Bargains Galore 399 and Under Wonders from Summer NAMM 2010

THE DEVASTATING FLOOD THAT HIT NASHVILLE, Tennessee, last May did a great deal of damage to the city and also destroyed scores of guitars, amps, and other gear used by many of Nashville’s top session players when the overflowing Cumberland river reached Soundcheck, a well-known instrument storage and cartage facility.
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THE DEVASTATING FLOOD THAT HIT NASHVILLE, Tennessee, last May did a great deal of damage to the city and also destroyed scores of guitars, amps, and other gear used by many of Nashville’s top session players when the overflowing Cumberland river reached Soundcheck, a well-known instrument storage and cartage facility. As work was going on at a feverish pace to restore instruments damaged at Soundcheck, another gear event called Summer NAMM was happening just up the street at the Nashville Convention Center.


This year’s show will not go down as the best attended in NAMM history, however, as industry heavyweights as Fender, Korg (who distributes Marshall, Vox, and LAG), and PRS opted to sit this one out. Fortunately there were still plenty of companies who did make the trip to Music City to show off their latest guitars, amps, effects, and accessories. As always, NAMM proved to be a great opportunity for us to check out the gear, speak with manufacturers, and generally get a bead on what’s happening in this sector of the music industry.

For this report we decided to focus on lowerto- medium-priced products that can enhance your sound, improve the performance of the gear you already own, and generally make it easier for you to craft killer sounds. The good news is that you can buy some pretty swingin’ stuff for well under our top limit of $399, including impressive acoustic and electric guitars, great sounding effects pedals, cool practice/recording amps, new pickups and speakers, and hip accessories. Here are our top picks for the coolest deals on tone-enhancing gear from summer NAMM 2010.

AXL Badwater AE-820


The Badwater semi-hollow ($324 street) offers a set maple neck, two EMG-designed Alnico humbuckers, a rosewood fretboard, and carefully distressed hardware for a vintage look.

Blackstar HT-Blackfire


Co-developed by Gus G, who is currently playing with Ozzy Osbourne, the HT-Blackfire ($299) is a two channel, tube-powered distortion pedal aimed at metal players. Its Fire channel delivers a more classic high-gain classic distortion sound, while the Fury channel heads to the metal zone with ridiculous amounts of gain. That said, the pedal is very dynamically responsive and could be used for any style of music where a wide range of distortion textures are needed. The pedal has a durable finish that feel a bit like suede leather, along with an ISF control, Gain and Volume controls for each channel, and speaker emulation on the output.

Cort X6 VPR


The VPR strikes with a stunning snakeskin top on a basswood body, a custom VPR fretboard inlay, a Bluebucker hum-sing-hum pickup configuration, and a locking tremolo—all for $319 street.

Cort AD810


A beautifully simple and super-inexpensive dreadnaught, the AD810 ($169) offers a spruce top with mahogany back and sides, and a rosewood fretboard on a mahogany neck.

DigiTech TR-7


The TR-7 ($139 street) packs stereo tremolo, rotary speaker, and vibrato effects into a compact pedal from the company’s HardWire series, and includes Stomplock knob guards, high-voltage operation, and a locking pedalboard pad.

DR Strings Alexi Laiho and Drop-Down Tuning


Featuring roundcore construction and a “Long-Life” coating, DR’s Alexi Laiho sets ($11) are specially designed for heavy rock playing and severe whammy workouts. DR’s Drop-Down Tuning strings ($9) are specially designed for superior stability and tonal clarity when using low tunings. Available in Medium (.010- .046), Extra Heavy (.011-.054), XX-Heavy (.012-.060), and Mega-Heavy (.013-.065).

Peterson Stomp Classic


Want a classic Conn ST-11 Strobotuner at your feet? The modernized and compact Peterson Stomp Classic ($TBA) gives you all the precision of the ’70s original with a set of new “Sweetened Tunings” that support 7-string guitars, violins, mandolins, and more.

Pedaltrain PT-JR


For guitarists who use a smaller number of pedals, the PT-JR ($99 street) features a sturdy metal frame that measures a compact 17" x 12.5" x 2". The board comes with a padded gig bag and you can also order it with a hardshell ATA flight case for $169 street.

Planet Waves Capo Tuner


The NS Capo Tuner ($49 street) combines the acclaimed NS Dual Action Capo with a Planet Waves precision chromatic tuner. This clever device provides accurate tuning at any fret position of your 6- or 12-string acoustic or electric guitar. The tuner will also automatically power off after four minutes.

