Talking about gear

Talking about gear (57)

Tom Longworth - Bringing flawless tone and playing to the masses...

OK, it’s story time – you didn’t think I would write a piece without a story did you? Pretty certain you all know me better than that!

Picture this, it’s late 1997 or so, maybe early 1998, and I get in from a gig to find my dear ol’ Mum waiting up for me… As I walked in she stood up, looking slightly mad, and just said “You HAVE to watch this, it’s amazing!”. She pressed play on the VCR and there on the TV was Robbie Williams, on a program called TFI Friday, performing his latest single – “Let Me Entertain You”, completely live.

It was a truly stellar performance.

Many of you lovely lot over on the other side of the pond won’t know of Rob too much as he’s massive everywhere but there, so I’ll fill you in. He was part of the first boy band to really take off over here in the UK in the early nineties - left in truly spectacular fashion after a few years and has been somewhat of an interesting character ever since. A lot of it has been expanded by the media, but safe to say that Rob has spent the last 25 years bouncing through life, living it to the maximum, and telling many a good story along the way. When he ‘went solo’ the vast majority of us expected it to be a flash in the pan, his first single I heard was, well, 'not my cup of tea'. After that he released a stunning ballad (that has more than stood the test of time – this was what we were expecting him to do) so by the time this performance came around most of us had written him off.

Seeing him perform that song was quite a moment. Gone were the visions of him being a boy band member who was only releasing stuff to maximise on the teenage girl market, and here was someone who was prepared to unleash his potential on a largely unsuspecting general public. I’m not sure who was more surprised at the success he had back then, us or him. Since then he has grown to be the complete pop star in the truest sense of the world, massive albums, massive singles, massive tours. I’m pretty certain that right now, and for the last 10-15 years, there hasn’t been a bigger star in Europe than Robbie Williams.

OK, enough of the back story, let’s talk about Tom. About 5 years ago Rob parted company with his band and got a new one (as you do), and just as his album was about to be released there was a big gig televised here in the UK – you could say it was somewhat of a comeback after a couple of years off. I was blown away with the band that night, it was far more in your face than the previous band, the guitars were more much more prominent, great tone was everywhere and all in all it was just an incredible gig. I spent a good 10 seconds on Google looking up the new band members, tweeted the new lead guitarist (from the company twitter account) to compliment him on his great tone and how much I enjoyed the show. To my delight he quickly tweeted back with the now legendary comment of “Thanks, I use some of your stuff!” (he was using Plextortion and Ego Compressor)… BOOM! This to me is perfect, this is what I love to find out, someone is using our gear already, loving our tone so much they bought the gear – it took me about 5 seconds to offer an artist deal. Let’s face it, when you find someone who plays that well, has a perfect grasp of what is required to be in a band like this, rocks the pants off a stadium while being part of an outfit that tours the world (playing to literally millions of people) it is one hell of a relationship to make for the company… So many people STILL consider us to be a country brand, but it’s artists like Tom that show that we are so much more than that.

It was 6 months later when I first met up with Tom at Wembley Stadium, June 30th 2013, during the “Take The Crown” World Tour. Unfortunately, it was a 9 days after my Mother had passed unexpectedly (I feel that she is linked to all this as it was her who waited up that day to show me the live performance, which prompted me to buy this album the following day - she was so excited we were going to the show as well). I was a little wobbly, understandably, but in that day I was convinced that this new incarnation of the RW band with Tom was a force to be reckoned with. It was emotional, there are a couple of songs that hit me, but I was bowled over with the power of the band, and how well Tom made our gear sound. To this day I am still a little overwhelmed with the show I witnessed that day. It was great to hear Wampler tone flattening 90k people at the iconic Wembley Stadium! 

Fast forward to the present day. Here we are; Cardiff, the Principality Stadium, 21st June 2017 – the hottest day of the year. It was exactly 4 years to the day since we lost my Mother and Mrs Wilding and I were once again in the boiling hot weather, (it was the same 4 years previously, absobloodylutely boiling and this causes issues in itself, my wife suffers from a condition called Fibromyalgia and the heat makes and already terrible condition, unbelievably worse) about to go in… At this point I’d like to say that we nearly didn’t go, the recent events in the UK where concert goers were targeted was playing on our minds, but bollocks to that, we won’t let them win. We won’t let them disrupt our life.

We rocked up to the Stadium early as I had arranged to meet Tom for some photos and general chat about his gear. Tom is a tone chaser, he loves his gear, so it’s always a pleasure to get an insight into what goes into driving the biggest stadium pop tour of the summer. We got through security and were met by the lovely Jaeki Hildisch, Rob’s long time tour manager, who led us through backstage while giving us all the do’s and don’ts. Security is tight, so you have to do as you are told (you know me, so you you’ll know that ain’t easy), but it’s always incredible to walk in behind something like that, the ‘show’ itself is huge, mind-blowingly huge, consider the biggest show you’ve ever seen in terms of set, gear, people… it’s that big. You’d need days to drink it all in properly.

We found Tom and his tech Adam in Adam’s tech area. It’s always a pleasure to meet up with Tom, he’s extremely personable, quiet, and there is no evidence of ego, so once we’d had a catch up chat the first thing I noticed was the rack of guitars…. Unfortunately for my desire to play the guitars personally owned by people I really dig, Tom is left handed, so I can’t pick them up and have a go… never mind!

Tom is more of a Gibson man than anything else, his main squeeze being a ’97 SG (loaded with Bare Knuckle Mules) that has been with him for years. I noticed some recent additions to his armoury, those being a ’01 335 (Bare Knuckle Stormy Mondays), an ’08 Les Paul ’58 reissue (also with Mules), a Bill Nash telecaster (Lollar pickups) and there is an ‘07 ’62 reissue Strat (Bare Knuckle Irish Tours) lurking. Also in there is a Nik Huber Krauster II. The infamous Ibanez LP copy that was his first real guitar is now retired from active duty, and is in the dressing room.

In the middle of Adam’s den are another new addition to Tom’s rig, Kemper profilers. They only use 1 patch, a profile of Tom’s beloved 1983 JCM 800 2204 - The last time I saw them they had 4x12”s under the stage in ISObooths so as you can expect, this is a considerably easier method for them to set up and control during a tour. And, let’s be honest, in a situation like this, it’s the perfect tool for the job.

