Talking about gear

Talking about gear (69)

Quilter 101 Mini Reverb - another experiment in tone chasing

A few months ago I wrote a ‘review’ of the Quilter 101 Mini Head here in the Wampler blog, it was an interesting experience using the 101 Mini, but tonally it didn’t work out for me. It was great, just not there yet. There were issues with the basic core tone and most importantly, the strange EQ section.

I’ve subsequently got my hands on the newer version of this head, the 101 Mini Reverb, they’ve upgraded the unit considerably, made the EQ a much easier system to dial in and you guessed it, contains reverb. I’ve been using the 101 MR for the last few gigs as the ‘other’ side of my stereo rig, and something happened this weekend that made me look at it in a different light.

First of all, a quick gear rundown so you get a feel what my rig does. My rig is mono until it hits the incredible TC Electronic MiMiQ which then splits it to stereo. The main side of the MiMiQ (which sits after my pre gain modulation the gains stages and compression – so that’s pre gain Strymon Mobius – mainly Vibe - Mini Ego, Tumnus and Paisley Drive Deluxe) sends the signal on to the post gain side of the Mobius (so that’s chorus, tremolo etc), the Strymon TimeLine, dB+ and then to a Wampler Bravado amp. The other side of the MiMiQ just feeds direct to the Quilter 101 MR – both then feed directly into a stereo 2x12” speakers. I have the MiMiQ set on “slight drunk” so when it’s kicked in I find the difference in tone (I set it pretty quickly, on a scooped setting) and the lack of delays etc do a really good impression of a second guitar player.

I play in a pub band, playing covers, and on Saturday night we were kinda cookin’. The crowd was rocking, so we were. My rig sounded fantastic and I ended the first set on a high! I was just having a lovely time… when it came to the start of the second set we started and I noticed that something wasn’t quite right. None of my delay’s where there, so I checked a different patch (the vibe) and that worked, so I thought – oh shit, the TimeLine is knackered. There was something else going on with the sound as well, it wasn’t quite as attacky or bright as usual (I have the Bravado set on Bright position 4 with the mids scooped out so it’s more like a Fender Deluxe than it should be)… For about 3 songs I felt this thing was wrong, still sounded like me, still sounded great (well, let’s face it, with those gain stages how could it not?), but there was a certain something missing. Trust my wife to spot the problem… It the end of the third song she leaned over to me from behind the P.A. speakers and shouted in my ear “Do you know that the Bravado is on standby?”.

Oooops.

So, I had turned the Bravado on to standby at the end of the first set and forgotten to turn it back on again, which is quite funny considering the piece I wrote about putting amps on standby last year. it was just the Quilter being used and I was blown away with the sound of it. Granted, It was not as clear and concise as the Bravado, and the response was different, but it was close. Kind of felt the same way when I first played through a Kemper, really close but the reaction wasn’t there, because it’s a D class and I’m used to a valve amp.

Once I realised my mistake I tweaked the Quilter a little to try to bring the top end in and it got even closer before bringing the Bravado back in. This little thing is quite remarkable when I think about it, I carry it around in my effects case and it weighs about 2lbs and it stood up against the Bravado and didn’t lose without a fight. It took the pedals like a dream, it responded to my pick attack and expression like a dream. The updated EQ section was SO much better in this one, every issue I had with the original was addressed. Basically, this thing is pretty bloody awesome.

I’ve made the conscious decision that when we do the small, quiet gigs – as we often do – and you can’t get a valve amp up to the required level to make it sound like I want too (yes, we really do play that quiet sometimes, literally so you can talk over it), the Quilter 101 MR will be my main amp and the Quilter 101 Mini will be the stereo field. It won’t be the Bravado (as, you know, valve compression and response of a high end amp, there is nothing like it), but at least I can put it to the level I want to play at and I won’t be disappointed with the tone, which when you think about it, is quite remarkable.

I can thoroughly recommend this little amp, and I don’t say that very often. Everyone should have one in the front pocket of their gig bag as a back up, or if like me you want a stereo field, it’s perfect. Actually, if I wasn’t so fussy (I am, extremely) I would probably use it for every gig as let’s face it, the people listening wouldn’t be able to tell the difference in those conditions... It’s close enough to the real thing to be able to warrant the compromise of tone – that magical thing that can’t be replicated - especially when like me you have a history of sciatica and want to keep the weight down!

As a last thought - when the Bravado isn’t here I use a Fender BDri as my main gigging amp… well, I used to, as if the Bravado isn’t here, from here on in I’ll be using the Quilter…

Where'd my great tone go?

I'd like to start this blog out with a question to anyone reading this. Have you ever found the PERFECT tone, documented the settings in some fashion (in a notebook, taking a picture, etc.) only to discover that when you return the next time to play, it just doesn't sound right anymore?  How about going to practice or just jam and it feels like your entire rig just sounds awful and wrong? I can give a resounding answer of YES to all of those above. It baffled me for awhile because I knew that my settings hadn't been messed with in the least bit, so it made no sense why it was happening.
 
I decided to record myself for a few days, seeing if it was something that was going on with the amp or my setup or whatever the heck it was. Aside from fluctuations in my skill level (Hey, we all have good and bad days playing), the tones were consistent despite sounding different each day to my ear. One day it was a bit too bright, another day sounded phenomenal, and another day my tone was too muddy. Again, I was using the same guitar, pedals, and amps. Of course, the next instinct was to go to Google, and it's apparent that I'm not alone. It's become a bit of a joke at this point that *something* must happen to make it not sound as good. Maybe someone bumped the board or the amp, or the magic pedalboard gremlins are up to some form of trickery.
 
