Gigging - Part 2

Following up on my last blog regarding the shining example of where things can go very wrong at a gig (you can read that here: http://www.wamplerpedals.com/news/blog/general-chat/gigging-what-not-to-do-part-1) , I’ve compiled this quick list with the help of some friends from the industry regarding things that will help prepare anyone for a successful gig.
 
1.    Know the material – Practicing learning and knowing the songs back and forth is a major thing. If you’re not comfortable with a part, discuss it with the band and see what options there are. In the end though, there’s nothing that can replace good practice. Practicing the full set will help get the bugs out of the performance. Your singer can even practice the banter with the crowd during each set. Locking down that show to where it’s second nature will make your performance and the audience’s experience much more enjoyable for everyone. In the end that’s the main goal, right? We all love playing music and the audience is there because they love the music. It’s far more fun when you don’t have to worry about whether you recall the chord changes in the verse or what key the solo is in!
 
2.    Be Prepared – I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying of “It’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.” This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to pack an extra amp and 15 guitars, but you can if you want! We do our best to maintain our gear, but often it’s at the least opportune timing that something is prone to failure. Having a few backup items can really help when the time comes and you’re in a pinch. An extra set of strings, extra picks, extra patch cables and long cables, a headstock tuner, super glue, a multi-tool, and even in some cases a fallback for when an amp goes down. If your amp goes down mid-gig, it’s not a bad idea to have some backup setup, maybe a cheap cab sim that you can run directly into the mixer from your board. The hopes are that you’ll never need it, but again it’s better to have it. Having trusted and reliable gear will cut out a lot of worries. Make sure you’ve got solid patch cables that can handle a bit of contorting and movement. If you notice a short at any point then troubleshoot or swap it out. If a guitar has a problem, it’s good to bring a spare just in case as well.
 
3.    Tuning – This seems like a no-brainer, but there are still some that jump in head first without tuning, and that’s completely preventable. Take the time to ensure each band member with applicable instruments are in tune (also part of #2). There’s nothing worse than an out of tune instrument. Pedal tuners and headstock tuners are cheaper and more reliable now than ever. They’re also great because you can tune silently so you’re not bothering the audience while you’re getting setup. If you’re having problems with your guitar staying in tune, throw on a new set of strings and stretch them properly before the gig. If there’s still a problem it may be worth taking it to a tech to see if it needs a setup. Also, if you have songs in different tunings, be prepared to either tune quickly and quietly, or have a backup guitar that’s already in the alternate tuning (see #1).
 
4.    See #1
 
5.    Stage Prep and Presence – Before getting to the gig, practice setting up and tearing down your rig. Getting it down to a science will make it quick and efficient (especially if playing with another band at the gig). It’s a good idea to get a feel for the stage if possible. When plugging in your guitar, be sure to loop it through your strap to ensure that when it’s stepped on, that it won’t rip the cable out of the input jack. Make sure cables going into and out of your pedalboard are away from high traffic areas if possible. You don’t want your drummer or singer stomping on the output cable and breaking the jack on your pedal. Aesthetics are a big part because the audience will be looking at the band as their source of visual entertainment. That may seem contrived or like selling out, but people judge with their eyes first (it’s just the way the world is now). Trying to keep a cohesive attire that’s appropriate for the gig is great. Stage presence, lights, all of it adds up to the combined experience for the audience, so plan accordingly to give the best visual representation of where you want the band to be. Again, it’s leaving a lasting impression on the audience as to what they will remember. 
 
6.    In the Mix – After setting up, it’s good to test the mix with a soundcheck. Be sure to take the time to setup each instrument so the level sits right in the mix. Nobody wants to hear only one instrument drowning out the others. If you can find a way to do so, step back from the stage to where the audience will be to see how it sounds. Having the levels right can really make a dramatic difference, especially when it comes to guitar tone. Depending on the height of the stage, you don’t want to blow the ear drums of the people in the front row, so the position of the amp makes a difference too. An important thing to remember is that your tone at home is going to be very different than in a live situation. Each room has its own contours and obstructions that absorb or reflect the sound, and the natural compression of the speakers and the added character of a louder amp will make your drives sound different. All of those goes back to #1 (can you see a pattern yet) where practice makes perfect and eliminating variables can make for a smoother gig. Usually, more often than not, the venue that you’re playing in won’t need a 100w half stack. Finding a nice combo amp (1x12 or 2x12, etc) makes for easier portability and less overkill on volume. 
 
7.    Identify Yourself – It’s good practice to make sure that your band’s name is very easy to see, so that way it leaves an impression and something memorable. If you can have it advertised by the venue, perfect! The goal is to create brand/band awareness to create an image for the band and subsequently what kind of a show people will expect when they see or hear the name. It’s not a bad thing at all to promote your social media pages, so long as it’s tastefully mentioned. Having a defined name that’s memorable and easily searchable will make it easier for users to find your page and your music going forward.
 
8.    See #1
 
9.    Promote the Venue – Venues have bands come play because it offers a show for their patrons. The end goal is that everyone likes getting paid, so the more the venue makes, the higher chances there are of being asked to come back and subsequently fostering that relationship with venues. While we’re on venues, it’s not a bad idea to have a contract signed by the band and the venue owner, just to be covered. You never know sometimes…
 
10.    Promote Yourself – The goal is always to spread the word and help people identify your band. Taking the time to make sure your band’s name and social media usernames are present makes a significant difference in our age of technology. You want to be easily searchable, so a banner or something that has the username of your pages is great to have posted somewhere for people to easily see. Have the singer promote the pages and repeat the band name periodically through the gig to leave that impression on people’s minds.
 
