Though the NAMM show in Nashville is now open to public for one day, its orientation remains displaying musical wares to shop owners and distributors. Even if you are able to attend, the open space setup makes accurately hearing anything dubious. In the hotel room setting of the Nashville Amp & Gear Expo we could test out products at real world levels, unmitigated by the next Yngwie wailing one booth over. If you wonder about other hotel guests (we did), the Expo expanded this year to encompass the entire facility for three days and nights—no tourists suddenly discovering they were in the middle of over a hundred blaring amps.
Creation Audio Labs started the Nashville Amp & Gear Expo in 2009. Word spread among potential exhibitors and the 2010 and 2011 shows sold out all available exhibit space. The producers took 2012 off to regroup and this year relocated to the Preston, a boutique hotel with cool ’70s-era B&W pix of country stars like Waylon and Willie adorning the walls of the rooms and suites.
This year’s show was co-sponsored by D’Addario, Pedaltrain, Gearphoria, Reynolds Imaging, Jensen, Shaw, Jimmy Wallace Guitars, and another maker of essential guitarist gear: Red Spirits and Wine.
The 20 rooms on each of the eleven floors made for a ton of gear to wade through. Many of the usual suspects were on display, so we tried to narrow our coverage to some new faces, new products, and possible trends. For example, headroom seemed to be a watchword, maybe because Nashville players still need it for country picking. Whatever the reason, amplifiers both big and small offered considerably more spank before entering the crunch zone. So without further ado, here is the coolest stuff from the Nashville Amp & Gear Expo!
A pair of 12AY7 preamp tubes helped this small combo out of Alabama offer clean headroom way above its pay grade. If it proves too clean for the room, a 7/11/18/23-watt selector knob and a footswitchable boost are there to help. samamp.com
VVT Night Owl
The Western tooled-leather look notwithstanding, the VVT Night Owl is the perfect urban club amp: breakup at relatively low volume to spare the apartment dwellers upstairs, and a neodymium speaker that makes carrying it on public transportation a real possibility. www.vvtamps.com
Mitch Colby is a relatively new player on the boutique amp scene, but he brings 32 years of experience as VP at Korg when they were distributing Marshall and Vox, as well as being a noted collector and tinkerer. Despite his work background with British amps, the Colby amp is more like an über-Fender.colbyamps.com
Both the EL84 based, 20-watt Hot Mama and the EL34 50-watt powered Big Daddy heads offer plenty of clean headroom, edging into crunch territory only at full bore settings, making them perfect for pedal-pushers. www.edwardsamps.com
This striking blue head was originally designed for 6V6 tubes. John Tomaszewicz then made a left turn. He decided to keep the same transformer but install 6L6s instead, creating the T-22. It pumps a club friendly 22-watts of volume, with the more open sound of bigger tubes.www.jtsoundinc.com
The Indiana-based folks at Risen have translated some of their religious fervor into an interesting amp with two separately voiced preamp sections. The 6L6 power section is driven by a standard 12AX7 preamp tube on the black side, and an EF86 tube on the white side, for a more Supro-style sound. www.risenamps.com
Speaking of Supros, the outstanding pedal in this candy colored assortment was the SuperBolt (the one with the lightning bolt). It captured the distinctive, raw dirt of the old Supro amps, ala early Led Zep.jhspedals.com
Jim Easterly also showed a colorful collection with his Day-Glo colored wah mods in every sonic flavor a guitarist could need.Je1973@aol.com
Caroline Guitar Company
Dub fans will love this new Kilobyte delay. A momentary footswitch lets you control runaway, Rasta-approved feedback. Warm analog tones are created by combining a dry analog signal path and +21db overdrive preamp smashing a low fidelity digital delay chip designed for karaoke machines and kids’ toys.carolineguitar.com
Electro-Harmonix Hot Tubes and East River Drive
Mike Matthews’ merry band has compressed the classic Hot Tubes distortion into a smaller package and released the new East River Drive, a Screamer-esque overdrive pedal.www.ehx.com
Option 5 Square Tone and Destination Reverb Deluxe
The Square Tone is fits into the growing trend of offering the sound and dynamic response of a Germanium pedal, while using more stable Silicon chips. In addition to its bypass switch, their new reverb has one switch loops an external effect into the reverb path and one that holds the reverb in a state of infinite sustain. www.option5-online.com
Creation Audio Labs
Our Expo host wins the award for coolest looking pedal with the Funkulator. This pedal lets bassists set an ideal tone for fingerstyle on their amp and then kick in the pedal for a new set of frequencies that accentuate popping and slapping techniques. But mostly it lights up real pretty.www.creationaudiolabs.com