I spent the whole of yesterday at the Islington UK Guitar Show - which turned out to be quite a different experiences for me compared to last year’s somewhat haphazard inaugural event at Olympia - this was much better organised, and I really enjoyed attending the many breakout events at the show.
For Pedal fans it was really quite a simple show with relatively few Pedal purveyors - and with one stand having most of the action - i.e. the Audio Distribution Group - with 16 brands - Cioks, Darkglass Electronics, Death by Audio, EarthQuaker Devices, Emma Electronic, Fulltone, J Rockett Audio Design, JPTR FX, KMA Audio Machines, Maxon, Meris, Neunaber, Old Blood Noise Endeavors, Peterson Strobe Tuners, REVV, Two Notes Audio Engineering - or more than half of those I listed in my preview.
These shows tend to be weird hybrids anyway with local vendors / distributors repping for the overseas companies - such as GAK essentially hosting ESP and Ibanez Guitars at this show - I’m not sure I actually spotted any Ibanez Pedals, but that may have been an oversight on my part.
In any case I had pretty much a full-day itinerary when I arrived and the whole thing was pretty non-stop from the start with some serendipitous encounters and positioning throughout the day. I always feel these events are more social occasions to a degree - a sort of meet and greet - where you get to see a lot of your favourite people in one place. I find these events are never good for trialling or checking out new gear - but more for awareness, exposure, introductions and catch-ups.
Everything ran pretty smoothly and actually largely exceeded expectations - while there could have been a few more exhibitors - a few in the preview failed to materialise - including Flattley Guitar Pedals - possibly they redirected resources elsewhere as there were other Guitar Shows happening in other parts of the the country this weekend. There were only a couple of mis-steps this year - I thought the main Auditorium was poorly sign-posted - you had to pass through and ante-room to get to it, and I felt they could easily have put an ’Auditorium’ sign in the window which they actually did for all the other rooms. Also - the Luthiers’ Room & Tone Zone should have been in a separate room - there were several still spare on the mezzanine level - instead it was placed out in the open in the corner of the show floor - with the early presentations barely audible over the general din of the exhibition hall.
These shows for me are more about the people rather than the gear - and I thought I should do a people-centric highlights via my key encounters at the show listed in chronological order of encounter. Actually the monochrome head-shots above bring to mind the Godley and Creme ’Cry’ video - which I though I should insert here! Perhaps next year I should do a morphing animation of encounters instead - and in homage!
A proper meet-up with Adrian and his partner Georgia has been on the cards for a few years now - but we've so far failed to co-ordinate calendars and so we must make do with these regular show encounters. It's always a genuine pleasure meeting up with Adrian as we have a very similar taste in pedals - and discussed Spaceman Effects, Chase Bliss Audio MOOD and Empress Zoia amongst others on this occasion. Adrian also showed me a sneak peak of his next pedal - which is due for release in December - and which viewers of That Pedal Show may already be sort of aware of via a couple of Dan Steinhardt teaser mentions - all I can give away is a 3 letter acronym - DPM / OCP / MTP - which will become a lot clearer when more details emerge. This will be the 11th pedal of the current range - and yet another must-have - I can't wait to see the demos and head-to-head comparisons on release day.
Adrian was promoting his new Heavy Water Dual Boost which of course I have and love - it's a proper 3-in-1 pedal - Smooth 'The Dane' Boost, Texturising Germanium Boost, and Low-to-Medium Gain Overdrive when both Channels are combined.
I encountered Adrian on at least 3 occasions during the day - right at the start of the show, at his 11:15 Tone Zone Q&A / Presentation immediately following Paul Gilbert, and later in the afternoon when I went to pick up my now 6th Thorpy pedal - the venerable Veteran Silicon Fuzz Face style fuzz with Boost. I probably have everything I need for my pedal-chain now from the Thorpy Range, but being the completist I am will likely pick up a couple more here - including the Team Medic once the LED enhancement is in place. Keep your eyes peeled for December though as the new Thorpy pedal is going to make a great stocking-filler for some of you more fortunate types.
I'm a big fan of the gentle giant guitar maestro since his Racer X Scarified days, while I only have a passing knowledge of his more recent musical output - but a more than healthy appreciation for his encyclopaedic knowledge of all songs and all techniques. He has a uniquely enthusiastic and charming instructional quality which would make him my number one choice for guitar teacher if I but had regular access to him! On this occasion he took us through a fantastic masterclass of some key moveable patterns and chords / inversions starting from the D barre position - similar to the above video taken from his Birmingham Masterclass earlier this year. The wonder of Paul is how he can instantly hum and play and transmogrify, invert and improvise any melody or musical phrase - and he pretty much knows and can play anything and everything - from classical, to blues, pop and rock. He is one of my all-time favourite guitar personalities - and I really should be doing more to witness his genius more often - I will makes sure I'm subscribed to all the appropriate events lists so I can properly catch him when he is next around in the UK. The 45 minute session was over all too quickly - he is the kind of guitarist you can spend all day with and never get bored - he is so talented, and so nice with it too - a proper gentleman guitar legend!
