Talking Tone with Brian Wampler, an effects manufacturer crafting some of the most phenomenal stomp boxes on the market today by harnessing the sound and spirit of legendary amps in pedal form. From the wildly successful Plexi-Drive for M-type tones, to the EVH-evoking Pinnacle, rectified Triple Wreck, and chimey Thirty something; Brian’s expertise puts classic sounds in a pedalboard-friendly format that’s sure to please. Amp connoisseurs will surely find plenty more classic tones in Brian’s pedal lineup, inspiring blends and stacks of legendary tones never before possible without a multi-amp setup.
Outside his “amp in a box” work, Brian has also produced some excellent standalone pedals that have taken the gear community by storm. His K-type Tummnus provides a rich, harmonic kick in the face to any tube amplifier, and his Euphoria and (Brad) Paisley drives provide smooth, articulate tones suitable for a variety of musical styles. With tons of gain on tap, Wampler also gets heavy in the Soverign and all-new Dracarys. We had the chance to speak with Brian about his journey in pedal-land and some of the things and tones that inspire him. Read the full interview below.
1.) You’ve authored a book on pedal modification. Is that how you got into electronics?
I started out by playing a modified pedal that a friend of mine had loaned me—it was a Boss DS-1 distortion. I was blown away by how different the modified version of the pedal sounded compared to the stock version. When I was asking him what he had done to make the pedal so different, he mentioned that he had done some simple modifications, such as changing capacitors and resistors. He also mentioned a website called DIYstompboxes.com that had information about pedal modifications. At that time I didn’t know anything about electronics or anything like that but I did know how to solder so I just started experimenting with modifying various pedals. I bought a breadboard (which allows a person to put together electronic circuit ideas without soldering very quickly), I really read a lot of books on electronics, and dove through various websites such as those from people like Jack Orman, RG Keene, and Mark hammer. Really, it was just a labor of love—I spent all of my spare time experimenting with different circuits in order to create sounds that I was wanting. I was more interested in overdrive and distortion pedals at the time, so that’s where I focused a huge amount of my energy early on.
At the time I was also playing in a band and I had three or four amps on stage. We were playing small bars where you could barely fit the drums on stage let alone all of the amps, and I was dragging them to church as well when I played in the praise and worship band. Of course, my bandmates didn’t really like all the space that took up, especially since we were playing very small clubs, and the church didn’t really have the capacity to run such an exhaustive setup, but I was way more interested in the sounds of the songs we were playing than I was on playing everything note for note…I was always just much more interested in trying to get the sounds that I was hearing from the original recordings. So I started trying to re-create the sounds of the amps that I was using in order to eliminate space on stage and save myself the hassle of dragging a bunch of amps every time I played!
2.) What inspired the creation of Wampler Pedals?
When I first created the company, I actually wasn’t really trying to start a pedal company at all…I was just guitar player who was trying to find the right tones that that I heard my head. I wanted to get the sounds from my favorite records that I loved, but I didn’t have a lot of money and certainly couldn’t buy 10 or 15 different amps. At the first it was just something I was doing for fun—it was something I was doing for myself. I was trying to achieve a lot of great tones through a simplified amplifier set up rather than dragging the amps around. I was always a fan of effects though, even as a teen. I was always a fan of different guitar sounds and tones, and that sort of thing always intrigued me more so than the “guitar solo.”
Eventually as I got more into the DIY community, I started noticing there were a lot of people who didn’t understand how to do a lot of simple modifications, and modding was being over-complicated on various websites. So I just tried to simplify that for those wanting to learn, and that eventually lead to me writing a book. After writing that book and the more I was involved in the DIY community, more and more people were asking me to build pedals for them. I did quite a bit of that actually, and eventually retailers started asking me if I would sell them my pedals. So it all really started out and grew very organically—it was never anything I set out with the intention of building a big pedal company or anything.
3.) Which ideas, pedals, moments, or partnerships really got you and the company going?
I don’t think there’s really one particular idea or moment or pedal or anything like that that really got us going—it’s really just a lot of doors opening and me deciding whether I was going to go through them or not, or whether they were even the right door. A lot of what has got us here is me hiring good people who are better at certain things that I may not be that good at, and also really just paying attention to what people like and don’t like. Overall, in the end, I’m just trying to do the right thing and provide excellent customer service and treat people like I would want to be treated, there’s not really a magic formula to it.
4.) What classic tones lay the foundation for your unique designs like the Paisley, Euphoria, and Sovereign?
