Talking about gear

Talking about gear (85)

PRS Silver Sky Hands-On Review

I’ve had the fortune of owning the Silver Sky from PRS for about a week now, tried it through several different amps and even played it out with my buddies this past weekend to get a feel for it. I figured there’s no time like the present to take a look at what I found that I like, what I’m not a huge fan of, and my overall impression of the instrument that has divided the gear community more than just about anything in recent memory. Keep in mind this is a personal view, may ramble on a bit but I’m trying to be thorough for anyone who is truly on the fence about these guitars.
 
I’ll start off with straight out of the box. I’m not one of the lucky ones that won the lottery and got a case with my Silver Sky (for any who aren’t aware, the first 500 shipped with a gig bag, the rest ship with a padded gig bag). First impressions are positive; it’s a solid gig bag with padding on the inside that keeps the guitar from moving all around. Decent pockets for all your stuff, and backpack shoulder straps for when you want to throw it on your back. It’s not overtly protective, but it was protective enough that the only thing in the box was a bit of light bubble wrap around the top and bottom of the bag and put in there to roll, and it survived the trip (but freaked me out upon first seeing it). Upon removing it from the gig bag, I immediately noticed how light it was (lighter than my American Pro strat). Upon initial views, the finish (I got the red, Horizon finish) was expertly done, no flaws, blems or quirky stuff anywhere on the guitar. I instantly noticed the slightly darker paint shade on the lower bout of the horn, which was subtle but kind of accentuates it to make it have a 3d quality. All of the edges were clean; no hair-line paint cracks around the neck (which admittedly my American Pro had out of the box).
 
Upon the first strum, it was already in tune. It made the trek from Texas to here in VA in relatively frigid weather and was ready to roll out the minute it landed. The neck has been a big talk of the guitar, talking about the 7.25” radius instantly turned a lot of players off. For me and my small hands, it was comfortable. The frets are smaller than the modern jumbo’s I’ve been playing for years, but it didn’t detract from the experience at all. They’re a bit taller than my friend’s ’64, but the thickness of the neck and overall feeling of playing it felt like playing an old friend. As to be expected with a guitar at that price, the attention to the frets was perfect. No sharp fret ends, everything was just smooth, all the way around. The rosewood used on the fretboard has some gorgeous figuring to it, and the birds are there but not as “in your face” as my old Custom 22 and other PRS’s are. Unplugged, it’s a relatively loud guitar compared to some of the others I’ve played. Chords ring out really well with plenty of sustain and bending feels great. Now, the dreaded question associated with the 7.25” radius is…does it fret out? The answer is 97% NO. The only time I experienced a single fret-out was on the high E string, playing way up around the 20-22nd fret. That’s ONLY on the high E string though, and I had to do well over a step and a half bend to get it to fret out. It also doesn’t do it on the other strings, but admittedly I’m personally not playing up that high very often, so it’s not a deal-breaker. The bridge itself is great, very sleek and stays in tune quite well even when bombing on the trem arm. I’ve always put my bridges down to the body on my strats since I was a teenager anyway, so that felt right at home. The tuners are solid and work very smoothly, and of course, the PRS locking option is just one of my favorites anyway out of ease of use.
 
All that stuff is well and good, but it only means but so much unless it sounds excellent. I only had about 5 minutes the first night, and it left me feeling a bit bewildered at how to describe the sound of the pickups. There was something different, but I couldn’t put my finger on it without spending more time with it. Now that I’ve played quite a bit on it, the easiest way I can describe the pickups are strat-like, but with rather hefty variations on some of the frequencies. Overall, I’d say that they’re not as warm and boomy as a strat is. The Silver Sky’s pickups are much…brighter isn’t the word I’m looking for. Present maybe? They have this air about them that is different from any strat I’ve owned. Overall there seems to be less compression on the low end, more presence, and much more percussive quality when reacting to picking dynamics. Generally, on a strat, I would be a neck, neck+middle, and bridge+ middle type person. I’m just fond of the 2, 4 and five positions and often overlook the bridge standalone and the middle standalone. The bridge on the SS is quite nice sounding, and I understand what JM meant when he said: “the lows have high end, and the highs have low end.” The bridge is quite warm, still single-coil but leaning ever slightly toward P90-ish in nature (especially with dirt). The middle was the most surprising for me of all the pickups because it feels like it has the best of both worlds so to speak. It’s got quite a bit of low-end, but there’s some quack and brightness that lets it cut without being like an ice-pick. I never played the middle before to its true extent, but it’s quickly becoming my favorite. You can definitely see John’s influences in each pickup setting. The neck pickup does the SRV-ish thing but doesn’t quite snarl like my strat does outright, but when you dig in with your pick, it really responds almost like hitting the amp with a boost (see my comment above about being very reliant on picking dynamics). The four position has the quack but is smooth and kind of sexy, with some low end that really blooms as you play. The middle is very much Jerry Garcia-ish, and you can definitely see the effect Jerry had on him playing with Dead and Company. Bridge + middle had that great classic sound but compared to my strat it seems to have a bit more mids that smooth but fatten out the overall sound of that position. 
 
While we’re talking tones, the Silver Sky works exceptionally well with most any pedal you use it with. Pairing it with a TS gives that fat and powerful tone you’d come to expect from its lineage, while still adding a bit of extra clarity to it. Utilizing a K-style OD makes your signal cut like a hot knife through butter and fills out the sound to the point where I could see myself only using a Klone if it came down to only choosing one form of dirt. In all honesty, it’s one of the first guitars in a very long time that I haven’t had the desire to use effects on much. I've instead been opting just to play clean or edge of breakup with a bit of spring reverb on for depth and just adjusting my playing style and pick attack to really bring out the nuances. Speaking of which, this guitar it’s overtly forgiving when it comes to playing. Being that it’s so touch-sensitive and all that, every nuance (good and bad) are amplified tenfold. For me, it was eye-opening because I would just play kind of sloppy on a strat with rakes and all that, and the Silver Sky made me take a look at my attack and adjust to clean my chops up a bit already. It’s undeniable that you can hear John’s tonal choices in each of the pickup positions and the reaction to the string attack, which are very much his trademark thing. Overall, it’s effortless to channel JM tones, but I also feel it’s easier to NOT sound like some of the classic strat players, and you have to almost channel their playing style more so than on say my American Pro to get those classic tones. Again, it’s going back to reinforce that it’s a very responsive guitar. You get what you put into it, nothing more, nothing less.
 
