A question was asked on our main FB page last weekend that made me sit and think, it was a question that made me peer into the rabbit hole of my own history. Fortunately, for my own sanity and those who read it, I managed to stop myself going into it completely as that’s a place no one wants to visit too much!
“If you could go back in time and give your younger self any piece of advice when starting out playing guitar, what would it be?”
I started playing guitar in the early 80’s. It was one of those childhood memories that sticks out with complete clarity. I watched my older brother and his friend Rob working out a song by the Shadows called “Shazaam”. I just sat there and watched for about an hour, while they worked it out. When they got bored and left, I picked up the guitar and then copied what they did. I was surprised that I seemed more physically able to do it than they were, as I was playing it quite quickly. I then copied whatever they did on guitar until some point soon after I had about 10 Shadows songs under my belt and started working stuff out for myself. We all shared the knowledge between the three of us (Rob introduced me to a lot of rock and roll stuff and then my brother went off to explore U2) I learned quite a nice and interesting range of stuff as a kid, I thought at the time I was cool because I could play songs for 4 or 5 different artists!
To my younger self, I say this… in fact, I’m going to capitalize them as I want to shout them at me…
GET SOME BLOODY LESSONS: It’s taken me years to remove the bad habits I’ve learned from when I first started - I was only exposed to the music I really liked so I was narrow minded, had a narrow field of musical exposure and my theoretical knowledge is shockingly bad. It’s better now (thank you Tom Quayle) but it’s no where near where it should be considering I’ve been playing for over 35 years. So, get lessons, play properly and embrace the music your teacher suggests you listen to!
LEARN TO READ THE BLOODY DOTS YOU IDIOT: This is probably my greatest regret. By the time I was in my late teens and early 20’s I was, in terms of physicality, a great player. I could do almost anything. But, my lack of reading meant once again I was narrow viewed, I couldn’t stand in, I couldn’t work as a player professionally as easily as it would have been had I learned to read properly.
LISTEN TO EVERYTHING AS EVERYTHING IS COOL: I never listened to jazz, blues, country… anything other than what was in my CD collection. I didn’t properly first listen to the Beatles until I was in my mid 20’s. I had never heard Johnny Cash, Jerry Reed, Rory, Chet, BB King, Robert Johnson, Jimi, Muddy Waters, Grant Green, SRV, Jansch, Larry Charlton, Django… none of it until I was much much older than I should have been. I thought that because I had the “Still Got The Blues” album by Gary Moore I could play the blues. I missed out on SO much it’s hard to comprehend.
PLAY FOR THE SONG: I played to (try to) look cool and (try to) attract the girls. I never played for the song, when I think about some of the inappropriate Vai licks I put into Blues songs it makes me cringe now. I never played for the song. Only for me and my sex drive.
GEAR DOES NOT COMPENSATE POOR TECHNIQUE: I got a compressor early, this meant I could do a note for note copy of “It’s a Monster” by Extreme without warming up as the band opener, but only if I had my compressor with me and enough gain. Again, showing off. If you can’t play it totally clean, you can’t play it properly.
WORK OUT EVERY SONG YOU HEAR, BY EAR: I wish I had done this, I’ve learned so much from working out songs by ear and then thinking about “why did they do that?”. You don’t do that when you go and buy the tab books, which of course was what I did. I almost feel sorry for the people learning now as they have so much in the way of short cut respouces available to them via the internet.
EVERYTHING BETWEEN YOUR FINGERS AND YOUR EARS IS IMPORTANT: In my first band I had a wonderful guitar. An Ibanez JEM 77FR. Unfortunately, I put it through a Boss BE-5 into a stock Peavey Bandit 112. In other words, I successfully made a great guitar sound bloody awful night after night. These days all of my gear choices are for a reason. My guitar, my wireless, my pedals, my patch cables, the cable running to the amp, the amp, the speaker cable, the cab and the speakers. Everything is considered and chosen to make me sound as good as I possibly can. I don’t really have any weak links in my signal chain, although it leaves me vulnerable in terms of what goes in comes out, I’m a better player for it and much more pleasing on the ear of the audience.
