About a month or two ago I took possession of a Quilter 101 Mini Head. About time I posted a review of it I think as these amps are causing a big stir in the world of normal gigging guys, guys like me, and probably guys like you.
The first thing that strikes me about this thing is the size and weight, well, lack of weight really. It literally weighs the same as a bag of sugar. 2lbs. That kinda freaked me out a little as I know it’s a 100w head and can flatten the first three rows of any audience in any bar. For this very reason I didn’t plug it in straight away because I was already judging it, as a valve amp guy, weight usually signifies tone. The beefier the transformers, the better the tone. Which means literally, the heavier it is, the better it is more likely to sound.
After a day or so I plugged it in to my 2x12” cab, with a flat EQ (more about that later) and put it on Full Q, which is their cleanest setting. I was surprised, it sounded great! Full, punchy, and was quite alive. So, already it had worked its way up in my estimations and was outperforming most straight up analogue solid state amps.
The EQ on it is bloody confusing, I must admit it leaves me, even now, scratching my head as to why they’ve done it like this. A straight B/M/T stack would have made it easier to use and easier to dial in, but you have to balance a control that can give you a EQ like a smiley face, dead flat or a hi pass, and a Hi-Cut control that goes from flat to low pass. This wasn’t easy to find as I’m more of a turn it and see type of guy and I had to stop and think about how I want my tone forged, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it did take an exercise of patience to find a tone I could build on. This leads me onto the “gain stage” selector. The Quilter boasts 5 different voicings, that brings in differing amounts of gain. Full Q is totally clean, Tweed, Jazz, Surf and Lead are quite self-explanatory… I found that for my needs (a clean platform to build on) Full Q or Surf was the best option.
The most important question for me is, how does it take pedals… well, to be completely honest it takes them like a dream. No matter what I shoved in the front it just took them without issue. I even started to bung random stacking options in front to see if I could break it, but it refused point blank to buckle and break. I’m telling you, if it can take the Dracarys maxed going into the Tumnus maxed and not fart out, it’s going to take anything you can put its way.
The only time it showed a weakness was, and this is probably the most important test, was when I gigged it. As most of you know, when I gig I either use a Wampler Bravado head and 1x12” cab, or a Fender BDri into a custom 2x12” loaded with WGS speakers. I tried the Quilter into both cabs and it sounded more than passable into the Wampler cab, but in the 2x12” it really lacked clarity, sparkle… you know, that glass element of a really good clean valve amp. The bass player in the band I’m in happens to be one of musical heroes (he was the person that introduced me to the music of Brent Mason after all) and has ears like a deer. He can hear everything and knows instantly how good something is. His comment was “That would be the perfect back up amp if yours goes down again”. That was enough for me to know that in this band, with this band mate, I can’t use it live.
So, what do I think of the Quilter. Does it have a place in my musical life? The answer most definitely is “definitely”. I will use it live going forward if I play in a band that doesn’t demand such pristine and glassy cleans (I still have my eye on an 70’s-80’s 90’s rock band), and I am severely tempted to follow Brian’s advice and get a TC Electronic Mimiq for the ‘other guitar’ feel – because that pedal doesn’t work in mono into one amp, if you use two it’s amazing. It would be perfect for that also as a wet/dry rig, the possibilities are endless. However, if you stick the Wampler Black ’65 in front of it there is no better option for a live clean rig using an amp you can legitimately put in the front pocket of your gig bag... Simple home recording, definitely. Practice, definitely.
Final verdict – can it legitimately be used to replace as a high end valve amp in a pure clean setting? For me… not quite. Maybe if the EQ was more logical and better laid out, and if they make the EQ of the front end more responsive and make it sound glassy, it would be a killer product and one that would take the world by storm. Maybe we should make a D class amp with some of Brian’s genius in the front end. As for this, right now I won’t ever leave home without it for a gig, as if my amp does go down, I can plug this thing in and it will do a fantastic job of covering the amps I use and love. It is the perfect amp for home use, simple recording and practice? Absolutely. I've put it to such good use already I can't begin to tell you. Right now, I don't think there's anything better out there for these purposes... Plus, let's revisit something I said earlier. I carry a spare 100w amp on a gig day in the slot in my pedal case that is designed for my cables. That alone makes it an invaluable addition to my rig.