Getting into the nit-picky part of my review and some of the things I’m not as big of a fan of are based on the knobs and selector switch and the headstock. The sweep of the pots themselves is very nice and musical the whole way through, no issues there. The knobs themselves, unfortunately, feel very cheap and aren’t snug on the pot itself. They each wiggle just a bit on top of the pot, and despite trying to push down harder (thinking maybe they just weren’t on there good), but to no avail. They’re not majorly shaky, but there’s some wiggle movement going on, even if it’s relatively slight. It’s something I can overlook in the long-run. The pickup selector clicks much more securely into each of the five positions than any of my other strats do, but overall it also has this cheap, fisher-price toy kind of feel to it (same as the knobs). They might not be cheap at all, but just from the onset, they FEEL cheap. I have a couple of friends who have gotten theirs as well, and they said the same thing. Regarding the headstock, the shape is fine and I kind of dig that it’s unique and quirky. The truss rod cover and tuning handles are a matching dark grey plastic, which I also feel makes the look and feel a bit cheap aesthetically. I would have at least opted for black, or maybe even just a different shade of grey, but again I'm just being nit-picky now.
 
Overall verdict? It’s a very solid, well-engineered instrument that pays homage to the legacy of the strat, but then branches off and does its own thing. It admittedly plays more like a PRS than a strat, and the pickups and feel of the neck are just different enough to justify owning both a Silver Sky and a Fender Strat. Did it reinvent the wheel? Heck no. Was PRS aiming to? Not that Paul or John ever mentioned in any of their interviews. It’s another viable option for people who love S-style guitars, with PRS’s impeccable attention to detail on their finishing work. I am a fan of John’s, but despite it being a signature model it doesn’t feel pigeon-holed into just his tones. Other’s mileage may vary considerably, but I for one am glad to see PRS step into that world that so many other brands have been occupying for so long (with FAR less fuss than PRS got). Check one out if you get the chance, and you’ll see what I mean about it just being *different*. 
 
 

Is Mojo all in the head?

What is it about classic or vintage gear that just oozes mojo? In general, many of the circuits aren’t made of magic unicorn dust or rainbow farts and hen’s teeth; just electronics soldered together that culminate in a particular circuit. These parts aren’t necessarily designed to be used with music-related devices, but over the years that’s what’s been adopted by the industry and progressed even further into modern technology. So, what is “mojo,” and why does it play such a huge part in our gear selections? It dawned on me the other day as I was taking stock of my gear, looking at what I would be willing to move (for space and to have a bit of extra spending cash), and things that I immediately will not sell in any way, shape, or form. I think it comes down to mojo, which is a combination of several factors. It made me start looking at WHY I’m keeping the gear I’m keeping, and so easily “thinning the herd” so to speak on some other things.

Several of my friends and I were discussing vintage gear in a group chat, and lust for various pieces of classic gear that are essentially unreachable in our lifetime (financially). The more I thought about the cost. However, I started questioning why I would want something so freaking expensive? One part is nostalgia and kind of a hive-mind of what we grew up around. Many of the older guys we idolized in high school always lusted after vintage instruments, and I think it keeps being handed down through the generations. Again, it goes back to reflecting gear communities and the thought processes behind them (even pre-internet days). 1958 and ’59 Les Paul’s are considered the holy grails of the Gibson world and the idea of playing or owning one seems incredible. Same with an original ’57 Strat, or a ’68 Fender Paisley, or whatever you’d like to use as the defining unobtanium, magic instrument of love and lust as your example. Many were lucky enough to be around to experience those instruments when they were new, but as time goes on fewer players are around that have owned yet alone played a true vintage instrument. But that’s the thing; many people still lust for them despite having never laid their hands on one. Why is that? Well, mojo of course! 

The IDEA of holding an instrument that old would feel like holding an ancient relic from civilizations long gone. I’ll admit that I don’t know a load of vintage instruments, but I’ve heard a lot about them lately. Paul Reed Smith did a live video in the U.K. when people asked why a vintage Strat was so great, and his answer was “Because those guys knew what they were doing.” It’s apparent because the designs haven’t changed much at all in over half of a century.  At the same time, I’ve also seen many people saying that many of those old instruments are inconsistent and that some are magic, but some don’t click for lack of a better way to describe it. Despite the proposed inconsistency, some are willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars to own a piece of history. I suppose it’s about collecting anything, preserving history for future generations and all that. It’s also a very cool talking point to be able to show off that cool, now-rare gear. The same goes for pedals. The Klon Centaur is probably the most famous of all of them, and despite being a relatively simple boost and overdrive, it’s an item of lust for MANY people (and a point of contention for many more).

These pieces of gear fetch massive costs in the used market, and subsequently, many companies have tried to take the tried and true formula that players lust over and create a modern, relatively affordable (comparatively) version for the current generation that captures that nostalgia and inherent mojo. Some get excessively close in recreating the feel and response and tone of the originals, some take them to new extremes and approach the old as a springboard for creating something grounded in nostalgia, but with modern amenities. It’s the reason why we (Wampler) have two variants of klones, as well as dozens and dozens of other companies as well. It’s the same reason so many places make strat and tele-style guitars. Are the tones quantifiably different? In some cases, yes, in some cases no. There are many people on the internet that would argue that other companies than Fender make a better strat, while many believe there’s nothing like the classic. Are vintage tubescreamers from the early 1980’s completely better than the ones available today? Likely not. There may be a 5% difference or so based on part tolerances and a wider variance in manufacturing, but they’re subjective… and that percentage factors in when you’re looking at substantial differences between the costs. At that point, it’s just a personal decision as to how much that sound and difference means in monetary value. Is it worth *paying* for “mojo”? That’s up to the person making the payments! 

I’ve got a few pieces of gear that are purely sentimental and will be intended to be heirlooms for my kids because they are either unique and quirky, have some form of emotional connection (such as my first MIM Strat) or completely special (gifts, etc.). In the end, it comes down to the tone and how it feels to play it for each person. For me, mojo is that smile I get when I plug into a piece of gear, and it sounds great, responds great with the rest of my rig and does EXACTLY what I’m hoping it will do. It’s the feeling of nostalgia, how playing through a piece of gear makes me feel connected to an era, or a guitar hero that I’m a massive fan of. It’s not quantifiable magic, but it hits the spot for me, where it may not do anything for anyone else. That mojo is self-driven, and I’ve bonded with pedals and guitars that were considered “budget-level,” along with not falling in love with pedals and guitars that are obscenely expensive and theoretically there was no reason NOT to love it. In the end, I can’t say that for me, mojo can necessarily be bought. It’s just the right time, the right feel, the right tone, the right look that grabs my attention when I plug in.

 

 

 

Where do you put your amp? Sound dispersion and speaker placement

I’m pretty old – currently staring down the barrel of being 45… So, I groan when I get up from the sofa and my idea of a great concert (as someone attending) is whether it is seated and how easy the access is to the ‘facilities’. Whereas this may sound terrible to some (especially me to be honest), it does mean one thing – I’ve been playing live since I was 17 so I’ve been thinking about this kind of stuff for a long time. Along the way, having done over a thousand gigs, I’ve picked up some knowledge about some things that I might not have thought about before. 