So what's the deal then? Long story short, one part is life. Not to sound overly cliche, but that's the simple way of putting it. Everyday things that we experience during life all add up to how the human body reacts to external stimulus. Stress in all forms is proven to wreak havoc on the body, and it can definitely do a number on your ears. Looking back at those days where my tone wasn't as good, I realized that the first day I recorded, I had stayed up late the night before and subsequently woke up earlier for work the next morning. That night after playing a few minutes and being dissatisfied with my tone, I cut everything off, got our two little boys to bed (5 and almost 2) and my wife and I went to bed at 8:30 that night out of sheer exhaustion. I got a lot of sleep that night, and sure enough my tone the next day sounded like the life was back in it again. The following day at work was hectic and erratic, so when I went to play my mind wasn't focused, and my tone wasn't very appealing at all. I haven't been able to find a fix for this yet, but my solution has been to take a break and just either play acoustic or my electric unplugged. There have been many times where I just decided to put it down and walk away from it for a day or two, maybe more. Usually when I come back and plug in it's because the craving to play has kicked in and a reinvigorated love for it has sprung back up.
 
Now let's talk about tone consistency at various locations. The scenario is that you've got a great tone dialed in at home, you go to your practice space, and it sounds completely off when turning up your level to match the people you're jamming alongside. Several contributing factors can cause this, and the rig can be adjusted accordingly to increase the consistency of the tones produced. One major point that needs to be hammered home is that a guitar rig will react very differently at bedroom-level volumes versus gigging volumes. The layout and acoustics of the room play a massive role in the overall tone and feel of the amp and rig. For instance, if the practice space is a bedroom or basement, our ears become accustomed to that room, and the amp and pedals are setup accordingly to sound good in that room. Let's say hypothetically that the usual practice space is in a basement or garage with a concrete floor. Alternatively, if the band is at a gig with a large stage made of wood, the amp can sound excessively boomy due to the wood resonating the frequencies in the room. On the flip side, going from playing on a wooden floor to a concrete floor can make the amp feel stiff. While we're on the subject of playing out, power fluctuation needs to be mentioned as well, and that can play a big part in tone. If the space at home is running at 109v out of the wall, but the output at a gig is 115v for instance, then there will undoubtedly be a tonal difference because your amp is receiving more voltage. Increasing or starving the power can lead to an array of tone fluctuations, which is a reason companies have been making power conditioners to keep a steady flow of current to the amp, no matter what the gig is. 
 
A solid example of this in practice is that we had a person on our Tone Group on FaceBook (Wampler Pedals Tone Group, you should check it out). He mentioned having fantastic tone in his room where he practices, but when opening the window, it seems like he lost a tremendous amount of depth to his tone and everything sounded thin. After discussing it, several members chimed in and said it had to do with the pressure changes and the layout of the room, and how the frequencies coming from the amp disperse differently. In that scenario, the bass frequencies weren't bouncing back and stayed confined in the space, and that's why the tone sounded so much fuller when the windows weren't open. 
 
As the output of an amp increases, several things can come into play. Preamp's can begin to clip once they're pushed to a certain point, so if a rig sounds overly dirty, it could be that the preamp is distorting, where at lower volumes the output isn't as high. One thing you can try is to use an active volume pedal in the effects loop of the amp, which will lower the signal hitting the phase inverter and cutting down on the clipping ab it. If your amp doesn't have an effects loop, you can try putting a volume pedal at the end of your signal chain, which will cut some of the incoming signal and subsequently lower the gain. A relatable way to think of it is plugging directly into a dirty amp, and adjusting your guitar's volume to reduce gain. The same premise applies. Yes, this will change the tone a bit, but in reality, EVERYTHING alters the tone. Clipping is a reason a lot of players like really high-headroom, high wattage amps because it eliminates the chances of the amp distorting at gig volumes. Along with the preamps reacting differently, speakers begin to compress as they attempt to move more air. The harder an amp is pushed, the harder those speakers naturally compress. 
 
Taking all things into consideration, the chase for tone is never-ending, and more often than not leads to just as much frustration sometimes as it does elation. Give it time, think things through and start from the bottom and work your way up in chasing your perfect tone.

Don't forget your guitar! - Settings on the fly

I’ve got a question for you: How often would you say you use your Tone control on your guitar? How about the volume? Pickup selector? With all the goodies we’ve got for tone-shaping at our disposal, I’ve found a very drastic split between people who always tweak the controls on their guitars, and those who set and forget. Admittedly, I fell into the second category of diming the controls for the first 2/3rds of my guitar playing life. The source of this approach came from my early years of starting out playing punk rock, where the idea was that everything needed to be on 10, as loud and as fast as it possibly can go. It was bad enough that I would plug in and it would sound like a blanket was over my amp, immediately making me think that something was wrong with my setup. Nope, just the tone knob had been rolled back some and made my heart skip a beat for absolutely no reason. Sounds kind of wonky or careless, but I’m betting I’m not the only one who has done that (more on that later). It wasn’t until I started digging into songs and learning the nuances of verses and choruses and solos that I realized how much of a difference the controls on my guitar can make in association with how my amp is EQ'd and how I have my pedals set. It took a long time to adopt the differing process, but once I did it opened a boatload of tonal opportunities I had been missing out on utilizing all that time. 
 
