Fort Wayne, IN (May 31, 2008) -- After a taxing seven and a half hour drive through the
finest Illinois and Western Indiana had to show us, we arrived in Fort Wayne,
Indiana for Sweetwater’s second running of GearFest. We really hoped the event
would get to a better start than ours – after losing 1000 magazines; tolerating four hotel fire alarms; missing the final three minutes of the Eastern
Conference Finals as the Direct TV signal went out; and enduring one severely pissed-off
thunderstorm, we were hoping for a miracle. Not even the soul-drenched stylings
of GearFest’s kickoff concert, Tower of Power, could raise our spirits.
Fortunately, on Saturday morning, the clouds cleared and dulcet
tones of the electric guitar began rolling out of Sweetwater’s newly minted
facility – GearFest ’08 was underway and it was good. A day of deeply
discounted gear and hour-long workshops in Sweetwater’s spacious headquarters,
it was more than enough to boost morale. To celebrate the changing of our luck, we thought
we’d pass along a few highlights, along with links to videos from the event.
Legendary producer Bruce Swedien opened up the
show with the keynote address, recounting his studio exploits with heavy
hitters like Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Quincy Jones. One particular story
that taught the importance of exploration: he was working with Count Basie and
decided to record the trombone solo in a corner of the studio, without any
direct mics. One of the studio owners showed up to see what was going on and
grew furious when he saw Swedien’s plan. “You can’t record a musician off-mic
like that,” the owner said. “It just isn’t done.” When Swedien insisted, the
studio owner threatened to fire him if the stunt didn’t work. The band then
recorded “Night Time is the Right Time,” and the trombone solo sounded
fantastic. Ingenuity 1, Establishment 0. “It ended up making my career,” he recounted.
Koch had the audience in stitches with his Fender demos.
There was a bit of early morning humor to
be had with the crowd of musicians. “I haven’t been up this early in ten years.
This is not the hour that we make music in the studio,” he said. Also included were
stories about recording Thriller
do you top Off the Wall
?”) and stereo’s
shaky beginnings (here’s a hint: studios hated it).
Manufacturer gear demos were the norm, but some
were more entertaining than others. Bart Walsh, billed in the schedule as David
Lee Roth’s guitarist, gave a spirited demo for Gibson by playing a series of
classic rock licks billed as “classic Gibson moments.” We identified riffs from
STP, Pearl Jam, the Eagles, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Guns N’ Roses, Ozzy
and Metallica. A bit cheesy? Yes. Fun? Absolutely. He was playing a 2003 LP
Standard stocked with Burstbucker Pros
and signed by Les Paul himself, all
through a POD 2.0. The closing argument? “Buy a Gibson guitar and chicks will dig
Also entertaining was Fender’s afternoon
demo, hosted by none other than Tele comedian Greg Koch. He showed off Fender’s
new American Standard Tele, the VG Strat and the Super-Sonic amp
, featuring a great blend of
Vibralux clean and Bassman balls. He wowed the audience with some quick pickin’
on an off-the-rack Tele before taking everyone through the always impressive
VG. If you haven’t played with it yet, do yourself a favor
– from open tunings
to convincing 12-string acoustics, it does it all without breaking a sweat.
The flea market was a draw for deal-seekers.
The flea market tent was a bustling place all
day long, with dedicated tone freaks looking for sizable deals. There were some
great buys to be had – we spotted a great playing, well loved Strat for $260,
but weren’t able to get to the ATM in time. Also spotted were some MXL 2010s
for $50 dollars, a BBE 882 Sonic Maximizer for $160 and a good-looking EH Small
Stone for under $30 -- a nice way to get a taste if you haven't yet.
The Pro Audio tent had a great breeze and lots
of goodies for recording fans – we quickly lost count of the Cinema Displays
and high-powered laptops on display. One of our favorite stops was at the
Manley Labs booth, where the “TUBES RULE” stickers were handed out like candy
at a parade. While they specialize primarily in super high-end, overbuilt studio
gear like mic pres, their VOXBOX was of extra interest. Originally designed as
a combo vocal processor, bassists quickly fell in love with its ability to
produce the roundest, fattest tones around. If you’re not familiar with the
company, check them out at manleylabs.com
. And start saving your pennies – prices
start at $4000.
Seymour Duncan and friends closed out the day with a jam session
Seymour Duncan was everywhere, and not just in
the guitars. He gave an illuminating talk in the afternoon, detailing his
upbringing in South New Jersey and his discovery of the instrument, including instructional books from Mel Bay himself. Among the names
dropped in his talk were Roy Buchanan (who he sat in with at 15) and Jeff Beck
(whom he created the JB for, before a little album called Blow by Blow
). One of the best bits was related to his early learning of an essential technique: “My soldering iron was my mom’s butter knife heated over the gas
stove,” he recalled. A great image, but the Premier Guitar legal team has instructed us to discourage readers from trying it. He also enjoyed an hour-long jam session in Sweetwater's acoustically perfect Performance Theatre
. Lots of blues, and at the apex of the jam we counted five guitars on stage, including help from Johnny Hiland and Greg Koch.
Here's a list of our videos so far from GearFest: