Gear Demo - Do's and Don'ts.

Gear demos are a fantastic way to kill time. Whether you’re researching a piece of gear you’re interested in, or just checking out examples of how others used it, or just lusting over gear that’s just out of reach, demos are the gateway to the sounds the pedals make when someone can’t physically try them in person. As of late with the continued growth of the effects industry, there has also been more demo artists popping up, each lending their special touch to coax some great tones out, and hopefully give the end users a great, realistic example of how they can expect the gear to sound. For every fantastic demo artist, there’s also the inverse. For every stellar produced, well-executed video there is a poorly done mess. We try not to judge, but there are a certain set of unspoken rules of things to do (or not do) that most every successful reviewer has in common. I’m going to go through them here for anyone who may be considering starting to demo gear and feel free to add more in the comments section of the post that referred you here.
#1: Make sure the guitar is in tune - This seems like a fundamental thing that should be blatantly obvious, but it’s a bit crazy how many demos there are that the guitar is out of tune. In some situations, it’s not quite as noticeable to untrained ears to a certain extent…but in the other instances you question how the demoer can think “Yep, that sounds great. Nailed it!” It offsets the entire vibe and purpose of the video because it’s impossible not to be distracted by it. Taking a couple of minutes to be sure that the instrument is in tune can go a long way for future demos and even the reputation of the channel and the player. With headstock and pedal tuners being cheaper, more accurate and more accessible than ever, it’s worth the investment!
#2: NO BARE FEET – I completely get it, it’s comfortable to walk around and lounge about with bare feet, airing out the dogs and what not. However, on a demo (primarily referring to pedal demos), PLEASE take the opportunity to express your personality via some cool socks with crazy designs, or showcasing your favorite pair of worn-in kicks. Nothing can off put a demo like cutting to the pedal and seeing giant, hairy toes descending onto the footswitch like alien ships from the movie Independence Day. Feet don’t bother a lot of people, but they also bother just as many too. Many demoers just set the pedal on a desk and activate using their fingers, and that gives a great alternative where you can still be barefooted and comfortable without alienating some viewers.
#3: Choose the right gear for the application – With demos attempting to capture relatively real-life tones, it’s important to choose the right rig to adequately showcase the gear how it was designed to be used. For instance, though it may work to use a Schecter Hellraiser 7-string to demo a Vox-style amp-in-a-box into a Line 6 amp, it might not be the optimum setup to showcase what the pedal was designed to do. On the flip side, it’s not going to help if it’s out of touch too. “Here’s my [Insert brand here] $5k guitar, I’m going to be going stereo into this $10k amp in the left, and this $7,500 amp on the right. Let’s see how this $200 pedal is going to sound.” Having relatively easily accessible amps or something similar allows the player to know a little more clearly what to expect rather than the base tone being either incredibly immaculate or incredibly unwanted.
#4: Play to the pedal – Piggybacking off #3, along with knowing what gear to use it’s also important to play to the gear. If a delay/reverb pedal has been aimed at the ambient market, using a metal zone to sweep pick through it won’t give the best representation for what it’s designed for. The same goes for dirt; some genre’s just sound more pleasing using certain effects than others. Using a Klone to play Pantera riffs or a metal distortion to play 12-bar blues isn’t going to convey the product nearly as well as researching to see what each pedal is designed to go for. It’s okay (and often encouraged) to showcase the versatility of a pedal but within a context of something the average player would find usable. 
#5: No whammy bar antics when demoing wet effects – This is a personal one for me, and it’s one that I felt needed to be on its own  number. When demoing a pedal such as a delay, reverb, chorus, vibrato, tremolo, phaser, flanger, etc. PLEASE do not mess with the whammy bar the whole time. For me personally this is almost deceptive because it’s applying an effect that some may or may not want with their wet effects, and some may not be able to do it at all if they have a hardtail. It’s okay to do it at the end of a passage or during the outro of the video, but consistently using the bar makes it hard to focus on the true nature of the effect.
#6: Reduce dead space, and talking – This won’t apply to everyone because talking can be a vital tool for many YouTube personalities. I'm referring more-so about keeping the focus and not rambling. When doing a demo, it’s good to convey the basic functionality, but intersperse it with playing as well. Rambling and “Um’s” make the audience bored and antsy, sometimes leading them to click away without ever getting to the playing. This also swings back around to #1 with tuning regarding reducing the dead space that people won’t care about in a video. Tuning, switching amps, switching guitars, these things are fundamentals that need to be taken care of off-camera. We all do them every day that we play, and it’s fluff that isn’t needed to get the point across of a product. 
#7: Make sure it looks and sounds good – This sums up all of the things mentioned above into a single defining rule of thumb. Make it look and sound great. Using an adequate camera and recording software is essential in conveying the overall “branding” of the channel. Dress appropriately, ensure the mics aren’t clipping or overly compressing, record in an HD format so players can see what is going on in the video. Many YouTubers use multiple camera angles to showcase the playing as well as where the pedal is set. Combining stellar visuals with no dead space, and high-quality audio will result in a professional-looking and sound demo that will keep people and companies coming back for more. Worth noting, the background and setting of a video is just as important as the main focus point.
So, what do you think of the list? Are there any more you’d add that stick out immediately in your mind? Is there anything that stands out that you like the most about a particular demo artist? For a great frame of reference on what TO DO, check out the YouTube channels for Brett Kingman, Jay Leonard Jay, Henning Pauly, Pete Thorn, Jim Lil, Tom Quayle, Mike Hermans, Robert Baker, Andy Martin, Dave Weiner, Dan and Mick from That Pedal Show…the list goes on and on. The key is finding the right niche for the demo style that sets apart from the rest, aside from just natural playing skill. It’s the culmination and “whole package” that makes those fan favorites who they are.

