So, this weekend marked the annual country music festival in the UK, C2C - or to give it its full title, Country 2 Country. Country music is largely overlooked here in the UK, it's never on mainstream radio or in the 'charts' (but let's face it, there hasn't been much in the charts I like to listen to for years anyway) and most people don't have any country music in their collection, they can't see past Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton and if you say Brent Mason to them they look blank. Sometimes though, in the defence of some UK pubs, you can often hear a Cash tune bouncing around if you are lucky.
This year had an interesting headline act for the first day (Friday), a certain Mr Paisley. Now, before I started to work for Wampler I was completely unaware of Brad - I was fanatical about Brent Mason at the time, but BP has passed me by. One of the first jobs for Brian was designing the logo for the "overdrive for Brad Paisley we've got coming out" (the rest is history, but safe to say my first venture into graphic design went rather well) so I took a punt on the "Play" album and from that moment, I was a fan. Mrs Wilding and I trudged up to London (us English don't like to spend more than an hour in the car so a trip to London is a big deal), checked into the hotel next door (show seat to bed, 10 minute walk, lovely) and went for a wonder around the arena.
Once we'd been around trying on Cowboy Hats and fringed jackets for a while (yes, all being sold there, so many clichés) we went in to get our seats, Chris Young was half way through his set (not heard him before, was good) and we got comfy. We were lucky, very lucky, we were sat stage left, about 10 rows from the font and about 30' up in the raised seats. I love positions like that because you can see the monitor desk, the tech area and slightly back/side stage. It does have to be said that it drives Mrs Wilding nuts as I'm often not watching the show but the tech work on the guitars etc.
OK, so all of that doesn't mean anything to you, but it sets you up for the position I was in for the show and being the second time I'd seen Brad at this festival (he was there a couple of years ago as well) we knew what to expect. The o2 in London is a fantastic venue, not much in the way of sound ‘bounce-around’ and there is unrestricted sight access for all, I did a quick DB check on my phone and they were banging out 95db, which made me chuckle as that is the maximum sound level permitted at Winter NAMM, which is generally only 2 or 3db above the ground floor level.
Bang on time, the lights went down (the band were already in place) and the place went nuts when we saw the famous white hat walk on stage. BP had arrived and was owning the stage! Before I get into the main point of this, I do want to say - being in a country that is famous for not liking this style of music means that when artists do come over, we are treated to a list of "greatest hits" within the set list - so, there is barely any new music to get through, you just hear the good stuff - yeah, I know, I'm shallow, but you know what it's like...
Right, so here we go. The first song was Crushin' It. And I don't know what happened, either a string broke or the strap failed, because towards the end of the first song he took his guitar off and held it as he carried on singing, the tech ran out and gave him a different guitar and by the time song two started, American Saturday Night, he was leading the band in usual BP fashion. Unfortunately for BP, this was the least of his woes for the night... As I said above, I was watching with interest the side/back stage action as much as I was watching I got the feeling that something was up extremely early on. Brad's tech was running around like a mentalist, there was frenetic action going on by the racks of wireless receivers and BP kept stopping playing almost every song. I think it was the second or third song (Water) that he first slightly put his hat down slightly and turned his head towards the monitor guy and started to gesture frantically, albeit quickly, to his belt pack. I don't know if this was intentional, but in putting his hat down slightly the cameras in his face (from afar) didn't see what he was saying so from what I can see, the majority of the crowd where blissfully unaware of there being any issue. The more he stopped playing at certain points the more I understood what was happening, it appeared that he had really inconsistent in ear monitors (IEM) throughout. I am guess that they dropped out about 10 times in total, as he motioned towards side stage each time, but the amazing thing was no one noticed. His vocal, considering he couldn't really hear himself, was outstanding - flawless in fact... he was sincerity personified, he told us it was the greatest night of his life, he loved coming over and all 20k people believed him. He did the entire show having a completely crap time yet everyone thought it was perfect. The only outward expression of his uncomfort was the heavily covered communications with the monitor guy, the often stopping of playing and his general demeanor once he had come off stage (from my place I could see how upset he was once he was out of the public eye).