With Paisley of course that was the Brad Paisley sound. I knew what he had been using, and I knew what kind of stuff he liked. We had gotten to know each other a bit, so in various conversations with him he was describing to me what he would like “the ultimate overdrive” pedal to sound like, and so that’s how that design came about. With the Euphoria, it started off on a breadboard and I was just tweaking parts and circuits, trying different circuit designs, and just really experimenting with different things in order to get very natural sounding overdrive—something that didn’t sound like a pedal, but sounded more like an extension of an amp. The Sovereign is quite a bit different than our normal “amp in a box” type overdrives and distortions—I wasn’t really trying to mimic any sort amplifier, I just wanted it to sound like a really good distortion channel of an amp. I wanted it to be really neutral and really organic sounding, as well as have a good realistic feel to it so that it felt like a tube amp rather than a solid-state 9-volt pedal.
5.) If you could own any guitar, what would it be and why? How do different types of guitars factor into your thought process?
I really have all the guitars that I want—my favorite has always been the Telecaster, and my favorite one is the Whitfill Telecaster. When I’m designing stuff though I really design through a bunch of different guitars such a Stratocasters, Les Pauls, and other unconventional designs such as my Strandberg. I even use an old Ibanez RG350 and a Schecter, plus various cheaper guitars as well as very high-end expensive guitars. I probably have 15-20 different guitars in all that I use.
6.) You’re a dirt master. What’s you’re favorite type of circuit to create?
I don’t know if I have a favorite type of circuit. I think my favorite thing to do overall is to come up with creative ways to create an overdrive or distortion circuits. But even though that’s what we’re really known for, I love to work on all kinds of different projects including DSP-based stuff, and I’ve even messed with plugin design a bit for fun—but as I said, probably the most fun thing is coming up with unique and creative ways to make an overdrive or distortion pedal.
7.) On diodes, transistors, tubes, etc: Do you favor certain kinds or combinations of materials and parts? How about speakers?
Every design really calls for something different. I don’t really have any favorites like that. Each design leads itself to need certain things in order to get the sound that I’m intending to get. So while one pedal may have germanium diodes another pedal will have a unique JFET type of gain stage that is also driven by an op-amp circuit, or a million different ways where things that can be done to it. As far as speakers, I don’t really have one particular favorite—it really depends on the amp/cabinet. So far, I’ve tended to gravitate more towards the WGS speakers more than other companies.
8.) Your Faux Tape Echo has an analog/digital hybrid design. Can you talk about that, and why you made that choice?
I really like having an analog clean signal with delays and reverb. I don’t like converting the entire signal to digital. I feel like you lose something whenever you do that. It’s not always something you can measure, but it just doesn’t have the same feel to me. It’s probably just a small amount of latency or something along those lines, but for me the analog signal path is just what feels best.
9.) My Plextortion morphs clean amps into dynamic saturation machines. What’s your approach to getting the feel of an amp into a pedal?
Well unfortunately I can’t give too much away on how I approach it, but it’s extremely important to me to not only get the sound to get the feel in the reaction of the amp I’m trying to emulate. This means that I’m not only simulating the preamp circuit—I’m simulating the each stage of the amp that’s clipping and compressing. My goal is to get the feel and sound of air moving from the cabinet.
10.) Speaking of amps, can you tell us more about the Bravado? What kind of thinking and inspiration went into it?
I’ve been working with amps for years now. Eight or nine years ago, I released some DIY tutorials for lower end tube amps just for fun, but as the pedal company took off I kind of let that stuff go for a while. A few years ago, we built four or five amplifiers just for fun and sold them, but this time I really wanted to come out with the ultimate pedal platform amp. I’ve been toying around with different designs and different circuits for a while and I hit upon a combination it just really works well with any pedal. It really takes just about any pedal and makes it sound good. It also has a really great effects loop, which I feel is important for a pedal platform amp.
11.) What tones are you currently chasing?
There are a million of them and I have a ton of different ideas that I’m working on, always. My inspiration comes from a lot of different places though. Sometimes it comes from just hearing a song, and maybe I’ll hear a particular effect on a vocal or a snare for example—that sort of stuff inspires me to create. Other times I’ll stumble upon new music on Spotify or YouTube, and I hear a tone that makes me want to create that sound in a pedal.
12.) What’s next for Wampler Pedals?
The next year or two is going to be very big for us—I have a lot of things that I’ve been working on for the past year or so, and have really been diving deep into some hard-core DSP-type things. I’m not intending to go into the digital world entirely, but I do want to come up with some new sounds that others aren’t doing and do some creative takes on sounds people are familiar with. I want to create some new types of effects that will inspire artist to come up with new songs and different types of music, and hopefully those songs will go onto then inspire others—their listeners. I’d also like to create some more amps. I get a lot of enjoyment out of working with tubes. As of this writing, I probably have eight or nine new designs already done just waiting to be released, so I’m hoping that in 2017 I’ll be able to get a lot of these out much more consistently.
For more about Wampler Pedals, visit WamplerPedals.com and check them out on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.