Electro-Harmonix Freeze


One of the hippest little pedals I’ve seen in a while, the Freeze Sound Retainer ($119 street) takes a simple sample-and-hold premise and turns it into an ambient-guitar dream effect. You just hit the switch, and whatever you just played is sustained until you remove your foot from the pedal. You can drone like a demon!

Ernie Ball Gigbag Amp


The Gigbag Amp ($TBA) is a heavy-duty gig bag with a built-in two-channel Marshall amp that allows you to jam along to your favorite tunes via its iPod/MP3 input. The case also doubles as a stand when the guitar is out.

Fender Dirty Donny Franken-Bucket


San Francisco hot-rod artist “Dirty” Donny Gillies designed this monstrous acoustic-electric ($349 street), which offers a Fishman preamp with a built-in tuner (Fender announced at Summer NAMM that they have now upgraded all of their acoustic-preamp systems to Fishman). Hey, how could you not rage onstage with Frankie in your corner?

Fernandez Ravelle X


The Ravelle X ($299 street) is an affordable version of the model played by sonic explorers such as Reeves Gabrels, Dave Navarro, and Steve Stevens. It offers a solid alder body, a rosewood fretboard on a maple neck, and two high-output humbuckers.

Ibanez GART50QA


The dazzling GART50QA ($285 retail) is quite a stunner for under $300. It offers a basswood body, a maple neck, two humbuckers, and three available finishes. Also worth checking out—but not a budget model—is the art-decoinfluenced MSC350PW acoustic-electric ($715 retail) that won Best of Show honors from NAMM.

JamHub BedRoom 5


JamHub offers three silent-rehearsal options, the most affordable of which is this five-musician “BedRoom” system ($299) that allows instruments and vocals to be input and monitored over headphones. It’s like a great studio mix for live play!

Jack Deville Buzzmaster


Described as the “world’s quietest high-gain fuzz pedal” the Buzzmaster ($250) uses germanium transistors to deliver fuzz textures with enough gain range for anything from blues to metal. The tones I heard from the demo covered the spectrum from sweet and sustaining to massively fuzzed, and the pedal is surprisingly quiet too.

Jack Deville Click-Less True Bypass


The Click-Less True-Bypass system ($26 with “soft touch” footswitch) is a user-installable circuit that provides true-bypass switching for non-true-bypass effects. Reportedly, it also improves the performance and reliability of effects that are true-bypass. A little larger than a postage stamp, the Click-Less circuit easily integrates into most analog effects pedals to provide relay-driven, noise-free switching.

Jensen Jet Electric Lightning


Designed to deliver beefy lows, crisp highs, and throaty mids, the Jet Electric Lightning ($107 street) is an ideal and also very affordable 12" speaker to drop in your combo or cabinet. It sports a ceramic magnet and can handle 70 watts of power.

Levy’s Leathers Platinum Collection


Available in ten rock-god/goddess-approved “electric” colors, Levy’s 2" imitation snake-leather guitar strap ($171 retail) offers foam padding, and is adjustable from 41" to 55".

Line 6 Relay G-50


The Relay G50 ($399 street) is a low-profile wireless system that’s suitable for mounting on a pedalboard. Its sturdy metal receiver sports easy-to-read LEDs that display power, status, and battery life. Designed for players who appreciate how cables affect the sound, the G-50 features a variety of EQ settings that match the frequency responses of typical guitar cables.

Oriolo Guitars FSA-04


The Felix the Cat themed acoustics ($369 retail for graphic models) were definitely one of the super-fun hits of the show. They aren’t just art for show, either. Workmanship was very good, they felt nice under your fingers, and even amidst the cacophony of the Nashville Conventional Center, the mini acoustics sounded tight and sparkly.

Rapco/Horizon V-Cable


Designed for acoustic guitars, the new V-Cable ($69 retail) features a right-angle Neutrik connector with a built-in volume control that can be switched off for noiseless guitar changes. This is the perfect solution for players who use soundhole pickups that do not have a built-in volume control and are wired directly to the guitar’s endpin jack.

Recording King


The classic 12-fret 000- style body shape is now available to players in an uber-affordable model, the ROS-06 ($247 street). The ROS-06 is crafted with a rosewood fretboard, a bone nut and saddle, and a tortoise shell body binding.

Reverend Heads Up Strap


Designed to compensate for neck-heavy guitars such as Gibson SGs, the Reverend Weighted Strap ($49 retail) features three lead weights that slip into pockets at the rear of the strap. Simply use one or more weights to adjust the balance, so that your neck-heavy axe no longer does a nosedive when you take your hand off the neck.