PLAY WITH AS MANY BANDS AS POSSIBLE: I don’t know about you, but I remember mistakes on stage far more than I do if they are made at home. So, I would tell myself to go and join a blues band early on. Join a wedding band. Join ANY band, because you learn so much in those bands it will make you an infinitely better player.
DON’T TAKE THE PEOPLE THAT MAKE THE EFFORT OF COMING TO SEE YOU PLAY FOR GRANTED: When you play live in front of a fee paying public, or people that are supporting free venues by drinking the beer, give them the best musical experience you can. They don’t care how great you think you are.
FFS, PRACTICE MORE: Once again, as I was a flashly player and had the gear to allow me to keep the notes I didn’t quite hit, I thought I was much better than I was. It’s taken me YEARS to get my right hand up near to where my left is now, and it’s still waaaaaay off from where it should be all things considered. I’m actually a little embarrassed by my rhythm playing. I didn’t practice my right hand technique anywhere near as much as I should have, also my timing is awful, without a drummer or a click track I can’t keep in time worth a beat, although in my defense, I am considerably better than I was 10 years ago. So, young Jason, practice practice practice.
DON’T BE A DICK: Pretty certain that one doesn’t need any further explanation.
There, I feel better for that. I just wish I’d been around to tell me this all these years ago. And yes, that statement and all the contradictions within confuses me as well!
I was talking to Alex about a forthcoming blog he has coming and I (as usual) ended up quoting an Iron Maiden song to him. The song is B side from 1986, so you know, not one of their most well-known, but me being the Maiden geek I am, it did seemed appropriate.
Alex’s blog is going to be about common problems for people starting out in bands, and I instantly thought of the Maiden’s song “The Sheriff of Huddersfield” which was basically them mercilessly taking the piss out of their manager Rod Smallwood. There is a wonderful line in that (Bruce doing an impression of Rod) that says “Pride and Ego my lads, pride and ego, it’s what makes the world rotate.”
As I was then thinking about what he said, I had somewhat of a revelation myself, so I thought I would put it down on th’internet (one for the good people of Huddersfield there, and Yorkshire in general to enjoy) to remind myself in the future about my place in the universe and playing in a band.
I play in a pub band, doing covers. Nothing outrageous, but we make good noises at all the right times. We do our favourite songs in the hope that the people coming to see us enjoy them also. We are not a note for note type of band, we do everything our way – sometimes that way is like the record, sometimes it’s really not. This means I have a lot of scope as the guitar player to go off on one and enjoy myself with rather long and protracted solos.
Last week we played a gig and did a song we don’t do very often, “Bring Back The Sunshine” by Eddie Rabbit. We do it nothing like the original, it’s more done in a rock ballad style and I get the opportunity every time to pretend to be David Gilmour.
In my opinion, I did the greatest improvised solo of my life last week in this song, I literally gave myself goosebumps as I was playing it. Mrs Wilding comes to virtually every gig (she often plays the piano with us as well, but wasn’t on the night in question) as she just loves listening to me play. As we’ve been married for over 15 years she knows my playing well and knows when I am happy playing and when I am not, once I had finished my solo I looked up at her and she was beaming at me, smiling all the way up to her eyes and back down again, so I know that she appreciated it also.
Once the set had finished I went outside to cool down and waited for the inevitable glory to be poured on me by my bandmates. You may think I’m joking but we’ve all known each other for literally decades and I’ve been playing with them for that long, not as a regular member of the band but I’ve been dropping in and out for ever, so we know each other really well and we have absolutely no issue with telling each other when one of us does something really good, or really bad. I think it makes us a better band as we trust each other implicitly. I joined the band full time 18 months ago and we’ve often commented on how musically we are a good fit as we are all just fans of each other’s playing. I’ve said before I consider Rick, the bass player, to be the greatest I’ve ever seen and stand by that.
So (there it is again, I really must stop going that), I’m outside and out they come and I say “That was great”… the bass players says “Love that picking thing you did on Liza Jane” and the singer said, “Bring Back The Sunshine…” (here we go, I was about to receive the glory I so richly deserved) “… would be great if you went down low at some point, give it some more dynamics”.
