Talking about gear

Talking about gear (100)

What is the difference between Chorus, Flanger and Phaser?

 

Let’s face it, we’ve all used them before and I imagine that like me you’ve got them confused or not really understand what makes each different. As I started playing properly in the 80’s each of these pedals carry HUGE memories for me and I’ll always have a love/hate relationship with each.

Before we go any further, let’s put on the (my level of) nerd goggles and dig into what separates them. They all come into the family of “modulation”, because… well, they all modulate the signal! Yeah, that doesn’t help much does it… Usually, this means that the signal is in some way split, the something happens to one of the signals and then it is laid back on top of the original one. This creates movement, modulation, and if you go too far, chronic seasickness.

Phaser.
As your signal goes into the pedal, it is instantly split into two. One of those has its phase shifted and then they are laid on top of each other before exiting the pedal. Because you have two opposite phases of the same note sitting within each other, a notch is created where they cancel each other out and then these notches are swept along a range of the frequency band. This where you get that wonderful sweeping ripple.

Name: Phaser Splitter… “Phaser”

Here is my favourite example of a phaser (totally obvious!)




Flanger.
A Flanger is not too dissimilar to a Phaser, but can be much wetter sounding. A flanger happens when the signal is split into 2, one is delayed and then put back on top of the other. The most audibably pleasing Flangers are running at somewhere under 15ms delay, but the rate control changes that. The effect of the flanger going swoooosh is where the delayed signal then has the delay time varied in a constant cycle, up and down.

Name: Legend has it that a producer was running two identical copies of audio and pressed against the flange of the reel to slow one down slightly to make it run ever so slightly out of time… “Flanger”. This is hotly disputed though as George Martin has said that the phrase comes from Lennon during the recording of the Revolver album, Lennon was enquiring about “artificial double tracking” and Martin answered with a nonsense “Now listen, it's very simple. We take the original image and we split it through a double vibrocated sploshing flange with double negative feedback”. Lennon thought he was joking and Martin responded with “Well, let’s flange it again and see”… Lennon went on to call it “Ken’s Flanger” after Abbey Road engineer Ken Townsend performed the process of copying the vocal line and slightly delaying it. The concept was later expanded into stereo and was first credited to Eddie Kramer during the recording of Axis Bold As Love by Hendrix in 1967.

My favourite flanger example

Chorus.
The one that was TOTALLY overused in the 80’s, hence my love/hate relationship with it. Like the flanger, the signal is split, slightly detuned and then delayed, and put back on top The main difference is that the delay used to create the chorus is somewhat longer, usually between 20-50ms . Chorus was first given to us, the guitar community, in the mid 70’s within the legendary Roland JC120 amp. The Chorus element of this amp was then released as a stand alone unit as the BOSS CE-1. To this day, this is, to many people the ultimate chorus pedal. Personally, I love it, but the best one I’ve ever heard was in a Roland RE-501. Although, it does have to be said, I’ve not physically heard one for well over 20 years, I just remember it being the fattest and most lush chorus I’ve ever heard!

Name: Imagine two large vocal choirs singing as close they can get, you could call it a chorus of vocals… put them wide apart, stand in the middle and because it’s almost impossible to singer perfectly on key and at the same time, when they are separated it provides the chorus effect.

One of the best uses of chorus I hear is when the rate is set really low and it’s in stereo. You don’t get the movement but you get the width. Brian May live was the best I’d heard this used, it was so massive I can’t describe it.

Here is my favourite example of regular Chorus

A dimension chorus differs in that it creates two clones of the original signal, both are delayed and then one is flipped 180-degress and then laid back on top. This gives a much bigger effect.. the most interesting thing for me is that the Dimension C pedal gives you four options, which just changed the regular controls… was this the first boss with presets?

My favourite example of Dimension Chorus (once again, totally obvious!)

It’s well worth noting the difference between vibrato and tremolo. Because, well, I don’t know why, in the early days Fender appeared to get these two names the wrong way round, a lot of effect pedals are still incorrectly named. Vibrato changes the pitch of the signal, tremolo dips the volume up and down! One modulates the pitch, one modulates the volume… So, your trem bar, it’s actually a vibrato bar. Or to give it the correct name, the whammy bar!

Sounds levels... power, dB and clean boosts

Following on from Brian’s video about wattage/power/dB, I thought I’d share something that has happened to me recently that has confused me considerably, until I quizzed Brian about it in regard to the video (released 26th Feb 2019, you can see it below).

Like I’m guessing some of you, I’ve been blissfully ignorant of almost everything to do with the whole power thing until that video, it wasn’t a conscious ignorance, but one that I’d never really thought about before, and the question came extremely pertinent once I’d started messing around with digital control of effects.

For the band (we have no sound guy) I run a clean boost at the end of my chain so I can make sure my solos are lifted above the general mix of the band. When I was using a regular pedal booster, I found I had to find the sweet spot that boosted the solos manually, which meant I often had to change it according to my tone. What I found was that my clean solos weren’t as prominent as my dirty ones. I had no idea why, I just thought it was one of those things. It wasn’t much of a turn of the knob, but enough to warrant it…. Once I started using something that was digital I noticed that the actual increase was huge depending on what effects I was using.

Before I go into it properly, here is a run down of my tone and how it is made. I don’t run my rig bass heavy, and it’s not overtly bright, but it’s definitely not the same as when I play at home. This is obvious, because at home you are hearing everything in a sterile environment and you want to enjoy the full scope. When you are live, you need to leave room for the others in the band… so, I don’t encroach on the bass player and I also like to leave room for the acoustic guitar to shine through, so my place is pretty well in the middle and the amp is set as such. My clean tone is never totally clean, a Tumnus at 9 oclock gain and treble at 12 is the best way to describe it with unity level. My main OD is the Pantheon, set at a nice break up – 18v, lowest gain setting with the gain at around 2 oclock… bass and treble are both about 10 oclock, presence all the way off. When I want more grunt for it, the K style drives the Pantheon and it is quite gainy. This is also my main dirt solo tone… when we do the rocky stuff, the Pantheon/Tumnus is the rhythm tone and I bung a TS between them, set at higher output than gain, with a little tone control boost. My rhythm sounds are all pretty unity, none are ‘louder’ to the ears than the others.

Here is the issue, when I wanted to boost the solos for the dirtiest tones, I need just under 3dB to get to the level. About 5dB for when the TS isn’t on, and upto 10db when it’s clean. And yes, this confused the living daylights out of me! 

Here is what is happening… and how it also ties in with bDub’s video about power/wattage/dB.

Everything is relative to the EQ of what you are hearing.

