherent 'truth' that is music, and this makes the formulation of any manifestation of “music theory” all the more complicated, challenging, and interesting.
Music evolves, and always came first. Theory comes second, and has only been devised (and subsequently evolved into the language of music that we now use) as a method by which we express, record, and preserve music. Because music is evolving, the language that we use to explain it needs to evolve with it, although because of the rate at which music evolves, theory will always be "behind", not at all helped by academics who misunderstand the true relationship "music" has to "theory", who seem to desire it's absolute preservation and maintenance (without really offering any consideration as to how appropriate this actually is). I would suggest that an understanding of music and the understanding of theory are two very different things. They are every bit set apart in the same way that and understanding of "meaning" is not the same as an understanding of "language".
Within a system where 15 key signatures are used to express 12 keys, any engineer would conclude that this is 3 too many than necessary and it’s about time we just got rid of them. I know where these key signatures have come from, and have a strong understanding of why we have ended up with 15 key signatures, but since evolution is a process of simplification, not complication, I think we can reasonably predict what will happen here as theory evolves anyway, so why don’t we just dispose of 3 unnecessary key signatures now? A more prominent over-complication in music theory can be seen in the time signature. Where the bottom "number" which is used represents a note value, why has it gone through an unnecessary process of "encoding" into a number? Why don't be just draw the note value as it would appear in the piece underneath the number telling us how many beats are in each bar?
To my mind, not enough people challenge these theoretical concepts and as such, I fear that it’s best hope of "catching up" with the music (which theory actually serves to record, explain, and preserve) is being systematically eroded by every music theory publication presenting this information and framing it as “the way it is” rather than thinking about it and offering appropriate consideration to what kind of future it actually has?
Thank you Nik! You can connect with Nik on Facebook.
Monday, July 2nd 2018 will go down as one of the greatest, mind-melting nights of my life. If you disregard the day I met my wife and the two nights I become a Father, I’m pretty certain nothing has been as monumental as this was.
I first ‘met’ Jamie Humphries many, many years ago on FB and over the years we’ve become very good friends. We have a very similar sense of humour (our partners will confirm that is being mostly like 13-year-old boys) and share a deep love for our instrument and music. When I first started to chat with Jamie I was painfully aware he was one of the resident guitar players in the London show of “We Will Rock You” and had toured with Dr Brian May… over the years he’s gone on to do the European Tour of WWRY and many other major touring shows. But, you know, he’s now just the guy that literally makes me cry with laughter on a regular basis. Jamie is widely regarded as one of the guys who can do Brian as well as Brian himself... along with that, his knowledge of the Red Special and Brian’s gear in general is frighteningly deep - we always joked about how I would react if I ever got to hold the Red Special. He always said that one day he would sort it for me but I never thought it would actually happen.
It was many months ago that Queen announced that they were touring with Adam Lambert again and hitting the UK in Summer. I mentioned it to Jamie and he said (in an off-hand way): “I’ll see if I can get us tickets, it’s right on my birthday so, you know, it may happen, I’ll try to get us backstage as well”. Lisa and I tried not to get too excited about it, but it was always in the back of our minds. Then, last Friday, I get a text from Jamie saying something along the lines of “Answer your phone you ******” - I hadn’t noticed he was repeatedly trying to call me… when I spoke to him he confirmed that we had tickets for the Monday night and the after-show party.
Then followed the strangest weekend of my life. Two gigs, one tremendous and the other one completely screwed up, all played out in slow motion. When Monday finally came around, we got in the car and made our way to London. The journey, as it often is, was awful but we got to the hotel next door to the venue (10 minutes’ walk from concert seat to bed – BOOM!), checked in and waited patiently for the clock to tick round. Jamie was frantically calling what felt like every 5 minutes as he was stuck in traffic coming from Lick Library in Essex to the o2, the language used was a thing of beauty. Filthy, but so articulately filthy I couldn’t help but laugh at him. We finally met up about 10 minutes before the show was due to start, at the box office, and made it to our seats with only a few minutes to spare.
I don’t know what it is about Queen. I’m yet to meet a rational person who doesn’t really like them on some level, it almost feels like they have been, at some point, everyone’s favourite band but at the same time, hardly anyone’s actual favourite band. They just seem to be deeply appreciated by almost everyone. For me, it’s a family affair - they were one of my Mother’s favourite bands, they are one of my favourite bands, one of my wife’s favourite bands and one of my kid’s favourite bands… It seems like everyone has several Queen songs that mean the world to them. It’s not hard to understand why, when you think of the songs, or think of Live Aid, or think of Freddie, or think of the guitar that Dr May made with his Father (Harold) between 1963 and 1965… it’s just one hell of a story and one hell of a back catalogue of simply great songs.
Judging by the way Facebook has reacted to my many posts about this since last Friday, it’s apparent that some people think Queen should have died a natural death when Freddie did. To me that’s a little crazy, why shouldn’t the surviving members carry on? Not only in tribute to the music they created but to Freddie himself, and to the fans that still hold the music very close to their hearts. It was as I was thinking this, that the lights went down and the show started. When you see a band like Queen for the first time, and you are staring a lifetime of memories and happy thoughts right in the face, it takes a few moments to get your head back on. And once I did, there were two things that kept going through my head… the first was “I think that’s the best live guitar tone I’ve ever heard” and “Adam Lambert is incredible” – I turned to Jamie and said something that rhymes with “Duck tree – that tone!” and he laughed and said, “Told you it was good!”.
