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Does perfection kill Rock and Roll?

I was one of the very very lucky people to see Guns'n'Roses when they were at their most raucous and most, dare I say it, dangerous. I was 15, it was August 1988, and the location was Donnington Monsters of Rock Festival. G'n'R were arguably the biggest and most current band in the world at that time which was an opinion hidden by their place of 2nd on the bill behind the more established artists. It was a breathtaking set and one I'll never forget for many reasons, but I'll concentrate on the positive here (those of you who remember the news of that day or have read any of the books either written about or by any of the original band you will know). They were loud. They were in control. They were out of control. They were amazing.

Appetite For Destruction is for many, including myself, the best debut album ever. It was so good the band was doomed the minute it was released. There was no way they could even get close to it let alone build on it, it was, as they say, the most perfect 'moment in time' recording you could possibly imagine.

So, what is this all about? Well, it's about the constant need for perfection in music. Let's take a look at the single that drove the album sales in those early days, "Sweet Child O'Mine". That riff. That solo. The kind of wah pedal use that would make Kirk Hammett sit up and take notice. Now listen to Slash's parts isolated (taken from the Guitar Hero game, a 'perfect' reproduction. The riff is noisy and scratchy. In the solo the bends are off... Notes are dropped and misplaced all over the place... But, having said that, it's just perfect. In the context of this song it can't be bettered in any way, imagine how awful it would sound if it was pro-tool'd to perfection, or the drop ins were perfect and the notes were made right. The word sterile springs to mind.

Perfection has it's place. But I don't think that place is in rock and roll.

The 5 Guitar Moments That Changed My World (Alex)

I fell in love with music at an early age. My music tastes varied because of having to ride long distances because we lived waaay back in the woods. It varied by each parent too. Often riding with my mom to doctors’ appointments, we’d be listening to great oldies music from The Temptations, 4 Tops, The Supremes, all of that great stuff. When I rode to work with my Dad, it was the Doobie Brothers, Creedance Clearwater Revival, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. My guitar addiction came when my brother started playing guitar when I was 6 years old.

 

Layla (Unplugged) - Eric Clapton 

My brother (5 years my senior) would sit in his room for hours with his acoustic and the Unplugged album playing, attempting to listen to it and play along. He was a fan of all of the songs, but my obsession grew with this track. When he’d go to school or to a friends house, I’d steal this CD and listen to Layla more times than I could count. The way someone could evoke such emotion with HOW they played blew me away. Looking back, technically speaking it wasn’t perfect, but it hit me right in a spot that made me say “I’ve got to know more about guitar.”

 

Three O'clock Blues -  BB King & Eric Clapton

At 15 I got serious with guitar. I had been playing guitar for about 6 months (acoustic only) before this album released. From the first time I heard Eric Clapton play that intro lick, I was completely hooked on blues guitar. I listened to it every day for weeks on repeat, trying to piece together the lead lines. Every note he and BB played must have gone straight into my heart, because from that point on guitar HAD to be part of my life in some way. Needless to say my first bout of GAS had struck. I begged and pleaded for months, worked my butt off, and Santa ended up bringing me a Wine Red MIM Strat. I was in absolute heaven.

 

Morning View Sessions -  Incubus

I’ve jumped back and forth between so many Incubus songs for this spot, because they all had an impact on me as I was starting to develop my own sound. I’ll just go against the grain and post the whole concert then! Mike Einziger was the reason I fell in love with guitar pedals. Hearing “The Warmth” blew my mind as to how he could get such weird sounds out of a guitar. They could be extremely heavy, funky, jazzy, ambient, and all things in between. If I had to pick the two albums that influenced me the most, it would be Make Yourself and Morning View. Both made me more in love with guitar than any other pieces of music, ever.

