[interview] Wampler Pedals: Brian Wampler

Here's FXDB's interview with Brian Wampler of Wampler Pedals:

How did Wampler Pedals start?

Before I got into pedals, I got into making music. I'm 37 years old, and I started playing guitar thirty years ago. My brother was in high school back then and had a rock band, they used to practice at our house. I was only seven, but when I saw the guitarist's Gibson Flying V, I absolutely had to play guitar! Even though they were just practicing Night Ranger's "Don't Tell Me You Love Me" over and over, something about playing guitar just completely fascinated me. I was hooked. My older brother wasn't the first musician in the family, either. My grandparents had a band when they were young that got on the radio. Maybe I inherited it, who knows, but whatever it was, I'm incredibly thankful to have music be such a huge part of my life.

Fast forward many years. I played a lot, and as many guitarists do I turned into a real "gear nut," always trying different guitars, different amps, swapping out effects... Chasing new sounds. Then, some time around 2001, a buddy of mine named Paul Weller (Fireman FX) modded a pedal for me, and it totally changed the sound from mediocre to fantastic. It blew my mind, I was amazed at how much better it sounded. I opened it up right away to figure out what he had done to make it sound so much better! That's where my interest in the electronics behind the sounds started. I wanted to do that, take something and give it some magic. I didn't understand yet what was going on, but that's when I knew I was going to learn. I guess we all have these defining moments. It was a lot like when I was a kid and a Flying V told me I had to play.

I've always been a quick learner, and I applied myself like crazy to every bit of reading I could find on the subject of pedals. We're talking "I'll come to bed in awhile, honey, this is interesting!" type reading. Everything added up more and more until I felt ready to start trying it out, and I went and bought a bunch of different pedals to start getting my hands into them. I applied ideas from anywhere I could find them, and eventually came up with some good ideas of my own. I was absolutely obsessed over getting certain exact behaviors, these specific, ideal sounds, and that's all I could think about. The more time I spent working with pedals, the more I began to realize that there's nothing inherently wrong with pedals – that a lot of my searching when I was younger was the product of a lack of diversity, or a lack of quality, something missing from those specific pedals. Now the search wasn't just grasping in the dark. I had my own head and my own hands and a whole lot of solder. I could do whatever I wanted. They could sound whatever I wanted them to sound like. Not just "alright", totally amazing. With hard work and good ideas, pedals could sound like amps? No, better than a lot of amps. And if you do it right, they can bring their sound to a huge variety of amps.

So that's where it started. A few well-known guitarists started using pedals that I had modded under the Indyguitarist name, and that started a chain of events that's led to where I am now, putting out what I can say with pride are some of the best sounding pedals around. It's been a long road to here, but the road ahead is even more exciting.

Over the years, I've had tons of help... mostly in the form of customer responses. Our customers are our boss. They are the ones that tell us what products they want to see, what they like or don't like. I think as far as inspiration within the music business, Seymour Duncan has inspired me alot these past couple of years as I've gotten to know him as a good friend. I admire people like him - people who are using their talents to change the world in their own unique way, and are passionate about doing that. People who if given the choice, will do what's right rather than what's the most profitable... that's extremely admirable to me.

Outside of the music world, I admire people like Gary Vaynerchuk - Seth Godin - Steve Jobs - just a few for example who are true to who they are (or were), are (or were) focused on 'doing what they do', in order to make the world a little better place.

Where does the name come from?

Our name is derived from my last name.

What sets Wampler Pedals apart from other builders?

Our goal at Wampler Pedals is to provide tones that inspire artists to do what they do - create. We are fanatical about our pedals sounding amazing no matter what guitar/amp the player is plugging into. We are focused on providing astounding customer service... our customers have called it the "Wampler Experience" - something that is very important to us. We love the fact that our customers can depend on us for anything they may need.

