Talking about gear (106)
Today I wanted to about volume. How loud is too loud? Volume can be a constant battle depending on venue, equipment, sound engineers, and fellow band members. You make sure you are heard and not lost in the mix, but you also don’t want to seem obnoxiously loud. Here is a question that came to me via email from one of our customers:
“One thing is that I’ve always played my guitar with the volume knob on 10 – and I’ve set all my overdrives with this in mind (so rolling back would clean them up). When we do sound check, I tend to play the loudest I’m going to, which is what I’ve been told is the idea. But guess what – I’ve got no room for dynamics! So if the other guys (keys & drums) play louder in a song, I’ve got no headroom at all to work with that. Other than having a better sound guy, how can I approach this from my end without being a jerk? I don’t want to be that guy that thinks guitar should dominate the sound all the time, but there’s not much point playing if I’m inaudible. Any suggestions?”
I had my own ideas on how to help this customer - but sometimes it's fun to just pick the bosses brain. So for this one – I’ll let the Man behind the tone curtain – Mr. Brian Wampler himself answer it.
From Brian: “If everyone is turning up louder and louder then you will have to as well, or else you will indeed be buried in the mix. I'd start out at sound check by turning up louder than you plan on playing and have the sound guy set the input trim (input level control). Then, when you sound check with the band play at your lower volume and he can ride the slider to fit it in the mix. Then as the other band members turn up, use a clean boost pedal (like our dB+ ) to slowly edge up the overall volume little by little if everyone else gets louder. It doesn't really make you "the jerk", but it is indeed a sign that the other people in the band need to get their levels right before hand and then not touch the volume unless absolutely necessary.”
Until next time Tone Chasers!
Explanations of buffer pedal circuits are, more often times than not, over complicated. In reality, buffer pedals are simple in concept and can help your tone more than you thought possible. Today, I want to take some time and explain what a buffer pedal is, how it can help you, and where to put a buffer pedal in your signal chain.
Most guitar players use several feet of guitar cable. More often time than not, you have an 10+ foot lead going to your pedal board, 1-3+ feet of cable on your pedal board (Depending on the size of it) and an 10+ foot lead going from your pedal board to your amp. Depending on the size of the stage and your own personal setup, you could have even more total cable length than that. What many guitar players don’t realize is, all these long cables are causing your higher end frequencies to be lost in your guitar rig setup.
So how are these higher end frequencies lost through a long cable? At the risk of oversimplifying it, your guitar and cable basically creates a high impedance signal. The longer your guitar cable is, the more capacitance is created which creates a filter that changes the sound. A good buffer circuit will take your high impedance guitar signal and change it to a low-impedance one; allowing your guitar signal to flow easier over a longer distance. The “new” tone that you hear after playing through your buffer pedal is actually your guitar’s original tone.
So where in your chain should you place your buffer pedal? There are several places you can put a buffer pedal at in your signal chain. However, here are a couple good rules of thumb on where to place your buffer. - Between a Wah and a traditional fuzz (Traditional meaning silicon or germanium based Fuzz Pedals – our Velvet Fuzz is neither of these circuits). - Between guitar pedals that may not work well side by side together. If you have to pedals that are next together, but are noisy – place a buffer between them and hear the difference. - Before a long run of your guitar cables. (Usually the beginning of your pedal chain.)
So do you need a buffer? Only you can answer that. So try one out and hear the difference for yourself.
If you would like to hear what difference the Wampler Decibel + Buffer Pedal can make in your signal chain, check out the video below:
Five Things Your Pedals Wish You Knew About Power:
1. Your pedals don’t really know if they are running on a power supply or a battery. Every once in a while I get wind of a thread on some forum where somebody is waxing on eloquently about how pedals sound best running off a battery, as God intended. Some even go so far as to say that vintage pedals only reach their full potential on plain old-school carbon batteries … because, hey, those fancy-smancy alkaline types weren’t even around when the pedal was originally designed. Now, it may be true that a pedal knows how much voltage it’s running on, and weather there is enough amperage being supplied, but that’s about it.