 

That's Love - Brad Paisley

When I first started dating my wife, I despised country music. I loved it as a kid, but grew to not like it as I found more modern rock music. It was all whining and slow steel guitars and people sounding like they were holding their nose while they were singing. Realistically I was being an idiot and set in my ways. That was an issue, because country was all she would listen to for the most part. She introduced me to Brad Paisley through this song, and I was completely hooked. The guitar was cutting and powerful, the lyrics were funny, and the guy played guitar like no one I’d ever heard. That started my trip into getting Crook telecasters and Dr. Z’s and eventually hooking up with Wampler when they released the Paisley Drive. The Paisley Drive actually sparked a conversation with Jason Wilding that would inevitably lead to me working for Wampler and our great friendship.

 

Sweet Sweet Baby – Michelle Featherstone

This is a bit of a departure, let me preface this. This is not completely related to guitar, but more-so to music as a means of expressing that which can’t be spoken. My wife and I tried for our son for 3 years, and doctors told us that we’d have to use fertility treatments to have children (if we ever could at all). After a year of heartbreak and pain, we finally discovered my wife was pregnant. The day our son was born, the photographer for the hospital came in and took newborn pictures. She returned later that day with a slide-show, and this song was playing behind pictures of our newborn miracle. The idea of wanting something so bad, seeing it in your arms and hearing that perfect song, it was enough to make us cry. I still can’t listen to the daggone song without a tear of happiness. This song and that experience engrained in me how important music is to life itself. It’s the one thing in life that truly can help whatever emotion you are feeling. It bonds people from all corners of the globe, transcending all of those dumb things the news talks about. This song showed me that it’s all about what FITS the moment, and how it makes you feel and relate to that moment for the rest of your life. That has translated to how I play guitar. I dropped the mindset of fitting in every note I could to just trying to find what fits in the context of the song. It really helped me to LISTEN instead of just trying to fill the space with notes.

 

"...Welcome to Tone Chasers Anonymous..."

Which one should I begin with as I stand up and shyly speak as the whole group watches?? Should it be "Hello, my name is Jason and I'm addicted to chasing tone" or "Hello, my name is Jason and I'm an opinionated idiot"?

You see, the problem I have is that both of those statements are true. I expect if you think about it, you are probably both of those things as well. If you've ever said "All you need is a telecaster", "Guitar - Cable - Amp, it's good enough for Keef", "Clapton is God", "Clapton is dog" or "Jimi didn't need to have true bypass" or what ever, then you are guilty of it as well. I think if we are all honest with ourselves we can think of occasions when we've fallen into this trap many more times than once. Me more than most!

So, let's look at this a little deeper. Why am I writing this? Is it self therapy, I don't know - all I do know is that two statements I've seen on the internet in recent times have made me think about this subject more than I usually do. I think it's because it's the anniversary of Jimi's death. These statement (the first was a 'hilarious' meme) are...

1. Everyone tried hard to enjoy themselves at Woodstock... Despite the fact Jimi's pedals were not true bypass.

2. Jimi didn't need loads of effects to sound great.

Let's make another couple of statements that are no different from the ones above, but I'll use the Beatles to demonstrate my point.

1. The Beatles played Shea Stadium with 100w VOX amps and nothing else.

2. The Beatles didn't need Pro Tools to make Sgt Pepper.

When the two sets of statements are compared, it kind of makes you realise that those blanket statements about your favourite artist are kind of... well, you know, silly. I say this because when McCartney played at Shea Stadium with Billy Joel in 2008, the back line and P.A. were somewhat more powerful and I'm guessing, although I can't absolute confirm it - unlike the Peppers sessions - he used a little more than 4 tracks on his last album.

What do we think Jimi would have used if he were still making music today? I know that he has extremely fussy when choosing his wah pedals - I've had some interesting  conversations with Wampler escapee Travis who I guess you might know is a massive Hendrix fan. Travis has been lucky enough to pick Roger Mayer's brain's about Hendrix and some of the things said were "he would go through 5-10 wahs every night at sound check to get the right one" and that he only used Marshall's because they were the only ones loud enough and that his own middle name was Marshall. I can't categorically state this next thing but it seems to me Hendrix was a tone chaser like the rest of us and would have absolutely loved the options available to him today had he still been here. Can you imagine Hendrix with an AxeFX or a Kemper? I can't, I don't think... but I can see him with an absolutely massive pedal collection and loving every second of exploring them.

