General Chat (30)
As you might expect, one of the things we hear a lot from some people is “How can you charge $200 for a pedal that I can buy the parts for, for less than $50, and make it myself?”
Right, let’s get comfy and pick this apart piece by piece. I’ll do my best to remain objective and not end up in a socio political rant about ethics, but you know, if you poke the bear sometimes you get bitten! But, I’ll try to keep my muzzle on and remain professional! lololz.
Let’s take the Thirty Something. A pedal that we sell for $239 USD. The first thing you have to remember is that Brian didn’t wake up one day and have it all mapped inside his head, he didn’t just do a “Let It Be” and have it ready from a dream. I kid you not that Brian took almost 3 years to design that circuit, it went through more prototypes than any other Wampler I know of (and I’m pretty certain I’m up to speed on this stuff), it was tweaked, changed, restarted, thrown in the bin so many times I actually stopped asking about it. When it was finally ready I remember Brian saying “I’m still not 100% happy with it, but I just can’t see how I can make it any closer”. That being said, when it arrived in Wildling territory and I plugged it in, I was staggered how it reacted and how it felt. I still think it remains the benchmark in AIAB pedals, it does the job perfectly. And I was brought up playing Edge, Queen, The Beatles and Hank Marvin songs… so, I’m kinda fussy with VOX tones.
Thinking about that, and thinking about how Brian is considered in his field, can you begin to imagine how much investment that is? To import a design engineer and have them work at something on and off for 3 years would be hundreds of thousands of dollars, I can’t comprehend how much it would be, but just think about that minute, that is a lot of R&D work, and you know, with a large family to support and employees to pay, that kind of work doesn’t pass unnoticed by the company accountant. R&D aside, then you have to imagine that once again, the designs of everything else doesn’t appear out of thin air, the pedal logo needs designing, the box art, the manual, the marketing, the demo videos, the promo shots… it’s actually quite ridiculous when you think about it, costs a bloody fortune.
Here is a picture I took for the marketing for the release of the Thirty Something. I am very lucky that I live near Manson's Guitar Shop and have a great relationship with them (they stock us). I go in, take over a corner of the shop, use their stock guitars as backing and then spend a long time photoshopping the picture to make it look like this. It all adds up!
Now, we get to parts. Brian is RIDICOUSLY fussy about parts. He will only use parts that fulfil his requirements, and there was a stage at one point in time when we were ditching 2/3rds of a certain part because they didn’t come up to scratch - mere mortals like me can’t hear the difference, but let’s face it, I’m not Brian Wampler, his ears are better than mine and I expect most of yours as well, so you have to budget that as well.
So, let’s get back to the meat of this. You will find websites all over the internet that ‘kindly’ reverse every pedal ever made and post the schematic for all to plagiarise, errmmm, I mean “study". So, once we’ve spent ages designing and marketing a pedal and released it, someone can then probably go to their favorite online parts store and order the parts, an enclosure and get pretty close to how the original is. I say pretty close, because I can guarantee that the components won’t be to the spec Brian demands, it won’t be laid out as well and let’s face it, I expect the basic soldering won’t be that good. We stand by our 5 year guarantee, I bet the places the parts are bought from don’t!
Let’s now look at this from another angle. And throughout this, I’m not going to mention any prices, because people will jump on it, but just think about where we are and what we are doing in this, and where you can buy it. We are not a retailer. We do not sell to the general public (we do offer direct sales through our site, but they account for next to nothing in term of units moved compared to our international sales team). We are a manufacturer. We manufacture a product, and then sell it to people who sell it through their own stores. Sometimes we sell it to a distributor who then sells it to a dealer… taking local and international taxes, shipping, the price goes up. Then I must mention the 5 year guarantee again… So, if you want to try a product in store, have that store stay open to offer you a service, you see where we, and everyone else, is coming from. Having said that, some pedals are overpriced for what they are. I’m not going to mention anything or anyone specifically here, but there are pedals out there that are basic reworked clones, with minimal R&D, with a crappy box, labelled with one of those crappy Embosser Label Maker gun things that are for sale direct from manufacturers that are silly prices, but that’s their conscience, not ours!
Made in USA. What does that mean? You may have noticed we’ve shifted from Made in USA to Built in USA. Why I hear you ask? (and to be fair, it’s another question we get asked a lot at the moment.) Well, to be able to say “Made in USA” with complete honesty means that every component is made in the USA, and as far as I know (and I like to think I’m up to speed) most parts are impossible to source, let alone in the numbers we need them, from the USA. So, we source parts – as does EVERYONE else, from around the world - we just wear that information on our sleeves. The same burden of consistency and quality is applied, and we use only the very best. I would say that if a pedal is sourced from USA components (if it was actually possible) you’d be looking at a pedal that is at least 3 or 4 times the price, and you can imagine how many of them we’d sell! (worth noting that technically, it’s illegal for any pedal company to say “Made in the USA” due to the reasons above. We just found this out recently and changed the wording to be in accordance with US law).
When you think about a $199.97 pedal (also: inflation. www.usinflationcalculator.com a pedal that costs $199 today would have sold for $107 in 1990. Ever since 2007, we’ve had a main price of about $199 unless it’s a deluxe pedal. Accounting for inflation, that pedal SHOULD cost $235.10 in 2017, yet we’ve never raised that 199 price), remove the dealer margin, shipping, taxes and everything else (I’m not going to even go to how we manage to sell our stuff for virtually the same price all over the world, give or take $30 or so dollars) then start to think about production costs, there isn’t a lot of room to think about R&D and then the guarantee period. Now do the same with a pedal that is $149, $129 or $99 - think about how much it costs to build and how many compromises have to be made in those price reductions – kinda makes you wonder doesn’t it. Strip it back, work it out, and then you think about the Built in USA (as our stuff is) you’ll see that not only are we bringing you a quality USA product, but paying quality USA salary for the guys who design, build, test, market, sell and repair (which isn’t very often thankfully) our stuff… Then look at the guys who will sell you a clone of a pedal that is still in production for $50. Do you think that will give you the same pedal? Do you think that will encourage companies like us to continue to make quality products that will inspire you to sound the best you can do?
