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.
Winter NAMM is right around the corner, and with the weeks leading up to it come the crazy of preparations to setup the booth, layout the board and get any marketing materials (shirts, stickers, etc) together. One of the biggest things that NAMM is known for is the plethora of new gear that is showcased by most every company. Some designs are reworkings and updated versions of existing products, brand new designs, or something completely out of the ordinary designed to make a huge impact on the patrons and tone chasers who keep up with NAMM news down to the wire.
Herein lies the issue with presenting at NAMM: what’s the best practice in regard to showcasing new products? In years past our brand-new pedals were given first looks on our social media platforms, either from visitors to the booth snapping a photo, us uploading a sneak peak, or your favorite YouTube or gear channel doing a quick video where someone showcases what we’ve got new. This year is a bit different for us though, because our ideals have shifted a bit with what we’re aiming for. NAMM is a stellar event, but it’s also a tidal wave of new information that overtakes all gear outlets for the days leading up to it, during it, and for weeks to come after it. We’ve got several new designs that we’re extremely proud to have ready, but the question comes in as to whether they’ll get lost in the shuffle of new stuff? Each product Brian and our team has worked on has many hours invested, tone-wise along with aesthetics, marketing plans, and the usual release details that often go unnoticed by most people when we release something new. Are we doing a disservice to ourselves showing our whole hand starting out?
So, our question comes down to this: Despite the designs being done for upwards of 5 new pedals, what do we show at NAMM? Do you go full-blast and hit everyone with all of the information at once, or take a select few and really hammer them home before introducing more? We’ve seen some companies showcasing their NAMM releases already, with the same idea applying of getting ahead of that tidal wave of information and making sure their product is visible and not lost in the mix. We follow a fairly punctual release schedule, so if a design isn’t mentioned at NAMM then it’s a pretty sure bet it will be following suit in a timely manner. This gives us time to prepare, get demos together and the pedals ready to ship to dealers without the tease…or is teasing part of the fun of it?
What do you think? Would you rather know in advance what’s coming up to prepare your wallet and board, or is it like knowing what you’re getting for Christmas, where the magic of the surprise isn’t there? In the end we want happy customers, so we’re curious to know what you personally think and would like to see?
Following on from bDub’s video about the 12 things he’s learned making videos for YouTube (see below), I thought I’d piggyback that and make 12 things I’ve learned being the main social media guy for Wampler in the last 7 years. For those of you who don’t know, I’m the guy that has been the constant with the social media for Wampler since early 2011. Other people have worked with me during that time, most notably Alex who’s been with us for almost 3 years now, but, most of it has been me and my warped sense of humour.
- People have opinions and they think they are facts. People are passionate about music, and they are passionate about their opinions associated with them. Especially when it comes to favourite guitar players. They may love the blues, or shredders, or whatever, but there are a LOT of people who misunderstand the concept of opinions. They have the final word and are prepared to destroy all those who dare to disagree! Let’s face it, we’ve all got into arguments on social media over pointless crap with strangers, but recently it appears to have hit new highs. My ban hammer finger seems to get twitchy much quicker these days.
- Memes are made to be stolen. One of the things that has caused me the most headaches is irate people shouting (well, typing in caps) “YOU STOLE THIS FROM MY BLOG WOT I MADES IN 2013” or something. The unfortunate thing about meme’s and graphics is that once they are on the internet, they spread like wildfire and it only takes one person to download it and put it somewhere else and all traces of the originator are lost forever. Subsequently, there have been times when things I’ve made have come full circle and come back to us, which makes me chuckle, and there have been cases when well-known outlets have been downloading stuff from us directly to reshare… It’s a difficult one, and one I try not to get grumpy about, but… you know… sometimes when a repeat offender does it over and over it becomes obvious and I let myself down and make a snide comment on their thread. I should know better really.
- Everyone thinks that you are the face of the company and you better not show any trace of personality. This is one that happens to me often. I quite often get a *insert expletive here* who thinks he can come on to my own social media presences and tell me off for putting them down when they act like an arse to either me or my actual real-life friends. I’ve been called many names, most recently a Nazi. As you can imagine, that wasn’t particularly nice but I’m a big boy now and sticks and stones and all that...