I've been following arch shredder Joss from his earliest days as main demo guy at GAK, to new guy at Andertons, then Guitar Bros Demos and 2nd stint at GAK etc. A naturally gifted and charismatic player, whose musicianship is excellent - even though I don't necessarily like the sort of guttural singing featured on his new doomier metal output. As a demo guy though he has an infectious enthusiasm - kind of spontaneous and off the cuff - which makes for some very lively videos. I had not encountered him in the wild before as such and bumped into him at the show on his way to carry out duties on the ESP, Fender and Ibanez stands as far as I recall - and he's a very busy man these days. We talked briefly of amps - his favourite touring behemoth - the Hughes & Kettner TriAmp which I've featured on this site - but which is just at the opposite side of practical to be useful for me. They need to shrink it down to combo size - with full power-scaling - and I would then love to acquire one such. For now the H&K Black Spirit Combo is much more my thing!
It's become a tradition to catch up with Ben and James and the gang at these shows too - I'm of course a fan of the YouTube Channel since the 'Shed' days, and watched the recent 90 hour build with increasing interest and concern that it would never be finished - in fact part of my wanted this project to just keep going. Said guitar was of course for show at the event and Ben should of course never sell it - I feel he's embedded part of his soul into that guitar and he will shrivel up if ever parted from it. Ben explained how much longer it takes to edit all those hours of video together - it's really been a massive project for all concerned, but surely a great advertisement for this School of Luthiery. Pretty much all the new building plans are complete now, although there seem to be some issues with the Spray Booth extraction system, and longer term Ben would like to have a complete universal extraction system for the whole building - which his another scale of enterprise and would take considerable time and resources which are probably better spent elsewhere at the moment. James explained to me how they divide up the curriculum across the year - so there are always 'breathers' between the 3 month courses for the studio to recalibrate and reboot. Apart from promoting the various courses, Ben and the gang were here to promote the new Scion S-Type Model - which is open for pre-order at £2,795
I got chatting to Mario at the previous Birmingham Guitar Show - and make a point to check in on him at these sorts of events. Face MI are the European distributor for Beetronics FX, Carl Martin, Peavey, Pedaltrain, Radial / Tonebone, Trace Elliot and Walrus Audio among others. At this show they were promoting the Beetronics and Walrus Audio Ranges - new pedals The Swarm, Kangra Filter Fuzz and SLÖ Multi Texture Ambient Reverb. Mario brought me up to speed on how each of those was faring - with all actually reporting healthy sales numbers - even the slightly more leftfield Swarm and Kangra fuzzes. There was a draw later in the day at 16:00 for a pedal and a T-shirt going as prices - this for Walrus Audio - you could choose from Kangra Filter Fuzz, Monument Harmonic Tremolo or SLÖ Reverb - I participated just for the numbers really - a healthy crowd materialised for the draw - and a pedal was duly awarded - while I left the proceedings following two failures to find someone who wanted a T-Shirt! My one regret at the show was not being able to connect with Walrus Audio head honchos Colt Westbrook & Jason Stucle who were present and doing a talk in the Tone Zone. I happened to have been otherwise engaged at the time and regrettable failed to make contact - they don't put in an appearance this side of the pond too often so it was a shame that I missed this opportunity. I was reminded that I probably need to add a couple more Walrus Audio pedals to the collection, while my 3 Beetronics pedals - Royal Jelly, Octahive and Swarm are the perfect ambassadors for that range.
Devin / Devy / Dev I actually know best through his association with Framus - for his Stormbender signature guitar as well as appearances on Henning Pauly's EitschPi42 YouTube Channel and other YouTube-featured guitar show larks and guest performances. I've dipped into some of his albums including his newest one 'Empath' which is a real mish-mash of styles - but sort of gels into a narrative whole somehow. I've always known Devin more for his heavier material / licks - while his featured performance for the show was an entirely acoustic ambient affair - but with some serious dynamics. He picked a mixture of new material from the Empath album, as well as better known classics - and ended somewhat surprisingly while announcing his next project would be more 'Theatrical' with the dulcet tones of 'Bring Him Home' from Les Miserables. There is no doubting an immense talent here - and Dev interjected with humorous inserts throughout the programme (including several instances of 'Baby Shark') - I was surprised by quite how phenomenal his voice is - with a great baritone and falsetto and fantastic pitch and sustain. I would though probably have preferred a slightly 'heavier' programme - not that this wasn't entertaining - it was sort of riveting from start to finish - even though most were unfamiliar with the material. The other downside of playing an acoustic set it that some of the outside noise from neighbouring stages bled through to proceedings - which kind of undermined the delicacy of some of those melodies and more refined touches. I feel Devin needs a really good collaborator here to help rein in some of those excesses and if done right - I think we will finally get a more mass-appeal masterpiece which everyone can fully appreciate!
I've known about Jamie for the longest time - he's sort of been one of Brian May's right-hand-guys for years - working with Brian and Brian's suppliers - like Australia's Greg Fryer who has made many of Brian's Treble Boosters over the years, although those duties have been shared with Nigel Knight - who makes Brian's current touring versions, as well as the new Treble Booster Classic which I have had my eye on for a short while.
