Wah Wah Wah…

20170318_120643I had a gig with my classic rock cover band yesterday. On a whim, I decided to use my big board so I could use my Vox Big Bad Wah. I got this a few years ago and hadn’t really used it all that much, even though I love playing with a wah. But with my songwriting taking yet another turn to a highly reggae-influenced flavor, I’ve started taking stock of the effects that I use, and wah is certainly an important component.

But moreover, as with all my gig configurations, I put the effects on my board based on how I’m feeling, and yesterday, as I was configuring my board, I thought, Hmmm… I really feel like using a wah today That meant using my big board because I prefer having all my pedals on a single unit, sharing the same power source. It’s an efficiency thing… 🙂

The picture above shows my board configuration for yesterday’s gig. I daresay that that will probably be my configuration going forward. I know… so simple. Just an overdrive, fed into a wah, then out to modulation effects and into my amp. Simple. I used to have 10 to 12 pedals on the board. In fact, the bottom half of the board sported three to four overdrive and distortion pedals. But the Soul Food – and to a lesser extent – my Timmy give me all I need for pedal-based grit. Admittedly, I’ll probably add the Timmy in there next to the Soul Food. But I love that Soul Food pedal so much, I could do with it alone.

Now with respect to my gig and using the wah pedal, in the middle of our first set I was thinking to myself, Why haven’t I been using this the entire time?!! I don’t know if it was fear, or maybe it was because I was so new to being just a lead guitarist. Who knows? I’m not going to spend much time in analysis. But what I do know is that I absolutely LOVE using a wah pedal. I didn’t use it for every song, of course, but I’d switch in an out of it a lot.

My favorite use of it was when we covered the Beatles’ “Come Together.” We have our female singer do this so we raise the key to Em. But I wanted to uglify it a bit, and since the focus is on the bass for that, I played an Em+9 and frequently added a 6th to that. I also added the wah to add a bit of a sinister twist.

When it came time for my lead, whereas I’d normally do that lead riff, I decided to dispense with it altogether, closed my eyes and let my fingers do the talking. With the wah providing that emphasis when I’d bend notes upon the fret board. I was having so much fun with the lead that I think the rest of the band just let me wail until I was done. I really don’t know how long I jammed. I just know that it was longer than normal, and when I finished I had a shit-eating grin on my face. Using the wah then was just an inspirational experience.

Frankly, I don’t even know how good I sounded. For all I know, I sounded like total shit. But I was just played with loose abandon, letting whatever was inside me come out through my fingers. But I think I did a good job because the audience were hooting afterward, and the lady who put on the event just looked at me and said, “Wow…”

The point to all this is that there have been times in my playing career where I find something – in this case, my wah pedal – where something just clicks. It’s strange, it’s new, and perhaps a bit weird feeling. But rather than run from it, I dive head first and immerse myself in the experience, wanting to discover where it takes me. That was yesterday. Now my wah-wah-wah isn’t because I’m crying. It’s a wail of pure inspiration!

No lead-in. Just watch…

What technique! Those descending scales reminded me of a clean version of Yngwie Malmsteen. The dude shredded those scales! And NO distortion!

All I know is that I’m determined to be playing proficiently past 80. Les Paul played up until he died at 95, and his right elbow was locked into place!


“The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”

~ Jack London

I was watching a documentary on the great Raiders quarterback, Ken “Snake” Stabler. In one segment, the narrator mentioned that Stabler was well-read, and an avid reader of Jack London. And during that section, the narrator mentioned one of my favorite Jack London quotes, which I listed above.

That’s such a powerful statement because the implication is that we aren’t here in this life to just “be,” but to act. To put ourselves on the line every day and live, and live life in such a way that we can fulfill what my Native American brothers in the past have said: “It’s a good day to die.” To me, that quote can be summed up in three words: “Go for it!”