Years ago, my normal process for setting up my base tone revolved around amp first (where all of the EQ controls used to be on ten like I mentioned above), then using my pedals to add whatever flavor I was looking to add, usually with the gain set excessively too high. My resulting tone was always completely overbearing, a bit harsh and sometimes flubby on the low end, or overly mid-honky. Again, at the time it wasn't about tone, but being loud and obnoxious. The problem that occurred is that I had no idea how the frequencies needed to sit in the mix, or how it would mesh with other instruments in the band. But alas, it was punk rock, and it was fun. That process of cranking the amp controls doesn't always lead to awful tone, quite the contrary on some amps. I suppose you could say that there's a time and a place for everything, and my combination of Strat into Danelectro pedals, into a Fender Stage 160 combo amp was NOT the place for it. On a nice vintage amp, I could completely see turning everything up and basking in that glorious tube amp tone. Again, I was in my late teens and had no clue of the bigger picture.
 
A few years later, my musical tastes started to develop and refine a bit more, and I started digging into what made some of my favorite artists sound just so doggone good. Through trial and error, I finally developed my ear to learn to approach things from another angle. At this point, I still use the amp as my first act of tone-shaping, but I approach it a bit differently. The amp and speaker(s) are the last things my signal sees before the tone is released into the wild, so that will play a huge role in the overall character of your chase for amazing tone. My initial settings on a 3-band EQ amp consists of Bass on 6, Mids on 4, and treble on 7. That's my starting point, but depending on the amp and where I'm playing I'll tweak from there. The reasoning behind these particular settings is because I've found that I prefer to use my pedals as my method to alter the mids in my tone, and I'm partial to a neutral but still "full" sounding clean tone. Next, I focus on my guitar a bit which might be a bit odd, but I'll explain. I've gotten to the point now where I instinctively roll off a bit of tone on my guitar. Crazy, right? I'll roll it back to seven or 7.5, along with my guitar's volume. My theory behind this is that I've always got a bit of extra volume and tone left in reserve in case I need it in a given situation. Sometimes you don't want to bend down and mess with your controls, so just adjust the tone knob a bit and get that added bit of extra clarity or high-end roll off that you're needing. Same goes for volume, where rolling back the guitar's volume will lessen the input on many gain pedals (especially fuzzes), and it gives you that extra bit of grit when you kick into a solo. 
 
A couple of years ago I adopted a volume pedal into my rig, mainly for ambient swells and all that fun stuff, but after awhile I noticed a practical side to it. I put mine after my drives, before my modulation and delays and reverbs. Placing it there allowed it to act as a "master volume" of sorts that let me set my gain and output for multiple stages of volume, all controlled by my handy-dandy foot. I'm in turn left with my guitar to add a bit of grit and oomph or clarity with the controls on me no matter where I'm standing in relation to my board. I then have several gain stages with my pedals, and the ability to set the overall output as unity or a boost with the volume pedal. *(Handy tip - you can also put a volume pedal in your FX loop to act as a master volume as well). Having those options leaves me constantly tweaking the knobs on my guitar when I'm playing, so much so that if I'm playing unplugged I still habitually twist the knobs. Once you get it down pact and you find your sweet spots, it opens up a load of tonal control right at your finger-tips.
 
While we're on the subject of guitar controls, it would be worth delving more into the heart of your guitar's control scheme. Beyond the typical 5-way or 3-way pickup selections, possibly modifying or upgrading can make a significant difference in your overall tone and the amount of control you have over it. To start off, upgrading your pots can make a big difference in the sound and feel of your guitar. Upgrading from 250k pots to 500k pots can give you an extra bit of oomph if you feel like your pickups just aren't coming alive. Along with upgrading pickups, it may be worth looking into various wiring options for your pickup configuration, such as a 4-way telecaster pickup selector, that allows you to run your pickups in series along with the standard ways. A Les Paul with 50's-style wiring can greatly improve the responsiveness of your tone controls. Upgrading inductors and capacitors in your guitars can also drastically change what tones you have on tap, from major frequency changes to slight treble roll-off. There's an enormous variety of simple upgrades and modifications you can make to your instrument to improve the response and playability. There are push/pull pots for allowing the player to split the coils in humbuckers, or blender pots that allow the player to blend various pickup configurations on the fly, as much or as little of each as desired.
 
Last but not least, let's talk about pickups. Sometimes, no matter how much we want to love everything about our instrument, it's always possible to fall out of love with the tone of it. There's nothing wrong with the way that it plays, but the tone just isn't there anymore. Luckily there are so many options out there for different pickups that it's almost dizzying. Depending on what guitar you have and how the body was routed, a pickup swap is a quick and easy way to drastically change the overall character of the voice of your guitar. Humbuckers, P90's, Single-Coils, Mini Humbuckers...the list is quite long of the various pickups that can be mixed and matched to find what you're looking for. Pick swaps are a relatively easy thing to do, but it requires a basic knowledge of soldering. If you're not comfortable with soldering, there are companies out there that offer pre-wired pickguards and control plates and switches that you can easily have a tech put in fairly quickly. Taking the time to understand and experiment with just your guitar can open a broad spectrum of control and tones that aren't available if everything is set wide open.
 