Many thanks to my good friend and fellow tone chaser, Justin Hize for organising this for me and throwing it over the pond. It's been quite the eye opener!
Recently I truly haven't had a lot of time to play lately, so when I do I've been trying to kick the habit of messing with my board and pedals so much and just focus on playing. That being said, I still like to use some varying flavors of pedals, but not like I normally would if I had my full board on hand. My solution was simple, and it went against everything I know about proper board setup and powering them: I sat 3 pedals on top of my amp (Compressor, OD and Envelope Filter), used a OneSpot to daisy chain them, and let loose and played like crazy. I set and forget them and only adjusted the Q of the filter occasionally and that was it. It was kind of liberating, and it was really nice having the pedal right there *if* I wanted to mess with it.
Believe me, no one is more glad than we are that the Ethereal has finally been released! We first previewed it at NAMM 2016 - yes, 18 months ago - and we were telling people that it would be a few months. Well, that was the plan. Unfortunately, stuff happens which means that other stuff doesn't happen and things get delayed, so I'd like to thank you all for your patience, I hope it will be worth the wait for you!
I first played the Ethereal at NAMM '16, and to be honest, it was a 'meh' moment for me - but I'm not an ambient type player, I like notes more than I like the space between them (and yes, that means I'm a shredder, either dirty with rock or clean with country) so it didn't hit met at all... fast forward to NAMM '17 and I played the next version of it (also, I was in post spinal surgery hell in '16, so not sure I would have liked anything to be honest) and I liked it much more, the reverb was lush and the delay patterns were really interesting. So, my hopes came up a little... As we approached release day one landed at home and I got to spend some real quality time with it, time to truly appreciated it for what it is.
So, what is it? In a nutshell it's a dual delay and reverb pedal. The reverb is a big deep plate style, it's truly gorgeous. The dual delay has a consistent 1/4 note repeat and on top you can lay triplets, dotted 8ths and a self oscillating ambient thing that makes it sound really lush, I must admit, the first day I played it at home the 20 minute limit I put on myself to explore it turned into 3 hours, which ended up in a Pink Floyd heaven type jam with Mrs Wilding on Piano and two kids that ended up yelling at us to please be quiet as it's now bedtime :D
Here's what I love about it, there is something extremely special about the reverb, it's so lush without being overbearing, it sits within the dry tone so well (even at higher levels) and just makes you feel like you are within it, I've never quite heard a reverb like it. Well, I have, but really expensive Lexicon's back in the day, but since then, nothing. They all seem to leave me cold. The you add the delays on top of it, this is where the fun really starts. I went into some classical heaven (I knew there was a reason I learned Cavatina back in the 90's), some interesting Satriani melodic tapping type thing, chords... Edge, Gilmour... yeah, it's fun. Really fun. I had a great time making the suggested settings with Alex, I could get everything from Floyd's Run Like Hell, to a big Spring style reverb with various reflections, U2's Bad and every ambient thing you can possibly imagine. I found myself playing chords and just enjoying how they fell together with all the repeats floating around behind them, makes you sound so musical.
Also, of course, it's so easy to use you won't believe. A massive ambient pedal that doesn't look like the flight bridge of the space shuttle. Ideal.
Yesterday I had a guitar lesson with Brent Mason. I need to say that again, out loud, because it doesn't feel real. I had a private, one on one, guitar lesson from Brent Mason.
As you may have guessed, o regular reader of thine blog, there is a story attached to this (don't all my posts?), so I will abridge it as much as possible... I've been playing the guitar for as long as I can remember, literally. My brother (who is 3 years older than me) had a cheap nylon string and I always messed around on it, watching him and our friend Rob work stuff out, and then once they left the room instantly copy what they did. I've always learned by stealing others licks! When I hit my teens, I got my first guitar, this was the mid 80's so it was all Iron Maiden for a couple of years and then Satriani happened, then Vai.. and that was that. I was a shredder. I shredded morning, noon and night, a true bedroom rockstar complete with Brian May style hair and an Ibanez Jem. After years of working that stuff out and playing in pub bands I got bored. Completely, so, I effectively gave up. My social life still revolved around the music scene so I was always at jam nights and it was at one of those nights my life was forever changed.