Yesterday I had a guitar lesson with Brent Mason. I need to say that again, out loud, because it doesn't feel real. I had a private, one on one, guitar lesson from Brent Mason.
As you may have guessed, o regular reader of thine blog, there is a story attached to this (don't all my posts?), so I will abridge it as much as possible... I've been playing the guitar for as long as I can remember, literally. My brother (who is 3 years older than me) had a cheap nylon string and I always messed around on it, watching him and our friend Rob work stuff out, and then once they left the room instantly copy what they did. I've always learned by stealing others licks! When I hit my teens, I got my first guitar, this was the mid 80's so it was all Iron Maiden for a couple of years and then Satriani happened, then Vai.. and that was that. I was a shredder. I shredded morning, noon and night, a true bedroom rockstar complete with Brian May style hair and an Ibanez Jem. After years of working that stuff out and playing in pub bands I got bored. Completely, so, I effectively gave up. My social life still revolved around the music scene so I was always at jam nights and it was at one of those nights my life was forever changed.
I have complete lucid recall of what happened. It was a Monday night, early(ish) 1998. In pubs I usually shun company and peel off to be on my own, it's harder to offend people that way, and all of a sudden I noticed this beautiful guitar tone coming from the P.A. It was before the jam started, the background music was on, and I just listened. As it came to an end I realised I was captivated and looked around for the guy who put the music on. And then another piece started, stopped me in my tracks again. I listened for a while, it was beautiful - the phrasing... the tone... the musicality. I was in love. I went and found the guy who put it on, Rick (who I am now in a band with) and I asked him who it was - he said the unforgettable line of "A session player from Nashville, Brent Mason, he's on everything - this is his solo album. The next track will blow you away!". Just as he said that, the next track came on and I was blown away. Anyone who knows the album Hot Wired will know that those three tracks were "Caymon Moon", "Mellow Midnight" and "Blowin' Smoke". If by some insane reason you are not familiar with this album, I (you'll see why I say that later) stream it on brentmason.com, here. This moment restored my passion for guitar, for exploring the guitar and guitar music in general. Don't get me wrong, I still love the shredders and to shred, but a part of me will always be in gratitude to Brent, and of course Rick, for opening my eyes to another style of playing. The thing you have to remember is that country music just isn't popular over here, so the radio never played the songs he was on, I just never heard him, or of him, before.
Now we fast forward, I went off to University that year, played the album to death, worked out as much as I could, and tried to play like him. I finished Uni, got married, had kids, and sold most of my gear to buy nappies and shoes. Such is the life of modern parenting. In 2008 Facebook started the whole "like page" thing (as it was called then) and I wanted to do one for Brent, as there wasn't one. So, I contacted him through MySpace (lolololz, yeah, it's that long ago) asking for him permission for basically something I was going to do anyway, but I'm English, so I try to be polite when I can - he answered within about an hour, saying he was cool with it and to contact his wife, Julie, for content. So, nervously I contacted them both, got loads of pictures from them and away we went. As I started to sort through the materials to put on the page, avidly googling him, I kept coming across this pedal called the Hot Wired by some bloke called Brian Wampler. So, me being me, I messaged him asking for details etc... he answered back and well... you can see how that went. Safe to say Brian and I got on, and we have a long running joke about who is his biggest Brent stalker... Anyway, after a while Julie asked that if I could use the content I had collected for the page to put in a new website for Brent, just needed something static, nothing mega, just a communication portal, so I did it. There was I, a no one from Devon, making a website for one of the greatest session players, and musicians in general, alive today. This lead Brian to ask if I wanted to do the Wampler site... and that's where that started. So, I got my job at Wampler via Brent Mason.
Over the years I've got to know Brent and Julie quite well, we are long distance friends, we keep in touch - I maintain the website still and try to sell as many Hot Wired's as possible, around my 40th birthday and to say thank you for all I have done, Brent gave one of his new PRS Brent Mason signature guitars saying "Do with it as you want, you can keep it or sell it, it's yours". This was a really nice touch, they knew we have no money to spare so he was giving me the option of making a fast few quid... obviously, I didn't, it's my pride and joy and I cannot imagine gigging without it.
All this brings us to 2017. Julie has said to me that Brent was considering giving private Skype lessons and could I give advice, so I offered my thoughts on quality of sound, how to get it, and what I would expect if I was paying for it... and then a few weeks later I find myself sitting in front of my screen, waiting patiently when the magic call arrived on my Skype!
Obviously, over the years, I've stopped seeing Brent from the fanboy perspective (mostly) and just 'Brent', but I must admit, seeing him on my screen with the '68 and hearing him talking to me kinda blew me away. We initially caught up briefly (we've met before, at NAMM etc - that prompted the now infamous "Let's look like we are about to start a fight picture" and have spoken on Skype quite a few times), asked about family (he quickly said hi to my wife and kids who were floating around), and he asked about the PRS, and then what I wanted to learn from him. I imagine that many people in that situation will say "Show me how to play 'I don't even know your name'." (or as Brent brilliantly calls it 'the waitress song') but I didn't want that, I can play most of it but the thing that has always floored me about Brent is his note choice and his phrasing. So, I asked him about where all that comes from, which can't be an easy thing to answer, because he just does it. It is his style and I'm asking him to explain a thought process. Not easy, but I'm delighted in the fact he instantly understood exactly what I wanted to know and really opened up about everything. Now, I know some harmony so I can say about the Mixo mode, the dominant 7th and how the chords roll into each other, but what I didn't know was the way he constructed his playing around that and so many other things. He explained fully what he saw in terms of the neck when constructing his lines, how he uses open strings to make them sound interesting, the influences that are behind his playing (I have homework!) and how it falls into place around the rhythmic patterns that exist in his head when playing, what he uses to balance it all, the lead notes, the blue notes, the outside notes, the chromatics, everything that makes him, 'him'. We went over the hour mark, it was closer to 1:20, because once we got going it was hard to stop - the man was beyond generous with his knowledge and imparted it perfectly. I'm not going to tell you what he said, you'll have to have your own lesson with him for that, but I've come away with a completely different thought process about constructing my own voice in guitar, that's twice he's done that to me now. All I say is this, when being Brent Mason, you don't think like any other guitar player I can think off, you think differently, and that through process is available to you. He will tell you what he does and how he does it, now, if you are a Brent fan, isn't that the greatest thing that can happen to you musically?