After this we headed out on to the stage (now, this is where I must gently enter story mode again. Mrs Wilding comes to some artist visits, not many, but as she is a massive fan of Rob as a song writer/musician/performer, she comes with me to these. The look on her face as Tom leads us out on to Rob’s stage is always wonderful, her just face lights up. It’s a beautiful thing to see – probably the best part of the day for me, because she gets to live her dream while I live mine)… Anyway, back to the gear...

At the heart of everything is the impeccable GigRig G2. This controls everything. The cornerstone of Tom’s live tone is kinda clean, just sitting on the edge, and this is enabled by our dear old friend the Tumnus. Tom uses his volume control to balance his level of dirt and power, and uses the Tumnus perfectly to add extra dimension to what is already there. Tom told me afterwards that it was on for virtually the entire show – he just loves the way Tumnus brings everything to life - “The Tumnus is the latest addition to the board and is one of those ‘always’ on pedals! I’m using it a lot. Great mid range boost with amazing transparency.

Right along the board sits the Velvet Fuzz, for those moments when you need to melt the faces. As we were talking about the Velvet, Tom grabbed the SG so we could get a feel for the power (he has a solitary 4x12” on stage that he brings in via a volume pedal to give feedback when required, and to also give Tom the ability to have the reaction that you just don’t get when purely playing with IEM’s). He uses the Velvet on tight mode so it’s sitting between fuzz and distortion and the sound with that SG was outrageously good, so much power and depth. As Tom says “The Velvet Fuzz is the best Fuzz pedal I’ve tried to date, and I’ve tried a few! I love the ‘tight’ setting to really punch through the mix.”  Right there next to it is the old favourite, the Ego Compressor. Not used for much on this tour - but when Tom has to break out his slide in the set the Ego just gives it the sustain, control, depth and consistency you need. I’m telling you, that guitar was just sustaining for ever. “The Ego Comp is a big part of my sound when playing slide. I love the blend feature, as it allows you to retain your original tone and not get too mushy…” (I have to give a little mention to the look on Mrs Wilding’s face as we were on the stage and he played the solo lines of ‘Feel’, one of her (and mine) favourite songs, just for us, to show how he uses the Ego).

All too soon it was time for us to go, sound check time… Jaeki reappeared so we made our way out of the stadium. These are actually the times I enjoy the most, as you get to just talk to the people who are instrumental in making the show happen, you get to see all the backstage stuff, you also get a feel of what it is like to be part of the show. After we left the staging area, we were going through the area where the buses/trucks are and a black SUV pulled up and out poured the rest of the touring band. Tom instantly grabbed the other guitar player, the legend that is Gary Nuttall, for a picture. Realising that I didn't have a picture with Tom and myself, I gave Mrs Wilding my camera to get the shot. Now, she’s not used my camera before so as I was telling her how to do it, and while she was getting confused, Rob’s long time song writing partner and keyboard player Guy Chambers stood behind her… she is a keen piano player as well so she’s a fan of him… I said “Lis, Guy Chambers!” and pointed. Unfortunately, she didn’t hear and just took the pictures - as she handed me the camera she realized what I had said, turned around but he had gone… Such a shame, as she would have loved to meet him and he was right there, inches from her!

Jason, Tom Longworth and Gary Nuttall

After we left, we met up with some old friends in town (we used to live just outside Cardiff and had not been back in 15 years), had a bite to eat, went to the box office to pick up our tickets, and generally soaked up the atmosphere. Safe to say that the people who wish to disrupt events like this did not win. Not at all. We then had to return to the hotel for Mrs Wilding to rest, that heat was killing her, but fortunately we had a hotel that was 5 minutes walk from the stadium so we could make sure she was ready for the show and get properly rested - We hit the show in time for the support act, and then waited patiently for the show to start...

And yes, the show – and that’s what these events are, a show in the truest sense of the world, was incredible. I won't post a review of the show, as that is another story, also there are literally thousands of reviews, videos, comments and everything else you can imagine online to give you a feel of how these events go... Attendance to a show like this should be mandatory for all musicians - I find things like an education on how to play for the song, play for the band, play for the audience.

Walking away, here’s the main thing that struck me after the show. As I was talking to Tom and when I was watching him demo how he uses the Wampler’s, it’s plain to see that guys like Tom are no different than you and me. We are all chasing tone, all the time. We all balance what we want to do in a song with what is required in the song. We are all looking to make sure our tone works perfectly, within every given situation, every night. We just want great tone. It’s a fantastic feeling to know that we can produce gear that “a massive pop tour in Europe” isn’t considered in the design stage, but fits in so perfectly with a show like this.

 

In regard to the disruption that is in the back of our minds at the moment, I’d like to leave you with the words of Rob who amended the lyrics of one of his biggest hits to send a message to those who think killing innocent people to send a message is acceptable, those who want to stop our way of life. “You know that we’re strong, we’re strong, we’re strong. We’re still singing our songs, our songs, our songs”. To hear the entire stadium singing that back, only a few weeks after the Manchester attack, was incredible.

I’d like thank Tom, Adam, Jaeki and the rest of the crew for a truly amazing show and their hospitality. You all rock, in the best possible way.

www.tomlongworth.co.uk

 

Quilter 101 - does it pass the tone chaser test?

About a month or two ago I took possession of a Quilter 101 Mini Head. About time I posted a review of it I think as these amps are causing a big stir in the world of normal gigging guys, guys like me, and probably guys like you. 

The first thing that strikes me about this thing is the size and weight, well, lack of weight really. It literally weighs the same as a bag of sugar. 2lbs. That kinda freaked me out a little as I know it’s a 100w head and can flatten the first three rows of any audience in any bar. For this very reason I didn’t plug it in straight away because I was already judging it, as a valve amp guy, weight usually signifies tone. The beefier the transformers, the better the tone. Which means literally, the heavier it is, the better it is more likely to sound.

After a day or so I plugged it in to my 2x12” cab, with a flat EQ (more about that later) and put it on Full Q, which is their cleanest setting. I was surprised, it sounded great! Full, punchy, and was quite alive. So, already it had worked its way up in my estimations and was outperforming most straight up analogue solid state amps.