This week I want to talk about speaker placement when you perform… When I was a nipper, before the gig time, I had to keep my sound levels down low at home, because – you know, parents. I quickly found out the best way to do this was to lean my amp back (up against the wall) so the centre part of the cone was pointing at my ears. During this time, I wanted to be Jannick Gers before I knew that Jannick existed… basically, I wanted to stand between Smith and Murray on your bog standard Iron Maiden world tour. My bedroom came complete with a full-length mirror so quite often I was stood with my foot on the bed in that classic “on the monitors” way and other various poses the band are known for admiring my potential for being in the band... It was during this time I realised that where the speaker was pointing made an enormous difference to how I heard my guitar. It was either muffled if I wasn’t dead on, or bright and clear when I was. Based on this experience when I started with my first band I used to put my amp on stuff to make sure it was at head level as much as possible – I found that not only was it the best way to keep my stage level down but also the very best way to know that the people out front only heard what I was hearing. From there I went on to live mix large bands around the circuit which taught me also that in regards to upper mids and high end, speaker placement is absolutely everything. The lower the frequency goes, the more omnidirectional they become (this varies with speakers size) so you can put them anywhere and they’ll be heard, but those high ends have to be facing the right direction and high enough to literally go over the head of people, otherwise anything further than 10 feet from them with people in front of you, they are just gone.

Now, any self-respecting guitar player will be able to tell you that the best tone you get from your amp (providing you aren’t on a weak hollow stage) is to have your amp on the floor, but this is a nightmare for the people out front – you can’t hear your top end if you have your tone going into your calves, and also, if you are anywhere near the drummer you have to be literally twice as loud to hear yourself. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve seen a band where the guitar amps are on the floor and the first few rows have been slaughtered by sheer volume and gnarly top ends while the player thinks he sounds incredible.

With all that in mind, where do you put your speakers when you play live? Are they on the deck, or are they elevated? The current band I’m ruining is set up like this, my cab sits on top of a flight case, it’s a 2x12” (and I have it vertically) with the head on top. This means that because I am stood anywhere between 1 and 10 feet from my cab (usually about 2 or 3 tbh), at all times the top speaker is sitting close enough to head height for me to hear it properly. I have to have my cab a certain way ‘up’ as one of the speakers is truer on the higher end and the other is more about warm mids and lows. The top speaker has to be looking at my head, so I can keep the high end under control.  As I play in a band that borders on country music, I have my cleans set on very clean with some sparkly high ends going on, so I sit on that verge of being shrill if I am not careful. I am so paranoid about this that I often hold my nose and blow down it to pop my ears out to ensure I am hearing all the highs properly… Something Mrs Wilding finds most amusing!


My current live speaker set up... vertically aligned so I can hear what I am doing... I don't play shoegaze, I promise... 

Well, that’s the story part of the piece out of the way – what about the facts that support it, because we all like the sciencey facts part, right?

Speakers, and the frequencies that they protect vary in directionality. The higher the note, the more directional your sound will be projected. Here’s a little test… play a low E note and then one as high as you can straight after. Do that stood to the side of your amp, then at a 45 degree angle, and then right in front (also do this crouched down if your amp is on the floor). You’ll notice that the low-end notes sound pretty identical in all three but the higher notes will sound much duller when you are at the side.

Most guitar amp speakers are 12” and they demonstrate ‘beaming’ at about 1335hz – that is the frequency they become immensely directional. So, everything below that will feel a lot more omnidirectional. To put this in real guitary terms, a tubescreamer has a hump that is most prominent at 732hz and that’s considered to be a mid-range bump - upper mids is generally thought to be between 1khz and 2khz so everything above the midpoint of your upper mids is being protected in a strict direction. Now, think about standing on a stage with your amp on the floor about 5’ behind you. There is an enormous chance you are not actually hearing the high end of your amp properly, so your tone will be brighter than you think.. chances are you compensate for this by increasing the treble control on your amp/pedals. Now think about all those people who are standing on the floor about 15’ in front of you. Yep, it’s your high end that’s actually hurting them and ruining their night!

There are several companies that try to put a stop to this happening, most noticeably the Deefleex, it provides a deflection panel that sends your upper frequencies up to your ears - this is great - but in order to work properly they stick out quite a bit from your amp, so unless you are playing on a bigger stage, you just can’t use it as it will get in the way... if you don’t have that problem though, this simple solution could make a world of difference to your understanding of how you, and your audience, hears your tone.

While we are talking of speaker cabs, here’s another thing to consider… how you have your cab laying. If you are using a 1x12” cab, the sound will spread out evenly in all directions (this isn’t strictly true, but for the sake of this piece let’s keep it simple), but if you are using a 2x12” cab it will react quite differently. If you have the speakers in your cab aligned horizontally, you will get a bigger spread ‘up and down’ than if you put them vertically which will spread the sound wider. This is why I have my cab elevated off the ground and vertical, so the cab will spread more to the sides that it does up. If I had to put my cab any lower I would put it so the speakers are horizontally aligned, so the sound goes up more. For me, in a band that plays smaller venues, the dispersal of the sound to the sides is WAY more important because there won’t be enough room for a horizontally aligned cab to fill the room with sound. And there’s no point in taking all this gear to a gig if only a few people directly in front of me can hear it, right?

 

 

PRS Made a Strat.. and that's okay.

Hey, guess what? PRS is making a John Mayer signature guitar! I bet you’ve never seen or heard of that before?!?! \Sarcasm. Honestly, at this point, if you have been on any form of media at all, you’ll likely have had it plastered all over everything. Facebook, emails from dealers, Instagram, everywhere. It’s become a lightning rod of polarity in the guitar community, spawning countless memes joking about it, intense arguments with people loving it and people loathing it. It’s become more than a bit overboard with the sharing, so I thought I’d take a look at it from a different angle and attempt to address some of the common themes I see pop up in threads and my thoughts on it.
 
Fundamentally, John Mayer (and all musicians really) isn’t just a guitar player but is a brand unto himself. Due to his playing skills and his rapid rise to stardom, he became known for some of his personality traits years ago that were… less than favorable and its divided players ever since. He has an ego that precedes him, and that often shuts down so many people without looking any further. At the same time, it would be hard to not develop a bit of a complex gaining that much praise from legends like Eric Clapton and BB King and many others early on in his career. Regardless, his attitude, gear choices, lifestyle, playing ability and social media posting habits on top of bridging the gap between the blues and modern pop have made him a lightning rod for divisiveness. It seems there are three tiers of people when it comes to Mayer: 1) Super Fans – folks who dig what he does entirely, plain and simple. Generally speaking, the negative stuff is looked past because of his proficiency on the instrument. 2) People who dig his playing, but can’t stand pop music, or consider his playing a rehash of SRV, etc. or 3) People who just don’t like or care about him at all, or fervently dislike him based on some of the things listed above. Regardless of which tier a person falls into, every one seems more than happy to vent their points of view or completely defend their line in the sand. Enough about that though, let’s talk about the guitar. 
 
