A few months ago I wrote a ‘review’ of the Quilter 101 Mini Head here in the Wampler blog, it was an interesting experience using the 101 Mini, but tonally it didn’t work out for me. It was great, just not there yet. There were issues with the basic core tone and most importantly, the strange EQ section.
I’ve subsequently got my hands on the newer version of this head, the 101 Mini Reverb, they’ve upgraded the unit considerably, made the EQ a much easier system to dial in and you guessed it, contains reverb. I’ve been using the 101 MR for the last few gigs as the ‘other’ side of my stereo rig, and something happened this weekend that made me look at it in a different light.
First of all, a quick gear rundown so you get a feel what my rig does. My rig is mono until it hits the incredible TC Electronic MiMiQ which then splits it to stereo. The main side of the MiMiQ (which sits after my pre gain modulation the gains stages and compression – so that’s pre gain Strymon Mobius – mainly Vibe - Mini Ego, Tumnus and Paisley Drive Deluxe) sends the signal on to the post gain side of the Mobius (so that’s chorus, tremolo etc), the Strymon TimeLine, dB+ and then to a Wampler Bravado amp. The other side of the MiMiQ just feeds direct to the Quilter 101 MR – both then feed directly into a stereo 2x12” speakers. I have the MiMiQ set on “slight drunk” so when it’s kicked in I find the difference in tone (I set it pretty quickly, on a scooped setting) and the lack of delays etc do a really good impression of a second guitar player.
I play in a pub band, playing covers, and on Saturday night we were kinda cookin’. The crowd was rocking, so we were. My rig sounded fantastic and I ended the first set on a high! I was just having a lovely time… when it came to the start of the second set we started and I noticed that something wasn’t quite right. None of my delay’s where there, so I checked a different patch (the vibe) and that worked, so I thought – oh shit, the TimeLine is knackered. There was something else going on with the sound as well, it wasn’t quite as attacky or bright as usual (I have the Bravado set on Bright position 4 with the mids scooped out so it’s more like a Fender Deluxe than it should be)… For about 3 songs I felt this thing was wrong, still sounded like me, still sounded great (well, let’s face it, with those gain stages how could it not?), but there was a certain something missing. Trust my wife to spot the problem… It the end of the third song she leaned over to me from behind the P.A. speakers and shouted in my ear “Do you know that the Bravado is on standby?”.
So, I had turned the Bravado on to standby at the end of the first set and forgotten to turn it back on again, which is quite funny considering the piece I wrote about putting amps on standby last year. it was just the Quilter being used and I was blown away with the sound of it. Granted, It was not as clear and concise as the Bravado, and the response was different, but it was close. Kind of felt the same way when I first played through a Kemper, really close but the reaction wasn’t there, because it’s a D class and I’m used to a valve amp.
Once I realised my mistake I tweaked the Quilter a little to try to bring the top end in and it got even closer before bringing the Bravado back in. This little thing is quite remarkable when I think about it, I carry it around in my effects case and it weighs about 2lbs and it stood up against the Bravado and didn’t lose without a fight. It took the pedals like a dream, it responded to my pick attack and expression like a dream. The updated EQ section was SO much better in this one, every issue I had with the original was addressed. Basically, this thing is pretty bloody awesome.
I’ve made the conscious decision that when we do the small, quiet gigs – as we often do – and you can’t get a valve amp up to the required level to make it sound like I want too (yes, we really do play that quiet sometimes, literally so you can talk over it), the Quilter 101 MR will be my main amp and the Quilter 101 Mini will be the stereo field. It won’t be the Bravado (as, you know, valve compression and response of a high end amp, there is nothing like it), but at least I can put it to the level I want to play at and I won’t be disappointed with the tone, which when you think about it, is quite remarkable.
I can thoroughly recommend this little amp, and I don’t say that very often. Everyone should have one in the front pocket of their gig bag as a back up, or if like me you want a stereo field, it’s perfect. Actually, if I wasn’t so fussy (I am, extremely) I would probably use it for every gig as let’s face it, the people listening wouldn’t be able to tell the difference in those conditions... It’s close enough to the real thing to be able to warrant the compromise of tone – that magical thing that can’t be replicated - especially when like me you have a history of sciatica and want to keep the weight down!