When I am boosting the clean tone, it’s about as full range as I can get. There is a slight 1k hump due to the K style pedal being bought in, but it’s not huge. So, when I am boosting that signal, my ears (that are tuned to hear human speech – between 1k and 5k) say I need a lot more power because it’s also boosting the lower frequencies a lot, as you know, bass takes a lot of power, so it’s needing a lot more literal volume to boost it to the level my ears are telling me is an acceptable volume. When the Pantheon and the K style are on, the mids are more focused due to both the circuits being on, so my ears are picking up on the frequencies more as the bass is kinda removed, so it needs less. When I have the TS on as well, that’s three circuits that are pushing the frequencies my ears already picks up on, so it needs even less.

All this for the same physical level of sound, according to my ears. 

Once you put this in with the points bDub was making in the video, the physical level of sound cannot directly be related to either the wattage the amp is claimed to sit at (in my case either a Fender BDri or Quilter 101R (on the smaller gigs where I can’t get the amp to it’s sweetest spot), or the dB coming out, or change of dB within the chain. Because EQ and headroom change everything completely. Before you are even hitting the amp, the levels are all over the place so the output of the amp, in terms of actual volume, are going to be wildly different…. And I didn’t even mention that on the clean stuff the pickups on my Brent Mason PRS are tapped for single coil sound and the dirty stuff is often on HB… as the HB ones need about 1dB less of boost, despite to the ears there being NO level drop between the two (one of the main selling points of the PRS BM model).

Transparent Overdrives, are there actually any?

 

When scrolling through social media - especially gear groups - you tend to see a lot of the same misnomers and inaccurately assigned labels put on things… One of the most common is the “transparent” overdrive. I mean, how many times have you seen a K style pedal called Transparent? Quite a few I expect. It’s right up there with people saying “I need a clean boost” and someone saying “tubescreamer”.

Firstly, what is a transparent overdrive? Well, it’s one that doesn’t fundamentally change the EQ of whatever is coming into it. So, all that happens is that the pedal/circuit clips the signal, sending it to overdrive and then comes out again. These kinds of pedals are actually EXTREMELY rare as all the fun is in the EQ stack and when you start putting multiple EQ stacks into circuits, that’s when the fun really starts! bDub made a video last week that was discussing this, so I thought I would expand on it further, concentrating on the most famous transparent OD of them all – Paul Cochrane’s “Timmy”. 

The Tummy has very little in the way of EQ colouration so what you put it just comes out, but clipped (on certain settings)… but before I jump head first into that rabbit hole, here is some basic information about how EQ is handled and how it is performed on most dirt pedals. Like a LOT of pedals the Timmy tone controls is not active, but passive, so it doesn’t add anything it only takes it away – think of it this way – a basic treble control is a LPF (low pass filter) that is wired backwards. It restricts the amount of bass coming through - it does NOT add treble. So, when the knob is all the way round clockwise, the treble isn’t being added, bass is being taken out. The more you bring it counter clockwise, the more bass is taken out giving the impression that there is treble being added. This is obviously different from a lot of the tone stacks that bDub puts in his pedals (which are 100% active EQ’s) so in those when the control is theoretically at noon there is nothing changed, but take the relevant frequencies away when turned counter clockwise, and then added when turned the other way. Worth noting, the bass control on the Timmy is active, but only adds bass – this is integral to the circuit and the style of clipping, and is quite similarly handled in the Euphoria pedal.

One of the things I’ve ALWAYS loved about the Timmy is that the tone pot is actually wired the correct way, so everything appears to be backwards for people who are used to other pedals. When you have the treble control all the way “off” (counter clockwise), all the treble is still in the circuit, when it is “on” (clockwise), the treble is taken out - so it’s working in the correct way… if you look at it from a nerdy perspective. This means that if you have the gain on the Timmy ALL the way down and the tone and bass control all the way up, you are hearing what I think is the most transparent overdrive currently available. Of course, as it’s going through ‘stuff’ before it gets there, and inside it, and what comes after, it will never be truly transparent but I think it’s the closest you can get, and most people won’t be able to hear any EQ difference in it – the pedal in this state is basically acting as if it were a buffer within minimal difference to anything else. The active bass control is also round the other way as well, so when the pot is all the way counter clockwise, you are getting maximum bass, and none added when it is all the clockwise. 

To show this literally, we’ve made a few graphs to demonstrate it visually. Please bear in mind that these graphs start at about 50hz and go all the way up to the 10kHz, most guitar rigs won’t go lower or higher than this, so we’ve removed what happens above and below.

Here is the Timmy at its flattest, so that’s gain off and bass and tone all the way round clockwise. As you can see, that is what we would call over here in England as ‘flat as a pancake’, with a slight roll off at the very top end.

From here, we’ll change the EQ and gain controls to show what is happening in terms of the cut…

Gain 50%, Bass 0%, Tone 0%.



Gain 50%, Bass 0%, Tone 50%

Gain 50%, Bass 50%, Tone 50%

 

Gain 50%, Bass 0%, Tone 100%

Gain 100%, Bass 0%, Tone 0%.



Gain 100%, Bass 50%, Tone 0%.


Gain 100%, Bass 100%, Tone 0%

 

Gain 100%, Bass 50%, Tone 100%

 

Gain 100%, Bass 100%, Tone 100%

 

To round this up, I want to quickly remind everyone why a lot of us industry types scoff so much when TS and K style circuits are called transparent… the whole point of them is that they add a mid boost, which is what makes them push tube amps so well… the TS has its main peak at around 723hz and the K at 1k. They are anything but transparent!

 

 

 

 

Midi, the Terraform, loopers and you.

 

When I first started with Wampler, all those years ago, the conversion about Midi was often happening… if I am being completely honest, we didn’t have the need for it because our corner of the market wasn’t really there yet – but as we’ve got bigger and far more in depth with all the technical ‘stuff’, it’s got to the point now where we feel it’s madness not to go down that route. This makes me really happy as I’ve been using midi controllable rigs on and off since the 90’s so for us to be going down this path it’s one that excites me massively!

Over the years we’ve gently asked our customer base about incorporating midi into our products and the one thing that always comes up from many people is either “wut?” or “I don’t understand Midi”… so, with the Terraform about to be released, I thought I would give an introduction, written in a way I understand and use it, to help you if you are in anyway confused about what it can do for you. 

Midi is an acronym for “musical instrument digital interface”. What it does, fundamentally, (we won’t even go near Midi v2 that has recently been announced), is send control information digitally between various pieces of equipment. The best way to explain this is in terms of a keyboard. If you separate a regular keyboard into it's most basic elements will have two parts. The keyboard (user interface) and the sound module (the thing that produces the sound). The keyboard receives a command from you – usually “this key has been pressed and it’s been pressed this hard” and it fires off that information to the sound module via a midi signal. The module receives that information and then activates “that note, this hard” and you hear it from the speakers.

Midi is basically run on a numbers system from 0-127 and those numbers are what is transmitted. So, if key 40 is pressed at a velocity of 127 on a full size midi keyboard, you are going to get a middle C blast out at the highest velocity you can get. What gets really interesting is when the nerds start to sample instruments at 128 differing levels of being struck, which is where touch sensitivity comes into it. If it has 128 different samples of the instrument being struck at 128 ever increasing velocities… no touch sensitivity (heeelllloooo 1982) would be present and the note is either “on” or “off”. Touch sensitive transmits the velocity as well as the location… Hopefully, you are still with me!

What does this mean for guitar players? Well… firstly, I’m not going to go down the route of midi guitars here (although I truly feel that within a few years they will be FAR more common because technology is finally catching up to the concept from where it started in the 80’s, and it’s still my ultimate goal to have a completely midi guitar rig one day that acts and feels like my favourite guitar, but sounds like anything I can think of from a Strat, Les Paul, Telecaster, Nylon Strung etc etc), but more about how it can control multiple pieces of equipment simultaneously with patch changes, making your life a LOT easier. 

We can start off by looking at my old rig (as I love any opportunity to talk about my gear, past and present). If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll be aware of it I expect, but in case you haven’t, here it is in a nutshell (effects section)… Signal chain:

One Control OC10 Looper, containing:

  1. Strymon Mobius, pre gain;
  2. Wampler Mini Ego;
  3. Wampler Tumnus;
  4. Wampler PaisleyDog – c2;
  5. Wampler PaisleyDog – c1;
  6. TC Electronics Quintessence;
  7. Strymon Mobius, post gain;
  8. Strymon TimeLine
  9. TC Mini HOF; and
  10. Wampler dB+.

Obviously, I had the pedals set and used the looper to bring in each when I wanted them (usually multiple pedals being brought in and out with the touch of one stomp). It was a massively versatile rig with those three gain stages and I could literally pull out any sound at any time and it would always sound amazing (humblebrag). When you add in the additional control I had via midi using the two Strymons, it very quickly got to the point where I was using upwards of 60 or so patches across 8 banks on a two hour gig. Obviously, you don’t need to do that, you can just use however many you like, but when the options of differing modulations and delays instantly available you can get waaaay deep, really easily. And I can tell you now, it’s a LOT of fun.

What has midi got to do with this? Well, the OC-10 is a midi controller looper and both the Strymon's receive midi commands. Here is how it was used. Before we go any further, I need to point out a little annoyance I have with some of the more complex pedals, and how they are not midi mappable…. Alright, OK, I’ve gone there, so here is what midi mappable is all about and what is unfavourable with some systems who don’t have it.

When you get into loopers, you create banks of sounds according to the band you are playing in and the songs you play. For example, my board was set up with Bank 1 (8 presets in a bank) for “general” which had a mixture of clean, dirt and dirty solo sounds in it, as that is what I used most of the night. Bank 2 was my “clean” bank, so that was clean stuff, slap back delays, vibes etc… Bank 3 was where I started to get into specific songs that needed specific sounds, so it was a real hotchpotch of tones including various sounds that had flangers, chorus’. Vibes etc etc. I know… get to the point, Jason… but this is exactly where I am going. When I was creating these tones, and because the units I was using were not midi mappable, here is how the pedals saved the patch information coming to them… My first modulation sound on my board was bank 2, patch 3 (clean vibe sound). My second was bank 3, patch 4 (dirty vibe sound). Then was Bank 4, patch 1 (clean big chorus), Bank 4, patch 8 (dirty solo sound with the same big chorus across it) – it was like this all the way up to bank 8. As the units were not mappable, that means that my first Mobius preset was saved on patch 23 (bank 2, patch 3 on the OC-10), my second was patch 34 (bank 3, patch 4 on the OC-10), the next one was patch 41 (Bank 4, patch 1 on the OC-10) and so on. So, if I was playing around with the Mobius away from my rig I would get 22 blank user patches, then one of mine, then nothing to patch 34 and so on… It becomes really bloody annoying when you are messing around with the unit on its own.

When this became even more annoying was when you get into the delays… I like to use a LOT of delay, and I don’t mean have it overbearingly loud, but it is on everything. A small amount of delay just gives me a lovely element of width. As most of the tones within my board were splittable into two sections “basic rhythm” or “ basic lead” (obviously, there were ones outside this), I would say I had about 30 individual patches set up that were EXACTLY the same within the TimeLine. That being a basic rhythm delay setting. On top of that about I had almost the same amount of the same patch duplicated over for solos… All because the units were not mappable and they created a new patch location every time I used a new preset on the looper.

Here is the point (…to loud cheers from the readers…) If they were mappable ALL of my rhythm patches for rhythm would have pointed to ONE patch only on the TimeLine instead of creating 30 or so duplicates. So, across the first bank of my controller that had 5 rhythm patches (clean, clean loud, dirty, dirtier and filthy) all using the same delay, 5 different patches were saved on the TimeLine. If they were mappable, all 5 patches on the looper could have pointed to the ONE patch on the pedal. As you can imagine, when you want to tweak ALL of your rhythm delay lines a fraction for any reason, having to change 30 patches is a pain in the arse. It’s much better if you only have to change one…

This is why you are seeing a LOT of new midi controllable pedals come out that appear to have a lot fewer preset locations on them, because – quite frankly, the VAST majority of people just don’t need 128 or 256 locations as most of them will be duplicates (note that numbers, 128 and 256... because midi sends numbers between 0-127). Once you get into providing 128 patch locations you start to get into the realms of needing display screens on the pedal, you start to get into banks and banks of duplicate patches, which can be solved with basic midi mapping.

Obviously, as the Terraform has 8 saveable preset locations, we have jumped straight in with midi mapping. The terraform will recognise 128 different commands coming into it (presets commands from your looper), and then allocate the desired patch from the 8 saved to that command. So, Bank 1, preset 5 (on the lopper), Bank 1, preset 6 (on the looper) and Bank 3, preset 2 (on the looper) etc etc will all be able to point to a single patch within the Terraform. We have worked extremely hard to make how this is handled on the Terraform as easy as possible – so much so that when I explained how we are doing it to a good friend of mine who is of the attitude “I don’t get midi, it’s so confusing” he understood it instantly and said “Yeah, I get that, it’s easy”. So, all those who are considering going down the midi controllable looper route, we’ve made this extremely easy for you.