I was devastated. Literally felt like my heart dropped into my stomach. Nothing about my mega solo at all. Mrs Wilding had said it was great, she loved it, she even recognised some of the set pieces I had done within it
It’s taken me until today to realise that my pride and ego have got the better of me, and for that, I openly and publically apologise to them. If I think the solo was that good, but it didn’t catch their attention enough to comment, then I need to make it better. I can remember exactly what I did and how I did it (which is rare when you are a prolific improviser) as a lot of it was sections of some tasty licks from other players put together to make my own version of a solo. I obviously need to make it better, I need to think about its structure and a way to make it more memorable. If I want to catch their attention, I need to actually catch their attention with something and not just assume that because I think something was good, that they should notice it.
Basically, I need to work on me. Pride and Ego my lads, pride and ego. It’s what makes the world rotate.
I’ve not had a good internet based rant for ages so I think it might be time to dust off my sword and shield and dive on in…
Part of my job is to answer questions, research products, keep an eye on the competition and the like so I quite often tour the forums (or, as this is 2017, the social media equivalent) as it’s the best way of discovering what is around, what is coming, and what people are leaning towards. Mostly, it’s a very rewarding process but sometimes I read things that make me want to stop the world and get off. My main frustration tends to be geared towards the attitudes that appear to be forming, as you watch them grow and become a thing, it’s very frustrating because once you do this long enough you see it coming and you want to be able to stop it, but you are powerless.
The latest one, or should I say, the one I’ve been noticing for about a year or so now is in full flow.
Inverted Gear Snobbery.
You may have noticed this, as it often revolves around brands such as PRS, Strymon, Two Rock and even sometimes the high-end effects manufacturers such as ours (yes, I know Strymon are that as well but let’s face it, they are a force of their own these days and stand above the resst of the market in that particular field). You’ll notice several reoccurring comments. “Praise and Worship” and “Blues lawyer” and both of these send me postal.
Praise and Worship
I despise labels in music, to me, it’s either rock and roll or it’s not. I tend to personally dislike the things that aren’t in my head rock and roll, but you know, that’s me. However, rock and roll isn’t what its common label is, it’s anything cool, edgy, different, powerful, emotional. So, Justin Beiber’s “Love Yourself” is rock and roll, and "Rockstar" by Nickleback isn’t. It’s not about the chord structure or being guitar-based, it’s about the passion, performance and the delivery. If a song is delivered on a Sunday morning, in a church and delivered with passion and power, who cares. To me, it’s still rock and roll. It’s just a genre of music, it has its own style, its own way of doing things… so, there tends to be the Trifecta of Strymons on the board as let’s face it, if you want mental delays, reverbs, modulations to be all over the place, all the time, and have it under control, is there a better tool for it? Nope. Not right now. So why is it a problem? I don’t know, I’ve asked people why and they just laugh and make derogatory comments. It’s all a little strange really, but boy, do they enjoy making disparaging comments about those Strymons and lots of booteek level pedals that are on the board.
This gets right on my nerves as well, so what if someone has worked hard in their career and now has a massive amount of disposable income. So they buy a $4k PRS and play blues licks on it, who cares? What difference does it make? If someone wants to spend their money on a nice guitar, why shouldn’t that, why does it mean we should mock them and make fun of them? Music is being played, and that’s a good thing.
So (and yes, I also hate paragraphs that start with that as well), what is this about? Why do people instantly judge people based on the fact they have nice things. Why is it an issue if a random P&W guy uses 3 Strymons for 6 songs on a Sunday morning, or if a successful lawyer owns a few extremely nice PRS. The only issue should be “are they being put to good use”. If they are bought to be put into a bank vault, then yes, we should be in an uproar, but in my experience, they generally aren’t. A lot of people wear their gear as a badge of honour, as a status symbol, but that’s no difference to a young guy and his impressive jewelry or sneaker collection, someone who collects books, paintings, watches, cars… anything. What difference does it make? Do people with a PS1 mock the people with a PS4? No, they don’t.
