This week I want to tell you about a piece of gear I first played nearly a year ago. I’ve been sitting on this piece for a while, as I wanted to wait until it was released, and it just has.
The company is called Synergy Amps and I’m a fan. And before you start to think cynically, I’m not employed by them!
As always, there’s a story attached to this for context, so I’ll get that out of the way first. When at NAMM I suffer horrifically from jetlag. As Cali is 8 hours behind the UK my sleep patterns are destroyed and I literally get about 4 hours of sleep per night, I’m not there for long enough to try to force it around with sleeping tablets, so I just live with it. The best thing about this is that I’m up at the crack of doom and generally get to the show each morning LONG before the doors are open. I usually take this time to do a line check on the rig and make sure everything is in place before the people attend the show, start attending.
One morning I was there so early the only people on the booth complex we are part of, the wider Boutique Amp Distribution booth, were myself, Bruce Egnator, Groover Jackson and my buddy Steve Elowe. Now, Bruce and Groover being there isn’t integral to this, but I just wanted to make you all sound the name drop horn in your heads – it still freaks me out that these guys are just milling around to talk too, a real pinch yourself moment! The Wampler rig was fine so I wandered off to see Steve who was sat at a computer, with guitar in hand, rocking hard. He was also gently cussing under his breath about latency issues, so I offered to help. He got me to play while he did something to the computer.
I was playing through the new Synergy Amps rig.
At first I just played enjoying the tones, then he started to press buttons and all these different sounds were appearing, so I was playing different stuff on the fly as the sounds were so radically different. He then stood up and said “That’s better”. The computer was now behaving how it should so we had some time to play with the Synergy rig.
Let me fill you in on what this thing is. Basically, Synergy is a modular system that has ports which allows you to add various modules that sound and behave like the amps they are based upon. You buy the dock, a single or double module unit, and then load the amp module in. The docks are 12AX7 driven with a ton of different out options. There is a straight “preamp out” and an emulated out to go into your PA/desk/DAW - I was initially playing through the preamp out to a power amp, but once Steve had sorted the latency on the computer he pushed it over to the emulated out. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, I had an incredibly authentic Soldano SLO100 tone coming straight from the studio monitors that sounded EXACTLY the same as the preamp out, and from what I can remember about playing an SLO (which I have played through a lot) exactly the same as the amp – not only tonally, but in respect of response. The way it responded to my picking dynamics, the volume pot and the gain… man… the gain...
At that point he started to show me the differing modules, which could be changed in a matter of seconds. One minute I was ripping through the SLO, and then quickly through a Friedman BE which was just roaring, then back into a TDLX which had the kind of clean tones you’d expect from a blackfaced, or tweed finished amp, then a Morgan AC that was SO glassy… and then… and then…. and then...
After I’d played it for seemed like 5 seconds, which in reality was almost ¾ of an hour, I was left thinking about the practical uses of this system and where it sits in the market place. The first thing that got me, other than the tone that was coming from it, was the ease of use and how practical it can be in any set up. In a way, it was like having a modelling system but without the endless sub menu’s and degree in computer science to work it, or let’s face it, if you are anything like me, tons and tons of stuff that you would just never, ever use. This I think is where this product is going to sit, right in the place where people want a ton of options, but only the specific ones they require, and something that has real tubes, real knobs and real tone. You can literally have a mountain of boutique amps available, at a fraction of the cost and using a fraction of the room, just ‘there’.
The trouble I’ve always had with the modelling stuff, apart from ‘that’ reaction (which let’s face it, that gap is being bridged all the time), is that you generally have to get rid of your original amp set up and get a full range amp/speaker to go with it. You don’t get the best results from those things going into your amp, they still sound great, but they work best when everything is modelled and you are going direct. Then, they sound incredible. The beauty of the Synergy system is that it can be run direct within the loop of your favourite amp, giving you multiple new channels to play with. For many players, those that don’t want the computery stuff and love their rig already, this HAS to be the best thing, well - as we say over here, since sliced bread. Also it works flawlessly direct into your DAW, or PA, it has a great FX loop (so you can run your favourite effects in there, the ones that were originally in the loop of your amp if you used it that way)… I’m not sure who is behind this system, but I doff my cap in their general direction.
From looking at the website, I can see that the docks are $499 for the single and $799 for the double, there is also all tube heads available and a power amp. The modules are $399. So, let’s look at a boutique level amp, which I’m guessing you will all agree tends to be around $2k to buy and generally only give you the sound associated with that amp, you get what you get and nothing else. So, consider this, If you have a great amp you can buy the dock and 2 modules for ¾ of the price of a new and different sounding head, and then keep adding to it for $399, you will start to build up an amp collection that is worthy of Joe Bonamassa. Then think that these modules are small enough to get two into a single 19” rack unit. Even if you have 8 modules and the Syn2 (double port dock) it comes to less than 2 full boutique level amps. That’s 8 amps for the price of two. Once you have the dock, the modules are so cheap GAS will be screaming for new ones all the time.
I don’t get excited about new technology products very often mainly because I like tubes, knobs and instantly available tone and most of the time these days, all those things appear to be missing in new innovative technology. New gear concepts these days usually consists of “sitting down with a manual the size of a novel and 3 hours just to get the amp tone you want that’s hidden in the middle of other stuff that appears to have no practical musical use to anyone”.
I want one.
A few months ago I wrote a ‘review’ of the Quilter 101 Mini Head here in the Wampler blog, it was an interesting experience using the 101 Mini, but tonally it didn’t work out for me. It was great, just not there yet. There were issues with the basic core tone and most importantly, the strange EQ section.