Randall KH-15


The 12-watt KH-15 ($99 street) delivers a good representation of Kirk Hammett’s signature tone though its single 6 1/2" speaker. It features “Hammett” Clean and Overdrive channels, a boost function, Bass, Middle, Treble, and Volume controls, and a CD/mp3 input and a headphone jack for silent practice. It looks cool too with its black covering and blue channel and power-on indicators.

Rotosound Double Decker and Nexus Black Coated Type 52 Alloy Strings


Available in Double Decker twin packs, Rotosound’s R9-2 Roto (.009-.042) and R10-2 Roto(.010- .046) nickel-on-steel guitar strings ($9 street) offer excellent sound, durability, and value. The Nexus ($11 street) string are made from Type 52 pure nickel alloy for extra “lift” and are coated with black polycoat material for a smooth feel and extended life.

Saga Musical Instruments


Saga reintroduced its line of Gladiator electric guitars, which are based on classic designs of the ‘50s and ‘60s and come in six styles and 54 models! The T-Style ($295 retail) shown here features a basswood body, a Canadian maple bolt-on neck with maple fretboard, and two vintage-style single-coil pickups by Wilkinson. This guitar is fun to play and comes in three-tone sunburst, vintage green, and vintage white.

Samick Rose Ann RA30


The Rose Anne series offered up one of the more striking and moderne guitar/bass designs at the show. The RA30 ($TBA) is the guitar model, and it serves up a poplar body, a maple neck, a JTR HOT humbucker, and black nickel hardware.

Tone Rite


The ToneRite ($149) is an energy transfer device that, when placed between the strings near the bridge, transmits vibrations at variable intensity levels to enable your guitar to break in more quickly and attain its optimal sound. The 3rd generation ToneRite released at NAMM features updated electronics, new Elastone rubber feet for improved energy transfer, and the flexibility to work on steeland nylon-string acoustic guitars as well as archtop acoustics and electrics.

VHT Special 6


A six-watt, hand-wired boutiquestyle amp for just $179. Damn!



Vinni Smith gave the GP editors a handful of his VPicks ($4 and up) to try, and the clear material definitely grips your fingers nicely, and the attack is very sharp and articulate. Sloppy pickers beware!

Washburn XM Series


This dazzling copper number is a prototype of Washburn’s upcoming XM series—due late 2010—and the street price is estimated at just $250. Washburn also showed a stripped-down-but-very-cool $149 Idol model, as well as a redesigned Mighty Idol that will street for $399.

Washburn Acoustics


Washburn treated us to a preview of three new acoustic lines: the Wood Line (due 2011), the Solidwood Series (due Fall 2010), and the $250 Comfort Series.

Yamaha Acoustics


Yamaha focused on showing a bevy of its latest acoustic-electric models from the APX series— such as the CPX1200 shown here ($TBA)—and the nylon-string NX series.

Zoom H1


The new Zoom H1 Handy Recorder ($99 street is super compact and features built-in studioquality mics configured in an X/Y pattern for great stereo imaging. Thanks to having all its functions at your fingertips, you don’t have to wade though menus on the LCD display to make adjustments. Specs include 16-bit/44.1 kHz or 24-bit/96 kHz WAV, or MP3 from 48 kbps to 320 kbps. The H1 records on microSD cards and comes with a 2GB card. Using a 32GB card allows over 50 hours of recording time at 16-bit/44.1 kHz.

Beauties at Any Price!

Of course, there were a number of very cool products debuting at the Summer NAMM show that weren’t under-$399 bargains. So for those who are seeking kick-ass goodies without any budget limits, here are some of the highlights that caught our eyes as we walked down the aisles of new gear inside the Nashville Convention Center.

Asterope Instrument Cables


Another high-end cable? Well, if you can hear the difference, then the tonal rewards are worth it, right? Asterope promises better phase coherency, frequency response, and spectral balance. Prices range from $29 for a one foot patch cable to $199 for a 15-foot guitar cable.

Bedell TB-18G


Featuring solid African sapele back and sides, a solid Alaskan Sitka spruce top, and African ebony fretboard and bridge, the TB-18G ($999 street) delivers a high level of tonal performance for a very reasonable price. We liked the setup and playability of this guitar and its dreadnought sized body delivers an impressive sound. With many other fine acoustic and acoustic-electric models in the Bedell line, this new company should be on your hit list if you’re searching for a solid-wood guitar that won’t break the bank.