The following two or so hours went by in a whirl. Song after song of massive hits, a flawless stage show, several guest appearances by Freddie via the video screens, masterfully edited in, and at the heart of it, one of my favourite players, playing the iconic guitar, with just the biggest and ballsiest tone I’ve ever heard. He didn’t play the original all night, but whenever he did, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. The great thing about seeing a show like that with a straight up Queen nerd is that all the way through I was being updated with what gear he was using. Just perfect for a perpetual tone chaser who can legitimately think of nothing better than avidly listening to Jamie telling me about Brian’s wet/dry/wet rig, modified AC30’s, treble boosters, and the various ‘other’ Red Special’s that were being used.
Once the show was over, we made our way to where the after-show party was being held. Myself, Lisa, Jamie and Kim (the fourth member of our little group who owns Lick Library and Guitar Interactive Magazine) found ourselves in a room with a free bar and bizarrely, a Rock DJ playing some RAWK classics. It was then that the gravity of the situation started to hit me… Big Phil, who is Brian’s personal security guard - and has the title of being one of the most lovely and terrifying people I’ve ever met - came over for a chat… Phil Hilborne – whos impact on guitarists of our age can never be overstated through his work with Guitarist Magazine and Guitar Techniques Magazine - was also was a long-standing member of the WWRY band – came and joined us, I turned around and noticed next to us were Rami Malik, Gwilym Lee and Joseph Mazello – who play Freddie, Brian and John in the upcoming film “Bohemian Rhapsody”… edged on by the comfort of having a couple of beers on an empty stomach I had a chat with them, and it was clear just what big fans they are of the band as well. That film is going to be epic. There were so many people indelibly connected to Queen, just there, all around me.
It was when I had just been to the bar again (to replace the beer that Lisa had dropped) that I noticed that Jamie was talking to a guy with a gig bag strapped to his back, I thought “No, that can’t be”, but judging by the way Jamie smiled at me, I knew it was. I knew that Pete Malandrone – Brian’s long-term tech – who kept the original Red Special with him at ALL times, and I mean, at all times, was right there and he had ‘it’ with him. There I was, within touching distance of the guitar that played on all those hits, stole the show at Live Aid, was the cornerstone of that Guitar Legends gig, and is quite possibly the most iconic guitar of all time... So near, yet so far.
Pete wandered off, and then about 10 minutes later, Jamie tapped me on the shoulder and said: “Come with me”. I stood up, grabbed Lisa’s hand, and we were quickly led into another room. After we were all in and the door was closed behind us, Pete took the gig back off his back, opened it up and I was confronted with I can only describe as what looked like a military grade carbon fibre shaped guitar case. My first thought was “That’s so small, it can’t be”. He opened it up (the whole thing was like that scene from Pulp Fiction when Travolta opened the briefcase and Samuel L Jackson said, “Are we happy?”) and it was.
Pete picked up the Red Special… THE original Red Special, and handed it to me. In that instant, it was almost like people describe as “your life flashing before you” trick of the brain, the whole history of that guitar flooded through me. So… what did I do? Well, like an idiot I sat down and started to play the first solo from Bohemian Rhapsody. Jamie started laughing and said “Don’t play Queen licks on that you muppet” and we all just started laughing. I mean, fair comment really. I looked up and noticed Pete’s face was just lit up with a huge smile. There must have been many times when he’s handed that guitar to someone and they react the way I did - in complete awe – and it looks like he genuinely loves to see that reaction. Then he started to go through the history of its construction, you know how it goes... The fireplace mantelpiece, the bike rack tremolo arm and knitting needle top, where the finish had been worn off over the years and where it had been refinished… the buttons used for the fret markers, the bike springs in the tremolo, the single bolt holding the neck on… I stopped playing and just looked at it. Even though I’ve read about it a million times, when it’s in your hands and the guy who knows it as well as Brian does is telling you about it, it takes on a whole new meaning. It was at that point Pete put his hand in his pocket and said “Have this, it was the one he used tonight, I just found it on the stage by his mic stand” and handed me a classic Six Pence piece… I then started to play again (very gently with the sixpence) and that’s the point it jumped out at me. The neck was enormous, the frets are non-existent (it’s never been refretted)… and to be completely honest, the neck feels like a baseball bat that’s had a small part of the front shaved off. It’s uncomfortably huge. The profile of the board is actually really quite rounded but… you know… it’s THE Red Special. He made it with his Father over 50 years ago and it feels like it. It may be weird to play, but it doesn’t matter - that is truly a guitar of legend. After what felt like a second I gave it back to Pete, who put it back in the case (cue Travolta in my head again saying “yeah, we’re happy”), put the case back in the gig bag and we left the room to carry on enjoying the free bar. As the night progressed, more beers were drunk, more people met, more laughs were had (including the continuation of a long-held discussion we’ve been having about Phil’s Red/Pink PRS) and even a free curry. As Lisa and I walked back to the hotel some hours after, most definitely quite squishy from the beer, I’m pretty certain my feet never touched the ground even once.
If you are a Queen fan, go and see them. Especially if you love them but think that it won’t be Queen without Freddie, because other than everything I explained above, the one memory I will have about that night was just how perfect for the job Adam Lambert is. As he said during the show “I know a lot of you think ‘He’s not Freddie and he shouldn’t be trying to be him’… All I can say is this… I’m not trying to be him, I could never be Freddie. I’m here for the same reason you are - I love Freddie and I love Queen and I’m so lucky I get to pay tribute to him with those amazing guys”.
I’d like to thank Jamie Humphries for giving me a true memory of a lifetime, Pete Malandrone for his love of the instrument and allowing me to play many, many inappropriate licks on it, and Dr Brian May for being, well… Brian May.
*header photo: Dave Watson.