15 Top Gear Thrills From Summer NAMM
July 15, 2015
Everyone and their hound dog and pet turtle put out NAMM
reports these days. Some even celebrate "Editors' Picks" — although loyal GP
readers know the one and only original Editors' Pick
is this one (accept no substitutes):
Instead, I'm simply going to take you on a little personal Magical
Mystery Tour — and it will probably be just as rambling and incoherent as that
Beatles movie of the same name — of the goodies that caught my eye.
Perhaps the reason for this flight of fancy is that the wind in
Nashville in July feels like a blast from a flame thrower — especially
to those (me) raised in San Francisco, and truly baffled by temperatures
higher or lower than an SF native's comfort zone of between 55 and 70
degrees. In other words, I may have been driven quite mad.
So let's start this tour here...
The photo at top is of Reeves Gabrels and his Imaginary Friends
performing at the Reverend Guitars
Party at Bourbon Street in Printer's Alley on the first night of the NAMM show. Reeves played like the guitar wizard he is — truly odd and inspiring and jaw-dropping and awesome. Reverend's Ken Haas
opened the show, which was a real treat because Ken is a demon
on the pedal steel. It was quite a kick-off to the days ahead.
It's not often that my "Weirdo Award" gets the nod on the very first day of a NAMM show, but Jammin' Johns — "Music to your Rear," as they say — outdistanced the competition by far. Electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and piano thrones are available, and, allegedly, Steven Spielberg and Dolly Parton are among the stars who rest their famous bottoms on a Jammin John. If ya gotta go check 'em out, go here
' fab demo guitarist Mike Himmel showed off the SY-300 Guitar Synthesizer by playing "Green-Eyed Lady" with an organ patch. Kinda didn't expect that—got the giggles. (I've always liked that song!) Also on stage was the new PW-3 Wah, the RV-6 Reverb, and the DD-500 Digital Delay.
And let's not forget the 40th Anniversary of the Roland JC-120 Jazz Chorus
amp being celebrated by, among other things (such as an upcoming GP
special), a lighter and modernized JC-40.
' Dan Parks always seems to find just the right gizmo to save guitarists from frustration. His Groove Tech Sound Hole Wrench will definitely help you with any truss-rod tweaks to an acoustic where the adjustment screws are "hidden" deep inside the body.
These translucent greenies stopped me in my tracks, and I found there was more to Gravity Picks
than neon hues. In a true example of belief-in-oneself, "master picksmith" Chris Fahey started the company with $4,000 of his own savings, a $500 loan from his dad, and three months of free rent in dad's second garage to use as a workshop. Now, he's producing these beautiful handcrafted and hand-polished acrylic picks in a number of configurations.
Funny how sometimes you have to go out of town to discover something that was always right in your hometown's sight lines. Dialtone Pickups
is just across the San Francisco Bay from the Guitar Player offices, and yet it wasn't until I stumbled across their booth in Nashville that I knew they even existed. These ingenious pickups have two easy-to-grab control knobs right on their covers that let you dial in different frequency ranges. From one sound comes many...
Oh, man —the Gizmotron
is back! I loved 10cc back in the '70s (and beyond), and I was extremely intrigued when the band's Lol Creme and Kevin Godley developed this mechanical "string bowing" device in 1973. It had a short and relatively "unhappy" life as a commercially available product, and pretty much disappeared by the early 1980s. However — fast forwarding to 2015 — a young man named Aaron Kipness had the crazy idea to revive the Gizmotron, improve it, and make it more reliable, and it's now being produced for guitarists and bassists again. Back to the future, baby! You can hear it right here
When you're walking the aisles at a Nashville NAMM show, you're going to see a ton of acoustic guitars, and, at some point, you kind of go blind to conventional woods. No disrespect to the quality of those fine guitars, but stuff starts to look the same after a while. And then, you bump into something that catches your eye with its uniqueness — such as these Myrtlewood
parlor and concert guitars by Breedlove
Every NAMM show — Winter and Summer — I go on a little quest for cool fuzz pedals. You might say I'm obsessed with the effect, as I've filled three Home Depot bins with these blistering boxes and I'm not done. One of my faves on this trek was the Daredevil Northern Creeper 6
. It has a somewhat dark and, well, creepy
name that's mirrored in its '70s-washed, buzzy, fizzy, yowling tone. Yum!
It's always a hoot at the Earthquaker
booth. These guys seem to release a gazillion pedals every year, and each one has either an individual take on an effect you love, or is so unexpected and bizarre that it inspires your songwriting and/or performances — such as the Interstellar Orbiter
filter modulator introduced in Nashville. Crazy!
released its first distortion algorithm in ages with its Crushstation
for the H9. The debut was a long time coming because the company wanted to get all the subtleties just right.
The glory years of the Ibanez
Talman electric series were between 1994 and 1998, and although the design has been produced in an acoustic version, electric players enamored of the Talman style and sound probably had to search eBay to seek out used models. No more. Ibanez is taking a look back at its history, and is reintroducing a full line of Talmans. Hooray!
Oh, and to perhaps celebrate the Grateful Dead's final Fare Thee Well concerts, Ibanez also showed a sweet version of its Bob Weir signature model.
Santa Cruz Guitar Company
unveiled its stunning Brad Paisley Signature
model, and also announced that the company is now in the string business with its new Parabolic Tension Strings
Willcox Guitars Powered by Lightwave
added a bit of whimsy to the show by having its guitar and bass demo musicians link up with a "virtual" drummer to showcase the sound of its Lightwave pickup-armed instruments.
Chase Bliss Audio
It's always a blast discovering new products at a NAMM show, and, in Nashville, I ran into Chase Bliss Audio
for the first time. Owner Joel Korte started the company following the mantra of his late brother: "Follow Your Bliss." Korte's take on effects is pretty out there — just look at all the controls on these pedals — but, man, what POWER!
Andy Powers of Taylor
was nice enough to play a little ditty on the new Taylor 600 Series 612 — a 12-fret guitar with a classical-style headstock.
And I Ended the Trip...
...by moderating a very cool A3E panel on the "Future of Guitar Technology" with Larry Fishman, Adrian Belew, and Daniel Rowland. It was a tad strange giving the presentation right on the noisy-as-all-hell NAMM floor — which necessitated our wearing in-ear monitors and head microphones and the audience donning headphones — but Larry, Adrian, and Daniel detailed their technological creative processes with a lot of depth and humor. It was a fantastic end to a wonderful three days immersed in Total Gear Goodness.