I have complete lucid recall of what happened. It was a Monday night, early(ish) 1998. In pubs I usually shun company and peel off to be on my own, it's harder to offend people that way, and all of a sudden I noticed this beautiful guitar tone coming from the P.A. It was before the jam started, the background music was on, and I just listened. As it came to an end I realised I was captivated and looked around for the guy who put the music on. And then another piece started, stopped me in my tracks again. I listened for a while, it was beautiful - the phrasing... the tone... the musicality. I was in love. I went and found the guy who put it on, Rick (who I am now in a band with) and I asked him who it was - he said the unforgettable line of "A session player from Nashville, Brent Mason, he's on everything - this is his solo album. The next track will blow you away!". Just as he said that, the next track came on and I was blown away. Anyone who knows the album Hot Wired will know that those three tracks were "Caymon Moon", "Mellow Midnight" and "Blowin' Smoke". If by some insane reason you are not familiar with this album, I (you'll see why I say that later) stream it on brentmason.com, here. This moment restored my passion for guitar, for exploring the guitar and guitar music in general. Don't get me wrong, I still love the shredders and to shred, but a part of me will always be in gratitude to Brent, and of course Rick, for opening my eyes to another style of playing. The thing you have to remember is that country music just isn't popular over here, so the radio never played the songs he was on, I just never heard him, or of him, before.
Now we fast forward, I went off to University that year, played the album to death, worked out as much as I could, and tried to play like him. I finished Uni, got married, had kids, and sold most of my gear to buy nappies and shoes. Such is the life of modern parenting. In 2008 Facebook started the whole "like page" thing (as it was called then) and I wanted to do one for Brent, as there wasn't one. So, I contacted him through MySpace (lolololz, yeah, it's that long ago) asking for him permission for basically something I was going to do anyway, but I'm English, so I try to be polite when I can - he answered within about an hour, saying he was cool with it and to contact his wife, Julie, for content. So, nervously I contacted them both, got loads of pictures from them and away we went. As I started to sort through the materials to put on the page, avidly googling him, I kept coming across this pedal called the Hot Wired by some bloke called Brian Wampler. So, me being me, I messaged him asking for details etc... he answered back and well... you can see how that went. Safe to say Brian and I got on, and we have a long running joke about who is his biggest Brent stalker... Anyway, after a while Julie asked that if I could use the content I had collected for the page to put in a new website for Brent, just needed something static, nothing mega, just a communication portal, so I did it. There was I, a no one from Devon, making a website for one of the greatest session players, and musicians in general, alive today. This lead Brian to ask if I wanted to do the Wampler site... and that's where that started. So, I got my job at Wampler via Brent Mason.
Over the years I've got to know Brent and Julie quite well, we are long distance friends, we keep in touch - I maintain the website still and try to sell as many Hot Wired's as possible, around my 40th birthday and to say thank you for all I have done, Brent gave one of his new PRS Brent Mason signature guitars saying "Do with it as you want, you can keep it or sell it, it's yours". This was a really nice touch, they knew we have no money to spare so he was giving me the option of making a fast few quid... obviously, I didn't, it's my pride and joy and I cannot imagine gigging without it.
All this brings us to 2017. Julie has said to me that Brent was considering giving private Skype lessons and could I give advice, so I offered my thoughts on quality of sound, how to get it, and what I would expect if I was paying for it... and then a few weeks later I find myself sitting in front of my screen, waiting patiently when the magic call arrived on my Skype!