The EQ on it is bloody confusing, I must admit it leaves me, even now, scratching my head as to why they’ve done it like this. A straight B/M/T stack would have made it easier to use and easier to dial in, but you have to balance a control that can give you a EQ like a smiley face, dead flat or a hi pass, and a Hi-Cut control that goes from flat to low pass. This wasn’t easy to find as I’m more of a turn it and see type of guy and I had to stop and think about how I want my tone forged, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it did take an exercise of patience to find a tone I could build on. This leads me onto the “gain stage” selector. The Quilter boasts 5 different voicings, that brings in differing amounts of gain. Full Q is totally clean, Tweed, Jazz, Surf and Lead are quite self-explanatory… I found that for my needs (a clean platform to build on) Full Q or Surf was the best option.

The most important question for me is, how does it take pedals… well, to be completely honest it takes them like a dream. No matter what I shoved in the front it just took them without issue. I even started to bung random stacking options in front to see if I could break it, but it refused point blank to buckle and break. I’m telling you, if it can take the Dracarys maxed going into the Tumnus maxed and not fart out, it’s going to take anything you can put its way. 

The only time it showed a weakness was, and this is probably the most important test, was when I gigged it. As most of you know, when I gig I either use a Wampler Bravado head and 1x12” cab, or a Fender BDri into a custom 2x12” loaded with WGS speakers. I tried the Quilter into both cabs and it sounded more than passable into the Wampler cab, but in the 2x12” it really lacked clarity, sparkle… you know, that glass element of a really good clean valve amp. The bass player in the band I’m in happens to be one of musical heroes (he was the person that introduced me to the music of Brent Mason after all) and has ears like a deer. He can hear everything and knows instantly how good something is. His comment was “That would be the perfect back up amp if yours goes down again”. That was enough for me to know that in this band, with this band mate, I can’t use it live.

So, what do I think of the Quilter. Does it have a place in my musical life? The answer most definitely is “definitely”. I will use it live going forward if I play in a band that doesn’t demand such pristine and glassy cleans (I still have my eye on an 70’s-80’s 90’s rock band), and I am severely tempted to follow Brian’s advice and get a TC Electronic Mimiq for the ‘other guitar’ feel – because that pedal doesn’t work in mono into one amp, if you use two it’s amazing. It would be perfect for that also as a wet/dry rig, the possibilities are endless. However, if you stick the Wampler Black ’65 in front of it there is no better option for a live clean rig using an amp you can legitimately put in the front pocket of your gig bag... Simple home recording, definitely. Practice, definitely. 

Final verdict – can it legitimately be used to replace as a high end valve amp in a pure clean setting? For me… not quite. Maybe if the EQ was more logical and better laid out, and if they make the EQ of the front end more responsive and make it sound glassy, it would be a killer product and one that would take the world by storm. Maybe we should make a D class amp with some of Brian’s genius in the front end. As for this, right now I won’t ever leave home without it for a gig, as if my amp does go down, I can plug this thing in and it will do a fantastic job of covering the amps I use and love. It is the perfect amp for home use, simple recording and practice? Absolutely. I've put it to such good use already I can't begin to tell you. Right now, I don't think there's anything better out there for these purposes... Plus, let's revisit something I said earlier. I carry a spare 100w amp on a gig day in the slot in my pedal case that is designed for my cables. That alone makes it an invaluable addition to my rig.

Many thanks to my good friend and fellow tone chaser, Justin Hize for organising this for me and throwing it over the pond. It's been quite the eye opener!

 

Top Tone Tip!

Recently I truly haven't had a lot of time to play lately, so when I do I've been trying to kick the habit of messing with my board and pedals so much and just focus on playing. That being said, I still like to use some varying flavors of pedals, but not like I normally would if I had my full board on hand. My solution was simple, and it went against everything I know about proper board setup and powering them: I sat 3 pedals on top of my amp (Compressor, OD and Envelope Filter), used a OneSpot to daisy chain them, and let loose and played like crazy. I set and forget them and only adjusted the Q of the filter occasionally and that was it. It was kind of liberating, and it was really nice having the pedal right there *if* I wanted to mess with it.

This kind of followed suit with my growing desire to minimize my gear and try to stop tweaking my settings constantly. If the knobs are there, inevitably I'm going to mess with them. Having them on top the amp wasn't beneficial at all for cutting them on and off, but quick changes on the fly were drastically improved. I saw a rig rundown for Billy Sheehan and noticed he keeps his pedalboard on top of his amps as well, and I totally get it now. 
 
So my question is, could I get away with just those three pedals at the jam we're having at my buddy's house next weekend? I'm seriously considering it. I do know that it is a bit noisier because of daisy-chaining, so a tiny board and a isolated power supply may be in the works. The main thing is having a solid amp to do this with, because if you're not in love with your amps base tone then it's not a situation that could easily work as well on some amps. The Bravado takes pedals like a champ, so that part is sorted.
 
What do you think of the idea of just a couple of pedals on top of the amp setup? What amp/pedals combo would you choose?

My new pedal board build

Over the last few weeks or so, I’ve been wiring up my (current) dream pedal board. Those of you who are connected to me on social media are probably bored of it already, as I may have taken some pictures and talked about it a bit, but you know, it’s 2017 and that’s what we do!

Now, when I say my dream board – I mean that “with the materials I have in front of me, what is practical to play in the pubs and clubs around here, and what I can be arsed to program”. Obviously, there are things I would change in a heartbeat should I have unlimited funds (GigRig G2 and associated power modules spring to mind) but let’s not have a “desert island dream board” thing, just a “what is best and most practical for me” piece! We all know the Mobius can't touch a CE-1, but you just can't program it and control it via midi! 

At the heart of it all is the One Control OC10 ‘crocodile tail loop’. It’s a pretty basic true bypass looper, with 70 presents, midi control and all that. I obtained it about 18 months ago as part of a wider deal and I’ve been sat on it ever since, waiting for the rest to fall into place. The analogue section of my board is extremely obvious, Wampler all the way – I have to tell you now, I am under no obligation at all to use Wampler gear personally, but you know, it’s bloody great so I use it. It’s as simple as that! So, my analogue section is as follows.