If you want to have your musical world turned upside down and your imagination fired, or just want him to show you how to play Hot Wired, than you simply HAVE to do this. He tells you exactly what you need to hear, not necessarily what you expect, but what you need. I get the feeling my playing is going to change radically over the next few weeks, as I have a completely different approach to country guitar playing now... My head has been melted. Imagine what it would have been like if you asked him about his approach to Western Swing or Jazz (which, let's face it, is what he's best at)... I expect my head would be melted completely away...
So, this weekend marked the annual country music festival in the UK, C2C - or to give it its full title, Country 2 Country. Country music is largely overlooked here in the UK, it's never on mainstream radio or in the 'charts' (but let's face it, there hasn't been much in the charts I like to listen to for years anyway) and most people don't have any country music in their collection, they can't see past Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton and if you say Brent Mason to them they look blank. Sometimes though, in the defence of some UK pubs, you can often hear a Cash tune bouncing around if you are lucky.
This year had an interesting headline act for the first day (Friday), a certain Mr Paisley. Now, before I started to work for Wampler I was completely unaware of Brad - I was fanatical about Brent Mason at the time, but BP has passed me by. One of the first jobs for Brian was designing the logo for the "overdrive for Brad Paisley we've got coming out" (the rest is history, but safe to say my first venture into graphic design went rather well) so I took a punt on the "Play" album and from that moment, I was a fan. Mrs Wilding and I trudged up to London (us English don't like to spend more than an hour in the car so a trip to London is a big deal), checked into the hotel next door (show seat to bed, 10 minute walk, lovely) and went for a wonder around the arena.
Once we'd been around trying on Cowboy Hats and fringed jackets for a while (yes, all being sold there, so many clichés) we went in to get our seats, Chris Young was half way through his set (not heard him before, was good) and we got comfy. We were lucky, very lucky, we were sat stage left, about 10 rows from the font and about 30' up in the raised seats. I love positions like that because you can see the monitor desk, the tech area and slightly back/side stage. It does have to be said that it drives Mrs Wilding nuts as I'm often not watching the show but the tech work on the guitars etc.
OK, so all of that doesn't mean anything to you, but it sets you up for the position I was in for the show and being the second time I'd seen Brad at this festival (he was there a couple of years ago as well) we knew what to expect. The o2 in London is a fantastic venue, not much in the way of sound ‘bounce-around’ and there is unrestricted sight access for all, I did a quick DB check on my phone and they were banging out 95db, which made me chuckle as that is the maximum sound level permitted at Winter NAMM, which is generally only 2 or 3db above the ground floor level.
Bang on time, the lights went down (the band were already in place) and the place went nuts when we saw the famous white hat walk on stage. BP had arrived and was owning the stage! Before I get into the main point of this, I do want to say - being in a country that is famous for not liking this style of music means that when artists do come over, we are treated to a list of "greatest hits" within the set list - so, there is barely any new music to get through, you just hear the good stuff - yeah, I know, I'm shallow, but you know what it's like...
Right, so here we go. The first song was Crushin' It. And I don't know what happened, either a string broke or the strap failed, because towards the end of the first song he took his guitar off and held it as he carried on singing, the tech ran out and gave him a different guitar and by the time song two started, American Saturday Night, he was leading the band in usual BP fashion. Unfortunately for BP, this was the least of his woes for the night... As I said above, I was watching with interest the side/back stage action as much as I was watching I got the feeling that something was up extremely early on. Brad's tech was running around like a mentalist, there was frenetic action going on by the racks of wireless receivers and BP kept stopping playing almost every song. I think it was the second or third song (Water) that he first slightly put his hat down slightly and turned his head towards the monitor guy and started to gesture frantically, albeit quickly, to his belt pack. I don't know if this was intentional, but in putting his hat down slightly the cameras in his face (from afar) didn't see what he was saying so from what I can see, the majority of the crowd where blissfully unaware of there being any issue. The more he stopped playing at certain points the more I understood what was happening, it appeared that he had really inconsistent in ear monitors (IEM) throughout. I am guess that they dropped out about 10 times in total, as he motioned towards side stage each time, but the amazing thing was no one noticed. His vocal, considering he couldn't really hear himself, was outstanding - flawless in fact... he was sincerity personified, he told us it was the greatest night of his life, he loved coming over and all 20k people believed him. He did the entire show having a completely crap time yet everyone thought it was perfect. The only outward expression of his uncomfort was the heavily covered communications with the monitor guy, the often stopping of playing and his general demeanor once he had come off stage (from my place I could see how upset he was once he was out of the public eye).
The following day, after I got home, I realised I had seen a completely masterclass in professionalism. I had spoken to someone within team Paisley who confirmed that there was complete IEM loss, repeatedly, throughout the show for them all, it was "one of those nights". I remembered all the tantrums I had seen on stage, at a local level, even hearing one singer say "I'm a professional, I need more than 6 hours preparation for a gig" and this from a bass player "if I can't have the monitors there, I'm not going on" and thought about being stood in front of 20k people, in a foreign country, having to sing and not being able to hear yourself. I spoke to a few guys I know that were at the show and were at places around the arena that they couldn't see what I could, and they knew something was up but didn't know what. They told me that the people they were with had NO idea that there was any issues, although one guy was asked by his friend if he'd broken a string in the first song.