11.    Make People Move – People come out to have a good time, and they’re choosing to spend their money and time to see a show. Playing covers establishes a connection for a feeling of familiarity, and depending on the song it can make people dance (fast or slow songs), sing along, etc. Original songs are fine sporadically mixed in, but when just starting out it’s good do have a set of songs that will keep your audience entertained and wanting more. As much as it may not be fun to do, top 40 songs and songs that are currently relevant go a long way. Not saying that originals are terrible in the least bit, but gradual introduction will go a lot further to building your audience. If you can get people moving and involved, you’ve done your job! 
 
12.    Be good to your audience – I recently saw a video of Nickelback in Portugal that was having rocks thrown at them. Despite the hate they receive, they were there to play their music and the people paid to see them. After the second song, the band gave them the middle finger and walked off the stage. I know I’m beating a dead horse here, but keeping the audience happy is an integral part of any gig. Reading the crowd and gauging their responses as you go along is key. If things aren’t going so well (maybe a low-key crowd, etc), have a few songs that are a bit different than ones you played before. 
 
13.    See #1
 
14.    Play for the Song – We all want to include massive solos in songs, mainly because they’re insanely fun to play. That being said, knowing when to play is just as important as knowing WHAT to play (see #1). Just like Miles Davis said: “Don’t worry about playing a lot of notes. Just find one pretty one.” It’s okay to embellish some, but it’s also good to let the song “breathe” so to speak. 
 
15.    Have Fun – The main thing is to have fun! Yes, it may be a gig that will put food on the table, but most of us picked up the instrument because we love it and love playing. Most of the things listed above are all precautionary and once you do a once-over on your rig they’re done for good. Play the music you love, soak in the moment and enjoy yourself. You put in the work to get there, you deserve a bit of fun!
 
These are definitely not all of the things that can help create a successful gig, but it at least gets you started!

Gigging - what not to do - Part 1

Gigging… the term is often very fluid in its definition. When someone says they are going to a gig, it could mean a lot of things: It could be a massive outdoor show with thousands of audience members in attendance, or a small obscure bar on a weekday night with a hand few of people listening and all sorts of other things in between. Either way, no matter where you’re playing, it’s in front of a group of people outside of a controlled environment (practice space, home, etc.). Getting out there and playing music in front of an audience is an unrivaled feeling. Equal parts excitement, nervousness, focus and a plethora of other emotions washing over you in waves before, during, and after the gig. A great gig can truly connect with the audience and it just feels like the crowd and the band become one cohesive unit, moving and singing together that everyone can feel the collective sonic aura that is in the air. It’s a truly awe-inspiring moment. Conversely, a poorly executed gig can really wreak havoc that could prolong past the gig in question. Bad gigs turn away customers, which in turn hurts the venue and the band's subsequent change of returning (and even procuring other gigs). I’m not necessarily saying that a bad gig will ruin everything, but with a few minor tweaks and preparations, it can eliminate variables that are possible to mess up. 
 
I’d like to share a story about a gig I recently attended that sparked this blog piece. My wife and a few friends of ours went out to celebrate my wife’s birthday. We ended up at a local restaurant and bar that has been known for having quite good bands play in the past. Everyone ordered drinks around 8 pm with the band starting at 9 pm. We had no clue who the band was, the sign only said, “Live music”. At around 8:15 a few guys started showing up, one carrying pieces of his drum kit, the other carrying a combo amp with a Mesa/Boogie cover and a small pedalboard (We’re guitar players, I can’t imagine I’m the only person who scopes out other rigs at places).  The drummer sets up and begins testing his snare and it was easy to tell outright that he was a heavy-handed guy. The guitarist pulls out his sticker-covered black 70’s-era headstock Strat with the string ends flopping around the headstock. He proceeds to tune (unmuted) and starts riffing. I’m not talking about just quiet noodling; the guy was full-on digging in with his Dunlop Crybaby Mini and Boss DD7 raring to go. Finally, about 8:45 they stop and go to the bar.
 
Prior to taking positions at 9 pm, each of the band members takes between 3-5 shots each of some sort, then they head up and start their set. Prior to playing a single note, the bassist proceeds to inform the crowd that they were playing all original music and no covers, or as they like to call them “Future covers.” They proceeded to play a ska/reggae song that was… okay. The guitarist took an extended solo that lasted about 7 minutes with his wah and delay on with the mix set REALLY high no tap tempo, off beat). After finishing the song, they followed up with reinforcing they were playing future covers, and noted, “One day other bands will be covering our songs. Just remember Led Zeppelin had to start out playing original songs too.” … more on that later. After the first song, the bassist and the guitarist switched and started playing the other’s instrument for the remainder of the time we were there. Into their second song, the bass player started getting a little wound up. The rest of the band was low-key and had a swing feel, where the bassist was jumping around like he was at a punk gig. Amid his carrying on, he proceeded to jump on his cable and rip it out of the input jack. We’ve all been there… you know exactly what that sounded like. He fumbled for a moment then mid song you could hear him crackling the amp trying to plug the cable back in. We endured a few more songs that were accompanied by cliff notes such as, "We wrote this one while we were doing acid on the beach in Australia" and similar things. At 9:45 we decided to move on a check out what else was going on in the city, so we departed.
 
