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Digital killed the Analog star?

Last year I received my final print issue of Macworld magazine. I had no idea they had even planned to go all digital. It just showed up, with a big attachment on the front that told me how to activate my new digital subscription and armed that if I did not activate by a certain date, I would lose the remainder of my subscription. As I stated this was a complete surprise to me and I was really not happy about it. I have several print issues of Macworld saved and I reference them from time to time. The whole thing just felt weird and not very well thought out.

I immediately started to contemplate the future of magazines. Was the end of Macworld a sign? I still subscribe to print magazines, but looking back on the last year, digital media is slowly replacing my print collection. I started to wonder why? For one thing, digital is almost always faster. If I find a book on Kindle, I can download it in seconds. But I am willing to wait for books an magazines, so there had to be more. Then it hit me. If it was something that the rest of family might not care about, I bought digital. If it was something we might all share, I bought traditional.

I figured Macworld is a magazine dedicated to covering technology and has seen 30 years of technological evolution, so they should know something about where technology is heading. So I signed up, activated my digital subscription and downloaded the app. I found it a little strange that even though I had to create a user name an password for this digital subscription that it still required me to input information from the mailing label of the magazine. I figured that it was the first month of all digital, so I didn't inquire further.

Fast forward a couple months and as I had predicted, I had not read any issues of Macworld. The app is not easy to use, and I am not always around wifi when I think about the new issue, so I would go a month or two with out downloading a new issue. So after a couple months I decided to log back into the app and download the latest issue. The app had updated so I had to log in again. And that experience is what led me to believe that the “All Digital” thing was a last minute decision to try to cut costs and save money.

You see, when I went to log back into the app, it required that I put in the information from the label on my magazine. You know the magazine that I am no longer mailed because the company went all digital. Luckily I did save a few issues so I had the label I needed. But it was still a pain. And that got me thinking. Digital makes sense when it's “easier”. I buy more records(I will always call them “records”) in MP3 format than CD because I listen to all my music digitally because I can carry most of it with me, and it's easy and convenient. I grab a print magazine for the same reason, it's easier….for me anyway.

The medium that I feel is really embracing digital is comic books. Moving meant leaving my favorite comic shop and since I was having issues storing all my comics anyway, it seemed like a good time to try digital. Comixology has a great app, and it's easy for my to subscribe and get my books auto delivered every month. They are doing digital right.

What's all this got to do with guitar? Not much on the surface. But if you think about the print industry, it really had not changed much since it started. And that's kinda the same with the guitar industry. The Strat and the Les Paul are virtually the same as when they were launched over 60 years ago. A change has to be coming, it's just a matter of what and when.

 

Back to the Shack

The 4ft receipt from my Radio Shack shopping trip

My Dad worked at Radio Shack for as long as I can remember. Due to that fact, I subsequently spent a lot of time in Radio Shack stores. I was always in my dad's store. I knew the inventory inside and out. I marveled at every new electronic breakthrough Radio Shack introduced. From my favorite game (Fireaway – a Space Invaders knockoff) to the robotic arm (google “Armitron”) to listening to “Bark at the moon” (my first experience with the CD player), Radio Shack was always my gateway to technology. In the 90's I started working at Radio Shack, and for the next decade my Paycheck was divided between bills, music gear, and Radio Shack Products (which was also normally tied to music gear).

Radio Shack was important to my development as a musician as well. My first introduction to computer music was using a Roland Sound card in a Tandy 3000 using Cakewalk. I remember sitting down to rough out MIDI tracks and doing it all using a mouse to enter standard notation on a music staff. It was so much more work back then, but it gave me access to sounds I would not have had otherwise, and I learned so much. When setting up my home studio with a four-track cassette (yes, cassette, as in analog tape) recorder I needed a mix down deck. Naturally I started my search by looking at the big names at the time like Fostex, Tascam, and Vestax, but dad convinced me to also consider the “Realistic” line of tape decks that Radio Shack offered. At that time they were re-branding their audio line from “Realistic” to “Optimus”, and rumor has it the same factories producing the other big name tape decks of the day were also making Radio Shack's products. The difference? Radio Shack demanded higher quality than the other companies. When I compared the Tascam deck to the Radio Shack deck, the Radio Shack deck was the hands down winner. I was blown away, and that forever changed my opinion of the “Radio Shack” brand. From that point on Radio Shack powered my studio from tapes to head phones, to amplified speakers to cables. Then they shifted focus. They lost sight of the DIY ethic that launched and fouled their success. And that brings us to today.

A small part of my purchase from the local Radio Shack closing

Earlier this year Radio Shack announced it's restructuring and the closing of some of its stores. I find an irony in all this as the closing comes just as I am getting back into electronics. The more I learn about electronics and the pedals I want to build, the more I chuckle. Everyone talks about the mystique of “Germanium” components and how today you can't find any. Do you know how many germanium diodes and transistors I stocked over my tenure at Radio Shack? Never realizing what the parts were or what to do with them? I've said I am slow learner. I really am. It takes me normally twice the amount of time to grasp a concept as most normal people. But that said, what I lack in speed, I make up for in retention. I wish I had some guidance back then, but really that's when the DIY effects boom was just beginning and no one knew what they were doing yet.

For now, Radio Shack is keeping about 2000 store open and thankfully I still have two in my area and a Radio Shack Dealer store. So I still have access to that “magic”. Also thankfully Radio Shack has realized they need to get back into their roots and are stocking today's hot DIY components. The only thing lacking now (at the corporate stores, at least) is the knowledge. When you shopped at Radio Shack before the 90's you didn't just have some guy ringing up your order with a scowl because you interrupted whatever game he was playing on his phone. You had knowledge and experience. People who knew how to do things and were able to talk you through hooking up that new phone line to connect the neon phone you bought for your kids. If Radio Shack is to survive that's what they need to get back. People with experience, people that can teach others. Because that was what built “The Shack” in the first place.

