HAPPENING AT A TRULY BIZARRE TIME FOR MAKERS AND SELLERS OF
anything since the Great Depression, the 2009 NAMM show held in Anaheim,
California, last January did not disappoint as the biggest showcase of
new musical gear in the United States. Predictably, the four-day event
drew the expected hordes of musical instrument manufacturers eager to
sell their latest products to a vast cadre of domestic and international buyers. For
Guitar Player, NAMM is where we get up close and personal with hundreds of guitars,
amps, stompboxes, and high-tech wares—many of which we’ll be reviewing
in these pages over the course of the year. NAMM is also a great place to witness
new trends in gear land, such as the preponderance of new stompboxes,
or how companies are answering the call for authentic reissues of hardto-
find guitars—a trend that has led to the resurrection of Harmony
Guitars with its line of classic repros, several popular Eko models from back
in the day, and Fender’s introduction of the Road Worn series of ’50s-style Strats and Teles
that look and feel like they’ve been played for 50 years. Epiphone upped the ante on its
approach to reissuing prized models from the past by unveiling a knockoff of the extremely
rare Wilshire from the early ’60s. Only 100 will be made at a price of $4,500 each!
Another trend we noticed at this year’s NAMM show was that more companies are creating
“custom shops” to satisfy players who want truly personalized models. To demonstrate
how its Build to Order program works, Taylor Guitars brought a large stash of rare woods,
along with inlay and rosette patterns and headstock facings. Customers were able to
select from the materials to create one-of-a-kind instruments that would be delivered
only eight weeks later. Charvel has entered this arena too, with its U.S.A. Custom Built
program, whereby you can download a custom quote form from the Charvel website,
fill in the specs and options you want, and then send the form to an authorized Charvel
dealer to complete the custom order. Peavey also debuted an amplifier custom shop this
year, which will build amps to spec based on handwired designs ranging in power from
the 1.5-watt Studio Special to the 20-watt Sensation to the 50-watt Masterpiece. Using
these models as starting points, buyers can then choose components and cosmetics from
pre-selected options, or even specify their own preferences of tubes, speakers, woods, coverings,
and more if that’s what it takes to make the amp of their dreams.
Who knows if being able to design your own gear will be the wave of the future? The
one thing we do know is that manufacturers are more responsive to their customers’ needs
than ever before, making this truly a buyer’s market. In addition to all the custom offerings,
there are also tons of ready-to-fly products in all categories that have been designed by some
of the smartest people around. These things deliver great performance at prices that will make
it possible to satisfy the urge to buy no matter what curveballs the economy throws at us. So, in no
particular order (except alphabetical), here are 40-plus of our top picks from NAMM 2009.
How Much$159 retail/$120 street
Why It’s CoolMost guitarists
want more sounds out of their
guitar, but very few want a
bunch of extra knobs and switches
cluttering up the look of their favorite
instruments. That’s where the Tone-
Shaper comes in. This amazing device will
give you complete control over your tone,
with options for pickup selection, series/parallel
operation, capacitor values, how and where
your tone controls work, and much more—all without
soldering, batteries, or fuss. Unreal!
Why It’s CoolWe all know Babicz can do amazing things with
acoustic guitars. Now they’re poised to kick some electric
ass with these ingenious and attractive bridges and saddles.
The idea is this: A typical guitar saddle uses only two
small screws to set string height. That’s not a lot of contact
between string and body, which robs sustain and resonance.
Babicz’s Full Contact Hardware has 50 times more contact
surface, for increased tone and sustain. Plus, these things
are just gorgeous examples of industrial design.
How Much(head) $1,795 retail/$1,436 street; (1x12 combo)
$1,995 retail/$1,596 street
Why It’s CoolThis 6V6-powered 20-watt beast was one of
the sweetest-sounding amps I played at the show. The V-20
is simple to use, but it was impossible to get a bad sound out
of it. The response is lightning fast, the feel is delicious, and
the string-to-string clarity is downright astounding.
How Much$149 retail/$99 street
Why It’s CoolThe NB2s use phase cancellation
to block out external noise -- making for a much more pleasant
listening experience with your iPod -- and they also work as inear
monitors with select systems. The NB2s utilize a 9mm driver
with a neodymium magnet.