I’ve subsequently got my hands on the newer version of this head, the 101 Mini Reverb, they’ve upgraded the unit considerably, made the EQ a much easier system to dial in and you guessed it, contains reverb. I’ve been using the 101 MR for the last few gigs as the ‘other’ side of my stereo rig, and something happened this weekend that made me look at it in a different light.
First of all, a quick gear rundown so you get a feel what my rig does. My rig is mono until it hits the incredible TC Electronic MiMiQ which then splits it to stereo. The main side of the MiMiQ (which sits after my pre gain modulation the gains stages and compression – so that’s pre gain Strymon Mobius – mainly Vibe - Mini Ego, Tumnus and Paisley Drive Deluxe) sends the signal on to the post gain side of the Mobius (so that’s chorus, tremolo etc), the Strymon TimeLine, dB+ and then to a Wampler Bravado amp. The other side of the MiMiQ just feeds direct to the Quilter 101 MR – both then feed directly into a stereo 2x12” speakers. I have the MiMiQ set on “slight drunk” so when it’s kicked in I find the difference in tone (I set it pretty quickly, on a scooped setting) and the lack of delays etc do a really good impression of a second guitar player.
I play in a pub band, playing covers, and on Saturday night we were kinda cookin’. The crowd was rocking, so we were. My rig sounded fantastic and I ended the first set on a high! I was just having a lovely time… when it came to the start of the second set we started and I noticed that something wasn’t quite right. None of my delay’s where there, so I checked a different patch (the vibe) and that worked, so I thought – oh shit, the TimeLine is knackered. There was something else going on with the sound as well, it wasn’t quite as attacky or bright as usual (I have the Bravado set on Bright position 4 with the mids scooped out so it’s more like a Fender Deluxe than it should be)… For about 3 songs I felt this thing was wrong, still sounded like me, still sounded great (well, let’s face it, with those gain stages how could it not?), but there was a certain something missing. Trust my wife to spot the problem… It the end of the third song she leaned over to me from behind the P.A. speakers and shouted in my ear “Do you know that the Bravado is on standby?”.
So, I had turned the Bravado on to standby at the end of the first set and forgotten to turn it back on again, which is quite funny considering the piece I wrote about putting amps on standby last year. it was just the Quilter being used and I was blown away with the sound of it. Granted, It was not as clear and concise as the Bravado, and the response was different, but it was close. Kind of felt the same way when I first played through a Kemper, really close but the reaction wasn’t there, because it’s a D class and I’m used to a valve amp.
Once I realised my mistake I tweaked the Quilter a little to try to bring the top end in and it got even closer before bringing the Bravado back in. This little thing is quite remarkable when I think about it, I carry it around in my effects case and it weighs about 2lbs and it stood up against the Bravado and didn’t lose without a fight. It took the pedals like a dream, it responded to my pick attack and expression like a dream. The updated EQ section was SO much better in this one, every issue I had with the original was addressed. Basically, this thing is pretty bloody awesome.
I’ve made the conscious decision that when we do the small, quiet gigs – as we often do – and you can’t get a valve amp up to the required level to make it sound like I want too (yes, we really do play that quiet sometimes, literally so you can talk over it), the Quilter 101 MR will be my main amp and the Quilter 101 Mini will be the stereo field. It won’t be the Bravado (as, you know, valve compression and response of a high end amp, there is nothing like it), but at least I can put it to the level I want to play at and I won’t be disappointed with the tone, which when you think about it, is quite remarkable.
I can thoroughly recommend this little amp, and I don’t say that very often. Everyone should have one in the front pocket of their gig bag as a back up, or if like me you want a stereo field, it’s perfect. Actually, if I wasn’t so fussy (I am, extremely) I would probably use it for every gig as let’s face it, the people listening wouldn’t be able to tell the difference in those conditions... It’s close enough to the real thing to be able to warrant the compromise of tone – that magical thing that can’t be replicated - especially when like me you have a history of sciatica and want to keep the weight down!
As a last thought - when the Bravado isn’t here I use a Fender BDri as my main gigging amp… well, I used to, as if the Bravado isn’t here, from here on in I’ll be using the Quilter…
Paisley Drive Deluxe - Release date.
Due to unforeseen circumstances stemming from availability and Brian's constant demand for perfection, the release date for the Wampler Paisley Drive Deluxe has been amended to October 31st. Not only will this allow the global dealer base to ensure that they have the product in store for the release date, but it allows us to know that every product shipped meets his exacting standards and people all around the world can get it in their rigs, on release date, no matter where they live.
The thirst for perfection, it's what drives us.
I am at a complete loss as to what to write today. I had loads of ideas laid out in my head, I was going to talk maybe about the TC Electronic MiMiQ, or the new Quintessence, the Quilter 101 Reverb, but seriously, none of that matters right now.
I am despairing as to what has happened, as to what is happening. This is the third (that I can remember off the top of my head) time in recent history where a music event has been attacked. December 2015, the Bataclan - Eagles of Death Metal concert, 90 dead and over 200 injured by persons with automatic rifles. Manchester Arena, Ariana Grande concert, 22 people killed and 250 injured by an IED. The question I keep asking myself is "why".
I'm in the UK, so I was aware of this as it was happening pretty much, I get up early in order to tip my kids out of bed in time for school, so in my gently hungover state this morning I turned the TV on (as I like to have background noise other than my kids moaning about being tired) while I wake myself up by playing Clash of Clans and was greeted by live news as it was unfolding. I was, and still am, speechless. Confused.