- Everyone thinks that because you work for a company like Wampler it’s all jamming with Brent Mason, making fancy meme’s and drinking fine wine with Seymour Duncan at NAMM and nothing else. Nah… it’s mainly planning strategy for marketing, B2B selling, watching market trends, trying to predict market trends, justifying decisions made about the current market, the future market and maintaining relationships. Basically, it’s about moving little grey boxes around the world. Sometimes you get the fun stuff, but it’s really really rare.
- Everyone is a world leading expert. On everything. No matter what evidence you place in front of them about running a business, they still don’t see why they should buy a pedal for $200 when they can buy a soldering iron and parts from “Hanks fishing tackle and Radio Spares for $35 and making it their damn self and it being just as damned good”.
- People think that who you are online is who you are in real life. What people have to remember is that working from home and doing online stuff can be kinda boring. When I get bored I partake in the age-old English past time of taking the piss. Although I do it in my real life, I pretty certain I’m not the stereotypical grumpy Englishman people think I am, or appear to be – here’s the thing, I often have to play bad cop to Alex’s good cop when dealing with trolls and people who don’t know when to stop talking. I dunno, maybe I am grumpy… but my wife tells me I’m not, and I’m not man enough to disagree with her on anything.
- People will tell the world with righteous indignation about bad things with a company on social media before even venturing into speaking with the company about the issue. Or, they will expect you to be online to sort their problem out 24/7 and have the answer for you in seconds. How many times have you seen “I’ve not received a response from them when I mailed them”… most of the time it will be 2 am on a Sunday, they’ve emailed you through the website and 10 minutes later they’ve gone out in public slamming you for the problem and your unprofessional way of not getting back to them. It’s massively frustrating, but you know, I’ve got to poop at some point!
- People will look for a correlation of events and try to draw conclusions from them, and they’ll do it all the time. “Yeah, well, Brian said he likes Uni-Vibes and next doors cat looks like Brian’s, he said the word vibe and wet in the same paragraph in a video in 2016 so I KNOW that a WampVibe is coming this year!”. Or something like that. You’ll know when stuff is coming because we’ll tell you. I mean, it’s not in my nature to tease people at all or anything like that **ahem**
- You get free stuff, all the time. I expect some of you have seen the pictures I post online of ‘my’ gear. The main thing is, it ain’t my gear. It belongs to the company (and others). I actually own 2 electric guitars, about 5 or 6 pedals (none of them are overdrives or distortions) and no amp. So, when I do gigs and take amazing gear, people think I’ve got amazing gear coming out of my arse. I don’t. I’m just lucky that this particular job means I have to have it here, for marketing. So, you know, it ain’t all bad…
- You spend all day chatting on social media. This is the one that confuses me the most. I am prolific on social media when I’m working, within the realms of my job – watching and analysing. But, once I take the work hat off, I disappear completely for a period of time. I am a family man and I protect the relationship with my wife and kids fiercely, so when I walk away from the computer, you won’t catch me on Facebook. I work from home and it’s 7 days a week, virtually 365 days a year, making multiple posts over multiple platforms for multiple brands. I keep in touch with a lot of our artists and dealers on FB and most of my relationship building is done there, so when I walk away, I walk away. It’s that, or I’ll end up being divorced.
- Fundamentally, most people (and companies) do not understand the concept of social media marketing. Which, in terms of other companies is great!! Hahahaha – KIDDING! But, I spend a lot of time watching and learning on social media, seeing what others are doing, analysing what we are doing and then making decisions on how to proceed based on what I see. I do have to say though, it’s a big rush when I see some of the biggest companies in the world blatantly taking our style and doing their version of it. It’d be better if I got 10% of the fee though! I speak to a lot of people who are allegedly marketing experts and most of them don’t get it. Don’t get demographics, don’t get what it means to try to get into people’s heads in the best possible way. A few do, and when I find them, I talk to them a LOT!