2. Speaking of batteries, your pedals want you to know that a brand-new, fresh alkaline “9-volt” battery actually clocks in at an average of about 9.6 volts. If by chance you ARE running your pedals off of batteries, you should try to keep tabs on the batteries ACTUAL condition by checking it’s voltage with a multi-meter. A battery that checks at 9 volts is NOT “brand new”, and one at 8 volts is certainly NOT “nearly new” … more like on death’s doorstep.
3. Speaking of voltage … I also hear a lot about the benefits of running pedals at higher or lower voltages than what they are designed for. If the pedal in question is a digital pedal, then grab your hip-waders folks, cause you’re possibly stepping in some deep doo-doo. A voltage higher or lower than the design specs can fry the puppy! Now, if we are talking true fully analog pedals, sure voltage will change the sound. But, is that a good thing? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. A higher voltage on an old bucket-brigade analog delay, for example, may increase the signal to noise ratio a smidgen, while also boosting and cleaning up the output just a teeny bit. But the down-side is that you will probably be hastening the demise of your pedal. In exchange for about a 1% change in tone. In my opinion, not worth it! How about the other way around; less voltage? Here there MAY be a tiny bit of truth, but only in the case of a fully analog “dirt” box. Yes, if this were 1972 and you were using, say a Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face, the old carbon-zinc battery would be sweating bullets just trying to power the sucker. Remember that 9.6-volt figure I mentioned in #2? In the pre-alkaline days, that wasn’t the case. Walking into your local Ben Franklin’s five & Dime store to get your Eveready battery (the one featuring the cat with 9-lives), you would blow the dust off a “9-volt” with anywhere from about 6 volts to 9.6 volts. The designers of those old pedals knew this, and they usually designed accordingly. They would design a circuit that could tolerate up to, say, 10-volts, but something like 8-volts was the design spec. So, in the case of one of these effects, sure, a decent argument can be made for “browning” down the power supply to maybe 8 volts or so. Most any pedal designed from the 80’s onward though, no way! All you’re going to do by browning out your new reverb pedal is decrease headroom and you'll experience some signal clipping (usually, the unpleasant kind).
4. Again, speaking of batteries. Please, please remove the batteries from your pedals when not in use. If you haven’t experienced the destructive force of battery acid inside the closed environment of an effect pedal, consider yourself very lucky. It ain’t pretty. Nuff said.
5. So, I’m kind of not-so-secretly hoping that I’ve dissuaded you from using batteries in your pedals by now. Seriously, all it takes is one show ruined by a dead battery, or one pedal ruined by a leaking battery and you quickly join the battery-hater club! BUT! All power supplies are NOT equal. That bears repeating: All power supplies are not equal. Often, if someone is anti-power supply (pro-battery) it is because they have plugged their pedal into a power supply and experienced hum or other noise that was not present when operated on a battery. That’s because you can’t just go to the local electronics store and buy a generic “9-volt DC” power supply. Nor can you simply steal the power supply from your kid’s mickey-mouse sing along tape player to power your new dirt pedal. You MUST choose a fully shielded (filtered) and regulated supply that has been specifically designed for use in powering audio devices (pedals).
On behalf of every pedal you currently own, or will ever own, thanks for reading!
I get a lot of emails on how upgrades on ways to upgrade a Strat. Where I usually always like to start is the tremolo block. Most of the time – these blocks are thin and made out of zinc. The main issues with a block like this is that is thin and has very little mass to it – which often times puts a hamper on your string’s sustain.
In replacement a tremolo block – you have a couple of options for block materials. The 2 big ones are Steel and Brass. Steel blocks in my experience can brighten up a darker guitar and add sustain. Brass Blocks can actually do the opposite and darken up an overly bright guitar. I set my amps up kind of dark and I use the neck pickup a lot – so I typically favor steel blocks. Here is an example of the 3 types of Tremolo blocks. (Example: Brass on the left, Steel center, and stock Zinc on the right)
There are a lot of great companies that make fantastic replacement/ drop in tremolo blocks. I’ve used several – you can do your research and find out which one works best for you. My personal favorite is Callaham. Great parts – and I use a lot of them in my Strats! They can be pricey though – and if you are on a budget - Guitar Fetish makes a great one that is super budget friendly.
