Every January, a mysterious primordial force draws aspiring music gear manufacturers to Southern California to display their wares. Fueled by an inventive new product idea, and an eagerness to share it, these NAMM neophytes journey from all corners of the globe with a truckload of optimism wrapped around a freshly completed prototype or two.

For many, it’s their first—and sometimes last—NAMM show. While the more established companies bask in the opulence of lavishly appointed booths on the main floor of the Anaheim Convention Center, NAMM newcomers traditionally flaunt their treasures in cramped 10'x10' booths in the basement-level. Hall E, a low-rent dungeon of delights, is home to newcomers and freaky eccentrics alike. You never know what surprises are in store when you step onto the escalator and descend into the often-bizarre netherworld of the “Mad Scientist’s Hall.” Here are some of my favorite finds this year.

Jimmy Page has been bow-whipping his Les Paul for decades, but TogaMan has brought the concept to a new level, as evidenced by the GuitarViol’s small-radius bridge and fretboard that flattens out towards the nut.

Mad Professor
Made in Finland by Bjorn “Mad Professor” Juhl, these all-tube amps sport curiously labeled Focus and Nature switches, as well as a particularly intriguing feature labeled POWERSUCK.

DeGennaro’s creepy multi-handed guitar was the most striking, and also the most disturbing design at the show.

Stone Tone
Featuring solid granite tops, Stone Tone mines a new concept in guitar-building materials.

The Metasonix Tx-2 Butt Probe explores unimaginable frontiers of freaky distortion with controls labeled Fist, Ream, and Screw.