Summer NAMM 2004

PLEASE NOTE: This article has been archived. It first appeared on ProRec.com in September 2000, contributed by then Senior Editor Bill Park. We will not be making any updates to the article. Please visit the home page for our latest content. Thank you!

This years Summer NAMM had fewer dealers than past shows, and brought smaller crowds to Nashville. Notable no-shows included Mackie and Line6, along with many of the pro audio/studio lines that had been showing at NAMM.

The show hosted over 500 dealers and somewhere around 20,000 attendees for the three days, spread across the Nashville Convention Center and the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Many other organizations host events in the surrounding area to take advantage of the crowds that NAMM brings to Nashville, and several NAMM member dealers host events and performances in and around the two facilities.

It seemed to me that the lack of crowds at the booths allowed each dealer to attend more to the individuals, and encouraged individuals to stop at booths and look around. I’m not saying that there was not a crowd. That would be untrue. But the difference was significant in terms of comfort. There are times when it is just so uncomfortable to be trying to push through the regular and constant crush at NAMM that it is hard to fight your way into a booth or get attention once you do. This year there was a large crowd, but it was bearable. It looked better for business.

Guitars

The big news in electric guitars seems to be chambered bodies. Everyone is making them, in a number of different fashions. The boutique guitar makers have jumped on this trend with a vengeance, and creative designs were everywhere. Some are variations on the standard hollow-body guitar that we are all used to seeing, but many are variations on the standard single cutaway Les Paul or Telecaster-styled body, with internal chambers and no F holes. I was walking the show floor with George from Synthax, and the Patrick Eggles “Single” was a strong enough instrument to convince him to order one on the spot. If I’d known that this style was going to become popular, I’d have kept my early 70s Gretsch RockJet!

Michael Rowan Custom Guitars, Brubaker Guitars, Gadow Guitars, Jaros, Stromberg and most everyone else with a guitar booth offered a chambered or hollow bodied instrument. Like so many of the boutique guitars, these were all a joy to play, and a joy to see.

Heritage showed a handsome line of classic variations on the Spanish electric, along with a new line of Heritage amplifiers. http://www.heritageguitar.com

Gibson has expanded their line of hollow-bodied electrics, and pushed the Memphis line of guitars. It is hard to even keep track of all of the many Gibson guitar models and variations, let alone decide which one to buy. They have redesigned the 336 model chambered guitar, an instrument that I have admired for a long time. http://www.gibson.com

Gibson 336

Gretsch has always offered chambered and hollow-bodied guitars. Their classic designs have been augmented with some new models, and those Stray Cat tones always appealed to me. http://www.gretschguitars.com

Other guitar news: Brian May Guitars will be a new “Signature” series of guitars from Codel/BurnsUSA. The basic Brian May model, the Brian May Red Special, is the kick-off guitar for this new line.

Paul Reed Smith continues their tradition of building stunning guitars with stunning finishes. I think that the line can’t get much better, but somehow the improvements keep on coming and the finishes keep getting better and better. http://www.prsguitars.com

Long ago Dean crossed the line from a ‘one-trick’ hard rock instrument manufacturer to creating a wide range of instruments for all tastes. Current Dean models cover the gamut in terms of style and finish, from nylon and steel stringed acoustics through more traditional electric styles, exotic styles, and up to the new Hardtail Select, which has an appearance that might make a potential PRS buyer think twice. Many of the lines feature different and interesting finishes. http://www.deanguitars.com

Basses usually abound at NAMM, and this year was no exception. As interesting and beautiful as they tend to be, there also seems to be a mind-numbing sameness about the current popular designs. Or maybe one has to be a bass player to appreciate the differences. Most are very well made and boast stunning woodwork and finishes. One notably interesting instrument is the Adler Custom Guitars Sub-Contra Bass. Tuned C#, F# B and E, low to high, this growler is really something. http://www.adlerguitars.com

Quality acoustics were in attendance. Models from Breedlove, Collings, Santa Cruz, Lowden, Goodall, and other such makers leave me drooling and wanting to buy two of everything. Schertler was showing from within the Santa Cruz booth. This was of interest to me, since Schertler pickups sound wonderful, and I’d love to have one retrofitted into my Santa Cruz to replace the original pickup.

Martin Guitars continues in their attempt to build a guitar for everybody. Their display is one beautiful thing to behold. This year shows some very detailed inlay work on a new series of guitars, an expanded Limited Edition line, and a new arch top F-hole guitar. Check out the D-100 if you have an extra $100,000 lying around. http://www.mguitar.com

Peterson ElectroMusical Products showed their stomp box strobe tuner, the StroboStomp. Put a strobe tuner at your feet. http://www.petersontuners.com.

Music Programs and Advocacy

Special initiatives often show up at NAMM. The John Lennon Songwriting Bus has been in attendance for the last several seasons. http://www.jlsc.com This year I saw “Coast to Coast, Little Kids Rock”. This organization was started in 1996 by David Wish, and has garnered support from people like Dave Mason, BB King, Carlos Santana, Bonnie Raitt, John Lee Hooker, and Paul Simon, to bring instruments and instruction to elementary children. http://www.littlekidsrock.org

And the http://www.SupportMusic.com people had a booth. Support Music is an advocacy group for music in our school systems. Check into it.

Mics and Such

I have been searching for new microphone stands for a couple of years now. Many of the smaller boom stands that are suitable for use on stage or in small/home studios are not capable of holding the heavy-weight large diaphragm condensers or ribbon mics that many of us are using. We don’t have the floorspace to devote to traditional large based tall studio stands. It turns out that On Stage Stands has exactly the solution that I have been seeing in my dreams, and they have been making it for years. The Posi-Lok line covers most of the bases that I need. On Stage also makes a complete line of instrument stands, studio and stage stands and other microphone accessories, and are even offering their own microphone line. http://www.onstagestands.com

Alesis has expanded their line of keyboards, PA gear, and recorders to include more PA system equipment and a number of toys for the performer, and a line of guitar amps and stomp boxes. The Wildfire guitar amps have built in effects and accept an expression pedal input for effects control. Two amps can be linked for stereo operation. http://www.alesis.com

The Big Four microphone manufacturers were in attendance, along with a number of smaller companies trying to get your microphone dollar. Sennheiser continued to show its popular line of Sennheiser and Neumann live and studio mics. AKG was premiering the two new versions of the venerable 414. The Audio Technica booth was busy, with a lot of attention given to the 30nn and 40nn series microphones that have become studio standards in the last few years. Shure has a new line of vocal mics and a new wireless configuration.

Hot on their trail are updates and new models from ADK, Audix, CAD, Marshall Electronics, SE, and many others.

A few high end pro audio electronics manufacturers did make the trip to Nashville, including ATI , TC, Sony, and dBx. There was a time when more high-end vendors showed at NAMM, but the current trend towards inexpensive gear has made it harder for this group to participate.

The Big Idea

One of the real joys for me about a NAMM show is the inclusion of the “Big Idea”. Some guy has an idea for a better mousetrap, and rather than trying to sell the idea to a large manufacturer, he builds them himself and markets them himself. Some of these ideas are really cool, some are just totally crackpot. But they are almost always fun. I didn’t see too many such innovations at this Summer NAMM. But here are a few that caught my eye.

The first and most interesting to me is the “Display and Play” line of wall mounted cases. The Idea? Instead of hanging your guitar from the wall, put it in a plush wall mounted display case. The trick? The front Plexiglas of the display case is hinged, so that you can remove the guitar and play it. Looks great. Seems practical. An attractive way to keep those axes in a living room or family room that might meet the wife’s approval and keep the instruments out of harms way yet provide easy access.

Anyone heard of the Keytar? It is a big (45”x13”x4”) aluminum triangular box with 12 chromatically tuned strings, EMG pickup, and a 12 note keyboard with full-sized piano keys.

How about Babicz Guitars? The eye-catching part of the Babicz acoustic is the string trees distributed around the lower bout of the guitar. Looking like a wire-suspension bridge, the strings fed through these trees and angle over to the bridge, where they then follow the traditional path. This supposedly allows for lighter bracing and less tension and better bass response. But the truly interesting thing about the Babicz guitar is that the neck adjusts –vertically-. Describing this creates a spatial orientation problem, since –vertical- is relative to the guitar being on its back, with the face pointed to the ceiling. There is an adjustment on the heel of the neck that pushed the neck straight up. So if you don’t like the action, change it!

And then there is the Burrell line of acoustic and electric basses and guitars. Twisted. No, I mean the bodies are twisted.

Computer Stuff

This summer I skipped the pianos, organs, keyboards, percussion, printed music, novelties, karaoke, and lighting equipment booths. I barely noticed the drums and computer music software sections. This was not because they were not jamming. Both drums and computer music were crowded areas.

Which leads me to a question: If computer music making is becoming the all-pervasive market force that I think that it is becoming, why have so many software and hardware vendors backed away from the NAMM show? And doesn’t that leave an opportunity for the companies that are savvy enough to show their wares at NAMM, to capture the lion’s share of the market?

M-Audio had by far the largest computer music display. In my opinion, M-Audio works very hard to supply a wide range of solutions at affordable pricing and are serious contenders wherever they aim their sights. And right now, they are trying to cover all bases, from hardware, interfaces, and microphones, through software and sound libraries. http://www.m-audio.com

Likewise, PreSonus brings a lot to the table, and brought a lot of products to NAMM, including their popular Central Station and the Eureka channel strip. http://www.presonus.com

Thinkware housed a number of offerings. Cakewalk http://www.cakewalk.com showed their ever growing list of products. PG Music continues to offer low cost full featured computer music solutions. “Band In A Box” really floors me. It is an amazing product that deserves much more recognition than it gets. http://www.pgmusic.com

Native Instruments were showing their newest product, Guitar Rig. Everyone is curious about it, and the full demo is now available on line. http://www.native-instruments.com.