Music is supposed to bind us. Music is supposed to inspire us. Music is supposed to bring us together. To attack a place where nothing else matters apart from the shared enjoyment of something that transcends colour, race, nationality, sex and everything else, to me, is about as low as it can get. If that's not enough, on social media, you get everything that always happens after, happening. People offer opinions, solutions, political postures, justifications, excuses and it all descends into pointless arguments that will change nothing and just solidify more hatred and more things to not understand about the world we live in.
I often get called names because of my opinions on humanity, and all that does is nothing but show the ignorance of the people who say it. All because I dream of a world where people don't hate, not where everyone is being treated with suspicion and people are judged on their own personal actions and attitudes rather than anything else. A place where people from all over the world can get together and enjoy music without the fear of being punished for it.
We exist as a company to bring enjoyment to the people who play our products. And some of those products were on the stage last night in Las Vegas. All we want to do is allow the entertainers to entertain and for those who are listening to enjoy the experience, it’s one of life’s simple pleasures and it sickens me when people use violence to disrupt it.
All you need is love. All you need is love. All you need is love, love. Love is all you need. And pedals.
Paisley Drive Deluxe - when the launch plan gets ruined. You won't believe your eyes what happened next! Amazing scenes! Unbelievable!!September 25, 2017
There goes my carefully laid out release.
Don’t you just hate it when that happens? This isn’t the first time of course, google cached a website tester that means the Pinnacle Deluxe v2 was leaked before the announcement, and only a few months ago when we released the Ethereal, some rather silly people had shown it as a new release almost 18 months before at a NAMM show or 2. Well, 3. But hey, who’s counting? *insert chuckles here*
The Paisley Drive Deluxe is coming, October 12th. Now, we weren’t going to tell you about this for a while yet, probably somewhere around 1st Oct, but there you go, you got it at least 10 or so days early. You may be thinking that a week doesn’t really matter, but for us this was a huge disappointment. Over the last 7 years or so I’ve been doing this, Brian and I have pretty well got this wrapped up, we know what to do and how to do it (since Alex joined us a couple of years ago it got even better) and the plan was in full swing… This is why the product page on our site was launched so quick, the FB header graphic was up quickly and the promo pictures where on FB and IG instantly after the leak… I had it all in place.. So, obviously, to make up for this - the next release will be announced to the dealers early yet under the pain of death if anyone leaks it! And you think I’m joking… I just don’t want another quiet Sunday morning ruined like this again (we must take a moment to give appreciation to my wife and kids who had to deal with me, loudly dealing with this, at 9am on a Sunday morning. I do think my kids learnt new ways of putting cuss words together in that first hour).
Although many people were VERY shocked to see us announce the pedal, it made me smile because we’ve already been teasing it for quite a while. For example, this graphic was the facebook header on our company page and it’s been in full glorious view since Sept 6th. I also published a photo on my personal Instagram a week ago that showed part of it, so the evidence was there – a couple of people picked up on it, but I love it when people only become aware of it after the event. Also, lest we forget, Brad’s tech leaked that this was coming waaaaaay back in March in an interview with Guitarist magazine. We also posted pictures of Brad’s rig on Sept 8th that clearly showed the prototype in his rig… So, you know, the evidence was there for all to see! It’s not easy to join the dots up, because we deliberately place them so far apart!
ANYWAY, enough of all that – here is the blog I was not ready to write yet, as I was hoping I’d have a few more gigs under my belt with it, but my hand has been forced so here I go. I used the Paisley Drive Deluxe on a gig last Friday. I didn’t know what to expect, the Paisley Drive for me is a special pedal – it was the first logo I designed for Wampler, I inadvertently named the pedal during (it was known as simply as the Paisley Overdrive in proto stage), so it kinda got me the job – 7 years later, here I am writing about the next generation of it. I love the original Paisley Drive so much, we named our dog after it, she’s the original Paisley Dog as far as I am concerned!
First impressions: well – I already knew what it was going to look like, as I did the confirmed graphical design for it back in February, and LONG before that I had got ready for this release and amended the original Paisley to co-ordinate with it way back in 2015. So, this has been in our minds for years. We just needed the main man to decide on what he wanted to be in it, so when over the last couple of years the Underdog started to get a run out in his rig, it looked like it was time to move it forward, Brian met with Brad and his techs a couple of time this last year to bash out the details, for example the routing and switching options, and the pedal was decided – into the process it went! But yes, my first impression was a sharp intake of breath. It is beautiful. Major props have to go to our production guys, this thing is flawless.
Channel 1: The first thing I noticed on it when plugging it in was how much gain was on tap from the Underdog side – the UD is probably the only one of Brian’s creations I’ve never played before, so it was all new to me, and boy does this thing cook! Considerably more gain that I was expecting, gravelly in a good way (the low mids are gorgeously wide), and has a great element of sag in the bottom end, not in the way the Pinnacle does, but it feels like when you hit the lower notes with a little palm muting it really jumps up and reacts. When you stick the fat switch in, the whole thing jumps up a level and starts to run into classic rock territory. I ended up running it at 15v as the band I am in doesn’t need that much gain, so I found the sweet spot right here. As always, when a little more gain and girth was needed I put the Tumnus on in front of it, and that most definitely takes you into rock territory.
Channel 2: Basically, extremely similar to the original Paisley. The three-way switch was removed and replaced with a 2 way switch. When the button is in, you get the original top setting (right on the newer one) – so that’s what I call the Trainwreck tone, or the Cliffs of Rock City right there, and when it is out, it’s like the bottom on the original (left on the newer ones) so a classic “Waiting on a Woman” TS feel. So, yeah, you get some classic Paisley from that side. The presence switch has been removed and is effectively set to “off”.