- A lot of people want to take your job. I understand that, completely. I have a cool job and people can think they can do better. Especially on the graphical side. We’ve, well – I’ve, really honed the look of the range in recent years graphically. We made a conscious decision on our look and I’ve continued to produce the graphics according to that plan. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read “Your pedals look shit mate” or something. It’s usually a graphic designer from the other side of the world who’s looking to get the work for themselves. Unfortunately, unless they want to do all the other stuff I do as well, it probably won’t happen. Because you see, we don’t all have one job at Wampler, we have about 4!
Thank you for listening to me ramble and for your support of this blog, this is my first one of 2018 and I hope to be filling your eyes and minds with more irrelevant crap in the future! Despite what I have written above, I genuinely adore my job and interacting with people as much as I do. It's one of life's simple joys to be able to connect with so many people, from so many cultures, from so many countries, each and every day...
... and, there is a lot more to this, but I'm not going to give all my secrets away!
We had a great year here at Wampler and for that, I'd like to thank you all for your part in it.
Throughout this year we've launched ourselves back into the release schedule (after an extremely quiet year before) and seen some instant classics being put into boards all over the world!
First up was the Dracarys, a brutal high gain pedal that not only brings the brootalz but also more classic rock tones.
Ethereal - finally! Yeah we know, we first showed it 18 months ago and many people felt like we kept delaying it, we didn't, we just wanted to make sure it was right. And safe to say, Brian made it perfect!
Next up came The Doctor... inspired by a conversation that Brian had with Brad Paisley that led to some prototypes (SkyLine and WheelHouse) a few years back, finally released into the main line in 2017.
Speaking of Brad Paisley... The Paisley Drive Deluxe was up next. Having used the Paisley Drive now for 7 years Brad, Brad wanted us to incorportate his other favorite Wampler pedal into a unit, the Underdog. The Underdog has not been available for years and years now, so this was a welcome release for Brad fans everywhere!
And finally, the big one. Our most requested pedal EVER. When we bought out the Tumnus 2 years ago it was so well received it kinda blew us away, but we couldn't help but notice people wanted a full-size version and, well, they wanted it to be Wamplerized. Mainly with a three band EQ. We had a few hairy moments upon release as there was an issue with it, but we did everything we can to put it right for our dealers and most importantly, for you.
So, that was our year in pedals. We are extremely excited to bring you new stuff next year, I'm telling you now, it's already shaping up to be an amazing set of releases! Watch this space!
As always, it's not just about the pedals, we get up to all sorts of nonsense online as well, we host THE best gear group on Facebook, we have our regular FB page that we post stuff ranging from useful right down to extremely silly, we have a lively Instagram page, we tell stupid jokes on Twitter and Brian is always bringing it on our You Tube channel. What it is, I'm not sure, but he brings it. As you are reading this, you probably know about our blog, but it's worth checking out should you stumble across it. Finally, as tone chasers ourselves, we bring you the Chasing Tone podcast... We sometimes even talk about gear on there!
Had the most horrible experience at a gig on Friday, and if I am being honest, one that has thrown me sideways all weekend. It’s been in the forefront of my mind ever since and I think.. I think… I’ve worked out what the problem was.
A little bit of background for those not familiar with my ramblings about the band. I play in a basic cover band, 5 normal guys playing the music that they like. We aren’t what you would call a Top 40 band as we generally refuse to play the songs that most pub crowds want to hear, and when we do give in and do a popular song, we make it our own. Basically, this means I get a load of opportunity to show off with various styles and quite a few elongated solos. Sounds kinda great doesn’t it!
I don’t consider myself to be a great player, but I can certainly hold my own in this band. Obviously, when I sit down with Tom Quayle I come away thinking I’m a complete novice, but relatively, in this situation, I’m good enough to be the sole guitar player in this cover band, playing the circuit we play. I’m confident about what I do and most of the time I come away quite happy - I always try to play for the song and try not to overtake the basic intention, just try to add to it, in my own way. So, you know, generally, it’s all a good experience for me (sounds like I’m trying to convince myself here).