How do you set your guitar's controls? Have you done any upgrades to your guitar to allow added flexibility and tweakability to shape your tonal voice?

Paisley Drive Deluxe - when the launch plan gets ruined. You won't believe your eyes what happened next! Amazing scenes! Unbelievable!!

There goes my carefully laid out release. 

Don’t you just hate it when that happens? This isn’t the first time of course, google cached a website tester that means the Pinnacle Deluxe v2 was leaked before the announcement, and only a few months ago when we released the Ethereal, some rather silly people had shown it as a new release almost 18 months before at a NAMM show or 2. Well, 3. But hey, who’s counting? *insert chuckles here*

The Paisley Drive Deluxe is coming, October 12th. Now, we weren’t going to tell you about this for a while yet, probably somewhere around 1st Oct, but there you go, you got it at least 10 or so days early. You may be thinking that a week doesn’t really matter, but for us this was a huge disappointment. Over the last 7 years or so I’ve been doing this, Brian and I have pretty well got this wrapped up, we know what to do and how to do it (since Alex joined us a couple of years ago it got even better) and the plan was in full swing… This is why the product page on our site was launched so quick, the FB header graphic was up quickly and the promo pictures where on FB and IG instantly after the leak… I had it all in place.. So, obviously, to make up for this - the next release will be announced to the dealers early yet under the pain of death if anyone leaks it! And you think I’m joking… I just don’t want another quiet Sunday morning ruined like this again (we must take a moment to give appreciation to my wife and kids who had to deal with me, loudly dealing with this, at 9am on a Sunday morning. I do think my kids learnt new ways of putting cuss words together in that first hour). 

Although many people were VERY shocked to see us announce the pedal, it made me smile because we’ve already been teasing it for quite a while. For example, this graphic was the facebook header on our company page and it’s been in full glorious view since Sept 6th. I also published a photo on my personal Instagram a week ago that showed part of it, so the evidence was there – a couple of people picked up on it, but I love it when people only become aware of it after the event. Also, lest we forget, Brad’s tech leaked that this was coming waaaaaay back in March in an interview with Guitarist magazine. We also posted pictures of Brad’s rig on Sept 8th that clearly showed the prototype in his rig… So, you know, the evidence was there for all to see! It’s not easy to join the dots up, because we deliberately place them so far apart!

ANYWAY, enough of all that – here is the blog I was not ready to write yet, as I was hoping I’d have a few more gigs under my belt with it, but my hand has been forced so here I go. I used the Paisley Drive Deluxe on a gig last Friday. I didn’t know what to expect, the Paisley Drive for me is a special pedal – it was the first logo I designed for Wampler, I inadvertently named the pedal during (it was known as simply as the Paisley Overdrive in proto stage), so it kinda got me the job – 7 years later, here I am writing about the next generation of it. I love the original Paisley Drive so much, we named our dog after it, she’s the original Paisley Dog as far as I am concerned!

First impressions: well – I already knew what it was going to look like, as I did the confirmed graphical design for it back in February, and LONG before that I had got ready for this release and amended the original Paisley to co-ordinate with it way back in 2015. So, this has been in our minds for years. We just needed the main man to decide on what he wanted to be in it, so when over the last couple of years the Underdog started to get a run out in his rig, it looked like it was time to move it forward, Brian met with Brad and his techs a couple of time this last year to bash out the details, for example the routing and switching options, and the pedal was decided – into the process it went! But yes, my first impression was a sharp intake of breath. It is beautiful. Major props have to go to our production guys, this thing is flawless.

Channel 1: The first thing I noticed on it when plugging it in was how much gain was on tap from the Underdog side – the UD is probably the only one of Brian’s creations I’ve never played before, so it was all new to me, and boy does this thing cook! Considerably more gain that I was expecting, gravelly in a good way (the low mids are gorgeously wide), and has a great element of sag in the bottom end, not in the way the Pinnacle does, but it feels like when you hit the lower notes with a little palm muting it really jumps up and reacts. When you stick the fat switch in, the whole thing jumps up a level and starts to run into classic rock territory. I ended up running it at 15v as the band I am in doesn’t need that much gain, so I found the sweet spot right here. As always, when a little more gain and girth was needed I put the Tumnus on in front of it, and that most definitely takes you into rock territory.

Channel 2: Basically, extremely similar to the original Paisley. The three-way switch was removed and replaced with a 2 way switch. When the button is in, you get the original top setting (right on the newer one) – so that’s what I call the Trainwreck tone, or the Cliffs of Rock City right there, and when it is out, it’s like the bottom on the original (left on the newer ones) so a classic “Waiting on a Woman” TS feel. So, yeah, you get some classic Paisley from that side. The presence switch has been removed and is effectively set to “off”.

Stacked: Now, as in the Dual Fusion and Hot Wired, the real beauty of this pedal comes when you start running both channels together. Included in the Paisley DD is the same routing control that Tom and I came up with for the Dual Fusion, perfectly implemented by Brian and Jake, because if like me you use a looper, the last thing you want to do it have to press the loop switch and then press something else on the pedal. This way, it’s all done for you. I run 2 into 1, as the Underdog sounds glorious and when you stick the Paisley into it, with both set in the ‘out’ position you are going to hit the kind of creamy tones you would not expect from a pedal. Most of you that know me know I have an inherent dislike for most TS circuits, but when you run the Paisley on TS flavour and push it into the Underdog, something comes alive. These two circuits run together so well it’s just amazing we’ve not put them together before, feedback is waiting there but you are not fighting it, the guitar shines through the dirt, and when cranked, you move some serious air. Those two together sustain forever, I was hitting notes and they were ringing out like Parisienne Walkways – quietly and perfectly morphing into a feedback and once I moved the guitar the note moved up perfectly to another pitch. Think Flying In A Blue Dream intro. And I’ve never been able to find that so easily.

