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Our "That Pedal Show" Blog

Steve Wilson: New Gear and Fresh Sounds

By Andy Perrin | September 05, 2017

That Pedal Show 9/1/2017

This week on TPS, Dan & Mick did yet another gear unveil for an artist’s road worthy rig. This time, the guest was prog-rock guitarist and producer Steve Wilson. Steve’s resume includes four Grammy nominations with the band Porcupine Tree as well as the recently released solo album To the Bone, which has already attracted praise and accolades. Since Dan & Mick intercepted him on the cusp of a major tour, their questions were mostly about what he’s playing and how he’s playing it: gear and style.

In describing the inception of To the Bone, Steve commented that “The album, in many ways, started with a guitar sound.” While the samples and dialogue in the TPS episode revealed much about Steve’s approach to the instrument and relationship with gear, he shared how changes to each component of his rig—guitar, amps, and pedals—resulted in a paradigm shift in writing and on the road.

That Dusty Tele in the Corner: Neglected Gear That Unexpectedly Inspires

As Steve described a critical song writing moment behind the album, he recalled a story of buying a relic Joe Strummer Telecaster a decade ago, mostly out of a feeling of obligation (shouldn’t we all own a Tele?). After the acquisition, the feeling passed and the instrument gathered dust in the corner.

One day, inspiration struck—yet Steve’s usual rig was still on the road. After plugging this neglected Tele into a small Hughes & Kettner practice amp, Steve found his sound. Suddenly that dusty Telecaster and bedroom rocker became the start of not only a new song, but the foundation of a new sound. Steve commented, “This guitar, through this amp became the sound of the record.”

The lesson here? Epic sounds don’t require epic—or expensive—gear. Rock what you’ve got and be inspired by even the smallest gear acquisitions.

Making a Five-Watt Club Ready? Tips for Touring with a Practice Amp

Most of us cut our teeth on amps that could hardly be heard over a drummer in our first garage bands. Yet as Steve shared with Dan, his unexpected inspiration from an underplayed Telecaster found its match in a five-watt Hughes & Kettner Tubemeister that is dwarfed by most night-side tables. The question then was how to tour with this essential piece of gear. When working out a tour rig for Steve, Dan’s answer was “If that’s the sound [you like] that’s what you’re going to take on tour.”

If you tuned in to TPS last week, you saw Dan & Mick sample and create with some pedal-sized power amps, including the winner of the day, the Seymour Duncan Power Stage 170 (if you missed it, check out our TPS blog for a synopsis). That powerhouse returned for an encore this week in an amp hack for adding wattage and fullness to Steve’s tiny five-watt.

As Dan described, the cabinet simulator on the Hughes & Kettner was run into the Power Stage, which was then used to power a larger cabinet. This effectively made the Power Stage function as a master volume yet retained the preamp and gain character of Steve’s sound. When a higher gain amp was blended in alongside of this the result was magic. Through a little tinkering with gear, Steve’s bedroom rocker was tour ready. The sound was the same, only in a bigger size.

A Selection of Steve’s New Pedal Picks

The board Dan built for Steve’s tour is a work of art in maximizing pedalboard real estate. The challenge was keeping many of the key components of Steve’s signature sound while extending it with some new additions for the unique needs of the new record and tour. While there were a number of fresh items, three caught my eye.

Keeping it Heavy with the Amptweaker TightRock Junior

Tucked away up top on the pedalboard was the bright red Amptweaker TightRock Junior distortion pedal. As Dan summed up, the new junior line of pedals from Amptweaker takes the core sounds of their large-format older siblings yet packages them in a more pedalboard friendly size. In this case, as Dan described, the TightRock Junior is Amptweaker’s take on the “heavy overdrive, Marshall Plexi, gained up thing.”

A Pair of Pogs: Electro Harmonix’ Octave Machines

Up in the top left of Steve’s board are another set of red pedals, twins this time, a set of Electro Harmonix Nano Pogs. Why two? As Steve and Dan talked over different options for having easy access to two octave ranges for different songs in the same set, the simplest solution was to go old school and dial in two pedals for the separate sounds. As Steve demoed, this setup allowed for a “shoe-gazer” type of effect with a dash of higher octave, reverb, and delay. The lower octave pedal, however, added body and foundation to higher gain sounds when partnered up with the TightRock Junior. As Dan concluded, “The great thing about those pedals is they’re polyphonic so they’re not going to freak out when you play chords.”

Sustain for Days with the Origin Effects Cali 76

“Now, the Cali 76…As you guys know, this has been a favorite of Mick and I’s for a long time. It’s the compressor that whenever you put it on, it just sounds great, no matter how you set it.” The Origin Effects Cali 76 Compact Deluxe Compressor is what Steve looked to for adding character and longevity to the signal. As he commented after strumming through a few ringing chords, “no joke there, the sustain on that?!” For an even more economical version of the pedal, check out the Cali 76 Compact Compressor.

As the session with Steve drew to a close, Dan & Mick reminded us how if the conversation dead ends on gear we’ve missed the point of guitar being about music. As Dan noted for viewers, “If you haven’t seen Steven before, just go. I promise you, you will thank me later. It’s the most extraordinary thing…we’ll see you at the gig!”

Rig Rundown:

Guitars: Fender Joe Strummer Signature Telecaster.

Amps: Hughes & Kettner Tubemeister 5, Zilla Custom 2x10 with Celestion G10 Gold speakers, Victory Sheriff 44.

Power Amps: Seymour Duncan Power Stage 170.

Pedals: Jim Dunlop Cry Baby Wah, Boss FV500 Volume Pedal, TC Electronic Polytune 2 Mini, Origin Effects Cali 76 Compact Deluxe Compressor, Selah Quartz Timer, Amptweaker Tight Rock Junior, Analogman Prince of Tone, Moog MiniFooger MF Tremolo, Electro Harmonix Nano Pog (x2), Neo Instruments Mini Vent II, Strymon Timeline, Strymon Big Sky, Source Audio Programmable EQ.