After you install the block you just need to reinstall your bridge/ saddles, springs, re-intonate/ setup your guitar – and let the tone begin! This is a fairly simple project for those of us who take a DIY approach to our guitars.
Note: Different Strats have different string spacing – make sure you order the correct block with the proper spacing for your guitar. If you feel uncomfortable contact your local luthier to install your tremolo block for you.
Ok ok – I’m not that smart – but seriously - Strings!! Which ones are the best and which ones should you play? This is a subject that is just about as diverse as how to pick your pick…. While there is no right or wrong answer parse – I just wanted to share with you my two cents – and hopefully it helps a little. If not – I’m sorry?
Gauge: So the bigger the gauge the better right?! Coming from the school of Stevie Ray Vaughn – I always thought big strings = big tone. When I tried to make the jump from .11 gauge strings (a respectable heaviness) to the mighty .13s – I learned a stiff lesson (pun intended.) My bends weren’t quite what they used to be and after 1 set – my fingertips resembled something that looked a lot like hamburger. (not the delicious kind either.)
Quickly I found out that thick strings aren’t for everybody. As I delved deeper in in to the metaphoric rabbit hole- I also learned that great tone could be achieved with much lighter gauge strings. Guys like B.B. King and Billy Gibbons were using much lighter gauge strings and still getting their tonal point across. (A great guitar set up helps a ton!) So what is right and what is wrong? Only you can decide that one. While bigger strings can produce a bigger tone – play the gauge of string that is comfortable and makes you want to play everyday and won’t murder your fingers after the show.
Coated vs. Uncoated: Aside from the cost, coated usually being way more expensive, what’s the big deal? Lots! Because of the coating on coated strings – dirt and grime usually doesn’t build up on your strings – increasing the longevity of life of the strings. Coated strings usually sound “fresher” for longer periods of time. Some players would beg to differ – saying the coating prevents the string from ringing as true as an uncoated string. I see both sides of the coin – but my personal preference is a coated string between 10 and 11.
I’m a big guy and sweat a lot on stage and usually after a long set – my fresh, uncoated strings are shot. They also feel harder under my fingers after a full 4-hour gig. With coated strings, I can get a couple more gigs with them before I feel the need to change them. In my personal opinion they also feel a little softer under my finger and ring just as true as an uncoated string.
So which string is best for you? Whether it is a light – medium- or heavy gauge string – coated or uncoated – this manufacturer or that manufacturer – only you can really decide what is best. I encourage you to try out different brands of strings of different thicknesses and see which one feels and sounds the best for your rig.
Hi guys, Jason here invading the blog - this has just come up on Facebook from a customer so I thought I would invade Max's blog to address it properly!
This has been a hot topic for us for several years now - I am painfully aware of this issue as being the person responsible for every international dealer outside of North America. A lot of "my" dealers around the globe are constantly fighting the proliferation of forged pedals. The issue is simple, they (the forgers) see a great product, they take the circuit from a well known forum and produce it as cheaply as possible and then sell it for their own profit.
Before we get into this properly... in the face of the inevitable question - this is not "yeah, but it's just a tube screamer, what's so special about your Clarksdale when I can etc etc". When we build a circuit that is inspired by another, we take the basic premise of that circuit and Brian explodes it - makes it his own, new EQ stack, clearer gain stages... So, yes - the Clarksdale is a "tubescreamer" but it's a new take on the classic circuit (after all, there are only so many ways you can clip a circuit and make it sound good).
So, when a company copies your design, puts your name on it and sells it as an original, there is a problem!
Let's take the Triple Wreck - a much loved pedal in the Far East, it would appear that High Gain is something their market thrives on...
Here is a site that sells a forgery.
As you can see, the products are extremely different - just on atheistics alone they are easy to spot. Wrong fonts, cheap components (check out the input/output jacks) and the lack of consideration of the labelling of the knobs/stomps.
Remember, we build and design our pedals to a specification, not a budget. We offer a 5 year fully transferable guarantee on ALL pedals and make them with pride and passion in America. All of the above would be impossible with a sale price of $68.80 including free international shipping!