Obviously, over the years, I've stopped seeing Brent from the fanboy perspective (mostly) and just 'Brent', but I must admit, seeing him on my screen with the '68 and hearing him talking to me kinda blew me away. We initially caught up briefly (we've met before, at NAMM etc - that prompted the now infamous "Let's look like we are about to start a fight picture" and have spoken on Skype quite a few times), asked about family (he quickly said hi to my wife and kids who were floating around), and he asked about the PRS, and then what I wanted to learn from him. I imagine that many people in that situation will say "Show me how to play 'I don't even know your name'." (or as Brent brilliantly calls it 'the waitress song') but I didn't want that, I can play most of it but the thing that has always floored me about Brent is his note choice and his phrasing. So, I asked him about where all that comes from, which can't be an easy thing to answer, because he just does it. It is his style and I'm asking him to explain a thought process. Not easy, but I'm delighted in the fact he instantly understood exactly what I wanted to know and really opened up about everything. Now, I know some harmony so I can say about the Mixo mode, the dominant 7th and how the chords roll into each other, but what I didn't know was the way he constructed his playing around that and so many other things. He explained fully what he saw in terms of the neck when constructing his lines, how he uses open strings to make them sound interesting, the influences that are behind his playing (I have homework!) and how it falls into place around the rhythmic patterns that exist in his head when playing, what he uses to balance it all, the lead notes, the blue notes, the outside notes, the chromatics, everything that makes him, 'him'. We went over the hour mark, it was closer to 1:20, because once we got going it was hard to stop - the man was beyond generous with his knowledge and imparted it perfectly. I'm not going to tell you what he said, you'll have to have your own lesson with him for that, but I've come away with a completely different thought process about constructing my own voice in guitar, that's twice he's done that to me now. All I say is this, when being Brent Mason, you don't think like any other guitar player I can think off, you think differently, and that through process is available to you. He will tell you what he does and how he does it, now, if you are a Brent fan, isn't that the greatest thing that can happen to you musically?
If you want to have your musical world turned upside down and your imagination fired, or just want him to show you how to play Hot Wired, than you simply HAVE to do this. He tells you exactly what you need to hear, not necessarily what you expect, but what you need. I get the feeling my playing is going to change radically over the next few weeks, as I have a completely different approach to country guitar playing now... My head has been melted. Imagine what it would have been like if you asked him about his approach to Western Swing or Jazz (which, let's face it, is what he's best at)... I expect my head would be melted completely away...
Over the last few weeks or so, I’ve been wiring up my (current) dream pedal board. Those of you who are connected to me on social media are probably bored of it already, as I may have taken some pictures and talked about it a bit, but you know, it’s 2017 and that’s what we do!
Now, when I say my dream board – I mean that “with the materials I have in front of me, what is practical to play in the pubs and clubs around here, and what I can be arsed to program”. Obviously, there are things I would change in a heartbeat should I have unlimited funds (GigRig G2 and associated power modules spring to mind) but let’s not have a “desert island dream board” thing, just a “what is best and most practical for me” piece! We all know the Mobius can't touch a CE-1, but you just can't program it and control it via midi!
At the heart of it all is the One Control OC10 ‘crocodile tail loop’. It’s a pretty basic true bypass looper, with 70 presents, midi control and all that. I obtained it about 18 months ago as part of a wider deal and I’ve been sat on it ever since, waiting for the rest to fall into place. The analogue section of my board is extremely obvious, Wampler all the way – I have to tell you now, I am under no obligation at all to use Wampler gear personally, but you know, it’s bloody great so I use it. It’s as simple as that! So, my analogue section is as follows.
Ego Compressor (full size one, don’t have the Mini one – it disappeared into ‘That Pedal Shed’ when I went up with the Bravado some months ago and I’ll never see it again, which is a shame, as I need the space on my board – I could get a wah in there…), Tumnus and Dual Fusion (I order the DF C2 – C1, so the ‘screamer’ hits the front end of C1). The Dual Fusion is separated (whoever had THAT idea is a bloody genius *cough*) so each side can be controlled via the OC10 independently. A Strymon Mobius straddles the Drive section, the pre-gain section sits between the Ego and the Tumnus and the post-gain section directly after, a TimeLine, which then goes into an ‘always on’ TC Electronic Mini HOF and then a Wampler dB+ for clean boost is after. I also have a TC Electronic Polytune 2 mini in the tuner send of the OC10… Right, so that’s that.
So, in a nutshell –
- PRS Brent Mason signature;
- Line6 G30 (wireless);
- TC Electronic Polytune 2 noir;
- OC-10 (loop order... )
- Ego Compressor;
- Pre-gain Mobius (so great for Vibe and Phaser);
- Tumnus – on the edge of dirt, so it adds width and a little high end;
- C2 Dual Fusion – ‘Throaty’ (used primarily as a solo boost);
- C1 Dual Fusion – ‘Fat’ (main overdrive sound);
- Post-gain Mobius (Chorus, flangers, trem, etc);
- dB+ (clean boost for solos etc);
- TC Mini HOF;
- Carl Martin ProPower2;
- Fender BDri (running it as a head);
- Custom built (by my friend Rick who plays bass in the band!) 2x12”, loaded with WGS Reaper HP and ET-90. I run the cab vertically with the Reaper at the top, as it sound more natural than the ET-90 but that adds some lovely colour so combined – out the front - it sounds amazing.