Right, now all the background crap is over, here is what happened. We played two sets on Friday and the first set was great and the second set was utter crap. Not the band, just me. Everything felt wrong. I usually don’t suffer from any kind of nerves when playing – I’ve been doing this a long time - I just get up there and enjoy myself. I love my guitar and my gear in general – playing live with this band is my ‘comfy space’.
Looking back at it objectively (which is what I try to do with most things whenever possible), I can see the following things that happened. During the first set I played right at the top of my game, I was more than happy with it. My tone was spot on, my guitar felt like it was part of me and everything went well. We did our usual set and I think, in terms of my own capabilities, I pretty well nailed it. My musical barometers (the bass player and my wife) came up to me in the break and said it was all going rather well, and pointed out a couple of moments that really worked (I tend to improvise most stuff so you know, it’s a bit of a gamble). The people who were there and who were listening enjoyed it. So, thus far, it was all going swimmingly. The second set, from the moment I stepped up to make sure my guitar was in tune, my guitar felt like an alien in my hand. I honestly felt like I’d never touched it before and it just felt wrong. Absolutely everything about it wasn’t familiar to me. I felt like I was stood there on my own and sticking out like a big sore thumb, exposed as a complete fraud. To compound the issue, when I started playing it felt like my tone had changed also, considerably for the worse. When we finished the second set I couldn’t wait to get home, curl up in a ball and never think about it again. Yeah right. The reality is that I’ve been thinking about nothing else since. The thing that confuses me about this is that after the 2nd set my barometers said it was still great – just as great, but my wife did comment that she could see I wasn’t comfortable up there until it was coming to a close, when I looked more like myself. She said at some points I really didn’t look like myself and I was struggling, but my playing was on point.
When I got my guitar out of its case last night (I couldn’t bear to see it until then, which for me is unusual as I like to see it as I am around the house) it was exactly what I expected it to be. The action was how I like it and it felt like part of me instantly. I have no idea what made it feel different. Now, to counter the obvious questions - I don’t drink when gigging, so it wasn’t as if I had had one too many in the break, I don’t smoke anything I shouldn’t, I didn’t have any kind of bad experience in between, in fact, for the life of me, on the surface, I couldn’t think of anything tangible to give reason for this.
Here is what I think happened. I’m pretty certain that at the moment I picked my guitar up for the second set, something in my head said “NO” to me and I didn’t pick up on it. Generally, in my life, I quite often have an argument with myself about myself, and when my head says no about something I can identify it and move forward without too much stress – and yes, that is oversimplifying it immensely, but you probably don’t want to read about my process in full. What I didn’t do on Friday was identify this properly. The only way I can describe it – well, kinda, is like this. Have you ever been in a crowd and all of a sudden felt claustrophobic? Every been in a social situation and everything suddenly felt wrong and you have to leave for no apparent reason? It was like that – something was just wrong and everything around me was wrong and I had to get out, which I obviously couldn’t, so I had to stay and play. Now, I suffer from both of these feelings at times and I have learned how to deal with them both - I have things I can do to make sure I can overcome any sense of uncomfortable and move on. Trouble is, I’ve never had it on stage before in my comfy place, nor have it happen so sneakily and for it to have such a weird effect – basically, I just didn’t spot what this was. I don’t consider myself an overtly anxious person but I’m pretty certain I had somewhat of a subtle anxiety attack as I stood there. As usual with these things, there was no reason for it other than it just was.
OK, so what can I do to make sure I don’t suffer from this again. Well, right now I don’t really know. I can’t. All I do know is that it’s possible it might happen again - so I need to be able to identify it quicker and work with myself to contain it. As a 44 year old man with a fairly long history of ‘interesting emotional issues’, I’m in a position to work through most situations that come up (usually by talking to the people who can understand me, or as I am doing here, to total strangers) and I’m a long way forward from my lowest point in life, but I am aware that things like this can drag you down extremely quickly. I’ve learned, again, that when you are in your most comfy of places your head can totally mess with you and seemingly only do so for its own amusement. Should this happen again, I will be (hopefully) be able to identify it and concentrate on my space, my space within that space, and know what to do and how to bring myself through. There are focus things I can do, breathing things, internal headspace things, that help.