I’ve taken that approach with playing guitar. As of the past few years, I’ve been getting into reggae. I can honestly say that while I haven’t morphed my music entirely to reggae, the influence is definitely there. I’ve struggled in making the transition. I love all sorts of music, and my writing contains influences from the many musical styles I both write and play.

But lately, at least for me as an artist, I’ve realized that reggae isn’t so much a sound or even music with a set pattern. There certainly is a foundation of that there; however, what I’ve come to realize is that reggae for me is simply the expression of good vibes. Sure, it can be political and even express disdain for the system, but the underlying root is to give people that sense of “irie.” I may be reading it completely wrong. But this is my personal interpretation.

Circling back to that Jack London quote, right or wrong interpretation, I’m just going for it. I’m not letting myself focus on whether or not my music fits in with the genre. What I’m after is a feeling, a “vibe.” And to be completely honest, I’m not really worried about being discovered and making it big. The best I can do is create music, and if people like what they hear, then that pleases me. After all, our purpose is to live and not exist.

In any case, here’s my latest song called “Let It Ride.”

soul-foodFor me, it’s overdrive pedals. Transparent, amp-in-a-box, tone-coloring, you name it, I love it. To me, overdrive pedals are a lot like guitars. They all have their own unique sounds. And like guitars, when your wife or significant other asks you how many overdrive pedals do you need, for me, the answer is always: Just one more

What got me on this track was the article I wrote yesterday about the Green Child G777 Overdrive. That pedal for me has a lot of promise as it’s a two-channel, stackable overdrive with its own unique voicing. It’s something I’d have to try out, but I like what I’ve seen thus far. This particular pedal got me curious about Green Child’s other offerings, and much to my pleasant surprise, even though Green Child Amplification might seem like an amp company that happens to make drive pedals, their particular specialty is drive pedals. No, this isn’t a plug for Green Child. I’ve never played any of their pedals, though I do find them extremely intriguing because their specialty seems to be creating multi-drive overdrives; that is, two or three overdrive pedals in one. Pretty cool.

I know I lingered a bit on Green Child, but this is what turns me on about overdrive pedals in general: It may seem that there are way too many overdrive pedals on the market, but to me, with all the different overdrives out there, I practically have a never-ending list of overdrive pedals from which to choose! Sure there are lots of clones out there. But there are so many others that may build on a particular foundation, then tweak them to provide their own unique tone. Others, like the EHX Soul Food, unabashedly copy another overdrive’s circuitry – in this case, a Klon Centaur – but get you at least a similar tone and dynamics for a fraction of the price.

I once questioned here on this blog if there are just too many overdrive pedals on the market. But considering what I’ve found with Green Child and even the EHX Soul Food, all I can say is, “Keep ’em comin’!

Greenchild G777 Overdrive

img_0004_webNo, sorry folks, but this isn’t a review of the pedal. However, it does seem promising. Not just a regular overdrive that’s patterned off the TubeScreamer or Klon, but something with an entirely different voice. On top of that, it has two independent overdrive channels that can be run in parallel or stacked and it has a variety of tone-shaping knobs for a practically endless list of overdriven tone possibilities.

All this sounds great, BUT the only good reviews I’ve seen of this pedal have been with people playing Strats. I did find one done with a Les Paul, but though the demonstrator was good, the sound quality of his review was horrid, and how it sounds with a Les Paul is important to me because that’s my main axe.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the sound of a Strat. I have two of them. But I find it strange that the reviews are so skewed with Stratocasters that it makes me think: Just how good is this pedal if few are demonstrating it with a Les Paul? Even Greenchild’s own video demo is predominantly focused on a Strat.

The Premier Guitar review of the pedal wasn’t totally complementary, with the reviewer saying that he didn’t like the high-end sizzle the pedal produces. Myself, I like that if it’s not overdone.

TheGearPage.net doesn’t even have that many threads on the pedal, with about half them being “for sale” posts. The demos didn’t get that much activity either. Strange.