Stacked: Now, as in the Dual Fusion and Hot Wired, the real beauty of this pedal comes when you start running both channels together. Included in the Paisley DD is the same routing control that Tom and I came up with for the Dual Fusion, perfectly implemented by Brian and Jake, because if like me you use a looper, the last thing you want to do it have to press the loop switch and then press something else on the pedal. This way, it’s all done for you. I run 2 into 1, as the Underdog sounds glorious and when you stick the Paisley into it, with both set in the ‘out’ position you are going to hit the kind of creamy tones you would not expect from a pedal. Most of you that know me know I have an inherent dislike for most TS circuits, but when you run the Paisley on TS flavour and push it into the Underdog, something comes alive. These two circuits run together so well it’s just amazing we’ve not put them together before, feedback is waiting there but you are not fighting it, the guitar shines through the dirt, and when cranked, you move some serious air. Those two together sustain forever, I was hitting notes and they were ringing out like Parisienne Walkways – quietly and perfectly morphing into a feedback and once I moved the guitar the note moved up perfectly to another pitch. Think Flying In A Blue Dream intro. And I’ve never been able to find that so easily.
Every time we release a pedal, I excitedly play it for a while, understand it, and then it goes on the shelf for a while and I stick with my tried and trusted gain pedals for live. This one was plugged in at home to briefly hear it and make sure it was OK, I literally played two chords on each side, then put it on my live board as I was pressed for time. By the end of the first song I was smiling so much my face hurt, the bass player in the band (who is the biggest tone chaser I’ve ever met) was smiling back at me… I knew we were on to a winner.
Anyway, enough from me. Here’s Brett Kingman showing you how it’s done.
There are more demo's to come... lots more!
Social Media trolling in 2017. Do you do these? I often get called a troll on social media, so I thought I would look into it a little and see what's what.
Upon looking I can identify four main areas of trolling in the industry this industry, and others, and I’ll try to quickly explain them here. This might be my “I’m watching you moment”.
The “Illinformed muck spreader”. Yes, I edited that. I wanted to call them something else, but I won’t!! Over the years I’ve seen certain companies (and people) attract hate for one reason or another – it’s a big circle and it goes around constantly. Most recently it’s been Josh Scott and his company JHS. Now, I’m not going to get into the specifics of it but I’m lucky enough to call Josh a friend (enough for me to partake in a little of the banter mentioned below) and be horrified in what has been said. Josh has made mistakes, but who hasn’t, but it would appear that many people are only interested in spreading certain things about him and the company, either by sharing a long since disproved Reddit link, or talking about something with half-truths, and then pass that information on widely. The classic example of this was when Josh appeared on That Pedal Show a few months back, I found myself on a Saturday afternoon putting people right on YouTube and them not believing a word of it. It’s so easy to share information these days, but it doesn’t appear to be that easy to get it verified first or to even admit when you are wrong when someone who knows more than you tells you the reality of a situation.
The “want to be in with the crowd, banter”. This is where the grey line sits, banter. A lot of people who ‘meet’ me on social media see the way I speak to my friends and then try to do the same thing back to me, Brian has said they are trying to get in with the guy from the pedal company, I understand that, but it seems weird. Some of the people I ‘troll’ the heaviest on social media are friends I’ve made through the company/industry. So, please take a bow Thomas Quayle, Jamie Humphries and Richard Lainegard (and many many others come to think of it). All three of them are now actual friends, but we met online, and the banter grew over the years. I think people see the way we all talk to each other (especially myself and Jamie, as let’s face it, we are basically kids in the way we act) and think that’s the way to talk to us. It isn’t, that’s how WE are, but just how can we articulate that online? It’s really quite hard… Mostly they get ignored, but sometimes you have to say “Excuse me?”, that never really ends well though…
The “Anonymous Hater”. You know the kind, they hide behind a false name online and then just drop the hate on anyone and everything. If only their Mother’s had given them more hugs as kids, or their Father had attended their sports events at school, they may be better people.
The “Classic YouTube Hater”. These are the ones that confuse me the most. As soon as someone drops a new video on YT, they press the dislike button, usually without seeing it. I’ve noticed that Rob Chapman tends to get a load of thumbs downs instantly, so people are doing it without viewing it. So this means they somehow object to him, I doubt they’ve ever met him, so you know… if this is you … just don’t watch it. You don’t have to. Remember, Rob is providing a service, in his own style, and if you don’t want that service, don’t partake in it.
The other kind of main YouTube troll that totally cracks me up is the vocal hater. Now, I don’t have ANYTHING to do with the company YouTube page (probably a good idea based on what I am about to say) but every time we launch a new video, that tends to have Brian being Brian in it, someone will ALWAYS say “Your playing sucks”, or “That sounds terrible” etc etc. As soon as I read these, I always click on the profile of the person commenting and watch their own videos. 99% of the time they sound like a beginner playing a cheap guitar through a crappy amp, yet most of them are not young and have great gear. My head tells me something about these people, but I won’t say it, I expect your head is telling you the same thing.
Here’s the important thing, the REAL players and companies tend to support each other. When someone drops a video of their playing online the real players tend to support the uploader, tell them they like it, share it and basically embrace the industry. The people who don’t appear to know their input socket from their strap locks are the ones who spread the hate. What does this mean do you think? Are these people just jealous trolls who can’t be nice, in the case of the people 1, 3 and 4 above, yes. What about the people who are number 2, just people trying to get in on the scene and they think this is what you have to do? It’s pretty obvious to me that what we are lacking online at times is social etiquette (and I also put my hands up to this one, there have been times when I’ve been wildly inappropriate at the wrong time that’s led to embarrassment to all involved) and basic respect for the people who are out there.
