Tonefiend’s Half-Assed NAMM Report!

namm_meerkat I just drove back to San Francisco from Southern California, where I got to hang out with family and spend a long, full day at NAMM. And while even the longest and fullest of days isn’t enough to see half the stuff at the show, I’ve put together a little slideshow covering some highlights and lowlights.

Per usual, my focus is the obscure and the absurd. For details of the big releases from the major companies, check out the excellent coverage by my Premier Guitar colleagues. (I’m the designated PG reporter for Musikmesse in March, but at NAMM, I had the luxury of stumbling around in a daze, pausing to gape at whatever shiny object happened to enter my field of vision.)

Disclaimers apply:

  • While I receive no payment or perks in exchange for coverage, a number of folks whose products I mention are friends, clients, or both.
  • All opinions expressed are strictly my own — especially the obnoxious ones.
  • You can’t hear a frickin’ thing in the toxic noise zone that is NAMM, unless an exhibitor provides a soundproofed listening booth or a private suite. I have no idea how most of this stuff actually sounds, nor does anyone else reporting from the main show floot.

Finally, an apology: I couldn’t figure out how to embed links within my slideshow captions, so you’ll have to do some typing to learn more about these products. Sorry — but I did warn you that this was a half-assed NAMM report!

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:stupid:

01_exene

The very first thing I saw was a large group protesting against Bain Capital's Guitar Center for allegedly ripping off a cajón pedal design by Michelle Mangione and Steve Soest. Demonstrators included my eternal punk goddess, Exene Cervenka of X (pictured). Details at guitarcentersucks.com.

03_fluence1

I finally got to hear Fishman's Fluence — an electric guitar pickup that uses the radical technology of printing magnetic coils onto a circuit board rather than by winding wire. The pickup transmits a flat, full-frequency sound, which is subsequently shaped by an active EQ stage. The three initial releases feature two tones each, though theoretically, there is no limit to the number of pickup sounds you could generate via a single Fluence pickup. (The Strat held here by genius guitar tech Gary Brawer, for example, toggles between a vintage sound and a modern hot-coil tone.)
The results are very impressive. Changing modes really does sound more like a pickup swap than a mere EQ adjustment. Also pictured: Frank Falbo (center), who worked on the project, and Larry Fishman (left).

03_fluence2

Rear view of the Fluence system and battery pack, which provides 100+ hours of playing time between USB charges. Fender/Marshall vet Ritchie Fliegler also worked on this product, and his son, Jack, provided a shredworthy demo of the high-gain humbucker version, which toggles between an active, EMG-like tone and a high-gain passive humbucker sound. The third model in the initial launch is a vintage humbucker setup offering a choice of PAF-style and hotter-than-vintage tones.

04_British Pedal

I didn't get to hear them, but these fuzz pedals from the British Pedal Company certainly look authentic. The Rangemaster reissue even has a built-in output cable like the original.

05_accordion1

No NAMM report is complete without the obligatory accordion pic!

06_hiwatt

Hiwatt's booth included this lovely relic: David Gilmour's historic rig.

07_flyrig

Small enough to fit into a guitar case, the tiny yet ergonomic Fly Rig by Tech 21 includes two stages of SansAmp gain, plus nice-sounding digital delay and reverb. I could totally envision using this not only on its own, but as a convenient and travel-friendly backup rig.

08_clutch

Tech 21's Andrew Barta also showed me a prototype of the clever Clutch knob, an invention he didn't create, but may develop and distribute. It's a push/pull knob (not pot) that, when depressed, sticks in position while continuing to rotate in one direction. You might use it, for example, to dial back and forth between a wide-open guitar volume knob setting, and the exact spot you like for a rolled-back clean tone. I can think of many great stompbox applications as well. I want about 20 of these!

10_lebowsky

My pals from Voodoo Labs dressed as the cast of a certain film about bowling and ferrets. So much hipper than the usual black work shirt with embroidered company logo!

09_italia

Cheap chic: The whimsical, retro-flavored designs from Trev Wilkinson's budget-priced Italia line: Always a sickly-sweet treat! :)

11_logidy

EPSi from Logidy is an impulse response reverb in pedal form. It reads IR files from an SD card, and yes, you can use your own. (If you don't know about IR technology, search for "impulse response" on this site. It's amazing and fascinating stuff.) I'd ordered one of these the instant I heard about it, and received it just before departing for Anaheim. My initial reaction: wowie zowie. I'll be writing more about this wily gizmo soon. (If you're interested, get one now at $199. The price will probably go up soon.)