^ A video I took, although this was obviously part of the show where everything was working, you can see my view of the side of the stage and monitor desk.
So, Brad Paisley, I take my hat off to you. It was straight up one of the most professional displays I’ve ever seen, not just from him but everyone else also in the band as they all suffered, yet the show ran on time and without breakdown. I sincerely hope that you return back to the UK soon and it hasn’t put you off! Oh, and of course – both BP and his guitar player Gary Hooker are both big Wampler users and both had immaculate tone. Their tone was almost, almost, as outstanding as their professionalism!
When I first started playing guitar, I’ll admit that it was solely to learn the cool parts of songs that I felt were the “best” guitar part at the time. I was 14 and had all the time in the world to play, so it was nothing to practice for 4-6 hours a day until my fingers bled or exhaustion set in. Ever since I’ve started though, I’ve always felt the absolute NEED to play a riff or solo exactly how it was recorded. It was an urge or obsession at my core level that I would be completely dissatisfied with myself if I couldn’t reproduce the exact tone and nuances on the tracks. I would get mad at myself and just keep hacking away at it, one note at a time until I could get it at slower speed and progressively sped up from there.
As time went on, I found myself becoming a riff-based player, very dedicated to playing those parts perfectly, but not working on my personal musicianship and my ability to play things other than just intros or cool riffs from my favorite bands. This became blatantly obvious when I was 16 and went to watch one of our local bands here in town practice. These were all college-aged guys and I remember at the time seeing them practice how much their attention to detail came into play. I was heavily into punk rock (which I thought was easy) and they were a rockabilly band with punk rock and ska influences, so I was in teenage guitar player heaven. Their singer and lead guitarist was known in our high school for being legendary because he could play Eruption note for note.
I proceeded to watch them start one of their original songs, play for 10 seconds then stop and the singer said “Again. it wasn’t timed right. We have to be tighter.” This proceeded on for an hour of them practicing just that part to be sure it was absolutely perfect, and I could identify with that based on my own experiences. Then after they were done, they let me grab one of the other guy’s guitars to play around with. (I’ll never forget the rig: Marshall JCM 2000 with the orange crunch tolex, and a black American strat that had been beat to living crap from playing out so much. No pedals, just guitar and amp.)
The minute they handed me that guitar and told me to just jam along with them, I froze and had no earthly idea what the heck to do. If it wasn’t an Incubus, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine or Green Day riff, it wasn’t coming out of my hands. I froze up and had no idea what to do, and just apologized and tried to stumble through the few riffs I could muster up as my nerves got the best of me. I was lucky because the guys remembered what it was like to be 16 and just really starting out, so they taught me a the basics of I-IV-V and my mind was blown. I had heard blues players use that, but didn’t realize it was that “easy” (little did I know at the time how many songs are based around I-iV-V). I stumbled trying to get my pinky to cooperate as I played a 12-bar blues rhythm in G for an hour, all while listening to the other older guys taking turns playing solos. It was one of the biggest learning experiences in my life. There was no script, there was no restarting or do-overs, it was just rolling with what came along and having a blast.
I’ve been friends with those guys ever since, and I’ve learned a lot about guitar and musicianship from them over the years. Yes, they were dedicated to nailing the parts of the song that they were after at the time, but when it came down to it they enjoyed it, and after enough practice it became tighter and they worked the kinks out and it was like they were born to play those parts that tight. There were many occasions where they would play a cover and would just wing it on a solo, not following the one from the song at all, and really making it their own, and I loved it. It didn’t have to be exactly like the song, and very few in the crowd really cared if it was spot on (more often than not they enjoyed the showmanship of an added epic guitar solo).
After that day it dawned on me that no matter how perfectly you learn a song (which truly is satisfying), it serves yourself as a musician to get out there and learn the various scales and chord changes and absorb every bit of knowledge you can from more experienced guitarists to improve your improvisational skills. Learning those skills COUPLED with learning the riffs and solos helps to shape and mold you as a player, and subsequently finding your own “voice” on guitar. If you think about it, most of the greatest bands in history have never played the song note for note from the recording, and it’s that unique improvisation and adaptation at the moment that creates some of the most iconic live performances to date.
As you all know, we had a little bit of a spring clean towards the latter end of last year that meant the entire line/range had a facelift! It was exciting times that if we are honest, was culmination of many many months of work that saw everything change. It was quite a massive undertaking doing it all at once to be fair! All of our pedals now have top jacks and relay based soft switching (with the exception of the minis due to space constraints, having said that, the stomp on the newer Tumnus is slightly better than the older one). Each had a new paint job, new logo, refreshed under graphics, clearer labelling, better in-box manual, new box, new bag and even a Wampler branded battery!!
This does not mean they are all now v2.
With the exception of The Faux Tape Echo and Pinnacle Deluxe, all the circuits remained the same.
Many of our dealers have been advertised the older pedals as v1 and the newer as v2 purely to separate the two and allow a slight discount on the older models to move them on in favour of the newer ones.
So, in a nutshell here is the official word. The ONLY pedals that are v2 are the Faux Tape Echo and Pinnacle Deluxe, everything else has just been brought into line with the pedals that have been released over the last couple of year.
So, unless it has v2 on it - the circuit is the same, it is not a v2 in any way and tonally; it's effectively the same as the previous models.
I hope that clears up any confusion!!