Is it because the market is saturated with drive pedals? Or is it something else? I don’t know…

Normally, I don’t post this sort of article, but the apparent lack of response to this pedal got me wondering. I guess time will only tell…

Before I share my own thoughts, I’d like to share an email I got this morning from MusicTrades.com. It’s a trade rag magazine that puts out email digests. I normally ignore them, but the title of the article caught my eye, and I thought I’d pass it along after I read it. Here it is in its entirety:

Rosewood, And Why Trust In Government Is Low

ACCORDING TO A RECENT PEW SURVEY, only 19% of U.S. citizens trust the Federal government to do the right thing most of the time, the lowest level in 50 years of polling. The explanations for this are varied and complex, but a gathering of industry execs and members of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and Fish & Wildlife Service at NAMM offered insights into the source of the low esteem. Early morning events at NAMM are usually sparsely attended unless there’s a free breakfast involved. This one, however, was standing room only, and with good reason. At issue were three-week-old regulations governing the import and export of rosewood, a staple raw material for instrument makers. Distributors and manufacturers crowded into a small meeting room, looking to government agencies in charge for guidance on how to comply and avoid the law’s onerous penalties. To their disappointment, the official response could be summed up as, “we’re working on it, and we’ll get back to you at some unspecified date.”

Drafted by the United Nations Conference on International Trade In Endangered Species (CITES), the new rosewood regulations stem from a laudable effort to prevent excessive cutting of rosewood. Over the last decade, demand for rosewood furniture in China has led to deforestation in places like Madagascar, Indonesia, and parts of Central America. In response, at the CITES Conference in South Africa last October, all species of rosewood (there are more than 250 varieties, but no one seems to agree on exactly how many) were placed on the CITES Appendix II, requiring more rigorous import and export documentation. Under the new rules, an instrument manufacturer has to document a legal chain of custody for any rosewood, from the time the tree was cut, until the raw wood was delivered to its loading dock. Every finished product containing rosewood needs a similar chain of custody documentation in order to be shipped across borders legally.
Less than three months elapsed between the time CITES adopted the new rosewood regulations and the day they were put into effect, leaving few if any of the 100-plus countries that are signatories to the treaty remotely prepared to implement them. CITES-compliant forms have yet to be drafted, port procedures are a work in process, and details like the “personal effects exemption” remain to be worked out. What documents are needed to legally cross borders with a 50-year-old guitar that has a rosewood fingerboard? No one is entirely sure.

For the industry, the resulting uncertainty has caused paralysis. Unable to secure proper documentation from countries including India or China, containers of finished instruments and raw materials are stacking up on the docks. No distributor we know of wants to risk having a container confiscated, incurring fines, or getting skewered as “against the environment.” U.S. guitar makers face the double challenge of being unable to legally secure rosewood or properly document their products for export. Thus, factories have slowed, and inventory is building up.

Complicating the issue, India, a major source of rosewood, wants no part of the new rules. The country’s established rosewood industry has a reputation for careful forest management: Trees are systematically planted to provide shade for tea plants in commercial plantations; rosewood is plentiful; all cutting is managed under a strict government permitting process. For the 100,000-plus Indians employed in dealing with rosewood, there’s a sense that they are being unfairly punished for the transgressions of other nations.

The incomplete regulations carry real human consequences. Those working in an export department are likely to see reduced commissions; factory workers will have their hours reduced; increased compliance costs will erode profits. The larger manufacturers can work through these issues by assigning staff to cope with the expanded paperwork, but the hundreds of smaller builders represented at NAMM are faced with the prospect of foregoing the use of rosewood, abandoning export markets, or both. When confronted with these issues, government officials reacted with the same sense of urgency you’d expect from the Department of Motor Vehicles.