In ANY online situation, and as my personal reference point, I give you Mr Andy Wood. The benchmark for social media politeness. I don’t know if this is a conscious effort on his behalf or if this is just the way things were done in his house when he grew up, but you can’t find a more respectful and gracious man out there. If someone posts something online, and even if it’s obviously someone working on something and it’s a bit rough, he supports the person and encourages them. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Quayle legato masterpiece or someone like me ham-fistedly trying to rip off someone else’s solo. Now, Andy also calls people ‘Sir’ in real life, if you ask him a question he says “Yes sir” in his response (which has led me to look over my shoulder in the past as I’m not used to people being that polite and I think he’s talking to someone else) - maybe we could all do with being brought up in East Tennessee to get some respect in our language. You’ll never see Andy undermining players, even those I know he looks up to – especially those he looks up to, if he classes them a better player than him, he has respect for the player and what they are doing.
To the others, I say this. One day Brian may be foolish enough to let me comment on the company You Tube page, and I can guarantee I would have a field day with you, but you know, I’m not allowed for this very reason as fortunately for us, these type of people aren’t so prevalent on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. If you befriend someone on social media and they have a lively relationship with other people that appear to revolve around insulting each other, let them get on with it, it’s their thing, not yours. Be informed, if you are about to say something about someone or a company that is defamatory, look it up first. Don’t spread the hate for the sake of it, one day someone is going to go too far and get themselves sued. I kinda hope this happens one day, it would be a wonderful wake-up call to many people out there. And to the haters. I know haters are going to hate, but you know, all you are doing is making yourself look like a dick in the process. So, as usual, I’ll end this with my favourite saying: “Don’t be a Dick”
What about me being a troll, nah - I just have fun calling my mates names, it's what I do.
One of the more bizarre things I hear often is that I am “lucky” to do the job I do, I find it odd. It’s a job, sometimes, it’s cool as I get to do cool things (about twice a year) but mostly it’s being pushed for sales, deadlines, reports and everything else everyone does in their job. I’ve always said to people that I just move little grey cardboard boxes around the world, either by selling or marketing, it just happens what is in those boxes is quite cool to some people.
As I was writing that response to someone last week it put me in mind of a conversation I had with someone a few months back, who often gets the same thing (except his job REALLY is cool).
Before I get into it, I will put my hands up and admit that it’s the people you meet in jobs like this one that makes it cool, again, not lucky – as we work really hard, but it’s really cool to me these people for work.
Before I get into the conversation I had, here’s the obligatory back story. I’m ‘quite’ the fan of Mr Steve Vai, anyone who is connected to me already knows that, but I need to get it out in the open. I find his levels of composition, stage persona, fearless technique and all round attitude to life inspirational. Basically, he’s up there for me as a human, player, and composer. So, it follows suit that I’ve ALWAYS wanted to play with him. Ever since I first saw him play live in 1988 I’ve wanted to be on stage with him. Secretly, I’ve always thought I could do it as well, as every time I’ve seen him live I’ve watched the other player and thought “I could do that, you’re so lucky”.
Yep, I do it as well. Guilty as charged.
With that in mind, you can imagine what it was like - December 2012 - when I was driving up to London (about 3 hours) one Sunday afternoon for one of my first artist visits to a touring production, Wampler artist Dave Weiner. Dave and I had exchanged a few emails over the preceding months, and he was using some of our pedals in the “Steve Vai: Story of Light World Tour 2012-13” so I went up to meet Dave, take some pictures, and generally (hopefully) enforce our brand with his (as that is what artists are, they are their own brand, a brand which we try to align with in order to make it beneficial for the both of us). I was extremely excited to be able to check out what it took to be that guitar player first hand, and you know, I planned to kidnap him and then take his job!
The gig was in central London, the legendary Hammersmith Apollo (previously known as the Hammersmith Odeon, now called Eventim Apollo) which I’m pretty sure you will recognise as not only does EVERYONE play there, but there’s been some incredible live albums and videos recorded there over the years. I was due to meet my mate, and Wampler Artist, Levi Clay up there as I had a plus 1 to the gig, and lets face it, pretty certain no one would miss a chance to see Mr Vai perform like that given half the chance so he was happy to lose an afternoon with me. I parked up, went to the venue, met Levi and made my way round to the stage door. Obviously, security treated us with complete disdain and we couldn’t get around them, so Dave came out to meet us. My first impression of Dave was that he was quite cool, very smiley, and easy to talk too. We spent a good hour or so on the stage (a real ERMAGHAD moment, I was on the stage at the Hammy Odeon, with Vais’ gear) with Dave that afternoon talking about his gear (we had to be quiet unfortunately as Steve was hosting an EVO Experience at the back of the theatre), stayed around for the sound check, went and grabbed a pint and something to eat, and then enjoyed the show. All the time during the show I was watching both Steve and Dave, seeing how they played together, saw how Dave did his job flawlessly, and I must admit, I came away more impressed with Dave than I was Steve that night.
Over the following years I’ve met up with Dave on his travels a few times, had lunch, he’s met my wife, we Skype, keep in contact often with business stuff and all that, so you know, we’ve become mates down the line. I’m not going to do that bullshit internet thing that means everyone is my “good friend” or my “best buddy” just because you have your picture taken with them, but you know, we are mates. It during one of our catch ups a couple of months ago (Dave had just come off the “Passion and Warfare 25th Anniversary Tour” and was really 'quite' tired) and we were talking about work, I jokingly said the words “Remember mate, you’re so lucky that you have that gig” and he responded with something like “Yeah right, it’s great, I love touring and it’s an honour to tour with Steve for the last 19 years, but what everyone needs to remember is that I made my own luck with that” and we both had a little chuckle about it – because, basically, that's the truth.