Waves is touting Version Five of its popular plug ins. http://www.waves.com

Garritan Orchestra Libraries showed their new “Personal Orchestra” bundle, the orchestra library for the rest of us. http://www.garritan.com.

Tascam covers quite a bit of ground with their product line, with pieces for broadcast, DJs, pro studios, home studios, musicians, and the home. Strategic partnerships with other technology vendors helped Tascam to excel where others stumbled, and smart acquisitions have enhanced the line. New products from Tascam include the long awaited GigaStudio version 3, updates to the popular FW-1884 DAW front end. I got to see the US-2400 control surface, a product that I expect to become very popular with project studio owners. And Tascam is now handling Nomad Factory tube simulation plug ins for VST, PC, RTAS, HTDM, and MAG formats. The new 2488 digital portastudio should make some waves. (he, he…) There are a couple of new products in the CD line, too. http://www.tascam.com

Hanging Around

I usually attend the show with Contributing Editor Garry Simmons. This year Garry had prior commitments, so I went alone. But one is never really alone in Nashville. Sharing the hotel with me were several NAMMittes, including several of the guys from Synthax. Synthax had set up a demo room outside of NAMM, and ran demos of their product line, including products from Native Instruments, the new RME Fireface and betas of the soon to be released Samplitude/Sequoia version 8. I was quite impressed with both the Fireface and Samplitude, and the Eames speakers wowed all listeners. http://www.synthax.com

One of the big attractions to the Summer NAMM is the growing number of high profile music related events being held at the same time.

Wednesday at Oceanway I attended a demo of the new Lipinski speakers. A SADiE system was demoing, too, and Michal from Mytek was there to discuss his new converters, DSD, and future technologies. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Andrew and Lukas Lipinski before, and I can tell you that their demo turned a lot of heads. The sample material was from 176 kHz live recordings of choir and symphony made by Andrew in a 6.1 format, with the 6th channel being behind and above the listener. There was an incredible sense of ‘being there’ brought into the room. When I closed my eyes, it did not sound like speakers, it sounded like I was in a concert hall. I understand now why Bob Katz replaced his monitors with Lipinskis. 

I returned to Oceanway the next day for the Pro Sound News Vocal Mic Invitational. ADK, CAD, Shure, and AKG showed their latest models, and demoed them in the wonderful Oceanway environment through their lovely NEVE console. All of the manufacturers managed to turn some heads with their offerings. Of course, the two new models of the classic AKG 414, the C 414 B-XL II and the C 414 B-XLS received a lot of attention, as this is an update of what has been a studio standard microphone for 33 years. More surprising to some were the new tube models from ADK, the LE Hamburg and LE Vienna, which seek to emulate the sounds of classic microphone styles of old at an incredibly low price point. 

The demos were followed by an Engineers and Producers Panel discussion, moderated by Lynn Fuston. Unfortunately, I had to miss this part of the event, as I had prior commitments.

I have attended several events at Oceanway since it was taken over by Belmont University’s Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business. It is wonderful and exciting that a college would open its space to outsiders, and the people who work in the facility have been helpful, cheerful, joyful, and knowlegable. I know when I go to Oceanway, I’m going to be treated right, by people who care about what they do.

The good guys at Synthax invited me to join them one evening. We met Kal from AT, and found our way to the AT get-together at Roberts to see Johnny Hiland. Anyone who appreciates great Fender guitar picking should check him out. This is the second year that I have gone to Roberts to see Mr. Hiland, courtesy of Audio Technica. http://www.johnnyhiland.com

Later we went to Muriel Anderson’s All Star Guitar Night. I can’t say enough about this event, as it is one of the highlights of my trip every year. This year, as every year, the players were amazing. And this year, as every year, I met a new artist and bought some CDs. A few days before I sat with Bil Vorndick, Bob Olhsson, and Lynn Fuston, talking about music. Bil mentioned a guitarist with whom he had recently worked. Suggested that I check him out. Well, it was Pete Huttlinger, he was one of the performers at the All Star Guitar Night, and he blew me away. The lineup also included Duane Eddy, Peter Frampton, Adrian Belew, Peirre Bensusan, Jerry Donahue, Seymour Duncan, Nokie Edwards, Led Kaapana, James Burton, the Frank and Joe Show, and Muriel Anderson, with Dave Pomeroy on bass, Tony Harrell on keys, Randy Leago on sax and flute, and Ian Wallace on drums. Just a mind-blowing evening. A sidelight to the concert is the silent auction that benefits the Music for Life Alliance. I haven’t won anything yet, but I keep bidding! Big, big fun. And big thanks to Kal from AT for including me in the festivities. 

There were other meetings, parties, BBQs, performance, and get-togethers, but my trip was an abbreviated one this time around. I didn’t get to see half the people that I wanted to see, but I have a great time with those with whom I did manage to make contact. It was a bitter-sweet week, since Nashville is no longer the home to the Summer NAMM show. Next year, Indy; the following year, Austin. It will be fun to see other cities, but there is not another place on the east that offers as much to the musician as Nashville, with its combination of big city appointments, beautiful countryside, and friendly southern hospitality.

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