Ever since that night, I’ve been thinking about what went on and how they could have prevented or improved the experience with a few adjustments in the process. In my next blog, I’ll run through a few good practices and tips and tricks of what works and what doesn’t after discussing the topic with colleagues who gig regularly in all sorts of venues.
 
Part 2, coming on Thursday. I know, exciting isn't it! :D

Pride and Ego my lads, it's what makes the world rotate

I was talking to Alex about a forthcoming blog he has coming and I (as usual) ended up quoting an Iron Maiden song to him. The song is B side from 1986, so you know, not one of their most well-known, but me being the Maiden geek I am, it did seemed appropriate.

Alex’s blog is going to be about common problems for people starting out in bands, and I instantly thought of the Maiden’s song “The Sheriff of Huddersfield” which was basically them mercilessly taking the piss out of their manager Rod Smallwood. There is a wonderful line in that (Bruce doing an impression of Rod) that says “Pride and Ego my lads, pride and ego, it’s what makes the world rotate.”

As I was then thinking about what he said, I had somewhat of a revelation myself, so I thought I would put it down on th’internet (one for the good people of Huddersfield there, and Yorkshire in general to enjoy) to remind myself in the future about my place in the universe and playing in a band.

I play in a pub band, doing covers. Nothing outrageous, but we make good noises at all the right times. We do our favourite songs in the hope that the people coming to see us enjoy them also. We are not a note for note type of band, we do everything our way – sometimes that way is like the record, sometimes it’s really not. This means I have a lot of scope as the guitar player to go off on one and enjoy myself with rather long and protracted solos. 

Last week we played a gig and did a song we don’t do very often, “Bring Back The Sunshine” by Eddie Rabbit. We do it nothing like the original, it’s more done in a rock ballad style and I get the opportunity every time to pretend to be David Gilmour.

In my opinion, I did the greatest improvised solo of my life last week in this song, I literally gave myself goosebumps as I was playing it. Mrs Wilding comes to virtually every gig (she often plays the piano with us as well, but wasn’t on the night in question) as she just loves listening to me play. As we’ve been married for over 15 years she knows my playing well and knows when I am happy playing and when I am not, once I had finished my solo I looked up at her and she was beaming at me, smiling all the way up to her eyes and back down again, so I know that she appreciated it also.

Once the set had finished I went outside to cool down and waited for the inevitable glory to be poured on me by my bandmates. You may think I’m joking but we’ve all known each other for literally decades and I’ve been playing with them for that long, not as a regular member of the band but I’ve been dropping in and out for ever, so we know each other really well and we have absolutely no issue with telling each other when one of us does something really good, or really bad. I think it makes us a better band as we trust each other implicitly. I joined the band full time 18 months ago and we’ve often commented on how musically we are a good fit as we are all just fans of each other’s playing. I’ve said before I consider Rick, the bass player, to be the greatest I’ve ever seen and stand by that.

So (there it is again, I really must stop going that), I’m outside and out they come and I say “That was great”… the bass players says “Love that picking thing you did on Liza Jane” and the singer said, “Bring Back The Sunshine…” (here we go, I was about to receive the glory I so richly deserved) “… would be great if you went down low at some point, give it some more dynamics”.

I was devastated. Literally felt like my heart dropped into my stomach. Nothing about my mega solo at all. Mrs Wilding had said it was great, she loved it, she even recognised some of the set pieces I had done within it

It’s taken me until today to realise that my pride and ego have got the better of me, and for that, I openly and publically apologise to them. If I think the solo was that good, but it didn’t catch their attention enough to comment, then I need to make it better. I can remember exactly what I did and how I did it (which is rare when you are a prolific improviser) as a lot of it was sections of some tasty licks from other players put together to make my own version of a solo. I obviously need to make it better, I need to think about its structure and a way to make it more memorable. If I want to catch their attention, I need to actually catch their attention with something and not just assume that because I think something was good, that they should notice it.

Basically, I need to work on me. Pride and Ego my lads, pride and ego. It’s what makes the world rotate.

Gear snobbery in 2017

<rant>

I’ve not had a good internet based rant for ages so I think it might be time to dust off my sword and shield and dive on in…

Part of my job is to answer questions, research products, keep an eye on the competition and the like so I quite often tour the forums (or, as this is 2017, the social media equivalent) as it’s the best way of discovering what is around, what is coming, and what people are leaning towards. Mostly, it’s a very rewarding process but sometimes I read things that make me want to stop the world and get off. My main frustration tends to be geared towards the attitudes that appear to be forming, as you watch them grow and become a thing, it’s very frustrating because once you do this long enough you see it coming and you want to be able to stop it, but you are powerless.

The latest one, or should I say, the one I’ve been noticing for about a year or so now is in full flow.

Inverted Gear Snobbery.

You may have noticed this, as it often revolves around brands such as PRS, Strymon, Two Rock and even sometimes the high-end effects manufacturers such as ours (yes, I know Strymon are that as well but let’s face it, they are a force of their own these days and stand above the resst of the market in that particular field). You’ll notice several reoccurring comments. “Praise and Worship” and “Blues lawyer” and both of these send me postal.