John was a long-time Fender artist, and as a business person as well he was looking to expand his branding. You can find all sorts of articles guessing and theorizing his reason for departing Fender, but either way, they parted ways a few years ago. He then found his way to PRS and has actively been using that brand of gear since then. A Mayer signature amp was spawned out of the relationship, the Super Eagle collectible PRS, and now this signature guitar the “Silver Sky.” But at a base level, it’s just business. You have a person looking to expand their branding, one of the top companies in the world wasn’t able to accommodate his wishes for whatever reason (there are enough conspiracy theories on the internet to take up a good half of a day). His next option was to find one that could meet his expectations and standards of what he was aiming to do. For those that wonder why PRS would break their mold and go for a much straty-er guitar than ever before, you only have to look at the source. Just like mention Mayer as a brand, he’s a brand that MOVES PRODUCT. Generally speaking, if something has John Mayer’s name attached to it, then it will sell very well. Like him or not, John Mayer is a modern guitar hero for this generation.
 
When the initial demos first came out, two comments that stuck out upon the initial unveiling were “It’s just a strat with an ugly headstock.” And “Not trolling, but it sounds exactly like a Strat to me.” Well… that’s the point. When you are building a brand, you attempt to maintain consistency. In this case, John has been using Strats his whole career, and it’s synonymous with his tone and playing and his songs and what he loves as an artist. It’s instantly what he’s identified with as part of his signature sound, just like Brad Paisley with a Telecaster, BB King with Lucille, Angus Young with an SG, etc. It’s just what’s engrained as their iconic sound. Fundamentally there are a few key features that separate it from a Strat, such as the radius of the body, altered pickguard shape, proprietary hardware, different headstock that push it away from any legal issues, while staying close enough to the idea to keep with the folks who enjoy a bit of nostalgia. Another comment I saw was regarding “It’s way too expensive for a strat copy.” Well, taking a look at the Fender JM Strat, the cost isn’t that far off when including PRS’s lineage of quality and the design of the new Silver Sky is much more diverse visually than his Fender model was compared to SRV’s or other Fender artist guitars for instance. Is it redefining the wheel? Nope, not in the least bit. Is it relatable but a varied take on a classic that is spec’d to what John likes and uses? Yep.
 
The biggest thing I find interesting is that no one really cared about strat copies until Mayer had one built by a company not known for strats if you really think about it. If you look at all the companies who have made strat variants (some less different visually than the Silver Sky), PRS is by far not the first to do it, and not the most expensive version either. Suhr, G&L, Whitfill, Crook, Nash, Palir, Tom Anderson, Xotic, Don Grosh, Ibanez, Samick, RS Guitarworks, King Bee… there are many I’m missing out on naming, but you get the picture. None of them have ever truly caught too much flak for their S or T-style guitars that are as close to spec on some of Fender’s instruments as you can legally get. And as long as there’s nothing going on legally, then there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s no different than choosing what restaurant you want to get a cheeseburger or a salad from. It’s all a varied take on the initial idea, but with a personal twist on it. 
 
 
Regarding most of the drama, I think it has a lot to do with John himself and public perception of him, and the overall fact that he went from one brand with a signature guitar and had the new company build one that was quite similar with the response that it was 2.5 years in the making. I’ve seen that quite a bit on internet forums and groups, saying that 2.5 years is a massive amount of wasted research and development time that PRS wasted on Mayer when he already had a former signature guitar as a reference point. However, considering that tastes change, and PRS was set on giving Mayer exactly what he wanted, and the time that’s invested in creating these parts with the changes. After alterations, they require John test them on the road for a while to confirm what he liked and didn’t like, and confirming they meet their QC specs, that’s not that long in the grand scheme of things. The 7.25” radius has been a massive contention for players discussing it on forums, subsequently saying that radius instantly turns them off. The idea behind it (for those who haven’t played a 7.25” radius) is that vintage guitars had a habit of fretting out on big bends. If you’re familiar with Mayer’s playing at all, you’ll know he bends pretty constantly, so if fretting out was an issue that’s likely something that had to be addressed by PRS to accommodate his playing style on that radius. I’m confident that in the end, if JM signs off on it, then it’s going to be as right as it can be. Early demos have found no issues with fretting out, but only time will tell as they show up in the wild and guitarists get their hands on them.
 
In the end, it all revolves around personal taste. Mayer fans will be overjoyed, and the first 500 preorders have been completely sold out with the next batch not coming until later this year, and even many of those are sold out. If you’re a strat purist, then this guitar likely won’t be anything worth hollering about, and that’s understandable… it’s hard to beat a classic. But as a fan of all things guitar, I can’t wait to try it. I own a Fender American Pro strat as well as a Suhr S-style, and can’t wait to compare it. Again, it’s all what tickles your fancy and spawns your creativity and stokes the fire on the urge to pick up the instrument and play. Knocking an instrument without having played it, or judging the company or the artist without knowing the backstory doesn’t do any good aside from fueling the drama via assumptions. So, to those who bought it, have fun and happy new guitar day! I hope it’s what you’re looking for and hits the spot. If those who aren’t into it, you’re not wrong either. A strat is a beautiful thing to behold, and there’s a reason it’s a classic and so highly copied. In the end, I just hope everyone will let people enjoy what they want to enjoy, and welcome the fact that you can say you were there when John Mayer and PRS divided the industry for a few weeks (until the next big thing occurs and we all forget about this).
 
 

Boosts - just what is a clean boost?

When you are lurking on as many gear forums that I am (it’s no wonder my sanity is often questioned) you start to notice patterns forming, you see the same questions come up, and quite often you get to see some great answers and also some terrible ones. I was explaining to Mrs Wilding a couple of weeks ago that at times it feels like I’m in a room with about 100,000 other people and I can hear all the conversations in the room at the same time… Sometimes, the conversations just pass you by but others stick out, especially when you hear the same conversation happening over and over again.

One of those topics that comes up time and time again is “boosts” – the different kinds and where to place them, even which one… so I’m going to write an answer at my level, which is idiot level, to try to explain it all. This may contain information you already know, but hopefully, it will contain some information that you haven’t consolidated yourself yet so there may be something useful in here for you!

When you boil it all down, there are (in my opinion), 3 kinds of boosts that guitarists favour. A clean boost, a treble boost and what’s often classed as a dirty boost, this could be called a coloured boost, or a tone shaping boost or a multitude of other names. The main consideration when deciding which is for you is what you fundamentally want it to do, and where you plan to put it in your chain. My own live rig runs two boosts, one pretty well up the front and one right at the back. Unsurprisingly, they are both Wampler – the Tumnus Mini sits at the front (after the compression and pre-gain modulations) before the main gain stages and the dB+ is right at the back (well, it sits before the reverb pedal but that is an always-on pedal so it doesn’t count!) and acts as a literal volume boost.

The thing that kinda makes me smile is when someone asks online “Recommend me a clean booster” and the thread instantly fills up with shouts of “EP Booster”, “Tumnus”, “TS” and the like and more often than not no one will stop to ascertain what they need, it may be that they need a dirtier boost or not. I would say that 99% of the time the dirtier version will be better, but you know….