As a last thought - when the Bravado isn’t here I use a Fender BDri as my main gigging amp… well, I used to, as if the Bravado isn’t here, from here on in I’ll be using the Quilter…
So, the title of "The world's luckiest guy who's employed by a Gear Company" probably went to me last week, actually, a few weeks ago but let's just say it wasn't completely obvious until Saturday night.
First, let's get a little perspective here. A lot of people think I get given gear all the time, I don't really - I have stuff here for work, that I have to use for promotional purposes - it's not mine and I have to hawk it round to various places, photographic, promote it - yeah I know, sucks to be me doesn't it. But it's not mine - I have to test run everything (in a live situation where possible) and one of the reasons I am still here after all these years is in part I never bullshit Brian, if something sounds great I tell him, and if it doesn't, I tell him twice. I don't tell everyone blindly how great our gear is, I will advise stuff that I think fits the player - I mean, anyone who is connected to me on social media knows I am very unflattering about tube screamers, which probably doesn't help our sales of the Clarksdale (our version of the 808 with expanded EQ and clipping options) much... but those people also know I am honest and I understand that each to their own... How many people do you know who love TS circuits? ;)
Getting back to the main part of this piece, I received the Wampler Bravado here at Wilding Towers in the UK on December 19th (which is actually my daughter's birthday so it stayed in the box that day while I was trying to be SuperDad). When I opened it, I must admit quite excitedly, I was surprised to see an America power cable in the box, so I looked on the side and saw the dreaded.... 120v. D'OH. Great. I had an un-useable amp. As you may expect, I text'd Brian and said "Well, that's a bit silly" (or something like that) and what do I do now, seems insane to send it back to the US... Over the next couple of days Brian had spoken to the transformer people, and the people who finalise production on the amp and I was told that it's a simple fix, the change over of a couple wires inside. That would be great, except I can't solder for shit. Great x2. Armed with explicit instructions on how to change it I dropped the amp off at my mate Bob's house, who is an audio electronics engineer, with the instructions and £20 later I have a 240v amp... This was December 23rd.The date of our last gig of the year - I got the amp fixed, I went over to my friend Ray's house to borrow an old yet delightful 2x12" cab with the view of giving it a run out that night. And then, 2 hours before I'm due to leave to the gig my car decided to die. Great x3.
So, I didn't have the opportunity to test it that night, I borrowed a car from my lovely friend Kate and I went to the gig with my usual gear (which is a stock Fender BDri with a WGS Veteran 30) and as usual, my tone was lovely, mostly thanks to this little board of delight.
So, after Christmas I had time to play. I tested it with the Orange 2x12" (Celestion Vintage 30's inside), it wasn't great as they are designed to break up WAY early in the sweep, and I needed it clean. Unfortunately, they were soldered in so I couldn't swap then out (remember, I can't solder at all). Great x4. Here is where it becomes interesting. I have 4 WGS speakers here: the Veteran 30, ET-65, Reaper HP and the Blue Alnico thing, can't remember its name. So, I tried the Bravado plugged into the speaker in the Fender, first with the Veteran 30, then the ET-65, then the Reaper - all the time, comparing it to the 2x12" with the Vintage 30s. It quickly became a geek fest of tone, response, articulation, break up and everything else. Let's just take a moment to pass our good wishes onto my long suffering wife who had to listen to my crap playing, really loud, ALLLLLL day.
Here is what I found.
The Celestion Vintage 30's are fabulous for that dirty thing, when using an overdrive to push it, the sound is incredible. But that's not what I want - I play in what is effectively a country/blues/rock band in pubs, so I need clean headroom. One can't play Brent Mason solo's when the amp and cab is clipping... So, I'm keeping that tone in the bank for when I need something more aggressive... The real magic arrived when I put the Reaper in.