A lot of this, I think, stems from inverted snobbery that maybe comes from a little jealousy. You’ll often notice that the guy making the most noise is the one with the old TS and Strat into a Fender amp. Or a Gibson into a Marshall. Often runs alongside the “If it wuz good enuf for Jimi” comment or similar. I quite often respond to “what difference does it make, it’s a subjective issue”. Gear is here for one reason and one reason only, to make the people using it happy. If the gear does that, then job done. Just don’t look down on the people who choose to do it differently than you do. Both styles are good. Both are valid. Both have a place. I see a lot of it come from people perceive that 'blue lawyers' drive the price up, do they? How many 'blues lawyers' do you see that have a Klon, or a Dumble... in my experience, none. All their stuff tends to be new and shiny.
As an ending to this rant, I have to declare this. I play a PRS. I gig with 2 Strymon's and 4 Wampler's. The picture above is my board. I have a law degree, but I don’t play the blues much and it’s pretty well-known I’m hugely unlikely to be playing in any given P&W setting anytime soon. How about you listen to my tone and what I play instead? How about we listen to what the guys with the Strymon's and the nice PRS do instead? Why do we listen and judge something so easily with our eyes when in this case it’s our ears that we should be using, not any gear based preconceptions that are invariably saying more about the person saying them than the person under ‘discussion’.
As you may know, we run an extremely lively group on Facebook, imaginatively named “The Wampler Pedals Tone Group”. Feel free to click on that and join us.
We are quite proud that in the most, it’s very unlike MANY other pages that talk about gear, as generally there isn’t much trolling and everyone is there because it’s a ‘safe’ place to talk openly without much in the way of come back. I say ‘much’ because as we’ve got 10k members, it does sometimes kick off in there, and when it does Alex and I have to make like Gendry and bring the axe to any particular party that might be in full flow.
At the start of the weekend, there was a classic post that ended up in somewhat of a 'heated debate'. It was the classic "Tone is in the fingers" comment that people reacted too, and then others reacted back. It was one of those posts, you know what it's like...
ANYWAY... This started me thinking. How can we look at this issue objectively and see if it’s true. Or if it’s half true. Or if it’s crap. At the very moment in time i as thining about it I received a barrage of texts from my friend Jamie, utterly pointless ones (because if I am being honest we have a similar sense of humour, that of a 12 year old boy, and are constantly texting each other stuff just to make the other laugh), but as usual they were very funny. As I was texting him back I had what you might call a lightbulb moment, because the best thing about Jamie in regard to the question mentioned above is that he has spent a lot of the last 10 years as the guitar player in the show “We Will Rock You” (where they are very very fussy about tone and you HAVE to sound like Brian May does as much as possible to be even considered). He is unique in this thought process because he has the rare position of being friends with Brian May and has toured with him... So, as he has spent his time using gear to sound like someone and then had the opportunity to play though that same person’s real rig, I thought I’d put the question directly to him…
JW: “Hey Jamie, I want to ask you a specific question but before I get there, I'd like a little back ground first... So, the We Will Rock You (WWRY) show, how long have you been doing that?”
JH: “I first started in 2007 as the sub guitarist and went on to be “Guitar #1” in Europe (at Brian’s request). So far I’ve played the show in UK (including the tour), Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Austria. All this means I have to do all the signature Brian stuff and I'm the one that goes out on to the stage every night and plays the solo from Bohemian Rhapsody as a visual part of the show.”
JW: “What was the requirement for gear in the WWRY show?”
JH: “We had to sound as much like him as possible, so that includes a Red Special guitar, Fryer Treble Booster, big chorus and authentic AC 30’s. I went on a personal mission to get as close as I can so I got a different treble booster, the one that is worn on the strap, had the pickups replaced on my Red Special to the ones wound the same as Brian’s with old 60’s magnets and even the Bourne Pots which are slightly different. All this is integral to the tone, THAT tone.”
JW: “So, how close do you think you got to Brian’s tone with that gear?”
JH: “To be honest, the gear is really important but it’s more about getting into the headspace of how Brian plays and using his techniques. For example, the sixpence, the belt pack booster BEFORE the wireless system, the using of the finger to brush the string, the almost regal way he phrases his runs, pre-bends and his vibrato. So, it’s just as important to use the fingers in the way he does as it is to have the gear, but it’s more important to get into his mindspace and work out what he plays and how he plays it. There are so many different things that make up his sound.”