If you are in doubt look at the obvious points. If it is too cheap, therefore too good to be true, then it probably is too good to be true. If it looks like it's been made poorly and rushed, it has been. If it's on a site where you can't contact the "dealer", then they don't want to be contacted... If you are concerned, contact us, we can confirm quickly. However, a quick look at the product will show how authentic it is!
Happy New Year Tone Chasers. It has been a minute since I posted last. Between the holidays and with NAMM 2015 in less than 2 weeks - we have been keeping busy on new stuff to bring to you in 2015!
Recently I received an email asking me if I could define some buzz words that get thrown around a lot in the industry. A lot of the buzz words out there can be a silly/confusing at times but I guess it does go with the territory of guitar geek talk vernacular. Over time they just become a part of what you hear in different pieces of gear. On my honey moon back in October my wife and I went on the Bourbon Trail through Kentucky sampling bourbons. (Would you expect anything else??) The person leading the bourbon tasting would throw around buzz words too like "Oaky". What does "Oakey"taste like - I have never chewed a piece of oak. But without hesitation many of us new exactly what they meant. Guitar tone buzz words - are often used in the same way. While there are ton of buzz words out there - these are 6 of my favorites.
Fizzy - usually has lots of top end/ treble type frequencies - the top end freq. tends to break up creating a sometimes un-desirable tone.
Mid-rangey - a tone that has a lot of mid range frequencies in it.
Woody - I use this term to describe a sound of slightly lower frequency, with a more acoustic resonance.
I'm often asked about where the names and look for the pedals come from for Wampler. It's sometimes an extremely stressful and complicated process and other times it falls into place really quickly, here is a snap shot of the process into the first design I did for Wampler, The Paisley Drive, over 4 years ago and then a comparison to the last design I did, the Latitude...
Paisley Drive First a little history, I have no design background or anything vaguely official that qualifies me as a graphic designer, I just make it up as I go along - as Brian calls it - "Throwing some rice at the wall and see what sticks"! I had been working on updating the website for Brian (before I worked here full time) when he sent me an email that had the immortal line "you know that overdrive we are doing for Brad Paisley, want to have a shot at the logo?" - As I was working in the most miserable job imaginable (front line of the unemployment office in the UK) I jumped at the chance, I'd be mad not too! I started calling it the "Paisley Drive" straight away and we knew Brad's favourite colour was Blue (although the proto was pink and everyone thought it was going to be that color)... that was it, that was all I had to work on.
So, what do you do for Paisley? There had to be a couple of Paisley's on it, that was obvious... I wanted a telecaster style headstock on it, again for me that was obvious - at that time the printers were doing the labelling of the knobs and switches (unlike now: you will notice it's become part of the design on later pedals) So, I drew the headstock, found a font that would fit within it (this is often the most time consuming issue) and then started to tweak it around until everything fell into place - I mock everything up into photoshop so we can all look at it on screen and get a good idea of how it will look.
So, left to right: Prototype, the actual artwork used for the logo, the photoshop mockup, the first screen print test on the basecoat and finally Mr Paisley holding his Paisley Drive (a proud moment for me)
Note: The design has since been updated to include his signature.
Latitude Fast forward four years... The first step these days is that I get with Justin Simpson (who traces out the PCB's and is the technical lead within Wampler, a PCB genius) to discuss the control layout. I am always pushing us to move away from the safe layout of our earlier models and make them more interesting. So, I look at the number of knobs, switches etc and tell Justin where I want them to be on the pedal. He then comes back and tells me if it's possible and we work together to give it an interesting layout that in no way compromises the technical layout and operation of the pedal. This can sometimes be a long process as I'm only interested in the look, he's only interested in the internal layout - as always though, he wins as tone is everything, I never let him win easily though, we always find the best compromise!
