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):
    So I'm NOT going to focus on all the details of the gear unveiled at the Nashville summer NAMM show this past, July 9-11, 2015. You can peruse most of the new releases by clicking here.
    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.
     And then...
    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.
  • Roland/Boss 
    Boss' 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.

    CruzTOOLS' 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.
    Gravity Picks
    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.
    Dialtone Pickups
    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!
    Earthquaker Devices
    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!
    Eventide 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
    Santa Cruz 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
    Willcox 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.
    I ran into one of my fave indie guitarists, Jon Skibic of the Afghan Whigs, demoing the Electro-Harmonix 22500 Dual Stereo Looper and the Silencer. I shot some video, which you can see here.
    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!
    Taylor Guitars
    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.
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