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Today would have marked the 69th Birthday of Farrokh Bulsara - better know to the world as Freddie Mercury. To many, including myself, Freddie was not only a mind blowing musician, singer, and songwriter; but the greatest live showman to ever grace the stage - it's really hard to imagine him knocking on the door of 70 year old.
Today I shall be dusting off my Queen albums, live DVD's, cranking up the Thirty Something and marvelling in the majesty of Mercury.
Here's my favourite Mercury moment, 25 minutes that is now known to have saved the band from self destruction - the performance of day (from either side of the Atlantic). Fortunately, living here in England, I have enjoyed watching bands in the old and new Wembley Stadium so I can only imagine what it must have been like to be there and been one of the 72,000 people who was in the palm of Freddie's hand... actually, no I can't.
I have always been a huge Brad Paisley fan ever since I heard "Me Neither” from his first album. When I first started building pedals one of my huge goals was to work with him, with the ultimate goal of developing pedals specifically for him.
Around 2002-3 or so, Brad was in concert in my town and I had the idea to take a BOSS pedal that I had modified and throw it up on stage in the hope he'd get to play it maybe. At this time, his show was a little smaller then it is now and the venue allowed for people to come up towards the stage and take a picture during one of the songs. I snuck the pedal in my coat pocket and walked up to the stage and tossed it on the stage in front of him. He looked down at me, then at the pedal, then back at me and then looked straight over to his tech and motioned for him to come and get it. I later found out what that guitar tech’s name was (Zac Childs), found his contact information, and then got a hold of him and asked if Brad had a chance to play the pedal yet. Brad had and liked it so much they invited me out to a show the next time they were in town. I was so excited I couldn't stop smiling for days... And so this started off my relationship with Brad Paisley.
Over the years as I've got to know him and his band better it's been truly amazing experience. There's really nothing quite like the feeling of working with someone who you respect on a creative, emotional and musical level. To be able to build on that by creating guitar pedals especially for him that helps him to do what he does best even better, build effects that help inspire him to the write songs that inspire millions of people around the world is mind blowing.
A few days ago he was near me in Indianapolis so Amanda and I went out see him and we discussed doing some special projects together - A lot of very exciting things happening soon!
So, let's be straight about this, you want to know what gear Brad is currently using, so here goes! Brad is the type of guy that is a huge tone nut and loves switching things around and trying new things when chasing tones. He started using some Marshall Plexi's on the road (as you can see in the pictures) and since he uses a switcher he can switch in and out different amplifier heads as well as different cabinets. He can also switch any effect that he would like in at any time. Of course he has a ton of great guitars with him on the road including some beautiful old Fenders and of course those awesome hand built Crook Guitars. Over the last few years Brad has become more and more of a big fan of delay pedals, so he takes a ton out with him to try different types of delay for different things. In particular, he prefers a very clean digital style of delay for slapback, but really loves the ambience and atmosphere that different types of delay bring to him. Of course, he just loves using overdrive, distortion and fuzz in ways that you would not think would be indicative of country music. However, he gets very good tone out of his equipment and his tone is certainly identifiable to him no matter what he plays through! Here are a few pictures from before and during the show:
Today I wanted to about volume. How loud is too loud? Volume can be a constant battle depending on venue, equipment, sound engineers, and fellow band members. You make sure you are heard and not lost in the mix, but you also don’t want to seem obnoxiously loud. Here is a question that came to me via email from one of our customers:
“One thing is that I’ve always played my guitar with the volume knob on 10 – and I’ve set all my overdrives with this in mind (so rolling back would clean them up). When we do sound check, I tend to play the loudest I’m going to, which is what I’ve been told is the idea. But guess what – I’ve got no room for dynamics! So if the other guys (keys & drums) play louder in a song, I’ve got no headroom at all to work with that. Other than having a better sound guy, how can I approach this from my end without being a jerk? I don’t want to be that guy that thinks guitar should dominate the sound all the time, but there’s not much point playing if I’m inaudible. Any suggestions?”
I had my own ideas on how to help this customer - but sometimes it's fun to just pick the bosses brain. So for this one – I’ll let the Man behind the tone curtain – Mr. Brian Wampler himself answer it.
From Brian: “If everyone is turning up louder and louder then you will have to as well, or else you will indeed be buried in the mix. I'd start out at sound check by turning up louder than you plan on playing and have the sound guy set the input trim (input level control). Then, when you sound check with the band play at your lower volume and he can ride the slider to fit it in the mix. Then as the other band members turn up, use a clean boost pedal (like our dB+ ) to slowly edge up the overall volume little by little if everyone else gets louder. It doesn't really make you "the jerk", but it is indeed a sign that the other people in the band need to get their levels right before hand and then not touch the volume unless absolutely necessary.”
Until next time Tone Chasers!