Dave did not wake up one day and find himself, aged almost 23 as the guitar player in the touring band for Steve Vai. He was a Vai fan (he secretly ducked away from the main group of his school trip to NYC to buy Passion and Warfare the day it came out) but he put himself in the position to get that job. He moved from the East Coast to L.A. to attend GIT at a young age to be the best player he could be, during this time he worked as an unpaid intern for a management company that just so happened to handle Vai. Dave used to deliver packages to Vai, and spent weeks and months gently getting to know him before even mentioning he played. Eventually, once Steve asked if Dave played, he handed him a tape of some stuff he had been working on and then just quietly left, never expecting it to be talked of again. So, he didn’t just blindly send a tape in, he worked hard to even get to L.A., let alone to work unpaid for that company, and then worked hard to remain professional and courteous in front of one of his favourite players, not throw a demo tape at the first opportunity and just allow what happened, happen.
Imagine his surprise when a couple of weeks later Vai phoned him and asked him to learn 17 songs and to leave almost immediately for tour rehearsals.
Over the years I’ve admitted to Dave my insane jealousy of his job, asked him about it almost to the levels of interrogation, and he’s always been very honest and open about it. Dave worked hard to get that opportunity, put himself in a position to take it, and then worked extra hard to keep that position for what is now 19 years. Steve’s in a position to be fussy about who plays his material live, so as you can imagine, Dave has to do it properly each and every night. Steve isn’t a hard task master, mistakes happen and they are laughed about, but the laughter would soon stop if Dave wasn’t performing to up to Vai’s standard each and every night. Not only is Dave a stellar player who has to match who is arguably the greatest guitarist of that genre, he also has to be wonderful human being to be in that band, it’s well known that the Vai camp is family like, and people who don’t fit don’t last long, fortunately for Dave, he doesn’t have to work at that bit too hard.
So, the next time you think about saying “You’re so lucky to be in that job” take a moment to think about what that person did to get into the position to be in that job in the first place, Dave worked hard to get there and worked even harder to stay. He is one of the internet’s primary guitar educators with his subscription website guitopia.com (you should be a member, it’s awesome and I’ve learned SO much from it), he has released 4 solo albums with more in the pipeline… So, you know, there is an element of you make your own luck in this world - and you make it by working your socks off. I’m not going to be one of those people that blindly says “You make your own luck” with crossed arms and a bad attitude, but you know, you can certainly push it along as much as you can in order to achieve your goals.
The moral of this story: Work hard, play hard, don’t be a dick. Come to think of it, that’s the moral of every story I tell. I need to work at that last bit though.
You check out Dave on daveweiner.com - join his guitar education community (I'm a member and thoroughly recommend it) guitopia.com or buy his music from here - you should get them all, but if you like that rock guitar thing, I still think OnRevolute is one of the finest instrumental guitar albums ever made!
Here is a video that I took that night. It's all about peace, love and good happiness stuff. It's quite distorted... apologies.
Dave, Paris 2013 playing Ignition, from the album OnRevolute.
A question was asked on our main FB page last weekend that made me sit and think, it was a question that made me peer into the rabbit hole of my own history. Fortunately, for my own sanity and those who read it, I managed to stop myself going into it completely as that’s a place no one wants to visit too much!
“If you could go back in time and give your younger self any piece of advice when starting out playing guitar, what would it be?”
I started playing guitar in the early 80’s. It was one of those childhood memories that sticks out with complete clarity. I watched my older brother and his friend Rob working out a song by the Shadows called “Shazaam”. I just sat there and watched for about an hour, while they worked it out. When they got bored and left, I picked up the guitar and then copied what they did. I was surprised that I seemed more physically able to do it than they were, as I was playing it quite quickly. I then copied whatever they did on guitar until some point soon after I had about 10 Shadows songs under my belt and started working stuff out for myself. We all shared the knowledge between the three of us (Rob introduced me to a lot of rock and roll stuff and then my brother went off to explore U2) I learned quite a nice and interesting range of stuff as a kid, I thought at the time I was cool because I could play songs for 4 or 5 different artists!
To my younger self, I say this… in fact, I’m going to capitalize them as I want to shout them at me…
GET SOME BLOODY LESSONS: It’s taken me years to remove the bad habits I’ve learned from when I first started - I was only exposed to the music I really liked so I was narrow minded, had a narrow field of musical exposure and my theoretical knowledge is shockingly bad. It’s better now (thank you Tom Quayle) but it’s no where near where it should be considering I’ve been playing for over 35 years. So, get lessons, play properly and embrace the music your teacher suggests you listen to!
LEARN TO READ THE BLOODY DOTS YOU IDIOT: This is probably my greatest regret. By the time I was in my late teens and early 20’s I was, in terms of physicality, a great player. I could do almost anything. But, my lack of reading meant once again I was narrow viewed, I couldn’t stand in, I couldn’t work as a player professionally as easily as it would have been had I learned to read properly.
LISTEN TO EVERYTHING AS EVERYTHING IS COOL: I never listened to jazz, blues, country… anything other than what was in my CD collection. I didn’t properly first listen to the Beatles until I was in my mid 20’s. I had never heard Johnny Cash, Jerry Reed, Rory, Chet, BB King, Robert Johnson, Jimi, Muddy Waters, Grant Green, SRV, Jansch, Larry Charlton, Django… none of it until I was much much older than I should have been. I thought that because I had the “Still Got The Blues” album by Gary Moore I could play the blues. I missed out on SO much it’s hard to comprehend.
