AfterNAMMth: 2016 Edition

It’s that time of year when gearheads like myself get excited for the late-January trip to Anaheim. It’s always hectic trying to deal with the masses when parking and then having to join them as we funnel through the few available entrances of the convention center. NAMM is the only time of the year when I agree to wait in line to use and escalator and only be allowed to ride it in small groups.

Photo: Steve Rose

Photo: Steve Rose

The Ernie Ball Music Man booth was my favorite booth of the convention. They showcased all of their new products in a thoughtful way that encouraged interaction with those visiting the booth. Some notable standouts from EBMM were their new line of overdrive and delay expression pedals, the Cutlass and Stingray guitars, and new signature models for St. Vincent and James Valentine. The St. Vincent guitar is by far the most unique and visually intriguing instrument of this year’s guitars. The guitar I was most impressed with, and the one was named Best in Show for 2016, was the new James Valentine signature model. This guitar looks great, plays great, and that’s all that you’re really looking for in a quality instrument.

Photo: Steve Rose

Photo: Steve Rose

Another standout booth was D’Angelico guitars. Their guitars are mainly hollow, or semi-hollow, body instruments that feel like art pieces as much as they do as guitars. I am highly considering getting a EX-DC as my next guitar. I was also a fan of the EXL-A, an acoustic archtop guitar that was stunning. I would recommend those to anyone looking for an affordable, well built instrument and especially to those looking for a great jazz box. D’Angelico also had a cool looking, limited edition EX-59 Marilyn Monroe guitar that caught the attention of many, but is only limited to a run of 20 — 12 of which will be for the US. The most unique guitar in their booth was the Teardrop New Yorker, which is part of their New York made Master Builder series.

Photo: Steve Rose

Photo: Steve Rose

Both ESP and Schecter impressed me with their instrument diversity and are sure to attract a variety of supporters. In the past, I felt like ESP and Schecter both catered toward the hardcore, or metal player, but now I feel like they are trying to branch out with more classic shapes, while still providing the radical designs that brought them to the forefront. Schecter had a great take on a Gibson Explorer-type of guitar that will definitely be of interest to many. They also unveiled a new Jeff Loomis guitar, called the Cygnus, which I expect will be a very popular model for them. ESP debuted two signature models that both look awesome: the Glen Tipton signature and a new James Hetfield V.

Photo: Steve Rose

Photo: Steve Rose

The Fender booth is consistently impressive and this year did not disappoint. They announced the limited edition Magnificent Seven series of guitars, which will be released for only one month per model and with limited quantities of each. Similar to last year’s 10 for ’15, these guitars are sure to sell out and become instant collectors items. I was excited about the release of both a signature guitar and amp for The Edge.

Photo: Steve Rose

Photo: Steve Rose

The U2 guitarist’s sound is immediately identifiable and a good portion of that has come from using Fender products. The black strat and maple neck are timeless classics for a reason and it was not a surprise that The Edge chose them for his signature model. His hardwired Edge Deluxe amp is the fourth signature amp that Fender has made, building upon the success of the Eric Clapton amps. Fender also introduced the Bassbreaker Series of amps which consists of nine different models that will appeal to a diverse group of players. This is definitely one of the new releases at NAMM that I wish I could’ve spent more time playing.

The return of the CE model from PRS was a definite highlight for me. After being off the market for at least 10 years, PRS has decided to bring back this popular model that first debuted in 1988. Between the resurrection of the CE and the jaw dropping Private Stock models, PRS continually puts out high quality instruments. I also appreciate that Paul Reed Smith can often be found taking pictures and answering the questions of players, dealers, and associated media.

Photo: Steve Rose

Photo: Steve Rose

In the matter of full disclosure: I’m not only a fan of these guitars, but I’m also a proud owner of a 30th Anniversary Custom 24 and couldn’t be more pleased.

The lackluster booth of the NAMM show (in my opinion) unfortunately went to Gibson. Their 2016 lineup featured the departure of the robot tuning gimmick and returned the brand to the quality and reputation that its fans have come to expect. The lowered price points will definitely help soothe the sour taste in the mouths of those who jeered the moves that Gibson had made in years past. I felt like the booth was too dark and it felt more like Club Gibson than a company trying to showcase their beautiful instruments. I like that Gibson had some top of the line models available to demo, including the limited edition Bob Dylan SJ-200, which was a treat to play. Gibson was more sad city than music city and that was kind of a let down.

As the 2016 winter NAMM show comes to a close, I’m excited about all of the new gear coming out soon. I have already begun plotting how I’m going to afford some of the things that stood out. My legs are excited to have another year to prepare for the hell I put them through walking the floor. It may be an insignificant detail, but I was impressed that D’Angelico passed out little bottles of hand sanitizer in their gift bags. I appreciated that D’Angelico was thoughtful enough to help us fight the dreaded NAMMthrax virus.