The midi in and out/thru (thru is essential as you can run multiple units in a chain that all receive the same command from the controller, making it so you can change multiple units from the press of one button) are right there on the back and are in the format of a TRS mini jacks (WHAT???!!!??, I thought they were 5 pin plugs??)… it has ALWAYS baffled me why most units have a 5 pin midi plug on them, as the cable itself only uses two of the pins – 2 and 4 with 1, 3 and 5 not connected at all (there is probably a historic reason for this, but I am unaware of it). So, as the industry moves forward with the mini TRS cable, so have we… those 5 pin ones are huge and effectively a complete waste of space and as one of the major concepts of design with the Terraform was pedalboard real estate, we are not wasting a single millimetre on oversized, unnecessary plugs.

There you have it, a VERY basic guide to midi for guitar pedals, midi mapping, and players like me. If you have any questions about this, feel free to hit me up on social media, I’m pretty easy to find, especially in our Tone Group on Facebook!

 

 

NAMM 2019 - The Terraform; and asking... what effects do you want in there?

This has been one of the most exciting NAMM’s I can remember - purely because we revealed the Terraform and it’s the kind of pedal we’ve been fantasising for literally years about making. Once we worked out we could do it, we approached it the only way we know how, and that’s with a ‘gloves off’ mentality. After looooong discussions about functionality, we came to the conclusion that we wanted controls to be right there up the front with no endless sub-menus or scrolling through tiny screens. This, obviously, means that the feature set won’t be as comprehensive as some of the other pedals that occupy this corner of the market, but you know, in my experience (as an owner of two of the biggest sellers out there), the best sounds I ever got from those was by not doing all the tweaking - we needed to make sure it is easy to use with best sounds, right there.

11 custom designed effects which are: Slow Gear style, U-Vibe, Phaser, Through Zero Flanger, Subtractive Flanger, Additive Flanger, Chorus, 3 Voice Chorus, Dimension Style Chorus, Tremolo and Harmonic Tremolo.  We are constantly tweaking (we get sent them as plug ins to tweak in Logic) these as we want to make sure they are perfect, so right now - at the time of writing - this is how it is looking - we are currently working on a few things that may replace one or two of the effects, only time will tell. We wanted to make sure that the effects are ‘just there’ and sounding great from the outset and so far, all that I have heard are bang on.

Up front you have 5 basic controls: Rate, Depth, Blend, Volume and Wave-Shape. 4 of those will be easy to comprehend but all the magic is going to happen in the wave-shape. This is where the interesting and fun stuff will be held, and you guessed it, I’m not about to go into it all here, let’s just say because of this one control this pedal goes deeper than you would first think.

We definitely wanted there to be presets, as we can’t see how you can have a pedal like this without them. It had to be stereo… we also decided pretty early on that certain effects will want to be pre or post gain, whether that be dirt pedals or the effects loop of the amp. A 4 cable method (4CM) was of utmost importance, this means that when using 4CM the effects will be of course, mono. We had to think of a way to program which effect went pre and post – as the pedal comes out the box the obvious ones will be set accordingly when used in 4CM. You can change these yourself, quickly and easily by putting the pedal into ‘routing program mode’. Plus, it looks really cool when you do it as well!

Here’s some examples of how we see it being wired up. 

Stereo method.
Set the Terraform to Stereo, run it in a big ol’ line:

 

Pre/Post, straight in the front.
Set the Terraform to Pre/Post, place the dirt between the two 'sides' of the Terraform:

 

Pre/Post, FX loop method
Set the Terraform to Pre/Post, put one half of the Terraform in front, put the other half in the loop:

 

Looper method
Set the Terraform to Pre/Post, put Pre in a loop before your dirt, put Post after!

 

We have included 8 presets that stores everything and you can recall the presets either from the switch on the front or from your midi controllable looper. We wanted to put an expression pedal control in there as well, and give you the ability to control any one of the 5 dials up front, with the additional control of being able to set the high and low point of the pedal sweep – so, it’s not just a 0-100% and try to find it on the fly, you can set the exp to start at your preferred toe down and heel down position. So, instead of that exp being 0-100%, it might be heel down at 45% and toe down at 80% - you can set it exactly as you like.

Of course, we wanted it to be built the same way we always do and the way our customers expect, like a tank and in the USA. One of the most important things we could think of, make it as small as possible. So, although this is not in our regular double sized box (think Dual Fusion, Paisley Drive Deluxe, Fuzztration) but custom boxes designed specifically for this pedal that are almost an identical size. As you can imagine, this makes it considerably smaller than the others out there as we know that you are as concerned with pedal board real estate as we are! While I’m here, I just saw that Brian published the expected price on Facebook, how does $299.97 sound? I know, bargain! Right?

What we want to do with this is ensure we have the right effects in there. The ones shown at NAMM are all cool, but we know that there are things you think will make it better, so – Wampler hive mind. Based on what you’ve seen and what you now know, this is your chance to get in at the first floor – tell us what you think we should have in there! Now, I’m not making any promises, but we want to make sure it’s perfect for as many people as possible when considering their next mod pedal!

You can listen to the Terraform here...

 

Terrarform features in Andy's video from 3:59!

 

 

 

Line6 HXFX – the gigging verdict (confessions of a tone snob)

Back on October 12th I made a blog post about getting a Line6 HXFX, I gave the first impression of it and am now ready to follow up on that as I’ve finally got it out to gig over the weekend!

First of all, in regard to the purpose of the original post (I needed to downsize my rig due to an existing spinal issue), it’s job done. My 50lb pedal board is now less than a quarter of the size and weighs about a third. It’s SO good to walk into the venue with my board in one hand, my guitar on my back and my Mandolin in the other. My back and my surgeon will be forever grateful for this development! 

So, what’s it all about, what’s the purpose, and why did I choose it. Regardless of all the stuff about my back, the main issue was downsizing. I play in a pub band and there isn’t room for a board that big, it just gets in the bloody way. Also, and most importantly, I love the scribble scripts. Because of that, the Helix family was the basic and most obvious choice. Couple that with the fact it’s renowned for being the easiest to use, I was a fan before I even started. However, I really must remember that what is easy for most generally means “bloody nightmare” for me as I detest reading any manual that’s over 2 pages long. I looked up the “how to use” videos and they made it so simple I thought – this is gonna be easy.

I was wrong. 

First World Problems, a two-part tale of western privilege.
Firstly, there is pretty well no point in using this thing without using the HX editor from your computer. Based on space limitations, the HXFX is remarkably easy to use, but you know, it’s fiddly and annoying and you can’t use its full potential without it. This is the first major failing of it to be honest. Considering the technology out there today how on earth this was released with only a computer editor and not some kind of app, preferably with Bluetooth, is really amazing. About a year ago my big brother bought a Line6 Firehawk FX and I had a lovely time editing the sounds on it via an app on his phone as he was playing it. I’m pretty amazed that this technology hasn’t gone forward onto the HXFX. As you can imagine, editing something easily when you are on your computer at home does not translate to when you realise that one of your solo sounds isn’t quite loud enough and you need to fix it on the fly during the break… Plus, it’s 2018. I want to do it on my phone dammit.

