What is it about classic or vintage gear that just oozes mojo? In general, many of the circuits aren’t made of magic unicorn dust or rainbow farts and hen’s teeth; just electronics soldered together that culminate in a particular circuit. These parts aren’t necessarily designed to be used with music-related devices, but over the years that’s what’s been adopted by the industry and progressed even further into modern technology. So, what is “mojo,” and why does it play such a huge part in our gear selections? It dawned on me the other day as I was taking stock of my gear, looking at what I would be willing to move (for space and to have a bit of extra spending cash), and things that I immediately will not sell in any way, shape, or form. I think it comes down to mojo, which is a combination of several factors. It made me start looking at WHY I’m keeping the gear I’m keeping, and so easily “thinning the herd” so to speak on some other things.
Several of my friends and I were discussing vintage gear in a group chat, and lust for various pieces of classic gear that are essentially unreachable in our lifetime (financially). The more I thought about the cost. However, I started questioning why I would want something so freaking expensive? One part is nostalgia and kind of a hive-mind of what we grew up around. Many of the older guys we idolized in high school always lusted after vintage instruments, and I think it keeps being handed down through the generations. Again, it goes back to reflecting gear communities and the thought processes behind them (even pre-internet days). 1958 and ’59 Les Paul’s are considered the holy grails of the Gibson world and the idea of playing or owning one seems incredible. Same with an original ’57 Strat, or a ’68 Fender Paisley, or whatever you’d like to use as the defining unobtanium, magic instrument of love and lust as your example. Many were lucky enough to be around to experience those instruments when they were new, but as time goes on fewer players are around that have owned yet alone played a true vintage instrument. But that’s the thing; many people still lust for them despite having never laid their hands on one. Why is that? Well, mojo of course!
The IDEA of holding an instrument that old would feel like holding an ancient relic from civilizations long gone. I’ll admit that I don’t know a load of vintage instruments, but I’ve heard a lot about them lately. Paul Reed Smith did a live video in the U.K. when people asked why a vintage Strat was so great, and his answer was “Because those guys knew what they were doing.” It’s apparent because the designs haven’t changed much at all in over half of a century. At the same time, I’ve also seen many people saying that many of those old instruments are inconsistent and that some are magic, but some don’t click for lack of a better way to describe it. Despite the proposed inconsistency, some are willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars to own a piece of history. I suppose it’s about collecting anything, preserving history for future generations and all that. It’s also a very cool talking point to be able to show off that cool, now-rare gear. The same goes for pedals. The Klon Centaur is probably the most famous of all of them, and despite being a relatively simple boost and overdrive, it’s an item of lust for MANY people (and a point of contention for many more).
These pieces of gear fetch massive costs in the used market, and subsequently, many companies have tried to take the tried and true formula that players lust over and create a modern, relatively affordable (comparatively) version for the current generation that captures that nostalgia and inherent mojo. Some get excessively close in recreating the feel and response and tone of the originals, some take them to new extremes and approach the old as a springboard for creating something grounded in nostalgia, but with modern amenities. It’s the reason why we (Wampler) have two variants of klones, as well as dozens and dozens of other companies as well. It’s the same reason so many places make strat and tele-style guitars. Are the tones quantifiably different? In some cases, yes, in some cases no. There are many people on the internet that would argue that other companies than Fender make a better strat, while many believe there’s nothing like the classic. Are vintage tubescreamers from the early 1980’s completely better than the ones available today? Likely not. There may be a 5% difference or so based on part tolerances and a wider variance in manufacturing, but they’re subjective… and that percentage factors in when you’re looking at substantial differences between the costs. At that point, it’s just a personal decision as to how much that sound and difference means in monetary value. Is it worth *paying* for “mojo”? That’s up to the person making the payments!
I’ve got a few pieces of gear that are purely sentimental and will be intended to be heirlooms for my kids because they are either unique and quirky, have some form of emotional connection (such as my first MIM Strat) or completely special (gifts, etc.). In the end, it comes down to the tone and how it feels to play it for each person. For me, mojo is that smile I get when I plug into a piece of gear, and it sounds great, responds great with the rest of my rig and does EXACTLY what I’m hoping it will do. It’s the feeling of nostalgia, how playing through a piece of gear makes me feel connected to an era, or a guitar hero that I’m a massive fan of. It’s not quantifiable magic, but it hits the spot for me, where it may not do anything for anyone else. That mojo is self-driven, and I’ve bonded with pedals and guitars that were considered “budget-level,” along with not falling in love with pedals and guitars that are obscenely expensive and theoretically there was no reason NOT to love it. In the end, I can’t say that for me, mojo can necessarily be bought. It’s just the right time, the right feel, the right tone, the right look that grabs my attention when I plug in.
I’m pretty old – currently staring down the barrel of being 45… So, I groan when I get up from the sofa and my idea of a great concert (as someone attending) is whether it is seated and how easy the access is to the ‘facilities’. Whereas this may sound terrible to some (especially me to be honest), it does mean one thing – I’ve been playing live since I was 17 so I’ve been thinking about this kind of stuff for a long time. Along the way, having done over a thousand gigs, I’ve picked up some knowledge about some things that I might not have thought about before.
This week I want to talk about speaker placement when you perform… When I was a nipper, before the gig time, I had to keep my sound levels down low at home, because – you know, parents. I quickly found out the best way to do this was to lean my amp back (up against the wall) so the centre part of the cone was pointing at my ears. During this time, I wanted to be Jannick Gers before I knew that Jannick existed… basically, I wanted to stand between Smith and Murray on your bog standard Iron Maiden world tour. My bedroom came complete with a full-length mirror so quite often I was stood with my foot on the bed in that classic “on the monitors” way and other various poses the band are known for admiring my potential for being in the band... It was during this time I realised that where the speaker was pointing made an enormous difference to how I heard my guitar. It was either muffled if I wasn’t dead on, or bright and clear when I was. Based on this experience when I started with my first band I used to put my amp on stuff to make sure it was at head level as much as possible – I found that not only was it the best way to keep my stage level down but also the very best way to know that the people out front only heard what I was hearing. From there I went on to live mix large bands around the circuit which taught me also that in regards to upper mids and high end, speaker placement is absolutely everything. The lower the frequency goes, the more omnidirectional they become (this varies with speakers size) so you can put them anywhere and they’ll be heard, but those high ends have to be facing the right direction and high enough to literally go over the head of people, otherwise anything further than 10 feet from them with people in front of you, they are just gone.
Now, any self-respecting guitar player will be able to tell you that the best tone you get from your amp (providing you aren’t on a weak hollow stage) is to have your amp on the floor, but this is a nightmare for the people out front – you can’t hear your top end if you have your tone going into your calves, and also, if you are anywhere near the drummer you have to be literally twice as loud to hear yourself. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve seen a band where the guitar amps are on the floor and the first few rows have been slaughtered by sheer volume and gnarly top ends while the player thinks he sounds incredible.
With all that in mind, where do you put your speakers when you play live? Are they on the deck, or are they elevated? The current band I’m ruining is set up like this, my cab sits on top of a flight case, it’s a 2x12” (and I have it vertically) with the head on top. This means that because I am stood anywhere between 1 and 10 feet from my cab (usually about 2 or 3 tbh), at all times the top speaker is sitting close enough to head height for me to hear it properly. I have to have my cab a certain way ‘up’ as one of the speakers is truer on the higher end and the other is more about warm mids and lows. The top speaker has to be looking at my head, so I can keep the high end under control. As I play in a band that borders on country music, I have my cleans set on very clean with some sparkly high ends going on, so I sit on that verge of being shrill if I am not careful. I am so paranoid about this that I often hold my nose and blow down it to pop my ears out to ensure I am hearing all the highs properly… Something Mrs Wilding finds most amusing!
My current live speaker set up... vertically aligned so I can hear what I am doing... I don't play shoegaze, I promise...
Well, that’s the story part of the piece out of the way – what about the facts that support it, because we all like the sciencey facts part, right?
Speakers, and the frequencies that they protect vary in directionality. The higher the note, the more directional your sound will be projected. Here’s a little test… play a low E note and then one as high as you can straight after. Do that stood to the side of your amp, then at a 45 degree angle, and then right in front (also do this crouched down if your amp is on the floor). You’ll notice that the low-end notes sound pretty identical in all three but the higher notes will sound much duller when you are at the side.
Most guitar amp speakers are 12” and they demonstrate ‘beaming’ at about 1335hz – that is the frequency they become immensely directional. So, everything below that will feel a lot more omnidirectional. To put this in real guitary terms, a tubescreamer has a hump that is most prominent at 732hz and that’s considered to be a mid-range bump - upper mids is generally thought to be between 1khz and 2khz so everything above the midpoint of your upper mids is being protected in a strict direction. Now, think about standing on a stage with your amp on the floor about 5’ behind you. There is an enormous chance you are not actually hearing the high end of your amp properly, so your tone will be brighter than you think.. chances are you compensate for this by increasing the treble control on your amp/pedals. Now think about all those people who are standing on the floor about 15’ in front of you. Yep, it’s your high end that’s actually hurting them and ruining their night!
There are several companies that try to put a stop to this happening, most noticeably the Deefleex, it provides a deflection panel that sends your upper frequencies up to your ears - this is great - but in order to work properly they stick out quite a bit from your amp, so unless you are playing on a bigger stage, you just can’t use it as it will get in the way... if you don’t have that problem though, this simple solution could make a world of difference to your understanding of how you, and your audience, hears your tone.
While we are talking of speaker cabs, here’s another thing to consider… how you have your cab laying. If you are using a 1x12” cab, the sound will spread out evenly in all directions (this isn’t strictly true, but for the sake of this piece let’s keep it simple), but if you are using a 2x12” cab it will react quite differently. If you have the speakers in your cab aligned horizontally, you will get a bigger spread ‘up and down’ than if you put them vertically which will spread the sound wider. This is why I have my cab elevated off the ground and vertical, so the cab will spread more to the sides that it does up. If I had to put my cab any lower I would put it so the speakers are horizontally aligned, so the sound goes up more. For me, in a band that plays smaller venues, the dispersal of the sound to the sides is WAY more important because there won’t be enough room for a horizontally aligned cab to fill the room with sound. And there’s no point in taking all this gear to a gig if only a few people directly in front of me can hear it, right?
