Matt Blackett’s NAMM Musings: The Bad
Along with all the good and cool things about a NAMM show, innovative new products, talented musicians, and a community of manufacturers and dealers who give musicians stuff to play and writers stuff to write about, there is also a downside. There are actually several, but I’ll focus on one for right now: the unbelievable, inescapable din. On the show floor you get a constant barrage of demos from inherently loud products: snare drums, bass rigs, full stacks, and upper brass (trumpet guy, how about testing the low register of that horn?). And that’s just from the folks who say “Can I check this out?” Then you get the scheduled demos, where performers show gear with the benefit of a P.A. The noise cops with their dB meters are supposed to crack down on the gross polluters but they don’t seem to be laying down the law this year. Part of the reason this bugs me is because many NAMMs ago, I worked as a product specialist and demoed gear. If we tried to turn up enough so the amp would be louder than the sound of my pick clicking on the strings, the dB police would strike down upon us with great vengeance and furious anger and we would be threatened with a complete shutdown of the booth if the volume persisted.
The real reason it bugs me now, though, is because even after a day on the show floor, you still can’t get away from the noise, because everywhere you turn, there’s a band, or a drum circle, or a singer-songwriter playing at extreme volume, leaving the crowd in that bar or restaurant no choice but to raise their voices to talk over it, making the overall noise floor so deafening that if feels like you have a guy with a leaf blower constantly by your side.
I’m exaggerating a little, and I invariably pick up a guitar and start woodshedding as soon as I get home from NAMM, which is a good thing. It goes to show how cool the guitar is. If the dark side of NAMM can’t kill my love for the guitar, probably nothing can.
Matt Blackett’s NAMM Musings: The Good
Okay, so there has to be some good stuff at a NAMM show, right? Of course. Despite my curmudgeonly protestations about the noise floor on the show floor and beyond, I had many cool, interesting, and downright inspiring moments at this year’s fest. Friday morning, at Fender, who do I see walking toward me but New York Yankees great Bernie Williams. I interviewed Bernie twice for GP because he is actually an amazing musician, in addition to being an awesome ball player. By his own admission, he was a kid in a candy store, checking out more guitars and amps than he’d ever seen in one place. I can’t forgive what he has done to my Oakland A’s over the years, but he’s a super cool, humble guy who can play his butt off. Still at Fender, I got to spend some time with Jim Campilongo, who was kind enough to demonstrate his signature Tele. Talk about a humble guy, Campy seems downright surprised that anyone would take notice of his music, which is, in case you haven’t heard it, musical, funky, bitchin’, and jaw-dropping. Watching him do his behind-the-nut bends and tone knob manipulations was an absolute blast.
On the gear front, I saw some incredibly cool guitars, from usual suspects like PRS as well as from newcomers like Guilford, who recently signed King’s X virtuoso Ty Tabor. Nice catch, guys. Coolest pedal? Got to be the Electro-Harmonix Ring Thing ring modulator. If you’ve ever used a ring modulator, you know that it’s possible (although not easy) to tune it to a particular chord and all the notes of that chord will have this heavy, otherworldly clang that is perfectly in tune and really hip. Every note that isn’t in that chord, however, will be unbelievably out of tune and sound like a broken phone or a cracked church bell. Well, the Ring Thing lets you tune, on the fly, to any chord and it even stores presets so you can walk through a I-IV-V in gorgeous ring modularity. You have to hear it to believe it, but trust me—it rules.
The highlight f the show would have to be the two private lessons I got, from bottleneck badass Bob Brozman and the leading light of the blues-rock scene, Mr. Joe Bonamassa. Although very different players, they both gave me (and soon, you) some deep insight into their respective geniuses (genii?). It was at once humbling and exhilarating to watch them work their magic so effortlessly right in front of me. Look for lessons and video soon.