Originals v Covers: Play for the Audience?

I was doing my typical boredom-induced zombie scrolling deal on Facebook the other day and happened upon a Woody Harrelson meme that said, “When people who only play “original music” crap on my cover band” and has Woody drying his eyes with money. It made me laugh, but it also made me think of another post I saw a while back that argued that cover bands aren’t “local music.” Both of these polarizing posts kind made me question where musicians place their value in their music, and I just wanted to talk through some of the points here (especially after having a discussion with a friend who has very different opinions than mine).

I’ll start from my end because it’s what I’m most familiar with. I love writing music and creating riffs and songs, but at the basis of my playing, I just enjoy playing covers. They’re fun, they get people up and moving because they’re identifiable and it’s a relatively straightforward thing that you can build from with your own unique flourishes should you choose to or play it exactly like the records...the choice is up to the player. For me, I like playing it note for note with the recording. It’s equal parts nostalgia and the desire for perfectionism is a world that lacks it completely. My OCD makes me want to nail each note exactly how the pros did it, and when I finally accomplish it then I feel successful. That’s been a driving force and where the bar has been set for myself since I started playing. I’ve always played covers because that’s actually how I’ve learned a lot of theory is piecing it together how the pros do it, because I don’t have the focus to sit down and practice scales…I never was a “studier.” When I did learn scales, it turned me into a robot because of that cushy feeling of false safety; if I stayed in the box I knew I couldn’t play a dreaded wrong note. But, it led my lead-work to be…scaley? No emotion, just notes in the scale. So, I went back to piecing theory together from songs, and that’s how I’ve personally connected the dots. It can be considered derivative if you broke it down, but it works for me and makes me happy and I try to play to the song and the band as much as trying to stand out.

My buddy is from the opposite line of thought. He gets ultimate enjoyment from writing songs and riffs. His fulfilment comes when he creates a lead lick or catchy rhythm part that he wouldn’t mind hearing again. He knows a few songs, but 95% of the time he chooses to create something in a jam than to cover a song, it’s just not interesting to him. He’s very into unique tones and doesn’t want to sound like Angus Young or EVH or any of the classics. He wants to create his own sound and for lack of a better description, to leave his own mark on the world. It’s something that I never wrapped my head around as a teenager as we’d go to jams and he’d want to make something up instead of playing a known song (to him that was boring). As we got older we both realized that a lot of what’s so great about guitar is the ability to adapt, so we’ve made stuff work.

Fundamentally, going back to the meme’s as referencing (welcome to citation in 2018), who is wrong and who is right? The answer? Both are right and wrong. I know, that sounds like a cop-out but hear me out. There’s playing music for fun, and then there’s playing music to earn money (surplus income, or sole income if you’re a full-time musician). You’ve taken a lot of time to hone your craft, and exposure bucks don’t pay the rent, unfortunately. So, fair compensation for the service you’re providing is what’s needed. To that end, a musician must be willing to adapt to what the customer is expecting. Whether that’s a bar gig trying to help sell some food and beer for the venue, or whatever scenario arises. In general, however, people are looking for identifiable songs. I’ve had several friends who have gone to bars to find out the band was playing nothing but originals, and they ended up leaving. It’s just the society we live in. Everyone has to start somewhere, and many of the famous acts played covers until they got their foot in the door and added in their own material along the way. I guess my point is that there can’t be a polarizing thought-process when it comes to music. Being part of a community means helping it grow, and admittedly it’s something that you shouldn’t have to sacrifice your own integrity to achieve either. My point is, even the biggest stars in music STILL play covers, because there’s something identifiable and nostalgic about hearing those notes, and sort of tying those nostalgic feelings to the personality of the artist covering them…sort of a way of the person covering the songs to express a bit of who they are and what they love.

 In the end, what is the point of cutting down another musician? It doesn’t matter if you’re in a cover band or an original band in the end. If you’re doing what you love, screw it, it doesn’t matter what people think. I’ve seen discussions of covers being derivative, but that’s something that is defined by each player. 

Playing music is the greatest, and surely, that should be enough?!

 

Is tone all in the fingers? Does Satriani sound the same with cheap gear?

A very, very, VERY interesting vlog was released from Brian today, and it is about a subject that has perplexed me for many years. It’s directly related to one of the most common and least thought our retorts on social media “Tone is all in the fingers, man”. This may be a controversial subject, but you know, what’s life without a little controversy now and then?!

As many of you who have regularly read my blog over the years will know, I came up through the local scene by being a prolific jammer. Back in the day (not so much anymore, unfortunately) several local pubs would either have straight up jam nights or booked bands to play with the sole intention of knowing it was going to end up as a beer sozzled jam with everyone just playing with everyone else. Not only was this immense fun for all involved, but as a young player this was an invaluable learning ground for me and made me the player I am today. The most prolific I regularly went to were the Sunday afternoon gig at “The Old Firehouse” and the now legendary local jam night at “The Bowling Green”, both in my hometown - Exeter, Devon. UK. The great thing about these jams/gigs was the fact that every week the same faces would turn up and a carousel of about 50 other players that made it when they felt like it would also turn up, so over a long period of time, I got extremely familiar with all kinds of players. As we are all friends, most people couldn’t be bothered to bring their own instruments and once the beer had started to be consumed, everyone just played whatever was there, at all times. Because of this, I heard the same players on various pieces of gear multiple times.

