Acoustic Resonations from the 2016 Winter NAMM Show

March 29, 2016
  • “Everything old is new again” has been a dominant theme in guitar manufacturing for a long time, but the new take evident at the 2016 Winter NAMM Show was, “How old can you go?”

    Several major manufacturers introduced models with designs heralding back to Delta blues days, and anniversary models were abundant. Fishman is celebrating 35 years of capturing acoustic sounds. Boutique pioneer Santa Cruz Guitars is a healthy 40 years old. Ovation and Yamaha Guitars are both celebrating the half-century mark, and the dreadnought body style is still as relevant as ever 100 years after being introduced by Martin. Taylor guitar designer Andy Powers continues his impressive line-byline remodeling job of the company’s acoustics, and electric-guitar icon Fender is taking acoustic guitars more seriously than ever before.

    Community vibes amongst acoustic aficionados were abundant on the show floor and various stages, and especially at late-night hootenannies. The new NAMM Sheraton Acoustic Stage was a nice respite from the largely heavy metal scene at the Hilton and the usual mob scene at the lobby of the Marriott. Graham Nash was among the major players to grace the NAMM Nissan Grand Plaza Stage, and he brought lead gun Shane Fontayne (Crosby, Stills & Nash) with him for a yin/yang, acoustic-electric duo set. It was a privilege and a gas to catch couch jams by the likes of James Nash, Eric Skye, Adrian Bellue, Antoine Dufour, and Guitar Superstar winner Don Alder in house party settings. Those are the kind of NAMM moments that only happen in and around Anaheim’s real Magic Kingdom!

    BREEDLOVE PURSUIT CONCERT KOA LIMITED EDITION
    $999 street

    It only took a quick look and one strum on this instrument for an immediate love connection. Breedlove’s Pursuit Concert Koa LTD sounded as fine as its luxurious looks, and the price tag was quite reasonable considering. It had a warm low end for an acoustic-electric with a cutaway body style, and it was simply sexy. breedlovemusic.com

    GODIN A6 ULTRA BARITONE BURNT UMBER SG
    $799 street

    This instrument felt and sounded like having three guitars at once—an acoustic, an electric, and a bass. It looked slick, and was fun to funk-out on with its pronounced low-end and popping highs. godinguitars.com

    D’ADDARIO/PLANET WAVES NS MICRO SOUNDHOLE TUNER
    $39 retail

    How much more stealth can a tuner get? It’s hard to imagine anything more discrete than the NS Micro Soundhole Tuner, which is a natural progression from the popular NS Micro Headstock Tuner. The chromatic Soundhole Tuner features a non-marring mounting clip that facilitates easy installation to an acoustic guitar, mandolin, ukulele, or any other instrument with a soundhole. No more excuses for playing out of tune onstage! daddario.com

    FISHMAN AURA & MATRIX VT ENHANCE PICKUP AND PREAMP SYSTEMS
    Priced According to Martin model

    The Enhance feature on Fishman’s new enhanced electronic systems was really cool to experiment with because it brought out seriously shimmering harmonics and super percussive pops. Fingerstyle and acoustic soul players rejoice! Dial it up for super sensitive enhancement, and roll it back or all the way off when you return to chunky strumming. Available only on select new Martin models at this time, Fishman’s Aura VT and Matrix VT Enhance systems provide Aura Acoustic Imaging to preserve each instrument’s unique acoustic tone with studio microphone quality. Both feature a new bridge plate transducer to add fullness to any body style’s amplified tone. Hooray for no holes cut into the instrument either, as controls are discreetly mounted in the sound-hole. fishman.com

    FENDER PARAMOUNT SERIES
    $TBA

    Fender is upping its acoustic game with this new line of all solid-wood guitars built for performance with new Fender- and Fishman-designed PM preamp systems specifically voiced for each body shape in the series, including dreadnought, parlor and triple-0 models, both in standard and deluxe versions. The Deluxe Dreadnought sounded particularly solid through a Fender Acoustic SFX amplifier, and it looked fine in Vintage Sunburst. fender.com

