Brian Wampler, the man behind Wampler Pedals, has that look.
“People think I come from some sort of engineering background or that I am a nerdy academic type. I may look the part—but that’s simply not me. I’m just a guy who has always been infatuated with guitar tones.”
With an obsessive personality and an entrepreneurial spirit to match, Wampler claims that he’s probably the least academic person you could ever know. But in his late 20s, he started studying up. On electronics.
“I was a member at DIYstompboxes.com and vividly recall a time when I asked if anyone knew of any websites that explained electronic principles in everyday jargon. I was basically laughed at and mocked. It was frustrating, but I ended up getting a ton of private messages from other users saying they would like to see the same thing. So, being a stubborn individual, I made it my goal to learn electronic concepts and then simplify them.”
Over time though, what Wampler initially saw as an opportunity to help others began to take over his life.
“I was spending several hours per night answering emails about DIY questions and it was cutting into my day job and family time. A good friend of mine who owned a small business gave me a good piece of advice. He told me that, at some point, I was going to have to charge for the information I was giving away to make it worth the time I was putting into it.”
That advice prompted Wampler to release a series of e-books that broke down electronics into easy-to-understand terms and explained simple methods for how to modify guitar pedals. Those e-books developed something of a cult following and eventually helped launch a number of boutique guitar pedal companies.
“Some of today’s most popular builders were customers of mine. That’s not to say that I am solely responsible for the popularity of the industry at all, however I do believe [the e-books] did help build it up a bit. It’s one of the things I’m very proud of.”
As the popularity of the e-books grew, people began making requests that Wampler build custom pedals for their personal use. He obliged and soon enough, a few retailers also stepped up, asking if he’d be willing to sell them custom pedals, too. This led to more and more requests and eventually, the realization that he could sell a full line of his own pedals.
“I didn’t start out to build a pedal company. Rather, it was something that just kind of happened as I was doing what I loved—helping others in the DIY world and building pedals for those who did not want to be a DIYer.”
Today, nearly a decade years since his company came to be, Wampler says he isn’t focused on sales. Rather, it’s all about the creativity.
“Creativity is everything. And having the initiative to implement creative ideas is critical. I think that’s one of the main things that sets companies apart—the willingness to be wrong. You have to be willing to put out your best work and you have to be willing for it to fail. There are always going to be some failures, but without those failures you’ll never have the great successes.”
Some of Wampler’s greatest successes to date are his dirt pedals.
“I've always been a huge fan of dirt. Even before even building pedals I was just a huge fan of those tones in general. As a young child I was completely obsessed with obtaining specific overdrive and distortion tones. And as I got older, I was always trying to find the sounds I heard on the radio or from my favorite bands. So it seems that is just our niche in this industry now.”
The Wampler lineup currently includes 22 different designs—17 of which are fuzz, overdrive, distortion or boost pedals—organized into a variety of collections.
Among those you’ll find the Heritage Series, which includes a quartet of amp-in-a-box pedals designed to be what Wampler calls a “palette” type of sound that players can stack other drives into for a variety of unique tones and textures.
And while you might think there’s some overlap between the Heritage Series and a collection actually named the Amp-in-a-Box Series, Wampler will quickly point out that the former is meant to offer cleaner tones that players can use as a sonic platform for other effects, while the latter is more distortion oriented and functional enough—in most cases—to run alone.
The Gain Stage and Classic Series feature four total pedals that don’t try to emulate a specific amplifier tone, but instead offer a unique sound all their own, or a twist on an old favorite.
“No longer is it necessary to buy multiple amplifiers. You can get a decent amp for less than a thousand dollars, buy a couple of pedals and have a variety of outstanding guitar tones. We get a lot of people who email and call us asking for specific sounds or textures that they would like to have in their arsenal of pedals.”
It’s at that point—specifically when it comes to amp-based tones—that Wampler will try to buy several of those particular amps to get the best sounding one he can find. From there it’s off to the breadboard, where he locks himself away until he can get the exact sound and feel he wants.
“Sometimes this can happen in a day or two, and other times it may take a couple of years to get it right. I'm quite obsessive about this actually. It has to be exactly right—it has to sound and feel exactly like the amp I am going for in order for me to release it.”
One he thinks he’s got it down, prototypes are developed and distributed to a few trusted players for testing.
“After designing circuits and building pedals for ten years or so now, I've gotten very good at knowing how to get a specific sound and feel without a whole lot of trial and error. I know how to get something to feel a certain way and I know what type of circuit to use to get specific sounds. That's something a person only gets through years of experimenting.”
But sometimes the process does takes longer than expected.
“With the Velvet Fuzz, it probably took a month in total to get a final design. But for a pedal like our Thirty Something, I built a ton of prototypes and it took me several years to get it exactly like I wanted. I wanted it to be as close to the sound, feel and response of a great AC30 as it could.”
Above all, Wampler says each pedal was created based on something people wanted to hear.
“We have a huge passion for great guitar tone and our top priority is to satisfy our customers.”
Q&A With Brian Wampler
TR: What’s your most popular pedal?
BW: It's always changing constantly but currently the Ego Compressor, Velvet Fuzz, Euphoria—and the Dual Fusion seem to be fairly popular right now, too.
TR: Which one was the biggest surprise?
BW: Probably the Ego compressor. I never really thought a compressor would be a huge seller, but it seems a lot of players are loving it as much as I do! It's a great sounding compressor, so I’m glad to see it getting some love!
TR: You’ve discontinued a few pedals—why?
BW: We discontinue pedals for various reasons, sometimes we run out of parts that we need, sometimes they just aren't very good sellers and other times I just lose interest in them altogether and want to put out something different for fun. This all started out as a hobby for me, so I figure if it’s no longer fun—I don’t want to do it! One of the things I love most is coming up with new designs, so it’s very important to keep rolling out new things and shelf the old stuff.