What did I learn during these years… well, in the times I can remember clearly (remember, beer), every player had their own style and technique, obviously, which gave their playing a certain character and this character always shone through. But, their overall sound was determined by the gear they were using. When you really listened, and I mean really listened, you ‘could’ say that tone was in the fingers, but I think it’s actually a different word that should be used here… maybe a couple of words. Those are ‘character’ and ‘personality’.

Here is a great example, Joe Satriani was recorded using extremely ‘low rent’ gear playing one of his more famous tracks, “Surfing With The Alien”. Please, give it a watch…

 

And, in case you didn’t read the description, Joe is playing ‘Pignose’ (I know, I’ve never heard of them making guitars either) S style (single coils), a Digitech RP200 into a Peavey Backstage 30. Joe is using the Wah on the Digitech and I expect amp modelling etc from the unit as well, so… you know. It’s not going to sound like his rig when he’s touring/recording!

When you watch it, there is, without doubt, all of Joe’s character and personality is shining through. There is no doubt that it’s Joe playing. It’s in the way he picks, the way he attacks the strings and the way he uses vibrato is what is defining the music that is coming from the gear, but the gear is still defining the tone… unfortunately. When you listen hard, the tone is quite nasty, and I’m quite glad it’s only a phone that’s capturing it as if this was mic’ed properly it would sound sharp and gnarly. But, you know, it still sounds like Joe. Up to a point.

Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to over the many many years I’ve been seeing the same players playing their own and different gear over and over. Fundamentally, your tone that the audience hears will be defined by the gear you are playing. Because the gear will be dictating how much clipping you have, how much gain that works alongside that clipping, the EQ before, during and after that clipping, the type of guitar you are playing and what pickups it is – style of bridge – wood…, how the amp is constructed, the speakers you use and their size, and all the parts variables that go into each of those and just about everything else… the list is endless. However, an accomplished player will still maintain their musical character and personality regardless of the gear it is being played on. So, the picking hand attack, the vibrato, the note choices… will all be the same. Does this define tone? I don’t think it does, it defines who they are as a musician, but not their note as such.

Here is the video with Brian and Travis playing the same gear.

The interesting things that come out of this video ties up with what I was discussing above. You can hear Travis’ playing style and also Brian’s shining through, but fundamentally, their tone was changing each time they swapped amps. They keep discussing Brian’s pick attack (as he is quite a hard player on the right hand) compared to Travis’ (as he is the opposite, really quite gentle) so in that regard, the attack and bite from these amps is coming from the player, but the core tone is coming from the gear.

I think I’d like to make the case for completely and utterly banning the phrase “tone is in the fingers” and have anyone saying it severely punished. I don’t know what that punishment should be, but I’m pretty certain we can decide on a case by case basis as and when it is used as an argument! 

I would like to propose it be amended to the following statement. “Musical personality and character will always shine through regardless of the gear it’s being played on”… but, you know, that’s not quite as catchy and by no means as divisive and controversial, and as I said above, what’s life without a little controversy now and then?

 

 

And the winner of the free pedal is....

 Everyone at Wampler would like to congratulate Justin Budlow on winning the free Wampler pedal from our giveaway on YouTube last week!

Justin chose a Velvet Fuzz as his free pedal, and as you can see from this video on Instagram, he's been ripping it up ever since!

Here is the video in which Brian launched the giveaway...

We'd like to thank everyone for entering, and keep your eyes open... We have a giveaway coming that is enough to bring a tear to a glass eye. Or big enough to make an onion cry. Or...

 

 

Seeing three of the best within 5 days - Joey Landreth, Adrian Legg and Kris Barras.

Well, I’ve just one of the best weeks I can remember for a long time!

As you probably already know, I play in what bDub calls a “Dad-Rock” cover band and love every damn second of it. If I am honest, we are OK, we are tight and we always have good tone – we play the kind of music that would get us booted out of any US bar but over here, that kind of Americana/Blues/Country stuff is quite rare so we, at least around here, quite different to most other bands on the circuit. I’ve known all the guys I play with for almost 30 years and have been playing with them on and off for that time, although it was only a couple of years ago I fully joined them after the guitarist (the first guitar player I ever saw play live – albeit in a different band -  in early 1988) unexpectedly had to quit the band after being there for 24 years. So… it’s not a serious musical adventure, it’s just some old friends who get on very well playing the kind of music they like to the best of their ability. The band, Dirty Money, is somewhat of an institution around these here parts. On Sunday we played in the afternoon, outside (in the last hurrah of the flailing UK summer) a lovely time was had by all – it was just a laid-back moment of loveliness that we all thoroughly enjoyed. I must admit, I like afternoon gigs as it means I’m home by 9 and can get a decent night’s sleep. 2am and I just don’t mix like we used too. 