I do think that creative people, ‘artists’, are the most likely to suffer from issues such as these which leads me on to think I am going to have to write about this more, in depth, soon. I know there are a lot of people who are emotionally crippled by anxiety and I just can’t imagine what that must be like. What we see here is but a tiny snapshot, a token experience, one that (fortunately for me and those around me) I can deal with on my own.
Thank you for listening. I suppose that I should just shut up and play my guitar, and will do so. I’m only talking about this now because I’m pretty sure this happens to a lot of people, and in more extreme situations, that happened to me. My relationship with the guitar is deeply personal and one that I treasure, I’m guessing that I need to be careful that I can’t let myself take away the thing I love the most from… errmm... myself. I'm lucky enough to have my guitar hanging on the way in front of me as I work, I keep looking at it and thinking "I love that thing" so I'm guessing as long as I'm thinking that, I'm still winning?
I got in a bit of trouble last week with some people - purely because I encouraged a mass troll of a troll. A lot of people thought it was the wrong thing to do, but in my defence, the guy who was trolling us said something so silly I just couldn’t help it. My bad, I should have known better. This guy was dropping one liners on demo videos saying things like “*insert demo artist name here* will endorse anything that is put in front of him”. Once I’d got over the incredulity of such a ridiculous statement, and having discussed it with Brian and Alex (to be fair, we often have discussions about statements online that are plainly ridiculous and wonder what people are thinking when they say them), I came to the conclusion that there are people out there that don’t appear to have a clue what the difference is between the two. So, I thought I’d lay it out in front of you – I will stick with the pedals as it’s all slightly weird, but this will apply to all aspects of the MI industry…
These are the guys that receive some kind of payment to produce a demonstration of a product. Often paid for (in one way or another) by the company that makes the pedal themselves (or by their distributor) and it’s a fantastic way of getting the pedal out there quickly into the ears and eyes (and then hopefully the hands) of the customer. Now, there are a lot of people out there that want to do this so the competition is fierce. When you look at the demo’s that are turned out by people such as Ola Englund, Brett Kingman or Tom Quayle, not only are you seeing the product, but you are seeing expert levels (with pro-level gear) of photography, videography, audio recording, composition and decades of crafting their playing talent. These are not some chancer with an iPhone 4S and a nice guitar who knows a few riffs, these are people that do this as part of their wider job, therefore they receive payment (and this element is not standardised, some people cost a LOT of money compared to others).
In order for them to maintain our business, as the manufacturer looking to get the product into the customer’s hands, it is well worth their effort to make the pedal look and sound as good as possible. Let’s face it, if a demo artist comes onboard with us and their first attempt is utter crap, they won’t get anything else from us, ever again. So, they HAVE to make it sound good for our sake, but most importantly, for their own.
This is where it becomes an art form. I’ve seen countless videos of Brett Kingman where he has straight up said that “it’s a great pedal, if you like that kind of thing” which can be translated to be saying “It’s not for me”… but, he does everything he does to make it sound the best he can in the video. What does that mean? Well – on a personal level, it makes me trust him, I don’t want to sound like him but I know if I listen to his demos, he makes it pretty clear what it can and can’t do, and I know what it will sound like in most situations. Brett has been doing this for a LONG time, he was the first demo artist I dealt with when I started with Brian in 2010 and he’d been going for a good few years then. It’s safe to say that for me, Brett remains the benchmark in terms of professionalism, honesty and dignity in this business. You know what you are going to get, not only from the demo but also from the unit if you buy it.
I think this is where people get confused, as this is where opinions come into play, and as a manufacturer, it’s a bloody nightmare and has legitimately caused me sleepless nights in the past. A great example of people who review pedals who walk this very fine line are Henning Pauly and Dan and Mick on That Pedal Show. Although, to be fair on the both of them, they aren’t really reviewers, they just do what they do but in this industry, they are the closest I can get.