 

Praise and Worship

I despise labels in music, to me, it’s either rock and roll or it’s not. I tend to personally dislike the things that aren’t in my head rock and roll, but you know, that’s me. However, rock and roll isn’t what its common label is, it’s anything cool, edgy, different, powerful, emotional. So, Justin Beiber’s “Love Yourself” is rock and roll, and "Rockstar" by Nickleback isn’t. It’s not about the chord structure or being guitar-based, it’s about the passion, performance and the delivery. If a song is delivered on a Sunday morning, in a church and delivered with passion and power, who cares. To me, it’s still rock and roll. It’s just a genre of music, it has its own style, its own way of doing things… so, there tends to be the Trifecta of Strymons on the board as let’s face it, if you want mental delays, reverbs, modulations to be all over the place, all the time, and have it under control, is there a better tool for it? Nope. Not right now. So why is it a problem? I don’t know, I’ve asked people why and they just laugh and make derogatory comments. It’s all a little strange really, but boy, do they enjoy making disparaging comments about those Strymons and lots of booteek level pedals that are on the board.

 

Blues Lawyers.

This gets right on my nerves as well, so what if someone has worked hard in their career and now has a massive amount of disposable income. So they buy a $4k PRS and play blues licks on it, who cares? What difference does it make? If someone wants to spend their money on a nice guitar, why shouldn’t that, why does it mean we should mock them and make fun of them? Music is being played, and that’s a good thing.

 

So (and yes, I also hate paragraphs that start with that as well), what is this about? Why do people instantly judge people based on the fact they have nice things. Why is it an issue if a random P&W guy uses 3 Strymons for 6 songs on a Sunday morning, or if a successful lawyer owns a few extremely nice PRS. The only issue should be “are they being put to good use”. If they are bought to be put into a bank vault, then yes, we should be in an uproar, but in my experience, they generally aren’t. A lot of people wear their gear as a badge of honour, as a status symbol, but that’s no difference to a young guy and his impressive jewelry or sneaker collection, someone who collects books, paintings, watches, cars… anything. What difference does it make? Do people with a PS1 mock the people with a PS4? No, they don’t.

A lot of this, I think, stems from inverted snobbery that maybe comes from a little jealousy. You’ll often notice that the guy making the most noise is the one with the old TS and Strat into a Fender amp. Or a Gibson into a Marshall. Often runs alongside the “If it wuz good enuf for Jimi” comment or similar. I quite often respond to “what difference does it make, it’s a subjective issue”. Gear is here for one reason and one reason only, to make the people using it happy. If the gear does that, then job done. Just don’t look down on the people who choose to do it differently than you do. Both styles are good. Both are valid. Both have a place. I see a lot of it come from people perceive that 'blue lawyers' drive the price up, do they? How many 'blues lawyers' do you see that have a Klon, or a Dumble... in my experience, none. All their stuff tends to be new and shiny. 

As an ending to this rant, I have to declare this. I play a PRS. I gig with 2 Strymon's and 4 Wampler's. The picture above is my board. I have a law degree, but I don’t play the blues much and it’s pretty well-known I’m hugely unlikely to be playing in any given P&W setting anytime soon. How about you listen to my tone and what I play instead? How about we listen to what the guys with the Strymon's and the nice PRS do instead? Why do we listen and judge something so easily with our eyes when in this case it’s our ears that we should be using, not any gear based preconceptions that are invariably saying more about the person saying them than the person under ‘discussion’.

</rant>

Relic vs. New - Where do you stand?

“Relic” guitars have become an ever-growing popular trend in gear culture lately, and with any trend, there’s always a division of people who love or hate it and all things between.  For those wondering, a Relic is an instrument (the term applies to more than just guitars) that is intentionally beaten up, scratched, chipped, dented and made dirty to simulate extensive use and abuse on the road for decades. There are varying ranges, from barely noticeable light wear to full-on beat to death, where some extreme cases look like they tied the guitar to the back of a truck and proceeded to drag it down a gravel road for a dozen miles or so. There are very well-known companies that have sprung up over the past few years that their business model is making a brand-new guitar look like it’s 50 years old and seen some sh*t.
 
The interesting side of it is that it’s a very divided line of people that either loves them or despise them. I’m on the like/love side of relicing, but my motto is always that everything is great in moderation (more on that later). Nothing truly beats the feeling of a brand-new guitar. Pristine paint, smooth neck in flawless condition, hardware that is still shiny with no fingerprints on it…. even the smell of a new guitar is fantastic. There’s nothing like finding that blank canvas, ready for hundreds of hours of blood, sweat, and tears to be poured into it during its journey with whatever player acquires it. There’s also something to be said about preserving that majesty. There are a plethora of waxes and polishes and lemon oil for the rosewood fretboards… all steps to try to keep the cherished instrument in the top quality that it can be in. 
 
After some time though, despite our best efforts inevitably you’ll encounter that first dreaded ding. It’s a truly sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach, where you can feel all your nerves firing in your body as you brace yourself to check what awful fate befell the spot that just took the brunt of the impact. If you’re lucky, it’s a surface ding or scratch where it’s nearly invisible to the naked eye, and it requires odd light angles to be able to truly see it.  In the bad scenarios, you’re looking at potentially evasive maneuvers to attempt to fix whatever happened. Therein lies the problem: it’s something that is gut-wrenching and makes you just feel like crap as soon as it happens. It’s the curse of a gorgeous guitar: it’s pristine and amazing, but if you ding it up then it detracts from the overall look (and the feel if something happens to the neck), and it also affects resale value in the end. I know, I know… the person with the most guitars wins, right? But sometimes a fit of GAS strikes, or just life, in general, brings up the need to move some gear, and the condition it’s in plays a huge role in that sale.
 