Then… Monday. Well, you may have read my last blog piece about it we saw the unbelievably perfect Joey Landreth. You can read about it here.

On Tuesday we were off again to see one of my favourite musicians, Mr Adrian Legg. Now, I have history with Adrian, I first saw him supporting Joe Satriani in March 1993 (the concert that provided the live track “Flying In A Blue Dream” for the album Time Machine) and for me, Adrian completely and utterly stole the show that night. You can picture it, lots of long-haired rock guitar god types all going to see ‘the master’ and in support is this wonderfully quietly spoken man with just an Ovation guitar. As he walked out we all kinda went “What the…?” but within the first 4 bars, the entire venue had their jaws on the floor in stunned disbelief what they were seeing. As we left the show that night, all around me all I could hear was talk about Adrian. I mean, everyone was blown away by Joe, but I’m pretty certain Adrian picked up a lot of fans that tour (he then went on to do a G3 tour with Joe and Vai) and I quietly just bought all his albums and retained my level of fandom over the years, I was delighted to connect with Adrian when the social media explosion happened and we often (and still do) talk about gear. He’s one of our artists in the most lovely way, he only uses stuff he likes that can make him sound incredible, and he still sound incredible - it’s so cool to see one of my favourite players sporting a Tumnus to make his acoustic guitar bite and growl in the perfect way. About an hour from us a small club run by a certain Mr and Mrs Quayle (who have a son you might be familiar with. Let’s just say… they created a Dual Fusion of their own), and they occasionally have some really good players performing so we go on up when we can. It was lovely to see Adrian again, not seen him for a couple of years and he honoured me by playing a request that I had asked for – “Mrs Jacks Last Stand” that is just one of the most beautiful pieces of solo guitar I can think of.

Adrian often tours the US, you can find tickets here. if you get the chance, you’d be mad not to go. It was a very, very, very special night for all concerned (this was the first time I could take Lisa with me so she was delighted to finally meet Adrian, Richard and Leslie - Tom’s Mum and Dad – in the flesh. You gotta love Leslie, she often starts a sentence with “Oh, I shouldn’t tell you this but there was this one time, when he younger, that Thomas…” and BOOM, there is my material for the next NAMM flight to wind him up!)

A couple of days followed that was just work and family stuff and then on Friday, we were off out again to see an exceptionally cool and fast-rising star named Kris Barras. Man. I wish you could have seen it. I’m not the biggest blues fan in the world, as a lot of it just gets repetitive after a while, but there are certain bands and players that take the mould and smash it to a million pieces, all the time retaining the core of what makes a great blues band. Kris, quite simply, is a phenomenal player. I was listening intently all night as I kept hear different styles flawlessly fall from his fingers… it was about halfway through I suddenly realised what was happening. Every time he changed guitars, his playing slightly changed with it – but not completely, just another version of him. I’ve never really seen that in a player before. You know what it’s like, when someone plays a different guitar they tend to be the exact same player just with a slightly different tone with a couple of specific tricks thrown in… but Kris was actually adapting his style and voicings to compliment his guitar which was a real mind bend for me. When he was on the Tele, some incredibly subtle yet perfectly placed country fills were coming out right alongside some more biting bluesy stuff, then when we went to the Strat, the attack changed, as did the note choice, as did the feel of his playing… same when he went to his HB equipped guitars (a PRS and Seth Baccus Nautilus) everything changed again… I think I could tell you what guitar he was playing ‘now’  (in a blindfold test) on any given gig not by the tone, but how he changes his playing. I really wish I could articulate this better as it’s probably reading like a nonsense but within his own unique style, I could hear Gary Moore, The Allmans, Brent Mason, Albert Lee, Skynyrd, Mr BB (The) King, JoBo, Derek Trucks, Clapton, Beck… the list is endless, but each of those influences came out, perfectly morphed into his own style, according to the instrument he was playing. Class.

Then, after seeing those three incredible players during the week, three players that are respectively either at the sitting at the top of their genre, or comfortable in the fact that they changed millions of players and can still shake them to this day or one that’s raising up so fast it’s hard to keep up with them… All these players inspire me to be the best I possibly can… on Saturday night, I took Lisa to see her favourite guitar player play live, fortunately for me, that actually is me… and that’s just about the best feeling in the world for this hapless romantic old fool.

 

Girl guitarists gear thoughts

We asked Haley Powers, a guitar teacher and blogger from Nashville, about her experiences in the world of guitar, gear and finding your way in the male-dominated world of the music industry...

Haley says as part of her introduction to her lessons page on Facebook - "Haley Powers Music is specially designed to help women feel great about their guitar playing so that they can confidently share their music with others." 