When you are lurking on as many gear forums that I am (it’s no wonder my sanity is often questioned) you start to notice patterns forming, you see the same questions come up, and quite often you get to see some great answers and also some terrible ones. I was explaining to Mrs Wilding a couple of weeks ago that at times it feels like I’m in a room with about 100,000 other people and I can hear all the conversations in the room at the same time… Sometimes, the conversations just pass you by but others stick out, especially when you hear the same conversation happening over and over again.
One of those topics that comes up time and time again is “boosts” – the different kinds and where to place them, even which one… so I’m going to write an answer at my level, which is idiot level, to try to explain it all. This may contain information you already know, but hopefully, it will contain some information that you haven’t consolidated yourself yet so there may be something useful in here for you!
When you boil it all down, there are (in my opinion), 3 kinds of boosts that guitarists favour. A clean boost, a treble boost and what’s often classed as a dirty boost, this could be called a coloured boost, or a tone shaping boost or a multitude of other names. The main consideration when deciding which is for you is what you fundamentally want it to do, and where you plan to put it in your chain. My own live rig runs two boosts, one pretty well up the front and one right at the back. Unsurprisingly, they are both Wampler – the Tumnus Mini sits at the front (after the compression and pre-gain modulations) before the main gain stages and the dB+ is right at the back (well, it sits before the reverb pedal but that is an always-on pedal so it doesn’t count!) and acts as a literal volume boost.
The thing that kinda makes me smile is when someone asks online “Recommend me a clean booster” and the thread instantly fills up with shouts of “EP Booster”, “Tumnus”, “TS” and the like and more often than not no one will stop to ascertain what they need, it may be that they need a dirtier boost or not. I would say that 99% of the time the dirtier version will be better, but you know….
The clean boost does just that. It boosts the output of the signal coming in before it goes out. A lot of them are sold on the basis of a HUGE amount of boost, and for me, that kind of goes against the intention of them. Putting a clean boost in front of your gain stages will just increase the signal going in causing them to clip quicker, so you kind of get more of the same – where’s the fun in that? So, in my opinion, clean boosts are much better situated at the very back of your chain to ensure that when you go in for a solo, everyone can hear you over the rest of the band. Of course, this is not a hard and fast rule, a lot of people love their clean boost in front (especially if you are driving amp gain) because, well… they love their tone. So, happy days. But, once you start enjoying the beauties of a dirty boost it’s hard to ever go back to clean for pre-gain. In a nutshell, the classic clean boost will not add any clipping and it will NOT change the EQ of the signal, as EQ and clipping are so closely connected when you think about pedal dirt, it’s hard to separate them fully.
Kind of self-explanatory… takes the higher ranges of the tone and boosts it, this will in turn cause whatever sits behind it to clip into overdrive much quicker based on the frequencies that are hitting it.
Now, this is where the real fun starts, well it does for me anyway. Thinking about it, I actually use 2 dirty boosts in my rig as I run the c2 side of the Paisley Drive Deluxe into c1 and only tend to use it for high gain stuff… So, why do I do this? Well, it’s all about the options it gives me with tone shaping, and how it makes my guitar feel under my hands. The amps I play with are set at totally clean at all times, so when it’s just the Tumnus that is on it kind of gives it a little nudge, adds very little gain (clipping) and the volume is set to unity. So, it’s not really pushing the amp in any direction, it just throws a gentle EQ curve across everything while giving it a little bite. It’s barely noticeable on the clean sound, but when it’s put on when the PaisleyDog is engaged, it fills it out SO much I can’t really describe it. Everything is warmer, fatter and it really pushes it forward. Not in a way that it makes my guitar sound louder, just fuller. When I then kick in Paisley Drive side (which is effectively set at full TS mode) the combined boosting of the TS frequencies and the K style frequencies produce a wall of sound that is huge. As I use a programmable looper in my rig, I have the following combinations available to me…
1) Clean, 2) Tumnus, 3) Paisley Dog, 4) Tumnus -> Paisley Dog, 5) Paisley Drive -> Paisley Dog 6) Tumnus -> Paisley Drive -> Paisley Dog.
Main Dirve section on the right (c1) with the TS boost on the left (c2)
My hidden boosts. dB+ for final solo boost and Tumnus Mini for pre, pre boost.
Now, the Paisley Drive is set somewhat different than the Tumnus, it’s set just above unity volume with a little more gain applied so when it hits the Paisley Dog side, there is an increase of overall gain as well.
With this in mind, how does all this work technically? The best way to think about dirty boosts is that it’s not about adding clipping to the chain, well, it is, but it’s more about the EQ shapes that they provide into your core signal. EQ is everything! As the Tumnus is a K style and the Paisley Drive is TS style (in one of the modes, and that’s the mode I use it in), I’m adding a largish amount of EQ to my tone when they are kicked in. The TS brings in a hump that centred at around 723hz and the Tumnus centred around 1k (these can and will change when you use the tone controls so that’s not gospel), the change in the character and depth of the main overdriven tone is quite remarkable. It does bring in a little clipping (gain), but you know, what it mostly brings is a jump in response from the EQ stacks, so I can easily control the feedback point and sustains for ever. When people look at the settings on my pedals they are quite surprised how low the gain is set on each, because when they are stacked, the inherent EQ shapes are bringing the gain that’s already there front and centre, with a much more 3D depth... that’s not how it works, but that’s how it feels.
