Contrary to what you may have heard, SXSW is in fact an instrument show.
Sure, it's not the sprawling mega collection of all new gear and musical instrument manufacturers contained under one roof like a NAMM show, but there's still plenty of music gear to gawk at. You can get your instrument fix a the Austin Convention Center's Gear Alley exhibit, which is, admittedly, infinitesimal compared to NAMM, but features booths and demos by manufacturer like Ableton, Audio-Technica, Dean Markley, Fender, Korg, Moog, Taylor, T.C. Electronic and more; and the jaw-droppingly awesome Texas Guitar Show, which is packed with a staggering collection of mostly vintage guitars, basses, amps and accessories.
To really get into the gear scene at SXSW, however, you need to get into the action outside the Austin Convention Center, in the clubs and outdoor venues of the festival. From the outdoor stages at The Scoot Inn, The Mowhawk and Emo's Annex to the club stages at Soho, The Headhunter, The Independent, the Red 7 and every place in between, we saw some very solid trends in the equipment bands are using these days, with a few curve balls.
When it came to guitars, Fender and Gibson reigned supreme. From Strats and Mustangs and Jazzmasters to SGs and Les Pauls, the classics are still the standard. Of course, we some exceptions: High On Fire's Matt Pike plays a custom 9-string First Act; The Blind Shake's Blaha brothers, Mike and Jim, play Danelectros (Jim also has a bright red Gibson 335 that he plays on a couple of numbers); one of the guys in Man…Or Astroman? also plays a Danelectro, the other a Mosrite; and Voivod's Dan Mongrain played a Liberatore during the afternoon set we caught at The Scoot Inn, though he's been known to play Hagstrom and Jackson as well.
In terms of amps, Marshall ruled the stages all over SXSW 2010, but we did spot an old Acoustic on stage at the F**ked Up show, being played by one of the three guitar players with a Gibson SG; the The Blind Shake had a full complement of old Music Man amps on stage; Naam's Ryan Lugar was playing though a full Laney rig; and the guitarist with The Park, an SF band backing up rapper TruthLive, was playing a Strat through a Peavey Classic. We saw some cab / head hybrid setups, and in every case, the heads were Marshall and the cabs were Mesa Boogie. As far as pedals go, from Boss to Vox to Electro-Harmonix to special custom and indie stompboxes, effects were the most wide range of rig components at the whole show.