"Before I start talking about my perspective on being a female in the world of gear and electric guitar, I want to first say this is my completely biased perspective of what I have experienced. It’s definitely not every female’s opinion or experience, my personal story. So let me take you back to when I was a very beginner at electric in Jr. High (picture me- very skinny, converse high tops, and braces. Very cool obviously.)!

At my first electric group lesson, when my Dad dropped me off, I didn’t really think about the fact that there were all guys in my lesson. I had a lot of guy friends and we all listened to classic rock and loved guitar, so making friends wasn’t really an issue. Playing with all guys wasn’t weird or something I really thought about and I was always included. The guys thought it was great that I was right along with them jamming to Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix! My sister and I had also recently become obsessed with School of Rock and Spinal Tap so this was the world I lived in. 

It wasn’t until about Junior year of High School that I even considered that the electric guitar world was possibly difficult for a female. That year I had just started playing at church with my Dad and most of the guys were actually in his other bands. There was a keyboard player, however, who was not a good friend and seemed to think it was weird that I played the guitar. Not only that, but I had one of those pink paisley Strats that he relentlessly teased me about it being a Hello Kitty guitar (yikes!). Playing in this kind of setting I had really tried to put on my professional shoes and something about these comments started seeping into my little high school brain despite my dad telling me that was dumb and not to worry about it. So a few years later just to avoid any sort of embarrassment, I sold that guitar to get my now ’62 Reissue Teal Stratocaster (which to be fair was a great choice!). Honestly, I hadn’t really looked back at that guitar until I saw Brad Paisley perform before I graduated high school. And guess what - he had a pink paisley Tele just like I had (but way nicer)! That experience taught me no matter what kind of stereotype or prejudice may be out there, whether that be being a girl in the world of electric guitar, an older adult being around younger cooler people, someone who doesn’t fit the current look that’s in etc., owning who you are and being thankful for the things that make you unique is your biggest strength. Someone could always make fun of you or poke holes in your validity, but if you know deep down that you like who you are, those comments can easily roll off you.

So no, I’m not one of those forward-thinking people who kept their first guitar for the memories, but I did learn a major lesson that has spurred me on throughout my life. Because I’m in a bit of a unique position, I wanted to give a few tips if you are wondering how best to support the female musicians you know. Many of the little things that have happened to me that may have seemed sexist I think we're out of genuinely really not knowing how something was coming across. As we all know, when you are doing something near and dear to your heart, little jokes or hurtful things can feel stung a bit more than they are usually intended! 

1) Finding What You’re Looking For?
This is the classic area I have heard female musicians be a little dumbfounded about. The other day, in fact, my friend was telling me about a situation at a music store where the employee could not let go of the fact that she was intentionally looking at electric strings and was not in fact lost in her search for acoustic strings. Personally, most of my experiences looking at gear or guitars are 98% positive and there’s maybe the 2% out there who will explain about a product I asked about only making eye contact with my bass playing husband! Everyone has room to grow and learn and there are a ton of new things I learn about gear on a regular basis. It’s almost like the feeling of being micromanaged in a job when your boss is hovering over you and even though you know what you are doing! In this scenario, treating everyone looking at gear the same is definitely the way to go and if you want to earn extra points, saying something like “You sound awesome” or something can bring out the best!

2) Come jam
As we know, there are not as many females who play guitar backing for people in bands. I’ve thought a lot about why this may be and part of me wonders if it has to do with social norms. When you are younger this isn’t as much of an issue, but if you are married, inviting someone over of the opposite sex to hang and play music with you is a little weird. That’s why you should always marry a bass player so they can work as a nice buffer and still jam along. Kidding (but really, it’s the best!). I have heard being a “good hang” is one of the biggest factors to getting touring gigs. As people get older, friend groups can become a bit more separate with guys and girls. Music is such a great connector though that mixing it up as your next jam and inviting both genders to play (not just have a female singer!) can be really fun and a good way to include everyone. Also making sure everyone gets a chance to solo!

3) Gear chats!
Helping someone see why something is so special to you and getting them excited about it is a skill I think everyone has. When it comes to gear, some of the girls I’ve taught have started by seeing their bf’s pedal board or gear, but haven’t been invited into the experience themselves. I’m the type of person who gets really excited about things and can’t help but want other people to jump on board with that too (I’m pretty sure there have been zero interesting TED talks/ Podcasts/ cool licks I have learned about and not shared with my husband!). When my students have started playing electric, I love talking to them about pedals and seeing them light up when they see all the possibilities and sounds they have heard on a song they love and being able to so easily recreate it. Assuming they will definitely be interested in pedals and love them as much as I do is usually a self-fulfilling prophecy! I think more women would be interested in electric guitar and pedals if that was expected of them. Something that’s always baffled me too is guitar doesn’t rely on physical strength like football or something, so it really can be for everyone!