They are both extremely experienced in their appreciation of music and the weapons that are waged war on to make it, but they have both built their channels based on “I’m not going to bullshit you”. So much so, there are times when I’ve watched them both with our pedals and my heart has sunk out the bottom of my shoes, out the front door, into the gutter and then washed out to sea. BUT… they are both ridiculously popular, so we listen to them, and we learn from them. I, and we, have learned very valuable lessons from their videos that have been invaluable to us as a company in the past. Why? Because they approach it differently, Dan and Mick are the excitable tone chasers that know what they like and everything in their show is done to their liking – so, if they like your pedal, you’re going to sell a shitload, if they don’t… Well, some you win and some you don’t. Henning is a no-nonsense kind of guy that says it like it is, you can’t hide ANYTHING when you send a product to Henning, if he thinks something is stupid, he will say so, and is probably right to do so. Probably. Do they demo? Do they review? It’s hard to gauge, but I think they both kinda review, but not in the way you would expect.
I’m not going to get too far into this one as it can get political, but you know, have you noticed how quite often the companies with the biggest adverts in a magazine quite often have the most products reviewed in that issue? ANYWAY... moving swiftly on...
And, in conclusion…
What are the differences? Well, a demo artist is paid to make a pedal look and sound bloody brilliant – it’s an advert. S/He is paid to advertise the product, by playing it, and for it to be launched either to their own following or you use it to communicate to your own. So, it’s all about reach and getting it into newsfeeds and incite that condition known as G.A.S.. A reviewer is someone that will be more open and honest and give you their opinion on it. Which should you rely on and trust more? The answer, obviously, is both and neither at the same time. What you should do though is not take either of them as gospel and watch and read as much as you can about any given piece of gear and then base your decision purely on how it makes you sound, when you play it, with your own gear.
As you may (but you probably may not) know, I use somewhat of a complicated pedal board for the band I play in. We are just a pub band that generally play to a couple of hundred people, with at least 50% of those are generally too drunk to care about what they are hearing. But still, every gig I walk into the venue with literally thousands of pounds of gear. I know a lot of people will say “why bother”, but I do it because it makes me happy and I want to have great tone. So, let’s nip that one in the bud before we get started!
However, an incident at a gig a couple of months ago has made me relook at a couple of items on my board and made me realise I bought a lot of my gear because it’s considered to be the industry standard and it was expected to have that piece of gear if I wanted the feature set. Yes, this means I play each gig with a Strymon TimeLine and Mobius. Before I go any further I do want to say that I bloody love the both of them, they are incredible pieces of kit and it’s easy to see why they are considered to be the industry standard and sell so many every week, month and year.
However… would you be surprised to know that the TimeLine has been out for 6.5 years and that is a LONG time in terms of tech. Granted, it’s received software upgrades in that time (currently on v1.84 as we speak), but from what I understand, the hardware on the new ones you buy in store today is the same as the ones that were first released. Let’s put that into context in a more accessible format. The TimeLine is like having an iPhone 4. Loads of people have them (including my kids) but it’s safe to say, it’s in no way considered to be the cutting edge of technology. If you were considering paying hundreds of pounds for a new phone, would you choose an iPhone 4? No, you wouldn’t. If we are being honest here, the display of the big three Strymons are straight out of a Nokia 3310 rather than an iPhone X.
Over the last few years, we’ve seen a lot of new products come out that challenge the mighty TimeLine as the first call MIDI controllable programmable delay pedal. BOSS have come out hard and strong with the DD-500 and to pick the one I have personal experience with, the Source Audio Nemesis is fantastic, albeit a very slimmed down version. I know about the Eventide and TC Electronic (haven’t we all seen endless arguments about which is better), but I’m going to stick with the ones I know properly, otherwise, this will be very long and very boring. When I first got my hands on a TimeLine, I spent hour after hour marvelling over what it could do, how amazing it sounded (I’m a big fan of the analogue through signal that many other pedals do NOT have) and spent literally hours playing with the ICE setting, The Filter, The Dual, Duck, Swell… well, you know, the list is endless. It was great, great fun.