If you are thinking about a booster pedal, think about what you really need it to do and where you should place it in your chain. Are you after a literal boost for your solos or are you looking for something that changes your tone into something else. The vast majority of people want the latter I think, so the choice then is which voicing you want to bring in – most people instantly think about a TS or a K, but then again there treble boosters (that explode those higher frequencies that bring the character of the subsequent drives/gain stages to a whole new place), or pedals like EP booster that bring another element of width and fullness of its own character, I’ve seen a lot of boards that have an EP at the start and at the back, purely because the warmth it brings also sounds great as an end of chain boost as well.
As I’ve now been using the double boost pre-gain for quite some time now, I’m pretty certain I won’t change as it works so well, but, the older I get the more I start to think of downsizing, so who knows? Maybe we need to do a triple pedal that utilizes both kinds in a single box with one killer core gain stage at the end (I wish I was famous, I would totally have that as my signature pedal). With all this in mind… what is a clean boost in your mind – it is about clipping? Is it about volume? Should EQ play a part in this?
A question we get asked a lot is “how does someone become a signature artist and get their own pedal?”. Well, as with everything else, there is no rule book, but if there was one it would contain so many variables it would be impossible to give an explanation of the sure-fire route.
Right now we have a signature pedal at proto stage, one in ‘headscratching’ phase, and another in the negotiation phase, so it’s safe to say that this is subject that’s in my head a lot at the moment. So, for my own benefit in the process of consolidating all the information, I can give you a run-down of what is needed.
Let’s start at the business end of things. Why does a company bring out a signature unit? The obvious answer to that is the mysterious phenomenon known as “exposure”. If you look at our first two, Brent Mason and Brad Paisley (who now has 2, the regular and the deluxe), it’s easy to see why we did it. We were a very young company when Brent and Brian worked on the original Hot Wired, and when it was released it instantly gave us a good reputation and a great platform to market the brand from, and go on to have the brand come to the attention of a lot of people, myself included. I cannot begin to tell you what this pedal did for us as a company… Brent is one of the most respected musicians in the world, so to have his name on a pedal and have him use that pedal on countless recordings was massive to us. A couple of years later, we launched the Paisley Drive (the first release I was involved in) and that exploded the brand to a much bigger audience around the world and it’s safe to say that the high-end pedal world was now completely aware of Wampler and what we could do… 3 years after that, we did the signature pedal - the Dual Fusion - that made everyone say “What?” and has gone on to become one of the best-selling Wamplers of all time.
Tom Quayle was a relative unknown at the time, big amongst a certain genre of players (who followed him fanatically), but to the rest of the world, unknown. What we wanted from Tom was to not only bring the pedal into his genre (which was exploding), but also be part of a pedal that he was already using (although in separate units) that we felt could be massive to the market – provided we could match up our vision for it with his (which luckily for all involved was extremely simple, it was great fun working out how we wanted it and thinking up the features at the time what were revolutionary). He had found his tone with the Euphoria and Paisley stacked, and we knew that a dual pedal with these two elements (althought modified to suit him and the single pedal format) would be enormous. Also, having got to know him, we knew that he would market the living daylights out of that pedal at countless trade shows, videos, social media outlets, and just about everywhere else… Tom is one of the most hardworking guitar players I know that is often appearing at seminars, shows… just about everywhere around the world. We also knew that providing he stay true to himself (which to anyone who knows Tom knows that is what he always does) at some point in the future the rest of the industry was going to catch up with us and his name and picture would all over the place.
What does all of the above mean when looking at it closely it? Well, to a signature artist you have to fall into 1 of 3 categories:
- Is their idea for a pedal so unique and original that you have to sign them up then and there to being this piece of genius to market? (extremely unlikely, I would say impossible – “Hey man, I’ve got a great idea for a new pedal, no one has ever done this before”… the reality is – they may not have done it, but I can almost guarantee you that one of us would have thought about it at some point and gone on to discard the concept.)
- Is the artist in question so famous, and relevant, that just having their name on your pedal will explode your brand around the world? (unlikely, but when they come along, happy days – I mean, no one in their right mind would turn down a superstar like Brent or Brad.)
- Is the concept of the artist/pedal combination something that people will relate to - and will the artist network/promote you so much that the amount of traction gained from your combined marketing efforts going to make something truly special? (the most likely)
Now, it’s fairly obvious that as of today, we’ve had two #2’s and a #3 in our list. A lot of people mistakenly think that in order to get a deal you need to be #1 (everyone thinks they have THE next big idea which is usually, well… not so big), a lot of the people who think they are #2 are usually a few years past that point of their career (or are in no way big enough to even think about it) so think it will be a steady income stream for them for doing nothing, yet no one thinks about the concept of #3.
In order to be a signature artist, you have to have something special. Yes, you need to have the talent and ears to make it even to discussion stage, but what about the rest of it? To do it, and do it successfully, you have to work HARD to get there and even harder to keep it going… The main thing to remember that as a business we like to sell a lot of pedals and it is an aggressive marketplace out there with countless elements working against you. We’ve found that the people who even make it past the initial nanosecond of consideration are not in the least bit concerned with the monetary aspect (the commission) and are only interested in realising their vision for their sound by working together, combining ours and their marketing platforms, and most importantly… the vision for the future of both ours and their brand. In a nutshell - you have to jump in with both feet and take a ride with us, and sit right up front!
As you can imagine, I’ve seen a lot of people make a pass at us for signature units, Winter NAMM is a classic one where a lot of players are walking around in dark glasses trying their hardest to be noticed whilst looking like they are trying not to be noticed - and this year, most of the time, all I wanted to say to them is this: “You see that guy over there… the quiet one with the new signature Ibanez, yeah… him. He’s called Tom. Be like him.”
Over the weekend, everyone’s favourite member of the Wampler Pedals Tone Group on Facebook asked this simple question.
“What is good tone?”
When I opened up the list of answers, I was almost in dread as I was expecting an argument of epic proportions about individual personal opinions but was delightfully surprised at the answers (although I shouldn’t have been, we have a great bunch of people in there). I thought I would collate a couple of the theories here (with some direct quotes - so, don’t shoot the messenger), cross-reference them with what is in my head, just to open the discussion further.
Before we go into it - here’s my favourite comment of the thread “I’ve heard it’s in the fingers. Maybe that’s why people put their fingers in their ears when going to loud gigs? Always chasing that tone”.
The overall opinion of the thread was that it’s a subject issue – “The tone you like” (one of the more succinct quotes), but I got to thinking, this really does matter on who/where/when. Is it when it is either appropriate for the band, the song, the player or the audience?
One of the wonderful things about being a little older than I’d like to admit (but still not old enough to look old, I hope), is that you get to revisit the favourite tones of your past and dissect them with more experienced ears. Case in point, Mrs Wilding found a great gig on the digital TV box thing – Gary Moore: One Night in Dublin and his guitar sound was immense, really thick and full, everything you could want to hear from Gary Moore when he is in rock mode… I spent the next however long regaling to Mrs W about the Thin Lizzy album, Live and Dangerous, saying that the tones on that recording were much more classy than Gary’s etc etc. So, eventually, I downloaded the album to my phone and we listened to it in the car this week. She just looked at me and said “Yeah, it sounds good, but I prefer Gary…” and doesn’t really want to listen to it anymore. This made me think a little. Am I listening to it still with the ears of the person I was 30 years ago, or can I listen to it afresh? I’ve listened to it over and over since and I’ve come to the conclusion that even after all these years, for the moment in time (recorded in 1978) it still represents incredible guitar tone. I have no idea what Gorham or Robertson had in between their fingers and us, it sounds like Les Paul’s and Marshall’s, but I don’t actually want to know… I just want to listen to it and think “Yep, 1978… that’s great tone”. Does it stand up to the tones from 2008 when Gary was ripping through modern amps with pedals helping out? I think it does because it’s a moment in time and maybe not one that everyone can appreciate.
Another one I always come back to is Iron Maiden’s Live after Death… compare that to later Iron Maiden albums where the guitar sounds aren’t so raw, now… is that because when I got Live After Death it was unlike anything I’ve ever heard before and still brings those memories back, or is it because they had a better live tone in the 80’s? Anyone have any opinions on that, or am I alone with this? Is my memory playing tricks on me, because even today, I think it sounds just incredible.
One of the comments that made me stop to think was this… “Whatever fits the song and makes the song better. Jimmy Page had horrible tone that worked in fantastic songs.”. This has always been an issue with me with Zep, I adore the songs and the playing, but some of the guitar tones have been kinda ‘meh’, almost like some of them were badly recorded demo’s. However, if the guitar tones had been different would it have had an adverse effect on the music itself? Sometimes, the tone works for the song perfectly even if it’s not a tone that excites your ears personally. Listen to the tone in Kashmir objectively, is it great when it’s on its own? But as part of the song… is it just perfect?
The simple truth about guitar tone was perfectly wrapped up in this quote – “As far as what the rest of us like, it's subjective. But, if you find a sound that inspires you to play and you play better as a result, that is good tone.” – when I feel my tone is on point and my guitar is reacting the way I want it to, then I know I play better, there is something magical in there that just excites the brain and you play better for it. Once again, Mrs W comes into the conversation as she says after some gigs “You sounded great tonight, I could hear it in your playing”… However, do the drunken rabble that is dancing around in front of us aware that my rig is different from the guy who played in the band before me, with his USA strat, vintage TS-9 and a Deluxe? (not that I am knocking that rig, not at all, it’s just not me). I think of some them do, but most don’t, they just like what they hear and react to it.
There is a lot of talk about great tone, every day, in every format, on every forum you care to visit. The main question for me is this – is the great tone for you personally or the people who have to listen to you, and if it IS for them, how far will you go to give them what they want? Great tone is a moment in time… Like the Lizzy album, the Maiden album, EVH on the first two albums, Nuno on Pornograffitti, everything SRV did, BB King at the Regal, Every note ever played by Andy Timmons, Cliffs of Rock City by Paisley, Gilmour on The Wall… but, if you take those tones and put them somewhere else, will they still work? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this - Great tone is just something that makes the song what it is, it doesn’t matter if anyone else likes it or not, it’s just about the end product, and if the end product works, then surely it’s just good tone.
Well hey hey! Normally, I don't write many of these blogs, normally because i'm too busy doing the youtube's and the breadboarding (aka circuit design). Plus, Jason and Alex are way more interesting than I am.
In January a combination of things happened to me, and us as a company. One of those being that our company became recognized by probably the worlds best business guru, Gary Vaynerchuk. I know, I know, you don't care about business, you care about tone, right? Of course, we all do! Regardless, I wanted to take a minute and write a piece that we can reference back to every time we get business questions (and to be honest, we get A LOT of questions about how we do our marketing). As you read the following paragraphs, please understand that I'm coming at this from a place of love, and a place of wanting to help you if you are starting a business, trying to run your guitar/amp/pedal/whatever business, or just feeling like things overall are feeling impossible... like it's impossible to get ahead, and improve whatever it is that you're going through right now. I also want to point out first and foremost: The business isn't just me, it's Jason, Alex, Jake, Cathy, Jeff, Jerry, Amanda (of course), Travis, Max, and just about everyone that's ever worked for us.
That being said, I bring you: "Why good things never come easy."
Don't let anyone ever tell you "it can't be done", or that something is impossible. In 2005 or so, I started writing a few books to help guitar players learn how to modify their guitar pedals. It was intended to be a book that would simplify electronics and bring it to a bigger audience than just Engineering nerds (no offense nerds :p ). A little later I started building pedals and eventually quit my work as a remodeling subcontractor to focus full time on all things guitar tone related. So many people tried to discourage me, even some that were close to me.... but I kept going.
Around 2010 or so I learned of a guy named Gary Vaynerchuk, and bought a book called "Crush it!". His book excited me so much that I drove all of my employees, friends, and family nuts with his ideas and business principles, and insisted that we follow his lead. I think I've bought that book (and his newer ones) about 50 times and sent it to various people over the past years in hopes it would help them actually.
Fast forward to 2016... I found out that one of our customers knew Gary himself after I posted something about loving GaryVee's videos, who invited me up to their office, which lead to a chance to meet Gary (AND be in one of his videos)...
...which lead to Gary asking if I'd like to be part of his next book. That book is available today, and to all of my entrepreneurial friends: You've got to check it out - it's fantastic! Here it is... Oh, and make sure you check out page 48
However, that's not why I'm writing this. I'm saddened, humbled, and overall more than anything... grateful.
I'm saddened that people still don't believe in themselves. That they talk theirselves out of trying, out of taking a risk, the negative self talk defeats them before they even TRY to start anything. Even talking to people at other companies at NAMM, I'm astonished. When they ask how we do what we do, I have no problems telling them. The most common response: "Wow, that seems like a lot of work!"
Are you kidding me?! Seriously? If you own a business and you aren't going to give it 1000% you're going to get beat. Your competition, at some point in time, will take your lunch money and shove you down in the dirt (metaphorically of course). This applies to musicians, and writers, and creatives of all types. It applies to high school seniors who are wondering what to do with their life. It applies to those in college who feel stuck, or are doing what "Mom and Dad said I should do" yet have no passion for that area in which they (or more correctly their parents) have chosen.
Success is simple: BUST YOUR ASS AND BE PATIENT. That's all it takes. Work harder than everyone else, like your life depends on it. Do everything possible to improve your situation. Are you having money problems? Do something about it. Throw out the TV, and sleep less. Learn new skills. Are you upset because your coworker makes more money than you? Do something about it. Change. Change. Change! You can't have change in your life without changing yourself. But remember - life is a marathon, not a sprint. Don't expect some magical way to "Get rich/find love/become successful with these 3 easy steps!"
I'm completely humbled and grateful for our customers and friends who believe in us. We exist purely to make your world a little better. Granted, we aren't curing diseases here, but it's incredibly satisfying to meet those who have just a little bit more joy in their life because they are coming home after a long day's work and playing on that new piece of guitar gear that makes them happy. Or, they write a song and send it out to the world and that song affects other people. Grateful isn't a strong enough word. Just please understand that all of the youtube videos I do, all of the podcasts, all of the facebook, instagram, twitter, and snapchat posts that my team and I put out - they are for you. They are for your enjoyment, entertainment, and/or education. You'll notice we don't "sell, sell, sell" on 99% of our posts. We don't look at our business that way. We believe we are in the people business, not the guitar pedal business. I go to bed thinking how can I make your life better with what I have to work with and I wake up with the same thought. For now that looks like guitar pedals, but who knows - maybe it's amps, or guitars, or VR instruments, or something entirely different in the future.
To all those that have helped us get here, and to those who work for me, have worked for me in the past, and/or put up with me, I'm indebted to you.
Day 1, Wednesday – “…there’s two L’s in Hell…”
It started like any normal day, not enough sleep and getting up to get the kids off to school… Once they had gone there is that horrible moment when I catch Mrs Wilding’s eye and she looks sad. She doesn’t like me going away - we are one of those weird couples that spend 24/7 together and thrive on it so it’s very hard on her as let’s face it, I’m off to California with my peers and she’s at home - but she accepts that it’s a vital part of the job so she puts a brave face on. Once I’d got my shit together and packed up, I got in the car ready for the drive to Heathrow. Now, the journey up is usually indicative of my week and unfortunately, this year was the drive from hell. It was absolutely pouring down, in the most English way, all the way there. I don’t mind driving in the rain, but when you have visibility of about 50’ and people are going past you at what looks like about 100 and they don’t even have their lights on it’s just plain scary. The English, what are we like?
