We’ve attended a lot of NAMM shows, but, this year—frightening. Booth numbers in the five-digit range, a completely new hall, the incorporation of AES (pro-recording products) into the mix, and heightened security (bag checks and metal detectors) made for a harrowing—and time-consuming—journey.
But amidst the surging masses of humanity and the noise and bother, there was, as always, the GEAR. Multitudes of awesome products debuted at NAMM 2018, and we’ve previewed many of them on guitarplayer.com, our social-media pages, and on our YouTube channel, and we’ll publish comprehensive reviews on as much of the new gear as we can in future print issues and online.
Being blissfully overwhelmed by so much gear is daunting, both for the editors and our readers. So we decided to do a “first cut” for you, and select 25 products that caught our eye, or intrigued us, or simply ignited our own personal gear lust. We aren’t proposing that this list encompasses the “best” gear released at NAMM, or even the most important or anticipated. It’s just the subjective mission brief of two GP editors, who walked the miles of aisles at the Anaheim Convention Center during the 2018 NAMM extravaganza, and came across 25 products they dug and wanted to share with other players.
FLOW JUMBO PICKS
Featuring beveled edges for fast string release and a wide profile to make them easy to grip, these picks feel great and deliver a clear, meaty sound. ($3.99 street for a 3-pack).
OPEN CORE HUMBUCKERS
These new models in the Fluence series ($TBA) have exposed coils for a classic “zebra” look and sound. In Voice 1 the neck and bridge pickups are set to a vintage PAF-style tone. Voice 2 makes the bridge hotter and the neck less so for a cleaner sound, and Voice 3 provides a split-coil sound. Now you can enjoy all the advanced technology that Fluence offers while keeping your guitar looking dead-nuts vintage.
This pedalboard ($399 mini, $499 standard) features a lightweight aluminum frame supporting isolated steel rails and “Pedal Plates” that attach to your stompboxes. Each Pedal Plate has magnets to hold to the steel rails of the Earth Board, making for easier positioning of pedals, and the steel rails of the Earth Board also provide voltage to each Pedal Plate through the magnets to power the pedals. The Earth Board can be powered by a standard 9VDC power supply, or with a lithium rechargeable battery for clean isolated power. Available in 20” x 12” stabdard and 20” x 6” mini sizes, and with the option of LED lighting in a variety of colors.
RAT TAIL DISTORTION CABLE
I’m not sure if this is crazy genius, a new paradigm, or just dumb fun, but the Rat Tail ($57-$62 street) serves up blistering distortion right from your guitar cable. A knob on the guitar-input jack lets you select two Rat-pedal-approved distortion settings (one at unity gain; the other with a 3dB boost) or a true bypass (unaffected) mode. Those with fast hands and clumsy feet can now bid their grind pedals adieu. Available in 10’, 18’, and 25’ lengths.
BOSS will proudly tell you the Katana-Air ($399 street) is the first completely wireless professional guitar amp in the galaxy. And that’s cool. I guess. Beyond ultimate portability, you also get the wireless transmitter for your guitar, five amp models, 58 effects, Bluetooth music playback, 20 watts (battery) or 30 watts (AC) of power, and some other groovy features. But here’s what’s really cool for both futurists and lazy sods: the transmitter and amp automatically go into standby mode when you’re not playing, and a motion sensor in the transmitter turns everything back on when you pick up your guitar. Did you hear that? All you have to do is pick up your guitar! I did that all afternoon at NAMM, and I giggled with joy every time. Boom.
As a full-range/flat-response, powered-speaker cabinet (2,000 watts peak) for its own HeadRush Pedalboard or any digital-modeling device, the FRFR-112 ($299 street) is really well-configured for real-world live-performance use. The killer app is that it’s monitor shaped, which means it can be angled behind a player for optimum sound dispersion on stage, or placed in front of the performer (like a conventional monitor speaker) if the house system is getting the main signal feed from your device.
These great-sounding new combos and heads available in 5-, 20 -, and 50-watt versions ($449 to $799 street), are straightforward, all-tube designs that harken to classic Marshalls of yore. However, they have modern features like Powerstem power reduction (which maintains tonal consistency by lowering the voltage in the output stage instead of switching the power tubes to triode configuration), adjustable gain boost, and a Tilt control that lets you vary the sound between normal and high treble.
INVECTIVE .120 HEAD
Periphery guitarist Misha Mansoor designed this metal machine ($1,899 street) with Peavey from a blank slate. It’s not specifically based on old school or new school amps, yet it sounds simultaneously familiar and boldly unique—a good thing for sonic explorers who want to chart their own tonal expeditions. Lots of clean headroom and textural, complex high-gain spoken here.
ERIC JOHNSON STRATOCASTER THINLINE
This mind-blowing innovation—the first-ever semi-hollow Stratocaster ($1,999 street)—took two years to develop. I attended a Fender breakfast with Eric Johnson to introduce the new model, and he said he played with body woods, pickup voicings, positions of the internal chambers, and even the size and position of the f hole before settling on the production specs. When he played that morning, the sound was resonant and airy—just like the combo plate of a Strat and his favorite semi-hollowbodies that he was looking for. Seeking more “off-kilter” Fenders? Check out the Parallel Universe Collection.
I’ve been intrigued about the Silhouette since GP’s Whack Job columnist, Terry Carleton, profiled a ’65 model in 2015. But I wasn’t up for wrestling with a vintage pawnshop prize. Then, here comes NAMM, and—shazzam!—Harmony is back, and so is the Silhouette (along with the Rebel and Jupiter; all $TBD). Edwin Wilson—formerly of the Gibson Custom Shop—is leading Harmony’s resurrection, and the models I played at NAMM were solid, sounded good, and felt comfortable to play. They had to wrest the Silhouette out of my hands.