Ego Compressor (full size one, don’t have the Mini one – it disappeared into ‘That Pedal Shed’ when I went up with the Bravado some months ago and I’ll never see it again, which is a shame, as I need the space on my board – I could get a wah in there…), Tumnus and Dual Fusion (I order the DF C2 – C1, so the ‘screamer’ hits the front end of C1). The Dual Fusion is separated (whoever had THAT idea is a bloody genius *cough*) so each side can be controlled via the OC10 independently. A Strymon Mobius straddles the Drive section, the pre-gain section sits between the Ego and the Tumnus and the post-gain section directly after, a TimeLine, which then goes into an ‘always on’ TC Electronic Mini HOF and then a Wampler dB+ for clean boost is after. I also have a TC Electronic Polytune 2 mini in the tuner send of the OC10… Right, so that’s that.

So, in a nutshell –

  • PRS Brent Mason signature;
  • Line6 G30 (wireless);
  • TC Electronic Polytune 2 noir;
  • OC-10 (loop order... )
    1. Ego Compressor;
    2. Pre-gain Mobius (so great for Vibe and Phaser);
    3. Tumnus – on the edge of dirt, so it adds width and a little high end;
    4. C2 Dual Fusion – ‘Throaty’ (used primarily as a solo boost);
    5. C1 Dual Fusion – ‘Fat’ (main overdrive sound);
    6. Post-gain Mobius (Chorus, flangers, trem, etc);
    7. TimeLine;
    8. dB+ (clean boost for solos etc);
  • TC Mini HOF;
  • Carl Martin ProPower2;
  • Fender BDri (running it as a head);
  • Custom built (by my friend Rick who plays bass in the band!) 2x12”, loaded with WGS Reaper HP and ET-90. I run the cab vertically with the Reaper at the top, as it sound more natural than the ET-90 but that adds some lovely colour so combined – out the front - it sounds amazing.

The thing about this rig is that it does not represent the best effects you can get to do for each individual position (although I defy you to find anything better in terms of overdrive and compression), but in so far as the best for the space used in the context I’m using it for, definitely. I chose the Strymon stuff as I prefer the through tone to the comparable stuff on the market today, and they have the most options available within. I know a UniVibe, a CE-1, Electric Mistress and a Phase90 will be better, but the Mobius does it all well enough to get away with live, and it still sounds awesome. Same with the TimeLine, the Faux Tape Echo is infinitely better for delay… but patches. I need that control. MiniHOF, sounds perfect for the space it uses (and I don’t do different reverbs so…). So, for me, this is the best rig that fits on my medium sized Temple Board that I can control via midi and a looper.

So, that’s that. Why blog it then? Here is why, I need to tell you about the cables I’m running on this rig and how they have blown me away…

First of all, a little history (you thought you’d got away with it, didn’t you – but you know me, there is always a back story). I stopped playing when I got married and had kids, I’d not gigged for about 5 years before that so I sold all my gear apart from my acoustic and 2 high quality 30’ cables I’d had since 1993.  When I got back in to playing, right before I started with Brian, I started to accumulate gear again but never, ever, once considered quality patch cables of being important. Pretty soon I had a decent guitar, a decent amp and some incredible effects… All wired up with ‘£4.99 for 10’ moulded plastic patch cables. This changed on my 40th birthday, a dear friend that I’ve known forever who distributes Evidence Audio cables sent me a few of the SIS plugs and a length of the Monorail cable. I reluctantly tried them and was instantly blow away by the quality of the tone coming from my amp. Yeah, that was an ‘oh shit’ moment as these things aren’t cheap! I started to buy them when I could… I now have my entire board wired up with them – which is about 25 cables of various lengths, using around 24’ of cable!

Here is the thing, this is why I love them – not only do they sound great (and they really do) they are SO easy to make you just wouldn’t believe it. I have experienced many versions of the solderless cable in past, they either are a bitch to make, only 50% of them work first time out, or the plugs are stupidly large or a strange shape – never quite understood that – but these are discrete (they stand out less than 15mm from the socket), OK, so they aren’t a pancake but as far as right angled cables goes, that’s easily in the discrete ballpark! The great thing about the SIS plug is that once you strip the cable back (I do it with a pair of kitchen scissors, no need for all the fancy tools and stuff) you place it in the plug and then turn. If the cable is in the correct state (you have to leave the right amount of core showing and wrap the shielding stuff round properly etc) once you have screwed it in the plug will not come off. So you know it’s connected. You then put the cap of the plug on and boom, you’re away. It currently takes me about 2 minutes (again, with the scissors) to make a cable and with this board I’ve had a 100% “first time” success rate. I’ve not had one that’s not worked… There isn’t a knack to it, you don’t have to have special tools, once you know how much cable to leave bare, you are away. That, if you think about it, for a solderless system is quite incredible.

Now, there are other cables in play here as well… I took a punt, as I’m now an Evidence Audio fan, and order some Forte Cables. Now, these aren’t cheap – they really aren’t cheap. I read all the stuff about them, apparently you need to break them in, they sound best going in a certain direction… I’m always quite dubious when I read stuff like this, but you know, once I plugged it in, the signal was clearer. The sound fuller. They are extremely bendy and flexible (handy as the guys that help us pack away the gear at the end of the night can be a little brutal with gear), extremely strong and as always built like a tank. I played them for 4 gigs and then did a little experiment. I turned it around and it sounded not as clear, not as full… can a cable be directional? I don’t know, but it didn’t sound as good as when I was using it the right way round! There was life missing, top end absent (not missing, just not as ‘there’) and an overriding sense of loss of life and a little power. I thought it might be my accountant trying to justify it the purchase in my head until one of the guys in the band confirmed it as well. The old cables I had all these years, that were quite expensive at the time and guaranteed for life still work, they just don't sound very good anymore!

So, what started as me wanting to show off my new board, ended up as an advert for Evidence Audio cables (don’t worry, I have no financial stake in them, I’ve payed for most it, and am under no obligation to promote them - so this isn’t a sales pitch). I see so many people getting frustrated with their patch cables, people who can’t solder, people who get large failure rates. My advice to you, get the Evidence Audio SIS/Monorail system, you can’t go wrong. Well, you can, but I’ve only seen it once!

Here is a little video of Dan Steinhardt construction the MonoRail/SIS system cables... (cable making start at 17:50)

 Seriously, Evidence Audio cables... there is no better system!