Clean boost.
The clean boost does just that. It boosts the output of the signal coming in before it goes out. A lot of them are sold on the basis of a HUGE amount of boost, and for me, that kind of goes against the intention of them. Putting a clean boost in front of your gain stages will just increase the signal going in causing them to clip quicker, so you kind of get more of the same – where’s the fun in that? So, in my opinion, clean boosts are much better situated at the very back of your chain to ensure that when you go in for a solo, everyone can hear you over the rest of the band. Of course, this is not a hard and fast rule, a lot of people love their clean boost in front (especially if you are driving amp gain) because, well… they love their tone. So, happy days. But, once you start enjoying the beauties of a dirty boost it’s hard to ever go back to clean for pre-gain. In a nutshell, the classic clean boost will not add any clipping and it will NOT change the EQ of the signal, as EQ and clipping are so closely connected when you think about pedal dirt, it’s hard to separate them fully.

Treble Boost.
Kind of self-explanatory… takes the higher ranges of the tone and boosts it, this will in turn cause whatever sits behind it to clip into overdrive much quicker based on the frequencies that are hitting it.

‘Dirty’ Boost.
Now, this is where the real fun starts, well it does for me anyway. Thinking about it, I actually use 2 dirty boosts in my rig as I run the c2 side of the Paisley Drive Deluxe into c1 and only tend to use it for high gain stuff… So, why do I do this? Well, it’s all about the options it gives me with tone shaping, and how it makes my guitar feel under my hands. The amps I play with are set at totally clean at all times, so when it’s just the Tumnus that is on it kind of gives it a little nudge, adds very little gain (clipping) and the volume is set to unity. So, it’s not really pushing the amp in any direction, it just throws a gentle EQ curve across everything while giving it a little bite. It’s barely noticeable on the clean sound, but when it’s put on when the PaisleyDog is engaged, it fills it out SO much I can’t really describe it. Everything is warmer, fatter and it really pushes it forward. Not in a way that it makes my guitar sound louder, just fuller. When I then kick in Paisley Drive side (which is effectively set at full TS mode) the combined boosting of the TS frequencies and the K style frequencies produce a wall of sound that is huge. As I use a programmable looper in my rig, I have the following combinations available to me…

1) Clean, 2) Tumnus, 3) Paisley Dog, 4) Tumnus -> Paisley Dog, 5) Paisley Drive -> Paisley Dog 6) Tumnus -> Paisley Drive -> Paisley Dog.


Main Dirve section on the right (c1) with the TS boost on the left (c2)


My hidden boosts. dB+ for final solo boost and Tumnus Mini for pre, pre boost.

Now, the Paisley Drive is set somewhat different than the Tumnus, it’s set just above unity volume with a little more gain applied so when it hits the Paisley Dog side, there is an increase of overall gain as well.

With this in mind, how does all this work technically? The best way to think about dirty boosts is that it’s not about adding clipping to the chain, well, it is, but it’s more about the EQ shapes that they provide into your core signal. EQ is everything! As the Tumnus is a K style and the Paisley Drive is TS style (in one of the modes, and that’s the mode I use it in), I’m adding a largish amount of EQ to my tone when they are kicked in. The TS brings in a hump that centred at around 723hz and the Tumnus centred around 1k (these can and will change when you use the tone controls so that’s not gospel), the change in the character and depth of the main overdriven tone is quite remarkable. It does bring in a little clipping (gain), but you know, what it mostly brings is a jump in response from the EQ stacks, so I can easily control the feedback point and sustains for ever. When people look at the settings on my pedals they are quite surprised how low the gain is set on each, because when they are stacked, the inherent EQ shapes are bringing the gain that’s already there front and centre, with a much more 3D depth... that’s not how it works, but that’s how it feels. 

If you are thinking about a booster pedal, think about what you really need it to do and where you should place it in your chain. Are you after a literal boost for your solos or are you looking for something that changes your tone into something else. The vast majority of people want the latter I think, so the choice then is which voicing you want to bring in – most people instantly think about a TS or a K, but then again there treble boosters (that explode those higher frequencies that bring the character of the subsequent drives/gain stages to a whole new place), or pedals like EP booster that bring another element of width and fullness of its own character, I’ve seen a lot of boards that have an EP at the start and at the back, purely because the warmth it brings also sounds great as an end of chain boost as well.

As I’ve now been using the double boost pre-gain for quite some time now, I’m pretty certain I won’t change as it works so well, but, the older I get the more I start to think of downsizing, so who knows? Maybe we need to do a triple pedal that utilizes both kinds in a single box with one killer core gain stage at the end (I wish I was famous, I would totally have that as my signature pedal). With all this in mind… what is a clean boost in your mind – it is about clipping? Is it about volume? Should EQ play a part in this?

 

The Minimalist Challenge

About once a quarter, my cousins and I attempt to meet up somewhere and do a family jam. Nothing serious at all, just a reason to get together and play loud music and try out each other’s gear. It was way more frequent, but we all live a few hours away from each other, all have kids, and daily life gets in the way. But, we still try to do it whenever we can. We were texting last night trying to arrange it, and the topic came up about doing a “minimalist” setup. The challenge we set for ourselves was only to bring the bare minimum of what we think we would honestly need…well, need is subjective so it’s more so a challenge as to how few pedals we can whittle ourselves comfortably down with. Seems easy at the start, but then gets complicated the more we thought about it.
 
I should preface this that we each play drastically different, enjoy different genres and enjoy how much of a mix-match of stuff we have going on. You could say “Dad Rock” applies to a lot of it, but it’s a mix of blues, harder rock, some country, a bit of metal, and a dash of funk. Again, it’s a hodge-podge of different collective inspirations. Our gear varies quite a bit too. I lean heavily in the Wampler and Keeley camp, sprinkling in various things as necessary (usually effects neither of us makes). My big board has about ten pedals on it, and it covers just about anything I can throw at it. I’m running a Tone King Imperial MKII as the platform for my clean tone and some dirty tones as well. My older cousin is an Earthquaker Devices fanatic, having a board that consists of roughly 9 EQD pedals, a Klon KTR, Strymon El Cap and a HoF Mini. He's normally going into a ’71 Fender Pro Reverb (that his father-in-law found at a garage sale for $25!!!), and is looking heavily at a Fender Twin. My younger cousin is more heavily influenced by the older, tried and true classics. He’s packing some original vintage blues driver, an original Klon Centaur, an 808, a Rotosphere…all sorts of that great stuff into either a Two Rock Studio Pro 50 or a Matchless. So, as you can imagine, when the stars align, and we can get together it’s a gear smorgasbord. 
 
It seems for now only my older cousin and I will be able to catch up, so we were trying to pick apart our boards to see what we would bring in this minimum setup. That’s not to say it’s limited to the number of pedals, but more so just bringing absolute essentials we could get by with, not the extra stuff we only use occasionally. His was reasonably simple: Klon KTR, EQD Hoof, El Cap, and Hof Mini with his Pro Reverb or Deluxe Reverb Reissue. The only reason he’s still debating the amp choice is that the Pro needs a bit of work done to it, and despite being serviced doesn’t produce the output it’s supposed to. So more than likely it’ll be the DRRI. Relatively simple setup, boost/OD, fuzz, delay and reverb. Truly the essentials if you break it down and think about it. He hasn’t decided on bringing his new telecaster or his suped-up orange strat with Bareknuckle pickups in it (I’m partial to the Strat, those pickups are KILLER).
 