Here's a couple of cool interviews with Eddie Kramer, I'm obliged to warn you that the language is explicit in places, definitely NSFW or for those of a nervous disposition, but he confirms again that Hendrix was a tone chaser and loved to jump in head first and find those tones...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-0dKor3pc0

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkJhnDkdC-0

 

So, thank you for attending this weeks Tone Chasers Anonymous session, my name is Jason, and I am an opinionated idiot. And remember, everything you just read must be true, because you just saw it on the internet.

The 5 Guitar Moments That Changed My World (Max)

5 guitar moments that changed my life

Early this week, Jason posted a Blog about the 5 guitar moments that changed his world. Piggy-backing off this idea – here are my 5. Although numbered – it’s hard to put them in any official order. It was also hard to pick only 5.

 

1) Who did you think I was? – John Mayer This was one of the first songs that made me want to really “Chase Tone”. I can remember exactly were I was when I first heard this song. I was sitting in my car with the top down of my Mustang (It was a cool car to me – but pretty much a piece of junk to anybody who had seen it.) Anyways – I was sitting at a stop light near my childhood home in Mooresville, Indiana listening to the local radio station 92.3FM (A modern music radio station) when it came on. BAM! Hit me like a freight train! Just the opening riff, Strat, Tube Screamer, and a Two Rock – Blown Away! I’ve been an unashamed Mayer fan-boy since.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YfLkO3uwBlQ[/embed]

 

2) Jonny Lang – Lie To Me This album came out in 1997 and I purchased it at my local Karma record store on a whim. I was 11 years old and just starting to get in to blues. His voice and riffs were just so tastey – even at an early age – I knew I wanted to sing like that. Oddly enough I didn’t start singing in public until my early 20s. But Johnny Lang’s guitar and vocal phrasing and still a super prevalent influence in my music today.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tigVYfHVmQ[/embed]

 

3) Texas FloodStevie Ray Vaughan I first got in the blues when I was 10 – nearly 20 years ago now. Texas Flood was one of the first albums I ever received. My very first copy was on tape that I received as Christmas gift. I wore that out, quite literally. I stretched the tape so bad you couldn’t understand it in anymore for being played so many times. After doing that to about 3 copies in a matter of months. My parents got me a Sony Discman CD player with a CD version of Texas Flood so they wouldn’t have to buy me any more copies of that album on tape. You can hear the emotion and power behind every note played on that album. If you haven’t listened to it for a while – you owe yourself a favor – sit down, relax, and enjoy.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bHk85sQGAs0[/embed]

 

4) Taxman – The Beatles So for those of you who know me – and for those of you who don’t – I am a huge Beatles fan. My office is pretty much covered in Beatles stuff. My Dad was a huge fan – and I think he passed that gene on to me. While it’s hard to pin point any one favorite Beatles song – I think the song “Tax Man” really stood out to me. The pocket of the Rhythm guitar chugging along during that song has always brought a smile to my face. It’s a fantastic example of pocket – it makes the whole song!

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzLe8R1bL4c[/embed]

 

5) Tedeschi Trucks Band

In recent years, I’ve fallen in love with the Tedeschi Trucks Band. Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi are both great guitar players on their own – but since marrying one another and forming a more than incredible band together – they continue to amaze me. They both play off each other’s guitar riffs well, song structure is articulate and fun, and I’m not even mentioning that Derek Trucks can make his SG and glass slide sound like a Gospel Singer. While they are known for their up beat structures – I really like this song when I need to just unwind. There still lots of power and emotion – just directed as to relax you. Sound odd I know – but you be the judge for yourself.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=paTpQx3fJ-E[/embed]

Honorable mentions: Sean Costello – I’m a Ram, Jimi Hendrix – Crosstown Traffic, and Government Mule – Beautifully Broken.