12_maggie

I recently reviewed Magnatone's stunningly gorgeous (and, at $4,000, stunningly expensive) Super Fifty-Nine amp for Premier Guitar. Unlike its larger sibling, this compact 2 x 6V6 head offers true stereo vibrato, and will "only" set you back $1,700. To the extent I could hear it on the noisy show floor, it sounded gorgeous.

13_StrongArm

The prototype StrongArm Six-String Sustainer from Keith McMillen Industries looks promising. It allows you to blend sustained and normal tones and set the drive level via concentric pots. It definitely promises many exciting applications, but between the pots, saddles, and LED-enabled pickguard, it's probably more suited to purpose-built guitars than DIY installation. Stay tuned.

14_teye

With their exquisite engraving and flamboyant surfaces, Teye guitars always attract a crowd. Most of them sell for north of $5K.

15_stompblox

Stompblox specializes in modular pedalboards with snap-together sections. They also showed the Brick, an ambitious power supply/signal switcher.

16_moolon

I haven't had the opportunity to try Moolon pedals, but man, dig the beautiful engraving and eyelet-board construction!

17_jt

My brilliant friend James Trussart with one of his new pinstriped teles. Also new is his groovy "flipped" jazzmaster. As always, the Trussart booth was an island of design elegance in a sea of vulgarity.

18_supro

Famed Fender amp designer Bruce Zinky created the revitalized Supro amps, though the brand is now part of Pigtronix. This 6973-powered combo absolutely nails that "Immigrant Song"/"Communication Breakdown" tone.

19_silvertone

More Sears & Roebuck chic: The new Silvertone line offers replicas of various ’60s models. These use modern construction, which, for better or worse, probably means they're more reliable but less freaky-cool than originals. I'm looking forward to checking these out.

20_kay1

The retro resurrections continue! Tim Lerch playing one of the newly reissued Kay guitars. They're budget-friendly reproductions of models from the historic Chicago brand.

21_kay2

More Kay coolness. I didn't get a chance to hear or play these, but they're so cool-looking, I almost don't care how they sound. ;)

22_wanda daisy

Now that is an artist endorsement photo: the inimitable Wanda Jackson for Daisy Rock guitars. (Plus I have that pink guitar fixation ... )

23_fail

Marketing FAIL from Black Lion Audio.

24_mooer

Mooer specializes in micro-stompboxes, especially ones in small rectangular 1590A boxes. Now they're doing a lot of effects in square 1590LB enclosures as well.

25_stevie

Hey, lookit! It's the back of Stevie Wonder's head!

26_tone-pros

New replacement bridges from Tone Pros include a model with nylon saddles à la certain 1950s Gibsons, and a Bigsby-friendly roller bridge.

27_touchmark

This control kit from Touchmark flips the touch-pad equation: They're not for controlling external devices — there's no MIDI output. They simply replace traditional tone and volume pots. With practice, a guitarist could manipulate the controls while playing. The system includes a pad-programming computer app.

28_falbo miller

Aussie guitar monster Adam Miller tries out the first electric model from Falbo Guitars. (You saw luthier Frank Falbo way back in that Fishman Fluence pic.) Frank's acoustic guitars are quite magnificent, and I'm looking forward to checking out this Fluence-equipped model someplace where I might actually hear it.

29_fxc

This wireless system from FXConnectx offers remote pedalboard control. Ambulatory rock stars can even position multiple units around the stage.

30_aclam

Ooh, pretty! This two-tiered Aclam pedalboard hails from Barcelona, ground zero for shapely and organic designs.

31_accordion2

This is the best NAMM report ever, because it has two obligatory accordion pics. That's one big-ass squeezebox!

32_vag

Leaving the show, I chanced upon one last example of the taste and restraint for which NAMM is renowned.

33_segal

Back at the hotel I flicked through the channels, only to encounter Steven Segal telling Mike "Women Can't Control Their Libidos" Huckabee about the awesomeness of his friend Vladimir "All Gays Are Child Molesters" Putin. Nice product placement!

01_exene thumbnail
03_fluence1 thumbnail
03_fluence2 thumbnail
04_British Pedal thumbnail
05_accordion1 thumbnail
06_hiwatt thumbnail
07_flyrig thumbnail
08_clutch thumbnail
10_lebowsky thumbnail
09_italia thumbnail
11_logidy thumbnail
12_maggie thumbnail
13_StrongArm thumbnail
14_teye thumbnail
15_stompblox thumbnail
16_moolon thumbnail
17_jt thumbnail
18_supro thumbnail
19_silvertone thumbnail
20_kay1 thumbnail
21_kay2 thumbnail
22_wanda daisy thumbnail
23_fail thumbnail
24_mooer thumbnail
25_stevie thumbnail
26_tone-pros thumbnail
27_touchmark thumbnail
28_falbo miller thumbnail
29_fxc thumbnail
30_aclam thumbnail
31_accordion2 thumbnail
32_vag thumbnail
33_segal thumbnail

35 comments to Tonefiend’s Half-Assed NAMM Report!

  • satch72

    Saw the Tech21 Fly Rig last night. That’s going to be a hit at that price. I could see at least two more similar designs. Pretty sure I’ll buy one as a back up and maybe for very small gigs.

  • I’m ready to get into Vagina guitars….thanx, Joe.Hope your ears have calmed down.

  • Mark M

    Everything old is new again, but at a much higher price!

  • el reclusa

    Convo reverb pedal!!!

    • joe

      I know! How awesome is that? And I have one right hear in my grubby little hands!

      Inventor Olivier Limacher told me the large library on the included SD card is comprised entirely of public domain IRs. I can’t wait to start loading my own!

      • el reclusa

        Synchronicity is a lovely thing- I was talking about/ wishing for a convo reverb pedal two days ago…but it was really just a matter of time.

        The down side of synchronicity? I’m closing on our house in three weeks and have a child due two weeks after that…which is AWESOME, but not so much for my already nonexistent gear budget!

        Hmmmm….what am I gonna sell?

        • joe

          Oh man — congrats on all fronts.

          For be it from me to utter anything likely to influence a difficult decision. But one of the really cool applications of this thing is loading random audio debris as IRs. You get the weirdest results. There are cool preset examples in the “Warped” folder of Logic’s Space Designer plug-in.

          • el reclusa

            Thanks Joe!

            Eeesh. This is gonna be a hard one to pass up! I might just hafta sell my Hall Of Fame and another small thing or two. I like the HoF, but the potential I see with its editor and Toneprint stuff just isn’t realized enough for me. Plus, I just like the idea of cloning “real”, physical spaces and devices. WANT! :)

  • smgear

    cool stuff. Thanks for sharing! What does it say about our stage of music tech (or the market in general) if at least half of the NAMM features I’ve read this year subtextually summarized the near gear as ‘prettier’. :) For example

    - I love the fact that there are so many great overseas (and some domestic) production facilities making really great instruments at affordable prices. I love that it allows moderately capable trademark holders to relaunch classic designs with minimal overhead. I’m less thrilled that most seem to be building them from a select few modern templates and stock materials with minor cosmetic embellishments. ie. my truly vintage Electra is unique in many ways, the new Electras are basically Les Pauls. I already have a modern LP clone that I like.
    - I love that there are some new effect designs and particularly the innovative digital pedals, but I’m less pleased that most* of the traditional analogue boutique guys are spending all their R&D on prettier pedal enclosures. It’s a stomp box!!! It lives on the floor and you bash it with your foot when you aren’t trying to keep drunks from spilling beer on it!!
    - I love that there are a few companies thinking outside the box with regards to pickup and control designs…. but why do they insist on focusing primarily on recreating the old tech with the new tech?

    Oh well, I’ve done this rant before so I won’t do it again. I’m excited by a lot of the new stuff at the show, but my inner market strategist is frustrated by the prevailing attitudes. Clearly the ‘rock era’ is dead, and most probably for the best. But I’m not sure who exactly is being served in the current ‘Boutique Era’. For most of these reissues and cosmetic developments, the contribution to tone/sound is minimal – it doesn’t add anything to the palette of musical expression, The people that are buying them are either rich kids who buy the hype or rich old guys who feel validated by the cost. What percentage of the new gear designs are aimed at helping actual ‘players’ express what’s in their heads or driving them into new musical territory? 20%? 30%?

    Can I encourage you Joe to add a PG feature/section where you write only about gear that introduces something completely new to the tool box? An article explaining IR and introducing/reviewing the new IR pedal would make a great first feature…..

    • smgear

      where are we coming on that edit button Joe? My many typos require it…. :)
      ‘new gear’

      • joe

        Oh man — I am SOOO sorry.

        Anyone know WordPress? Finding another comments plug-in is easy — but I don’t know how to do it without trashing the entire comments archive. :(

        • smgear

          well, I don’t use WP very often for reasons such as this (tons of great single-purpose components which have the unfortunate side effect of making it tough to change or integrate things later). However, without knowing the details of what you’re using, see if there is an ACL/permissions section somewhere in the component. Users-editing-comments might be a setting in there that is currently restricted to administrators. If you see an edit button for your comments, then there should be a setting that will let us edit ours as well. As always, do a site and db backup before you go too far under the hood or attempt any migrations…. Let me know if you have any problems, I’m not a WP guy, but know the general terrain fairly well.