Cordoba Orchestra 12 Pro


The new Orchestra 12 Pro ($1,200 street) features solid rosewood back and sides and a solid spruce top. With 12 frets clear of the body it’s a very rich sounding guitar that plays well too, courtesy of its slim, wide neck, polished frets, and excellent setup.

Cort Matthias Jabs Garage 2


The Scorpions’ fretburner added a second model to his signature series. The Garage 2 ($540) offers two Scorpu pickups designed by Jabs with a coil-tap, a Graph Tech Tusq nut, and a Full Force switch.

DBZ Peacemaker V


The western-themed, gunslinging Peacemaker V ($TBA) has its design etched right into the body. Way cool.

Diamond Del Fuego


The two-channel Del Fuego ($1,999 retail for head) pumps out 22 watts of Class-A power via 12AX7 preamp tubes and two EL84 power tubes.

EVH Wolfgang Special


Fender’s EVH division released the Wolfgang Special—a handmadein- Japan version of the U.S.-made Wolfgang that streets for around $1,299—about half the price of the Wolfgang. You still get the EVH Wolfgang pickups and EVHbranded Floyd Rose locking tremolo that reside on the American model—nice!—as well as a basswood body with a flat maple veneer top. Color options are vintage white, tobacco burst, and black.

Martin 00-15M


Featuring a solid mahogany body, the new 00-15M ($949 street) is a warm sounding flat-top with a 14-fret “modified low oval” neck, a black/white inlaid wood fiber rosette, genuine bone nut and saddle, and a gloss finish. This guitar feels great to play and its clear sweet voice is downright inspiring!

Randall NB King 112


The new NB King 112 ($TBA) is a 30-watt 1x12 combo with footswitchable Clean, Overdrive, and Solo modes, independent EQ controls for the Clean and Overdrive channels, an oversized Master Volume, and a lighted VU meter. The amp is powered by four EL84s and sports a 12" Celestion Greenback speaker in a semi closed-back cabinet.

Reverend Unknown Hinson Signature


The new Unknown Hinson ($TBA) features a 1 1/2"- thick, semi-hollow korina body with a solid spruce top, a bolton maple neck with “batwing” inlays, two Reverend P-90 pickups, and Hinson’s engraved signature on the pickguard. Appropriately, a Coffin Case is included.

Saint Blues 61 South


The nice playing 61 South ($970 direct) features a 25 1/2"- scale one-piece hard-rock maple neck, a semi hollow mahogany body with a cherry burst finish and double binding, a nickel-plated Wilkinson WTB bridge with brass saddles, and a Kent Armstrong P-90 in the neck position and a tapped single-coil at the bridge. If you yearn to sling something different, the 61 South is a hip choice.

Taylor GS Mini


Though designed for portability, the GS Mini ($678 retail) delivers a surprisingly big sound. Specs include a solid Sitka spruce top, African sapele laminated back and sides, and a 23.5"- scale ebony fretboard. It’s the perfect axe to take to the beach or on camping trips, and if you want to go electric, Taylor offers the optional ES-Go plug-in soundhole pickup for the GS Mini ($99), which snaps into place and comes with a pre-wired endpin jack that’s super easy to install.

Traveler EG-2


Though only 29 1/2" long and weighing a mere five pounds, the EG-2 ($449 street) has the feel of a full-sized guitar thanks to its 25"-scale maple neck. Features include two alnico single-coil pickups, and an alder body that houses a built-in Pocket Rock-It headphone amp with clean and distortion settings. If you need a super-compact solidbody for practice or gigs, the EG-2 is a smart choice.

Traynor DarkHorse


The Dark Horse 15H ($499 street) is a hip-sounding and extremely compact 6V6-powered guitar head with Gain, Bass, Treble, and Master controls. A Tonestack switch selects between Brit and USA voicings or a “Pure” mode that bypasses the tone stack entirely for a boost in gain and midrange. The amp has selectable power (15 watts/2 watts) along with 8Ω and 16Ω outputs that allow it to drive virtually any cabinet configuration.

Wechter Pathmaker SB Standard


The new Solid Body series from Wechter includes the Pathmaker SB Standard ($799 street), which features an alder body, a set maple neck, and Tonerider humbuckers. The Triple Shot pickup rings incorporate built-in switches that provide fingertip access to a variety of sounds. And thanks to its Plek Pro setup, this guitar plays as nicely as it looks. Several options are available, including Acoustiphonic or Hexpander electronics systems and a variety of finishes.