'I Am Intrigued By Tone': Exclusive Interview With Brian Wampler

Brian Wampler chats tone, circuits, and DIY electronics   05-May-13

'I Am Intrigued By Tone': Exclusive Interview With Brian Wampler
The Wampler crew (Brian - centre) tackle the crowds at NAMM

Wampler Pedals have become renowned for creating some of the best gain pedals and distortion tones on the market, and behind the company is a small group of hardworking tone purists.

At the helm of the company is Brian Wampler, who started his foray into the world of tone by modding circuits on existing pedals to get the tone he was after in his head.

Thankfully for the rest of us, he started making his own pedals. Wampler Pedals was born, and almost a decade on, they are cropping up on the pedalboards of professional musicians all over the world.

Interviewer Richard Beech caught up with Brian Wampler to talk about how he develops his circuits, and what the next few months holds in store...

RB: Brian, you've pretty much established yourself as the king of stompbox distortion (and we have a readers' poll to prove it!), what is it about distortion and overdrive pedals that you particularly enjoy working on?

BW: "I think it really all started when I was younger and couldn't afford all the great amps that I heard on great recordings. That's really what got me into pedals – I was trying to recreate the sound of other amps with an inexpensive pedal which led me into learning how to modify effects which in turn led me into designing my own effects. I've always been a huge fan of guitar tones; while many guitarists at the time were trying to learn solos note for note, I was intrigued just by the actual tone.

"I love how you can take circuitry and recreate a certain 'feel' of an amp with distortion and overdrive pedals. I enjoy being able to make a little $200 box have the same huge sound and feel as an expensive amp. Of course, it's also nice to be able to mimic the sound of a bunch of different amps in pedal form so you can have a multitude of different tones, all at your feet."

RB: Your latest pedal was the Dual Fusion, we just got a review model in the Sonic State office and it sounds phenomenal, but how long does it take to go from the first sketch of a pedal such as the Dual Fusion, up to public release?

BW: "It varies a lot from pedal to pedal actually; it all depends on how quick I hit on the sound I'm hearing in my head. Sometimes I hit on it within a few days, sometimes it takes a year or more before I'm completely satisfied. The big thing is that I'm fanatical about getting the exact tone I have in my head and until that happens, the pedal will not pass through to the production stage.

"For example, with the Hot Wired and Dual Fusion the whole process was pretty quick. However, with a new pedal we are coming out with shortly (my take on that chimey, Vox-ish, top boosted 30 watt amp tone), I've literally been working on perfecting it for several years, and just only recently got it to where I'm 100% happy with it."

RB: I've got to ask - why did you choose to go into making pedals, and not into something like amplifiers?

BW: "At the time, it wasn't a conscious thing – I just was into effects and naturally that lead to modifying pedals. Like I was saying earlier, when I first started modifying pedals as a hobby I didn't have the money to buy a bunch of nice amps or equipment, so I was trying to come up with new ways of getting great tones from run-of-the-mill gear."

(Photo: Brian Wampler with Tom Quayle and Richard Beech, shooting a video at NAMM)

RB: Wampler's ascent has been quite a speedy one, you've managed to keep the boutique fans on board while also turning it into a major operation, and now you certainly seem like to be taking major chunks of the market place away from the big companies who mass produce their products. How does it feel knowing that your name has become synonymous with high quality effects pedals?

BW: "Honestly, it is a very humbling feeling. A lot of things had to go right that were out of my control to get us to where we are today. I just hope we can continue to be successful as a company in a market that is filling up with great ideas and people. All in all, it feels good to know that we've made an impact on the world in some small way."

RB: The pedal market seems to have proliferated over the past couple of years. So many different companies and pedals are out there, do you have any thoughts on why it has become so saturated? The best theory I've heard is on the economic climate, and the attractiveness of relatively inexpensive items, such as pedals, that can improve your tone without forking out lots of money (as you might need to do if you're purchasing an amp)?

BW: "People have discovered that DIY electronics is not super complicated and it's fun. It's very easy to get your hands on good information with the internet these days, and it's a lot easier for small, web-based companies to get started because the internet makes them available to just about everyone.

"However, what people are now figuring out is that running a business is much much harder than just building a few pedals, which is why you see pedal companies come and go. Also, guitar players like a lot of different tones. Pedals are a lot less expensive than an amp or guitar so they are generally the more logical choice when it comes to upgrading gear or taking a risk on something new."

RB: People can get pretty picky about power supplies and patch cable brands, is there any particular combination of the two you recommend for getting the best out of a Wampler pedal?

BW: "It all depends on what your needs are and what your budget is. If you have only two or three pedals, a Visual Sound One Spot will do just fine for you. If you have a pretty big board of pedals though, you'll probably want to buy one of Voodoo Labs power supplies if you have the money. If money is tight, you can get by with a One Spot with a big board but you may experience more background noise when running a lot of pedals off the same power – especially if any of them have any digital components to them at all."

RB: You've got a pretty extensive collection of gear yourself, can you talk us through some of your most treasured guitars and amps. You test new pedals out on a variety of amps, but is there one particular amp you trust to give a flatter response than the others?

BW: "It's hard to pick a favorite; it's sort of like picking out which child I like best. I like them for different reasons. My guitars that I usually use would be my Mexican Tele with a G bender, my Valley Arts Brent Mason signature series, and my '91 Les Paul. My favorite amps would have to be one of my Shaws or my Port City.

"When it comes to designing and testing pedals, there isn't one particular amp that I always use. I test everything through several of the most common platforms: a Vox, a Deluxe Reverb, a Blackface Twin, a Bassman, and a Marshall. If a pedal sounds good through these, then it should sound good through just about anything."

RB: What is the testing process like when you are developing a pedal, how many hours would you spend just testing it out through various rigs?

BW: "I start by deciding what type of tone I'm shooting for; it could be a tone from a specific song, or just something I have in my head. I will then draw several schematics outlining some ideas on how to achieve that tone. From there, I create that circuit on a breadboard.

"I'll breadboard and tweak each circuit and play it through the previously mentioned amps until I get it just exactly how I'm wanting it to sound and (equally important) feel. A pedal has to sound great and feel great to play for it to be a success. Nobody wants a pedal that doesn't inspire them to keep playing."

RB: Do you bring other people into this testing process, do other people get to listen to the pedal in action during the development phase? Or do you just completely trust your own ears?

BW: "Every situation is different. Sometimes it's just me, sometimes I may have one of my employees with me to bounce ideas off of, and other times I may send prototypes to various friends of mine whose opinions I trust when it comes to tone. Sometimes it's good to have outside input and other times it's better for me to just focus on the pedal by myself."

RB: Finally, I'm pretty sure that if we did an article on SonicState saying "Shout 'Phase' at 9pm this evening if you want Wampler to make a phase pedal," the noise would be deafening come 9pm, so... when are you making a phaser?!

BW: "Don't worry, it's in the works! The main problem is getting the exact JFET transistor that the circuit needs in high quantities in order to make the phaser as consistent as possible from pedal to pedal. Components (especially components like transistors) vary from unit to unit.

"It's important to keep the tolerances of the component in mind when designing a circuit otherwise you will end up with one pedal sounding great and the next one sounding awful because the circuit makes conditions that are outside that component's tolerances. You have to make sure you leave some wiggle room in the circuit for the inconsistencies from component to component. When you are building the quantities of pedals that we are that can be very hard to do!"

Find out more about Wampler Pedals at their website.

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