How Much$99 street
Why It’s CoolThe UA-1G is a
compact, stereo in/stereo out
USB audio interface that offers
superb sound quality via multiple connection
options and a simple, guitarist-friendly design. It
boasts great 24-bit/96kHz audio and lowlatency. This thing
is also non-denominational, and works with WDM (Windows
Vista, Windows XP) and Core Audio (Mac OS X). If you already
have a recording program you like, use it. If not, the UA-1G
comes with Cakewalk’s SONAR LE digital audio workstation
so you’ll be tracking in no time.
How Much$299 street
Why It’s CoolThe Timebender packs ten delay types, including
analog, digital, tape (fixed and moving head), ducking, reverse,
and envelope. It also has a 20-second looper, tap tempo, a master
Tone control for the delays, and a
unique Strum Tempo function
for quickly creating delay
rhythms. You can also
apply 100 Intelligent
Harmonies on the delays
for more radical effects.
How Much$2,200 retail; ($75 case)
Why It’s CoolIt’s a pedal steel that you play on your
lap. The Pomona 6 ships with two palm levers for
incredibly realistic pedal steel sounds. It also
sports an “Easy Shift” capo that makes
open string licks in any key a breeze.
I’m not sure it’s possible to cram more
vibe into a package this size. Wow!
Why It’s CoolPart of EH’s new Micro series,
this pocket-sized pedal delivers up to
two seconds of clear-sounding delay
and features Blend, Delay Time, and
Feedback controls. Add in a stout
die-cast enclosure and a heavyduty
bypass switch, and the #1 is
asweet delay pedal for a super price.
Why It’s CoolIn the past,
if you wanted to have a
motorized string winder, you had to
stick a peg adapter into the chuck
of a high-powered driver/ drill.
Now Ernie Ball is offering a
self-contained string winder
that’s conveniently sized, is
powered by four AA batteries
(included), and turns at
the right speed to let you wind
your wires a claimed 70 percent
faster than you can by hand.
How Much$28 retail/$14 street
Why It’s CoolErnie Ball is
now offering their phosphor
bronze acoustic strings
in a coated format, for
greater life and longerlasting
tone. The wound
strings sport an enamel
covering and the plain
strings are protected by
rust-resistant plating and
titanium winding at the ball end.
Why It’s CoolWith its distressed finish and hardware,
the Road Worn Strat provides a very
cost-effective way to enjoy the look and feel of a
well-played vintage instrument. The “soft V” neck
plays superbly, and with three Tex-Mex single-coils
feeding a 5-way selector, the Road Worn delivers all
the sounds you’d expect from a righteous old Strat.
How Much$680 retail/$450 street
Why It’s CoolNow you can get Fishman’s
award-winning Aura Images,
plus their Acoustic Matrix pickup as
adirect replacement. This system comes
with digital, programmable EQ; seek-anddestroyfeedback
reduction; onboard tuner; and open architecture
that allows the user to manage Aura images on a computer and then
load them into the preamp via a USB cable. This is a powerful, elegant
solution to amplifying acoustic guitars.
How Much$5,100 retail/ $3,999 street
Why It’s CoolWhile Framus guitars are enjoying
huge popularity in Europe, the American market
is just getting to know them. Well, say hello to the
Hollywood Custom, a supremely hip hollowbody
that’s part Jaguar, part 335, and all rock. You get
Seymour Duncan SP-90 pickups, a mahogany body
with a killer flame top, a tiger-striped ebony fretboard,
and more. This guitar is just a blast to play.
How Much$2,495 retail
Why It’s CoolThis ultimate gypsy jazz guitar
features all solid-wood construction
with an Adirondack spruce top, premium
flamed maple back and sides, and a maple
neck with double ebony stripes and a 26
5/8"-scale ebony fretboard. The goldplated
hardware and walnut binding
add to the upscale flair, and the
solid woods help make this one
of the best sounding Selmerstyle
How Muchprice N/A
Why It’s CoolThis updated version of the Multiac ACS
nylon-string guitar looks amazing with its highly figured
flame maple top over a silverleaf maple body.
Other details of this great playing and sounding ax
include an ebony fretboard, a custom onboard preamp,
and 1/4" and 13-pin outs for interfacing with standard
gear as well as synths and computers.
How Much$225 retail/$190 street
Why It’s CoolEveryone knows that Guyatone
Micro Effects sound great and are a pedalboard’s
best friend because of their
diminutive size. The only slight bummer is
that battery access is a little bit of a hassle.
Say hello to their little friend, the
Mighty Micro series, and especially the
Micro Delay. In addition to 2,600ms of delay
and a handy Hi-End Roll Off control, they
give you easy battery access with “Smart
Screws” that you can’t lose, and a hip roll cage
so the knobs don’t get altered or damaged.