The thing about this rig is that it does not represent the best effects you can get to do for each individual position (although I defy you to find anything better in terms of overdrive and compression), but in so far as the best for the space used in the context I’m using it for, definitely. I chose the Strymon stuff as I prefer the through tone to the comparable stuff on the market today, and they have the most options available within. I know a UniVibe, a CE-1, Electric Mistress and a Phase90 will be better, but the Mobius does it all well enough to get away with live, and it still sounds awesome. Same with the TimeLine, the Faux Tape Echo is infinitely better for delay… but patches. I need that control. MiniHOF, sounds perfect for the space it uses (and I don’t do different reverbs so…). So, for me, this is the best rig that fits on my medium sized Temple Board that I can control via midi and a looper.
So, that’s that. Why blog it then? Here is why, I need to tell you about the cables I’m running on this rig and how they have blown me away…
First of all, a little history (you thought you’d got away with it, didn’t you – but you know me, there is always a back story). I stopped playing when I got married and had kids, I’d not gigged for about 5 years before that so I sold all my gear apart from my acoustic and 2 high quality 30’ cables I’d had since 1993. When I got back in to playing, right before I started with Brian, I started to accumulate gear again but never, ever, once considered quality patch cables of being important. Pretty soon I had a decent guitar, a decent amp and some incredible effects… All wired up with ‘£4.99 for 10’ moulded plastic patch cables. This changed on my 40th birthday, a dear friend that I’ve known forever who distributes Evidence Audio cables sent me a few of the SIS plugs and a length of the Monorail cable. I reluctantly tried them and was instantly blow away by the quality of the tone coming from my amp. Yeah, that was an ‘oh shit’ moment as these things aren’t cheap! I started to buy them when I could… I now have my entire board wired up with them – which is about 25 cables of various lengths, using around 24’ of cable!
Here is the thing, this is why I love them – not only do they sound great (and they really do) they are SO easy to make you just wouldn’t believe it. I have experienced many versions of the solderless cable in past, they either are a bitch to make, only 50% of them work first time out, or the plugs are stupidly large or a strange shape – never quite understood that – but these are discrete (they stand out less than 15mm from the socket), OK, so they aren’t a pancake but as far as right angled cables goes, that’s easily in the discrete ballpark! The great thing about the SIS plug is that once you strip the cable back (I do it with a pair of kitchen scissors, no need for all the fancy tools and stuff) you place it in the plug and then turn. If the cable is in the correct state (you have to leave the right amount of core showing and wrap the shielding stuff round properly etc) once you have screwed it in the plug will not come off. So you know it’s connected. You then put the cap of the plug on and boom, you’re away. It currently takes me about 2 minutes (again, with the scissors) to make a cable and with this board I’ve had a 100% “first time” success rate. I’ve not had one that’s not worked… There isn’t a knack to it, you don’t have to have special tools, once you know how much cable to leave bare, you are away. That, if you think about it, for a solderless system is quite incredible.
Now, there are other cables in play here as well… I took a punt, as I’m now an Evidence Audio fan, and order some Forte Cables. Now, these aren’t cheap – they really aren’t cheap. I read all the stuff about them, apparently you need to break them in, they sound best going in a certain direction… I’m always quite dubious when I read stuff like this, but you know, once I plugged it in, the signal was clearer. The sound fuller. They are extremely bendy and flexible (handy as the guys that help us pack away the gear at the end of the night can be a little brutal with gear), extremely strong and as always built like a tank. I played them for 4 gigs and then did a little experiment. I turned it around and it sounded not as clear, not as full… can a cable be directional? I don’t know, but it didn’t sound as good as when I was using it the right way round! There was life missing, top end absent (not missing, just not as ‘there’) and an overriding sense of loss of life and a little power. I thought it might be my accountant trying to justify it the purchase in my head until one of the guys in the band confirmed it as well. The old cables I had all these years, that were quite expensive at the time and guaranteed for life still work, they just don't sound very good anymore!