In their defense, they are not entirely to blame. The new CITES regs were drafted behind closed doors by anonymous U.N. officials, with little or no time for public review or comment. As a result, APHIS and Fish & Wildlife officials seem almost as confused by the new rules as the community of instrument makers. They also feel besieged, given that, collectively, they have a staff of just seven to sort through the mess. What distressed industry members at the NAMM meeting, though, was the absence of any official sympathy for their plight. The unspoken message was, “The unintended consequences of the rules we draft are not our concern; our intentions are good.” In the private sector, though, people faced with mortgages, tuition bills, and payrolls to meet, don’t have that luxury. They can’t just wave away these commitments, saying, “A technocrat far away whipped up these new rules that have impacted my income, but give me a break because the intent is good.”

The fact that these new rules have been so poorly crafted may help speed resolution. Car makers, the furniture industry, and a multitude of houseware suppliers have also been adversely impacted, making for a coalition potentially large enough to command some attention. In a perfect world, though, we’d suggest another solution: dock the rule drafters’ salaries until a more workable draft is completed.

Almost all my guitars have rosewood fretboards, and my dream acoustic guitar will be built entirely of “shipwreck” Brazilian rosewood from a shipwreck off the coast of Brazil in 1936 (or other salvaged Brazilian). I love the feel of a rosewood fretboard, and I love the tones rosewood produces; in particular, with acoustic guitars.

But I’m also environmentally sensitive. So while it appears the CITES regulations have a clear intent, and also realizing like any legislation produced in a vacuum is bound to be flawed, I’m willing to forego my desire for something made with materials from an endangered species. Of course, the exception is the Indian rosewood which is sustainably produced.

What’s happened with the deforestation in Honduras and Madagascar needs to be severely scaled back, if not completely eradicated. I know, we’re talking people’s livelihoods, but though I’m not a “tree-hugger,” I’d still like to leave a legacy of love for the Earth with my descendants.

Circling back to the title of this article: Is there a viable alternative to rosewood? I’ll answer it however tritely with: It really doesn’t matter. What matters is that you pick up an instrument and it speaks to you. For instance, I absolutely LOVE my Squier Classic Vibe Tele. It has a pine body, for chrissake!

I was having a discussion about gear with a friend. For years, he has played through a cheap solid-state amp, and lately, he has been looking to get a tube amp. So he asked me for some advice. I gave my standard answer of “you have to play a lot of amps.” But I directed him towards some entry-level models that would serve him well. He’s in a reggae band, and since reggae is mostly clean, I told him to start with looking a Fender and Fender-ish amps.

But I also cautioned him that he should make his decision purely on how we felt about the sound the amp produces and not get into whether or not the amp is wired point-to-point or if its circuits are printed on a board. The ONLY thing that matters is the sound. As Duke Ellington was once quoted saying, “If it sounds good, it is good.”

diamondWow! Ten years! It is hard to believe that GuitarGear.org has been around that long! What’s even more amazing is that despite having had lapses in posting, I’m actually still adding content after all this time.

I thought about what I might write for this momentous occasion and played around with several ideas but in the end, decided to share a few thoughts on what I’ve learned over 10 years of writing this blog.

I’ll bullet-point the items to not place any particular priority on them:

  • There is no substitution for personal experience. I can’t count the number of times people have said I should try something, or that some gear is the best out there, or I see some video or audio demonstration claiming the same. I’ve made the mistake of buying gear sight-unseen based upon that free advice (no matter how sincere), and been disappointed – many times. Now, if I hear something great online, or hear about something via word-of-mouth, I will make an effort to try to test it out. If I can’t get demo it, I won’t get it.

    By the way, if I could only choose one thing to write about, this point would be it. So if you don’t want to read the whole article and still want to take something away, this is the point to remember.