For me, the amp choice is clear, which is my Imperial MKII. Realistically that could cover most of what I need with the built-in features, but I still like pushing each of the channels a bit with different boosts to taste. So, I think in the end, it will be the Tumnus Deluxe, Bondi Del Mar, Pelican NoiseWorks Germanium Pelitaur, and a Boss DD-500. The lead channel of the Imperial (tweed-flavor) loves the klones boosting it, and the active EQ on the Tumnus Deluxe helps shape it to exactly the right amount of push in the right area. The Del Mar covers the TS and Bluesbreaker deal, which both sound great into the rhythm channel (blackface-inspired). The GE Pelitaur was my wild-card, which is a collaboration between Pelican Noiseworks and Spruce Effects and can do either Big Muff-ish tones, Tonebender tones (that can get a bit splattery) and a mix of both because of the design of the circuit. There’s also a footswitchable germanium boost that just adds some girth to everything with some of that germanium squishy feel when cranked. The DD-500 has been my favorite delay as of late. Granted, it’s not minimalist at all, but considering everything that’s in it, it’s quite the monster for the price. I never gelled with the TimeLine, but the menus and usability and tone of the DD-500 were just naturally more appealing for my personal use. I normally run two delays on a consistent basis, a straight digital delay with 3-4 repeats mixed low, or the analog setting with 2-3 repeats set at about 40% mix. For guitar I’m probably going with my Suhr with the three humbuckers in it just for fun. Now that I think about it, it's still overkill with just what I listed. I may drop the Del Mar or the Tumnus Deluxe. The Tumnus Deluxe has the buffer, so that'll probably stay. While I'm at it,  I guess I could substitute the DD-500 for the Faux Tape Echo v2... it sounds great and I don't NEED access to two delays...there are too many choices!
 
The entire goal of this challenge is mainly for us to play some music. We’ve all been chasing the tones for so long that it’s an attempt to decompress, go back to basics and play some tunes without losing track and just messing with gear the whole time. That’s one thing I’m guilty of completely is the whole “Less eBay more Mel Bay” thing. We all want to try the new gear each of us has, and before we know it most of our time has been sent messing around and not playing songs like we used to. Admittedly, there’s nothing wrong with that at all; it’s incredibly fun. But this is more for us to get out of our comfort zones of having a giant board (to hide behind somewhat). In reality, I know we could plug straight into the amp and be done, but we’ve got to ease into it to prevent withdrawal. We’ll have our jam in a couple of weeks, and I’ll report back. Thinking it’s time to hit the woodshed, so I don’t make even more of a fool of myself!
 
 

What is great tone?

Over the weekend, everyone’s favourite member of the Wampler Pedals Tone Group on Facebook asked this simple question. 

“What is good tone?”

When I opened up the list of answers, I was almost in dread as I was expecting an argument of epic proportions about individual personal opinions but was delightfully surprised at the answers (although I shouldn’t have been, we have a great bunch of people in there). I thought I would collate a couple of the theories here (with some direct quotes - so, don’t shoot the messenger), cross-reference them with what is in my head, just to open the discussion further.

Before we go into it - here’s my favourite comment of the thread “I’ve heard it’s in the fingers. Maybe that’s why people put their fingers in their ears when going to loud gigs? Always chasing that tone”.

The overall opinion of the thread was that it’s a subject issue – “The tone you like” (one of the more succinct quotes), but I got to thinking, this really does matter on who/where/when. Is it when it is either appropriate for the band, the song, the player or the audience?

One of the wonderful things about being a little older than I’d like to admit (but still not old enough to look old, I hope), is that you get to revisit the favourite tones of your past and dissect them with more experienced ears. Case in point, Mrs Wilding found a great gig on the digital TV box thing – Gary Moore: One Night in Dublin and his guitar sound was immense, really thick and full, everything you could want to hear from Gary Moore when he is in rock mode… I spent the next however long regaling to Mrs W about the Thin Lizzy album, Live and Dangerous, saying that the tones on that recording were much more classy than Gary’s etc etc. So, eventually, I downloaded the album to my phone and we listened to it in the car this week. She just looked at me and said “Yeah, it sounds good, but I prefer Gary…” and doesn’t really want to listen to it anymore. This made me think a little. Am I listening to it still with the ears of the person I was 30 years ago, or can I listen to it afresh? I’ve listened to it over and over since and I’ve come to the conclusion that even after all these years, for the moment in time (recorded in 1978) it still represents incredible guitar tone. I have no idea what Gorham or Robertson had in between their fingers and us, it sounds like Les Paul’s and Marshall’s, but I don’t actually want to know… I just want to listen to it and think “Yep, 1978… that’s great tone”. Does it stand up to the tones from 2008 when Gary was ripping through modern amps with pedals helping out? I think it does because it’s a moment in time and maybe not one that everyone can appreciate.

Another one I always come back to is Iron Maiden’s Live after Death… compare that to later Iron Maiden albums where the guitar sounds aren’t so raw, now… is that because when I got Live After Death it was unlike anything I’ve ever heard before and still brings those memories back, or is it because they had a better live tone in the 80’s? Anyone have any opinions on that, or am I alone with this? Is my memory playing tricks on me, because even today, I think it sounds just incredible.

One of the comments that made me stop to think was this… “Whatever fits the song and makes the song better. Jimmy Page had horrible tone that worked in fantastic songs.”. This has always been an issue with me with Zep, I adore the songs and the playing, but some of the guitar tones have been kinda ‘meh’, almost like some of them were badly recorded demo’s. However, if the guitar tones had been different would it have had an adverse effect on the music itself? Sometimes, the tone works for the song perfectly even if it’s not a tone that excites your ears personally. Listen to the tone in Kashmir objectively, is it great when it’s on its own? But as part of the song… is it just perfect?

The simple truth about guitar tone was perfectly wrapped up in this quote – “As far as what the rest of us like, it's subjective. But, if you find a sound that inspires you to play and you play better as a result, that is good tone.” – when I feel my tone is on point and my guitar is reacting the way I want it to, then I know I play better, there is something magical in there that just excites the brain and you play better for it. Once again, Mrs W comes into the conversation as she says after some gigs “You sounded great tonight, I could hear it in your playing”… However, do the drunken rabble that is dancing around in front of us aware that my rig is different from the guy who played in the band before me, with his USA strat, vintage TS-9 and a Deluxe? (not that I am knocking that rig, not at all, it’s just not me). I think of some them do, but most don’t, they just like what they hear and react to it.