- Max

The 5 Guitar Moments That Changed My World (Jason)

I started playing the guitar at about age 8, massively influenced by my older brother, my grandfather, and my uncle (who were all players) - I started the same way as everyone else my age did. Listening to the radio and going through my, and my friends, parents record collection. Here are the songs/riffs/solos that throughout my playing life have completely turned me upside down, influenced me or in one case, bought a little tear to my eye. (Note: I’ve intentionally left out Hotel California as it’s too obvious)

 

 

Sunday Bloody Sunday Edge (U2)

Live at Red Rocks version, obviously. My first experience with Eb tuning, It wasn’t until I saw the video I saw that he was playing it “there” so it meant the guitar must have been downtuned. I remember being blown away with Edge’s right hand and his aggressive nature of playing rhythm, the riff was cool but the playing was better.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EM4vblG6BVQ

 

Phantom of the OperaDave Murray and Adrian Smith (Iron Maiden)

I first heard the song in an advert for Lucozade, just he intro and a little of the main song riff - it was of course the studio version with Dennis Stratton playing with Davey instead of Adrain. It took me months to track the song down (ahhh… the days before the internet) and when I heard the version on Live After Death (unfortunately that performance was never videoed) Iron Maiden became my life’s obsession!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jB5CUALURJc

 

Comfortably Numb - David Gilmour (Pink Floyd)

I think this one is pretty much a no brainer for most players. I first became aware of this when a band played it in a pub one time and the guitarist got pretty close to the original. Loving what I had heard I went out and bought the album, loved every second of it but when that first solo of Comfortably Numb passed I was utterly floored. Literally shaking with emotion and joy. I've spent years dissecting the phrasing - how it just seems to fall out of his fingers still blows my mind to this day.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pl9dc5FhFYU

 

AnswersSteve Vai

My introduction to Mr Vai was at the Monsters of Rock Festival at Donnington in 1988 with DLR. They shared the bill with G’n’R, Kiss, Iron Maiden, Megadeth and Helloween. It was really hard not to take notice of him, apart from the extremely raucious G’n’R (with the exception of their outstanding professionalism when the crowd started to go absolutely mad) he stole the show for me. Passion and Warfare was the seminal guitar instrumental album for years, and Answers shows the one thing that is NEVER talked about when discussing Steve’s playing. Phrasing. It’s sublime. This video is the first time I saw him play it live, you can even hear the loud “Yeeeaaahhh”s from me at the start! I would give almost anything I own to be stood between Dave and Steve playing the third harmony line at the end of this song!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U24qL9Bj0WA

 

Blowin’ SmokeBrent Mason

I have total and complete clarity of the first time I became aware of Brent. It was 1998 and every Monday night my local pub had a jam night that was hosted by a country/blues band (Country is rare in the UK). The bass player, a great friend of mine called Rick, was always on top of music and had all the latest and greatest imports from across the pond. One Monday I was stood in the pub, having a quiet pint before the jam and Rick put the CD on over the PA. I noticed the tone and note choice instantly. Then the next tune came on and it was just beautiful… I walked over to Rick and asked who it was, he said “Some session guy from Nashville, Brent Mason – keep listening, you’ll love the next track..”. Blowin’ Smoke came on and you could say it was the riff that changed my life. I turned the dirt off, grew a couple of nails on my right hand and I was off… And no, 17 years later, I still can’t bloody play it like he does!

You can listen to Blowin' Smoke on Brent's Soundcloud, for some reason it won't embed here.

Hendrix Last Gig

45 years ago today (6th September) Jimi Hendrix performed his last ever gig 10 days before he was tragically inducted into the 27 club. We've managed to locate some photos from before, during and after that last gig, photographers unknown...

[rev_slider hendrix_last_gig]

The Show Must Go On - Happy Birthday Freddie Mercury

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.

https://youtu.be/A22oy8dFjqc

Backstage with Brad Paisley

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:

[rev_slider paisley_gig_aug_2015]

Volume control: It Might Get Loud

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!

- Max