 

The Wampler Leviathan

My Leviathan pedal laid out with all the packaging

My Leviathan pedal laid out with all the packaging

Last week I wrote about the “Chasing Tone” podcast that Wampler pedals puts out. As I mentioned last week I really had no interest in Wampler pedals due to the fact that I had written them off as for “country guys” only. Well, that was #hasbrownwrong (listen to the podcast to find out what that means). Right around the holidays I was catching up with Dave, the owner of “Sloan’s Guitar Emporium” in Butler, Pa. He mentioned he was going to start carrying Wampler pedals and thought I should check them out. That’s what led to me checking out the podcast. The podcast is what led to me purchasing my first Wampler pedal.

On the podcast, Max, Travis and Brian are very good about not only talking about the current Wampler line of pedals, but other gear as well. They are also not afraid to discuss the pedals that have not been so successful, although they don’t normally mention the names. On a few episodes they referenced a discontinued Fuzz pedal. They mentioned that it had not really been a success sales wise and used it as an example when discussing “new” circuits vs “clones” of old circuits. They referenced the discontinued Fuzz as being based on a sound rather than a circuit and that it was still sought after by a lot of heavier bands. They mentioned the pedal enough that I became intrigued and sought it out.

The pedal in question is the “Leviathan”. After watching some demo videos, I started to track one down. After a short search, I found it online through guitarcenter.com. I could not wait to try this pedal. As I have mentioned a few times in this blog, I am really into fuzz pedals right now and being that this one was based on the sound of a classic 90’s sound that was massive and brutal, I was very anxious to see if it would live up to the hype.

Well, it did. First I have to give Wampler props for presentation. The pedal comes in a plain white box, with a full color sticker of the pedal and a few words about it. Opening the box was cool. The pedal is wrapped in a small canvas bag. Just the fact that you

The Leviathan box

The Leviathan box

know these are made in America and someone had to stuff that pedal in the bag, and it has to add extra cost (no matter how small) it’s nice to see a company still have small details like that. in the box below the pedal is a Wampler sticker and a business card with contact info for support. The best way to describe all this is just elegant. Boss pedals are just stuffed in a box, this pedal was placed in the box with great care and pride.

Leviathan at home on my board

Leviathan at home on my board

My signal chain for the first test drive was My Mexi strat into the Leviathan into the Boss FBM-1 ( this thing is never turned off, it’s the amp sound I always wanted) into my Vox AC4, set to a 1/4 watt. I messed around with the two meetings, “Rumble” and “Roar”. Roar has more “bite” to it and it’s louder just by flipping the switch. My favorite setting is “Rumble”. The combo of this pedal with my FBM-1 is just a wall of thick, beautiful Fuzz! Here’s the thing that really caught me off guard, the feedback. I mentioned previously on the blog that I got a Zvex fat fuzz factory, and that pedal was my favorite until I played the Leviathan. Leviathan feeds back more controllably than any other pedal combo I have used. This thing just sounds crazy good.

When Brian and the guys were discussing this pedal and it’s lack of “commercial” success so to speak, Brian stated “People just don’t want anything different. They want tweaked versions of old circuits”. Well, for once I happy to not fall into the “people” category. I love this pedal and I love that Brian took a risk making it and I hope he continues taking risks like this in the future. So if you want something that is NOT your run of the mill Fuzz clone, jump on-line and grab one of these beasts before they are all gone. I am glad I did!

Wampler Pedals, chasing tone and chasing topics

I first learned about Brian Wampler through the Premier Guitar Podcast. They had him on talking about mods and about the new (at the time anyway) Paisley Drive. I was impressed with Brian’s knowledge, but I have to be honest, a pedal made for a country guitarist did not interest me in the least. And that was it. I wrote off Wampler pedals as something for country players and moved on.

Fast forward to a couple Stompboxtober events ago and Wampler pedals was on of the featured give aways. I signed up and opted in for the mailing list and started getting the Wampler newsletter. Little by little they started changing my mind. Each week there was something new, a lesson, a fun video, an April fools joke. Turns out these guys take having fun as seriously as they take guitar tone. Then one day they announced their podcast. Again I wrote it off. I had no interest in another podcast. I already subscribe to about a dozen that I am way behind on as it is, so one more did not interest me.

Then I got an email about episode 30. In episode 30 they were going to talk about circuits. Now they had my attention. Since my current obsession this year is with building my own pedal I tuned in. Why did I wait so long? These guys are hysterical! Their podcast is possibly the most entertaining and simultaneously educational podcast I have listened to yet. At this point I have now listened to every episode, and what a ride it’s been. The first few episodes are really stiff. You can tell they were feeling out the audience and trying to find their groove. I can’t remember what episode Max started talking, but I am glad he did. He’s the straight man to Travis’ class clown.

Each episode I learn something new, or get a new tip to try. My favorite episodes are the ones where Travis gets Brian to talk “pedal nerd”. These guys take tone seriously. The best part is that you start to realize that what they do is way more than a job, it’s a passion. Through listening to the podcast I discovered a pedal that sounded like it was up my alley. It’s also discontinued. Luckily for me I was able to find on on-line. That pedal will be the subject of my next post. Until then, check out the “Chasing Tone” podcast at http://www.wamplerpedals.com/podcast/. If you don’t enjoy it, then you are #hashbrownwrong.

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