Every time we release a pedal, I excitedly play it for a while, understand it, and then it goes on the shelf for a while and I stick with my tried and trusted gain pedals for live. This one was plugged in at home to briefly hear it and make sure it was OK, I literally played two chords on each side, then put it on my live board as I was pressed for time. By the end of the first song I was smiling so much my face hurt, the bass player in the band (who is the biggest tone chaser I’ve ever met) was smiling back at me… I knew we were on to a winner.

Anyway, enough from me. Here’s Brett Kingman showing you how it’s done.

There are more demo's to come... lots more!

 

 

 

Blog - Has gear culture gone too far?

I’ll come outright and say it: I love looking at and learning about gear. Gear porn makes the day go by so much faster, and it’s interesting to see what various players choose to have on their board, why they chose it, what worked with each rig and what didn’t. Off the rack guitars, custom guitars, pawn shop finds and killer deals. All of it. From the simplest rig to the biggest rig, each setup tells a little something about that player and what their tastes are, and often it either spurs GAS or makes you curious about something else. Down the rabbit hole you go. I’m apparently not the only one either, seeing as gear culture is probably more at the forefront than ever. If you had to take a guess, how many FaceBook discussion groups would you say there are associated with tone in some fashion? You’re talking brand groups, podcast groups, general discussion groups, groups dedicated to a certain style of guitar or style of music?  I’ll guess on the low side and say hundreds, and those are just the ones I’ve seen personally or been on. That’s not even touching on other forums outside of FaceBook, or places like TGP or TDPRI or ILoveFuzz (all interesting boards for sure). It’s become a global culture, where if you’ve got a musical instrument and the internet, there’s a good chance you see or experience something gear-related throughout the day. I’ll admit that I’m so enthralled with gear that I often forgo watching TV to check my phone to see what the latest thread or blog or article discussing new releases have popped up. It’s truly an addiction, one that I barely keep at bay on most days. 

Most of these groups and pages have quite a varied group of members, with diverse backgrounds that range all over geographically, and with that comes the differences in cultures and varied view on race, religion, and many other variables. Thankfully, most of the places that I frequent don’t pay any attention to any of those external factors, and the focus remains on gear. Other than the subjective opinions that come up about that gear, they’re normally friendly and great environments. But not always. I’ve noticed a trend on so many groups lately that it’s become second nature to expect it to happen, and it eventually will. Inevitably there will be a member that will join, and they do NOT agree with opinions that go against their own. They disagree with a post or take a cheap shot at another member, and things devolve from there. I’m not talking about trolls necessarily. (I wrote another blog on that very topic, you can check that out here). These are people who are whole-heartedly invested in their belief, and if you question or bring up a counter-point, an argument inevitably ensues. I’ve found this especially prevalent on certain hot topics, such as discussing Klon Centaurs, Relic Guitars, or specific guitar brands and their quality. Any of those topics will ignite a burning flame in someone, who can DEFINITELY hear the magic in the diodes, or who only buys from a certain place of origin because they’ve got a stigma in their mind that guitars from XYZ are just garbage, no matter what.

I’ve come to ask myself this question on a regular basis: Are we taking gear and gear discussions too seriously? We all want to chase those ever-elusive tones, but how we each do it is going to depend on a lot of factors. Personal tastes aside, monetary reasons can put a big damper in our plans. Yes, we’d all love a Dumble or vintage Les Paul or Strat, but that’s usually not in the cards for the average player. So, we chase those tones we have in our head with the funds we have at our disposal, and luckily there are enough brands with various offerings that can get you close to that (some closer than others). Opinions are like buttholes though, everyone’s got them. I think we can all agree that not everyone is going to agree on loving all the same things. Variety is the spice of life and all that. But when I brought up selling my Centaur in my last blog, I was met with various comments regarding whether that was a good move or not. Some agreed totally, agreeing with my point that the used prices are a bit absurd and that they were able to find a great alternative for a fraction of the cost just like I did. There were a few people, however, that went out of their way to express that I was wrong and my thought process was off and that the price truly is justified and it’s the greatest in the world. That’s great, more power to you. If that’s what hit’s the spot then cool, go for it. Some got so heated in their beliefs that they felt they needed to convince me I was wrong, and subsequently various members started arguing, which led to people almost being banned from that group. Why in the heck is that so important that it’s worth getting into an argument over?  