So, what started as me wanting to show off my new board, ended up as an advert for Evidence Audio cables (don’t worry, I have no financial stake in them, I’ve payed for most it, and am under no obligation to promote them - so this isn’t a sales pitch). I see so many people getting frustrated with their patch cables, people who can’t solder, people who get large failure rates. My advice to you, get the Evidence Audio SIS/Monorail system, you can’t go wrong. Well, you can, but I’ve only seen it once!
Here is a little video of Dan Steinhardt construction the MonoRail/SIS system cables... (cable making start at 17:50)
Seriously, Evidence Audio cables... there is no better system!
Here we go, another blog piece from me that has far too much waffle in about guitar players I like, please bear with me, it gets tone related toward the end! So, I had a rare treat last week – it’s not often an artist with the pedigree and reputation comes close to where I live, but this year appears to be bucking that trend… It started with Joey Landreth in February and in April I get Adrian Legg. Perfect.
As always, I’m going to bore you with the history (there is always a history, isn’t there?). I was blissfully unaware of Adrian the first time I saw him live, I was 19 (this was February 1993) and if it wasn’t Vai or Satch I didn’t give a crap. Acoustic players were pointless, they just strummed and I was right and if I was wrong I didn’t want to be right. So, I rocked up to see Satch on the Extremist Tour with my Brother and my mate Graeme full of excitement and ready to be transported away to fly in a blue dream (etc).
We got there a little early, took our seats and found out that there some bloke called Adrian Legg in support… Lights went down and this (what appeared to be a) little middle aged guy came out the curtain and sat in a chair on the stage with an Ovation and said “Hello”. My brain groaned and I sat there already bored of this man… And then he started playing. Within seconds I was converted, this guys was incredible. My socks were blown clean off… I’d never seen or heard anything like it. I was wrong about the acoustic guitar!
Fast forward to 2008 or so, Facebook was taking off and up in my feed came “Adrian Legg”, I looked, it was him, so I sent him a request and he accepted. This was before I started with Wampler so I had no reason to talk to him, didn’t want to be a fanboy so I just left him there, he would comment on my status now and then, I would on his (we are somewhat politically aligned and view a lot of things the same way), and it went on like that for ages… then I started with Wampler and we started to talk about tone. During these conversations I sent him a couple of my own pedals for him to try and he loved the Black ’65, he gigged it for years… then came the Faux Tape Echo and finally the Tumnus… With touring in the way he does everything is about size and weight so out reaching out to the mini market really appealed to him.
After all these years I’d never had the chance to see him perform again, he attended the only NAMM show I’ve not been too since 2012, a couple of dates in the UK didn’t line up but out of the blue he was booked in a town about 25 miles from me, in a glorious old church hall, so I snapped up a couple of tickets instantly.
I finally saw Adrian perform again last Saturday April 22nd 2017. Just over 24 years after the first and last time I saw him. I arrived just as he was about to start, sat with an old friend of mine who is a fan also, and we thoroughly enjoyed every second. I had asked Adrian to do my favourite song (if he could) a few weeks before and about 4 songs in, Mrs Jack’s Last Stand was played, I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t tears.
During the break I wondered forward and I finally met the man I’d been a fan of all these years, the man who had changed my view on acoustic players, the man I could now call a friend thanks to the beauties of social networking. I got a friendly hug from Adrian Legg. Win!
Adrian’s tone and playing was exquisite all the way through, his guitar is not really an electric and not really an acoustic, with a magnetic pickup and piezos, mixed together at times. The Tumnus brings out the harmonics of both pickups beautifully, the lower mid hump (that we think is about 800-1k) just makes everything sound alive and ‘there’, right in front of you. When he kicked it in, the guitar appeared to jump out at you tonally, it was quite the experience to hear it played that way, not pushing another drive pedal, not pushing an amp, just making the guitar jump up and out. Once again, that little gold pedal surprised me. Kinda thinking we should market it as the worlds first 3D guitar pedal!
Received an email from Lee this morning that was a great thing to wake up to!
It's great that something so good can come of something so silly!
Wampler Pedals would like to thank: Lee, Avi, Chappers, Bea, Dan, Mick, Danish Pete, Mr Paul freakin' Gilbert and everyone who bought the pedal!
Follow up video: