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.
ACME GUITAR WORKS TONE SHAPER
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!
BABICZ FULL CONTACT HARDWARE
How Much$159-$189 retail/$125-$150 street
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.
BUDDA SUPERDRIVE V-20
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.
CAD NB2 NOISECANCELLING EARPHONES
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.
CAKEWALK UA- 1G AUDIO INTERFACE
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.
DIGITECH TIMEBENDER DELAY
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.
DUESENBERG POMONA 6 MULTIBENDER LAP STEEL GUITAR
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!
ELECTRO-HARMONIX #1 ECHO DELAY
How Much$99 street
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.
ERNIE BALL POWERPEG
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.
ERNIE BALL COATED TITANIUM RPS SLINKY PHOSPHOR BRONZE ACOUSTICS
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.
FENDER ROAD WORN ’50S STRAT
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.
FISHMAN AURA PRO ONBOARD PREAMP
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.
FRAMUS HOLLYWOOD CUSTOM
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. Willkommen, Framus!
GITANE DG-370 MODELE DORADO SCHMITT
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 guitars around.
GODIN MULTIAC ACS LIMITED EDITION
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.
GUYATONE MDM5 MICRO DELAY
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.
HARMONY H59 ROCKET
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!
LACE HELIX MAYA HG01
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.
LINE 6 POD X3 PRO
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.
MESA/BOOGIE ELECTRA DYNE
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!
P3 PHANTOM POWERED PEDALS
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.
PARKER SINGLE CUT
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.
PEAVEY POWER SLIDE
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
PEAVEY STUDIO SPECIAL 1.5
How Much$999 retail
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.
PROTONE JASON BECKER DISTORTION
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.
PRS ANGELUS CUTAWAY AND TONARE GRAND ACOUSTICS
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.
RANDALL NB KING 100 NUNO BETTENCOURT SIGNATURE AMP
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!
ROCKTRON UTOPIA G200-B
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.
SEYMOUR DUNCAN DÉJÀ VU TAP DELAY
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.
TOTALLY WYCKED AUDIO LD-01 LITTLE DIPPER VOCAL FORMANT FILTER
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.
TECH 21 BOOST D.L.A. WITH TAP TEMPO
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.
VOX NT15H NIGHT TRAIN
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!
VOX TIME MACHINE DELAY
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
VEILLETTE JAZZ MODEL 14
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.
How Muchprice N/A
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.