Winter NAMM 2019
By Anderton |
After slogging through the post-Great Recession years, NAMM has been steadily working its way upward. The last few shows have been positive and encouraging, but Winter NAMM 2019 may be remembered as the show that reached escape velocity.
By now, the show is in the rear view mirror...and in the age of the internet, info about the new products has been disseminated. But one trend that stuck out was that companies, products, and even technologies are making a comeback.
The biggest comeback, of course, was Gibson. Granted, HC is owned by Gibson—but we have 100% editorial autonomy and have never been asked to submit an article for review nor to cover a particular product. As a point of fact, we often do our corporate owners a disservice by not mentioning them for fear the cynical fringes think Gibson’s ownership of HC came about from anything other than a desire to preserve one of the earliest online musical gear communities. Not covering Gibson’s resurgence however, would be ignoring one of the most significant events at NAMM.
Figure 1: Gibson’s event was thrown to reward the people who had supported Gibson during the tough times.
CEO JC Curleigh set the tone, which you can read about in this issue’s Dear Musician. If he’s not the real deal, then he should stay in L.A. and pursue an acting career. He knows it won’t be easy climbing out the hole Gibson had been in, but he’s shouldered the responsibility for what went wrong, and is doing everything he can to fix it. You could feel that the industry didn’t want Gibson to go away, and the company now has a tailwind that will help fuel the comeback in the months ahead.
Figure 2: JC Curleigh talking to the crowd at the Gibson party.
And the party’s headliner was also making a comeback. Actually Peter Frampton never really went away, but his steady gigging, superb chops on guitar, and his musician’s musician attitude have him at his highest career peak since the 70s. (I was dragged into going to a concert of his in 2017 and didn’t expect much, but was blown away—tight, unpretentious, uncompromising, and joyful. Sometimes it’s great to be wrong.) He was seemingly everywhere—at Gibson, being interviewed in the Universal Audio booth, and accepting the TEC Awards’ Les Paul Award.
Figure 3: Peter Frampton receiving the Les Paul Award.
And speaking of the TEC Awards, they never went away either...but this year’s awards were the best yet, with greater recognition that music isn’t just rock music and big studios. And when Frampton took to the stage, the attendees got a treat.
Figure 4: Peter Frampton onstage at the TEC Awards.
The logical follow-up to the Gibson/Frampton comeback is guitars. If the electric guitar is indeed dead, as some journalists have speculated, neither the manufacturers nor attendees got the memo. Guitars of all kinds were in abundance, but fanned fret guitars are a big trend. The reason for this is the lower strings use a longer scale length for a stronger sound, while the upper strings have a shorter scale length for a brighter sound.
Figure 5: Red Layer guitars from Amsterdam had lots of boutique guitars with fanned frets.
And how’s this for a comeback? The Optigan optical disc player has been reborn as the Panoptigan, from Quilter Labs. This ancient sample playback device provided the choir sounds for Kraftwerk albums, among others. Long gone from the world, it’s now starting production.
Figure 6: The Panoptigan is currently in production, and should be available soon.
The BandLab booth was arguably the king of comebacks, having resuscitated Cakewalk, Harmony guitars, and Teisco guitars. BandLab also has a piece of Rolling Stone, and other music-related media...and of course, the musical social media site BandLab.com.
Figure 7: The BandLab booth at NAMM, with Cakewalk’s biggest presence in years.
Modular synthesizers are back, too. Part of Hall A was like an American version of the SuperBooth show that spun off from the Frankfurt Musikmesse into its own show in Berlin. I also think it’s a precursor to the SynthPlex show that’s coming to Los Angeles at the end of March...I’m sure as hell going to be there!
Figure 8: Modular synthesizers have been on a comeback path for years, and show no signs of slowing down.
But it wasn’t just the fringe doing modular by any means...check out what Korg had on offer.
Figure 9: Korg was showing their Volca modular in a Sequenz shell.
And Dave Rossum, the main designer behind the iconic E-Mu synths and samplers of yesteryear, continues his comeback as well.
Figure 10: Dave Rossum is back to making synths again. Somehow that makes it seem like all’s right with the world.
Remember Sonic Scores, makers of Overture? Well, Overture has been back for a while, but the company exploded at NAMM 2019 with the Amadeus Symphonic Orchestra, which sounded expressive yet is incredibly easy to play—and produces satisfying, big orchestrations. I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy.
Figure 11: Sonic Scores’ booth was mobbed because of the Amadeus Symphonic Orchestra instrument for Kontakt.
Even effects were making a comeback, but Pigtronix took it to an extreme by not only resurrecting a classic Supro delay effect, but using an MN3005-type analog bucket brigade chip, made by some obscure Chinese factory of military components. The MN3005 may not mean a lot to most people, but along with Reticon’s SAD-4096, was the main component in the analog delays of yesteryear.
Figure 12: The Supro analog delay is back.
And Supro wasn’t just about effects, and amp comebacks weren’t only about Ampeg—how about this vintage Supro Blues King amp?
Figure 13: It looks vintage, it sounds vintage, but it’s a Supro reissue.
Although maybe it wasn’t a comeback per se, we did catch a glimpse of an endangered species—the newsstand. As usual, there were a ton of magazines you could take for the plane ride home.
Figure 14: Okay, maybe there weren’t a lot of people hanging around...but it was still a newsstand.
Then again, whether you could take a magazine on the plane depended on whether there was a plane to take. With a huge winter storm holding much of the midwest and northern US captive (and face it, doesn’t Polar Vortex sound like a great name for a synthesizer?), many people experienced the excitement of sleeping in airports while waiting...and then waiting some more.