So, on my day off yesterday I found myself sitting in my living room, next to a snoring dog, and reading blogs on the internet... Pretty standard stuff for a guy of my age with a brain that can't sit still. Most of the time, I freely admit, most articles/blogs/statements go into my eyes and then fall straight out the back of my head without even scratching the sides - but yesterday I read something that consolidated several thoughts I have recently had, all at once, and gave me an understanding about what the difference is with music, and the way we consume it today, and for example, in comparison with 1985.
The article in question was from Wampler Artist Dave Brons - an independent musician from the North of England. His blog piece was talking about communicating and connecting with his audience and how he feels the music industry is treating artists in the 21st century. I strongly advise you read it here - The blog certainly gives you something to think about in terms of income streams for the professional musician and also how an emerging artist can make a difference in such a plastic, manufactured and manipulated music industry and maintain some sense of integrity.
This brings me back to the title of this blog. What is the the value of music in 2015? Where does value come from? Let's look at the band who can arguably be called the biggest rock band in the world over the last 30 odd years - Iron Maiden. This week they are due to release their 16th studio album (it's amazing they have only released 15 considering their first was in 1979) to an incredibly eager, loyal and patient fanbase. Now, thinking about this, I expect some of you can relate - In 1985 I remember being a 12 year old kid who had saved up ALL my pocket money to buy their latest release. Picture the scene - for the first time ever I was allowed to go into town on my own. The album, of course, was their now legendary recording made over 4 nights at Long Beach Arena, "Live After Death". I made it into town without incident and had been into the store and headed straight back to the bus station with my prized possession ready to go home. In front of me was a 30 minute wait for the bus and another 30 minute bus ride home... How did I spend those 60 minutes? Well, if you are in someways unaware of the album I will describe it for you. It's a gatefold double vinyl, with the usual conceptual artwork of "Eddie" provided by Derek Riggs front and back, and literally hundreds of photos by Ross Haflin inside that had been taken of the band over the entirety of the tour the album was recorded from - these photos were not just on the album inside cover but actually on the record sleeves themselves... I can tell you now that that hour was the fastest and most exciting of my life.
I can't remember how much the album cost me, about £10 ($17 or so) which was at the time, to me at least, was an absolute fortune. Literally months worth of saving. The one thing I can tell you now though is that it was worth every penny before I had even got home and put either of the discs on to the turntable... Think about that for a minute. You go out to buy an album for (subjectively) a LOT of money and you consider it to be complete value for money before you've even put the record on and listened to it.
How does that compare to today. Well, as mentioned before this week sees the new Maiden album being released. Book of Souls. And guess what, 7 days before the album was released I was offered the album on .mp3 at 320 kbps. So, in the opinion of many people, probably the best quality you can get out of .mp3. That .zip files could be downloaded, unzipped and in my iTunes within what... 3 minutes? Now, let's compare the acquisition of this album and directly compare it to that 12 year old kid who was so engrossed in the cover of an album he nearly missed his bus stop on the way home. Quite the difference.
It saddens me that music has come down to this level. It's pretty obvious that to many it has become a disposable commodity openly shared between people who don't know each other. People can steal music in a matter of seconds, or if they do buy it is in their preferred music player almost instantly without leaving the comfort of their own armchair... Where is the excitement? Where is the fevered anticipation? Where is fun?
In conclusion, it becomes obvious that Brons nails it in his blog piece. In order to make waves in your career you must connect with the people who buy your music. You have to find a way to make them emotionally invested in you as well as your product. You have to make them want to connect with you in such a way they will part with their hard earned money because if you can do that, you will start the long journey of successfully making a living by doing what you love - writing, performing and releasing your music.
I guess the question you are all asking is did I download the Maiden album a week before release? Could I resist it? Of course I couldn't, I did it. I listened to it before release. But... think about this also, I had already preordered it at full face value a week before and the reason I continued with the purchase of something I already had possession of (I can't say I own it) is because of the connection I personally have with Iron Maiden. Because of the 12 year old me sitting on the bus finding that tiny picture of Dave Murray sitting on Bruce Dickinson's shoulders during a live show and daydreaming that one day it could be me...
I just found this quiz on reverb.com - thought I'd take it to see which one I got - I answered the questions honestly and got the result I hoped I got - having worked for Brian for around 6 years I needed for it to say this!!!
You can take the quiz for yourself here - let me know what result you get!
(The above picture hangs right next to my desk, right next to every desk I've had)
25 years ago today we lost a musical giant and torch barer for blues music - Mr. Stevie Ray Vaughan.
On the evening of August 26th, 1990 Vaughan had just got done playing an all-star studded event with his band Double Trouble, joined as special guests for a concert at the Alpine Valley Musical Theater in East Troy, Wisconsin - along with Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, and Jimmie Vaughan (Stevie's older brother, guitar player for the Fabulous Thunderbirds/ Jimmy Vaughan Band.) After the show, around 1:00AM Vaughan took off in a helicopter heading towards to Chicago. Visibility was low that night because of a dense fog. The pilot of the helicopter; Jeff Brown, was an experienced airplane pilot - having lots of experience flying airplanes in this kind of inclement weather. Unfortunately, and what would prove tragically, Brown had little experience flying helicopters in such conditions. Because of the dense fog/ low visibilit y- Brown did not see a large 300ft ski slope at the Alpine Valley Resort and collided with it going close to full speed. Everyone on board was killed instantly. The crash was just over a half mile from takeoff.
