It's Wednesday afternoon and I'm just about back in the land of living after getting back from NAMM on Monday. It's a killer trip, both in the new cool way of saying it (please infer from 1990 onwards) and in the old, I'm knackered. Totally. 12,000 miles in 6 days, 3 18 hours days, lots of beers drank, hand shaken, too many notes played, too many burgers eaten and most importantly, too many hugs that will probably end up with me getting NAMMthrax (despite us having branded hand sanitiser on the booth).
I left home at 10am on Wednesday, only had to return twice to pick up stuff I'd forgotten and had a glorious drive through England to Heathrow airport. Cold, clear and crisp meant I had stunning views of this fine country all the way. No matter how many times I see it, Stonehenge is not to be taken lightly. As usual I met up with the legend that is Tom Quayle at the airport, this time he was flying with his Guitar Hour colleagues Dan Smith, Dave Brons and David Beebee. Travelling with us this year was Ibanez and Laney demo legend Lee Wrathe. Many laughs were had. Unusually I'd not seen Tom since last NAMM so we had a lot to catch up on, especially as in August him and Cheryl had a baby girl, Inara, and I had a lot of photos to get through :)
You know that the show is going to be a good one when you rock up to the hotel, dump your stuff and find your boss in the restaurant opposite the hotel already several pints deep into tomorrow's hangover. I had some catching up to do... As usual, we had to set the scene for the rest of the trip. So that means Brian's atrocious English accent had to be deployed and my feeble attempt at redneckery was dusted down. They are both so bad and so relentless it was no surprise that Amanda beats a hasty retreat every time we get going.
After 24 hours awake obviously my body would only give me 4 hours sleep so I stumbled into the show early and was delighted with the booth set up. Not only are we now fully esconsed into the larger booth area of Boutique Amps Distribution (no, they haven't bought us) but we are right in the middle of the golden area. Surrounded by Marshall, Martin, Seymour Duncan, Friedman and other stellar brands, it feels like we've really progressed in the last few years.
Taking control of playing duties this year was the wonderful Greg Marra, a lovely guy from the East Coast who is living the dream on the West Coast - endorsed by Ibanez and Fishman - a great player and an even better person. A true asset for us to have on the booth. With only Greg on playing and Brian, Amanda and yours truly working the booth it was bound to be a busy time, and it was.
This was the first time I'd been able to properly review and see the pedals after the rebrand last year and I must say, I am delighted with how everything came out. A lot of time and money was invested into manufacturing this year and to see the consistency and quality at this level was amazing, it's really obvious that we are stepping up and up each year. Kind of feels like we are entering the big league! Every morning I tried to be in early so I could properly play test each of the pedals through the amp as with the rebrand came a new manufacturing situation, so for my own peace of mind I had to make sure they were as I thought they were going to be. You all already know that they are, but I just had to be sure. I know, tough job isn't it, having to play all of those.
The Bravado was the star of the show for me. People were amazed at what we were throwing through it and it not cracking under the strain, in fact, most of the time the amps controls were set to high noon and it just sounded amazing with every pedal, no matter what level of gain or how they were all stupidly stacked, it just sounded incredible - it truly is the perfect pedal platform. I think it made a lot of fans over the weekend! I do hope you get to try one in store soon, I promise you, you will not be disappointed.
The best part of the show for me is the people - the people are hilarious. There are some classic LA types who look like they still haven't quite got round to celebrating the New Year of 1985 yet and are still loving 1984, people who don't have mirrors in their hourse, people outside who want to save my soul, people who want to talk to you for hours on end about input impedance, people who just want to hang and have their photo taken and people who just love great tone. The best bit though, it does have to be said, is that I have NAMM buddies who I only see once a year, from Frank Falbo to Robert Keeley. From Brian Haner to Seymour Duncan the list of people is so long I won't list it here, but safe to say I am proud to know each and every one of those lovely people and call them friends.
In case you are wondering about the title of this blog, only when you've been in a big room with 9000 booths and literally thousands and thousands of people walking around, nose in the NAMM app, looking for which celebrity they can get their picture taken with next it's like a massive game of Pokemon GO - I only wanted to destroy about 10 people and their phones when they kept walking into me.
Enduring memories about NAMM, listening to Andy Wood almost nailing "Pick It Apart" by Brent Mason at 10am from a standing start (impossible to play almost when you are fully warm), trolling Josh Scott when ever I saw him and Tom Quayle breaking his elbow in the terrible terrible weather. One to remember, that's for sure.
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.