Arriving at Heathrow I quickly found my travel buddies, Tom Quayle (who was about to have the biggest show of his life due to his Ibanez signature model being officially released), Jay Henson, Jake Willson and David Beebee, and we started settling in for the long journey to LaLaLand. We got on early due to Jake being picked out as needing extra attention by the customs guys (so we blagged on through the line with him) and found our seats. The flight was barely 1/10th full so we spread out and for once, got as comfy as possible. The best thing about the flight is that this is the chance I get to truly catch up with Tom (who everyone who is connected to me on Social Media knows I love like a brother) and as usual he unwittingly gave me about 10 guitar lessons during the flight! Bonus. The conversation with everyone was as random as usual - it went from theology to philosophy, music to movies, life to death and a lot about how our kids are trying to send us to an early grave. The highlight for me was when we were talking about how people misspell, or mispronounce, our names that led to a conversation about what our Darts names would be, Jake “There’s two L’s in Hell” Willson and Tom “Legatenstein” Quayle. Believe me, 9 hours into the flight when half of the group had been drinking somewhat it was much funnier than it sounds written here.
The absolute worst thing about the NAMM journey is US Customs. We’ve usually been up for 24 hours at that point and you are made to feel like a terrorist coming through… So, we puckered up and prepared for the inevitable. For once, we sailed through with barely any waiting and I found myself on the shuttle heading to the Wamplers and NAMM. Arriving at the hotel at around 9pm, I was almost dead on my feet – I got a text from Brian saying he had just left the convention center (he’d had to rewire one of the boards) so I had time to unpack… when I got the message they were back. I walked to their room and Amanda was half passed out already (not a good sign) and the first thing we said to each other was “You look as tired as I feel”. You would have thought that we’d all just hang for a bit and get some sleep, but no, that would be far too logical. I poured myself into bed at 2:25 having drunk a little too much.
Day 2, Thursday – “…my wife really fancies you…”
BOOM, 4 hours sleep. Thanks Jetlag, you are a cruel mistress. I Facetimed my family then staggered down to breakfast. We got to the show and I had a nightmare getting my badge so was about 30 minutes late getting to the booth. I was greeted with the booth being packed and poor Greg facing it on his own… This is the busiest Thursday I can remember at NAMM. It seemed like we were packed ALL day. The first couple of days tend to be all about the meetings and I was lucky that I didn’t miss any (a wise man doesn’t book the early slots). It’s usually the day that we all fly off in order to see industry friends around the immediate area as well and them dropping in to see us – it was a delight to see the likes of Seymour Duncan and Phil X – who I actually got a photo with this time based on the statement “Hey Phil, let’s have a photo together as my wife really fancies you”. Thursday is a bit of a blur to be honest, we had a LOT of people come by and they all loved the new pedals.
After the show we went out to someplace somewhere to eat. I don’t actually remember where. But, I think it was a Pizza. Probably was. We went back to the hotel via Target to get some supplies, accidently bought a ton of beer, and went back with the intention of being in bed by 11 so we would be prepared for the day ahead. Amanda did this… Brian and I on the other hand… 2:05 I went to bed after we talked about the new releases, next releases, our kids, our lives, absolutely everything. And we had the first discussion about my favourite time of the year… April 1st
Day 3, Friday - “…Nah mate, you’re talking bollocks.”
4.5 hours sleep. **sigh**. Up, Facetime, breakfast, show. Got there on time so had a moment to properly catch up with the guys on the booth. It still kinda freaks me out a little to see Groover Jackson and Bruce Egnator just walking around, and then there’s Dave Friedman, and Joe Morgan… most importantly Jerry Best, Steve Elowe, Paul Wilson and Avi Elkiss – the guys who make Wampler work from the manufacturing and distribution perspective, in other words, the guys that do the real hard work! Friday was also insanely busy, even more so than Thursday. It’s great, but it’s a nightmare. However, getting to meet Andy Martin was a highlight, he’s as cool in the flesh as he is on video!
Lord Thomas of the Quayle rocked up to the booth about 11:20, he was due to play on the booth at 12 but he had no patience so instead of 30 minutes everyone got almost an hour of unadulterated Quayle. That was the strangest part of the trip for me, it was the first time we got a little PA on the booth so Tom could use backing tracks… When I met TQ at Heathrow airport for my first NAMM in 2012 (effectively my first NAMM buddy) I instantly liked him and what a journey it’s been since then. We are now what you might call family friends, we talk regularly about the real world, he’s been a musical mentor to me… we did the Dual Fusion in 2013, I’ve seen him progress into this world class virtuoso and I don’t mind admitting that I got a fraction emotional when he was surrounded by a large group of people just marvelling at what he does best. Improvising. Yep, this was mainly improvised.
