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Summer NAMM 2017 - Show Report

Hot city, warm people, cool gear

 

by Craig Anderton and Team HC

 

 

This year, the Summer NAMM show in Nashville woke up. Or maybe the industry woke up and NAMM was the beneficiary but either way, this was the most upbeat Summer NAMM in years. Attendance on Saturday’s “Industry Day,” when NAMM opens its doors to the public, was up 26% over last year—and a lot of those attendees were in the under-30 demographic (no, they don’t spend all their time on Facebook).

 

 

 

The following picture shows only a little less than the left half of the exhibit hall, as viewed from the Mezzanine where Taylor and Fender had meeting and demo rooms. The rows went up to row 1700.

 

 

Reverb.com sponsored an outdoor stage where there was pretty much non-stop entertainment. The band here was called "Middle Ground."

 

 

The concerts were well attended, to say the least. See that little black rectangle in the lower left? That was the stage. The audience was between there and the front of the picture.

 

 

NAMM also became a lot more user-friendly. The NAMM smartphone app was great—you could have it tell you where to go, remind you of appointments, give you a listing of seminars, and more.

 

 

There were Whisperbooths scattered around the show that companies could book to demo products without the noise of the show floor. GREAT idea!!!!!

 

 

The overall presentation and graphics were much more modern, and it was easy to find your way around.

 

 

The TEC Tracks seminars (with one given by yours truly on songwriting with computers) brought more pro audio into the show, defying the “Summer NAMM is only about guitars” conventional wisdom.

 

 

Of course, NAMM’s primary purpose is to serve manufacturers and retailers, so there were lots of seminars on improving business, using social media for promotion, and the like at NAMM’s “Idea Center”...

 

 

...as well as dealer/retailer-oriented events.

 

 

And Nashville’s convention center, now a few years old, has a spacious, modern feel to it that was very different from the NAMM shows of yesteryear. This shot is looking down at the NAMM store from the mezzanine.

 

 

However you’re reading this to find out about gear, so let’s check out product world. But where to start...well, this report is about the highlights. For more information and details on All Things Summer NAMM, go to the Summer NAMM 2017 forum in the Show Reports section, where the HC team has been posting pictures and descriptions - and we still have a lot more to cover there, so make sure you check back periodically over the next few days. Meanwhile, here are some of the cool goodies, in no particular order.

 

Imagine a “Build-A-Bear” workshop for guitars—that’s what Guitar Build Workshop is all about. For $600, you spend a day building a custom guitar and are taught how to sand, stain, wire up the electronics, add the components, and so on—with the end result being a high-quality, playable guitar when you go home. 

 

 

Yamaha showed their Session Cake, a stackable set of analog mixing modules so people can jam together on headphones. There’s a mic module (blue), a line/guitar module (red), and you can have up to eight modules total. Sadly, JamHub’s doors are now closed...but this will help keep the concept of informal, inexpensive practicing and jamming alive.

 

 

People with fretted instruments all need to keep strings in tune, and there were two interesting tuning products at the show. Peterson—which is pretty much the gold standard in tuners anyway—introduced their StroboClip HD clip-on strobe tuner, and yes, it’s a real Peterson Strobe tuner that even offers 50 sweetened tunings.

 

 

Meanwhile, the Cling On tuner doesn’t clip on to your guitar; you stick a dime-sized magnet on the back of your headstock (removable with dental floss), and the tuner sticks to the magnet and sits hidden between your machine heads unless you swing it out temporarily for better visibility, as shown below. You can buy extra magnets, which means you can use one tuner for multiple instruments; the tunings handle guitar, bass, chromatic, ukulele, and violin.

 

 

Artiphone was at the show in 2015, and they’re back with a fully-realized version of their guitar-like controller called Instrument 1. It does slides and pitch bends, handles MPE, is ergonomically pretty cool, and lets guitarists use their existing “muscle memory” to control synths. I’m still figuring out how the right-hand technique works, but the company’s in Nashville so I’m going to follow up with a visit. I was quite impressed.

 

 

Now let's move along to more conventional guitars, and start out with the usual NAMM stand presentation: A bunch of guitars, all lined up in a row, intended to make showgoers drool. We'll start with Martin...

 

...then slide on over to Peavey...

 

...Breedlove...

 

 

...Kiesel...

 

...we wanted to see Brad Paisley introduce his signature guitar for Fender, the Brad Paisley Road Worn Telecaster, but didn't have time to deal with all the people in our way. So here's a photo from the press release...we're not really sitting in Brad Paisley's home.

 

And of course, Gibson didn't have to go very far to get its guitars from the factory to the NAMM show floor...

 

 

Gibson also showed acoustic guitars from the Montana factory. Thankfully, they were not sent via United Airlines. Just sayin.'

 

 

Epiphone was showing new basses in the Masterbilt series.