Secondly, considering that Line6 are one of, if not THE market leader (when you take into consideration their market share) producers of high quality and small wireless systems, why wasn’t a receiver built in? I feel a trantrum coming on I WANT AN APP!!!! I WANT A RECEIVER!!!

Using it.
As with anything like this, it’s all about the mindset in how easy it is to use. I’m guessing that a lot of people will use it in stomp mode, but I’m willing to wager that there are a lot of people like me who have come from a full looper situation and are looking to condense. So, for this piece I’m going to be talking about it from that angle only. From what I can see, the vast majority of YT demos are geared towards using it in stompbox mode, so I was struggling to find the way around using it my way. Also, worth noting I’ve not properly dived into the expression pedal element of it yet.

Once I had worked out what the hell was going on, I was able to navigate the thing much easier. The first issue I had with it was the difference between patches and snapshots. They should have been called “boards” and “patches”. You see, that’s what a patch is. You set up a ‘pedal board’ within the patch and then use the snapshots to change the what is on and what isn’t. Now, this caused me no end of problems initially, but when I got my head round it, it was easy. I just then had to work out from each virtual board which patches I can use as you only get four snapshots per ‘board’ (patch).  Why is this an issue you ask? Well, when you load a new ‘board’ up, the audio drops out for a split second. When you change between Snapshots, this does not happen.

The quality of the effects are generally really quite good, although with everything else that belongs in the modelling world, the whole thing is a retrospective view of the world of guitar effects. It’s crammed full of the classics, and being a tone snob within the industry who has played everything that Brian Wampler has made since 2010 and most of our competitors pedals, at times it was really disappointing. Compromises HAVE to be made when you go from a full board to one of these. This is NOT a unit for the cork sniffers who are well versed in the current trends in boutique level pedals. The compression is great if you want a vintage Ross style, or a SP Compressor, but if you are used to the Ego, or a Keeley, or an Origin Cali76, your bottom lip is going to drop when you play them. Same with the Klon model, it’s really accurate to the original, but if you’ve played any that have come after it – including the KTR – you’re going to be a fraction disappointed. The delays are great, even the tape emulator (but it ain’t no FTEv2), as are the reverbs – but at times it feels like they have made them to appeal to the guy in the store who is going to be demonstrating it so everything is kinda over the top, there is a distinct lack of subtlety within them. Unsurprisingly, the things I’ve not found a use for are the overdrives. I’m sorry Line6, but once you find the boutique level OD pedal for you, an accurate model of some of the older stuff just ain’t gonna cut it. I am an overdrive snob, which is probably why I have worked for Wampler for so long, so it was never going to work out well! Once you really get into OD’s properly, it’s not just the tone, you can actually feel the difference between all the boutique guys, Keeley’s feel different, JHS feel different… so, a digital recreation of a Boss SD-1 just isn’t going to hit the mark. Fortunately, Line6 have allowed you to have two external FX loops within so my beloved Paisley Drive Deluxe is still my main overdrive. For this run of gigs I’ve been using the Klon model in the HX, and using both side of the Paisley… however, as I only use the blue channel of the PaisleyDog as a solo boost, I am pretty certain that from here on in the Tumnus will be back on the board in the second loop and I’ll use the internal TS for boosting. Once you get used to that Tumnus feel and sound, a regular Klon model just isn’t going to cut it. I’m sorry to all you Klon purists out there, but I think it’s just better. I just wish there was a third loop so I could use the Mini Ego, but of all the compromises that I will have to make, the Tumnus and the PaisleyDog are above it on the list.

The one thing I am pretty well staggered was not included was a side chained noise gate. The effects are noisy, especially when you stack them up (in fact, the ‘same’ effects on this board has considerably more floor noise than my old board,) I’m pretty certain those big ol’ brains at Line6 could find a way of putting a noise gate in that reads when there is a signal coming from your guitar and then place the gate in a location you want (ideally, after the gain stages). All that floor noise will be gone in an instant even with the sensitivity set real low. 

So, what’s the verdict then? When we look into the specifics of what I wanted, it’s doing a grand job. I wanted to replace a lot of my board and my TB looper, and it’s done this. Is it an ‘all in one’ solution for everything? Not quite – but right now, it’s probably the closest I can get to it. The key thing to remember is that almost everything you want out of a massive board is going to be compromised when you scale down.


My old, big board (mostly for sale - under the Strymons are Tumnus, MiniHOF, Wireless receiver, dB+ and under the board is a Carl Martin ProPower 2. Since this was taken, the Mobius was replaced with the BOSS MD-500 and the TimeLine with a Source Audio Nemesis)...

 


My new board, streamlined board of compromise...

 


And, for a more direct comparison, here is the case for my new board sitting atop of my old one (now for sale, please contact author lololz)! The actual case for my old board weighs 2lb less than my entire new board inc case!

 

Pros of using something like the HXFX...

  • SCRIBBLE SCRIPTS. The single most important thing on this. I can now troll myself every gig with ‘comedy’ names for my patches and snapshots. I particularly enjoy the fact I can insult our lights guy with a specific patch for his favourite part of his favourite song…. He always watches my feet as I kick that in, so the look on his face when there is an insult to him on that bit is priceless.
  • The vast majority of the effects are more than good enough, in fact some of them are outstanding (“muff”, intelligent harmonizer, TS, plate reverb, Script 90 phaser and Vibe in particular)
  • Ease of use. Despite what I say above, it’s easy to use, I’m just a luddite who wants everything to be so easy I don’t have to think about it.
  • It is without doubt outstanding value.

and the cons...

  • It draws 3A. That’s a huge power draw, hardly any supplies give that out and the wallwart is bloody huge. This will annoy me for ever!
  • No app? Come on Line6, you did it with the Firehawk. Do it on the HX as well.
  • On the flip side to one of the cons, some of the effects are disappointing. Most of the overdrives are dated, the gate needs updating, it needs a polyphonic pitch shifter (like the Digitech Drop), the chorus is good, but not as good as the BOSS MD-500 (better than the Mobius though)… some of them need to be calmed down (’63 Spring’ in particular).
  • A built-in wireless receiver would have been perfect.
  • It’s noisy. Really bloody noisy. Get a decent side chained gate in there! And get it in there now! 

At home, I think it will stay in the case. I have the Full Helix for recording and quiet play, and also ‘quite’ the collection of pedals and there is nothing like grabbing a pedal off the shelf and just loving what it does. But, for live, I’m the kind of person that wants it all set up, not change and be the same gig after gig after gig. In that case, it’s perfect. If you are a ‘set and leave it’ kind of player (whether that be at home or live) then this is for you. If you are a tweaker, it just won’t work quite so well. 