How Much$1,299 retail/$899 street
Why It’s CoolOriginally released in 1960,
this reissue has more vibe than it has knobs,
and it has a ton of knobs! You get three
Harmony Mustache pickups (with separate
volume and tone controls for each), a
headstock logo that’s straight off
a Happy Days drive-in, and a
pickup selector that would be at
home on a vintage pinball
machine. Go man, go!
How Much$999 retail
Why It’s CoolYearn to sling something futuristic? Dig the HG01, which
sports a gloss black sculpted body, a set maple neck with a 25.5"-scale ebony
fretboard, and a contingent of spacey looking Alumitone pickups (two singlecoils
and a split-coil humbucker) that are controlled by a 5-way selector and
encoder-style Volume and Tone knobs. The HG01 gets high marks for originality,
and you can also have it with a trem bridge, all-black hardware, and either a
pair of Drop N Gain humbuckers or three Lace Sensors.
How Much$980 retail/$700 street
Why It’s CoolLine 6 calls it the most powerful POD
ever, and it’simpossible to argue. This rackmount
work of art gives you the amp, effect, and cab
models that Line 6 is famous for, plus a ton of ins
and outs (including USB), phantom power, the
ability to run one signal through two different
amp and effect chains, and much more. They also
throw in their POD Farm plug-in for even greater
functionality in the digital realm.
How Much$1,599 street (head)
Why It’s CoolIt looks so simple, but does so much.
Boogie has somehow crammed a three-channel amp
into this six-knob head. You get Classic Boogie Clean,
Vintage Lo Gain, and Vintage High Gain, plus switchable
45-watt /90-watt power, all-tube reverb, a Bias
Select Switch for running either 6L6 or EL34 power
tubes, and a gorgeous, classic look. Also available in
1x12 and 2x12 combos. Damn!
How MuchPedal mods: $65 ea.; amp mods: $95
Why It’s CoolWith either a simple mod to your amp or with an unobtrusive
breakout box, P3 will eliminate the need for batteries
or adapters to power your stompboxes by sending
phantom power down a TRS cable that
connects your pedals to the amp. The
pedals also need to be modded, but if
you have even one P3-compatible
pedal, you can power any of your
non-P3 pedals off of that. It
sounds more complicated than it
is, but rest assured: If you see the
clean, uncluttered look of a pedalboard
that is powered this way,
you won’t be able to go back to the
spaghetti of adapters.
How Much$4,199 retail/$3,100 street
Why It’s CoolFor those who want the futuristic
construction that Parker has always been known
for with a more classic look, check this thing out.
You get the stainless-steel frets and carbonglass-
epoxy fretboard with a Duncan JB in the
bridge and a Jazz in the neck for warm, vintage
tones. The three-on-a-side headstock adds to the
old-school vibe. The Single Cut weighs only five
lbs, so say goodbye to back and neck troubles.
How Much$250 retail/$200 street
Why It’s CoolBilled by Peavey as a “revolutionary
next-generation slide instrument,” the Power Slide
is meant to be played lap-style whether you’re seated
or standing. Anyone who remembers the cool Melobar
instruments will see the genius of this ergonomic, affordable,
and just flat-out bitchin’ piece of gear. Bravo
Why It’s CoolAhand-wired, 1.5 watt amp? Sign me up. This beautiful little
amp was touted at the show as “Billy Gibbons in a box.” The 1.5 sports two
12AX7s, one 12AU7 for the power section, and Volume, Treble, Middle,
and Bass controls, plus a Fat switch for boosting mids.
How Much$289 retail
Why It’s CoolThis amazing-looking box not
only has tone for days, it actually benefits one
of the nicest guys to ever shred, Jason Becker.
Controls include Preamp Volume, Gain, Master
Volume, Burn (boost), and 3-band EQ. The
artwork was painted by Becker’s father, Gary.
Props to ProTone for not only doing the right thing,
but making it sound awesome at the same time.
How Much$5,250 street
Why It’s CoolPRS did its homework with this pair of acoustic models, which were designed
by luthier Steve Fischer with input from Ricky Skaggs and other artists. The 15"–wide Angelus
and 16"–wide Tonare both have German spruce tops, dark rosewood or curly mahogany backs
and sides, Peruvian mahogany necks, red spruce and mahogany bracing, and nitro finishes.
They sound incredible, and hearing them played by Scottish fingerstyle master Tony
McManus was one of the highlights of the show.