 

I always like how the 50s live forever with Supro.  These are just cool-looking guitars.

 

 

Cole Clark says "Dare to sound different." 

 

So I guess McPherson guitars would say "dare to look different."

 

 

And of course, you can't have electric guitars without amps (well you can, but why?). Positive Grid had their amp head that not only looks cool, there's an app for editing it. It can also do profiling-type stuff.

 

The BOSS Katana-Mini Guitar Amp was a big hit. Actually I guess technically speaking it was a small hit...you get what I mean. It makes a lot of noise for a small box.

 

But BOSS didn't have the "little amp" world to themselves. ZT's lunchbox amps have been around for a while, but their latest is the smallest yet. 

 

And if you just want straight-ahead amps, you had plenty of choices as well...like Egnater, Bullhead Amplification, and 3rd Power.

 

 

Unplug from ToneWoodAmp  is truly novel. It takes your acoustic guitar's output, and feeds it into a box that mounts on the back of your guitar and produces several different "acoustic" effects - no need to plug into an amp, although there is an output jack if you want to do so. It made some pretty interesting sounds.

 

 

Need more than just an amp? Elite Acoustics showed the D6-8, which is a sound system with six inputs, monitor, Bluetooth, and effects.

 

Here's something I wasn't expecting...TransZformer "channel strips" for guitar and bass from API that are equally happy on stage or in the studio.

 

 

Of course, there were plenty of effects...check out the Summer NAMM Orgy of Pedals thread in the Summer NAMM 2017 forum. But the one that kinda blew my mind was the Mothership 2 from Pigtronix. It tracks your guitar and does hard sync-type effects that are spot-on and if played appropriately, highly disturbing - and I mean that in a good way. 

 

 

Amazingly, you can read about guitars, amps, and effects in places other than Harmony Central! Guitar Player and Premier Guitar magazines were at the show.

 

 

Okay, that's enough guitars for now so let's move along...but don't miss the thread in the Summer NAMM 2017 show report forum on the Boutique Guitar Showcase. The thread is basically a photo essay of some truly drool-worthy custom guitars.

 

We hear a lot about people “cutting the cable.” But we still use cables live and in the studio, and I’m a sucker for simple solutions that don’t cost much, which brings us to Cable Porter and Groupies. Cable Porter makes it easy to hold cables, use only a certain length of the cable, and hang them up for storage.

 

Meanwhile, the Killer-Q company says "all musicians should have groupies" and Groupie Cord Solution is at least one way to accomplish that goal. Groupie slips over an XLR connector, but is elastic so once on, it can’t fall off. It not only makes it easy to hold a coiled cable in place, but because it can slide anywhere along the cable length, it’s also good for corralling parallel cables at a gig and/or holding the mic cable to a stand. At four for $11, these are not expensive groupies and they also come with various patterns. 

 

 

But wait! There's more in cable-land - in the form of the Chi Hoop, which attaches to your guitar's strap post and holds the guitar cable in place so it doesn't fall out of your jack (or worse yet, damage your guitar when you step on your cable). 

 

 

People say Summer NAMM is a “guitar show,” but while that was more the case at one time, there’s a much bigger product mix and pedal manufacturers were well-represented. Check out the “Pedal Orgy” photo thread in the Summer NAMM 2017 forum, but a major pedal highlight was Roland introducing a 40th Anniversary "boxed set" with vintage reproductions of the Spectrum SP-1, Overdrive OD-1, and Phaser PH-1 BOSS pedals. The set sells for $899.99—but that’s a lot less than finding the originals (if you even can) on Reverb.com or eBay. What’s more, it’s a limited edition with serial numbers.

 

 

Let’s also check out the cool video about these from Sweetwater’s Mitch Gallagher .

 

 

The electrorganic aFrame controller from ATV is a highly seductive percussion instrument with its own sounds (it’s not a controller for other drums). Dendy was totally taken by it; then again, he’s a drummer. But I’m not a drummer, and was totally taken by it as well. The sounds are really sweet and versatile, and the finesse with which you can control the sounds is exceptional. 

 

Here's a shot of the electronics underneath the surface.

 

 

Yeah, we’re owned by the same parent company, but we’d be doing you a disservice if we didn’t mention the buzz around Epiphone’s SL-series guitars. Why the buzz? They have an MSRP of $199, sell for as low as $99, but the big surprise is they’re very playable and sound really good.

 

 

There was a constant stream of people checking them out; it's a toss-up whether that or the Gibson Custom Shop Modern Double Cut Standard got more attention for Gibson at the show.

 

 

There’s no better environment to convince people of the need for hearing protection than a NAMM show. Oh, you didn’t hear me? I said THERE’S NO BETTER ENVIRONMENT TO CONVINCE PEOPLE OF THE NEED FOR HEARING PROTECTION THAN A NAMM SHOW. So, Crescendo was showing their line of products for hearing protection.  Better to aid your hearing now than have a hearing aid later.