JW: “You also toured with Brian – so when you played Brian’s gear, how close can you get to him”
JH: “I think as close as anyone can get by getting into that mindset, but it was still only really close, because I’m not Brian. When I am playing like him, I exaggerate the things he does to make it sound more like him to make those signature parts work, but I’d say it’s impossible to truly 100% sound that way, but I think we (the guys who really really try) can get close enough for a lot of people to question who it is, providing we have the right gear and right mindset. When we played Hyde Park in London, I got to rip through his entire rig at huge volume, because that’s my childhood right there, I was so happy… and it sounded so good, Brian and Pete (Brian’s long serving tech) where there, and they said I was really really close to ‘THAT’ sound”
JW: “So, is tone all in the fingers or all in the gear?”
JH: “It’s in the fingers, and the gear, but most importantly, it’s in the mindset and the approach to how you make the gear work and appreciating that the phrasing along with it, that is actually as much to do with the tone than anything else. It’s all as important as each other.”
So, what do we make of all that? Let’s think about what Jamie was saying, and let’s face it, he’s employed to sound like Brian as much as possible and he went the extra mile to do it (and, as Queen own the show he's employed by Brian to play like him). He can get really close by employing the same gear, the same touch and most importantly the same mindset. So, it would appear that tone is not all in the fingers, or the gear after all. Everything is important, everything makes the tone, but you have to be thinking in the right way first.
Jamie is a session musician from the UK, now based in Sweden. He endorses and is endorsed by: Music Man, Mesa Boogie, Massive Unity, Two Notes, Steinberg, DiMarzio and many other incredible manufacturers. You can catch him on tour this year with The Champions of Rock in Scandinavia, see his instructional videos on LickLibrary and buy materials from his website, jamiehumphries.com
... yep, hear that all the time. It's almost up there with the meme of Jimi with the caption "Jimi plays without true bypass pedals and everyone still manages to enjoy his tone.
Those, amongst others, are the things guaranteed to make us roll our eyes and yawn. We've even had someone imply recently that professional guitar players don't really need fingers.
So, let's look at this properly. Let's have a think about the guitar signal, its path, pedals and what is needed and what isn't. Actually, let's not. Let's just remember this.
Guitar pedals are a tool that some people enjoy using. They are not essential. They are not invalid. They are a tool. Put it this way, if you were walking past a stone mason or carpenter working would you shout up to him "What you using that drill for bud, Christopher Wren didn't need that when he designed and built St Paul's Cathedral in 1675!" - I doubt you would, I doubt anyone would. Well, I hope no one would because basically, that would be a fraction silly.
We, as always, were having a discussion about this the other day. We'd seen many outrageous comments from certain people online and we were trying to contemplate it properly and we sort of came up with this. Guitar pedals are like a spice rack full of a wide range of spices. You sometimes pick on to make something a little better, you sometimes don't. We, and I'm guessing others in our industry, feel that we do not expect your entire playing life to revolve around pedals, we just expect that there are times when you feel like the tone you are chasing is not quite right and there may be something out there to help you get it. It's become more and more obvious over the years that more and more people are using pedals (helped that company's like ours make pedals that sound really good these days, as previously, not many of them truly did) because they give you better tones, they give you more options. If you have a decent clean amp, spend a few hundred bucks on your favourite pedals and they will be able to transform that amp into any number of other amps. Your Marshall can become a Fender and your Fender can become a Marshall... or a Vox, or a Randall, or... or.... or.... Certainly easiler than having to buy a new amp every time you want to change your gain choices!
So, consider your base tone, the one you love more than anything, a nice juicy perfectly cook steak (apologies to the vegetarians out there, but this is the best way to describe it). Sometimes you want it straight up, nothing fancy, just as it comes. Other times you might want it to have some pepper on it, or pepper sauce… other times you might want the full cumin rub, or even mustard… you can have it any way you like.
Your pedal box IS your spice rack, and let’s face it, would you want to go to dinner repeatedly with a person who cooks in the same bland way every time? Sometimes it would be great, others…. Just boring.
Anyone know how Keef likes his steak?