Another example that I see frequently posted are the users posting pictures of large pedalboards with a wide range of effects, with comments to follow saying, “All you need is a guitar and an amp” or “You must be compensating for lack of skill” or “I only use amp dirt and a single delay”. I completely understand and can appreciate the traditional minimalist approach. Times change though, and if you’re in a band that covers a large variety of music, you’ll need the tools at your disposal to achieve whatever the song calls for. On the flip side, there are the players that flaunt their gear choices, going specifically into how many amps and how much each one costs (usually equaling a lot). That’s great, we get you have money and appreciate discerning tastes in gear. Owning a small fortune in gear doesn’t equate to knowing everything about tone. Just because something costs exponentially more doesn’t necessarily make the tone that much more superior, nor will it make someone play better. I refer to the video of Joe Satriani playing a cheap knock-off guitar into a Peavey Bandit and RP200. Granted, it didn’t sound like his rig, but raw talent got it close enough that you could immediately identify what was being played (Surfing with the Alien). It’s all just trivial, and it doesn’t matter if you invested $400 in a guitar or $4,000, if it hits the spot then that’s all that matters. Knocking another player’s rig solves nothing and if anything rains on their parade, instead of appreciating the effort they put into it and moving on. 

Lately, the big topic everyone has been discussing is Gibson’s current releases and the quality control, after a recent catch showing an advertisement for their new Les Paul that had dings in it. Many people were immediately dogging Gibson and discussing how overpriced their models are and the subsequent decline in attention to detail. There were some extremely heated arguments regarding the amount of money spent on Gibson’s, some saying they are still fantastic guitars and still an icon of sorts, where others were saying they are complete garbage and trashing the brand and people who appreciate their Gibson guitars. Around the same time, Fender released their Brad Paisley signature guitar, and the internet lit ablaze at the cost of the instrument being too high because they’re made in Mexico, the fact that it didn’t feature a rosewood neck like the one it was paying homage to, and the fact that it didn’t have a G-bender. Let’s look at just those 3 things and break them down. Brad wanted them to be affordable, hence having them MIM. That doesn’t mean cheap, that just means more cost-effective than labor costs in the US. Regarding the neck, Brad doesn’t like rosewood, if you look at his current touring guitars there are only a couple of them with rosewood necks. He’s always been a fan of maple. Lastly, the G-bender mechanism Brad uses is from Charlie McVay, a small business owner who literally couldn’t produce that many benders to suit Fender’s needs, let alone at a cost-effective level. Yes, there are other companies out there with alternatives, but there’s also the issue of consistency and longevity and added cost, which all adds up to a more expensive guitar. I guess my point is that until all of the facts are known and verified, or unless someone has experienced using the instruments themselves, passing judgment just comes off as trolling and disconnected. 

So why did I write this whole thing? I don’t know, maybe making the issues stare people in the face will make them realize what’s going on and thinking before just posting the first thing that comes off the top of their mind? One can dream. I’d like to just reinforce the point of taking gear discussions a little more lightly, most people are there to learn and enjoy guitar and gear with like-minded people. Not everyone will agree, and that’s totally okay. How you respond to the disagreeing part is what sets people apart. So sit back, enjoy soaking in the info and comradery over our favorite instrument. To summarize, I’ll leave you with this quote from Travis Feaster: “If you’re offended, I forgive you.”

Expectations vs. Reality

We all do it…we all have one dream (or multiple dreams) that are on our bucket list as something we’d love to experience in our life time. Could be meeting your favorite guitarist in the world, or getting to see or even hold a guitar that is priceless, cost-wise or because of the history and sheer mojo instilled in it. Could be seeing a band you’ve always hoped to see, and the idea of all of these things combined provide a bit of “light at the end of the tunnel” and a thing to strive for as we progress through life. Now let’s look at the flip side…a company announces a signature pedal of your absolute favorite artist in the world. This artist has had a massive influence on your playing, and now there’s a new pedal that can help chase the tones to sound just like that artist! New signature guitar as a homage to your favorite classic guitarist, with the accoutrements that make it feel and play exactly how that artist would have (or does) currently play. How about finally acquiring that magical piece of gear…the one that has seemed so unobtainable for so many years and is held in such high regard that you’d have to either sell an organ or steal it to obtain it? The satisfaction of finally reaching your goal is unrivalled, or even finally solving that curiosity to see if whatever “it” is, is as good as everyone makes it out to be. 
 
Now, let’s take a step back to reality and put things in perspective. In many cases listed above, the down and dirty of the situation is that unless you’re born with a horseshoe up your butt, these things take time (sometimes a LONG time). Yes, there are occasions where luck just makes things fall into place... “right place at the right time” type of stuff. Those times are magical and should be cherished, but definitely not betted on. My Mom always told me “Son, you’ve got to make good times happen. The world isn’t going to make it easy, so you have to enjoy it while you’re here because you don’t know when you’re gonna go.” And she’s right (like she usually is admittedly). Life is fleeting, and despite how it may seem long on some days/weeks/years, it’s short in the grand scheme of things. We all hope to be a perfect bill of health and live until we’re 100, but life throws curveballs. There are ups and downs aplenty, and our own versions of ups and downs differ completely.
 
Why am I talking about all of this you ask? It’s because there have been a lot of things going on recently where I, and many others, have had to step back and find the positives in a world full of negatives. TV, FaceBook, negativity is everywhere and you have to go out of your way to avoid it in most cases. So, what does that mean in the grand scheme of things related to guitar and music and all that? What I’m trying to say is that if you want something to happen, you’ve got to *make* it happen. If you want something, go get it! Want an original Klon Centaur, or a custom guitar? It might take months or even years, but set aside a bit of cash each week from your paycheck. Even if it’s $10, $5, or just spare change as you go along. It may take forever to get it, but if you hold steady and don’t touch that small pool of funds, it will eventually lead you to get what you want. Now, will the outcome be worth the investment? That’s really where it comes down to it. The expectations vs. reality part is that whatever you’ve saved for could very well be the absolute best thing in the world, and fulfil the void that has been in your soul that you didn’t know existed until you got the piece of gear. 
 