I hope a few of these tips were helpful for you if you are a guy! I know most all the guys I know are inclusive, fun to jam with, and really excited to start seeing more females playing electric guitar. There will obviously always be some people who will say offensive things or try to make something feel invalid out of insecurity (especially online!), but my sister always says, “Don’t feed the trolls!” meaning we don’t need to engage with those types of comments or people. Focusing on the people who need you, thinking the best of people, and doing what you love will always make you happiest!"



You can connect with Haley on her website about lessons or to ready her blog - www.haleypowesmusic.com, her Facebook or Instagram. We would like to thank Haley for sharing her experiences with us!

 

 

Seeing Joey Landreth again and knowing that music has a future, just by meeting up with someone from your hometown...

Once again, last night, I had the distinct pleasure of seeing quite possibly my favourite guitarist perform at close quarters… Mr Joey Landreth.

I know, ask me tomorrow and my favourite will be someone else, but right now the endless carousel of my ‘favourites’ is quite often leaning more towards Joey than other players. It may be a phase I’m going through, it may not be, but if it is a phase, it’s one that’s been going on for a couple of years now and I can’t see it stopping anytime soon.

Those who’ve not heard me talk about Joey before here is the obligatory backstory… I met him by chance a couple of NAMM’s ago when I was out partaking in a ‘couple of beers’ with the legend that is Andy Wood (insert name drop horn here) and he introduced me to “my man Joey”… It was dark and noisy in the bar so I turned to Andy and said “Is that Joey f$%&ing Landreth?” and he laughed and said “Yes sir!”. I proceeded to talk at Joey for about an hour and have since been to see him here in the UK every chance I get…  And he never, ever disappoints.

Fortunately for us over here it’s never very far to travel to see great music, I live at the arse end of nowhere so people rarely come down this far, but in about an hour or so I can see great music (although truth be known, I hate travelling anywhere so I’m in grumpy mode when the tickets are released and they don’t come down here… but, moving swiftly on)… The venue was small, busy… standing room only – I would say no more than 140 people all packed in like a tightly packed box of Lego. I looked around the room and noticed 6 ‘That Pedal Show’, 4 ‘Fender’, 1 ‘Gibson’ and 2 ‘PRS’ shirts on display… Yep, the place was full of guitar players. Fortunately, we had arrived early so I got a small chance to catch up with Joey before the first act, who Joey described as “My drummer, Roman”… so, we thought that would be interesting, as I’ve never seen a drummer as a support act. Roman is not just a drummer. He is so much more. Sitting behind a piano we were treated to some masterful playing and a voice that was outstanding. High in register, so not only perfect for harmonies but on his own was the kind of voice that was absolutely mesmerizing. I would say Roman is picking up a lot of new fans on this tour, including us.

I’m sitting here trying to find superlatives about Joey and the band (Roman Clarke on drums and Meg Dolovich on bass) and I’m trying my hardest to not sound sycophantic, or overtly gushing, but there are times when you see an artist who is not at the start of their career, but most certainly still very much on the ascent, and you just know you are in the presence of something extremely special. I get the feeling that providing ‘this’ carries on as it already is, Joey Landreth will be held at the highest esteem by the wider population as he already is by the fanatical fans that are already following him.

I guess you are wondering why I am writing about this - as Joey is not one of our artists, he doesn’t use our gear but to be honest, you could say this is about me wanting to make as many people as possible aware of this monumental talent so you can see him now before the only chance you get is at festivals or bigger gigs. But, this piece is more about the guy we took up to the gig, a young musician from the small town I live in that I’ve been aware of for a while, just a name I knew from kids at the school and the small community we live in – although I was aware of him, we’d never met and not spoken to before.

He, Jake, contacted me through Facebook as he was desperate to get to the gig – he’d got himself a ticket and failed in his efforts to get his Dad to take him up – so he contacted me to ask if he could come up with us (myself and Lisa, my wife) - we said “Sure” but at the same time, feeling kinda weird as we were not knowing what to expect. I mean, we are both in our mid 40’s and the thought of spending around 3 hours in the car with a college kid in his late teens… what do we talk about? In the first few minutes he managed to blow away any worries I had as he was everything you expect an atypical teenager not to be. He is an articulate tone chaser, works like an animal in his job (He’s also in college studying music production) in order to buy the gear he GAS’s for, is exceptionally well read on gear, experienced in everything and could easily talk for hours on end about pickups, pedals, guitars, amps, valves and just about everything else related to gear. Also, from the videos I’ve seen he’s a great player and great singer. When you spend as much time as the marketing side of this business as I do you sometimes notice the divisions in the customer base and quite often a lot of the younger gearheads are very focused in their views, opinionated towards certain styles of music and the gear associated with them, but he was – is – an open book. Only interested in one thing – the quality of the product. Whether that be gear or what is going into his ears in terms of music, as long as it’s good, he’s good with it. Obviously, he leans in a certain direction with his musical tastes, but the way he was talking about old and new music alike, across many genres, was fantastic. He approaches music and gear with a wide-eyed wonderment that is so rare to see these days in anyone, let alone a teenager. So, those who knock millennials can think again as there are great young musicians out there who work hard for their craft and are so respectful for the wider aspect of the industry and the results of it… People like him give me a great feeling for the future of music and the guitar.