There is a lot of talk about great tone, every day, in every format, on every forum you care to visit. The main question for me is this – is the great tone for you personally or the people who have to listen to you, and if it IS for them, how far will you go to give them what they want? Great tone is a moment in time… Like the Lizzy album, the Maiden album, EVH on the first two albums, Nuno on Pornograffitti, everything SRV did, BB King at the Regal, Every note ever played by Andy Timmons, Cliffs of Rock City by Paisley, Gilmour on The Wall… but, if you take those tones and put them somewhere else, will they still work? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say  this - Great tone is just something that makes the song what it is, it doesn’t matter if anyone else likes it or not, it’s just about the end product, and if the end product works, then surely it’s just good tone.

 

Evolution of the "Perfect" Tone

We’re all in this together, so when I address some of the scenarios in this blog, try keeping a tally as to how many you can identify with and share similar concepts or stories of your chase for tone in the comments.
 
The “perfect” tone is something I’ve chased my entire guitar-playing life. Early on when I first picked up the instrument, it was a combination of what I could afford (more like what I could beg my parents for and attempt to work off to “pay them” in labor to get) and try to emulate my heroes. I started playing guitar because of my love of Eric Clapton’s clean tone on the “Riding with the King” album he did with B.B. King, along with the tone I heard on the song “Wake Up” from the Matrix soundtrack (Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine). I loved the way they made their guitar seem as if it was conveying emotion, so much so I could almost feel those notes in my heart every time I listened. So, I convinced my parents to let me enroll in a guitar class my freshman year in high school, and they bought me an Ovation Applause acoustic-electric they found at a local shop for maybe two hundred bucks. It wasn’t glorious, but man did I cut my teeth (and my fingers) on it. It wasn’t about tone at that point; it was just learning and “writing songs” (3 barre chords and melodramatic teenage angst lyrics for days). Being that I loved Eric Clapton, my dream guitar at the time was a Strat. Mom and Dad found a Wine Red 2000 MIM Strat at the shop I was taking lessons at, and I drooled over it every single time we would walk in the shop. I was very fortunate to wake up Christmas morning and see that wine red strat and a small 10-watt Fender amp (can’t even remember what model). All I know is it was solid state and at the time had the dreamiest reverb I had ever heard. It was my “perfect” tone at 15.
 
Fast-forward about two years, and I’m in my first band. We were an alt-rock/pop-punk band that was aiming for an Incubus meets Sum 41 amalgamation. My music choices changed due to the environment I was in and the people I was surrounded with, so I migrated from wanting a classic strat clean tone to more dirt. It started off with a friend selling his Fender Stage 160 (because we wanted to be LOUD), and the start of my pedal addiction. I was working after school and all summer, so I saved up to buy a Danelectro Fabtone…. yea. I proceeded to crank the gain and wail. Little did I know that it sounded like a wall of angry bees swarming wherever we played (are the Fabtone and the Metal Zone distant cousins?). As I said before, Incubus and Mike Einziger were my new tone obsessions, so I stupidly sold off my MIM strat to fund an off-brand PRS copy that was at that local music store I mentioned. It was a fight to play, and it was more about looks than functionality and tone. I finally wised up a few months later, worked my tail off and sold off all of my excess gear and bought an American HSS strat  (sienna sunburst, maple board), and took my graduation money and working the summer after and got a Marshall AVT150. At the time, THAT was my perfect tone for what I was looking aiming to achieve. (Can you see a recurring theme here?)
 
In college, I was in another band that was into much heavier music, and once again my music tastes changed. All of my guitar heroes at the time were playing PRS’s, and the shop that was close to my apartment had a used Custom 22 with bird inlays in ruby red that I fell in love with. Admittedly I stretched myself way too thin and put it on layaway, sold the American Strat to a friend (who ended up putting stickers all over it and destroyed it), and got my PRS. The PRS and my AVT150 were my main setup for a few years, again...perfect tone at the time. My wife and I started dating “officially” when I was in college (though we dated in high school too, I was just too stupid to realize how amazing she was and broke it off to go move to the big city, etc.). She's always been into country music, which I loathed for some unknown reason. I grew up on listening to country music, but at the time it wasn’t in my wheelhouse, and I couldn’t stand it. Over the course of our dating my disdain for country music slowly melted away, and eventually, my mom told me about Brad Paisley, who was just about to release his Time Well Wasted album. That started me down another path…
 
Fast-forward to about a year later, and I’m borrowing my Dad’s Tele and Hot Rod Deluxe, and grabbed a Paisley Drive and that was the PERFECT TONE! I got heavily into Brad Paisley and discovered Brent Mason again now that I was older and able to appreciate his style, and all of the sudden the PRS and Marshall weren’t cutting it anymore. My graduation present (which has always been a major deal for our family) was a Crook Custom Telecaster. My dad was playing at the time as well, so we both ordered one (this is 2006, prices were a bit more lenient then). We took a road trip up to meet Bill and pick up our guitars, and to this day was one of my greatest memories getting to spend that time with him. I was working full time and traded in my Hot Rod Deluxe and PRS, and grabbed a Dr. Z RX Jr. It was a great clean platform, and it fit the bill NEARLY perfectly. I wanted the Brad Paisley tone, but with a personal touch. This was when I dove head first heavily into pedals, realizing they were a quick way of changing your overall sound at a relatively inexpensive price compared to an amp or guitar. I’ve gone through a few hundred pedals since then, slowly acquired some great amps, and still fervently chase the tone as much as I possibly can. In the end though, I still just sound like me now, and I accept that.
 
So, what is the whole point of this recurrent theme of finding the perfect tone? Essentially, finding the “perfect” tone is an evolutionary process, and it grows easier to understand as you gain more experience. In the beginning, you aim for what your heroes have, and what you can afford. As you gain knowledge of the instrument and tone, you realize that your tastes evolve as you do, and it molds into finding your sound, drawing from all the past experiences and creating a style that’s unique to you. We’ve all said the famous saying of “my board is done.” No, it isn’t, but it’s nice to think for a brief moment in time that satisfaction is obtained. Again, this might not apply to everyone, but I know quite a few that are right there with me. The chase for tone is a never-ending one because what’s perfect now might not be right for where you are later down the road. Embrace it and enjoy the chase!

The road to NAMM

Winter NAMM is right around the corner, and with the weeks leading up to it come the crazy of preparations to setup the booth, layout the board and get any marketing materials (shirts, stickers, etc) together. One of the biggest things that NAMM is known for is the plethora of new gear that is showcased by most every company. Some designs are reworkings and updated versions of existing products, brand new designs, or something completely out of the ordinary designed to make a huge impact on the patrons and tone chasers who keep up with NAMM news down to the wire.