Then there are the old favorites. Some of them earned their badges along the way in smoky bars, gig after gig every weekend. The road warriors, the guitars that have some love… dents, dings, paint missing, dirty fretboard…the opposite of pristine. You can see a lot of famous guitar players with guitars that they’ve obviously played the life out of to the point where they are barely recognizable from the original: SRV’s Strat comes to mind, same with John Mayer’s Strat. Keith Richards tele, Muddy Waters tele, Rory Gallagher’s Strat, Brad Paisley’s ’68 tele, Willie Nelson’s “Trigger” … the list just goes on and on and it’s impossible to list all of them. These guitars have had hundreds of hours of playing and thousands of gigs to get them to look like that, and they have become signatures for each of those artists to where they’re instantly identifiable (because those beat up guitars ooze vibe and look incredibly cool). 
 
The reality of the situation is that not everyone can put that much time into their instrument, and subsequently personalize it to its full road worn glory through their own personal musical escapades. I’m not going to get into details of poly vs. nitro, but that plays a huge factor when it comes to the natural wear of the finish on a guitar. I’ll use myself as an example of why I love relics, and I think that a few people may be in the same boat. I’m a 31-year-old IT desk jockey that enjoys jamming on the weekends. Rarely gig anymore due to work and family obligations, but playing guitar is still my outlet that provides stress relief more than anything in this world. I love the look of a well-done relic, but I literally will never be able to do that naturally to a guitar. There are a lot of my friends in the industry that has been playing for a very long time, and despite them gigging all the time their guitars haven’t worn very much at all after a decade or more of heavy use. The reason being that many builders/manufacturers have improved the processes and quality of the finishes they’re applying, and subsequently they’re less likely to fade/chip/etc. compared to the materials used 30, 40, and 50+ years ago.
 
The number one thing that we see people say that are anti-relicing is “just play the crap out of it and let it wear naturally. It looks fake, etc.” If you refer to my scenario above, that’s just not an option for me or many others. Relic’s provide the ability to experience the feel of a worn-in instrument in a scenario where it couldn’t happen naturally. Again, I work a desk job and personally can’t guarantee that I’ll get another 20-30 years to attempt to relic something myself naturally. We live in one of the greatest technological times ever, and if the craftsmanship and skill are there, why wait 30 years when you can have the guitar that you’ve wanted, often immediately available (or whatever build time some shops may take, which is 9/10 times always less than 20-30 years)? If a relic is not someone’s favorite thing, then there are a plethora of builders that can create a pristine, immaculate work of art to suit those tastes as well. There are people that wouldn’t like those guitars just as much as there are people who don’t like relics. That’s the beauty of guitar gear, is that everything is subjective, and I can guarantee that not everyone will agree with each person’s gear habits. That’s completely cool, and that’s what makes us unique!
 
Back to why I like relics: I’m a bit clumsy. There, I admitted it. I’ve made my fair share of “oops” moments that sometimes ended up with no issues at all, but I’ve also had some doozies (spinning a PRS and the strap coming undone, with it subsequently hitting the floor and beating up the back… I’m particularly not proud of that). I’ve been playing my Crook Custom paisley telecaster and bumped up against a desk and put a ding in it that made me sick to the stomach. However, with a relic guitar, it's already beaten up! That dreaded first ding mentioned above is nothing but a beauty mark to personalize it and add its own story to the life of the guitar. I’ll never forget my Jason Wilding saying that the moment he gets a new guitar, he drops it on the floor to get that first ding out of the way. I was appalled at the notion of that, but the more I thought about it that’s one of the most liberating feelings imaginable. Not having to worry about whether you bump into things and what aesthetic damage will occur is such a free feeling. Guitars are tools and should be treated as such I suppose.
 
I mentioned earlier about “everything is good in moderation”. This is where I’m sitting with the whole relic thing: If it’s done tastefully and in a realistic fashion, then a relic can be a gorgeous thing. I’m not a huge fan of the heavy relics, but that’s just a personal thing. I can respect that people like those and would never put anyone down for liking those. The key thing that sets these custom builders apart is the attention to detail. Doing your research and seeing what builder fits best to your end goal is the key to a great finished product you're happy with. The other option is DIY relicing which would save some money, but there’s a learning curve and it may take a few trials and errors to get the technique down to fit what you’re going for. If you want to get into relicing your own gear, I highly suggest perusing the catacombs of Google and TheGearPage.net and other forums like that to see what has worked and what hasn’t for others before diving head first into banging up your favorite instrument. Buy a couple of cheapo guitars and see what kind of trouble you can get into, what methods work and what doesn’t. It can get expensive, but the feeling of completing a DIY project successfully is unparalleled.
 
To summarize, yes, I’m looking at it a lot aesthetically. That’s not necessarily the main thing with relics, but that’s a large part and the first thing that people comment on is the visual aspects of it. I didn’t even touch on the ways that the neck can feel even better when it’s bare wood, or how having some of the finish off of the body can let the wood breathe a bit and add some sustain…etc. That may seem like voodoo to some people, but if others think it makes a difference, then why argue? I guess my main goal with this entire article that I’ve rambled on about is that whether you like relics or not when you see one that you don’t like, don’t automatically bash it. If it’s not your thing, then it’s easier to skip over the thread and ignore it than to just openly bash someone’s happiness. I've got guitars that I try to keep in pristine condition, and I've got guitars that I really don't care if they get dinged up or bumped into things. There doesn't have to be a clear line drawn in the sand on the subject, you can like or not like any of what I just wrote and there's no problem with that. Tone and gear preferences are purely subjective in every sense of the word, so have some fun with it!

Tone is all in the fingers?