Tumnus Deluxe

Oooops, they did it again. Unfortunately for us, and you, a few dealers saw fit to release details of the Tumnus Deluxe before the release date, so this pedal will come as no surprise to many of you. Shame really, but I’m guessing when a pedal is as eagerly awaited as this one is, it’s fairly inevitable that people will want to get ahead of the game. 

But, that as we say, is already history. We are managing the release now, we’ve officially announced it, so it’s now out there – let’s just get on with what this thing actually does. As usual, I gigged the pedal last week to get a feel for it, and here is what I found from that night and playing with it afterwards. I’ve also extensively A-B’d it with the mini so…

The pedal. First of all, I must say, it’s bloody beautiful. I’m pretty self-deprecating when it comes to my work, but with this, I give myself a pat on the back. It looks ace. Taking the original concept and expanding on it, complete with white LED in the lamppost :D

When I first plugged it in, my initial reaction was that it was much smoother than the mini. Everything seems to be a little more rounded, a little more pleasing to the ear when using it as standalone overdrive. I always found the mini to be a little gnarly and out the box, the Deluxe has been smoothed a little, with a tweak of the gain and the EQ, you can replicate that gnarliness, but you can get a much smoother tone if you require it. For me, this is a massive bonus. Setting the bass and mids at 12, normal mode, buffer in, you get pretty close to the Tumnus. Increase the gain a fraction and the treble a little, you have an almost identical replication of it. However, when you then drop the mids back a little it smooths out somewhat, and when you bring them back up past to where it was, the tone just jumps out at you. Flicking on to true bypass doesn’t do a huge amount initially, it’s a fraction smoother again, but that just shows what a wonderful buffer Brian put in the mini. However, when I started stacking up over drives over the top (more about this later) the true bypass really started to shine.

I dropped the pedal straight into my gig board in place of the mini (it was most amusing, I had a glove covering it on my board just in case a camera phone was out, highly unlikely, but you never know – the singer thought this was hilarious and made repeated jokes about me throwing the gauntlet down) So, my gain section was Tumnus Deluxe into 2-1 of the PaisleyDog. Right away, I noticed that smoothness and clarity that the true bypass gave, I got the original Tumnus tone by tweaking, but ended up using the smoother version. I found that I was boosting the mids slightly, not quite so much top end and keeping the bass ever so slightly rounded off. This gave me a much fuller sound. The Tumnus for me is almost an always-on pedal, the Bravado is immensely unforgiving in its cleanliness, so I use it to break it up a little. Also, when you have the Underdog growling at you, bringing the Tumnus in behind it makes it sound massive with considerable bite. The Tumnus Deluxe with its expanded EQ options gave me slightly more control over that, and allowed me to really tailor that bite and hone it exactly where I wanted it. The one thing I really noticed was that the whole thing was just slightly fuller due to the EQ, it was slightly more pleasing to listen too as the gnarlyness was gone - when I was stacking two overdrives on top of it, as well as compression before, it wasn’t jumping to feedback so quick. I had much much more control over my tone because the base tone was somewhat more refined.

I’m not going to wax lyrical about it, I want you to make up your own minds when you get the chance to play it, but my initial thoughts of this pedal and what it does remain from when I first plugged into it. And those are: it’s smoother, it’s eminently more tweakable to nail THAT exact tone you are chasing and most of all, it has a white LED within a streetlamp on the graphic. Worth it just for that alone I’d say!

Being stuck in a rut

Yesterday, this question was asked on the Wampler Pedals tonegroup on Facebook.

Do you ever get to a point in your music that you just feel stuck where you’re at? And that you find yourself losing sight of where you need to be in your music to inspire yourself to learn new things? What do you do to re-inspire yourself to get you back on track?

This struck somewhat of a chord with me (da daaaaaa) and my personal experience is why I have so many strings (da daaaaaaaa) to my bow as a player. You see, I’ve been in so many ruts with my playing I think I could write a book on how to get out of them. Well, maybe not a book, but probably a blog piece. 

So, in the many ruts I’ve historically been in, how did I elevate myself out of them? The trouble I’ve been in is that I’ve been in one for a while and I was lifted out of it this weekend. But, I’ll get to that in a minute. 