  • GIBSON J-45 PROGRESSIVE
    $2,999 street

    The release of Tronical’s self-tuning machines for acoustic guitars was one of the most exciting advancements of 2015. Gibson has long used Tronical tuners on select electric models including “Robot” guitars, and now Progressive acoustic models come stock with TronicalTune Plus machines under Gibson’s propriety G Force designation. The J-45 Progressive with its Tune-o-matic bridge was a NAMM Show favorite for its comfortable feel, good looks, and, of course, great tone in open tunings. gibson.com

    GUILD M-20 AND D-20
    $1,279 street

    Guild’s new California factory is up and running, and its first two models are the M-20 and D-20, which are reproductions of the classic Guild M-20 (think Nick Drake) and D-25. Cheers to a new era of American-made Guilds! guildguitars.com

    OVATION 50TH ANNIVERSARY CUSTOM ELITE
    $3,499 street

    Ovation’s original design is still innovative after five decades. The gorgeous 50th Anniversary Custom Elite with its gold leaf epaulets is also significant because it represents the reopening of Ovation’s U.S.A. Custom Shop, symbolized by the mother-of-pearl and brass phoenix inlays. Congrats on rising from the ashes! ovationguitars.com

    PRS SE A20E AND SE A30E
    SE A20 $699 street; SE A30E $829 street

    We appreciate two new acoustic-electric in the more affordable PRS SE line, which feature several design elements and appointments found on its Private Stock instruments, including the Angelus Cutaway body shape, solid-spruce top, undersaddle electronics, and, of course, the groovy bird inlays and headstock design. prsguitars.com

    SANTA CRUZ FTC
    $12,499 street

    Richard Hoover and his luthiers had such a ball restoring a 1980s FTC for Eric Clapton last year that they decided to bring the carved back, F body cutaway model back for a limited run of 12 guitars in 2016. They will release one per month for the entire calendar year, available at select SCGC dealers. Each limited-edition model will vary in tonewood and finish. Boutique magnifique! santacruzguitar.com

  • SEAGULL S8 BURNT UMBER MANDOLIN SG
    $449 street; $399 street for Natural Finish SG

    Mandolins come in so many varieties. This one stood out as being simultaneously unique and traditional. The Burnt Umber finish was a nice touch. The S8 was comfortable to hold, had a bright clear sound, and wasn’t too expensive—even less so with a natural finish. seagullguitars.com

    VEILLETTE AVANTE BARITONE AND “TERZILLA”
    Avante Baritone 12 $1,699; Avante Baritone 6 $1,599; Avante Terzilla $1,549 retail

    Innovative acoustic luthier Joe Veillette is making more models from his custom Veillette line available in the more economical Avante line, including a baritone available in 6- or 12-string, and the 12-string “Terzilla” terz guitar coming later this year. That’s good news for many who’ve had their eyes on the Veillette versions, but couldn’t afford to get their hands on them. The 12-string Baritone was particularly unique amongst an array of exceptional instruments. veilletteguitars.com

    TAYLOR 510E
    $TBA

    Joining several other Taylor lines that have been recently updated by Andy Powers, the new 500 Series guitars get new Performance bracing and—on the Grand Symphony 516ce and Dreadnought 510e models—tops of Lutz spruce, a naturally occurring hybrid of Sitka and white spruce that produces a strong dynamic response comparable to increasingly rare Adirondack spruce. The slotted-headstock 510e we checked out at the show sounded exceptionally clear and deep, was super touch responsive, and played beautifully thanks to its 24-7/8" scale length and V-carve neck profile. What a great guitar! taylorguitars.com

    WEBER RED RIVER CUTAWAY OCTAVE
    $7,999 retail Weber’s Octave Mando is now available with a cutaway body style that facilitates awesome access to its highest register. We found it comfortable to hold and beautiful to behold—especially in the red River Aesthetic Package. webermandolins.com

    ZEMAITIS ZAG-200
    $1,500 street

    Zemaitis debuted an entire production line of acoustics with appointments reminiscent of custom eye-catching classics such as Clapton’s “Ivan the Terrible.” The ZAG-200 was a solid strummer with a deliciously decorative rosette around its heart-shaped soundhole, and it was easy to love the smiling rosewood bridge on its grand auditorium body. zemaitis-guitars.com

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