Wampler pedals are really well known for doing their job no matter what gear the player is using. When designing them, I'm completely obsessed with making sure they sound great no matter what guitar/amps I'm running them through. I actually have a special room set up where I design our pedals that have various amps lining the walls, from small solid state amps to Vox, Marshalls, vintage Fenders, Mesa Boogies, you name it. the circuit MUST sound great through all of them or I won't release the product. Likewise, I design with various guitars and pickups, and the circuits must sound great through them as well. I start from design sketches I've made and keep in a big book of potential pedal designs. If you think about how different the amp and cabinets sound between, say, the big three (Marshall, Fender, Vox), you'll understand just how time intensive and fanatical I am about spending an enormous amount of time making sure that every pedal circuit sounds great through a variety of equipment. If there's something that really sets us apart, it's that you can count on a Wampler pedal working with your amp. That goes for all of them, but it's probably most time consuming and intensive to make it happen with the overdrives and distortions. It's worth all the time spent playing the same chords through fifteen different amps and 8 different guitars, going back to the board and changing this and that, rinse, repeat, until it's just right... though you might not want to ask my wife about that! :)

Also, I test all my prototypes, once they're getting close to finished, in a live setting. I play guitar all the time, it's a really significant part of my design process, and you can learn a lot about your own pedal when you put it in a band mix.

You asked about our business ethics or philosophy. It's no secret that I'm a Christian, and while I respect everyone and feel like spirituality is a deeply personal thing, at the same time I do feel like it's important for me to try to go beyond "just" making pedals and try to help do some good work in the world. I am lucky to have a platform to help, and that I need to make it count. There's one cause that's especially close to my heart. I don't want to get into too much detail because it's very personal, but cancer is awful and tragic and it's hard to understand how something that is so wide spread and hurts so many people is still around... But, I know research and development of pedals is pretty tough, and medicine is just a completely different level. I do what I can to help contribute to cancer awareness, research and treatment, at least once a year we try to get a pedal out that's special/limited and send the money to cancer charities. I probably don't have to say too much except that way too many of us know how painful and scary cancer is. Brad Paisley is a great guy, totally genuine, and this year he's going above and beyond to help us out by signing some special pink Paisley Drive pedals. We will be auctioning them off and all the money goes to cancer charities. If we're going to beat cancer we have to do it together. I firmly believe that we can, we just have to put our hearts in it and put our money where our mouth is.

Can you tell us something about the production process?

All Wampler pedals are hand-built with top quality parts in the USA. We use quality enclosures and I work hard in the design stage to keep our circuits as compact as possible to make putting a board together easy on players and techs. For example, we just released the SLOstortion, one of the most complex designs I've ever put together, but it doesn't take up any more space on a board than any of our other pedals - and it's a two in one!

We powder coat our own enclosures, and print graphics using a special printing method that's more consistent, more reliable, and more flexible than silk screening. As far as quality control goes, it's an intensive and multi-point system that involves both lab equipment type testing and actual play-testing. Combined with an extremely organized and consistent building process, I'm proud to say that our failure rates are a fraction of the industry standard, especially for electronics you step on!

Which of your pedals makes you most proud?

That's a really tough question. I'm proud of different pedals for different reasons, I guess. I'm proud to have worked with Brent Mason to put out the Hot Wired, and Brad Paisley to put out the Paisley Drive. Recognition as a designer and manufacturer from artists who are also great people is a good feeling.

I'm proud of the SLOstortion, because I worked extremely hard to get everything about it just right and it was technically challenging to achieve the voicing I was going for through as many amps as I test through, get the boost circuit just right to play well not only with the SLOstortion's dirt circuit but also any overdrive, distortion, or amp, since it has to be usable separately. I really did labor forever over getting those things just right. I feel like I achieved something pretty cool there, and users have been really satisfied with it too. Making a lot of people happy with a pedal you worked hard to get right is a good feeling.

But I'm also really proud of the Plexidrive. It's one of my older designs, aiming for a classic Marshall type sound. It isn't nearly as complex as some of my more recent pedals, but what I love about it is that it is a great lesson in that sometimes "less is more" when designing pedals. A lot of its authenticity and responsiveness comes from being a relatively straightforward circuit. It still has the voicing I was going for. I shrank it down to a more efficient layout over the years but it's had the same sound since I first made it. I'm proud of that one for me. It's been on my own board ever since I first put it out. And being satisfied with something because you got it right the first time and not losing that satisfaction over the years is a good feeling, too.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