  1. The first and most important thing I’ve done as a player is to see live music. As much as I could, as often as I could. My wife always kinda laughs at me when we see music together as, apparently, I stare at the guitar player’s hands, all the time. My concentration levels are so high I am barely aware of the world around me, I’m just drinking it in. Absolutely everything they do. Notes, rhythms, vibrato, phrasing… everything. I just watch them. Any decent player, that doesn’t have to be decent on the level other than playing in a local pub band, will have something to offer you if you only pay attention. For example, on Saturday our band shared a bill with a Reggae/Dub band called The Barefoot Bandit. I quite like Reggae and Ska, so I was always going to like it, but they had a guitarist in that band (Harry) that enthralled me. He had the kind of right hand you don’t come across often, his rhythm work was sublime – yet subtle, his chord inversions were perfect (he was complimenting the other guitar player of the band) and his solos were genre perfect. When we went on after them I was so inspired to make my right hand stand out better. I didn’t play anywhere near as many notes as I usually do, but I hope I was a little funkier. Ever since then, I’m been working on my right hand, I hadn’t planned to, but it’s opened a new door for me.
  2. The second most important thing I’ve done is learned that it’s not all about your preconception/expectation of a player. View every player you hear/see as a potential teacher and take something away from them for yourself. If you pick something up from a player, take it home and incorporate it into your own. For example, the one thing Vai has taught me over all the years I’ve been listening to him is phrasing. It’s the same lesson I got from Clapton, Nuno, Beck and Quayle. When I first heard those players the last thing I thought about was their phrasing, but that’s what I’m left with from them. I looked past my expectation and found something they had that I didn’t. I unexpectedly learned from them, after I first got into them.
  3. Listen to everything you can bear to listen to. Don’t just listen to your comfy music, the stuff you love, stick something on you wouldn’t normally and try to hear something different in it. When I am coming home from a gig (when the wife isn’t with me) I often listen to Classical Music, or Jazz, or something else I would never listen to at home – so, use your radio. Put a channel on and listen to it. There will be something there for you to latch on to, even if it’s just one thing – the more you do it, the better you will become at picking stuff up. And DON’T just listen to the guitar parts, listen to the phrasing and attack of brass sections, listen to the depth and power that a certain inversion of a chord that is being made by the strings in an orchestra… It’s all the same thing, it’s all just the application of the notes and the intervals between them. Then think about that in your own playing, something will pop out at you.
  4. Don’t be afraid to stop playing, or go to a different tuning, or pick up another instrument. A piano in the house is the best thing for me to have as a guitar player, I often sit down at it and play with chord inversions or different scales over chords on the piano… I look at the patterns on the piano I wouldn’t normally look at on guitar - I try to play guitar stuff on piano and then piano stuff on guitar. Most of the time it sounds like utter crap but the thought that has gone into it ALWAYS opens another door in my head, and when I get back to being me on the guitar again I usually notice something has changed somewhere, something new has arrived.

How does all my waffle above deal with the question posed? When I’ve been in a rut I’ve found that someone, somewhere, will pop me out of it. Harry did it on Saturday, I heard something that I wasn’t expecting, and dived into it. I’ve also found that if I take something from someone musically and put it into my own playing, it will then open another door. So, if you want a challenge, learn a song by someone you never normally would. Then look at the chords underneath it, then take a hook from that song and put it in a completely different one and see what happens. You will find that your playing will become more interesting and you will discover a new direction to play. This is the reason I successfully play a lick from Steve Vai as part of my stock solo in “Bring Back The Sunshine” by Eddie Rabbit - and I’ve been told it sounds good.

Most of all, do not limit yourself to one genre or group of players. Listen to everything, take a walk with a different tuning or a different instrument. Primarily, just stop worrying. Someone will come along and scare the crap out of you enough to make it all exciting again.

Thank you Harry, you did it for me on Saturday.


Mojo - The hype is real, right?

