Matt Blackett: The Dallas International Guitar Festival

Publish date:
Updated on

The Dallas international guitar festival, perhaps more commonly knob as the Dallas guitar show, is an interesting phenomenon. It's unlike other trade shows such as NAMM or Musikmesse. It is at once more low budget and more heartwarming. The lack of glitz and glam is conspicuous, even as the cold lights shine down on Holy Grail level vintage pieces. It's a small show, but nuanced and layered. It's easy to think that you can take the entire show in in an hour, and, from strictly a square-footage standpoint, that's true. But to truly soak up everything that the Dallas show has to offer took me the entire three days. Here's how it shook out.

The Vibe
The vibe and attitude at the show is casual, relaxed, and—in true Texas fashion—just a little dangerous. ZZ Top beards are all the rage, as are 11am beers that somehow keep refilling all the livelong day. With that edge, however, comes a cool, jovial attitude. People are nice, and they seem genuinely happy to be there. They come armed with their own knowledge and a wish list of what they want to see, do, and buy, but they're eager to ask questions and excited to share their latest discovery or purchase. It's kind of like NAMM, only with a soul. And a sense of humor. And more beer.

The Gear

Despite the fact that this is known as a vintage show, manufacturers brought a lot of new products to Dallas. Intellitouch debuted a super-cool pedal tuner/wireless unit that blew a lot of minds at the show. Plenty of others brought stuff that had been shown at NAMM and Messe but was still new to most attendees, including Yamaha, PRS, Lotus pedals, Roland (with their new 100-watt amp), Keeley's Luna Overdrive, and B-Band's new pedals and hygrometers. There were also impressive booths from Eastwood, Gibson, Flaxwood, DR strings, Planet Waves, and many others. Several new companies made some noise at the show, such as Copper Gear, who had cool looking and great sounding pedals, one of which that allows you to swap diodes in and out right on the top of the pedal in real time—a tweaker's dream.

But anyone who has been to the Dallas show knows that the real deal there is the vintage stuff. This year's selection was truly jaw dropping, with '59 Les Pauls, '57 Strats, doubleneck Gibsons, Gretsch Country Gentlemans, ancient Teles, old Martins, and period-correct Beatles gear in great supply. Granted, most of this gear was violently expensive, but plenty of Firebirds, Guilds, SGs, and Juniors were somewhat reasonable. The there was the oddball stuff, like a Gibson V2, with the worlds weirdest V-shaped pickups,

Image placeholder title

or a Fender Wildwood acoustic, or a perfectly wacky Gibson Victory, that you could buy without mortgaging your house or your future.

And stomboxes...You name it and it was probably there. I saw pedals that I never thought I would ever see again at this show. Script logo Phase 45, 90, or 100? Check. Electro-Harmonix LPB1 or LPB-2? No problem. Foxx Tone Machine? Ross Flanger? You betcha. It was not only great to see this gear but also to talk to so many people who really got what it meant to grow up with these cool products. Case in point: When I was checking out Flaxwood guitars, I remarked that the cool top-mounted trek systems reminded me of the Bowen handle of yore. Ed Klein at Flaxwood said"I remember the Bowen Handle!" The very next day, when I was admiring the uber-bitchin aforementioned Gibson V2 at Freedom Guitars, the owner came up and introduce himself. When I said I was from GP, he said that he used to advertise in GP back in the '80s for the Bowen Handle. He gave me his card, with his name, Dewey Bowen. Only at the Dallas International Guitar Festival.

The Music

I don't want to shock anyone, but Texas has a few good guitar players. Many of them were performing and killing it at the show. Carolyn Wonderland and Redd Volkaert both played kick-ass sets. Attendees were also knocked down by Pete Anderson and Johnny Hiland. Rick Derringer brought the house down with his set Saturday night on the Bugs Henderson stage. But it was Texas' own Eric Johnson who really got things started with his set of Hendrix tunes. He absolutely packed the room to claustrophobic proportions, adding his distinctive touch and tones to well known Hendrix gems, including "Love or Confusion." He's one of those guys you recognize after one note and then you stick around for the next 1000 notes because it's just too good.

But with all due respect to EJ, the man of the hour was Andy Timmons who had the unenviable job of closing the show. The Texas native came out and wowed the crowd with his amazing brand of instrumental guitar wizardy.

He started out with a couple of blues-rock tunes that showed his deep groove, great tone, and killer chops. But it was when he "dropped the needle" on his guitaristic take on the Beatles' classic Sgt. Pepper album that he was truly the king of Dallas. Timmons demonstrated a deep understanding of melody and a ridiculous ability to play chords and lead lines at the same time. The whole record was great but the high points were "It's Getting Better," "She's Leaving Home," and "Good Morning, Good Morning." When he would take liberties with arrangements and solo over the changes, Timmons was unerringly respectful of the original and showed himself to be not just a great guitarist but a huge fan as well. He culminated a brilliant guitar performance with a heartfelt acknowledgement of the fact that he was playing on the Bugs Henderson stage, and that he was humbled to honor the memory of the late, great Bugs with his playing. For anyone who doesn't already know, Andy Timmons is the real deal. Go see this guy.

And for anyone who has a chance, go to the Dallas International guitar festival. It is a guitar geek's playground.