 

Tone Tips – It’s in the details

Tone sculpting has become a bit of an art, and many players pay so much attention to all facets of their board and guitar. Every link in the chain adds up to the overall tone you’re going to have coming from your amp, and small adjustments in your chain can make a big difference e in the long run.

Picks – There are thousands upon thousands of options for picks, ranging from extremely cheap budget picks all the way to expensive boutique picks that are worth almost as much as some pedals are. If you’re ever looking for a quick adjustment in your tone for something different, try a different pick shape or material. Different material will have a different tonal result on your pick attack, the harmonics and even feel of your playing. Metallic picks (using coins, etc) will have a brighter, chimey-er tone, where using some wood picks will yield a much darker tone. There are a plethora of options in terms of the material used to create them, so do your research and find which material yields the tone you’re looking for. Different thicknesses will make a large difference as well. It’s a fairly inexpensive way to for you to approach your tone differently. Also, if you don’t normally use your fingers, try it! Your fingers and fingernails have their own unique tone, and can resonate differently than a pick can. Switching up your right hand technique can really help you break out of the box tonally and technically.

Cables and Buffers – These are a foundation part of your tone, so great cables can make a huge difference. Again, there are a plethora of options out there for soldered and solderless cables, along with varying ends and methods of creating those cables, along with shielding options and types of outer casings for enhanced durability. The key to finding a great cable is finding a set that creates minimal signal degradation. The cheapo $5 patch cables can suck some tone and cut your high end, which after going through several of those cables will yield a more muffled, dull bypassed tone. Buffers also play a huge part in keeping your tone pristine. Buffers alter the impedence of your guitar signal, which helps it travel through your board easier. Just remember that some pedals (fuzzes and wah’s) aren’t fans of buffers, so place them before it. The best judge of whether you need a buffer or not is to take a short guitar cable (10’) and plug directly into your amp and play. Now plug into your board and see if the tone sounds muffled or like a blanket is lying over your amp. This would be due to signal loss from not having a buffer or needing better cables.

Speakers and Speaker Cabs - Of all of your tonal puzzle pieces, these are literally the devices that project your sound into the world, so choosing the right speaker for the application can play a huge role in turning great tone into STELLAR tone. There are more options than I can possibly put into a single blog, but there are hundreds of speakers from various companies that can accentuate the amp it’s paired with, and subsequently the pedals and guitar that are running into it.

The key to finding the perfect voicing for the sound you have in your head is realizing what you’re intentions are for the amp you’re using. If you want clean headroom, your speaker choices can differ greatly from an amp that you’re intending to use as your dirt tones. Choices can be affected by what configurations you have as well, so a single 1x12” cab will sound different from a 2x12” and a 4x12” (or 4x10”, or countless other options). Having a cab that holds more than one speaker is beneficial because it allows you to mix speakers to fit the perfect application. One speaker may be designed for more aggressive lows and highs with less emphasis on mids, where you could pair that with a more mid-focused speaker to fill out your sound tonally.

When choosing your speaker, you need to pay attention to the outputs on your amps and what ohms they can put out, as well as the speaker and make sure they match up. If you’re not sure exactly how to do this, the easiest method is to email the company and let them know what amp you’re using and they can recommend the right product and ohm rating for you. Your amp can sound completely different based on whether you’re running at 4ohm, 8ohm and 16ohm and doing the research between the various options and what works best for your amp will yield some really fun and great sounding results.

Along with proper speaker choices, deciding on the right cab (as mentioned above) will play a part in your overall tone. Horizontal cables vs. vertical cabs can make a big difference on the tone you and the audience are hearing, along with which way the cab is facing and whether it’s tilted, off the floor, or even facing a different direction. The last thing the front row of a gig wants is to have your speakers blaring directly in their faces. Tilting the cab back (on combos) or getting the cab off of the floor will help diffuse some of the sound and disperse it into the air instead of directly at the audience’s faces.

Mix it up a bit – Do you normally run your delay into the FX loop? Try placing it before your dirt pedals for a completely different set of tones. There are typical “guides” and thought processes that come to mind when laying out a pedalboard, but when it comes down to it there are no rules, and what’s right is whatever sounds best to you. Experiment with signal chain order, especially stacking different pedals into each other to see what sonic tones you can coax out of something that would seem so unorthodox.

Breadboarding basics...

We get a lot of questions about breadboarding. It is an essential for any DIYer. Using software from 123d.circuits.io, we are able to give you the following tutorial on how to build a voltage amplifier circuit, or as many guitarists call it, a JFET booster. This is a basic breadboard layout. The battery, of course, represents your power supply, but any power supply will work.

The top and bottom two rows are all connected horizontally.

In the middle section, the holes are all connected vertically. This is important to remember, as this is key to how our signal will flow.

First thing we will do is run power into the board. We accomplish this by running a wire from the positive lead on the battery snap to one of the top rows. It can be any hole in that line, we just chose the closest. That entire row is now 9 volts power. And you do the same with the negative feed to the other row. That entire row becomes our ground.

If you are building a circuit using op amps, you will want to run power to both sides of the board. This is done by using a jumper wire from the positive row and the ground to the bottom two rows.

We are going to need an input and an output jack. Heat up that soldering gun. You will need to solder wire to the lugs on the jack. Notice how the negative lug is connected to the ring? This is where you will connect ground. The positive lug, which is connected to the tip, carries your signal into the signal chain.

We will now run a wire from the positive lug to one of our columns in the middle section. You would then run a wire from the negative lug to ground.

Now that we have the basics in place, we want to start this circuit out with a J201 JFET transistor. Notice how the three legs fit in three different rows.

Next we will need to add a .022 capacitor to the input.

Next we will place a 1k resistor in parallel, in the same row, with the capacitor.

Now we want to run a jumper wire to the first leg of the JFET.

The middle pin of the JFET can be given many different values dependent on what frequency response you want or how much gain you desire from the circuit. You can use any size resistor, however we will use a 1k resistor for this demo. We need to attach one end of the resistor to ground and the other to a hole in the middle section. We will then run a jumper to the middle leg of the transistor.

Now we need to run power to the JFET. We do this by attaching it to out 9v line and then to a hole in the middle. Again we need to use a jumper wire to get to the third leg of the JFET.

This is a little tricky here. As this resistor value will be dependent on what is needed to get a 4.5 reading on a voltage meter.