Chasing tone has become a hobby as much as it has been finding the right tools for the job. There are a load of options out there for almost any sound you can think of, but despite the smorgasbord of readily available designs, there are some circuits that are incredibly popular that are less than accessible to get ahold of. Whether it’s the increased “mojo,” hype created by word of mouth, waitlists, or general obscurity from the builders and their marketing practices, a lot of gear lust has been generated over these types of circuits. I’m going to look at a few popular mojo-driven methods that may or may not have any plausible foundation in the grand scheme of things.
In many cases, most gear businesses start out small, with only a single employee (the owner) and maybe one or two extra people to help. When they’re fledgeling shops like that, it’s a simple way to keep things hands-on, and it’s relatively easy to keep up with demand usually. Small shops lead to less overhead for the business owner, but it also leads to slower production times due to fewer hands to do the work. As business grown, they usually add on employees to accommodate the increased workload, then before you know it there’s a small to medium-sized business with dozens of employees that all would like to make a living, as well as providing insurance and all that fun stuff. However, some shops decide NOT to expand their employees due to various reasons…it could be due to not wanted to increase the workload or the costs associated with employees, etc. So, what happens when demand exceeds the supply provided? Well, there are a couple of options that various shops have done. One way is to only release batches on a first come, first serve basis. This is fairly straightforward in the fact that specific quantities are available, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. This allows the builder to design and build at their discretion and doesn’t hold them accountable aside from the requests to create more.
Another option is taking preorders. This is a slippery slope, due to the genuine possibility of taking people’s money but not having the quantity available to fulfil all of the preorders if the staffing isn't adequate. This leads to long wait-times with customers having money tied up in a product that may or may not have a first date of when they’ll get their gear. Sadly, there are things that happen that are out of many people’s control that cause delays, or in some cases, the builder just can’t build but so fast and lead times get longer and longer. The result is agitated customers who often want their money back. And finally, there are wait lists. These are lists that you sign up for that require no money down but often have a varying lead time of a few weeks to over a year. There’s no obligation, so it’s just a pleasant surprise when your name finally comes up. The real kicker with all of these cases just mentioned, is that all of this waiting leads to massive amounts of hype and gigantic markups in the used market. It’s a way for the lucky few to capitalize on the good fortune, offering to fulfill the GAS immediately (at a price), instead of making the player wait for an indeterminate amount of time to get their pedal. The result is hyping up these harder to find offerings as rare and mysterious and highly sought after. The Klon is a perfect example, and the KTR is a more current version of it. When the KTR first came out, shops sold out almost instantly when they were priced right around $269 or so, but looking on Reverb and eBay, they were marked up to $450 - $700. It’s a pay to play market, and time is money when it comes to rare gear. 
Next up, let’s look at one-offs, special events, and custom or limited colors/graphics, and “accidents.” We all like something a bit different that stands out from the crowd. It’s fun and unique and sits like a fun little nod to being awesome on your board. I love custom color pedals or custom graphics that are different from the production model. There’s a certain “something” to them. The same goes along for special event things, like themed pedals (holiday, jokes, etc.). It’s a kind of nostalgic, cheeky way of chasing tone and having a bit of fun with it. But let’s look at the reality of the situation: unless otherwise stated by the company as being unique or coming with a different set of functions, these are the same production models internally, but with a recase for a special color. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that at all, and I love them, but it’s interesting how that becomes a marketing tool for the used market as well as the company. For companies, it’s a nice little nod to the players who enjoy their products, and often they’ll be a limited or very limited run. But if you search used ads there will definitely be a tag-line of “Custom color – rare.” Though it may be true that it’s limited, I suppose it just depends on the buyer as to what the value of a rehoused pedal would be? In situations like ours, we did a limited-edition batch of pink Tumnus’s, along with a few pink offerings over the years with all proceeds going to breast cancer research. The goal was to raise money for a charity, but we’ve seen used prices on these pedals skyrocket lately. The same goes for the Underdog, except it was also for charity but used prices have jumped to $400 or more. Not that the tones aren’t spectacular, but even Brian was taken back by how much markup things had due them being a bit harder to find. This is not meant to crap on companies who do limited runs; it’s more so a look at it from the business side as well as the consumer side.
Next up, let’s talk about eras of gear and the lust for certain versions or periods of time that these pieces of gear are manufactured. Generally speaking, new versions come about because the company felt a need to improve or change the design. This could be to increase the longevity of a pedal by upgrading components, swapping parts for less noise or adding features. Despite these facts that the new versions are designed to improve the overall sound, longevity, and ease of use for the players, there are still some out there that feel certain versions or eras of pedals have more mojo compared to current models. Again, some of these models may be harder to come by (but not always), and they supposedly sound much better and respond much better than the later version. I’ve seen this a lot with the Fulltone OCD and several others; we even have some of our older discontinued or revised pedals being collected. Admittedly there are some things that warrant thoughts like that, such as the Pinnacle Deluxe v1 having a very different control scheme than the Pinnacle Deluxe v2. In that case, it’s just a change of functionality and not necessarily a mojo thing. In the end, pedals are like puzzles, where all of the pieces have to be put together to reach the final project. Most of the time, it’s the same parts going in the same positions on the board, using the same solder. All that changes are the hands that solder the parts in or setup the boards. Sonic differences that may occur are the results of part tolerances being slightly different because it’s not always a scenario where every part is identical. The end goal is to make them as consistent as possible, and tuning them to be that way has been a vital part of keeping the pedals consistent over the years.
Jumping back a bit, I’m sure you saw me mention “accidents” earlier. Some of these truly are accidents, some of them are sadly not. Before releasing a pedal, Brian typically sends out prototypes to be tested (maybe one, maybe two or three). There are also some prototypes that are sent to trusted higher profile artists, their band and things like that. With the way the world is, people come, and they go in positions, and sometimes gear goes with them. The instances where those prototypes end up for sale is where it’s disheartening. Those prototypes are lent out expecting honesty and trust that they’ll be kept out of the reach of the public. This isn’t because there’s some magic, it’s because the circuit may or may not be complete, and the end goal of an excellent product that sounds great, functions great and is reliable is the end goal. However, the prototypes are considered gold, because it’s a scenario where it’s an opportunity to get something that no one else has. As someone once said regarding grabbing an unreleased pedal, “I just had to, ya know?” When in fact, no they didn’t. If you’ve been keeping up with our social media outlets (and especially our tone group on Facebook), we’ve been experiencing a few more leaks than we’d like to of unannounced pedals being posted for sale or shared by dealers. We plan ahead for months on a release, down to the smallest detail. It’s not necessarily the result of the release but more so the process we use to allude and build up to it. This is completely undermined and destroyed when leaks happen. We completely understand the excitement and the urge to share the info with fellow tone-chasers, but it also hits us hard mentally because of having the rug pulled out from under us so to speak. It’s discouraging and infuriating and sad at the same time.
So why did I write this blog and kill hopes and dreams? Mainly to set the record straight and clarify what’s going on with the magic in these sought-after pedals. Mojo is what you make it out to be. If it’s a pedal or guitar or amp that just feels right and connects, then that emotional connection can be considered mojo. On the other hand, there are many times where mojo created as a byproduct of desiring what can’t be obtained, the chance to try something that has been so hyped up, and the desire to stick out from the crowd. 

Synergy Amps - GAS

This week I want to tell you about a piece of gear I first played nearly a year ago. I’ve been sitting on this piece for a while, as I wanted to wait until it was released, and it just has.

