AfterNAMMth: 2017 Edition

Thousands descended into Anaheim for the annual NAMM convention. This convention showcases all of the new and exciting gear that manufacturers are excited to debut, and gear heads like myself, are even more excited to check out. I found myself making daily wish lists of gear that I had to have, and that list is constantly changing – even weeks after the show has ended.

One of the first booths that I checked out was Earthquaker Devices. Their pedals are gaining popularity with an assortment of musicians and it’s one of those booths that remains crowded from the start of the show on Thursday till the shows end on Sunday. The two new pedals that were debuted were the Space Spiral delay and the Transmisser reverb pedal. Both of these pedals offer a variety of unique and functional sounds that will have the user spending hours with each exploring their tonal options.

Gibson’s booth is always a treat and this year was no exception. Their True Historic guitars are fantastic and the first thing that I check out are the Custom Shop models. A standout at their booth was a Custom Shop Les Paul Jr. that was so meticulously built, you would’ve thought that this was the actual guitar from the late fifties. Another highlight was the joint collaboration between Johnny A and Joe Bonamassa on a new Johnny A model. This model, didn’t have the f-holes associated with his previous models and is much lighter. This is one of those guitars that can do it all and won’t take a toll on your back after hours of gigging. 

Photo: Steve Rose

Photo: Steve Rose

The Ernie Ball/Music Man booth was very eventful as St. Vincent discussed her signature model guitar and three new finishes were introduced for this popular model which debuted at NAMM 2016. Owner, Sterling Ball, mentioned that this guitar is one of the more popular selling models for their brand and that there has been discussion of possibly developing a short scale bass with St. Vincent. That will be something to look forward to at next year’s show.

Photo: Steve Rose

Gretsch consistently has amazing guitars, but this year they unveiled the “Salute” Jet, which is a Malcolm Young signature model made by the Gretsch USA Custom Shop. This was my favorite guitar at the show and a fitting tribute to such a famous Gretsch musician. Another model making it’s debut from the Custom Shop is the Tom Petersson 12 string bass. This instrument has long been associated with Tom and it was great to see him honored with this bass.

Photo: Steve Rose

Photo: Steve Rose

There was a great deal of buzz around the Supro booth now that they’ve added a few awesome looking guitars to their already successful line of amps. These guitars will be popular with both vintage enthusiasts and garage rockers looking to have a unique, cool sounding guitar slung across their body.

Photo: Steve Rose

Martin makes some unbelievable guitars, and as a Martin owner, I can say that their sound and build quality are second to none. This year, my two favorite guitars that they unveiled were signature models for Dwight Yoakam and John Prine. Each of these artists are giants in country music and these guitars reflect their stature. Dwight’s DD-28 had the best inlays that I’ve seen on a guitar. The pair of deuces inlaid on the fretboard is a great touch for this guitar. 

Photo: Steve Rose

NAMM 2017 is in the books and I’m looking forward to how these companies will try to outdo themselves at next year’s show.

NAMM 2017

Photos by Steve Rose

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Dream Theater Deliver a Masterful Performance at The Wiltern

Photo: Steve Rose

Photo: Steve Rose

Dream Theater brought their tour for the futuristic album, The Astonishing, to the Wiltern in Los Angeles. The band’s latest release, a 34 track double album set in 2285, came to life visually and sonically, as the band played the album in its entirety to a packed house. The band played in front of 5 interactive video screens which added a visual accompaniment to this dystopian concept album. The design, production, and performance of this show must be quite the undertaking, but the sensory rewards are much greater and a sheer delight for the fans in attendance.

Photo: Steve Rose

Photo: Steve Rose

Dream Theater, comprised of John Petrucci, Jordan Rudess, John Myung, Mike Mangini, and James LaBrie are all masters of their craft. James LaBrie is a supremely talented vocalist, who’s voice seems to get stronger on each album. When performing live, there’s no doubt that he has the pipes and his performance on The Astonishing is a great example. Mike Mangini and John Myung are rhythmic powerhouses who were locked in the entire night. Myung, who plays a 6 string Ernie Ball Music Man Bongo bass, moved up and down the neck with great dexterity as he held down the low end. Mangini, almost octopus-like behind the kit, made use of every drum and cymbal, as he filled, rolled, and crashed through the band’s most challenging material to date. Jordan Rudess, a wizard behind his customized hydraulic keyboard stanchion, wowed the audience with his fleet fingered phrases as his keyboard rotated and tilted throughout the band’s extended set. John Petrucci, not only a highly technical guitarist who produced many jaw dropping fretboard fireworks, but was also the mastermind behind The Astonishing and it’s well thought out concept, characters, and locations. Petrucci, played a few of his signature Ernie Ball Music Man guitars through his new signature heads from Mesa Boogie and they sounded great together. I’m certain many a guitar player went home that night and started researching and plotting their next gear acquisitions…I know I did. 

Photo: Steve Rose

Photo: Steve Rose

There have been mixed reactions to the material and band’s direction on The Astonishing. Some have questioned the seemingly overly theatrical elements of the songs, while others, follow the band along the twist and turns of it’s musical journey. Having listened to the albums a handful of times, it comes across much heavier live, and deserves to be seen when the tour comes to your town. Any skeptics of this newest release will be pleased when they see this masterful performance play out as Petrucci envisioned.

Dream Theater @ The Wiltern

 

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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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