How Much(head) $1,799 retail/$1,430 street (4x12 cab)
$1,099 retail/$879 street
Why It’s CoolThis 100-watt tube amp has a great look,
beautiful feel, and luscious tones that go from sweet
clean to bluesy raunch to full-on violin-like sustain for
days. Randall has packed in a switchable solo boost, a
switchable onboard distortion circuit, and a VU meter.
Come on! A VU meter!
Why It’s CoolAs if the existing Rocktron Utopia floor
processors weren’t cool enough, with four channels of
killer tones, tons of effects, great speaker simulation,
and their HUSH noise reduction, the G200-B also
includes the Rocktron Banshee, the most popular talk
box in the world. Simply put, there’s not a processor in
the world that can do what this thing does.
How Much$349 retail
Why It’s CoolThey’ve really thrown in the kitchen sink with this full-featured
delay. You get up to 2.6 seconds of delay, a Digital/Analog Blend knob, a real
bucket brigade device for the analog side, tap tempo (with the all-important
dotted eighth-note subdivision), modulation, and a choice of true bypass or
trailing repeats when you switch the pedal off. What doesn’t this delay do?
How Much$349 street
Why It’s CoolThe GT-R1 provides MP3 or WAVE file recording/playback
(44.1 or 48kHz/16- or 24-bit uncompressed), has a built-in stereo condenser
mic, multi-effects for guitar and bass, rhythm patterns, variable
speed playback (handy for slowing down parts without changing pitch), an
overdub function, chromatic tuner, and external mic and line inputs. It even
ships with a 1GB SD memory card.
How Much$2,599 street
Why It’s CoolDerived from the T5 hybrid, the swanky looking T3 completes
the transition to electric land by featuring two Taylor Style 2 HD humbucking
pickups, a 3-way selector,and a control system that provides a coil-split
pull function on the Volume knob, and adds a second capacitor (for darker
jazz-type sounds) when you pull on the Tone control. The roller bridge elicits
a glass-smooth feel from the Bigsby (a fixed bridge is also available), and the
sonic vibe and playability of this guitar are very hip.
How Much$300 retail
Why It’s CoolAfter years of distributing great-sounding effects,
Godlyke has launched their own line of stompboxes. This incredibly
cool-looking box boldly goes where no envelope filter has
gone before, allowing you to get sounds like phasers, wahs, and
talk-boxes, as well as spacey gurgles, burps, boops, and bleeps.
This pedal sounds as good as it looks, and it looks awesome.
How Much$260 retail
Why It’s CoolWe loved the original Boost
D.L.A., with its groovy lo-fi-emulating
Flutter and Tone controls and healthy
9dB of boost. Well, now those NYC mad
scientists have added tap tempo, Trails
(for natural decays when you shut the
effect off) and a triplets feature for an
even more full-featured echo box.
How Much$800 retail
Why It’s CoolVox tones in a lunchbox-sized, 17lb amp.
This little workhorse sports two EL84 power tubes to
crank out 15 watts in pentode operation and 7.5 watts
in triode. The front panel is simple, with Gain, Volume,
and 3-band EQ. You also get a Bright/Thick switch to
tailor the overall character. Pound for pound, this amp
packs more punch than fortified wine!
Why It’s CoolDesigned in conjunction with Joe Satriani, this awesome delay
not only gives you a whopping 5,800 ms of delay(!) but it lets you color the
repeats in a variety of musical ways. In Modern mode, you get clean, clear
repeats. In Vintage mode, the repeats exhibit some of the delightful artifacts—
subtle distortion, warble, etc.—that make analog and tape echoes so
cool. There’salso a Hi-Fi/Lo-Fi switch for further filtering. Vox and Satch have
also thrown in Tap Tempo and separate dry and wet outputs
How Much$3,100 retail
Why It’s CoolThis lightweight and resonant
guitar features a 14"-wide chambered body, a
25"-scale set neck with an ebony fretboard,
and an adjustable ebony bridge. The Model 14
is sleek, it plays great, and, as you might
expect, is perfectly voiced for jazz.
Why It’s CoolOne big reason is that famed amp
designer Steve Grindrod—the brains behind
decades’ worth of great Marshall amps, and,
more recently, Vox amps—is the guy behind
Wharfedale’s impressive amplifier line. The midpowered
TCT35C is a classy looking 1x12 combo
with two fully independent channels (either of
which can be used for rhythm or lead tones),
digital reverb, and a 35-watt output stage with
feedback and power-level switching.
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