The company is called Synergy Amps and I’m a fan. And before you start to think cynically, I’m not employed by them! 

As always, there’s a story attached to this for context, so I’ll get that out of the way first. When at NAMM I suffer horrifically from jetlag. As Cali is 8 hours behind the UK my sleep patterns are destroyed and I literally get about 4 hours of sleep per night, I’m not there for long enough to try to force it around with sleeping tablets, so I just live with it. The best thing about this is that I’m up at the crack of doom and generally get to the show each morning LONG before the doors are open. I usually take this time to do a line check on the rig and make sure everything is in place before the people attend the show, start attending.

One morning I was there so early the only people on the booth complex we are part of, the wider Boutique Amp Distribution booth, were myself, Bruce Egnator, Groover Jackson and my buddy Steve Elowe. Now, Bruce and Groover being there isn’t integral to this, but I just wanted to make you all sound the name drop horn in your heads – it still freaks me out that these guys are just milling around to talk too, a real pinch yourself moment! The Wampler rig was fine so I wandered off to see Steve who was sat at a computer, with guitar in hand, rocking hard. He was also gently cussing under his breath about latency issues, so I offered to help. He got me to play while he did something to the computer. 

I was playing through the new Synergy Amps rig.

At first I just played enjoying the tones, then he started to press buttons and all these different sounds were appearing, so I was playing different stuff on the fly as the sounds were so radically different. He then stood up and said “That’s better”. The computer was now behaving how it should so we had some time to play with the Synergy rig.

Let me fill you in on what this thing is. Basically, Synergy is a modular system that has ports which allows you to add various modules that sound and behave like the amps they are based upon. You buy the dock, a single or double module unit, and then load the amp module in. The docks are 12AX7 driven with a ton of different out options. There is a straight “preamp out” and an emulated out to go into your PA/desk/DAW - I was initially playing through the preamp out to a power amp, but once Steve had sorted the latency on the computer he pushed it over to the emulated out. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, I had an incredibly authentic Soldano SLO100 tone coming straight from the studio monitors that sounded EXACTLY the same as the preamp out, and from what I can remember about playing an SLO (which I have played through a lot) exactly the same as the amp – not only tonally, but in respect of response. The way it responded to my picking dynamics, the volume pot and the gain… man… the gain... 

At that point he started to show me the differing modules, which could be changed in a matter of seconds. One minute I was ripping through the SLO, and then quickly through a Friedman BE which was just roaring, then back into a TDLX which had the kind of clean tones you’d expect from a blackfaced, or tweed finished amp, then a Morgan AC that was SO glassy… and then… and then…. and then... 

After I’d played it for seemed like 5 seconds, which in reality was almost ¾ of an hour, I was left thinking about the practical uses of this system and where it sits in the market place. The first thing that got me, other than the tone that was coming from it, was the ease of use and how practical it can be in any set up. In a way, it was like having a modelling system but without the endless sub menu’s and degree in computer science to work it, or let’s face it, if you are anything like me, tons and tons of stuff that you would just never, ever use. This I think is where this product is going to sit, right in the place where people want a ton of options, but only the specific ones they require, and something that has real tubes, real knobs and real tone. You can literally have a mountain of boutique amps available, at a fraction of the cost and using a fraction of the room, just ‘there’.

The trouble I’ve always had with the modelling stuff, apart from ‘that’ reaction (which let’s face it, that gap is being bridged all the time), is that you generally have to get rid of your original amp set up and get a full range amp/speaker to go with it. You don’t get the best results from those things going into your amp, they still sound great, but they work best when everything is modelled and you are going direct. Then, they sound incredible. The beauty of the Synergy system is that it can be run direct within the loop of your favourite amp, giving you multiple new channels to play with. For many players, those that don’t want the computery stuff and love their rig already, this HAS to be the best thing, well - as we say over here, since sliced bread. Also it works flawlessly direct into your DAW, or PA, it has a great FX loop (so you can run your favourite effects in there, the ones that were originally in the loop of your amp if you used it that way)… I’m not sure who is behind this system, but I doff my cap in their general direction. 

From looking at the website, I can see that the docks are $499 for the single and $799 for the double, there is also all tube heads available and a power amp. The modules are $399. So, let’s look at a boutique level amp, which I’m guessing you will all agree tends to be around $2k to buy and generally only give you the sound associated with that amp, you get what you get and nothing else. So, consider this, If you have a great amp you can buy the dock and 2 modules for ¾ of the price of a new and different sounding head, and then keep adding to it for $399, you will start to build up an amp collection that is worthy of Joe Bonamassa. Then think that these modules are small enough to get two into a single 19” rack unit. Even if you have 8 modules and the Syn2 (double port dock) it comes to less than 2 full boutique level amps. That’s 8 amps for the price of two. Once you have the dock, the modules are so cheap GAS will be screaming for new ones all the time.

I don’t get excited about new technology products very often mainly because I like tubes, knobs and instantly available tone and most of the time these days, all those things appear to be missing in new innovative technology. New gear concepts these days usually consists of “sitting down with a manual the size of a novel and 3 hours just to get the amp tone you want that’s hidden in the middle of other stuff that appears to have no practical musical use to anyone”.

I want one.