I’ve always dug the S2 Standard 22, and the new Studio model ($1,399 street) gets a boost in sonic range and flexibility factor courtesy of an HSS pickup configuration with a Starla humbucker in the bridge (which has a coil-split function) and Vela Type-D single-coils in the middle and neck positions.
This new model ($1,099 street) designed by Reverend founder Joe Naylor brings elements of hollowbody and solidbody together in a unique way, with the thru-body f-holes providing more resonance, and the thick center ridge enhancing attack and sustain. The Airsonic’s Railhammer Humcutters deliver the clarity and dynamics of P90s without the hum, and the tremolo bridge is a Wilkinson WVS50 IIK. Stay tuned for an upcoming review of this intriguing guitar.
DAVID BOWIE LIMITED EDITION DUAL TONE
This hits too many of my obsession/nostalgia buttons. I’m a fanatical Bowie fan, but the fact that Bowie’s desire for this guitar was driven by his love for Link Wray and his Dual Tone—well, that’s two of my musical heroes wrapped up in one guitar! The Bowie Limited Edition ($1,199 street) is not only a fine example of a vintage Supro, it’s also a revved-up, customized version of the last guitar Bowie played on tour.
95000 PERFORMANCE LOOP LABORATORY
This cool looping device ($550 street) has six mono tracks and one stereo mixdown track per loop, and can record up to 375 minutes and 100 loops with a 16GB micro SD card. It’s easy to navigate, I like how you can fade out tracks, and the intuitive interface and rugged aluminum chassis makes it well suited for live performance.
In a stunning purple finish and matching knobs and jacks, the Expression Tremolo ($249 street) is almost a must-buy for its cosmetic flash alone. But add the fact you can control tremolo depth, rate, or depth and rate with your foot, and this pedal becomes essential for tremolo lovers—and that’s before the five waveforms (slow rise, slow fall, sine, square, harmonic) and an onboard spring reverb are piled on top of the goodies already in evidence. This thing is a monster.
CULT GERMANIUM CHANNEL
Though based on the single-knob Cult Germanium Overdrive, the Germanium Channel ($TBA) has Pre, Drive, Lows, Highs, and Cut controls for more precise tone shaping before and after the drive stage. It’s great for Brit-pop jangle through a cathode-biased amp, it will take a Marshall straight to the Sabbath zone. His new Purr Vibrato is also sublimely sensual.
Boasting 100 high-quality effects models—many lifted from Line 6’s well-known stompers—the HX ($599 street) can function as a stand-alone effect system, or be used in conjunction with your existing pedalboard. Armed with ridiculous processing power, the HX can run up to nine effects simultaneously, and it has dual effects loops, as well as MIDI connectivity to facilitate integration into most any setup. Considering what individual effects pedals cost, the HX offers serious bang for the buck.
Combining two classic overdrive textures with a powerful 2-band EQ and a Lo/Hi Gain switch, the DDO ($116 street) can go from big and clean to huge and creamy.
LA SUPER RICA FUZZ
There is really just one thing to say here: This is a fuzz pedal ($179 street) with sweepable, semiparametric midrange control. Well, let me add that you also get a Fat/Flat switch. Now, think of the tonal bliss and mass carnage you can devise with that degree of fuzz-o-licious frequency command. Planets could shatter like Krypton.
VENTRIS DUAL REVERB
Featuring two completely independent 56-bit reverb processors and 12 reverb engines, the Ventris’ ($399 street) otherworldly dual-everb effects blew me away when I heard it at NAMM. True-spillover capability, and an ever-expanding collection of reverb effects available via the Neuro Mobile App or Neuro Desktop Editor, make it perhaps the most powerful reverb pedal ever.
MINI AQUA-PUSS DELAY AND MINI BLUE HIPPO CHORUS
I have both of these supremely cool pedals from years ago, so I was immediately down with these new smaller versions, which are perfect if you want to downsize a pedalboard without compromising tone or features. And what a sweet price for these legendary analog stompboxes ($149 street, each).
S1 PRO MULTI-POSITION P.A. SYSTEM
Guitar World’s Paul Riario and I got a preview of the fabulous S1 ($599 street) at Bose Headquarters in Boston last year, and, as always, the Bose tech is impressive. This very portable, monitor-sized sound system features three channels, onboard reverb and EQ, and Bluetooth. What really blew my mind is that speaker dispersion automatically reorients itself depending on whether the S1 is tilted back vertically, elevated, placed on a speaker stand, or used in a horizontal position as a floor monitor.
This pro-level mobile audio interface ($TBA) for recording on a phone or tablet features dual mic preamps with 48-volt phantom power, playback and recording buttons, gain controls, stereo balanced and unbalanced outputs, a headphone output, a rechargeable battery rated for eight hours of operation, rugged construction, and the list goes on.
OX AMP TOP BOX
OX ($1,299 street) is unlike anything you’ve ever plugged into. You can run your tube amp into it (up to 100 watts) at any volume, and the reactive-load circuitry makes it sound and feel like you’re playing though a real cabinet—right down to the “cone cry” harmonics—at house-friendly volume. But that’s only part of it, as the emulation side of OX gives you dozens of microphones and guitar cabinets to choose from, and you can adjust mic positioning and even the ambience of the room itself. I got a tour of OX at UA’s headquarters prior to its release at NAMM, and the sound quality is unreal. It’s literally like being able to play your favorite amps in a world-class studio.
PRS SUPERMODELS AMP SIM PLUG-IN
Paul Reed Smith partnered with Waves to devise accurate and realistic sims of his Archon, Blue Sierra (a prototype that was never released), and Dallas amplifiers ($TBA). I played through the software on the NAMM floor, and it felt good and sounded great—especially given all the cabinet and microphone options.