As you may know, we run an extremely lively group on Facebook, imaginatively named “The Wampler Pedals Tone Group”. Feel free to click on that and join us.

We are quite proud that in the most, it’s very unlike MANY other pages that talk about gear, as generally there isn’t much trolling and everyone is there because it’s a ‘safe’ place to talk openly without much in the way of come back. I say ‘much’ because as we’ve got 10k members, it does sometimes kick off in there, and when it does Alex and I have to make like Gendry and bring the axe to any particular party that might be in full flow.

At the start of the weekend, there was a classic post that ended up in somewhat of a 'heated debate'. It was the classic "Tone is in the fingers" comment that people reacted too, and then others reacted back. It was one of those posts, you know what it's like...

ANYWAY... This started me thinking. How can we look at this issue objectively and see if it’s true. Or if it’s half true. Or if it’s crap. At the very moment in time i as thining about it I received a barrage of texts from my friend Jamie, utterly pointless ones (because if I am being honest we have a similar sense of humour, that of a 12 year old boy, and are constantly texting each other stuff just to make the other laugh), but as usual they were very funny. As I was texting him back I had what you might call a lightbulb moment, because the best thing about Jamie in regard to the question mentioned above is that he has spent a lot of the last 10 years as the guitar player in the show “We Will Rock You” (where they are very very fussy about tone and you HAVE to sound like Brian May does as much as possible to be even considered). He is unique in this thought process because he has the rare position of being friends with Brian May and has toured with him... So, as he has spent his time using gear to sound like someone and then had the opportunity to play though that same person’s real rig, I thought I’d put the question directly to him…

JW: “Hey Jamie, I want to ask you a specific question but before I get there, I'd like a little back ground first... So, the We Will Rock You (WWRY) show, how long have you been doing that?”

JH: “I first started in 2007 as the sub guitarist and went on to be “Guitar #1” in Europe (at Brian’s request). So far I’ve played the show in UK (including the tour), Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Austria. All this means I have to do all the signature Brian stuff and I'm the one that goes out on to the stage every night and plays the solo from Bohemian Rhapsody as a visual part of the show.”

JW: “What was the requirement for gear in the WWRY show?”

JH: “We had to sound as much like him as possible, so that includes a Red Special guitar, Fryer Treble Booster, big chorus and authentic AC 30’s. I went on a personal mission to get as close as I can so I got a different treble booster, the one that is worn on the strap, had the pickups replaced on my Red Special to the ones wound the same as Brian’s with old 60’s magnets and even the Bourne Pots which are slightly different. All this is integral to the tone, THAT tone.”

JW: “So, how close do you think you got to Brian’s tone with that gear?”

JH: “To be honest, the gear is really important but it’s more about getting into the headspace of how Brian plays and using his techniques. For example, the sixpence, the belt pack booster BEFORE the wireless system, the using of the finger to brush the string, the almost regal way he phrases his runs, pre-bends and his vibrato. So, it’s just as important to use the fingers in the way he does as it is to have the gear, but it’s more important to get into his mindspace and work out what he plays and how he plays it. There are so many different things that make up his sound.”

JW: “You also toured with Brian – so when you played Brian’s gear, how close can you get to him”

JH: “I think as close as anyone can get by getting into that mindset, but it was still only really close, because I’m not Brian. When I am playing like him, I exaggerate the things he does to make it sound more like him to make those signature parts work, but I’d say it’s impossible to truly 100% sound that way, but I think we (the guys who really really try) can get close enough for a lot of people to question who it is, providing we have the right gear and right mindset. When we played Hyde Park in London, I got to rip through his entire rig at huge volume, because that’s my childhood right there, I was so happy… and it sounded so good, Brian and Pete (Brian’s long serving tech) where there, and they said I was really really close to ‘THAT’ sound”

JW: “So, is tone all in the fingers or all in the gear?”

JH: “It’s in the fingers, and the gear, but most importantly, it’s in the mindset and the approach to how you make the gear work and appreciating that the phrasing along with it, that is actually as much to do with the tone than anything else. It’s all as important as each other.”

So, what do we make of all that? Let’s think about what Jamie was saying, and let’s face it, he’s employed to sound like Brian as much as possible and he went the extra mile to do it (and, as Queen own the show he's employed by Brian to play like him). He can get really close by employing the same gear, the same touch and most importantly the same mindset. So, it would appear that tone is not all in the fingers, or the gear after all. Everything is important, everything makes the tone, but you have to be thinking in the right way first.

Jamie is a session musician from the UK, now based in Sweden. He endorses and is endorsed by: Music Man, Mesa Boogie, Massive Unity, Two Notes, Steinberg, DiMarzio and many other incredible manufacturers. You can catch him on tour this year with The Champions of Rock in Scandinavia, see his instructional videos on LickLibrary and buy materials from his website, jamiehumphries.com

 

Death and Music Sales

In the past few years, the music community has been hit extremely hard with deaths of many famous musicians from a multitude of genres. Several led a good life, but many left this place way too soon for reasons we will likely never understand. There has been a multitude of tributes and great homages to these artists, which is fitting for the impact they left on so many.
 
Seeing as we like keeping our followers informed, we often share music news that may be interesting to people who like our page, because we personally find it interesting. This could be humor (we try to keep it light), some in-depth questions regarding personal preferences in gear and popular gear culture, and even the sad news as well.  One thing that I started to notice is following a celebrity death, their music sales would be trending in the music store (I’m an iPhone guy, so I’m referencing Apple Music/iTunes). When you go to search, Apple comes up with a list of the top 10 most searched items, and consistently after each musician passed, their name or bands they were in are at the top of the trending searches.
 