All in all, this has been an interesting experiment. Due to the physical limitations I have I will stick with it and enjoy every moment when I use it, because it's good, most of my old board is now up for sale. Is it ideal? Is it perfect? Nope, gear choices rarely are – it’s all about compromises and unless you want to take a board the size of a small village out with you, it will always be this way. But… it’s good enough for a pub band and good enough for my almost exacting ears. Without the option to put my favourite OD in there it would be a massive fail, as NOTHING works for me like the PaisleyDog does, but the rest of it is close enough. I just wish I could find a way of getting my Tumnus and Mini Ego in there as well… But, I may have a plan for that. I’m getting a slightly bigger board for Christmas… so, here I go again!

 

 



 

Black Friday - is it all insane? YEP!

Yes, you love it, we love it, EVERYONE loves it. So much so, last year the amount of money the great British public parted with was up +11.7% to £1.39B (thank you America, we are now adopting your retail trends) according to data from IMRG. And this was online sales only. In the US, the period known as Black Friday (including CyberMonday) was $19.6B. Approximately 58 million people chose to do their shopping online only, versus roughly 51 million at physical stores only (a drop of 1.6% from 2016 in physical stores) (practicalcommerce.com). 2018 is projected that the average adult is expected to drop $483.18 each (finder.com). Yeah, I could bore you stupid with stats here, but I won’t.

What does this mean, well – you know, it’s a time of year that we at Wampler spend a lot of time planning to making sure our big hitters are released on the run-up to this period – the eagle-eyed amongst you would have heard Brian say in numerous NAMM videos last January that we didn’t really have anything new to show this year as everyone shows the new stuff, so it all gets lost in the mix, and also if you show it in January there isn’t a big retail opportunity to drop them for about 10 months. Doesn’t make sense really. Does that mean we won’t be showing anything this January? Well, you’ll have to wait and see, but from what I can see from here we may show a proto of something quite extraordinary, but then again we might not. Who knows? Well, we do, but we aren’t in a position to speak about that yet!

Looking around the market place this week has been fascinating… I’ve seen lots of companies like us who are giving a flat 15% off everything, to reward the people who buy from us all year round… then there are the stores. A lot of them are just banging stuff out at a discount, and it’s awesome, but some stuff has been NOS that is cheap, which is even more awesome, but a lot of it is the just dead stock that needs to go. So far today I’ve been tempted by a guitar I don’t need and won’t ever play, an amp that is COMPLETELY unsuitable for my house and gigs and about 8 plugins for Logic and FCPX that I simply don’t understand. And my inbox… I’m on the verge of turning it all off… PLEASE stop emailing me, or I might just unsubscribe from you, I don’t mind receiving your news once a week, but one company has sent me 6 emails in the last 48 hours. I might get something from one of their competitors just to air my displeasure at their overbearingness… is that a word? Did I just make that up?

Black Friday is insane. I love it. Please, before you go anywhere else today and this weekend, make sure you pick up the brand new Fuzztration from our site, or a Pantheon… or one of our older models, direct from the factory, at 15% off. That’s 15% you can put to your next piece of gear... and buy them right here

 

 

 

My back demanded I downsize my rig

As you can expect, half my life appears to be talking to people that have a new pedal day. Often it’s on Social Media congratulating them, or maybe it’s after I’ve advised them what to buy, or in rare cases talking to them if something isn’t right or they don’t bond with it.

This week marked my first personal NGD in over a year. A Helix HX effects.

Before I give you my thoughts on it, I want to tell you why I’ve gone down this route as it appears to surprise a lot of people, but in reality, it’s just the next logical step for me. So, before I write about that, I want to write about the board that I am saying farewell too and the reasoning behind it.

When I started gigging again it was after a short 17 year hiatus from being in a regular band. I was nothing short of prolific in the 90’s and I got bored. I went from guitar, to bass, to live sound… because you know, I still wanted to gig, but I got bored and stopped doing it... I soon then went to University in a different country. Well, in Wales, but you know, that’s a different country. Four years after going to University I was the proud owner of a nice and shiny law degree and a copious amount of debt. A crippling amount in fact. I had just met the person who would go on to change my life and we got married, two kids arrived completing our family in the 4 years that followed. Because of this, my gear was sold so gigging was just out of the question.

Once I started down the path I am today with Wampler (and back in the music instrument industry again) the gear started to reaccumulate around me and I found myself being able to gig again (I had played some over the years, but it was using someone else’s gear). The only local band that I wanted to play with lost their guitar player (of 24 years) and they asked me, so I said “Hell yes!” My first gigs with the band had a simple rig. My beloved PRS Brent Mason-Polytune 2-Mini Ego-Tumnus-Dual Fusion-FTE-TC Mini HOF into a Fender BDri. It was small, simple and sounded great. But I wanted more.

Over the following couple of years, the board changed from a PT Nano 16 to a two-tier Temple board, Line6 G30 wireless, One Control OC-10 looper that had in it the following… Polytune 2, Tumnus, Paisley Deluxe, Strymon Mobius (split pre and post), Strymon TimeLine, TC Quintessence, TC MiMiQ, TC Mini HOF, Digitech Drop… the TimeLine was replaced by the Source Audio Nemesis and the Mobius by the BOSS MD-500… into the Fender BDri (used as a head) and a Quilter 101MR into a homemade 2x12” cab.

Yes, it got silly.

This is my thought process throughout this. Back in the 90’s I adopted modeling early on with the Roland GP100, into a Marshall 100/100 tube power amp into a 4x12, purely because I liked the control of it. At the touch of a midi footswitch button, I could change everything from the amps to various delays and modulations… It was awesome. But, the dirt/amp channels didn’t sound great. These days, I’m more than happy with my Wampler dirt section as they are so responsive to my touch and volume control, so all I need is a basic decent amp with a good clean sound and my dirt needs are covered… but boy do I love having custom mod and delay patches set up for songs. It gives it that extra bit of sheen I couldn’t get from something that wasn’t programmable. I 100% compromised on the tone and purity of the FTE for the TimeLine… that was improved with the Nemesis. The Mobius was a new addition as I didn’t have any mod before… and the MD-500 improved on that. So, that was my gear journey up to this point.

And now the reason for getting the HXFX.

Three years ago I did something rather nasty to my spine which resulted in me literally spending 6 months on my back. I couldn’t stand, walk or even sit down. Fortunately, my job is a “home working” position so I was able to do everything I needed to from my bed. Once I finally had the operation to put it right (which the surgeon said “You have the 1 in a 1000 version of this, the worse it can be”) I was back up and about again, ready to get out there… and I joined the band 2 months after. It was between then (Feb 2016) and now that the board grew to the silly state it is in now.

Then, the horrible thing happened… Two weeks ago I was lifting my board into the back of my car and my back screamed “NO” at me. It was, fortunately, a warning shot across the bows. For a couple of months, I had been suffering a tightening across the small of my back after gigs, but I put that down to being 45 and generally unfit but this was different. This was my back say “That’s enough Jay, sort your shit out mate, I can’t do this much longer”. With that, I had a decision to make. It’s obvious that I can’t keep carrying around this monster board so I needed something that will meet me in the middle. And then I discovered the Helix HXFX. So, I got one. The main thing that attracted me was the ease of use of programming it, I detest reading product manuals and this is easy to use as it’s all on the little screen things, so for a Luddite like myself, it’s perfect.

First Impressions… it’s great. There are a few things I’m compromising on in terms of tone using this, but I can live with them. You see, I’ve gone back to the PT Nano 16 again. So, it’s Line6 G30 receiver, into the Helix, Tumnus and Plexi Drive in the loops, out to a Black 65 and into the Quilter 101MR. It can do everything the other rig can do, almost identically, but weighs ¼ of my previous board. The Quilter weighs literally 1/50th of the BDri and with a Black ’65 in front of it set to zero gain makes it sound like the Fender, or close enough in a live pub band situation. I’ve gone from 4 painful trips back and forth to the car each way to doing it all in one go easily.

I’ll come back in a couple of weeks and give you the full rundown of how the rig stands in a live situation, but so far, it’s looking and sounding really good. The Helix HXFX has a lot of limitations and a couple of glitches I will need to work around, but I am confident I’ll find a way. Most importantly, it gives me loads of opportunity to talk to my friend Ross at Line6 who just LOVES it when I start to pick apart their product and say things like “Why does it do that, that’s a bit silly” and “we would have done this differently” as only industry friends can… it’s the simple pleasure of this job!

 

 

The Pantheon and associated pedals...

You may have noticed that we dropped a new pedal last week - the Pantheon Overdrive - a pedal that we’ve been asked so many times for I’ve stopped counting… it was Brian’s take on the old Marshall BluesBreaker pedal that was released in ’91 and discontinued not too long afterward. Safe to say it’s been well received by virtually everyone who has seen it and there have been some amazing demo’s out in support of it that shows just how good, and bad, it can sound in any given situation. I must say, release day is stressful and delightful all at the same time, I love it when it’s over but not as much as Lisa does, as apparently, I’m an arse in the weeks running up to it… basically, I think we all are as every release matters. 

It’s been a blast reading all the internet arguments over it, so I thought I would do a little research and answer some of the questions that I’ve seen asked, maybe correct a few statements that have been said as fact, and give you an insight to the process that brought this latest tone machine to market.

This conversation started, as far as my failing memory allows, about 7 years ago, when myself and the Jeff Baker (who worked for us at the time) said to bDub that we need the following versions out of the following classic circuits. K, TS, and BB. The Clarksdale came a couple of years later once Travis and Max shouted about it enough, the Tumnus a couple of years after that because I was the one talking endlessly about it and finally, his take of the BluesBreaker is now here – because we kept seeing the same things on line. Not only were people asking for Brian’s take, but they wanted one NOW. The reason these three have taken so long to materialise is that Brian doesn’t actually enjoy making and designing pedals like this, for the want of a better phrase, something that is close to an existing circuit, he would rather start from scratch but the overwhelming amount of people made it impossible for us to ignore them, they wanted it bad, so we provided!

The main interesting thing I’ve seen is that one of the dealers put the pedal up on their site for sale using a version of the dealer copy we sent them. Now, it may surprise you to know that we consider ourselves a B2B business and we sell to businesses far more than we do to end customers. So, we have different versions of our copy that goes to different customers. Different things are highlighted, different benefits are shown. Basically, when we ‘write’ with the end customer in mind, it’s all about the tone and how we think it will make a player sound the best they can. When we 'write' to the retailers, it’s all about “look at how many of these you can sell”. After all, you know, we are a business and we intend to stay in business for as long as we can - so we market hard to all of the customers in the way that appeals to them the most… Most retailers aren’t interested in tone, they are more interested in a pedals USP and how many they can sell.

A lot of people jumped on a few things from this straight away, and it was jumped upon extremely passionately. It always is. The gear market, when you look at it objectively, is sometimes hilarious in its partisan views about companies. We have customers who love us and appear to want to fight to the death in order to protect our reputation, and others do so as well for other companies… which is the reason heated debates happen... As a point of interest though, one of the guys who was shouting the loudest about us being cloners on Facebook did so with a profile picture of him with a Suhr classic S in his hands. Pretty certain I don’t have to explain that one too much...

OK, so back to the point of this. Yes… the Pantheon is a direct descendant of the old Marshall Bluesbreaker  (note - the Pantheon was originally going to be called Paragon, but we changed it). In that respect, it’s no different from the JHS Morning Glory, or the AnalogMan King of Tone, Prince of Tone, the Snouse BlackBox and countless other pedals I can mention. The only one of those that is an original is the Marshall, the rest are variations of. Please note, the Xotic BB is NOT a Bluesbreaker style, it’s a TS with a baxandall active bass and treble, but that’s another story. 

I have written this from my own limited knowledge of circuits, so forgive me if it’s not 100% accurate – pretty certain it’s on point though, I didn’t feel the need to properly learn this stuff as I know a guy who’s fairly well versed in it all. It’s the same reason he didn’t learn PS, AI, FCPX etc etc. To show good form though, I’m not going to publish our own schematics of these pedals, but take the ones that are readily available online - but I will show you part of the Pantheon schematic, although part of it will be obscured… but worry ye not, I expect the full reverse engineer of it to appear online before I’ve finished writing this sentence.

To quickly go back to the Xotic BB, here is the schematic of that, as you can see, it’s got 4558 in it so it MUST be a TS, right? But seriously, it’s basically a modded TS circuit. One that sounds amazing… so, let’s not have any more BB is a BluesBreaker conversations please!!

Here is the original schematic of the BluesBreaker… for the purpose of this conversation, I’m going to be mainly referring to the one marked as “Original Wiring” that has been presented with Comic Sans. I apologise for you having to witness something in Comic Sans, it is out of my control. Please take the time to look at it and then compare it to the others that follow.

BluesBreaker schematic

Next up, the JHS Morning Glory. The cornerstone of virtually every P&W board I’ve ever seen.

Morning Glory schematic

As you can see, it’s pretty bloody close to the original. There are some obvious changes most importantly there is a jFet volume booster at the end that has the potential to be really very loud on the output (other pedals afterward beware lolol)… Which is interesting as the main issue I remember from the original BB was that it was just too darn quiet, so Josh identified the main issue and boom, fixed it. You’ll also notice that it has a switch on it, which flits between normal amounts of presence and some more, giving it a little more flexibility.