I had a lengthy post regarding all of the things I’ve learned since starting with Wampler over a year ago, but after reaching over 2,000 words, I decided to just condense it into a list of myths about the pedal industry I feel every person should know now that I’ve seen the other side:
- The builders aren’t any different than any other person. They all put their pants on one leg at a time in the morning. In general, all of the builders I’ve had to honor to meet have been nothing short of amazing, speaking as if they’ve known me forever. The key thing to remember? Most of them usually don’t WANT to be thought of any different. They’re tone chasers just like us. They’ve all just found their niche in the trade, just like skilled workers in other areas. When I met Brian and Jason and Max, I was sweating and nervous as could be. I tried to keep a straight face despite screaming on the insane, but they treated me as equals and like it was another day at work. It was all just a blur at the time, but looking back it drastically changed my perception. They don’t want to be famous, they just happen to be in front of a camera or on social media more than other people!I was nervous the first time I walked up to Robert Keeley, but he came up and gave me a hug and we talked like old friends. The pedal industry is by far one of the friendliest groups I’ve ever seen.
- Despite pedal costs, there isn’t a load of money in the pedal business. The big thing is that from the process of concept to having the pedal on your board costs a lot of money to create. Research and development, prototyping, PCB changes, mass quantities of parts (we’re talking thousands of a single part per order), building in the United States, paint (thousands of gallons of one particular color, per pedal), printing the graphics, boxes and instructions, and free shipping. All of it cuts off of the bottom-end of the money made. Dealers like to make a little on them as well, so you have to account for that cost too. You’d probably be surprised how little we actually get to take in! That being said, it’s more about the experience and the process than the money. Like Brian told me when I started “If you’re in it to make money, you’re better off outside of the music industry.” It’s a rewarding job though, helping people find the tone that they’ve been hearing in their head.
- Working NAMM is VERY different than attending NAMM. It’s mind-boggling. I’ve only been to one NAMM (Winter in Anaheim) and it’s a full sensory overload experience. There’s a noise ordinance at NAMM so vendors and patrons won’t go over a certain dB, and that threshold is usually exceeded as soon as people cut the amps on. If you get too loud, the NAMM police come around and give you warnings. If you get too many warnings for violating the noise level….not good (fines, etc). People are everywhere, where you have to scream over the noise of neighboring booths to talk to tone chasers that walk up to your booth. Working the booth can be very repetitive. You get the same questions over and over again, but luckily if you enjoy it you won’t mind answering them. There’s really no time to sit down, eat, or even go to the bathroom sometimes. At the end of the day when NAMM closes, your ears are clogged like you’ve entered an isolation chamber, and your voice is typically hoarse from talking so loudly all day. Rinse and repeat for the next few days. Some big name guitarists stop by, many of which are just insanely nice people who just excel at their chosen instrument. The same premise applies as the builders; MOST just want to be treated like normal people. It’s a balancing act to meeting your business contacts and creating relationships with new customers, so it’s always hectic. After NAMM is done you break down (several hour job) and head home. There’s one interesting fact I didn’t know existed. Inevitably if you work NAMM, you’ll end up with NAMMthrax. You’re literally shaking hands and talking face-to-face with hundreds of people every day, and everyone ends up catching some kind of head cold or otherkind of sickness that lasts for a few weeks after you get home. In my case, I ended up with a sinus and ear infection, where some people ended up with the full blown flu. It’s just the nature of meeting with so many people in a public space.
- You’d be amazed how hard it is to find an original name and color for a pedal. This process is often overlooked because the end result is what everyone sees. The process involves checking trademarks, and ensuring that no one has a pedal or music instrument out that already has that name or something extremely close to it. Each name has to be applicable to what the pedal is, and has to be able to have imagery to use along with it. There are loads of names that sound great, but there’s nothing graphically that’s feasible to put onto the small space the graphic takes up on the pedal. The goal is to make all of the pedals flow together visually and stylistically with names, so you have to be wary of that too. To give you an example, the cataPulp was originally going to be called the Pulp Friction…but after some searching it was a 90’s porno. Strike that one off!
- Social media content isn’t as easy to find as you might think. Being an international company sounds like it would be a breeze to find content to post every day, right? Not so much. With that many viewers, you have to take into account the varying ages, gender, ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs, political views, and any other thing that might trigger someone to be angry. With so many varying opinions in the world, your list of content gets whittled down before you know it. Content has to be relatable, provide something to the viewer, not tick anyone off, and still be relevant to the brand. So when you see those pictures and posts, give them an extra like :-)
- Guitar pedal companies don’t have days off generally. It’s a 24/7 business. We have customers around the globe, so there are constantly messages submitted to the main page at all hours of the day and night. When most people are on their holiday break, we’re working because the load increases due to people being off and having time to send messages. That’s not to say that we don’t relax some, but most days still maintain a consistent level of work at minimum. Closer to the end of the year and the holidays, it gets a bit crazier. I stepped away from my family getting ready to open presents on Christmas so I could take care of a couple of things. But if you love it, you do what you have to do!
- There’s nowhere near as much guitar playing happening as you’d think there would be. As much as I’d love to say it’s trying prototypes all day and getting to jam on free pedals, it’s not the case. It’s spreadsheets, statistics, insight tracking, blog writing, message responding, email typing, and general businessy stuff. I think we’d all go out on a limb here at Wampler and say that we play guitar LESS because of working, but it’s a tradeoff. We’re not playing, but we’re facilitating other players to play more.
- Just because there aren’t a load of steady new releases, it doesn’t mean they’re sitting idly. New releases take a lot of prep work (see 2nd bullet point). There are many pedals that will reach prototype phase and never see the light of day. There are also some pedals that have just been released that have been ready for years and it just didn’t feel like the right time to release until then. Pedal builders are always looking ahead, whether it’s their planned releases for months down the road, or researching new technology for something they have planned for a few years ahead. It’s all a chess game that requires patience and planning on the whole teams’ part to bring something to the public in a cohesive manner.