Figure 15: The weather was fine in Anaheim, but the rest of the US wasn’t always as lucky.
Loopers are something else that never really went away, but mark my words: we’re going to see a resurgence in 2019 and 2020. This looping microphone from Sonuus is just one example of the type of product we’ll be seeing.
Figure 16: The Loopa from Sonuus is a world-first microphone for loopers...pretty cool.
Sequential had a comeback too with the Prophet X. Kudos to Yamaha for giving the Sequential name back to founder Dave Smith.
Figure 17: The Prophet X from Sequential—not Dave Smith Instruments.
And for a moment of shameless, self-serving promotion, my book “Home Recording for Musicians” is back as a series of books for Hal Leonard called the “Musician’s Guide to Home Recording.” Here, Holly Barker is holding a copy of the latest book in the series—“How to Get the Best Sounds Out of Amp Sim Software.”
Figure 18: This is book #5 in the series, with three more due in the next month or two.
That covers a lot of the comebacks, but there were also some semi-comebacks - like Digital Performer 10, the first major update in three years, and Magix's resuscitation of Sony Acid (which technically, had never gone away) in the form of Magix Acid Pro 8. However NAMM is also about new stuff, cool stuff, and weird stuff. So in no particular order, here’s a representative sampling of all three.
We mentioned amp sims, and this is kind of cool: the winner for the KVR Developer Challenge got to come to Anaheim and show of one of his Ignite Amps. Between new entries like this, Waves’ outstanding PRS SuperModels, and STL Tones Howard Benson amps, it seems like amp sims are finally reaching critical mass—and delivering the sounds guitarists want.
Figure 19: The winner of KVR’s Developer Challenge was an amp sim company.
The Software Ghetto returned to NAMM in the new North Hall, and this picture shows only about half of it! If you wanted a concentrated dose of the latest software, this was the place to hang out.
Figure 20: The Software Ghetto in the North Hall.
Anything new from Spectrasonics is always an event...and Omnisphere 2.6 did not disappoint.
Figure 21: Omnisphere 2.6 made its Winter NAMM debut.
They say everything at NAMM has gone wireless, but that’s absolutely not true. There were plenty of coffee stands to keep people as wired as humanly possible.
Figure 22: It’s not electricity that powers NAMM, it’s coffee.
The Claas Guitars booth won the “You can never have enough strings or blinky lights” award. Damn, that 12th fret waveform marker looks cool…
Figure 23: Now even guitar neck position markers can have the blues.
It’s always a treat running into engineer Sylvia Massy at shows, because you never know what she’s been up to—but you know it will almost certainly be off-the-wall and inventive.
Figure 24: Engineer Sylvia Massy was signing cut sheets for her book, and of course, being interviewed.
Speaking of inventive, you can always count on Keith McMillan to come up with a bunch of inventive goodies. The K-Board Pro4 is a keyboard with “smart sensors,” and is designed specifically with the MPE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression) protocol in mind. And speaking of MIDI...yes, MIDI 2.0 was announced at the show and yes, it will be built into more and more products in the months and years ahead.
Figure 25: Keith McMillan’s new keyboard joins the increasing number of MPE-friendly controllers.
Here’s something for all you violinists: vsound, which processes violins through impulses of centuries-old, incredibly rare violins. Convolution continues to take over the world, and not just for reverbs and amp cabinets.
Figure 26: Make your violin sound like a million dollars—or at least, a million-dollar collection of violins.
The new North Halls, which are dedicated to pro audio, are off the beaten path for those attending the main halls—but that didn’t put a damper on attendance.
Figure 27: The two levels of the North Hall were a pro audio enthusiast’s delight.
In the “weird yet wonderful” category, Effigy Labs’ control pedal may look bizarre, but it’s a fast, predictable, expressive, X-Y foot controller. This is something I just have to check out in depth.
Figure 28: The Effigy Control Pedal is a—uh—step forward in human interface devices.
You might not associate gorgeous industrial design with Casio, but their latest Privia is breathtaking. It’s a black, monolithic slab with touch-sensitive switching, where the switch legends light up only when a particular functionality is selected. It’s relatively light, and the keybed feel is astonishingly realistic.
Figure 29: Casio’s latest home piano comes pretty close to a work of art.
Then there’s the company Beat Box, which takes “box” literally—as in, a do-it-yourself drum machine in a cardboard box. If you put two of them in a room, will they start beat-boxing?
Figure 30: Your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you—that’s a beat (cardboard) box.
There was useful stuff too, like the Cord Wrangler. If you need to keep your cords organized, this makes the process a lot simpler.
Figure 31: I really think I need to buy some Cord Wranglers. You’d understand if you saw my studio.
There was a whole section of the main halls that looked a lot like the ProLight+Sound exhibits at Frankfurt. I wouldn’t be surprised if the number of related exhibitors increases next year.
Figure 32: Chauvet was one of many lighting companies that made the trek to Winter NAMM 2019.
And finally, because you can never have too many strings or too many guitars, here are some random guitar shots to amaze and delight. NAMM never ceases to amaze and inspire...in fact, I think it’s time to head to the studio. Ciao! -HC-
Figures 33-35: Orn Custom Guitars, from Iceland
Figures 36, 37: marconiLab, from Italy
Figure 38: Alejandro Ramirez, from Spain
Figure 39: Enrico diDonat, from Venice, Italy
Figure 40: Teuffel Guitars, Germany
Figure 41: Red Layer Guitars, Netherlands
Figure 42: Red Layer Guitars, Netherlands
Figure 43: Red Layer Guitars, Netherlands
Photo Credit: Product and booth photos by Lee Anderton.