Yep, that's clickbait. But I only use clickbait when whatever drove me to write a piece is somewhat silly.
Had one of those moments on Facebook a couple of weeks ago that was most definitely a moment of disbelief. I think it was the first one in a long time that I couldn’t understand what I was reading, so… you know me… thought I’d put this out there in the vain hope of correcting a misconception.
It all started with this picture...
...which as you can see is long time Wampler signature artist Brent Mason in the studio playing a rather nice looking white Gibson SG. I fully expect you to all know who Brent is, but in case you don’t, let’s just say this… Brent has been one of, if not THE, first call session musicians on the Nashville studio scene for over 30 years for guitar. In a nutshell - Brent is one of the most recorded guitarists in history. As well as being a Grammy Award-winning artist he is also a 14 time winner of the Academy of Country Music (ACM) Guitarist of the Year Award and a 2-time winner of the CMA Award Musician of the Year (being nominated every year since 1991). In 2011 he was inducted into the Thumbpickers Hall of Fame. He has played on well over a thousand albums and shows no sign of letting up yet, in fact, click here to see his list of credits on Allmusic (although it does have to be said, this list is woefully incomplete… About 6 years ago many record labels stopped putting the musicians who played on albums on the sleeves, and that would appear to be where AllMusic get their credits from, so a lot of the more recent work is uncredited. When you consider the last 3 George Strait albums and the most recent Blake Shelton, of which Brent recorded for and not listed on AllMusic, this becomes a glaring omission. I do believe that AllMusic tends to only note music recorded and released in the US so stuff outside is also missing… it also only shows music that has been released, so all the demos are not on there, songs that didn’t make the album or released on Indie labels… So, by my estimations, take the AllMusic list of credits and at least double it to get an idea of how many recordings Brent has made over the years) – now (rant over about AllMusic) if you have the patience to go down that list all the way back to 1985 then props to you, but in case you don’t, here is what you will see. He has played on a lot of country music over the years. And I mean a LOT. I’m not wrong if I were to say ‘He’s just about played with everyone”. However, if you look closely, you’ll also notice that he’s played on a lot of things that aren’t country as well. In fact, if you don’t know about the other side of Brent, I strongly suggest you check out the album he recorded and self released with his brother Randy in 2006, “Smokin’ Section”. His knowledge and vocabulary in jazz and western swing is his strength (in my opinion), which often surprises people as they think “He’s a country guy”… which of course he is, but as a wider part of the puzzle of his playing.
I get what you are thinking now… Jason, why are you writing this piece? Well, the thing that shocked me was the number of people on the thread (that went with that picture) saying things like ‘The SG threw me for a second’, 'why are you playing an SG', 'what happened to your tele' and comments similar to that.
I’m in the VERY lucky position of knowing Brent (in fact, it was getting to know Brent about 10 years ago that ended up with me working for Brian), so I got into a little bit of a conversation about this with him as I was staggered by it, I thought everyone knew that he played other guitars. I mean, we ALL know that THE highly modified Grey ’68 Tele is his number one, but you know… a telecaster only works on the songs that a telecaster works on. What happens when he needs something that requires an LP, an SG, a PRS, a Strat, an ES335? Well, this is what happens. Brent puts down the Tele and picks up his LP, his SG, his Strat and so on… you see, he’s got a LOT of guitars at his disposal. You don’t get to where he is musically and reputationally without having the right tools for the job. I look at it this way, Brent is an artist (let’s say for the purpose of this comparison a painter). If Brent was going to paint a picture would he only use one brush? Nope. He’d use what he needs to get the job done. He may have a favourite brush that he likes to use, but you know, other brushes will be used to create the perfect picture.
One of the best things I’ve seen said about Brent over the years I’m been an avid fan is the description that he is a musical chameleon - he is able to switch between many many styles at the drop of a hat, instantly camouflaging himself into his surroundings. This is why he is in such demand, which is why he has to have so many guitars at his disposal… Here is a snapshot of the guitars that Brent uses in the studio
- Fender ’68 Telecaster, modified by Joe Glaser – probably the guitar people most associate with him, because… well, you know, it’s legendary. Seymour Duncan pickups… all pretty stock apart from the SD ST2 in the middle (that only has half the stack wired that he brings in via that third pot, a ‘blend’ pot). Mini Gibson HB in the neck and Glaser B bender.
- Fender Cream Tele, with Glaser B Bender.
- Several PRS “Brent Mason” signature models
- Gibson ’71 Les Paul gold top, with mini HB
- White Gibson 1972 SG
- PRS Mike Mushok Baritone (tuned to down to B)
- Whitfill Turquoise Baritone
- 1998 Red Gretsch 6120 Duane Eddy model, with Bigsby
- PRS 12 string
- Fender ’65, stock – survived the flood of Nashville 2010 and was bought back to life by Glaser.
- Gibson 1968 335 (also survived the flood and Brent is on record in saying that it sounds better now than it did before the flood after going through Glaser’s workshop).
- Blue Ridge 371 Parlor Acoustic
- 2011 Buddy Holly Tribute J45, made for Brent by Daniel Roberts
- 2016 Gretsch Resonator Acoustic
- 1986 Alverez gut string
I guess the reason I’m writing this is that, well, Brent is one of my favourite players to have ever walked this earth, so any excuse to write about him is good with me. Also, to act as a stark reminder that just because a player is famous for using one guitar, it won’t be their only one. The great thing about being a musician is all the gear we get to play with, all the time, and that applies to the players who achieve legend status as much as it does to a humble player like me.