Pick a Partscaster

If you are in the market for a new guitar, there’s no better time than right now to be into the chase for tone. It seems in the past few years that a plethora of builders have popped up, each excelling at their craft with the ability to take the ideas you’ve always dreamt of and make them a reality. We’ve come to a stage in the gear community where artistic expression is at a peak, where if you want something unique and feature-laden, it’s certainly doable. Want an accurate recreation of your favorite vintage instrument, down to the pickups and even decades of wear and tear? All those options are entirely possible and at varying price points. The market lets the player decide how much to spend, and a dream guitar can be had by various methods; whichever suits the player the best. The first thing that people often bring up when discussing custom guitars is pricing. More often than not, the pricing for a custom guitar can rival or significantly surpass the cost of an off the shelf guitar. There are a lot of factors that go into why that’s the case, which I’ll dive into a bit later. I’m going to look through a few variables and options regarding custom guitars and ways to go about achieving them, and what makes them great and what some of the drawbacks are.
Let’s start off by looking at traditional guitars, and why guitarists prefer the tried and true designs as the basis of the perfect personalized instrument. If you look back to the 50’s and 60’s of guitar history, you’ll see that the likes of Leo Fender, Les Paul, and a few others seemingly hit the proverbial nail on the head when they created their takes on the electric guitar. So much so that each of the aforementioned builders and their subsequent companies have built stellar, roadworthy guitars that have been in the hands of millions upon millions of guitarists worldwide. They’ve become so iconic that the sound of these guitars is instantly tied to our favorite guitarist through the years. When you hear a Strat, a plethora of artists spring to mind (in no particular order): Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, John Mayer, Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix, Rory Gallagher, David Gilmour, Dick Dale, Robert Cray…the list of Strat players is staggering. Teles are the same with the likes of Albert Collins, Prince, Andy Summers, Keith Richards, James Burton, Muddy Waters. Gibson? Billy Gibbons, Slash, Jimmy Page, Angus and Malcolm Young, Peter Green, Albert and B.B. King, Randy Rhoades, and these are only just barely scratching the surface of prominent players that I’d be willing to bet have had some form of influence on every player, in some way. At the same time for all of these incredible players listed, a massive amount of them have delved into the custom realm, whether it’s through artist-series guitars, creating their own unique designs, or using boutique builders. These are our guitar heroes, and their sound shaped generation after generation of players to come, even to this day after many have long passed. It’s no wonder many players would use those famous tones and the foundation and springboard for crafting their own sound. Each used their respective instrument to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack.
I won’t go too much into current models of various companies, but there are still a load of different models by too many companies to list that follow the traditional approach. Companies like Fender, Gibson, Gretsch, etc., or revised versions of the classics with personal accouterments like unique finishes or relicing, and so on. Along with standard models that have a streamlined setup with neck shape, pickup combinations, and finishes, many of those companies offer signature guitars that famous artists regularly use (most of the time). These are customized versions that match the player, and great options for providing a variety of different guitars at a cost-effective price point. Sometimes though, these standard models can get the player close to where they want the guitar to be, but not exactly. This is why the guitar parts business has been a boisterous endeavor. There are a considerable number of shops you can visit online that let you piece out the perfect build, down to neck radius, finish and inlays to the routing options for various bodies and bridges control cavities. All things that are made to be easily swappable on the stock instruments to make them a bit more customized to the player. Swapping and upgrading is a cost-effective way to make a guitar customized to the player without going out and fully commissioning a custom build. Many of these online shops offer custom finishes, and some even offer relicing services to make the guitar look like something that had been used on tour for 40 years with tones of use and abuse.
These pieces and parts lead me into partscasters. Partscasters are the amalgamation of various parts in the attempt to find the right fit and feel and sound by creating it from a pile of parts sourced from various locations. Eddie Van Halen was one of the pioneers that led people to start hacking into the guitars and building what suited their personal needs when companies didn’t offer it. He used a Gibson PAF in an old strat-style body and created some of the most memorable music that would spawn hundreds of thousands of guitarists. He found what worked for him and made it his own. When going for a partscaster build, the sky is the limit. It could be a neck based off of a vintage-style Strat paired with a MIM Telecaster body with a pre-wired set of pickups from a small shop that hand-winds their own pickups. Or you could get a Flying V-shaped body with a neck setup for 12 strings, with pearl inlays and a figured ziricote fretboard. See what I mean? You can get as “out there” and intricate as you’d like, or build after the classics. Sites such as Warmoth and USA Custom Guitar allow you to pick the various details of your build, so they come as finished or as unfinished as you’d like them to be. This allows the player to simply screw everything together and do a bit of soldering and have a functional guitar on a relatively decent budget. I say relatively because depending on what choices are made with the types of woods used and various finishes, the costs can add up quickly. In the end though, if you’re coming out of it with the exact guitar that you want, then it’s worth it. The Pros are that you get control in the details of the construction of the guitar within a set number of given parameters, but the negative is that it does require a bit of experience and knowledge to get the guitar to where you want it properly. Setups are vital for having them stay in tune and function properly, and for inexperienced players, it can be an exercise in frustration. The same goes for soldering, especially if it’s not using a prewired kit. Without proper soldering, it can lead to increased noise or no sound at all. 
The next thing that truly takes the guitar into the “custom” realm is having one commissioned from a company that builds to spec. These are often more expensive, but the player gets considerably more control, with the bonus of the attention to detail and experience that comes from the builder’s history. Many builders still offer a standard line of body shapes that they will do, some traditional and some very modern and unique. Like the partscaster, you get to pick out your dream instrument, from the type of wood the body is made of, pickup routes, a plethora of finishes, the scale length of the neck, radius, neck shape, what frets are used, nut type, tuners, pickups, custom wiring…everything. The attention to details is what sets these guitars apart from the standard guitars that are off the shelf. Having a guitar that’s perfectly fitted to your playing style, the feel, and sound of the pickups makes you want to pick the instrument up more because you enjoy playing it. These builders have become experts in their fields and have listened to customer feedback, evolving and honing their craft to provide those little nuances that make each creation so special. A big question that comes up is “Is it $$$ better?” It depends on how you look at it. In some cases, depending on what is commissioned, there won’t necessarily be a huge difference. If it’s a T-style with a fairly run of the mill setup with two pickups and a 3-way selector and a fairly known color, then to some that may not be worth it. The details of the fret leveling and action and overall playability would be the biggest upgrade.  Is it worth several hundred dollars extra to some people? Most likely not. That’s the beauty of chasing tone and falling in love with the guitar, is that everything is subjective and will be different for everyone. Variety is the spice of life, so they say. The quest for tone is unending, and finding the perfect feeling and sounding guitar is another piece to that puzzle. What are you willing to pay for it?
Personally, own a few of each configuration mentioned above. I’ve got a ‘12 Les Paul Traditional that I upgraded with 50’s wiring and bumblebee capacitors to increase the range of tones available in the tone knobs. The new American Pro Strats just hit the spot, stock off of the shelf (admittedly I always block the trem, just because I’m a hardtail guy). I’ve also got a couple of Crook Custom telecasters that are decked out completely with custom finishes, neck specs, and even G-Benders. There’s a soft spot and something special about each one that makes them fit what I’m looking to do. The one thing I will say, that for me (I don’t speak for everyone), that custom guitars do not necessarily make me play any better, skill-wise. I may enjoy playing more when it fits just right, and I can get into it more, which subsequently makes me practice and the long game is an improvement, but switching from one guitar to another doesn’t have a dramatic effect. The guitars output what your mind and yours hands put into them and no amount of money can buy technique. That’s something I had to learn as I was starting off, and it’s stuck with me all this time.