Back to Joey Landreth… had to happen really. What can I say, other than open up Spotify and listen to his music. If he’s playing anywhere near you, cancel whatever you have planned and go and see him. You won’t regret it. Joey is a man of such musical beauty you will walk away from the gig in a better place than when you entered. If you take the time to get in line and get to talk with him as well, you will probably walk away thinking either: 1: You wish you were married to him; 2: You wish your daughter was married to him; 3: You were him; or at the very least, 4: You had one of the four things he has in abundance… a rare talent for singing, a rare talent for playing the guitar, a rare talent for songwriting, and a rare talent for being the coolest and straight up nicest guy on the planet.

To be honest, if I didn’t love the man so much I’d probably be obliged to hate him for any one of those reasons listed above.

Anyway, enough about all this. This week I’m also off to see Adrian Legg, the acoustic master who can terrify any player from a distance of 100 yards and Kris Barras, the most exciting young blues player the UK has spawned since Matt Schofield (who was there last night who I walked straight into and exclaimed at high volume with much vulgar surprise something along the lines of “Good golly gosh, you’re that Matt Schofield chap aren’t you?” - but slightly more to the point).

Yeah, it’s a good week to be me. Here is a small clip of last night, I would have filmed more, but I didn't want to watch him on my phone, I wanted to see it all properly.


 

Being blown away by Cory Wong from Vulfpeck...

Life in the gear industry isn’t always as glamorous as it may seem. My idea of it years ago was playing guitar through prototypes, testing new products and talking to famous people all the time. Some of those are true, but it’s far less than most would imagine. Most days revolve around spreadsheets, marketing insights and subsequent planning, loads of content creation and customer-service stuff. It’s still great because it’s based on a passion of mine, but sometimes like I’ve said before that expectation and reality usually aren’t the same thing. Occasionally though, I do get to get out from behind the desk and go have some fun. I’ve been a long-time fan of Cory Wong’s, and he and I had been talking for a few months because he was interested in an amp that I have (Tone King Imperial MKII). He’s been wanting to try one, so I found out that he was going to be playing a show in Virginia not far from me, and I decided to make the trek to VA Beach and take a few Wampler’s along for him to try as well.
 
Soundcheck started at 5 pm for the gig at 9, and from the moment I walked in Cory treated me instantly like a long-lost friend he hadn’t seen in a while. He’s genuinely just one of the sweetest and most genuine guys in the world. I’ll be the first to say that I’m a fan and had to curb my enthusiasm to be professional…and it only borderline worked. Soundcheck started, he and the band ran through the setup with visuals that they ran directly from Corey’s MAC from the stage, operated by Kevon Gastonguay who also pulls synth duties. Normal soundcheck proceeded as they adjusted all their levels and they ran through 3-4 of Cory’s classic songs (Dial-Up, Pleasin’, and Clouds) including a new section they were going to add to a song for the live set. He had said before that he loves the Ego Compressor, but it really hit home when he never shut it off the entire night and that it was the only pedal that he said he used with Vulfpeck as well. This show was different than most I’ve been to because Cory isn’t a lead singer, but more so a harmonizer. The backing screen has always been part of the show at every concert, but Cory integrated with it, so it was like another band member. He had recorded Antwaun Stanley singing in a booth and harmonized with the video, using vocal effects he had set on his mic for ambience and voice changing effects. 
 
I knew from the initial few notes that these guys were the next level of locked-in to the groove together. I’ve been very fortunate to see quite a few live acts, and I’ve never seen a band so rhythmically tight as Cory and his band. We hung out for a few hours while Cory tested some pedals (Mini Ego, Tumnus, Clarksdale, FTEv2, Ethereal and a pedal no one has seen yet). He loved the new pedal, as well as the Clarksdale and Tumnus, and it was refreshing to see that he knew exactly what he wanted and needed for live use, and in his playing style, he just didn’t need a delay. He said they’re fun but just unnecessary for him.  He was straight with me the entire way with what he loved and wished was a bit different, but in the eend, e kept coming back to his love of the Ego Comp. The guys finished up and headed to go get some food, so I watched the opening act Jacob Sigman and his band sound check as well. Their guitarist was in need of a reverb pedal and asked if I happen to bring anything. So, we loaded up the Ethereal and dialled in a great slapback with a touch of plate reverb, and he loved it. He used it the entire show and adjusted it on the fly, and it sounded killer. 
 