For those of you who have followed Stevie Ray Vaughan - your experiences of how his music/ life effected you may differ. For me, Stevie Ray Vaughan and the music he played impacted me greatly. Even though I was only 4 and a half years old when he left this world - his music was powerful enough that I was able to discover it at 10 years old and be a dedicated disciple of his music and the blues for the last 20 years. While my friends were listening to metal and pop rock - I was listening to Texas Flood on tape in my walkman. I stretched the tape so much on so many copies that my parents eventually bought me a CD player because it was cheaper than buying more and more copies of Stevie Ray Vaughan tapes. Wether you like, love, or hate Stevie Ray Vaughan there is no denying that he created a legacy and helped secure the future of blues music by revitalizing an old style and craft of music that was previously dying.
I was going to end this blog with one of about 20 of my favorite Stevie Ray Vaughan songs - but I couldn't pick just one. Instead I think on this day it's fitting to end this blog with a song in tribute of that foggy night written/ performed by Stevie's brother Jimmy Vaughan. Even though I've heard this song a thousand times - the words and the meaning still give me chills every time. "Heaven done called another blues stringer back home."
Do you remember when you first sat up and really, really took notice of the guitar - how it could talk? How it could cry? How it could be a little cheeky or dare I say it, give the impression of being a touch sarcastic or have the kind of comedic timing only ever found in Laurel and Hardy films?
Like so many others around my age, for me it was the The Eagles, Hotel California. I was a young player, single figures young, and had absolutely no idea about phrasing - real musical phrasing on the guitar... about feel, touch, expression... About 12 strings, compression, phasers, fuzz, overdrive, humbuckers, single coils, harmony or even the concept of multi track recording, I just knew what sounded amazing to my young and impressionable ears. And Hotel California sounded just that, amazing.
Now, many years on, after countless hours spent learning the various guitar tracks, and far too many times berating the radio stations and plastic sounding DJ's who talked over the solos - someone has kindly taken the time to isolate the various guitar parts (if somewhat crudely) and put them on You Tube.
Aaaaahhh, the internet. How I love you!
Today I'd like to cover a topic that comes up quite often through email or on the Wampler Pedals Tone Group on Facebook: Setting up amp EQ's when running 2 amps in stereo.
We'll use two amps that are very different as an example. Let's use a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe (clean channel, we'll just forget that the dirty channel exists), and a Vox AC30. Two VERY different amps in terms of EQ and gain structure and tonal frequencies. Bear with me on this one:
I look at a stereo setup as a painting. Your output of both amps should combine to look like a finely painted picture. Let's break that down into colors:
- Highs and Upper-Mids = Light colors - Lows and Low-Mids = Dark colors
The goal is to find the right mix of colors to make the painting look right.
Step 1 - Setup a great clean tone with your AC30, as if you were going to run it on its own. Straight up, no frills. AC30's are fairly bright, so you want to make sure you get that high-end chime without being piercing. Step 2 - Fire up the Hot Rod Deluxe, and find your favorite standalone clean tone. Fenders are inherently much bassier and low-mid focused, so try to dial in a great clean tone that isn't too woofy and flubby (#GuitarLingo) Step 3 - Make sure your pedal is ready that you're going to use to run stereo. In this instance, I'm using a Neo Mini Vent as my stereo output. Set your amps up about a foot apart, angled slightly towards each other so the sound frequencies will meet in the middle and bounce around together Step 4 - Cut both amps on and play a bit. The thing to listen for first and foremost is if there's anything that sounds out of place. It may be a bit too much high end, or the bass has a bit too much overlap. Make small changes, that way if you find a sound you love, you won't lose it.
The goal is to take all of the colors available on your amp, and blend them to the perfect match. Maybe you like the sparkle of the AC30 (light colors and airiness), but the bass and thump of the Hot Rod Deluxe (depth and deep color)? Maybe you like the cleans on the Hot Rod Deluxe, but want to add some extra chime and sparkle to the mix? The goal is to find a middle-ground that both sound great together, but so they both complement your pedals too.
I typically have one amp that I love, and it's my primary amp I use for my base tone. My stereo setup will focus on that sound as the primary, then I use another amp to fill in the tonal palette to give me a fuller sound. In this example, a brownface has been doing it for me lately. I have that amp as my primary tone, then I fill in the clarity and sparkle with my Dr. Z Prescription Jr. (AC15-ish). The brownface covers the lows and low-mids, where the RXjr covers the highs and high-mids.
One major tip that I can recommend is stepping away from your amps as far as your cable will take you. This will give you the fullest sonic onslaught of tone, and most importantly, it's what your audience will hear.
Until next time, Tone Chasers!
- Alex Clay