NAMM 2016

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Effects Pedals Will Be All The Rage at NAMM 2016

There will be a nice mix of top manufacturers and boutique brands showcasing their greatest and latest in Anaheim early next year. NAMM ’16 is just around the corner and I don’t know about you, but I CAN’T WAIT!

Demand for Personalized Sound Presses Boutique Pedal Market Forward

Craftsmen pedal builders are setting up shop nationwide backed by musicians looking to play their own unique tunes

Courtesy of NAMM

Courtesy of NAMM

Carlsbad, CA, (December 10, 2015) – Demand for customized, unique sound is driving fretted products and effects sales to a seven-year high, while fueling a new wave of boutique pedal builders. Over the last decade, the retail value of the effects pedal category has increased more than 45%, with a 13.7% gain in 2014.

Pedal builders will have a noticeably larger presence at the NAMM Show this January 21-24 as boutique brands including Strymon, Walrus Audio, Chase Bliss Audio and Dwarfcraft Devices join established brands Boss, Dunlop Manufacturing, Inc., Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, EarthQuaker Devices, Electro-Harmonix, Pigtronix, Seymour Duncan, TC Electronic and Wampler Pedals to debut new effects gear at the NAMM Show.

The emergence of hundreds of up-and-coming pedal brands can be traced to new technology and easier global distribution, of both ideas and components. Robert Keeley, founder of Keeley Electronics, Inc., has seen his Edmond, OK business double since 2012. It is now producing more than 2,000 units per month. “Our products are almost completely hand-built and we cater to a group of people who are in the market for specialty-purpose pedals,” said Keeley. Big- name players including John Mayer, Jimmy Buffet and Dream Theater’s John Petrucci are among those who have called on Keeley for customized pedals, with some of those pedals crossing over into a limited-edition commercial run.

Joel Korte, founder of Minnesota-based Chase Bliss Audio has seen sales double in the last year and adds, “Musicians like to experiment with sound using pedals because the experience is very visceral and pedals are hands-on and offer the artist control right away.”

Affordability has also emerged as a major factor in the surge as artists add distortion, phasers and vibrato to their signature sound. The cottage industry of boutique pedal makers offers ways to tweak and discover sounds for an average price of $100-$400 dollars.

Many of these emerging builders, including Akron, Ohio’s family-owned EarthQuaker Devices, have also focused on demonstrating their products for non-traditional pedal players, such as sax, synth and violin players. Julie Robbins of EarthQuaker Devices emphasizes that innovative, specialty-designed sound is a key factor in the company’s success. “We answer the call of experimental musicians who love to create sounds that inspire them to go in new directions,” said Robbins. “Some just want to recreate classic tones, while others use their pedals as a way to actually define their newest album, and we cater to both.”

Demand is also up for pedals that couple long-lasting new technology with “old school” parts to create coveted “vintage” analog sounds. Pete Celi, co-founder of growing Southern California builder Strymon, says interest in vintage pedals has skyrocketed, including tape delays, vintage amp tremolos, pedals from the 70s, but he notes these originals can be unreliable on tour and prices make those purchases beyond the reach of most musicians. “This creates an opportunity for pedals that can capture those sought-after sounds and yet be conveniently and reliably used at gigs,” said Celi.

Strymon employs a one-on-one strategy with musicians, regularly holding open-studio parties. Celi says the conversations are paying off. “We believe everybody is an artist.”

Plan now to join the global music instrument and product industry January 21-24, 2016 at the NAMM Show in Anaheim, CA. NAMM members are encouraged to register for badges by January 6, 2016, at which point badge registrations will incur a $50 to $100 fee depending on the badge type. Learn about the more than 5,000 brands planning to exhibit at the 2016 NAMM Show here:https://www.namm.org/thenammshow/2016/directory.

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Steel Panther Tears Through NAMMJAM 2015

IMG_0564For the past few years, the annual NAMM Jam has been the hottest ticket in town and this year was no exception. The headliner for this year’s show was the delightfully outrageous Steel Panther. The quartet, decked out in leather, leopard print leggings, and teased hair looked like they were ready for a show at Gazzarri’s in 1986.

They took the stage at 10:30 and opened with Pussywhipped, a fan favorite that got everyone in a partyin’ good mood. Lead singer, Michael Starr did a great job interacting with fans by reaching his microphone into the crowd to have them sing parts of the chorus with him or high fiving other fans as he worked every part of that stage. After some back and forth jokes between Starr and Satchel, the band’s guitar player, as to who did what to the whose mom, special guest Marty Friedman was brought out. Friedman, an accomplished guitar player known for his time in Megadeth, is now living in Japan playing “J-Pop,” or Japanese pop music. This must have inspired the band to play Asian Hooker, a song off their debut release in 2009. It was obvious Marty Friedman was having a fun time up on stage playing with the band, and given how loud it got from the time Marty was announced to when he left the stage, it was clear the audience was also enjoying his time up there.  Continue reading

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