So, the design. It was a really hard one, we wanted to have a marketable theme for it but it's kinda hard when all the best names had all been taken (yes, MojohandFX and Flux Effects, I'm looking at you)... As always, it ended up as a four way discussion in Skype with Travis, Brian, Max and myself. We wanted something watery for a marketing angle and it's appropriate considering the sound of the effect. Travis brought Whitecap to the table quite early, we all dug it but it didn't work on the pedal (I had even mocked up a couple of versions) to test it and it just didn't work... so it was put to one side... not sure Travis has quite forgiven me yet! So, it got to the stage where we were just saying random words out loud in the vein hope that something would jump out at us... It got to the point where I was losing the will to live and was just sat there staring at the screen thinking it would never happen, and then Brian said "Latitude"... I saw it then in my head straight away, a map. A pirate map with swirly writing and a compass at the back. Within an hour I had the design in photoshop (.psd) and within 2 it was vectored in illustrator (.ai) and submitted for production.
1: Original prototype. 2: Mr first proposed layout (using a knob for waveform selector). 3: Justins response as to where things can and can't go. 4: "Whitecap" (note layout is now confirmed with sub divisions on a switch). 5: TremoH2O. 6: Latitude. 7: Base color tester. 8: The finished article!
In the last blog we talked mostly about pedal order/ how to get the most out of your pedals. Most of the pedal setup I talked about was with the pedals being ran through the front of your amp. Well, what about the effects loop? What pedals should/ shouldn’t be run through the effects loop? Well let’s break some groups of pedals down:
Boosts/ EQ’s: Boosting and EQ-ing in the effects loop will definitely shape your tone. In the loop, a boost will add volume without boosting the front end of the amp. This will create less of an overdriven/ distortion effect and more of just a clean volume bump. An EQ Pedal, in the effects loop, will help shape the tone of the amp itself – rather than shape the overdrive/ gain texture of the amp. When you run an EQ pedal through the front of the amp – lets say after your tube screamer – it will help shape the tone of the gain structure. (On a side note: you can also “fuzz up” a crunchy gain channel by setting the EQ to be very bass heavy.)
Delays and Reverbs: I get asked about these two pedals all the time. A good rule of thumb is – that if you are using your amp’s dirty channel – you will want to put your delays and reverbs in the effects loop of your amp. The main reason for this is because – well… delay and reverb BEFORE your dirt/ distortion channel sounds kind of terrible…. It might work for some – but in every application we have ever tried it – it just didn’t sound good at all.
As discussed in the first part of this two-part blog – results will differ from rig to rig. We are all tone chasers and what works for one person, may not work for another. Tone chasing is a lifelong pursuit for most of us and I encourage each of you to get out there and see what works best for you!
This week, I wanted to discuss a question that gets asked a lot here at Wampler HQ. “What is the best order to put my pedals in for the best results.” While there are no hard and fast rules on pedal order - this is the preferred order that we personally wire our show boards and the method in which Brian wires his personal boards.
Lets start from the beginning. If you are going to be running a lot of cable – or a lot of pedals – you should start with a buffer. (For more info on buffers specifically – check out this link) http://wamplerpedals.com/blog/buffers-un-baffled/
Right after your buffer you place your Phaser/ Wah/ Uni-Vibe pedals. After these 3 you can place your compressor.
The next section is the heart and soul of every pedal board – and personally my favorite section – the dirt. This would include your Overdrive/ Distortion/ Fuzz (possibly distortion/fuzz into your overdrive depending on your preference. Please experiment for your own tailored tones.)
Your Equalizer pedals will come after your drive section – to help shape some of those tones. After your equalization – will come your other modulation pedals: Chorus, Vibrato, Shifting, Flanger pedals. Following this would be your noise gate, if you use one.
Then come your delay and reverb pedals. Here at Wampler, we like to run our Reverb after our Delay pedals. We find that particular order allows us to create some pretty rich tones when stacked together.
For guys that plug straight in to the house – or when space is super limited and an amp cannot be used – a cabinet simulator is used next.
And last but certainly not least – you can use a level boost at the end of your chain to really boost the front of your amp.
While pedal order and pedal stacking is not an exact science, the pedal order we just discussed just happens to be what we have found to work best for us. We find that this order allows us to get the most potential out of our pedals. We know that pedal order can be a subjective topic at times and we strongly encourage you tone chasers to get in front of your pedal board and experiment!