I’d like to thank Brent and Julie Mason for indulging me, once again (they have been doing this for years now and I’m eternally grateful), and providing me with the info that completed this piece.
As you may know, we run an extremely lively group on Facebook, imaginatively named “The Wampler Pedals Tone Group”. Feel free to click on that and join us.
We are quite proud that in the most, it’s very unlike MANY other pages that talk about gear, as generally there isn’t much trolling and everyone is there because it’s a ‘safe’ place to talk openly without much in the way of come back. I say ‘much’ because as we’ve got 10k members, it does sometimes kick off in there, and when it does Alex and I have to make like Gendry and bring the axe to any particular party that might be in full flow.
At the start of the weekend, there was a classic post that ended up in somewhat of a 'heated debate'. It was the classic "Tone is in the fingers" comment that people reacted too, and then others reacted back. It was one of those posts, you know what it's like...
ANYWAY... This started me thinking. How can we look at this issue objectively and see if it’s true. Or if it’s half true. Or if it’s crap. At the very moment in time i as thining about it I received a barrage of texts from my friend Jamie, utterly pointless ones (because if I am being honest we have a similar sense of humour, that of a 12 year old boy, and are constantly texting each other stuff just to make the other laugh), but as usual they were very funny. As I was texting him back I had what you might call a lightbulb moment, because the best thing about Jamie in regard to the question mentioned above is that he has spent a lot of the last 10 years as the guitar player in the show “We Will Rock You” (where they are very very fussy about tone and you HAVE to sound like Brian May does as much as possible to be even considered). He is unique in this thought process because he has the rare position of being friends with Brian May and has toured with him... So, as he has spent his time using gear to sound like someone and then had the opportunity to play though that same person’s real rig, I thought I’d put the question directly to him…
JW: “Hey Jamie, I want to ask you a specific question but before I get there, I'd like a little back ground first... So, the We Will Rock You (WWRY) show, how long have you been doing that?”
JH: “I first started in 2007 as the sub guitarist and went on to be “Guitar #1” in Europe (at Brian’s request). So far I’ve played the show in UK (including the tour), Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Austria. All this means I have to do all the signature Brian stuff and I'm the one that goes out on to the stage every night and plays the solo from Bohemian Rhapsody as a visual part of the show.”
JW: “What was the requirement for gear in the WWRY show?”
JH: “We had to sound as much like him as possible, so that includes a Red Special guitar, Fryer Treble Booster, big chorus and authentic AC 30’s. I went on a personal mission to get as close as I can so I got a different treble booster, the one that is worn on the strap, had the pickups replaced on my Red Special to the ones wound the same as Brian’s with old 60’s magnets and even the Bourne Pots which are slightly different. All this is integral to the tone, THAT tone.”
JW: “So, how close do you think you got to Brian’s tone with that gear?”
JH: “To be honest, the gear is really important but it’s more about getting into the headspace of how Brian plays and using his techniques. For example, the sixpence, the belt pack booster BEFORE the wireless system, the using of the finger to brush the string, the almost regal way he phrases his runs, pre-bends and his vibrato. So, it’s just as important to use the fingers in the way he does as it is to have the gear, but it’s more important to get into his mindspace and work out what he plays and how he plays it. There are so many different things that make up his sound.”
JW: “You also toured with Brian – so when you played Brian’s gear, how close can you get to him”
JH: “I think as close as anyone can get by getting into that mindset, but it was still only really close, because I’m not Brian. When I am playing like him, I exaggerate the things he does to make it sound more like him to make those signature parts work, but I’d say it’s impossible to truly 100% sound that way, but I think we (the guys who really really try) can get close enough for a lot of people to question who it is, providing we have the right gear and right mindset. When we played Hyde Park in London, I got to rip through his entire rig at huge volume, because that’s my childhood right there, I was so happy… and it sounded so good, Brian and Pete (Brian’s long serving tech) where there, and they said I was really really close to ‘THAT’ sound”
JW: “So, is tone all in the fingers or all in the gear?”
JH: “It’s in the fingers, and the gear, but most importantly, it’s in the mindset and the approach to how you make the gear work and appreciating that the phrasing along with it, that is actually as much to do with the tone than anything else. It’s all as important as each other.”
So, what do we make of all that? Let’s think about what Jamie was saying, and let’s face it, he’s employed to sound like Brian as much as possible and he went the extra mile to do it (and, as Queen own the show he's employed by Brian to play like him). He can get really close by employing the same gear, the same touch and most importantly the same mindset. So, it would appear that tone is not all in the fingers, or the gear after all. Everything is important, everything makes the tone, but you have to be thinking in the right way first.
Jamie is a session musician from the UK, now based in Sweden. He endorses and is endorsed by: Music Man, Mesa Boogie, Massive Unity, Two Notes, Steinberg, DiMarzio and many other incredible manufacturers. You can catch him on tour this year with The Champions of Rock in Scandinavia, see his instructional videos on LickLibrary and buy materials from his website, jamiehumphries.com