Herein lies the issue with presenting at NAMM: what’s the best practice in regard to showcasing new products? In years past our brand-new pedals were given first looks on our social media platforms, either from visitors to the booth snapping a photo, us uploading a sneak peak, or your favorite YouTube or gear channel doing a quick video where someone showcases what we’ve got new. This year is a bit different for us though, because our ideals have shifted a bit with what we’re aiming for. NAMM is a stellar event, but it’s also a tidal wave of new information that overtakes all gear outlets for the days leading up to it, during it, and for weeks to come after it. We’ve got several new designs that we’re extremely proud to have ready, but the question comes in as to whether they’ll get lost in the shuffle of new stuff? Each product Brian and our team has worked on has many hours invested, tone-wise along with aesthetics, marketing plans, and the usual release details that often go unnoticed by most people when we release something new. Are we doing a disservice to ourselves showing our whole hand starting out? 

So, our question comes down to this: Despite the designs being done for upwards of 5 new pedals, what do we show at NAMM? Do you go full-blast and hit everyone with all of the information at once, or take a select few and really hammer them home before introducing more? We’ve seen some companies showcasing their NAMM releases already, with the same idea applying of getting ahead of that tidal wave of information and making sure their product is visible and not lost in the mix. We follow a fairly punctual release schedule, so if a design isn’t mentioned at NAMM then it’s a pretty sure bet it will be following suit in a timely manner. This gives us time to prepare, get demos together and the pedals ready to ship to dealers without the tease…or is teasing part of the fun of it?

What do you think? Would you rather know in advance what’s coming up to prepare your wallet and board, or is it like knowing what you’re getting for Christmas, where the magic of the surprise isn’t there? In the end we want happy customers, so we’re curious to know what you personally think and would like to see?

The cost of tone-chasing

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” --Mark Twain
 
I love the quote above because I’ve found it’s true in most cases when it comes to musical experiences and gear. There are bands I saw in concert that I'd never get to see again, and there were guitars/pedals/amps that I have been able to snag over the years for an insane price that I lucked into. Still to this day I’m glad I decided to take a risk on it. On the flip side, I’ve been burned more times than I can count because I made a bad judgment call and either had to backpedal because I spent too much too quickly, or bought something thinking I had a deal and it ended up being a loss (time and money). But, it’s hard to beat the trusted wisdom learned from hands-on experience. For me, I’ve always learned the hard way with everything, including gear. So, the question comes down to the chase for tone, and what’s the ultimate end goal? Is there some grand, elaborate dream setup that we’re all collectively chasing on an individual level, or is it more than that? I’ll refer to my own experiences with this, hoping that some will identify with it or hopefully use it as an example of “Well at least I’m not THAT bad.”
 
My GAS and the lust to for chasing tone started out fairly casually at 16, two years after I started playing guitar. I originally wanted to sound like Eric Clapton when I started playing, but in my freshman year of high school, my cousin (who I rode to school with) introduced me to Incubus. I was hooked, and the chase was on. If you’ve ever seen a picture of Mike Einziger’s pedalboard, you’ll notice that he doesn’t shy away from using a multitude of tools at his disposal. I didn’t have a lot of money, so I started out with the Ibanez Tone-Lok pedals for phaser, flanger and a couple of other things I don’t recall, and a Danelectro Fab Tone. Those suited me for a while, and I slowly added some more pedals or subbed some out as we went along. The Metal Zone was soon on there, and I thought it kicked ass… Regardless, my intentions were pure, and my focus was more on learning and playing rather than effects. 
 
Later in high school, I developed a love of the sound of Marshall amps, and my graduation present was a Marshall AVT150 and a 1960A 4x12” cab. I was over the moon, and shelved most of my pedals for the sake of using the amp gain (which was sorely needed). I used that rig through college in various bands, and still focused on playing mainly more than tone chasing… mainly I’d say because I didn’t have any money to chase with. I would dream of owning various things, but again it was what felt like a faraway pipe dream. I eventually moved back home after college while working to save up, also was dating my high school sweetheart and planning a life together. I was working and contributing to the house, but I still had more money that I knew what to do with. That’s really where it TRULY started. During all of this time I had been on dialysis, so I had 4 hours, every other day to just sit. Trust me when I say you can only watch but so many movies, TV shows and listening to music so much before it gets old. Now multiply those 4 hours every other day times 24 years…you get my point. I wasn’t able to use my left arm, so the guitar wasn’t an option. Internet forums became my escape, places like TDPRI and TheGearPage, Facebook, etc. It was in these places that I started cutting my teeth on better gear, reading and absorbing and my curiosity growing every day. That’s what started my path down the rabbit hole.
 
I started off small, with my very first “boutique” pedal being a Keeley-modded Boss TR-2 tremolo. I fell in love with it and realized that maybe there were better sounding options than I had known about before. My second boutique pedal was a Lovepedal Kalamazoo, also another pedal that sounded phenomenal and was outside of the run-of-the-mill stuff available at my local Guitar Center or Sam Ash. My third boutique pedal pushed me over the edge completely, and that was the Paisley Drive, from Wampler Pedals. I was on a HUGE Brad Paisley kick at the time (see previous blogs), and that was the exact sound I was looking for going through my Fender Hot Rod Deluxe. It was so good in fact that I sold my AVT150 to fund more pedals. Next up were the Pinnacle and the Ego Compressor, followed by the Analog Echo. The cycle continued until I had a board full of boutique pedals, lusting for more and needing a bigger board. Looking back, I had time to kill because my wife (newly married) was working 12-hour shifts at the hospital every other weekend, and I was bored and loved experiencing new sounds.
 
Since that time, I’ve been chasing tone, obscenely. There was a period from 2012-2014 that I’m particularly not proud of, where I was buying and selling and flipping pedals faster than I could keep track of. It gained me a TON of experience and knowledge in so many ways, but it took a toll on the wallet. As time has gone on, I’ve tried to reign it in some, but GAS always rears it’s ugly head when new stuff comes out. It’s just so easy to go browse Reverb.com and look at gear, and that “make an offer” button is going to be the death of me. I’ve made crazy low-ball offers before expecting to immediately be turned down, and the seller turns around and accepts my offer. I’ve also sold stuff for less than I wanted to to get a quick sale. I’ve found in general with Reverb that if you want to sell fast, of course, you want to sell cheap. I refuse to add up how much money I could have potentially gotten due to not holding out for a better offer because GAS had taken its tolls and made me lust for another piece of gear.
 
To summarize, Gear Acquisition Syndrome truly is a thing, and it’s the excitement of the purchase, the unknown, dreaming about the tones that could or could not be unlocked from the new piece of gear. But all of those things don’t just cost money. I’ve spent a LOT of wasted time browsing for gear, watching YouTube videos for gear I lusted for, etc. I’ve recently had to put the phone down because I noticed I would be in a restaurant or at a holiday party or kid’s birthday party and browsing for gear or talking on forums or Facebook or Instagram instead of having face-to-face interactions. 
 
My main goal with this blog is that I hope someone else out there will identify with my thought processes or path on the pursuit of tone, and they don’t get to the point where I was with taking financial risks and neglecting the important things in life. At the same time, there are experiences that I have had and things I’ve tried that I had only dreamt of. The key is BALANCE. It took me quite a long time to find mine, but I at least feel like I’m in the ballpark.