To check your voltage, you will need to attach the black probe to ground, and the red probe to the powered pin of the JFET. Then trade in resistors until you get a reading of 4.5 minimum.

It does not need to be 4.5 exactly, but I don’t like to go below that. Generally 4.5-5 volt is where you would like to be.

Okay, so the transistor has power and is working, but we need sound. Now we will add a capacitor where the power is coming in at the JFET. So we will connect it with the jumper wire that is going to the third pin on the transistor.

The other leg of the capacitor is where the sound will be coming out to your output jack. (Remember, when connecting your jacks to hook your negative to ground)

Warning: When you connect this breadboard to your amp it is going to be very loud compared to your usual guitar signal. This is because we have not added a volume pot yet. So let’s add a potentiometer. There are two types, wired and plug-in. For this demo we will use a wired type. We will be using a 500k for this circuit.

We will connect the third lug to the output of the capacitor. The first lug will go to ground and the second lug will go to a random hole in the board and then out to our output jack.

You may notice an added resistor in the diagram there. Very observant grasshopper. That is a 1 meg resistor that we forgot to add. It is attached to the first leg of the transistor, and then jumpered to ground. Our bad. So if we were to translate this to a schematic it would look like this.

As you can see, it would run input to capacitor to resistor to ground to JFET to ground. R5 is going to change in value as you bias it to reach 4.5 volts, then the signal continues to our capacitor (c4) to our volume pot to negative to our output. And so we just breadboarded a JFET booster. Well done!! :)

Are we too obsessed with gear?

I’m a gear and pedal addict, and I’m always scouring the internet for whatever is catching my eye at the moment (Gibson SG’s right now in fact). I find it interesting when I see magazine articles or YouTube videos about someone’s rig rundown (or when you see some big name artist like Prince or countless others) and their pedal board was comprised of almost all Boss pedals.

 

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it led me to thinking; do we obsess too much over gear? Why do some obsess over “boutique” gear while others are just fine with Boss or some other more budget-friendly brand pedals? Is our pursuit of tone out of necessity to achieve “the sound”? Personal enjoyment? Acquiring the latest and greatest gear? Is it a culmination of all of the above?

I tried to narrow it down to three types of players, in a very broad sense. This is a generalization, so in many scenarios it isn’t quite that static but more of a general observation than anything.

“If it’s not broke don’t fix it” – These are players that love their tone just the way it is and has always been since they found “their sound” years ago. They have no desire to change it at all.  Many times the players that fit this idea have great amps that they’re accustomed to and know every nuance about them, and every tone they can produce. There are likely a few base effects, maybe a boost or OD, delay, chorus, wah, or fuzz (among other things). In many cases it’s not a massive pedalboard, but in many cases the player has learned to coax the tones out of a smaller board of older pedals, and they don’t need any more than that. There’s nothing wrong with this mindset, because it allows the player to focus solely on playing the instrument instead of twisting knobs and they know their tone and utilize every piece of gear with precision that fits the moment and what sound they need.

G.A.S. Hounds – (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) – These are the players that love to buy gear and search for new tones.  There hasn’t been any official proof of why GAS sets in, but millions of players are stricken with the insatiable lust for “new” gear (new can consist of new-to-you, which is why the used market is massive right now). It could be the newest DSP delay that has been released with MIDI input, or a Distortion with active EQ controls and multiple gain stages, or a new Fuzz that’s supposed to be identical to one of the classic fuzzes Hendrix or Gilmour used. In many cases, it’s solely curiosity that drives players to want to try out the new gear.

New gear also can greatly inspire a player to try new tones and thus new ways of playing, which can be advantageous in growing their skill and finding their own sound. This works really well when a player is stuck in a rut with their playing, feeling like they aren’t progressing no matter how hard they try. There are many factors that could be discussed at a later date, but in general the GAS hounds are consistently on the chase for a new sound.

This leads to “flipping”, where a player purchases something (new or used) and in turn after playing it, “flips” it by reselling it in order to replenish the funds to put towards more gear. This is a major advantage to buyers and sellers in the used market, which is why it’s thriving so well. There are a lot worse things to do with your time and your money. Some people like to go bowling or play golf; G.A.S. hounds like to try new gear.

They just don’t care – There are a lot of players out there that don’t care what brand of pedal they playing, or whether it’s true bypass or buffered or if a pedal has the extra fancy functions. To them it is just a tool that they use to create music. It is like a carpenter who goes out and buys a hammer. He doesn’t necessarily need a certain brand name, just a good hammer that gets the job done. A lot of artists fall into this category. They know they need a certain sound, but they really don’t have the time, or care to compare delay pedal A to delay pedal B. They just need a solid functioning pedal that will get the job done and let them get their music out to the world.

So where do you fit in? Have you achieved your sound and are happy with what you have? Or are you the player that just likes to check out the newest offerings from the gear world out of curiosity? Or do you view pedals as just another tool in the toolbox, and it doesn’t matter what brand it is as long as it makes the sound you were hearing in your head?

The funny thing is, like most things in the guitar world, there is no right or wrong way to be. It really is about what makes you happiest, and what makes you want to pick up your axe and head to the woodshed.

Wampler Bravado In a live setting?

So, the title of "The world's luckiest guy who's employed by a Gear Company" probably went to me last week, actually, a few weeks ago but let's just say it wasn't completely obvious until Saturday night.