          Side note, I wasted a few hours this week throwing up a blog-ish site on one of my dormant domains to highlight new gear that offers something new or cool – with a bias towards indie/diy/crowd-funding projects that deserve some pr. I’ll add more features and make it prettier later, but the general framework is up. http://audiogadgets.com I’ll probably repost some of your finds from time to time if you don’t object, but I can also easily give you or any of the other regulars here blogger permissions to post your own finds – and of course link back to your own sites. It’s all front-end submissions and pretty slick and easy. The more people that contribute ‘our’ type of finds, the better.

          Anywho, I’d appreciate if a couple of you guys could check it out and let me know if you have any issues or suggestions. Cheers

          • joe

            Wow — I love your new site! Super-interesting topics, extremely well written, and a bit too painfully timely! (Where the hell is my EPSi pedal story?)

            I’m definitely going to enjoy this. Thanks a zillion!

          • joe

            And oh — thanks another zillion for the links in your ESPi story, especially to this amazing site: http://www.openairlib.net/

            It’s a free library of impulse responses — and really great ones! Totally read for EPSi abuse (at least, after converting to the requisite 44.1kHz sample rate).

          • smgear

            Thanks, and glad you liked it Joe. Don’t worry, I think you were the first (only) visitor so far and I’ll definitely update the article with the link to your supremely more informative and thorough review whenever it comes in. I’m not really planning to do full reviews – just have a central place that gathers cool stuff from the fringe. It was mostly just an impulse response to NAMM. I think the reason that it’s so hard to find those fringe indy gear developments is that they all tend to arise out of fairly isolated communities of modders and builders – who are more likely to just build their own than buy from the individuals that try to make a commercial version. Due to the glut of mainstream advertising, the average player rarely hears about them. There are very few sites like yours which cover a fairly broad spectrum of the market and give equal attention to upstarts. So, in theory, I’d just like to this to be a centralized place to announce new tech that is in the funding or production stages. Ideally, I’ll find some informed people from the different sub-communities who I can give blogger access to and let them cover their areas. Anyways, nothing too fancy. It’s just a site that I wanted to read, and since I haven’t found one yet (apart from yours of course), I’ll see if I can get one going. Now, I just need to find a second reader… :)

          • Oinkus

            I went and read ,just didn’t have any useful observations to add. I just checked out the tuning article and found it weird the guy said that Tronical was new ? Chris invented it and leased it to Gibson (who did a miserable job with the whole “robot” bit) Evertune is a pretty incredible option that works very well from what I have researched. Asides from being a little pricey very few issues.Was interesting and informative and I was first one there too !!

  • Oinkus

    Make something that is new ? Come on man actual thought is dead and buried with the proverbial dead horse on top of it (still being beaten).They remake bad movies , make the same computer games over and over. Same with music gear , remember the end result is bottom line and you build what the morons want or die. Still looks like some neat stuff is always around NAMM somewhere you just have to find it. Those Fishman pups have a huge range of options , could be something there. Great job Joe ! Got to love some bigass accordians!!!!

  • NicPic

    Thanks Joe.

    That shot of that Supro brought back memories of My humble beginnings. My childhood friend and Drummer’s brother had that exact amp lying around the house and boy did that amp ever sound great. I wish I had bought it…Next to a Fender Blackface, theres nothing like it. One thing Id like to request as per some of of cant afford these pricey gizmos and such and live on a fixed budget. But maybe feature a “deal of the month” kind of thing. I’m shopping for a new amp for example and I need something that gets the sound I’m looking for without breaking My budget. My sadass amp that Im using currently has let Me down more than I can tell you. But Im gonna bite the bullet and try the Asterope cables I heard so much about.

    • smgear

      NicPic, maybe sign up for the Hello Music mailing list. They don’t have a fixed stock and only do ‘specials’. They don’t seem to have a lot of variety in regards to amps, but if they happen to post something that you’re looking for, it’s likely to be the lowest price you’ll find for that item. I’ve never ordered from them, but it’s a pretty effective business model on their end – low inventory, high volume, low prices to consumers.

      • joe

        +1 on Hello Music, as long as you don’t mind being bombarded with email. You sometimes find great blowout deals there.