PLAY FOR THE SONG: I played to (try to) look cool and (try to) attract the girls. I never played for the song, when I think about some of the inappropriate Vai licks I put into Blues songs it makes me cringe now. I never played for the song. Only for me and my sex drive.
GEAR DOES NOT COMPENSATE POOR TECHNIQUE: I got a compressor early, this meant I could do a note for note copy of “It’s a Monster” by Extreme without warming up as the band opener, but only if I had my compressor with me and enough gain. Again, showing off. If you can’t play it totally clean, you can’t play it properly.
WORK OUT EVERY SONG YOU HEAR, BY EAR: I wish I had done this, I’ve learned so much from working out songs by ear and then thinking about “why did they do that?”. You don’t do that when you go and buy the tab books, which of course was what I did. I almost feel sorry for the people learning now as they have so much in the way of short cut respouces available to them via the internet.
EVERYTHING BETWEEN YOUR FINGERS AND YOUR EARS IS IMPORTANT: In my first band I had a wonderful guitar. An Ibanez JEM 77FR. Unfortunately, I put it through a Boss BE-5 into a stock Peavey Bandit 112. In other words, I successfully made a great guitar sound bloody awful night after night. These days all of my gear choices are for a reason. My guitar, my wireless, my pedals, my patch cables, the cable running to the amp, the amp, the speaker cable, the cab and the speakers. Everything is considered and chosen to make me sound as good as I possibly can. I don’t really have any weak links in my signal chain, although it leaves me vulnerable in terms of what goes in comes out, I’m a better player for it and much more pleasing on the ear of the audience.
PLAY WITH AS MANY BANDS AS POSSIBLE: I don’t know about you, but I remember mistakes on stage far more than I do if they are made at home. So, I would tell myself to go and join a blues band early on. Join a wedding band. Join ANY band, because you learn so much in those bands it will make you an infinitely better player.
DON’T TAKE THE PEOPLE THAT MAKE THE EFFORT OF COMING TO SEE YOU PLAY FOR GRANTED: When you play live in front of a fee paying public, or people that are supporting free venues by drinking the beer, give them the best musical experience you can. They don’t care how great you think you are.
FFS, PRACTICE MORE: Once again, as I was a flashly player and had the gear to allow me to keep the notes I didn’t quite hit, I thought I was much better than I was. It’s taken me YEARS to get my right hand up near to where my left is now, and it’s still waaaaaay off from where it should be all things considered. I’m actually a little embarrassed by my rhythm playing. I didn’t practice my right hand technique anywhere near as much as I should have, also my timing is awful, without a drummer or a click track I can’t keep in time worth a beat, although in my defense, I am considerably better than I was 10 years ago. So, young Jason, practice practice practice.
DON’T BE A DICK: Pretty certain that one doesn’t need any further explanation.
There, I feel better for that. I just wish I’d been around to tell me this all these years ago. And yes, that statement and all the contradictions within confuses me as well!
I was talking to Alex about a forthcoming blog he has coming and I (as usual) ended up quoting an Iron Maiden song to him. The song is B side from 1986, so you know, not one of their most well-known, but me being the Maiden geek I am, it did seemed appropriate.
Alex’s blog is going to be about common problems for people starting out in bands, and I instantly thought of the Maiden’s song “The Sheriff of Huddersfield” which was basically them mercilessly taking the piss out of their manager Rod Smallwood. There is a wonderful line in that (Bruce doing an impression of Rod) that says “Pride and Ego my lads, pride and ego, it’s what makes the world rotate.”
As I was then thinking about what he said, I had somewhat of a revelation myself, so I thought I would put it down on th’internet (one for the good people of Huddersfield there, and Yorkshire in general to enjoy) to remind myself in the future about my place in the universe and playing in a band.
I play in a pub band, doing covers. Nothing outrageous, but we make good noises at all the right times. We do our favourite songs in the hope that the people coming to see us enjoy them also. We are not a note for note type of band, we do everything our way – sometimes that way is like the record, sometimes it’s really not. This means I have a lot of scope as the guitar player to go off on one and enjoy myself with rather long and protracted solos.
Last week we played a gig and did a song we don’t do very often, “Bring Back The Sunshine” by Eddie Rabbit. We do it nothing like the original, it’s more done in a rock ballad style and I get the opportunity every time to pretend to be David Gilmour.
In my opinion, I did the greatest improvised solo of my life last week in this song, I literally gave myself goosebumps as I was playing it. Mrs Wilding comes to virtually every gig (she often plays the piano with us as well, but wasn’t on the night in question) as she just loves listening to me play. As we’ve been married for over 15 years she knows my playing well and knows when I am happy playing and when I am not, once I had finished my solo I looked up at her and she was beaming at me, smiling all the way up to her eyes and back down again, so I know that she appreciated it also.
Once the set had finished I went outside to cool down and waited for the inevitable glory to be poured on me by my bandmates. You may think I’m joking but we’ve all known each other for literally decades and I’ve been playing with them for that long, not as a regular member of the band but I’ve been dropping in and out for ever, so we know each other really well and we have absolutely no issue with telling each other when one of us does something really good, or really bad. I think it makes us a better band as we trust each other implicitly. I joined the band full time 18 months ago and we’ve often commented on how musically we are a good fit as we are all just fans of each other’s playing. I’ve said before I consider Rick, the bass player, to be the greatest I’ve ever seen and stand by that.