- Competitors actually like each other in most cases. Just because various companies are trying to reach the same demographic of players with their pedals, it doesn’t mean that they’re cutthroat and despise each other. Many times builders help each other directly, whether its needing help with a particular issue in a design, or just general chit-chat. The pedal building community is unlike any other I’ve seen. It’s a network of family in a sense, where in most cases they all look out for each other and are friends, and share stories of success and heartbreak. They also discuss customers, ones that are known to have fraudulent activities or sketchy dealings. You’d be surprised what builders have helped out on various releases over the years for other companies as well ;-)
As I wrote this list, I hope it didn’t seem negative, because it isn’t intended that way. I’ve been a tone chaser my entire life and my dream has always been to work in the pedal industry (specifically for Brian). These are myths that I had built up in my own head over the years that I had my eyes opened to and learned along the way. It’s an amazing business that requires quite a bit of work, but it’s unbelievably rewarding. Release day for new pedals is like a breath of fresh air, and is exhilarating to see the work that’s been done reach the people it was created for.
I’ve not let the contentious me out the box for a while but something has happened recently that’s made me a little prickly.
Guitar solo competitions. I hate them. I really really hate them. When did playing the guitar, or music in general, become a competition? Are we expecting to have it put into the Olympics? Man, if it does, I pity the people who have to dope test some of the pros! Lolololz, no – obviously, I put that in to make myself smile as after today, I’m kind of struggling… and before I start, have you noticed that it’s always the same people entering these things? Always the same guys winning, always the same faces submitting? I’m actually bored of the sight of some of them by now.
OK, so – today. Facebook lit up this afternoon (my own profile included) with the video of someone who was awarded 2nd place in a solo competition (as usual,Wampler Artist Levi Clay broke the news as this is a pet hate of his). The solo was awesome, the level of composition was fantastic and so far as musicality goes, I loved it. The trouble was, he was miming and if you pay attention you can see (and hear) that to play that fast at that level of gain you just can’t play that cleanly and accurately without cookin’ the books a little (I mean, I’ve watched Vai play “Building The Church” at a distance that I could see the hairs on the back of his hands and he wasn’t that clean and accurate, and let’s face it, love him or hate him, the one thing you can’t deny is that Vai has flawless technique). I’m pretty certain this guy he’s either slowed the track down, played his part and then sped it up again or even fired off some midi thing here. It’s just too perfect… When you watch the video closely, you can see that his picking is off, his vibrato is off, his whammy work is off and his left hand cannot keep up with it either. When you look at his other videos, he’s no where near as good on those videos either…
Let’s take a look at what this guy won. Mesa Boogie (Mini Rectifier & Cab) + Bare Knuckle (set of pickups) + Toontrack Ezdrummer 2 + Gruv Gear (set of accessories).
Yeah. You read that right. He won that by cheating – or did he?
Looking at the rules of the competition there is nothing in them about slowing stuff down, using technology to help the player along or anything like that, so, if this is about composition, then fair play – the boy done good. However, if you watch a load of videos for a solo competition would you not think that it was a prerequisite that they should be able to play it? As Levi mentioned – can you take a Beethoven written oboe solo seriously knowing that he couldn’t play oboe (I have no idea if he could play that instrument or not) but what is the expectation when it’s a “submit you playing the solo on a video” type thing? I expect, like me, you would expect to see someone playing, live, the solo they constructed.
Here is the problem. Legally, as per the terms of the competition, he’s not actually done anything wrong. But try telling that to the guy who missed the prizes by one spot though – Mr 6th place. He is the guy who actually wrote and played his solo live and has got nothing. Is that fair? The first thing that went through my mind is that if this guy is allowed to keep his prizes then we should give the gold medal back to Ben Johnson (sorry to you real young’uns, you might have to Google that one), give all 7 tour titles back to Lance Armstrong (if they have the balls) or allow Sharapova the chance to compete on the tour this year and grunt herself to a lot more sponsorship money while sitting around in her bikini for the paperazzi?
Fortunately, me being me and my habit of social networking, I was able to talk to one of the judges who is a mate of mine (who I didn’t realize was a judge when I originally ranted) and he came in with “Honestly when I find 20 minutes on tour to judge a thing like this I trust the top 10 entries to be correct and fine. Actually I DID doubt ****’s entry at one point at one lick but I thought maybe that was just an overdub and I honestly don't care about that too much. It was almost inhuman clean but I know several players that can do that, so I trusted the competition and awarded him with points. If he faked it he did it really well, and I fell for it in the little time I had judging this.”.
Before I spoke to him, my initial reaction to this whole thing was “The judges need shooting” but the reality is that not only were the rules poorly put out, the decision about who put the top ten together wasn’t done by someone good enough to spot a faker and in fact the whole concept is just crap. Totally crap. I understand how tiring it is for people as many years ago I judged one of these things in a competition we ran. I can tell you now that the process of reviewing and deciding the entrants is one of the most soul sucking things I’ve ever done. You get SO bored of the backing track you are ready to kick a kitten after about 10 minutes. I can understand how they didn’t see it, but surely when you get to the top ten the people who are responsible for putting those in front of the judges should be in a position to weed out the good from the, well, morally unacceptable. But they didn’t and now there is a social media firestorm happening and it’s going to look bad for the judges and the fine companies who sponsored it. They’ve been let down as much as we have (although not as much as the poor sod in 6th place who got nothing).
So, did he cheat? Is he wrong? Did he fool the panel? Should he give his prizes back? Before you sit there and think “well, he didn’t break any rules” consider this. In the thread on You Tube under a post from someone congratulating him on his work did he openly tried to take credit for the backing track as well by stating this? (The backing track was provided by the competition sponsors) “Very much appreciated for your compliment and watching, I wrote all the Time signatures, Chord progression and my guitar solo on some piece of papers in my way, I will translate them on Guitar Pro @ some point.” Or was he just saying that he wrote all the charts and progressions out to work out his solo? I don’t know – it’s hard to tell really. I guess the devil is in the details with these things. Which is where this whole thing went wrong. There was no detail and if this guy has been rumbled, he has a really good case for not sending his prizes back.