Quilter 101 Mini Reverb - another experiment in tone chasing

A few months ago I wrote a ‘review’ of the Quilter 101 Mini Head here in the Wampler blog, it was an interesting experience using the 101 Mini, but tonally it didn’t work out for me. It was great, just not there yet. There were issues with the basic core tone and most importantly, the strange EQ section.

I’ve subsequently got my hands on the newer version of this head, the 101 Mini Reverb, they’ve upgraded the unit considerably, made the EQ a much easier system to dial in and you guessed it, contains reverb. I’ve been using the 101 MR for the last few gigs as the ‘other’ side of my stereo rig, and something happened this weekend that made me look at it in a different light.

First of all, a quick gear rundown so you get a feel what my rig does. My rig is mono until it hits the incredible TC Electronic MiMiQ which then splits it to stereo. The main side of the MiMiQ (which sits after my pre gain modulation the gains stages and compression – so that’s pre gain Strymon Mobius – mainly Vibe - Mini Ego, Tumnus and Paisley Drive Deluxe) sends the signal on to the post gain side of the Mobius (so that’s chorus, tremolo etc), the Strymon TimeLine, dB+ and then to a Wampler Bravado amp. The other side of the MiMiQ just feeds direct to the Quilter 101 MR – both then feed directly into a stereo 2x12” speakers. I have the MiMiQ set on “slight drunk” so when it’s kicked in I find the difference in tone (I set it pretty quickly, on a scooped setting) and the lack of delays etc do a really good impression of a second guitar player.

I play in a pub band, playing covers, and on Saturday night we were kinda cookin’. The crowd was rocking, so we were. My rig sounded fantastic and I ended the first set on a high! I was just having a lovely time… when it came to the start of the second set we started and I noticed that something wasn’t quite right. None of my delay’s where there, so I checked a different patch (the vibe) and that worked, so I thought – oh shit, the TimeLine is knackered. There was something else going on with the sound as well, it wasn’t quite as attacky or bright as usual (I have the Bravado set on Bright position 4 with the mids scooped out so it’s more like a Fender Deluxe than it should be)… For about 3 songs I felt this thing was wrong, still sounded like me, still sounded great (well, let’s face it, with those gain stages how could it not?), but there was a certain something missing. Trust my wife to spot the problem… It the end of the third song she leaned over to me from behind the P.A. speakers and shouted in my ear “Do you know that the Bravado is on standby?”.


So, I had turned the Bravado on to standby at the end of the first set and forgotten to turn it back on again, which is quite funny considering the piece I wrote about putting amps on standby last year. it was just the Quilter being used and I was blown away with the sound of it. Granted, It was not as clear and concise as the Bravado, and the response was different, but it was close. Kind of felt the same way when I first played through a Kemper, really close but the reaction wasn’t there, because it’s a D class and I’m used to a valve amp.

Once I realised my mistake I tweaked the Quilter a little to try to bring the top end in and it got even closer before bringing the Bravado back in. This little thing is quite remarkable when I think about it, I carry it around in my effects case and it weighs about 2lbs and it stood up against the Bravado and didn’t lose without a fight. It took the pedals like a dream, it responded to my pick attack and expression like a dream. The updated EQ section was SO much better in this one, every issue I had with the original was addressed. Basically, this thing is pretty bloody awesome.

