Bob Wootton is a guitarist from London who has an enviable (and we mean enviable) collection of guitars and accessories. He came to our attention due to his innovative integration of Xtomp into his set-up. There aren’t many guitarists we’ve met who have such an amazing grasp of the technologies that drive their creativity, so naturally we had to interview him...
Tell us about your trajectory as a musician?
I've been playing guitar all my life. Like most guys of my age, I play rock and blues tinged with jazz (though in my case not much).
I've always played in bands, some of whose alumni have gone on to success, but I worked in advertising for many years. I did well at it, but recently I decided to put much more time against my music interests.
So what do you do now?
Mainly playing live with several bands but none of them full-time. An increasing amount of recording, as well as helping some younger players find their voice, and also helping some friends who design and make high-end gear.
One of these is 633 Engineering's Cliff Brown. I have two of his wonderful amps. My #1 (serial #0001) was the amp that got 10/10 and top amp of 2016 from Guitarist Magazine.
What are your musical influences?
What got me interested was the late 60's British blues boom that gave us so many legends – Clapton, Beck, Page, Kossoff and a score of supporting players and followers. Who would have thought middle-class white English kids would be responsible for reintroducing the US to its musical heritage?
Then it was highly-complex prog and its implosion into stripped-down punk, morphing into new wave dominated by synths. And yet the guitar just kept on bouncing back every time. Still does.
Ok, so what gear do you use?
All my heroes played a late 50's Gibson, usually a Les Paul, at the height of their powers, so guess what I had to have?
Few people know when they stopped acquiring guitars and started collecting, but loads of guys have lots of guitars and I'm no exception. I suppose where I'm lucky is that when my son was born 20 years ago, I started buying the guitars I'd dreamed about since I was a teenager. And just kept on going.
So I have about 60 guitars, more vintage than new but I've got most of the bases covered.
I've amassed a mountain of gear over the years and lived through the eighties where I picked up some niche expertise in connecting and switching more complex amp rigs. My big rack rig has five preamps (three analogue, two digital with onboard fx), two more fx processors. It took years to resolve the hum issues and it's bigger than most of the venues I play!
Like a lot of the famous guys, I always prefer to to play through two amps if I have the choice, but this can lead to switching and routing issues.
I've experimented heavily with the new wave of digital amp modellers (started with Line 6, quickly stepped up to Fractal and Kemper). My conclusion is that although they are unbelievably convenient and can be made to sound pretty good on recordings, they don't do it for me live. I just don't get the connection that I have with a tube amp and a speaker cab and which is vital for feeling music like blues.
My favourite amps are 633's and Dumble-inspired models like my Ceriatone and Mystic Blues heads. For playing loud, vintage EV12L speakers. For more restrained situations, Celestion G12/65's. But hell, just give me a Fender Deluxe reverb and I'll still be happy.
Your first guitar?
A Japanese Zenta copy of a Mosrite Ventures Model, like a reversed Strat. Cheap, nasty, had to string it with 006's (which is probably why it went out of tune) but it got me going. The next was a Shaftesbury copy of a Dan Armstrong Plexiglass which I sold and then bought back and still have, and then it was my first Gibson, a '72 SG Deluxe. Not great in retrospect, but try telling me that at the time. Thanks Dad!
My '61 Gibson ES330TC. I love the era's neck profile and the tone of the single mid-position P90 pickup. Simply feels more a part of me than any other guitar.
And what about stompboxes?
I've also been through loads of stompboxes, including the legendary stuff. That's where I discovered that as long as you have one to cross-refer to, with careful tweaking you can make many pedals sound and perform like a Klon.
I have one pedalboard that goes before the amp which houses wireless, tuner, buffer, wah/volume, boosts and drives.
A second board goes in the amps' loop and contains trem, chorus, delay and optional reverb if the amp doesn't have it. It's also where I have my first programmable pedal, a Digitech iStomp, permanently set to a very credible Leslie/rotary speaker effect.
That's what first got me into programmables, but it wasn't a success and is no longer supported. It needs to be hardwired to a mobile device with a rather unusual and clunky lead. It was a really good idea let down by its design.
Then the Hotone Xtomp was announced at NAMM 2015, so I ordered one unseen. It took forever to arrive and was probably the first in the UK. I tested it successfully in my rig for nine months during which time they continued faithfully to issue new and updated stomp models and firmware.
In the meantime, I'd built a very compact board for the many jamming and open nights I do. It was intended to go into any loud clean amp, it comprised tuner, drive, multi mod defect, delay and reverb on a Pedaltrain Nano board. Power came from a rechargeable Pedaltrain Volto battery underneath, but it wasn't up to the job – I only got an hour's playing time if I was lucky.
That's how I got to my new board. Four, maybe even five Hotone Xtomps on a Pedaltrain Nano+ board powered by the far better Palmer Batpack 8000 rechargeable which gives me seven hours playing time!
Because all the Xtomps are programmable, this powerful but tiny board can do any gig. For blues, I'll set it up with a couple of drives, maybe trem, rotary and delay. For rock; a crunch, a lead, chorus and delay. For acoustic; compressor, chorus, delay, reverb.
Once sounds have been loaded to the pedals the first time, updating them from the pad or phone takes seconds. My next challenge is configuring it to work in full stereo through two amps...!
What advice do you give budding guitarists?
The more you practice, the luckier you'll get. Learn to read music. I can’t...
Make sure your playing has range and that you can play rhythm...
Network, network, network...
...and I know it's just a black box and not a shiny piece of sunburst flamed maple or purple sparkle ash you wear round your neck, but you should spend much more time thinking and worrying about your amp's tone than your guitar's. And your speakers...
Lastly, always think twice before selling something you love to fund the next shiny new thing. You'll probably regret it. I know lots of otherwise excellent players whose compulsive quest for stuff has made lots of beautiful stuff slip through their fingers.
What does the future hold for you?
As much gigging and playing as I can get, hopefully on some decent stages and albums with some good players. Maybe an endorsement or two, and probably uploading more videos of gear reviews too.