There’s always that other possibility though, that it could not be what you were looking for, and the reality sinks in that hype and the hive-mind has kicked in to take something that truly is really good, and boost it to legendary status based on lack of accessibility and subsequent costs. This personally happened to me after I grabbed a Silver Centaur at a *relatively* good price (compared to the others). I wanted a Centaur as long as I could remember, and over the years I had tried pretty much every Klone on the market. Some stood out above the rest (as they always do), and I sold the ones that weren’t where I wanted them and held on to the couple that hit the spot for what I was using them for. I always had that urge to try the real thing, and it was an insatiable desire to try it that kept me pushing. I finally saved up and found one in good condition, took a gamble and went for it. Got it in, plugged it in, and spent 3 hours just jamming my heart out. I loved it…at the time. I held onto it, and as I played more in the coming weeks, I found myself not switching it on that often. Then time passed more, and I wasn’t using it at all except for the buffer. At this point, the honeymoon phase was over, and I came to realize that I just couldn’t justify owning something so expensive that I used so little. I realized after it was all said and done that the other pedals that pay homage to the circuit got SOOO close (within 5%, to me) that it wasn’t worth it for me personally. Maybe it was bragging rights? I don’t know, but I just couldn’t bring myself to keep it, even as a collecting/investment which was what multiple people recommended. My results won’t mirror everyone’s result… there’s a lot of love for the Centaurs, and they are really great boost pedals. To each their own, I’ll stick with the Tumnus. The point being is that I had the need to experience that for myself, no matter what people said regarding how close other circuits were. The reality was that it’s a killer circuit, but for considerably less money something very, VERY similar could be acquired.
 
Keeping with the whole expectations vs. reality theme, let’s look at signature gear (again, your mileage may vary greatly). If it’s not apparent at this point, I’m a MASSIVE Brad Paisley fanboy. Not stalker level at all, but I’ve been a massive fan since about 2003. So much so that when I got his Mud on the Tires record, I dove into his recordings up until that point and it converted me to loving country music (to this day). In 2006, my graduation present from my parents was a Crook Custom Guitar (I think Dad was just tired of me never putting his tele down, and he wasn’t into PRS’s much). I talked with Bill for hours and finely tuned it down to exactly what I wanted, which leads to the first prototype of his green and silver sparkle paisley finish (you can see it here, that photo is actually the one my wife took). My Dad also had one built and we took an 8-hour road trip to West Virginia to pick them up. Again, I told you I was a fan. You know what? Those Crooks sounded like amazing Telecasters! Like the best ones I’ve ever played, even to this day over a decade later. But at the time, aside from the G-Bender, it didn’t rocket me into sounding exactly like Brad Paisley…just a bit easier to poorly rip off his licks. However, the design, from the feel to the sound to the aesthetics of the birdseye maple board and finish all made me want to play more.  I knew going into it that it wouldn’t make me sound exactly like Brad, but it’s about that endless chase for tone, and that was one of the keys to it. 
 
Fast forward to 2010 as I’m frequenting TDPRI and I discover that this company called Wampler Pedals were coming out with a signature pedal for Brad, called the Paisley Drive. My GAS ignited stronger than ever, and I immediately had to have it. I received it for Christmas that year, and guess what? I sounded a lot like Brad Paisley (tone-wise), or at least my closest approximation of it! I was so in love with it that I had to grab an Ego Compressor and a Pinnacle. A few years later I acquired a Dr. Z RXjr (my first boutique amp) and at that point, I was about as involved as I could be. The thing that I realized moving along is that yes, all of the tools gave me the ability to get in the realm of what I was chasing for, but it also solidified the old saying of “tone is in the hands”. Even with all the tools at my disposal, I could only approximate within a certain percentage of covering his tone because a lot of it has to do with the style he uses, from his choice of notes, picking habits, personalized tricks (like transitioning through speedy passages by incorporating open string licks or the G-bender) and the overall personal touch that is very difficult to master.
 
I’m sure you already know all of this and think I’m crazy, but we still receive questions from people saying “I have XYZ pedal, why don’t I sound like that artist?”. It’s a combination of a lot of things, gear and technique all play a factor. When a company releases a pedal, or guitar, or amp, for an artist it’s designed as something specifically at the request of or for the artist to aid in their quest for tone. In some cases, it’s the basis of their tone and rig, but in other scenarios, it’s one effect of many that the artist uses in their tonal utility belt. Many artists change gear like they change their socks, so any given night they could have a different set of pedals or different amp to do what they want to do. Yes, these pedals are designed to get *that* or group of sounds, and still be versatile to achieve said sound in a plethora of various configurations of rigs. The reality is that sometimes it nails it, sometimes it doesn’t. Therefore companies (us included) try to show many different tones from many different demo artists to try to give the most comprehensive portrait of what the pedal will sound like. In the end, it comes down to the player’s rig and technique and tweaking to see if a pedal fits the bill. Again, those demos are designed to bring the distance between expectations and reality closer together. Will you like some demos but hate others? Sure! Could you get the pedal and love it? That’s always the goal. Could you try it and hate it? We hope not, but tastes vary we appreciate you at least trying them.
 