First, let's get a little perspective here. A lot of people think I get given gear all the time, I don't really - I have stuff here for work, that I have to use for promotional purposes - it's not mine and I have to hawk it round to various places, photographic, promote it - yeah I know, sucks to be me doesn't it. But it's not mine - I have to test run everything (in a live situation where possible) and one of the reasons I am still here after all these years is in part I never bullshit Brian, if something sounds great I tell him, and if it doesn't, I tell him twice. I don't tell everyone blindly how great our gear is, I will advise stuff that I think fits the player - I mean, anyone who is connected to me on social media knows I am very unflattering about tube screamers, which probably doesn't help our sales of the Clarksdale (our version of the 808 with expanded EQ and clipping options) much... but those people also know I am honest and I understand that each to their own... How many people do you know who love TS circuits? ;)

Getting back to the main part of this piece, I received the Wampler Bravado here at Wilding Towers in the UK on December 19th (which is actually my daughter's birthday so it stayed in the box that day while I was trying to be SuperDad). When I opened it, I must admit quite excitedly, I was surprised to see an America power cable in the box, so I looked on the side and saw the dreaded.... 120v. D'OH. Great. I had an un-useable amp. As you may expect, I text'd Brian and said "Well, that's a bit silly" (or something like that) and what do I do now, seems insane to send it back to the US... Over the next couple of days Brian had spoken to the transformer people, and the people who finalise production on the amp and I was told that it's a simple fix, the change over of a couple wires inside. That would be great, except I can't solder for shit. Great x2. Armed with explicit instructions on how to change it I dropped the amp off at my mate Bob's house, who is an audio electronics engineer, with the instructions and £20 later I have a 240v amp... This was December 23rd.The date of our last gig of the year - I got the amp fixed, I went over to my friend Ray's house to borrow an old yet delightful 2x12" cab with the view of giving it a run out that night. And then, 2 hours before I'm due to leave to the gig my car decided to die. Great x3. 

So, I didn't have the opportunity to test it that night, I borrowed a car from my lovely friend Kate and I went to the gig with my usual gear (which is a stock Fender BDri with a WGS Veteran 30) and as usual, my tone was lovely, mostly thanks to this little board of delight.

So, after Christmas I had time to play. I tested it with the Orange 2x12" (Celestion Vintage 30's inside), it wasn't great as they are designed to break up WAY early in the sweep, and I needed it clean. Unfortunately, they were soldered in so I couldn't swap then out (remember, I can't solder at all). Great x4. Here is where it becomes interesting. I have 4 WGS speakers here: the Veteran 30, ET-65, Reaper HP and the Blue Alnico thing, can't remember its name. So, I tried the Bravado plugged into the speaker in the Fender, first with the Veteran 30, then the ET-65, then the Reaper - all the time, comparing it to the 2x12" with the Vintage 30s. It quickly became a geek fest of tone, response, articulation, break up and everything else. Let's just take a moment to pass our good wishes onto my long suffering wife who had to listen to my crap playing, really loud, ALLLLLL day. 

Here is what I found.

The Celestion Vintage 30's are fabulous for that dirty thing, when using an overdrive to push it, the sound is incredible. But that's not what I want - I play in what is effectively a country/blues/rock band in pubs, so I need clean headroom. One can't play Brent Mason solo's when the amp and cab is clipping... So, I'm keeping that tone in the bank for when I need something more aggressive... The real magic arrived when I put the Reaper in. 

The Reaper. WOW. I just can't begin to tell you how perfect it is to my ears, for my style of playing, for my rig, in the places I play in. The Reaper is based on the G12H30 Anniversary edition, and it's perfect for this. Gone was the high end edge of the Veteran 30, gone was the break up of the v30's and here was the full spectrum tone of clarity and cleanliness of the Reaper.  It would appear that my speaker choice was made and I set off to the gig. 

When I arrived, I set up, level checked and over comes the bass player, Rick - who in my opinion is one of the greatest I've ever heard - he's so far in the pocket it's a thing of beauty, his tone is flawless, everything about his playing is perfect. Plus, I met him when I was about 15 so I've known him and played with him off and on for almost 30 years. He is a real tone chaser... he simply has the best tone of any bass player I've ever heard in a pub/club setting. ANYWAY... he asked about it, so I played a bit and he started to smile - we played with the bright control, the EQ and levels and we settled on position 3 for the bright switch, my guitar is quite dark (PRS Brent Mason) and I don't like harsh top end so my effects aren't set harsh... here are the settings (taken right after the first set):

We found that even at full brightness the tone wasn't sharp at all, it didn't bite, it didn't hurt (which it would have with the Fender), it just sounded a little more VOX like, which was as odd as it was unexpected (at that moment in time I was regretting not playing any Brad Paisley, but that's another story). As the gig went on, my I had a lovely time - my tone was INCREDIBLE. I have never, ever sounded like that before. Everything was clear, articulate and powerful. Everything was perfectly balanced and the levels across the entire spectrum was perfectly balanced. We had a great gig, loads of people danced, drunk people came up to me and were talking incoherently to me, but while shaking my hand and smiling a lot, so I'm guess they enjoyed it. I was a happy boy.

As we were driving home (across beautiful Dartmoor, 1am on a clear winters night but that's just me showing off about where I live, it's outstanding!) my wife said something that made me think. Now, my wife comes to every gig I play - let's face it, she didn't marry a guitar player to be sat at home on a Saturday night to watch the bloody X-Factor now did she - she knows my playing better than anyone - she's a great musician - piano player, and she is a fan of the music we play so if I have a great night, she tells me and if I don't, she tells me. She's always honest and is only interested in my development as a musician, so there is no bullshit.

"I've never heard you like that before, you sounded amazing. You must have known that because you were smiling all night and you played stuff I've never heard you play before". It would appear I'd been more thoroughly inspired by the amp than I realised. I'm pretty certain that this was the Bravado. It sounded SO good. The wife said it was amazing, the drunk people said it was amazing, Rick said it was amazing. I'm pretty certain that basically, the Bravado makes you sound amazing. I put it down to the following. I have 4 basic tones. Clean, Tumnus, and both channels of the Dual Fusion. I run them Tumnus -> c2 DF -> c1 DF. So, I run clean, I run Tumnus, I run c1 DF, I run c1 DF with the Tumnus, I tun c1 and c2 of the DF stacked, and I stack the Tumnus into that... basically, I use a LOT of variations - we are a cover band, and there's not a lot worse than a sole guitarist bands who only have 1 tone. With the PRS (that is extremely versatile) I have so many tones, I can't actually begin to count them and every one of them was utterly perfect. Previously I would have a great clean tone, nice OD tone or a nice face melting tone. I could never balance them all out and them all sound amazing. Not even good. Sometimes, the higher gain stuff was pretty muddy, still nice, but muddy.

So, if you want an amp that is clean, all the way (well, as much as it can be) that EATS pedals for breakfast and can take everything from low gain all the way up to the other end, this is probably the amp for you. It ain't cheap, but if you have a £2K guitar and a £1K of effects (like many players in my postition have), why put it through a £1K amp. By my reckoning, people often buy an under performing amp, just because they have a famous name on them. With the Bravado, you will never sound better, providing you have the right speaker. This is why SO many high end amp makers appear to have own brand speakers, they get companies to make a speaker to their spec and then stick a label over it... Maybe we should do that!

Speaking of all this (pun intended), Rick and I are making a 2x12" - the WGS Reaper is going in as is the ET-65. It's based on the spec of the Wampler cab, can't wait to play it out. Keep an eye out for the amp, it'll be in stores - selected stores - try it with pedals in front of it... Outstanding.

 

Troubleshooting - A beginners guide...

There’s honestly nothing worse than the feeling of going to jam, and something isn’t working correctly in your chain. It’s a mix of emotions, from sad to angry to just generally a “What the heck?” moment. The next process involved is troubleshooting or searching on the internet for the answer. First and foremost we suggest contacting the manufacturer of the pedal for help. This cuts to the chase by going direct to the source, especially in terms of warranty and beginning the process for repairs (if necessary).This is just a helpful guide of sorts to narrow down areas to troubleshoot on your own prior to moving forward. These are common ways to troubleshoot that apply to nearly every pedal out there.

The first thing to try when anything is acting wacky with a pedal is to isolate it for testing. This removes any other variables and focuses on the cleanest and simplest signal path to troubleshoot. Start with your guitar going out with a confirmed working cable to the input of the pedal, with the pedal having a fresh 9v battery (if applicable, not with minis) and disconnected from your power supply, straight into the amp. If the pedal behaves correctly, then you know the problem was somewhere else in the chain. If the issue is still occurring, document everything you can to better help identify the problem for the tech. If there’s no output, try cutting the footswitch off and on several times, if it comes on occasionally, it could be a bad footswitch. If you turn a knob and the sound seems really odd or has no effect at all, it could be a bad pot. Does the LED cut on? Any small detail will help when you’re going to have it repaired.

Batteries – Some companies ship their pedals with batteries, some do not. Leaving a cable plugged into the input of a pedal will drain the battery, even if it’s not being used. One good idea to practice is if you’re using a power supply to power your pedals, remove the battery to prevent corrosion over time. If you do use a battery, be sure to use a fresh, unused battery

Power – Digital effects especially are more prone to be noisy if you’re not using a dedicated, isolated power source to power the pedal. Daisy-chaining digital effects with analog pedals or other digital pedals will create substantial noise. Isolated power supplies can be a bit expensive, but they’re worth the investment in the long run. If you’re concerned it’s a power issue and you’ve tried it isolated with a battery, then there could be an issue with the cable from the power supply, or with the power jack. Note: Using the wrong power supply can render a pedal useless, and that is not covered under most warranties. Our pedals in particular require a barrel-type (Boss style), center-negative power supply cable. Some pedals have the ability to run anywhere from 9v to up to 18v (and anywhere in between), where some will be rendered useless if run above 9v. Check out this blog for an in-depth detail of which of our pedals can be used at 9v and 18v: http://www.wamplerpedals.com/news/blog/talking-about-gear/power-9v-or-18v

Footswitch popping during activation – If your pedal has recently started an excessively loud pop when you first activate it after moving pedals around on your board, there could be an issue with the impedance the pedal is seeing. For starters, try the first step and isolate it and see if that is taking care of it. If it’s no longer popping, then another pedal in your chain is causing an impedance issue, so try swapping positions on your board could fix it. Bad cables can be the culprit as well.

Crackling Pots – This would signal dirty pots, which can be solved by using an contact cleaner, which is discussed more here: http://www.wamplerpedals.com/news/blog/talking-about-gear/cleaning-the-pots-on-your-pedals

There are a multitude of different things that can go on based solely on the fact that you’re stepping on electronic devices repeatedly, so despite every builder’s best efforts things do fail. This is exactly why we personally offer a 30-day customer satisfaction guarantee and return policy when purchased directly through our website.

Cleaning the pots on your pedals...

Scenario time: You’re at a gig and the show is going well. The band is tight, the crowd is loving the music and the bar owner is loving the way you your group have packed the house. You bend over to adjust the gain on your overdrive pedal, and you hear it… and the room hears it. That noisy, scratchy and crackling sound of a dirty pot. It isn’t a gig killer, but it definitely brings the joy down a notch. Resisting the urge to throw that pedal across the room in disgust, there is a way to resurrect it and get it back into full operating order once again. To get started we’ll visit Amazon.com to search for Deoxit Contact Cleaner. (Note, this is available at multiple different outlets, including some vehicle care places, and I’ve even seen it at Guitar Center before. We just chose Amazon out of simplicity).

Deoxit is designed to clean, lubricate and preserve contacts and conductivity, by dissolving the dirt and grime, and it does a great job of it. Though it’s in a liquid form, it is quick drying and will not hurt the pedal at all. Deoxit is effective, but it is also quite strong so some precautions are in order before using it. Being an abrasive substance, you want to use it outdoors in a well ventilated area and not on a windy day. To be extra careful it wouldn’t hurt to wear a face mask to prevent breathing in any of the fumes. The same goes for your eyes, you don’t want this getting into your eyes by accident, so some glasses or other form of protection wouldn’t be a bad idea either. Once you get done with the following steps, be sure to wash your hands as well to prevent some from accidentally getting where it shouldn’t.

 

Step One:

Take the pedal apart to access the pots. Remove the back cover to expose the inner pots and circuit board. If you’re uncomfortable with this process, it’s best to take it to an experienced tech that is familiar with electronics.

 

Step Two:

Each potentiometer has a small opening that will allow the cleaner to get inside and loosen the dirt that has collected in there. As you spray liberally turn the knobs back and forth quickly. This will work the dirt loose and restore the contact needed for clean transitions in your adjustments.

Step Three:

Put the pedal back together and test it out. That scratchiness should be gone. This method can be used on switches as well. Just work the switch as you spray to ensure they are free of dirt and are well lubricated. Deoxit can also be used to clean your inputs and outputs, and even your AC adapter jack can be cleaned this way. Just don’t do it while attached to power. It could void your warranty and/or seriously hurt you.

Now, this is a technique that works most of the time, your mileage may vary but it could save you some time instead of having to go through process of submitting it for repairs.

Brian covers this more in depth in his latest vlog: How to clean dirty & crackling pots (potentiometers) on a pedal...