I started noticing this trend in 2015, and it’s stayed consistent after each high-profile death. Why is this? The very first thing that could be said is profit. It’s an opportunity to cash grab and make some extra money from the tragic event. I’d like to think that isn’t the culprit, but in today’s world, it’s too real of a possibility. I’m one to try to find the silver lining in things, so I’m going to look past the $$$ and focus on what I’ve noticed the past few years, and how it may have a ripple effect down the line.
 
So why the sudden surge in interest in their music after the artist has passed? My first guess is nostalgia. During my life, I’ve drifted from one genre of music to another in phases, but I always love the “classics” that defined various parts of my life, and those songs/albums will always act as a bookmark of sorts to a memory (good or bad). Being 31, Linkin Park’s first two albums left a mark on me during my awkward teenage years, so when I heard about Chester passing, I immediately went back and grabbed those two albums on iTunes and had a bit of a nostalgia-fest. When I first started playing the guitar, the album that drove me to want to play non-stop was BB King and Eric Clapton’s “Riding with the King”. When BB passed in 2015, I took it a lot harder than I expected, because I felt as if I had known him because of spending so much time listening to his old records and trying to (admittedly) openly steal his licks. Again, it was a resurgence that made me go back and listen to those records, and if I didn’t have them then I downloaded them to fill the void that my heart felt like it had after losing a piece of my upbringing.
 
Another reason potentially behind the increase in sales is curiosity. I’ll be the first to admit that I liked a few of Prince’s songs, but it wasn’t until his death that I really became interested and started studying his catalog. He was a renowned guitarist and songwriter, and I was curious WHY? I spent about a month learning some of his songs and I totally understood it…there was an undeniable groove and feel to his music that set it apart from everything else.  This made me think that if it did that for me, my hopes were that it also sparked others who may not have been interested before to check out his music. This is a bit of a silver lining that is overlooked but hopefully is true.
 
With every famous musician’s death, the subsequent reaction is a boost in their music sales. In that case, I would hope that a young kid just learning to play music or write songs would see that potentially unfamiliar name on their trending list, and check out an artist they would otherwise have overlooked. Again, I think I’ve romanticized this in my mind, but if a single young kid can be exposed to great music, that it may change their life and push them to become the next Prince, or BB King or Chris Cornell, etc. then their music has made an impact (which I like to think was the goal in the first place for many artists).
 
 
 

...you don't need no pedals, man, it woz good enuf for Keef

... yep, hear that all the time. It's almost up there with the meme of Jimi with the caption "Jimi plays without true bypass pedals and everyone still manages to enjoy his tone.

Those, amongst others, are the things guaranteed to make us roll our eyes and yawn. We've even had someone imply recently that professional guitar players don't really need fingers.

So, let's look at this properly. Let's have a think about the guitar signal, its path, pedals and what is needed and what isn't. Actually, let's not. Let's just remember this.

Guitar pedals are a tool that some people enjoy using. They are not essential. They are not invalid. They are a tool. Put it this way, if you were walking past a stone mason or carpenter working would you shout up to him "What you using that drill for bud, Christopher Wren didn't need that when he designed and built St Paul's Cathedral in 1675!" - I doubt you would, I doubt anyone would. Well, I hope no one would because basically, that would be a fraction silly.

We, as always, were having a discussion about this the other day. We'd seen many outrageous comments from certain people online and we were trying to contemplate it properly and we sort of came up with this. Guitar pedals are like a spice rack full of a wide range of spices. You sometimes pick on to make something a little better, you sometimes don't. We, and I'm guessing others in our industry, feel that we do not expect your entire playing life to revolve around pedals, we just expect that there are times when you feel like the tone you are chasing is not quite right and there may be something out there to help you get it. It's become more and more obvious over the years that more and more people are using pedals (helped that company's like ours make pedals that sound really good these days, as previously, not many of them truly did) because they give you better tones, they give you more options. If you have a decent clean amp, spend a few hundred bucks on your favourite pedals and they will be able to transform that amp into any number of other amps. Your Marshall can become a Fender and your Fender can become a Marshall... or a Vox, or a Randall, or... or.... or.... Certainly easiler than having to buy a new amp every time you want to change your gain choices!

So, consider your base tone, the one you love more than anything, a nice juicy perfectly cook steak (apologies to the vegetarians out there, but this is the best way to describe it). Sometimes you want it straight up, nothing fancy, just as it comes. Other times you might want it to have some pepper on it, or pepper sauce… other times you might want the full cumin rub, or even mustard… you can have it any way you like.

Your pedal box IS your spice rack, and let’s face it, would you want to go to dinner repeatedly with a person who cooks in the same bland way every time? Sometimes it would be great, others…. Just boring.

Anyone know how Keef likes his steak?

 

 

 

Live Music Venues - are they designed for it?

So, I got to thinking the other day about the venues I play in… I’ve been playing in some of them for 26 years now, some are new, some have disappeared for ever and some have had more visual changes than The Mountain in GoT.

Before we start with this I need to remind you of my location, I live and gig in the South West part of England, a glorious county called Devonshire, better known as Devon, affectionately referred to as The Shire. From around here we’ve seen bands such as Jethro Tull and Muse (as well as many others) spring to life and has been the breeding ground for bands such as Radiohead and Coldplay. So, we’re not shy in having a live music scene.