  • Don’t get sucked into the hype. Dumble, Klon, etc. People pay top-dollar for that equipment. Is it good? No doubt about it. I’ve played a Dumble. Haven’t played a Klon. But are they actually that good that you’d be willing to spend thousands of dollars for one? Hey! If you have the means, more power to you. But going back to my first point, use your ears and be honest before shelling out the money to get something like that. That said, I paid almost $300 to get a Boss CE-2 Chorus; something I paid $69 for back in the early 80’s. But I sold it, and decades later, wanted that sound again. But having experience with it I didn’t balk at the price I had to pay. It was worth it. Funny thing though is that I only use it in my home studio because I don’t want it to get ruined by gigging it too much. 🙂
  • The only thing that a high sticker price guarantees is… well… A high sticker price. If you go on gear forums, you’ll see many people essentially brag about having such and such gear and share how much they paid for it (this especially rings true for boutique pedals), and express just how much better it makes them sound. The implication is that the higher price makes that particular gear so much better than others in its class. I’ve learned to chuckle about that because as many other people say, “Your mileage may vary.” I myself have several boutique pedals, and I’ve paid top-dollar for some, such as my beloved Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay, or my hauntingly smooth Homebrew Electronics THC Chorus. But then again, I had the opportunity to try them out before I purchased them. I know, I keep going back to the first item, but it’s the “bigly” one.
  • Trust your fingers to build your own sound. No, you don’t sound like Eddie Van Halen. No, you don’t sound like Robben Ford. No, you don’t sound like John Mayer. So I guess you’ll just have to settle sounding like yourself because the only fingers you have are your own. I know that people – myself included – like to buy the same gear as their guitar heroes. I bought a few of Satch’s pedals when they came out. But I love those pedals – especially my Big Bad Wah – because of what I can do with them. For instance, I saw an interview with Satch describing the wah pedal and at the time, I was looking to replace my Cry Baby. My first thought wasn’t, “Wow! If I got this, I could sound like Satch!” Actually, my reaction was much more mundane and I thought, Hmmm… I wonder it this will work? So I went down to Guitar Center to try it out once they had it and fell in love with it, and it has never left my board.

    You see, and this especially goes for those starting out buying gear, you’ll eventually learn that your TONE is yours and yours alone because of the fingers you have and the combination of the gear your possess. If you’re looking to develop a sound, it can only be yours. For instance, a few years ago, I was on a board where people were talking about getting that EVH “brown sound.” There was a lot of discussion on how to achieve that until one dissenter said that there’s no way you’ll get there because what you hear on the recording has been processed with EQ, compression, reverb, etc. There’s no way to know what the mixing board settings were, nor how the guitar parts were mastered and trying to get that in a live rig was folly. He then backed that up with one important message: You don’t have EVH’s fingers!

    So trust your own fingers, and build your own sound.

  • The journey in finding the right gear is important. But recognize that it’s a journey. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a shitload of gear that you never use. GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) is real. You see a demo or hear a recording of a guitar, amp or pedal, and you start jonesing to get your hands on one. Or… if you have the funds, you just buy it. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve done that. But before you know it, you will have spent thousands upon thousands on gear, and you’ll look back and say one day and say, “Shit! I gotta get rid of some of this…” I used to have over 20 guitars. But I’ve sold off most of them to where I now only have the 4 that I play regularly.

    But I know of a guy who tragically passed away at a young age who never got over his GAS. My buddy purchased all his gear and literally filled up his two covered racecar haulers!

    The point to this is that as you’re buying gear, do your best – and I know this is very difficult – to be calculating about your purchases, and how that particular gear will fit with you and your sound. I do have to say that at the present, at least for me, it’s much easier to have self-control with pedals. A bit harder are amps, and probably the most difficult are guitars. Luckily with the high-priced items, I have a natural barrier to entry, and that’s budget. But if I had the means, I’d go out right now and get a Gretsch Brian Setzer. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve always difficulty controlling my GAS with guitars, which is how I ended up with over 20.

    And even though pedals are much, much cheaper, I’ve found my sound, so I’m pretty picky about what I put in my chain, and that’s the crux of this particular point. Buying gear to me has been a journey in developing my own sound. The journey never ends, because I’ll tweak things here and there. But recognizing that it is a journey has helped me constantly take stock of the things I purchase and how they might affect my tone.

Well, so as not to sound self-serving on this momentous day, I’d like to wish all of you who have followed GuitarGear.org over the years just one thing: ROCK ON!