I’m not going to point you towards the competition, it shouldn’t be hard to find if you really want to see for yourself, but I’ll leave the final word to Levi - if you do go on to watch Levi's full rant about this - I must warn you, it is NSFW, Levi is passionate about this and he pulls no punches.
Artist relations – A tale of two Dave’s.
I can almost guarantee that the FIRST thing people ask when you tell them you work for a company like Wampler Pedals is something like this… “I bet it’s great hanging out with artists all the time.” Many people actually apply to work with us based on the fact they think we spend all day playing guitars and hanging out with Brad Paisley. If only that was true, life would be considerably more interesting than sales meetings, product development discussions and manufacturing scheduling… Having said that, someone does have to work in artist relations and sometimes that aspect of the job IS awesome. You do get tickets for gigs, or invitations to hang out and things like that but the reality is that those days are incredibly rare. Most of the time, if I’m being totally honest, artist relations is usually just disappointing people who want to be part of our artist “family”.
When considering the artist list, we have to be choosy about who we work with. There has to be a reason for the both of us. The artist has to offer us something that no one else does, or have the ability to open the brand to a new audience (a classic example of this is the relationship we have with Tom Quayle. No one was targeting the modern fusion market until we released the Dual Fusion and Tom was the perfect person to do that with). Making the decision about bringing someone in is not as easy as you may think because quite often that person has already bought loads of our pedals and spends a large portion of their life working extremely hard to be successful in the music business. It’s not easy to let down people like that without in some way damaging their view of us.
Anyway, back on topic. After doing this for years I have found that most people really don’t seem to know how to sell themselves to us. They appear to make the same mistakes when approaching us that venues make when approaching them for gigs. Rarely does an offer that involves “you’ll get great exposure” as its unique selling point end well, especially when like gigs, you probably won’t.
I’m going to highlight this issue with two examples. Each are from opposite ends of the spectrum and will give you an indication of how you should approach a company about working with them – how to start the relationship that allows them to actively endorse our product and our company, and be able to use us in their own marketing. For those of you who are hoping for me to provide a sure fire script or check list on how to be accepted you are going to be disappointed, but if you read on, you’ll get the idea of how the decision makers brain works in this situation.
OK, so I bring you “A Tale of Two Dave’s” and everything you read here is true (and yes, it was really hard not to start this piece with “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times).
Dave 1 is Dave Murray. Dave is the only guitar player to have appeared on every Iron Maiden record from the Soundhouse Tapes to the Book of Souls. Take a moment to reflect on that, take a moment to consider the amount of gigs he’s done with Maiden, the world tours, the live albums – and most importantly (considering the subject matter of this post), the potential for albums and tours of the future. Our first contact with Dave came through the “contact us” form on our website from a guy called Johnnie. Johnnie is Iron Maiden’s touring manager and also has the general responsibility for all of the bands gear. That initial contact was extremely polite, brief and requested the opportunity of testing some tones for the forthcoming album, basically it was an exploration about making this happen. Now, as you may or may not know from previous posts on this blog, I’m a long standing fanatical Maiden fan so once I’d taken a moment to get myself together, I emailed him back (acting dead cool) saying “Sure, we can do that”. Johnnie quickly put me in touch with Dave’s longstanding guitar tech Colin to sort out the details.
It turned out that Colin was already a Wampler user having at the time a Hot Wired v2, so when Dave mentioned to him trying out some new tones for the album Colin thought of us. We sent out a Triple Wreck as per the request but we quickly heard back that wasn’t right. Colin and I chatted quite a bit about Dave’s tone and worked out that as Dave generally subscribes to the school of “stuff a Tubescreamer in front of a screaming amp” to get his lead tones, a Clarksdale would be worth testing out. We sent one out, he loved it and subsequently the Clarksdale is all over his lead tones on the new album.
Now, here is the important bit. Throughout this whole experience the bands representatives had zero expectation of free gear and offered to pay for everything at all times. Any unit that wasn’t used was returned to us instantly by first class post. There was absolutely no hint at any time of “yeah but, look at the exposure you will get” or “excuse me, you do know who we are, right?” about it. Just professional people acting professionally. I’m pretty certain you can imagine how much credibility it offers us to have an artist such as Dave Murray “outed” as a Wampler user, but not once was this leverage used by them. For me that was extremely refreshing and put the approach of others into perspective.
Now, because I’m not a horrible person – well, most of the time I’m not - I’m not going to tell you Dave 2’s full name or which band he is from. I can confirm though he really is called Dave (or at least that was what his now deactivated Facebook profile said, but I do have my suspicions) and unlike Mr Murray and his representatives, he had zero professionalism and no sense of how professional relationships work.
He initially contacted me via my personal Facebook profile having adding me as a friend some days before. His message told me that his band has enjoyed minor success with their first album and have managed to work a tour across the U.S.A. in support of the album. He was honest about the size of the venues, about how many people were in them and the likely exposure he was getting. He told me of their plans for the future, future bookings and how the second album was in the works. When written like that, it’s quite an attractive prospect – we actually support more emerging artists than established ones, so he has a fighting chance based on the evidence above. He was obviously an extremely hardworking guy who was determined to make his way in the music industry. On that basis alone, I could almost forgive the “PM through Facebook” thing.
The thing I can’t forgive is when approaching us about working together is the use of this phrase, or something like it (and some of you will have heard this in terms of being paid for gigs… yeah, you guessed it) and I quote directly from Dave 2’s initial contact: “I can give you significant exposure for your brand if you give me the gear and some t-shirts so I can use them on tour and the album, we are really keen to partner up with a reputable brand such as yours and I’ve been told how great you are and how great your gear sounds”.