So (there it is again, I really must stop going that), I’m outside and out they come and I say “That was great”… the bass players says “Love that picking thing you did on Liza Jane” and the singer said, “Bring Back The Sunshine…” (here we go, I was about to receive the glory I so richly deserved) “… would be great if you went down low at some point, give it some more dynamics”.
I was devastated. Literally felt like my heart dropped into my stomach. Nothing about my mega solo at all. Mrs Wilding had said it was great, she loved it, she even recognised some of the set pieces I had done within it
It’s taken me until today to realise that my pride and ego have got the better of me, and for that, I openly and publically apologise to them. If I think the solo was that good, but it didn’t catch their attention enough to comment, then I need to make it better. I can remember exactly what I did and how I did it (which is rare when you are a prolific improviser) as a lot of it was sections of some tasty licks from other players put together to make my own version of a solo. I obviously need to make it better, I need to think about its structure and a way to make it more memorable. If I want to catch their attention, I need to actually catch their attention with something and not just assume that because I think something was good, that they should notice it.
Basically, I need to work on me. Pride and Ego my lads, pride and ego. It’s what makes the world rotate.
I’ve not had a good internet based rant for ages so I think it might be time to dust off my sword and shield and dive on in…
Part of my job is to answer questions, research products, keep an eye on the competition and the like so I quite often tour the forums (or, as this is 2017, the social media equivalent) as it’s the best way of discovering what is around, what is coming, and what people are leaning towards. Mostly, it’s a very rewarding process but sometimes I read things that make me want to stop the world and get off. My main frustration tends to be geared towards the attitudes that appear to be forming, as you watch them grow and become a thing, it’s very frustrating because once you do this long enough you see it coming and you want to be able to stop it, but you are powerless.
The latest one, or should I say, the one I’ve been noticing for about a year or so now is in full flow.
Inverted Gear Snobbery.
You may have noticed this, as it often revolves around brands such as PRS, Strymon, Two Rock and even sometimes the high-end effects manufacturers such as ours (yes, I know Strymon are that as well but let’s face it, they are a force of their own these days and stand above the resst of the market in that particular field). You’ll notice several reoccurring comments. “Praise and Worship” and “Blues lawyer” and both of these send me postal.
Praise and Worship
I despise labels in music, to me, it’s either rock and roll or it’s not. I tend to personally dislike the things that aren’t in my head rock and roll, but you know, that’s me. However, rock and roll isn’t what its common label is, it’s anything cool, edgy, different, powerful, emotional. So, Justin Beiber’s “Love Yourself” is rock and roll, and "Rockstar" by Nickleback isn’t. It’s not about the chord structure or being guitar-based, it’s about the passion, performance and the delivery. If a song is delivered on a Sunday morning, in a church and delivered with passion and power, who cares. To me, it’s still rock and roll. It’s just a genre of music, it has its own style, its own way of doing things… so, there tends to be the Trifecta of Strymons on the board as let’s face it, if you want mental delays, reverbs, modulations to be all over the place, all the time, and have it under control, is there a better tool for it? Nope. Not right now. So why is it a problem? I don’t know, I’ve asked people why and they just laugh and make derogatory comments. It’s all a little strange really, but boy, do they enjoy making disparaging comments about those Strymons and lots of booteek level pedals that are on the board.
This gets right on my nerves as well, so what if someone has worked hard in their career and now has a massive amount of disposable income. So they buy a $4k PRS and play blues licks on it, who cares? What difference does it make? If someone wants to spend their money on a nice guitar, why shouldn’t that, why does it mean we should mock them and make fun of them? Music is being played, and that’s a good thing.
So (and yes, I also hate paragraphs that start with that as well), what is this about? Why do people instantly judge people based on the fact they have nice things. Why is it an issue if a random P&W guy uses 3 Strymons for 6 songs on a Sunday morning, or if a successful lawyer owns a few extremely nice PRS. The only issue should be “are they being put to good use”. If they are bought to be put into a bank vault, then yes, we should be in an uproar, but in my experience, they generally aren’t. A lot of people wear their gear as a badge of honour, as a status symbol, but that’s no difference to a young guy and his impressive jewelry or sneaker collection, someone who collects books, paintings, watches, cars… anything. What difference does it make? Do people with a PS1 mock the people with a PS4? No, they don’t.
A lot of this, I think, stems from inverted snobbery that maybe comes from a little jealousy. You’ll often notice that the guy making the most noise is the one with the old TS and Strat into a Fender amp. Or a Gibson into a Marshall. Often runs alongside the “If it wuz good enuf for Jimi” comment or similar. I quite often respond to “what difference does it make, it’s a subjective issue”. Gear is here for one reason and one reason only, to make the people using it happy. If the gear does that, then job done. Just don’t look down on the people who choose to do it differently than you do. Both styles are good. Both are valid. Both have a place. I see a lot of it come from people perceive that 'blue lawyers' drive the price up, do they? How many 'blues lawyers' do you see that have a Klon, or a Dumble... in my experience, none. All their stuff tends to be new and shiny.
As an ending to this rant, I have to declare this. I play a PRS. I gig with 2 Strymon's and 4 Wampler's. The picture above is my board. I have a law degree, but I don’t play the blues much and it’s pretty well-known I’m hugely unlikely to be playing in any given P&W setting anytime soon. How about you listen to my tone and what I play instead? How about we listen to what the guys with the Strymon's and the nice PRS do instead? Why do we listen and judge something so easily with our eyes when in this case it’s our ears that we should be using, not any gear based preconceptions that are invariably saying more about the person saying them than the person under ‘discussion’.