When I started gigging, waaaaaaaaay back in the early 90’s I mainly played in pubs. Proper British pubs, usually owned by the Landlord and/or Landlady and they loved live music. A few of the pubs were owned by the Brewery, but they were left alone to do their thing. Throughout the 90’s I played in all sorts of bands, from classic rock to tribute bands and even some very early reach into a country rock band. As far as I can remember (and a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then) every one of those pubs, or clubs, sounded great. And by that I mean that acoustically they were fantastic, there wasn’t much in the way of sound bouncing around, loads of stuff up to absorb reflections and we could rock up, tune up, turn it up and rock out without fear of the room making us sound any worse than we already are… And let’s face it, I was 17 when I started gigging so just by the gear we could afford we didn’t sound as good as we could have!

Towards the end of the 90’s I left this area to go to University to study stuff that I didn’t need to know, and by the time I had left I was married and kids followed shortly. Most of my gear was sold off, you know the score, and I was pretty resigned to not playing in a band anymore, because ‘life’. I still hung out on the scene sometimes, attended the odd jam to keep my ear in, but it was by then something I used to do rather than still did.

All this kind of changed when I started with Brian, I started to accumulate gear again, my interest in playing the guitar reached new levels of intensity (I was interested in the notes I played now rather than how many I could play) and when an opportunity to join a band again came up last year (the band I took my first tentative steps into country with) I welcomed it with open legs!

Being back on the circuit was a weird experience. Some of the places were unrecognisable from what they used to be, some were pretty well identical, and new venues in locations you would never expect were all over the place. Here is the thing that really became obvious to me though, many of the real venues (of those that are left, but that might be a subject for a more intense rant at a later date) were now owned by large corporations, chain bars, theme bars etc etc. I don’t know if those things are ‘a thing’ over the other side of the pond, but certainly here the local pub seems to have died somewhat. You walk into a venue these days and you’ll be greeted with the same place as the place you played in last week, just in a different town. Guaranteed that these places will have hard floors, very little in the way of seating/tables and there are mirrors everywhere, massive windows… Basically, it all looks like it’s fallen out of a plastic factory into a prefabricated pub construction machine.

Nett result for live music? You’ll sound crap no matter what gear you have. And believe me, in this band the instruments/toys/back line items on display are incredible. We have GREAT gear. But, the sound bounces off these surfaces and just accumulates everywhere and tumbles into itself and the high ends become shrill, the low end just disappears and even a small pub has a lot of overbearing natural reverb. And that’s just plain awful.

Now, I’m not stupid, I understand why these places have changed, well – why a lot of them have anyway. These big chain corporations exist to make money, and mostly they do. They appeal to a transitional customer base, so they have big flat screens all over the place showing live sports, hideous music blaring out and sell high powered small drinks that are designed to have a high turnover. But NONE of this relates to a live music pub. None of it relates to making the band sound good. None of this relates to encouraging the next generation of future rock stars, or old farts like me who just like making music with their buddies, to get out there and do it. A room doesn’t need to be specifically tuned, far from it, it just needs ‘stuff’ to soak up the reflections. Carpets. Curtains/blinds on the windows. Seating. Tables… and don’t get me started on ceiling height!

We have seen many an excited landlord tell us of their plans for refurbishment that means ripping out the carpets and ‘opening the place up’ and every time we hear it our hearts drop through the bottom of our shoes, out the door into a bottle someplace back in to the annals of history. We foolishly thought that when smoking in licenced premises was banned here in 2006 we would see more places embrace the soft floor model (as let’s face it, cigarette burn marks on carpets are disgusting) yet even more now you see the ‘wipe clean’ version appear everywhere. You see hard walls with glass front posters hung, you see endless wide open spaces with the odd stool dotted around and you know that unless the place gets packed with people who intend to stay until the end, you are going to sound painfully loud and harsh for a lot of that room.

So, here is what I would like to say from this particular soapbox. If you are a live music venue and pride yourself in being one, take note of what the bands that play there sound like and ask them what they think of the room acoustics. I can guarantee you that at least one of them (in the band I play in, it’s the bass player) who can tell you exactly what makes your room sound better or worse than the rest of the circuit. Take note of the sound of the band ALL around the room they are playing in. If they sound awesome when you are stood right in front of them but back by the bar it sounds like the guitar tone is splitting your ears apart, there is a problem. Go around to other venues in your area and listen to the bands you have in your venue sound like and think about what the differences are. You’ll be amazed what a few small, and relatively cheap, changes can make to the live music experience. It’s not hard to see why the rooms with the best sound attract the better bands and most importantly, the customers who are going to stay and drink the pumps dry.

I could list all of the places around here that sound amazing, all the ones that sound terrible and all the ones that have recently made a change for the better or the worse. I won’t, because I want to continue playing in them because let’s face it, I’m not in it for the glory or the chicks, I’m in it purely because I love the music we play and I think I play with one of the most naturally gifted bass players alive today. Why he’s playing in a band with a guy like me I’ll never know, but he’s ace. It’s just a shame that a lot of the places we play in you can’t really hear how ace he is.

I’m not one for blatant self-promotion, but if you read this, and you have a venue near you (that is in charge of their own destiny) that sounds great, or not so great, post this on their social media, even if one place puts something up to make the room sound better – and it literally could be something as small as curtains on windows on the back wall, then job done.

*and yes, the header picture of this piece is that bunch of old farts I mentioned above, including me, playing live in a GREAT sounding venue!