 

 

In addition to Etymotic,  which is a constant at NAMM shows and has been offering a variety of musicians' ear protection for years, Earasers was also there.

 

 

The interest in ukuleles shows no sign of slowing down, and I have a theory that the upswing in acoustic guitar sales is due to people progressing beyond ukulele—the new “starter guitar,” as opposed to the previous $99 nylon-string guitar—and moving up a level. Anyway, you could find books with lessons on ukulele...

 

...or visit Kala, and check out their U-Bass, Ukadelic, and other innovative ukuleles...

...as well as see what's happening with Saga, and the many other ukulele companies.

 

 

And not that this has anything to do with ukuleles, but what’s ex-David Bowie guitarist Reeves Gabrels doing these days? Touring with The Cure. Here he is hanging out with Ray Maxwell from Eventide.

 

 

And speaking of Eventide, in addition to their amazing Fission plug-in and other hardware, the company has gotten into Eurorack modules with the Euro DDL, a pretty trippy little delay.

 

And Eventide wasn't the only company with hardware. Audified unveiled a 500-series hardware reverb called the Synergy R1 (available soon from Eleven Dimensions Media). Even on the show floor, it sounded really smooth and natural.

 

 

Of course, no show is complete without a wall of Marshall amplifiers. Spinal Tap lives!

 

 

And when Spinal Tap plays “Big Bottom,” now they can play the ideal bass - a double-neck from HJC Customs. The single-neck ones are quite cool too, and well-crafted

 

 

 

 

Of course Summer NAMM is in Nashville, so it's probably not surprising the convention has an exhibit for the Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame with various artifacts associated with the iconic songs that put country music on the map. You can see the guitar Richard Leigh used to write “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue"...

 

 

...a letter from Hank Williams to his publisher (the music business hasn't changed much)...

 

 

...and several first drafts of famous songs—it was interesting to see what changed between the initial inspiration and final piece of music. Here’s the first draft of “The House that Built Me.”

 

 

Moving right along,  I'm not that blown away by wind instruments, probably because I don't play any except blues harp. But wind players have problems too, and one of them is sax straps slipping, as well as difficulty in switching instruments. The Killer Quick-Release Saxophone Strap solves those problems, and it costs under $20.

 

 

As to harmonicas, Summer NAMM had the first practical truly electric harmonica - the Harmonicaster. Here's the backside, where you slip in the harmonica.

 

Harmonicas for the system are available in different keys, and cost about $60. Here's one being inserted.

 

 

I always think of Universal Audio in terms of their plug-ins, and sometimes forget that they got their start with hardware. They brought the OX Amp Top Box to the show, which is a load box with cabinet emulation. It doesn’t use IRs, but instead implements their acclaimed analog-level emulation. Want to get your “tone” at levels that don’t approach the sonic overload of NAMM? Here ya go.

 

 

Yes, there were keyboards at NAMM. Arturia’s inexpensive KeyLab Essential controllers ($249 for 49 keys, $299 for 61 keys) were a hit...

 

 

...particularly because of the bundled Analog Lab software that’s a sort of “greatest hits” of Arturia’s virtual instruments.

 

 

Casio had two new electric pianos. The Privia PX-870 costs under a grand (the PX-770 is similar but lacks some features and costs less), has 88 keys, USB recording, and a bunch of other features. Arguably the best feature is that its built-in amplification sounded really good, even on the NAMM show floor.

 

 

Summer NAMM 2017 isn’t even close to a DJ show, but there was some DJ gear. This compact DJ setup from JD Sound, Monster Go DJ Plus, looked really small until...

 

 

....you put it next to the Monster Go DJ pocket-sized setup.

 

 

And there were a lot more pro audio companies exhibiting, like Edwards Audio with their hand-made, vacuum-tube preamps.

 

 

Speaking of tubes, you could also see Useful Arts Audio's FP-60 microphone preamp.

 

The Zylia mic isn't new, but this was the first time at Summer NAMM. It's a multi-track microphone with software that's claimed to be able to separate instruments into individual tracks  for mixing. It also has a cool "Death Star" look, although I don't think Darth Vader was into multitrack recording.

 

 

Bettermaker showed their Mastering Limiter, which mates analog circuitry with digital control so it can look like a plug-in when editing in a DAW. 

 

 

And there was lots more pro audio, as well as lots of other products...be sure to check out the Summer NAMM 2017 forum for more.

 

As to Summer NAMM in general, anyone who didn't come away wanting to pick up and start playing their guitar, piano, drums, ukulele, mic, or whatever their instrument of choice may be needs a reality check. Sure, NAMM was about new products...but it was also about the tools & toys we use to make music, and that's always inspirational.

 

Welcome back, Summer NAMM...we missed you. 

 

 

 Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.

 

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