The Reaper. WOW. I just can't begin to tell you how perfect it is to my ears, for my style of playing, for my rig, in the places I play in. The Reaper is based on the G12H30 Anniversary edition, and it's perfect for this. Gone was the high end edge of the Veteran 30, gone was the break up of the v30's and here was the full spectrum tone of clarity and cleanliness of the Reaper. It would appear that my speaker choice was made and I set off to the gig.
When I arrived, I set up, level checked and over comes the bass player, Rick - who in my opinion is one of the greatest I've ever heard - he's so far in the pocket it's a thing of beauty, his tone is flawless, everything about his playing is perfect. Plus, I met him when I was about 15 so I've known him and played with him off and on for almost 30 years. He is a real tone chaser... he simply has the best tone of any bass player I've ever heard in a pub/club setting. ANYWAY... he asked about it, so I played a bit and he started to smile - we played with the bright control, the EQ and levels and we settled on position 3 for the bright switch, my guitar is quite dark (PRS Brent Mason) and I don't like harsh top end so my effects aren't set harsh... here are the settings (taken right after the first set):
We found that even at full brightness the tone wasn't sharp at all, it didn't bite, it didn't hurt (which it would have with the Fender), it just sounded a little more VOX like, which was as odd as it was unexpected (at that moment in time I was regretting not playing any Brad Paisley, but that's another story). As the gig went on, my I had a lovely time - my tone was INCREDIBLE. I have never, ever sounded like that before. Everything was clear, articulate and powerful. Everything was perfectly balanced and the levels across the entire spectrum was perfectly balanced. We had a great gig, loads of people danced, drunk people came up to me and were talking incoherently to me, but while shaking my hand and smiling a lot, so I'm guess they enjoyed it. I was a happy boy.
As we were driving home (across beautiful Dartmoor, 1am on a clear winters night but that's just me showing off about where I live, it's outstanding!) my wife said something that made me think. Now, my wife comes to every gig I play - let's face it, she didn't marry a guitar player to be sat at home on a Saturday night to watch the bloody X-Factor now did she - she knows my playing better than anyone - she's a great musician - piano player, and she is a fan of the music we play so if I have a great night, she tells me and if I don't, she tells me. She's always honest and is only interested in my development as a musician, so there is no bullshit.
"I've never heard you like that before, you sounded amazing. You must have known that because you were smiling all night and you played stuff I've never heard you play before". It would appear I'd been more thoroughly inspired by the amp than I realised. I'm pretty certain that this was the Bravado. It sounded SO good. The wife said it was amazing, the drunk people said it was amazing, Rick said it was amazing. I'm pretty certain that basically, the Bravado makes you sound amazing. I put it down to the following. I have 4 basic tones. Clean, Tumnus, and both channels of the Dual Fusion. I run them Tumnus -> c2 DF -> c1 DF. So, I run clean, I run Tumnus, I run c1 DF, I run c1 DF with the Tumnus, I tun c1 and c2 of the DF stacked, and I stack the Tumnus into that... basically, I use a LOT of variations - we are a cover band, and there's not a lot worse than a sole guitarist bands who only have 1 tone. With the PRS (that is extremely versatile) I have so many tones, I can't actually begin to count them and every one of them was utterly perfect. Previously I would have a great clean tone, nice OD tone or a nice face melting tone. I could never balance them all out and them all sound amazing. Not even good. Sometimes, the higher gain stuff was pretty muddy, still nice, but muddy.
So, if you want an amp that is clean, all the way (well, as much as it can be) that EATS pedals for breakfast and can take everything from low gain all the way up to the other end, this is probably the amp for you. It ain't cheap, but if you have a £2K guitar and a £1K of effects (like many players in my postition have), why put it through a £1K amp. By my reckoning, people often buy an under performing amp, just because they have a famous name on them. With the Bravado, you will never sound better, providing you have the right speaker. This is why SO many high end amp makers appear to have own brand speakers, they get companies to make a speaker to their spec and then stick a label over it... Maybe we should do that!
Speaking of all this (pun intended), Rick and I are making a 2x12" - the WGS Reaper is going in as is the ET-65. It's based on the spec of the Wampler cab, can't wait to play it out. Keep an eye out for the amp, it'll be in stores - selected stores - try it with pedals in front of it... Outstanding.