Ash Wilson, never heard of him? It’s as if Ash has been lurking in the shadows finely honing his craft and tone waiting for his moment to pounce...that moment is now. Ash has recently released his debut album Broken Machine to across the board critical acclaim and has just wrapped up a near sold out UK tour opening for Dan Patlanksy who we have previously featured. We met with Ash prior to his show at The Tunnels Bristol to have a chat about his rig through the signal chain from his guitar to pedalboard to a boutique amplifier and speaker cab…
Fender 55 Reissue Stratocaster
“This is my main guitar now, the interesting things is that it has a Nocaster neck with the neck being bigger than the original one. It has a flatter radius that a typical Strat neck so instead of it being 7.25 it’s 9.5 which makes it a bit easier to play. The only trouble with it is is that it has rolled edges so you have be careful digging in with your vibrato so the strings don’t slip off the edge! I’ve always played 50 spec Strats and Gibsons - I was on tour in Germany and played a maple neck Strat that I couldn’t afford, we all have those moments, so I sold some guitars when I got back home and eventually bought this one.
A chap called Jesse Davey, who calls himself ‘King tone’ put in this switch on the tone pot which changes the impedance from high to low - effectively making it think that the lead is crazy long so cuts off some of the top end. It doesn’t boost anything, it’s not like an active mid boost with it having 4 positions which take away frequencies making it sound a bit more like a Gibson. I don’t use all of the settings with it generally switched to out but if I want a bit of extra grit in the middle I can use it. This pot works really well with drive pedals of which I have a few…”
To pedalboard or to not to pedalboard?
“First off we have a homemade Univibe prototype made by the same guy who built my amp which we’ll get into later. It’s an exact replica of an vintage Univibe so you get all the hiss, which I really don’t mind, and it’s out of the road with be being tested. I come out of that into the Xotic wah pedal and then into another King Tone product in the Vintage Fuzz. This is a wicked pedal in that it sounds great and the best fuzz I’ve used which has all new/old stock in vintage bits and bobs in it. After this we’re into the Fulltone Octafuzz for all those mad Hendrix moments and then into a buffer.
"All of the pedals on my board are true bypass which is a complete nightmare as you lose so much top end because of that so the buffer boosts the signal. A Way Huge Pork Loin is up next which is a really cool pedal and one of the few drives that adds a bit of bottom end and then we have another King Tone pedal! The Duelist is a dual drive pedal which is really interesting in that you effectively a Tubescreamer one side and a Marshall Bluesbreaker pedal the other side and a couple of other extra bells and whistles. There’s this EQ stage before you get to the gain stage with more bass or treble, deeper or more glassy if you like, then through the drive and the tone and then the output which is a totally separate signal channel. You can combine the two sides but I rarely use the Marshall type side as I really like the other more TS9 but better side. An Xotic EP booster is after the Duelist and as you say they have become more popular over the years. Playing in a venue this size I don’t really touch it as it’s quiet bright in here but other venues I may have to have it on all of the time. I like it as a clean boost but when I’m playing as loud as I am at the moment it just sounds more wooly...now for the delay pedal!
"Strymon El Capistan which are just great with the tape echo which is probably totally wasted on me as you can do some really sexy sounds on it, I just like it as an analogue style sounding delay pedal with the most important pedal coming last in the tuner! The large footswitch was made by the same guy who made my amp which has a bright switch on it for when I turn the volume down on the Strat for the quiet numbers. There’s also a 15db boost switch and a reverb switch so I can come and go as I please with those. I’ve done a couple of gigs where I just used the amp and the footswitch and that’s been cool but I am kind of married to board at the moment but really the aim is to come away from using so many pedals. It’s cooler to just go straight into the amp. Something happened the other night in Manchester and the board all went down halfway through a lead break so I just unplugged and went straight into the amp, cranked it all on full and thought ‘this is loads better!’. You know what I’m gonna have to do? I’ll have to sell the tray, buy the world's smallest Pedaltrain board and deal with the limitations!”
633 Engineering Amplifier and Speaker Cabinet
“633 Engineering is a British company in a one man band in Cliff Brown who used to be the Chief Engineer at Blackstar who decided that he wanted to go on his own. I think with the larger companies you design something and then the finance department get involved wanting to swap out parts for cheaper ones and that doesn’t suit real visionary creative types. Cliff’s whole philosophy is you go into the workshop, he listens to you play and you chat about what you want out of an amp.
"This is actually a production model but he does do full on custom models to spec. It’s based on a Super Reverb which is familiar territory for me but with a master volume which stops prior to full so then you’re on the main volume. The headroom switch works in the lower you take it, you reduce the wattage of the amp so everything breaks up sooner. If I have that set by the letters on S (as there are no numbers on the dials) that will be quieter, more overdriven and more compressed. What it does is it changes the bias and in turn tricks the thinking of the tubes. In the cab there’s an Alnico gold speaker on the left and a Creamback 65N on the right. I used to use two amps and moving into this I was paranoid in having a lot less frequencies moving around - the main problem was that my back started to give out carrying these 2 big Marshall and Fender amps into venues, up and down stairs and the like! The passion and attention to detail that Cliff puts into all of his products is immense. I’ve never written a blog in my life but I was so moved by it that I wrote a 4 part blog on how good this amp is and how exciting it was going into the work shop and having a great conversation with someone who really knows what they’re doing. The funny thing is that knowing the features set and sound I wanted was a doddle, but picking out how it should look was was a nightmare! I thought I could have a lime green one, then a black one, then red...in the end I just went with the classic cream and wood look. I used to have some endorsement deals with companies but not using them has freed me up massively. If I’m being brutally honest the endorsement thing was more for my ego when I was younger. I just want to sound great and am not bothered by any of that now. It means I can use what I want and since buying the amp, yes I bought the amp with my own money, I haven’t wanted to use any other amp as it’s just so cool and does everything I am after.”
Invest in the right thing...
“In my teaching in the past I’ve had students asking what guitar they should buy next. For me, one of the lessons I learnt, is that I was told buy the best guitar you can afford as it doesn’t matter what you play through as you’ll always sound great. Absolute nonsense. It’s really about the pairing of the guitar and the amp. If you played a cheaper Squier Strat through this amp it’d sound fine, not quite as nice as with the Strat I have but you’d get by. Now take my guitar and play through some 15W transistor amp, it’ll sound awful. You need to find an amp that you feel really comfortable with and people always overlook speakers, that’s where some money needs to go. There’s some brands that do skimp on the speakers and we both know people who have swapped stock speakers out for better Jensen speakers and all of a sudden the thing is singing.
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