Yep, I know it’s portrait instead of landscape but this was for FB – people tend to hold their phones upright ;)
After the show (which included me sliding down the railings outside that Amanda assured me looked cool, but the massive bruise I’ve been left with meant it was anything but) we went out to meet up with some of the members of our Facebook Tone Group which was just ace. We all sat around drinking beer and eating food, just hanging out – for us this is what it is all about. The people, we do this as we are all the same, just people looking for great tone, so to directly connect with the people we help along the way is incredible. I ate too much, drank a little and just had the best time. Thank you guys for coming out, it was awesome. So… back to the hotel for an early night. As usual Amanda went to bed and Brian and I went to the firepit by the pool for a quick drink… we were joined this evening by a few other residents, one who quickly and with the deduction skills of Sherlock Holmes realised I was “European, probably British” and basically took over the conversation for an hour. The conversation actually started with him telling me that Princess Diana was murdered by MI5, to which I replied “Nah mate, you’re talking bollocks” and the conversation went on from there. He was mainly interested in talking about politics… which considering we appeared to be polar opposites on that subject it went quite well, he was much more drunk than I was so I’m not ashamed to admit I kinda walked him around in circles for a bit and then forced him to contradict himself repeatedly without him realizing it. I was actually being my online internet troll persona in real life! And no, he’s never been to a shithole country before... Once he had left the inevitable happened… we went to bed around 2:30 after Brian fell asleep mid conversation after a few beers were drunk!
Day 4, Saturday – “…two middle-aged guys loaded with camera equipment trying their hardest to get into a high school dance…”
The mad day. I arrived really early so actually got to try the new pedals properly. Although I was slightly hungover, I really enjoyed the day as so many people came by just to chat and hangout. We had Andy Wood on Synergy, another performance from Tom and it was all just incredible. I just don’t know where the day went. So many people! I had a load of meetings with dealers, saw some incredible playing and hung with friends – in particular PapaGates himself, Brian Haner, who is one of my favourite NAMM buddies and one of the few people who can talk as much rubbish as I can with the sole intent of saying everything and nothing at the same time... Perfect.
As the show was ending and it quietened down, I ran over to see the “competition” and had a great play through a load of Keeley pedals (Super Phat Mod is HUUUGE), hung and chatted with Robert, sat on Stefan Fast, trolled Josh Scott, checked out Chase Bliss and popped up to see CatalinBread which was kinda weird. It felt empty, obvious since Nic’s death it’s not the same as he would always be there, but no Howard… Scott… I dunno what’s happening, but I didn’t hang around long enough to properly find out. I just couldn’t.
After the show we popped into Downtown Disney to see our friend’s band play, and Brian and I trundled off to the annual pedal builders party… Rather stupidly we didn’t check the address and rocked up to the place it’s always held. We were denied entry by a well-dressed woman stating it was a private party. We told her we had been invited… when she dropped the bombshell that this was a high school dance did we realise how bad it looked… I mean, two middle aged guys loaded with camera equipment trying their hardest to get into a high school dance… we made our excuses and left VERY quickly. Once we arrived at the correct location it was wonderful, this is the only time we all get together so the conversations are tremendous. I shared a lot of abuse with Stefan Fast, trolled the crap out of Josh, laughed with Robert and shot some video with Andy Martin. We had a very interesting conversation outside that concerned how one of us had been totally disrespected by a heavyweight of the regular effects industry. I won’t go into details, but there is a video up, and it’s been heavily edited. Us ‘boutique’ guys kinda stick together and there are a lot of us now that have lost a lot of respect for that one guy. I’ll leave you to work out how that was! The venue was open to the public and there was Karaoke happening as well – a lovely lady called Bunny who must have been about 60 sang some incredible older lounge Jazz stuff in a really low register so everyone who sang after her was just treated to a load of drunken pedal builders chanting “BUNNY! BUNNY! BUNNY!” over and over. I honestly have no idea who started that **ahem**.
We got back, intended to go to bed early… beers, firepit, 2:10….
Day 5, Sunday “…Where’s Heidi?”
Got up super early as it’s the day I go home and I’m always really excited. The booth is always quieter on a Sunday so we all did loads of playing and everyone just floats around to see everyone else. April 1 was discussed a lot, hugs were had, goodbyes were said and at 5pm I walked outside, got smashed in the face by the heat and jumped on the shuttle to the airport. I arrived at the airport before TQ did, and he woke me up when he arrived (I know, how classy am I – I was snoozing as I was sat forward in my seat) and as with the rest of the journey, we just flew through customs and made our way to the plane via the Sushi bar. A couple of years ago we were served by a hilarious woman called Heidi and we wanted to be entertained by her again, but our calls of “Where’s Heidi” were greeted with “She got fired because she… well… kinda…” and we stopped him there, we didn’t want to taint her memory!
The plane was half empty again so we spread out and slept for 6 glorious hours. Once again, Passport control was easy and before I knew it I was doing 100 miles an hour past Stonehenge, home and into the arms of my family and one stupidly excited dog.
NAMM is great, but it’s bloody hard work and extremely tiring. It’s the only time I get to spend one on one time with Brian and we make more plans in those 5 days than we do in the next 360. I see the most inspiring players and come back a better player. Unfortunately for me and my family I was completely dehydrated when I got back and the next 2 days were a complete write off. I blame Brian. It’s always his fault.