From here, let’s go to the GrandDaddy of all the descendants of the original BB, the mighty King Of Tone. There is nothing I can say about this pedal that hasn’t already been said, it’s got the greatest reputation for good reason, because it nails that tone perfectly. In my opinion, it was the BB that Marshall should have made in 1991.

Here is the schematic.

KoT schematic

As you can see, once you adjust to the fact that there are two identical circuits running side by side, if you look at one side only there is once again a handful of difference between this and the others, we have some internal dip switches to change the clipping style, an internal trim pot for presence and the high gain version just has a different value gain pot IIRC. Therefore, neither of these pedals could be deemed to be an original, just a development of the original theme.

Moving on… here is the actual schematic for the Pantheon as drawn by Brian. 



Once again, it’s pretty bloody close to the original, with a couple of changes put in for good measure that Brian always puts in. But, fundamentally it’s the same thing as the others with a couple of tweaks. All controls are on front and there is a bass control done in the way he prefers. We have soft, hard and combined clipping… same thing, just done differently.

If you want to know the differences, here they are in a nutshell.

BluesBreaker
The original = noninverted opamp, through some EQ stuff, into an inverting opamp, into fixed/set presence control and out again.

Morning Glory
Increased quality of parts, has increased output and presence switch. In terms of the circuit, it’s louder and more versatile.

KoT
2 pedals in one, exclusive style diodes that are of increased quality (that are hard to come by), presence and clipping options inserted easily inside and the option to have the gain pot replaced for a higher gain version. The differences are in the circuit that around R3 you get a little more highs and a little more gain – overall, it’s just more flexible.

Pantheon
All controls on front, increased quality of parts, 3 way selection of clipping diodes, 3 switchable stages of gain, converts the signal upon exit to a much lower impedance than the others (meaning, it “buffers the signal”), adds even more stability due to the style of parts used… we think it’s the best so far.

What do we have in conclusion… well, each offers something different in terms of user interface and options. They all sound pretty similar and you can make each sound like the other if you are that way inclined… it’s all down to, I think, this. Which one turns you on the most for whatever reason. All are built in the US, all have increased quality of parts, all are more stable than the original, all have increased outputs… but in terms of originality and ‘mojo’… well… the evidence shows you otherwise – the last original BluesBreaker circuit came out in 1991!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is tone all in the fingers? Does Satriani sound the same with cheap gear?

A very, very, VERY interesting vlog was released from Brian today, and it is about a subject that has perplexed me for many years. It’s directly related to one of the most common and least thought our retorts on social media “Tone is all in the fingers, man”. This may be a controversial subject, but you know, what’s life without a little controversy now and then?!

As many of you who have regularly read my blog over the years will know, I came up through the local scene by being a prolific jammer. Back in the day (not so much anymore, unfortunately) several local pubs would either have straight up jam nights or booked bands to play with the sole intention of knowing it was going to end up as a beer sozzled jam with everyone just playing with everyone else. Not only was this immense fun for all involved, but as a young player this was an invaluable learning ground for me and made me the player I am today. The most prolific I regularly went to were the Sunday afternoon gig at “The Old Firehouse” and the now legendary local jam night at “The Bowling Green”, both in my hometown - Exeter, Devon. UK. The great thing about these jams/gigs was the fact that every week the same faces would turn up and a carousel of about 50 other players that made it when they felt like it would also turn up, so over a long period of time, I got extremely familiar with all kinds of players. As we are all friends, most people couldn’t be bothered to bring their own instruments and once the beer had started to be consumed, everyone just played whatever was there, at all times. Because of this, I heard the same players on various pieces of gear multiple times.

What did I learn during these years… well, in the times I can remember clearly (remember, beer), every player had their own style and technique, obviously, which gave their playing a certain character and this character always shone through. But, their overall sound was determined by the gear they were using. When you really listened, and I mean really listened, you ‘could’ say that tone was in the fingers, but I think it’s actually a different word that should be used here… maybe a couple of words. Those are ‘character’ and ‘personality’.

Here is a great example, Joe Satriani was recorded using extremely ‘low rent’ gear playing one of his more famous tracks, “Surfing With The Alien”. Please, give it a watch…

 

And, in case you didn’t read the description, Joe is playing ‘Pignose’ (I know, I’ve never heard of them making guitars either) S style (single coils), a Digitech RP200 into a Peavey Backstage 30. Joe is using the Wah on the Digitech and I expect amp modelling etc from the unit as well, so… you know. It’s not going to sound like his rig when he’s touring/recording!

When you watch it, there is, without doubt, all of Joe’s character and personality is shining through. There is no doubt that it’s Joe playing. It’s in the way he picks, the way he attacks the strings and the way he uses vibrato is what is defining the music that is coming from the gear, but the gear is still defining the tone… unfortunately. When you listen hard, the tone is quite nasty, and I’m quite glad it’s only a phone that’s capturing it as if this was mic’ed properly it would sound sharp and gnarly. But, you know, it still sounds like Joe. Up to a point.

Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to over the many many years I’ve been seeing the same players playing their own and different gear over and over. Fundamentally, your tone that the audience hears will be defined by the gear you are playing. Because the gear will be dictating how much clipping you have, how much gain that works alongside that clipping, the EQ before, during and after that clipping, the type of guitar you are playing and what pickups it is – style of bridge – wood…, how the amp is constructed, the speakers you use and their size, and all the parts variables that go into each of those and just about everything else… the list is endless. However, an accomplished player will still maintain their musical character and personality regardless of the gear it is being played on. So, the picking hand attack, the vibrato, the note choices… will all be the same. Does this define tone? I don’t think it does, it defines who they are as a musician, but not their note as such.

Here is the video with Brian and Travis playing the same gear.

The interesting things that come out of this video ties up with what I was discussing above. You can hear Travis’ playing style and also Brian’s shining through, but fundamentally, their tone was changing each time they swapped amps. They keep discussing Brian’s pick attack (as he is quite a hard player on the right hand) compared to Travis’ (as he is the opposite, really quite gentle) so in that regard, the attack and bite from these amps is coming from the player, but the core tone is coming from the gear.

I think I’d like to make the case for completely and utterly banning the phrase “tone is in the fingers” and have anyone saying it severely punished. I don’t know what that punishment should be, but I’m pretty certain we can decide on a case by case basis as and when it is used as an argument! 

I would like to propose it be amended to the following statement. “Musical personality and character will always shine through regardless of the gear it’s being played on”… but, you know, that’s not quite as catchy and by no means as divisive and controversial, and as I said above, what’s life without a little controversy now and then?

 

 

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