I’ve made the conscious decision that when we do the small, quiet gigs – as we often do – and you can’t get a valve amp up to the required level to make it sound like I want too (yes, we really do play that quiet sometimes, literally so you can talk over it), the Quilter 101 MR will be my main amp and the Quilter 101 Mini will be the stereo field. It won’t be the Bravado (as, you know, valve compression and response of a high end amp, there is nothing like it), but at least I can put it to the level I want to play at and I won’t be disappointed with the tone, which when you think about it, is quite remarkable.

I can thoroughly recommend this little amp, and I don’t say that very often. Everyone should have one in the front pocket of their gig bag as a back up, or if like me you want a stereo field, it’s perfect. Actually, if I wasn’t so fussy (I am, extremely) I would probably use it for every gig as let’s face it, the people listening wouldn’t be able to tell the difference in those conditions... It’s close enough to the real thing to be able to warrant the compromise of tone – that magical thing that can’t be replicated - especially when like me you have a history of sciatica and want to keep the weight down!

As a last thought - when the Bravado isn’t here I use a Fender BDri as my main gigging amp… well, I used to, as if the Bravado isn’t here, from here on in I’ll be using the Quilter…

Rooting for the Underdog?

With the release of the Paisley Drive Deluxe right around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to discuss and a recurring topic that's come up for years, but especially more frequently now that details have emerged about the Paisley Deluxe (or as Brad Paisley refers to it, the "Paisley Dog"). I'm talking about the limited edition Underdog overdrive. Released in 2009, with a limited run of just over 100, the UnderDog is based on a Nobels ODR-S but modified to clear up some of the shortcomings Brian felt were inherent in the design. Along with the transparent and flexible 3-band EQ, there is a toggle for higher or lower gain settings, and the Underdog became a favorite of Brad Paisley and Nashville players all around due to its versatility. It's very transparent, the gain can be set minimal and used as a hefty volume boost with a bit of grit where the guitar's voicing stays the primary focus, or it can get extraordinarily crunchy and fat, bordering on fuzzy distortion. It's hard to miss, being in a larger enclosure with bright pink sparkly paint, with a decal for the graphics. 
Here's an excerpt from Brian in 2010 regarding the cause behind the Underdog: “A close friend of mine has breast cancer and has no insurance, no family, and the government will not pay any medical costs for her to get the treatment she needs. Now, I’m not rich by any means, but I had to do something to help her. My wife and I came up with the idea of creating a pink pedal that is rich, dynamic, and very tweakable, and donate ALL the profits to her. Out of that limited run, famed country artist Brad Paisley bought one and loved it. A number of guitarists saw the pedal on Brad’s pedalboard and asked me to build one more for them, so I decided to start building more to keep up with demand. We are still donating all the profits to my friend, Ivy East, who is struggling to pay the doctor bills to combat this terrible disease.”
When the Paisley Drive Deluxe information initially was shared, and that it contained the Underdog circuit as Channel 1, there were a lot of mixed reactions. Overall most of them were overwhelmingly positive and excited, but there were a few discussions that immediately popped up regarding having the Underdog as a standalone pedal, not paired with the Paisley Drive. My goal with this blog is to set the record straight on where Brian and the company itself stands regarding this. It's easier to give the full scope of the discussion in a centralized place for everyone to refer to instead of commenting on dozens of threads, which are still overlooked due to how fast comments pile up on FaceBook.
At this time, there are no plans to rerelease or reissue the Underdog as a single pedal. Let me explain why. As you read in the excerpt above, the Underdog was created for a particular purpose, and it was successful in alleviating the financial burdens that came about from a terrible situation. That being said, there's a level of integrity and respect that comes along with that period and what the pedal stood for. It feels wrong to try to cash-in on that moment in time, and doing so would dilute the meaning behind the Underdog and it's creation. After discussing that on FaceBook in our Tone Group, the question arose about changing the name and graphics and just rereleasing it under a different label. The same theory still applies. The Underdog is just that, a limited thing for a special friend who was in dire need. Changing the name won't make it feel any less dirty or wrong by using that circuit setup for that purpose for personal gain.
So why does Brad Paisley have the circuit in his new signature pedal? The answer is pretty simple and straight-forward. Brad has utilized the Underdog alongside the Paisley Drive for years (see picture below), having one of the original Underdogs and buying several used version up as time went along to be sure the pedal was always there. It's an integral part of his tone. Touring all over the world has its constraints on gear, and it was at his request that we build the Paisley Deluxe. "But you said you wouldn't reissue it." Correct, as a standalone pedal under the banner of Underdog. With the high number of requests and high used prices, we wanted to be able to offer the circuit for our customers, but without sacrificing the basis of what it meant at its core. The compromise is the Paisley Deluxe. 

Paisley Drive Deluxe - release date amendment.

Paisley Drive Deluxe - Release date.

Due to unforeseen circumstances stemming from availability and Brian's constant demand for perfection, the release date for the Wampler Paisley Drive Deluxe has been amended to October 31st. Not only will this allow the global dealer base to ensure that they have the product in store for the release date, but it allows us to know that every product shipped meets his exacting standards and people all around the world can get it in their rigs, on release date, no matter where they live. 

The thirst for perfection, it's what drives us.