BUT… (and yes, hardened viewers of Game of Thrones may chuckle at that, consider Ned Stark’s opinion of that word) when I had programmed my gig board (which if I am honest, generally only gets played properly at gigs) I realised I didn’t use any of that, I use the dBucket and Digital setting, regular quarter notes and a dotted 8th, and it never goes over 500 or so milliseconds. I have 6 patches I use and they are all pretty standard stuff. Now, if I played a lot of U2 songs or some of the more interesting Floyd stuff etc etc etc, I would use more, but I’m guessing that in so far as a regular gigging musician, I’m pretty much the same as the vast majority of players out there… So, why do I have this beast? It’s simple… because everyone else does and it’s considered, still, to be the best in its class.
To go back to something I mentioned earlier, there was an incident that made me rethink this properly and was somewhat of an enlightening moment for me. The lummox of a bass player that is in the band I play in dropped an XLR on the tap tempo switch of my Mobius and snapped it clean off. I was pretty horrified to notice it had a composite plastic shaft and broke extremely easily. I had a little trouble with Strymon when I tried to order a replacement, but they stood up to the mark and sorted me out, so this isn’t a bitter retort about customer service, but more of a contemplation on how we view and buy gear. I challenged them about the shafts and they said they were the best option for the pedals. Considering they sell replacements for them on their site for $4, I am thinking maybe they aren’t. But, that’s only here because it was the catalyst for my change of thought process.
Simply and honestly, I got the Strymon’s because everyone had one and G.A.S. - I didn’t really think about it.
A good mate of mine distributes Source Audio in the UK and let me borrow the Nemesis after I told him what I actually wanted rather than what I thought would be fun… and guess what, it does absolutely everything I need and no more – and, it’s also over $200 cheaper than the TimeLine in-store. I’m currently in the process of changing the TimeLine over to the Nemesis, and it’s almost hilarious the number of people who say “WHAT? WHY!!!?” when I tell them.
Let’s look at the Nemesis for a minute. It has all the silly stuff, including some interesting pitch shifting type features etc, but it appears to have been designed by gigging guitar players. There are no endless submenus through an awful display to get a decent effect, the selections on the ‘main delay type selector thing’ are incredible – for example, the slapback feature is sublime, the tape setting sounds much more tape like than the Strymon and everything is just there, and just right. Granted, if you are a tweaker, the amount of variables in the TimeLine is quite remarkable, but… for me… well, there is a reason I work for an analogue effects manufacturer I suppose, I just get pissed off with scrolling through things to tweak the lo-pass filter and the subdecaytrouserfilament etc. (on a crappy numerical LCD display - you may be sensing a theme here). I just want something that I can program in a heartbeat, using only the knobs on the top, and save it quickly to a location and then call up that patch via MIDI.
Since then, I’ve also got a BOSS MD-500 here that will probably replace the Mobius. Because for the price I can sell the Mobius for, I can replace with a brand new BOSS pedal (I know, if you are reading this and thinking “Bloody hell, how much do they sell for in the UK?” but I got offered a great price for one… so….) The BOSS outperforms the Mobius in absolutely every situation, much higher processing power, much stronger unit physically and the display is gorgeous, I can see everything I need to see in order to program the thing. So, pretty soon, I imagine I will be Strymon free.
Like I said above, this isn’t me knocking the Strymon, they are fantastic and have served me well. It’s just about time they updated them, physically – because pretty soon, their age and awkward displays are going to be outdated, if not so already. So, I challenge you Strymon, stop messing around with digital distortions and v2 the big three. Updated with OLED displays, increased processing power (as the Source Audio and everything else that is more reasonably priced has either the same, or more powerful, levels of processing) to refine the tones that are in there (at least attempt to put a decent tape emulator in, PLEASE) - because if you do, you will once again set the benchmark that other companies will take literally years to catch up on.
The Gauntlet has been thrown down. Let’s leave 2011 tech where it belongs and show me something that will melt my mind… not with silly pointless effects, but something that a regular gigging guy (with a MIDI controller) can really hit ‘that’ mark and do justice to the G.A.S. your products are still kinda generating. If not a v2, but with maybe a streamlined TimeLine v2 to go with it… Because pretty soon, reputation alone just won’t cut it – your reputation is still there, just, but there are others are gaining momentum, and gaining it VERY quickly.