The following day, after I got home, I realised I had seen a completely masterclass in professionalism. I had spoken to someone within team Paisley who confirmed that there was complete IEM loss, repeatedly, throughout the show for them all, it was "one of those nights". I remembered all the tantrums I had seen on stage, at a local level, even hearing one singer say "I'm a professional, I need more than 6 hours preparation for a gig" and this from a bass player "if I can't have the monitors there, I'm not going on" and thought about being stood in front of 20k people, in a foreign country, having to sing and not being able to hear yourself. I spoke to a few guys I know that were at the show and were at places around the arena that they couldn't see what I could, and they knew something was up but didn't know what. They told me that the people they were with had NO idea that there was any issues, although one guy was asked by his friend if he'd broken a string in the first song.
^ A video I took, although this was obviously part of the show where everything was working, you can see my view of the side of the stage and monitor desk.
So, Brad Paisley, I take my hat off to you. It was straight up one of the most professional displays I’ve ever seen, not just from him but everyone else also in the band as they all suffered, yet the show ran on time and without breakdown. I sincerely hope that you return back to the UK soon and it hasn’t put you off! Oh, and of course – both BP and his guitar player Gary Hooker are both big Wampler users and both had immaculate tone. Their tone was almost, almost, as outstanding as their professionalism!
After the new shots of the Paisley Drive were posted, we received a lot of messages through Instagram and Facebook regarding the bridge configuration on my Crook Custom Telecaster (pictured above). I just wanted to run through the configuration and mindset behind the bridge setup and give an insight into it after using it for a decade now. I love this guitar dearly, primarily because it’s my father’s. He and I both ordered a Crook at the same time, and they’re identical in terms of pickups and wiring and hardware, but he chose a red paisley with silver flake underneath and a rosewood fretboard, where I chose to pursue a new prototype paint job with a green paisley and the silver flake underneath with a birdeye maple fretboard (pictured).
Let’s start off with low E and A strings. This compensated saddle is made of aircraft grade aluminum. Bill Crook was telling me during the development process that he uses this type of saddle because it provides and extra bit of bite and snap to the lower strings, which can sometimes flub out and sound a bit too undefined (especially using dirt pedals). Next up is a single saddle for the D string, which is also stainless steel. Again, it provides a great bite and twang without being offensive or ice-picky. We’ll skip to the high B and E strings for now (the G string will be discussed in a moment). For the high B and E, Bill decided to go with a brass compensated saddle. He mentioned that after extensive testing that the brass would retain the killer tone without the ice-pick sometimes associated with teles and those strings. The bottom two string are very warm and have loads of sustain going on, but never get muddy.
So the big question is, what’s going on with that funky looking saddle on the G-string? That’s a McVay G-bender mechanism from Charlie McVay. Charlie is a lap-steel player by trade, so he was naturally very affluent with the bending systems in those instruments. Brad always preferred a G-bender to a B-bender because he felt it was more musical in nature based on what bends you could accomplish. It’s Brad Paisley, so who am I to disagree? Being the superfan that I’ve always been, I got one installed too. Essentially what is going on is a level system that’s installed into the body, with an small “arm” lever that you attach your straplock to instead of directly to the guitar. The way it works, when you pull the guitar neck down towards the floor, the level actually raises the G-string by one who step. This is incredibly fun to include in your regular playing because it allows you the ability to do open string bends to really get twangy. I’ll be the first to admit that I abused it when I first got it, and had to train myself not to rely on bending the g-string with that at not my fingers too. There are two distinct tones between using the bender and manually doing it.
As an example of using a G-bender, I wanted to take a look back at one of my favorite country tunes that’s not too technically difficult, but incredibly fun to play and a great introduction to Brad Paisley’s playing style and the idea behind the bender. (There are two versions of the tab, one without a bender and one with). I loved Brad’s song “Old Alabama” from his album “This is Country Music”, so at the time of release I sat down and tabbed out the intro. In regards to the tones, I use the Ego Compressor for a light squish (sustain at 10:30) but with the blend low(Noon to 2pm) and the attack fully clockwise (slowest). This helps adds that feel of your amp compressing and also smoothes out the notes without that heavy squish on the initial not attack. Next I ran into the Paisley Drive, with the gain said relatively low (10am) and treble to taste. I was using a bright amp (Dr. Z RXJr) so my tone was set at 10:30. The key for me was using the mids in the UP (medium mid hump) position, which is closely based on Brad’s Z-Wreck tone. The volume you want set right above unity. Following the Paisley Drive I went into the Faux Tape Echo set to a light slapback, set with the mix knob just below unity, (repeats fully counter-clockwise, time knob at 9am). This gives the perfect slap that adds the depth and feel to the note to complete the full tonal package.
And here’s Brad discussing his G-bender (and he’s actually using his prototype Wheelhouse Delay that Brian created for him!)