In many ways, a music convention is a music convention. You will, by and large, see the same manufacturers displaying the same gear, hear the same clinicians playing the same licks (that you won’t really hear anywhere but a trade show), and be told the same lies by players, distributers, and reps alike. Having said that, every trade show has at least a few things to set it apart from the others and give it its own vibe. Winter NAMM is different from Summer NAMM, which is in turn different from the Dallas Guitar Show. And all of those shows differ from the Frankfurt Musikmesse. This is not an exhaustive list but rather some quick hits on what I believe makes Messe unique.
1) The Getting There It literally takes most attendees planes, trains, and automobiles to get to the show. The rail system in Germany seems to be efficient, punctual, clean, and kind of fun, especially once I got over my complete ineptitude at working the ticket machine (even with instructions in English—lame, lame, lame).
2) The Layout Messe is far more organized and logical than NAMM. I had back to back meetings with Taylor, Fishman, Shadow, and Santa Cruz and I never had to walk more than about minute. Likewise with the electric hall. It made for a much easier time and the dreaded NAMM knees and feet (also known as Adult Onset O.L.D.) didn’t set in until late in the third day, which is good because…
3) The Magnitude Messe is sprawling. Despite the logical logistics, this is a massive show with more than eight halls that span several city blocks. I met with SKB Cases in Halle 8 and had to pack citrus fruit for the long journey lest I come down with scurvy. It was worth the trek, though, because their new mil-spec, airtight, watertight, indestructible guitar cases are the most unbelievably overbuilt cases I’ve ever seen. Anyone shipping, storing, or touring with a valuable instrument is insane not to get one of these things.
4) The Lawlessness Despite the signs on the doors that caution (in English, no less) “Shhh. 70dB max please,” this is the loudest freaking show I’ve ever been to. The Framus stage and the Hughes & Kettner stage are right next to each other and they had a tag-team sonic assault going all week. When Warwick artist Divinity Roxx (not her real name, I suspect) launched into RATM’s “Killing in the Name Of” I was pretty sure we were going to see what happens when a fire-marshall’s-nightmare-sized crowd gets out of control. In the end, though, everyone fought the power peacefully.
5) The Other Lawlessness Although there appeared to be far less smoking in general in Germany than when I was last here, people still smoke a lot in this country. And even though the halls are smoke-free zones, some well-heeled manufacturers had VIP sections where people chain-smoked with impunity. I’m no prohibitionist, but man did I and my pulmonary specialist hate that. I spoke to a cigarette exec, however, who told me that there are absolutely no ill effects to his product, so there you go.
6) The Public Day On Saturday, the last day of the show, hordes of kids, fans, and onlookers descend upon the show, armed with drumsticks, headphone amps, and cameras. God bless them, because they are indeed the lifeblood of our industry, but wow—I haven’t had my claustrophobic button pushed so hard in a long time as when I stood in a throng of about 1,000 people all trying to get on the same escalator to get into Halle 4.1. Hygiene, even amongst the pubescent metalheads, was pretty good thankfully so I averted (narrowly) a total freakout meltdown.
7) The Drinking Who knew that they have beer in Germany? You can certainly see people throwing down in the middle of the day in Anaheim, but it’s different at Messe, with even high-level Armani-suit types slamming beer, wine, and prosecco at all hours. For Americans, it’s easy to think it’s happy hour if you’re still on US time but no matter what time the clock says, it’s definitely noon somewhere.
8) The Major Players Just like they do at NAMM, companies like Fender, Marshall, and Schecter had a big presence at Messe. But some people might not realize how huge German companies like Hughes & Kettner and Framus are in this land. Framus in particular, being a huge manufacturer—as well as the European distributor for a ton of brands like Seymour Duncan, Dunlop, DR, Digitech, Source Audio, and many others—didn’t have a booth as much a compound. It was the most impressive spot that I saw at the show, beautifully appointed with great instruments, a gigantic soundroom, and an open, spacious vibe. Wunderbar!