The show was fantastic. Jacob's band was tight and had a great mix of synth-pop with funky rhythms. After about 7 songs Cory hit the stage and they went to town like it was the last gig they were ever going to play. It was like a master-class in musicianship and rhythm, as the grooves were so tight that it felt like the whole building was locked into it and moving with them. Cory had just recently gotten the coveted “Koz Nod,” which is the industry nod from Dave Koz which serves and an official welcome into the world of smooth jazz. They played for about an hour and a half, and it left me the most inspired that I’ve ever been. He did play some incredibly cool solos, but his rhythmic chops are on another level, and his strat just sounded perfect into the Imperial MKII. The entire time Cory was grateful, joked with the crowd and just made it feel like a bunch of friends hanging out and jamming.
 
Coming back around to the Imperial MKII, he loved the amp but literally only had a use for the rhythm channel (blackface). One thing that I can say is that there’s absolutely no substitute for raw talent, practice, and subsequently refined skillsets from the combination of both. Fundamentally, gear is a tool, and he showed me that clearer than any other player I’ve seen. Gear is fun, no doubt, but a tool nonetheless for musicians to express themselves. Some do it with extravagant rigs and various combinations of effects wizardry, and others cut to the bare bones and let their hands do the talking. Most of the night it was just Strat > Ego Compressor > Imperial MKII, and it sounded great. No frills, just incredible honed skill that made me reassess my own playing and evaluate what was important in my gear choices, and what I had just as excess. I can definitely say that after seeing him play through my amp, that tone is DEFINITELY largely in the hands.
 
 

Chasing the tones of Jerry Cantrell and.... It’s time to win a free pedal!

It’s been literally AGES since we’ve done a giveaway, so we thought it was about time we caught up with ourselves and give you the opportunity to win a pedal, for doing very little at all.

It’s all contained within the video that Brian posted yesterday… In the video, he’s dissecting the classic track from Alice In Chains – Them Bones. As you may remember from my blog post a couple of weeks ago about breaking down Bohemian Rhapsody, listening to the raw tracks is most definitely our thing at the moment, I mean… I’ve even been listening to songs by Rick Astley in stem form – it’s like an addiction that is almost impossible to break once you get into it! 

This track is enormous… well, the guitars are anyway... Brian takes them apart track by track to give you an idea of how HUUUGE the tones are. 

We got a great insight from Wampler Artist Andy Wood about the recording process, how he hears it… “Judging by the tones there definitely seems to be multiple mics on each track, that’s where the real magic is happening. It sounds like maybe even a pair of stereo room mics are involved that creating that 3D effect. once you go left and right with that it ends up HUGE. None of what I.m saying is based on anything other than what I’m hearing and my own experience in the studio.”

What I love about this song is that the guitar groove that dominates the song gives a times signature of 7/8 with the chorus reverting to a straight 4/4 groove (this, of course, is open to interpretation but that's how I hear it)… certainly makes it stick out from the rest of the field! 

Guitarist Jerry Cantrell said in an interview with Guitar World in 1998 when asked about the time signature – “I really don't know where that comes from; it just comes naturally to me. I could sit down and figure it out, but what's the use? Off-time stuff is just more exciting — it takes people by surprise when you shift gears like that before they even know what the hell hit 'em. It's also effective when you slow something down and then slam 'em into the dash. A lot of Alice stuff is written that way — 'Them Bones' is a great off-time song.

Drummer Sean Kinney said about it in an interview with Rhythm Magazine in 2016 -

"I remember that one p**sing me off because it was a pretty straightforward sort of metal-edged tune. I remember working on it but not wanting it to be straightforward. I had to figure out what kind of groove to put on it. The grooves were disjointed, timing-wise. I remember getting pretty frustrated, knocking over the drums and wondering what I could do there. It took a little time to figure it out and make it more unique than it could have been. I had to wrap my head around it and once it clicks you think, 'Ah, I'm gonna try it this way.'"

Anyway, enough of me geeking out about cool time signatures (I really hope he doesn’t dissect anything by Dream Theatre or Rush anytime soon), here is the video that gives details about the giveaway…

 

For reference, here is the original track from the official Alice In Chains YouTube channel.

Good luck people!

 

 

 

 

 

But the audience can’t tell the difference!!

How many times have you seen that comment as part of an argument online and kinda rolled your eyes at it? Well, if you are anything like me, you stopped counting when you ran out of fingers and toes. 

So, to counter that, here is a bold statement. “Who cares if the audience can hear the difference?”

OK, so let me expand on that a little. When I play live (and I’m pretty certain that this applies to everyone I play with and coming to think about it, everyone I’ve spoken too about it), a great guitar tone (or bass tone – or drum tone or whatever) is about one thing and one thing only, giving the person who is behind the instrument the opportunity to feel as comfortable as possible in order to play at their very best. The audience, generally, only cares about two things. “Is the band any good?” and “Do I like the music?”. We can do nothing about the second statement, but the first we have total control over - I doubt very much if the audience is thinking about the composite parts that result in that what they are hearing.

An integral part of any live performance is whether or not the band is any good. It’s extremely rare that a band will sound good to the audience as a whole if they sound simply awful (unless of course, their whole existence is that rough around the edges feel). I’ve seen some amazing bands in the past that have given me a terrible night because they sounded awful – and that could be the FOH mix, the individual instrument tones or anything else. I remember one night were an entire pub emptied within 3 songs because the band sounded awful. And this was the same band that went on to sell out endless world tours and go on to become one of the biggest and influential bands currently performing.