Hang on a minute, is that a generic cut and paste statement put to many other companies? Is that a generic statement that isn’t even pedal specific? Is that how a professional person approaches a professional company? The pedal industry is actually quite close knit, we all talk to each other and actually have each others backs (there are some personality clashes but I can say with almost 100% certainty that every company talks to all the others in one way or another). I spoke to the guys I was closest to at the time (and the ones who happened to be available on Facebook at the time) and we’d all received the same thing in quick succession. I since found out that he had approached some other boutique guitar luthier’s and amp builders the same way. Well, way to go to make us feel special Dave 2, way to go.
It’s pretty simple to work out that Dave 1 is in a better position than Dave 2 to obtain gear and to work with the people who will represent him well. Companies will want to work with Dave 1 regardless because he’s Dave 1. The thing is though, Dave 1 is acting like Dave 2 should and Dave 2 is acting as if he is Dave 1 (or at least how people would expect someone as 'big' as Dave 1 to act). If you think about it, there is the cornerstone of this issue, the moral of the story - If you want to work with us, or want to have access to our products and create that professional relationship – because even if you are a significant rock star don’t act like one. Be Dave 1. Then buy Dave 1’s last album with Maiden, the Book of Souls and go see them on tour (or try to spot their private 747 being piloted by singer, Bruce Dickinson), his solo tones are nothing short of magnificent!
*please note – as a rule, we don’t send out pedals to be auditioned by artists, but certain situations allow.
As 2015 disappears into the distant memory of broken strings and replaced tubes, I've decided that my final post of the year should be a tongue in cheek look at how to use the internet, and mainly social media, in 2016. As always, this is just me talking nonsense and doesn't represent the feelings of Wampler Pedals etc ;)
- A friend buys a new toy (guitar, amp, pickups, pedals, house, car, planet, underwear, tevz): Instantly post in the thread about how "XYZ" is better because you own it (as you probably don't like them getting new stuff and you, obviously, are the world expert on this item and other associated with it);
- Someone posts a clip of their playing or whatever they are working on musically at that time. It's your duty to undermine it and point out what they do wrong. After all, they aren't that good anyway because they couldn't play that tapping bit you could at the age you first played it at!;
- You must take 5 selfies a day and post so we can share in your constant need to see your own face (let's face it - when man first went to the moon in 1969 they took 5 pictures which is approximately 1/100th of the amount taken in the restroom mirror of by virtually every girl in every nightclub in every country on every night);
- You once met *insert famous person here* and had your photo taken with them. Make sure you use this as your profile pic whilst calling them "your good friend" at all times (guilty as charged on this one ;) );
- You microwave a meal: Sprinkle a tasteless herb over the top, put it on your best plate on a nice wooden table and then Instagram it. You must then share the post on FB making out you are Gordon freaking Ramsey;
- You have a "fan page" on Facebook: Repeatedly invite all your friend list into submission (so they eventually like it just to shut you up) and then you make a gushing post about how humble you are that people have liked your work; After all, you're just a humble musician and it's amazing how many people "get" you musically;
- There is slight adverse weather forecast/upon you: Educate the world on the situation as you obviously have a degree in Meteorology and after all, you've been outside and got jolly wet and there is no knowledge like the knowledge gained from having boots on the ground;
- You are bored and lonely: Post pictures of cats, or maybe "comedy" memes involving cats, all the time;
- Attention seeking posts. You must, infrequently, post things like "WTF...." or "I've had enough!" as your Facebook status. This way, all your lovely friends can fill up the thread with "s'up hun", "txt me babez", "u OKz?" or other various deviations from the language that only apply to attention seeking Facebook status updates that will make you feel better, or self important, or something I don't quite understand;
- You are lucky enough to see a popular TV first compared to the rest of the world. You openly talk about the most important part of the plot and don't give a crap how much it ruins the enjoyment for others, because you've seen it, so who cares!;
- The R.I.P. race. You must be the first person to post R.I.P. about someone who has just died, that way you be the person to tell everyone the news. You then have approximately 1 hour to research that person on the internet so you can give the impression of being a lifelong fan of them and regail all your favourite memories of them on other peoples threads;
- You are the member of a gym: Tell everyone all the time you are going and post repeated pictures of your weight/loss gain to improve your self esteem safe in the knowledge you are probably intimidating others at the same time. Total win/win. But please, don't forget, there is nothing better than posting pictures of your veiny arms with the word GAINZ written under it;
- Remember, you own You Tube so have the right to destroy anyone who posts on it. And yes, writing "First" is still hilarious and makes you immensely important and a valuable part of humanity;
- Speed is everything. You must upload a video 'proving' to the world you can play at 3200bpm. Speed is all that matters despite every other guitar player on the planet knowing that playing at this speed is both impossible and the concept is utterly nonsense. Speed is great, at the right time, speed competitions are... well.... I better move on before I say something I shouldn't;
- You are the world expert on politics or theology. Your view is the only one that counts so you must make sure you tell everyone you can what is right and wrong and should they have a differing opinion, they are wrong and you must destroy them intellectually; and
- You spot a spelling mistake in someone's post: Mark their work like some FB teacher and delight in pointing out their errors. After all, you are the Oxford English freaking Dictionary and invented the language in the first place.
DISCLAIMER: *of course, my constant mocking of people and winding them up on FB is excluded from all of the above.
Happy New Year tone chasers I hope that 2016 lives up to expectation, may it be full of great tone, love, light and laughter. Remember, you are beautiful, talented and most importantly you are wonderfully unique. Take what you have been born with and make the most of it. Work hard and play harder.
Tomorrow is the first blank page of a brand new 365 page book, make it your best story yet.
Most importantly, if you love someone, tell them - there is no feeling better than being loved. :)
(apologies for sounding like Jerry Springer at the end there)
2015, The End. I'm off to get drunk, see you in 2016... :)