        • mwseniff

          I have had some problems with with Hello Music. Got a bad Ruby Fuzz pedal that took forever to exchange. I also had to send a lot of emails to get 2 guitar stands I ordered. It took them nearly 3 months to ship the guitar stands even tho’ they took my money right away. I had to have my attorney buddy to threaten them (he loves doing that to companies it made his day). Turns out the stands were just sitting in the warehouse but never shipped. However I’ve bought a lot of other stuff that was just fine that I was happy with. The prices are good but when Hello Music sucka they really suck!!!!

    • Oinkus

      I use the first Zinky amp a Fender Prosonic from the start of the custom shop. You can find them for under 500 bucks used fairly often. Has the most incredible preamp distortion in any amp .Good clean channel but the amp has a couple built in issues with reverb noise and a footswitch popping noise. Check musicians friend and guitar center used amp sections always find stuff there and on CL.

      • joe

        Zinky is a brilliant dude. He also created the Vibro King and Tonemaster, two important ’90s models.

        • el reclusa

          Ha! Zinky is yet another happened-to-walk in Buzzz’s story. He blew our minds with the Smokey amp prototype, took all our empty cigarette packs, and talked about developing a tube compressor. And about how $4500 is/was the magic number someone would pay for such a thing.

  • joe

    Oh — not a NAMM discovery, but on-topic: There’s Guitar Wing on Kickstarter. I’ve contributed and desperately want one: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/livid/guitar-wing-wireless-control-surface-for-guitar-an

  • smgear bemoans the lack of the new but maybe you have to consider that many of the big manufacturers have been innovative in the past and have been burned when they introduced new products. Fender were sneered at for their ‘canoe pedal’ Tele and Gibson dropped the Les Paul in ’61 because of poor sales. Gibsons self tuning and ethernet connected guitars have not exactly been a runaway success and I don’t think Fender did that well with their VG Strat either.
    And the whole relic and retro thing is supposedly a response to guitar players wanting instruments that look vintage or old.
    The problem now is that the electric guitar is becoming a mature instrument and all the basic effects physically possible have been invented. It is just not that easy to come up with something both new and game changing.

    Anyway – Joe – didya get a roller bridge to try with your Bigsby ??

    • joe

      Yeah — I bought a Schaller, like, two weeks before NAMM! Not that I have any problems with it — sounds great, and it stabilizes the pitch enormously. But it felt weird to be taking OFF a nice Tone Pros bridge!

      • Good to hear the roller bridge fixed most of your tuning problemns. You could convert the Schaller to a Tone Pros set up just like the Tone Pros guys used to in the beginning. Or get someone that is handy with a drill and tap to do it for you. All you need to do is drill holes at right angles to the bridge post holes, tap them and fit a couple of suitable grub screws. I have ‘tone-pro’d’ a few bridges and stop bars like this myself.

        The extra benefit with a Bigsby is that if there is any small amount of play between the post holes and the posts (and there usually is) a grub screw conversion will lock it out, so you stop any intonation / tuning drift from the bridge shifting on the posts. Unfortunately it does not necessarily remove any slop in the post to thread inserts. Bolting the posts to the bridge with the grub screws may spring them out so their threads bind in the inserts … and it may not.

      • NicPic

        Thats nice but I see it like an ash tray bridge cover. By that meaning. If your like Me and use a whammy bar as part of your expressive style. it gets in the way…like an ash tray cover prevents palm muting…

  • vami

    An off topic small comment on the guitar player on Photo 33. His second album (“Mojo Priest”) has songs “Talk to My Ass”, “Alligator Ass”, and “Dust My Broom”, just to mention a few.
    And the fact that he often plays a Firebird seriously damaged the mojo factor of the model in my eyes.

  • NicPic

    Thanks for the input guy’s but, My patience paid off and I found a used Marshall MA 50 Head on Amazon for a whopping/scant $299.99 plus shipping…I have had My eye on this Amp since they came out and had played through a friend of mines. I like it because its not like the typical thin brit Marshalls. It’s really sad they discontinued it. the new DSL’s sound like thin garbage. (jut My personal Opinion). The versatility of this amp is nice. I have a 1922 Marshall 2×12 cab to pair with it finally LOL. All the same…You guys rock on this site! Sorry for rambling off topic .

  • mwseniff

    I dig the pictures of the giant accordions. I saw a concert by an Eastern European woman (can’t remember the country it was in the 70′s) playing this huge accordion that sat on the floor in front of her chair. She played some unbelievable stuff on that giant squeeze box. I think there was a documentary about her not too long ago. It was so long ago I can’t remember her name but I remember her being absolutely amazing.

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