In order for the band to sound great, each person has to be at the top of their game and a lot of the time you can peel that back to ensuring that every person on the stage is comfortable and loving what they are doing and hearing. Have you ever been on stage when for some reason your gear doesn’t react the way you expect it to and it go on to ruin your night? I have, many times. That’s the ‘beauty’ of playing in bars and clubs, some rooms naturally sound amazing and some kill the sound. The key to this, for me anyway, is that in order to feel comfortable I have to be in the right ‘zone’. And that zone is all about my mental state and the relation between me and my gear. If I’m not comfortable, then I don’t play as well. My wife can spot it by the time the first song is halfway through if I’m not comfortable.

Quite often, either during a break or after the gig, people wander over to the stage area and say “You don’t need all that… etc etc” and then go on to say how good it sounds and how much they enjoy/ed my playing. This always strikes me as a little odd, surely the only thing they care about is if it sounds good. It shouldn’t matter if I have one pedal and a £50 guitar into a crappy amp, or if I have boutique level stuff from start to finish… as long as it sounds good as part of the end product. In order for it to sound good, then I have to be stood there and feel 100% comfortable and ready to melt some faces. I think this is key to this debate and a word I've used several times already in this piece – 'comfortable'. Is the player comfortable? and is the gear making them comfortable? I am fully aware that my epic board is somewhat of a comfy blanket for me, I rely on it and most of the effects on it are used once, which is a lot of money to spend on something that is only used in that way – but consider this. I am there for two reasons. Firstly, to satisfy my desire to play live and make music with my buddies, and to see the audience enjoy themselves. The one song that flies into my head at this point is “Runaway” by Del Shannon, latterly covered by Gary Allen – and the version we go is somewhere in the middle of the two. The intro to that is quite a specific tone, and it uses a one time only patch from the Mobius and Timeline (although the TimeLine is used constantly throughout the gig the Mobius only features in 4-5 other songs, 1 for vibe, 1 for tremolo and 3 or so with chorus) -  does it make having a £450 pedal worthwhile? My answer is a resounding YES! On that song, as when I hit that big Am riff to start it, people jump up and start dancing. That makes me comfortable, that makes me happy and so I play better.

The main question I have to ask myself is this. Would it sound any worse to the audience if I didn’t use those patches and just got myself a crappy cheap trem pedal. Or not use those sounds at all and just use a normal tone. Well, it may well do… but the fact it’s all midi controlled so the tempo is right makes me a happy boy. There is no tap dancing, there is no tweaking of speed, it’s just there and I know that it’s going to sound killer every night (not taking into consideration if the room is awful). This means I can relax, concentrate on one of the most finger bending solos I have to do later in the song and not worry about anything not sounding the way I expect it to. 

There are a lot of players out there who survive beautifully going straight in, or using cheaper pedals and everything else, but as a player I need to know what to expect when I hit that button. When I know what to expect, I relax, when I am relaxed I play better. And the only thing the audience does care about, I’ve found, is that I play to the best of my abilities every time I get up on that stage. It’s not about sounding the best because the £2K Klon has more mojo than the £150 Tumnus, it’s about only having to concentrate on the playing. For me, the Klon is excessive as I feel I don’t need it as the Tumnus does the trick for me every night, but I know many players that only feel comfortable when they have a real vintage Klon in their chain. Now, I can barely tell the difference when I play them side by side, so incorporated into a band mix I’m 100% confident I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, and I would go as far as saying that they can’t either… the audience wouldn’t have a chance – but if the player is happy, and therefore playing their best because they are so happy, then for me – it’s worth every penny spent.

For reference, here is my rig and I’ve taken the liberty of adding up the total cost of it all new. 

Guitars
PRS Brent Mason signature.
’94 Fender MIM Strat with hand wired Seymour Duncan Antiquities
Epiphone Mandolin 

Outboard
Line6 G30, TC Electronic Polytune 2 into One Control OC-10 looper that contains…. Wampler Mini Ego Compressor, Wampler Mini Tumnus, Wampler Paisley Drive Deluxe, TC Quintessence, Strymon Mobius (split into pre and post), Strymon TimeLine, TC Electronic MiniHOF, Wampler dB+… All wired up with Evidence Audio SIS/Monorail.

Amps and Speakers
Fender BDri
Custom made 2x12” speaker cab loaded with WGS Reaper HP and WGS ET65.
Spare amp – Quilter 101 MR 

Yep. That’s £7k of gear to play covers in pubs once or twice a week. But, let's face it – I could double that figure EASILY! Yes, I know, that original figure is insane. I really know it is, but it makes me happy and this is my only hobby and I know whenever I go out to make a noise I sound as good as I personally can - so in that regard, it’s worth it. All of it!