Finally, let’s talk about music events. This is a topic that comes up constantly between Brian and Jason and I, regarding the desire to see an artist when they’re in the area and the reality of obligations, time-wise or financially. Concerts are expensive, and depending on the artist the can be REALLY expensive. Several of our favorite artists have been touring in our general area lately, and the desire to go see them has been overwhelming. Back to the Brad Paisley thing, Brian met him by throwing a modded pedal on stage with his business card attached, and his tech ended up picking it up. Most of Brian’s story revolves around being out there and meeting people and being in the right place at the right time. It’s proof that sometimes if you take a chance then it could pay off in the long run. Not all of us build and mod epic pedals though, but we all love to see our favorite artists nonetheless. I can’t count the number of times each of us has passed up going to see a band, and have kicked ourselves ever since. So I say this, if you can swing the money, do it. Don’t regret it, take the leap and go see the ones you’ve always wanted to see, they won’t always be around (playing together, or alive) so you must seize the chance while you can. 
 
You don’t know if it’ll end up being the dream you always hoped for, or completely underwhelming. You’ll never know until you try and make good times happen.

Old Faithful or Out of the Box?

Music culture has changed a lot over the years, and to accompany the shift in musical preferences the gear community has also shifted to meet the needs of all players. It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking to play I-IV-V blues tunes in a dive bar, play to 10,000 people in a stadium, or to make speaker-destroying noise in your room, we’re currently in the golden age of guitar effects where nearly anything is possible. Want to make your tone sound like one of your guitar hero’s? Easier than ever. Want to make your guitar sound absolutely nothing like a guitar? Done. There are so many effects on the market and constantly in development that if you can dream it, there’s a good chance you can achieve it.
 
Recently there has been a slew of unconventional products released by various companies, and the reaction has been a mixed bag at best. There are people who absolutely love some of these pedals and immediately want to purchase them, and there’s also the counter group of players who despise the idea completely and think that the designs are garbage* and want nothing to do with them. It’s a stark line drawn in the sand, and admittedly I’ve found myself hovering over top of the line in regard to a love/hate feeling for some of the noisemakers and more out-there effects. They’re so bizarre that they’re repulsive but intriguing at the same time. Usually, for me, all it takes is one demo with a single cool sound to catch my ear and then the GAS just grows from there.
 
My first thought with a pedal is normally “How is it versatile enough to be usable in multiple musical contexts, while also not overlapping too much with the stuff I already have?” Noisemakers blow that out of the water typically because despite my love of a plethora of different genre’s and styles, noises aren’t in there (except for self-oscillation on a delay, which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea either). All that being said, I do totally get why they’re interesting. There’s NOTHING like some of the current pedals being released, or rather nothing widely available at a reasonable price. Curiosity above all else makes me wonder what cool sounds I can coax out of these pedals, even though they’re not in my wheelhouse in the least bit. I’ve seen a lot of comments regarding the musicality of such noisemakers, and if they’re just noise for the sake of noise. That’s to be debated because tone and musicality are generally one of the most subjective things in existence. Out of all of this, I broke it down into two groups of mindset, but there are a lot more people that fall in between or don’t fit into it at all.
 
Ode to the Classics - The classics are classics for a reason, these guitar heroes and their tones are what sparked generation after generation of players to want to pick up a guitar. Many of their setups have become the go-to standards for measuring tone, from EVH’s “brown sound” using hot-rodded plexi’s to Eric Clapton’s “Woman Tone,” and how many people try to nail SRV’s tone…thousands? Literally hundreds of artists that created their niche at the time of their heyday have sparked the love of many players who desire to chase those tones. As we all know, a lot of tone is in the fingers, but that’s part of the equation. The tools were limited years ago, so the players used what they had and literally pushed them to the boundaries at all times. Now there are a plethora of options (amps, pedals, modeling software, etc) designed to take those vintage and sought-after effects and make them accessible in the modern world. All the same while, vintage instrument prices are soaring through the roof because players want that authentic “mojo” that older equipment has.
 
Free Spirits - On the flip side of the coin, you have no non-traditionalists and players who don’t want to sound like anyone else. Guitar and music are voices to the world, and in many cases copying others can make the feeling seem less authentic. Having so many great tones already defined by artists and genres, it’s forced gear companies to think outside of the box in terms of users want to leave their unique mark on the world in their own way. This has led to an influx of stompboxes that give more control than ever to shape tones. Look at Chase Bliss Audio, Montreal Assemble, Hologram Electronics…the list goes on and on. These companies are leading the forefront in terms of “out of the box” tones and tweakablility, with some truly mind-bending effects being created on a daily basis. It’s allowing true artistic freedom by not having any boundaries in the least bit. This can be a bit terrifying for some (me included) because there’s no telling how you can get to a tone, no guarantee that you can replicate it, and that’s the beauty of it. There is no box, so to speak.
 
So where do you fall on the spectrum? Are you a traditionalist with tones built on the foundation of some of your favorite players, or do you like going outside the box and defining your own style, even if it defies convention? Somewhere in the middle? Don't care? Let us know in the comments!
 
*The original words were substituted due to the obscene nature of some comments left online in some comment threads.

Gear snobbery in 2017

<rant>

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

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

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

Inverted Gear Snobbery.

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

 

Praise and Worship

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

 

Blues Lawyers.

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

 

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

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

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

</rant>

Relic vs. New - Where do you stand?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyone know how Keef likes his steak?