I don't consider our pedals to be bound to any particular genre at all, we have pedals that will get you a ton of different sounds from twang to huge, modern distortion to drippy vibrato. We have had a huge amount of success with Country artists, I love heading to Nashville and seeing Wampler pedals on all kinds of boards because that's been a real shift over the last several years and it has been great to watch. Knowing people are getting the sounds they need from products I design and my company makes is a really gratifying thought. But you can look out to the coasts and see bands from all kinds of genres using Wampler pedals, there are lots of metal guys in New York who are using the Triple Wreck, guys in California using our Plextortion or SLOstortion, guys in Texas rocking the Plexidrive. And that's just in the USA. Our amp-inspired pedals are huge in Italy, for example, and I think that's amazing and cool! It is extremely gratifying to see so many different people around the world join up under the Wampler Pedals banner, and I wouldn't trade it for owning just one niche, you know?

I've had the pleasure of working with a number of artists, from local guys to international stars. For example, we make the Paisley Drive, which is Brad Paisley's signature overdrive pedal. He's had some extremely nice things to say about it, which is pretty humbling - he could use whatever gear he wants to. He is really great to work with. What a lot of people probably don't know but should is that he is one of the most down to earth guys around. Obviously he gets a royalty on the sales, since it's his signature product... BUT, from the start, he's always had it sent directly to a music charity aimed at getting kids into making music. And I mentioned earlier that he's giving us a hand this October (2011, in case you're reading this in the future!) for our National Breast Cancer Awareness Month fundraiser pedal. He won the 2010 CMA Entertainer of the Year award, and he's got the whole world in front of him, but he's still a great guy who cares for his fellow man.

Speaking of awards... Haha... I've been friends with Brent Mason for a long time. He's worked with so many artists and won so many awards it's probably easier to list what he hasn't done, it'd take less time! I worked on his pedals for a while and have always just really respected his work, he's the absolute pro who can do it all and still stay sane and normal! I was actually a huge fan of Brents even before we started working together... in fact, I even named my son after him, before I even knew him... I was just a huge fan of his playing and his contribution to music and the world. Anyway, when I set out with the business of making my own pedals I definitely wanted to do something with him, and thankfully he was up for it! Talk about a development process and having to just let it happen as it happens, as busy as Brent stays that one took 18 months! But the end result was the Hot Wired, which we put out in 2008. Having my name and Brent's on the same pedal is a huge honor.

What does the future of Wampler Pedals look like?

Sometimes a pedal isn't right. It doesn't fit your rig, it isn't what you asked for, and it won't do what you want. There are plenty of companies that don't care if their product is the right one for you. They just want your money, and know that if they just get enough people's money once, their balance sheet stays black and everybody goes home happy, job done.

Except everybody isn't happy. You're not happy. They had no problem selling you the wrong product, and what's worse than that, nobody looked at you and saw anything but your wallet.

At Wampler Pedals, we don't see you as a bump in the bottom line. We want to enable you, to inspire you! We want to let you get the sound in your head out into the world so you can make your music! We make a lot of great pedals, but we aren't out to "make" every sale. If we have doubts about one of our pedals being the right fit for your rig, don't be surprised if we tell you, respectfully, that we think you'd be better off with something else. Hopefully it's something we make, but if it's not, we'll tell you the truth (and start thinking then and there about how we can make the best kind of product you came to us for!). Our "bottom line" is that we're happier to give you good advice than a bad fit. We don't want one, unsatisfactory experience. We want to bring you the sound you've been looking for and couldn't find anywhere else... And then, others to go with it, as you stick around and learn more about what our pedals have to offer.

Too many companies forget, as they grow, that they started out with heart. We keep that in mind every day. We want to build a lasting connection with you as a customer, based on integrity and respect in our interactions, and a strong commitment to quality and service in the way that we do business. That's our promise. In return, we ask for honesty and a little bit of faith. Honesty from our customers helps us be better for you and for the ever-growing Wampler Pedals customer base of people like you. Buying a Wampler Pedal puts you in the company of tons of great people all over the world, and we work hard to treat everybody the way we want to be treated when we buy a product. We will do everything we can to take care of you.

Let other companies have one sale and a disappointed customer who won't be coming back. We're not after that. That's short-sighted, and just leads to disappointment. We're after something bigger. And we believe you are, too. That's what we're about. We look forward to a great sounding future!

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