In any case Jamie is as close to a Brian May clone are you're going to get (minus the hair) and has been on tour with Brian himself, been part of a Queen tribute acts, and part of the 'We Will Rock You Musical' band. I recall him from a video where he is demoing each of the Fryer Treble Boosters of the time - through a ThunderTomate TAE Amp-in-a-box pedal (per above). IK Multimedia picked him to be the main coordinator for the 'AmpliTube Brian May' project - and Jamie liaised back and forth between Brian and various version of the software. Obviously this should prove a godsend for many thousand or so Queen cover bands currently active around the world. For £110 you get to configure all the essential Brian May 'Tone Components' Wet-Dry-Wet Vox rig, Red Special Guitar settings, Treble Booster/s, Brian May CryBaby Wah, Fox Phaser, Star Gate, Chorus and Harmonizer even - to get you the extra dynamics if you don't have the full rig. You're best off with an iRig Stomp I/O device too for ultimate floor-based control - which adds another €366 to the tab - so not a cheap solution by any means. In any case Brian and Jamie have put a lot of effort into getting this to sound spot on - so I guess that goes some way towards justifying the price.
I caught this presentation just as I was exiting the Devin Townsend performance - so it was all quite fortuitous really - I greeted Jamie at the end like an almost long-lost friend - which must surely have surprised him - not quite sure what I was thinking apart from how familiar he seemed to me! This episode reminded me how much I wanted a Brian May guitar - not in the original Antique Cherry - I feel only Brian should have that - but either in the black like Jamie was supporting (with silver / aluminium knobs), or possibly in the Emerald or Natural Wood editions even. These are made by Korea's World Musical Instruments - which used to do all the PRS and Schecther diffusion ranges - before several of those models were moved to Indonesia. So at some stage I will for sure have a Brian May non-Red Red Special and Treble Booster Classic - which is currently sold out!
This was my most serendipitous meeting at this year's event where I managed to run across KMA Head Honcho Enrico - manning the KMA Stand / Pedalboard at the Audio Distribution Group booth. I discovered that we both have the East coast of Iceland in common - where my Dad's family originates from Neskaupstaður, and just a few fjords further down in Stöðvafjörður Enrico spent three months helping to set up a recording studio - Studio Silo - for the 'Fish Factory' art collective. Stöðvafjörður is just about one of the weirdest tiny fishing villages you can end up in in Iceland - so it's quite an accomplishment to have something quite this quirky on your CV.
We of course got straight into talking about pedals - the new Logan Transcend Drive and even newer Cirrus Spatial-Temporal Modifier Delay+Reverb in particular. Enrico explained the motivations for launching the pedals in such quick successions and kind of outside of the more typical NAMM Winter / Summer launch sequence. The idea being that the Logan would generate interests which the Cirrus would then double down on and sustain - which indeed seems to be very much what happened based on social media numbers so far.
Enrico was aware of Guitar Pedal X - and most of the posts I've featured his products in - or 7 to-date. I apologised for not having added any KMA's to the collection yet - even though there are several on my wishlist - including all the Fuzzes - the Wurm Distortion and the new Logan. I explained that because my pedal-chain is stereo - I would alas not have cause to integrate the evidently quite excellent combined Delay and Reverb of the Cirrus - which takes on many notable luminaries in that area - including offerings from Earthquaker Devices and Keeley. I really like these pedals though - the visual and formats appeal, and they are genuinely different takes to the typical variations on the theme and usually offer something quite unique. In any case there is much to like right across the range - including the Treble Booster being named after Iceland's current most active geyser - Strokkur! I've made a commitment to get in touch with Enrico after the show - with a view to doing a proper overview of the full range - the timing couldn't be better really! I also promised to provide a Trade Show Survival Kit guide assembled from my advertising agency experience of many such shows in the 90's.
This was the final event I attended on the day (in fact the final event of the day) - to be honest I did not read all the blurb - but was vaguely familiar with the Seven Decades Stage Show - which charts the intertwined origin of populist guitars - Telecaster, Les Paul and Stratocaster - alongside the inevitable rise of Rock and Roll and Pop Music. In fact on this occasion the 8-piece band played solely George Harrison's back catalogue - starting off using George's original Futurama Neoton Guitar (sub-brand of Hofner) on the song which that guitar was first used to record. I confess that I'm not the most knowledgable of George Harrison fans - but weirdly I recognised most of what was played. I particularly enjoyed the renditions of Let it Down - one of his lesser known but still fantastic George songs, and of course his now signature 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' which I seem to associate more with Prince - based on his Rock & Roll Hall of Fame solo performance. Every time I hear that song I expect the amazing Prince solo - but I must say that the Seven Decades band came pretty close with their own take on this classic.
I'm not sure why there weren't more people in attendance - the front rows seemed to have been filled with friends and family and hangers-on mostly - while the quality of the performance merited a far bigger audience - a full house really. All musicians and the 3 singers on stage acquitted themselves superbly - and apart from some EQ issues on the early part of one of the earlier songs after a guitar change - the sound quality was pretty great throughout too.
This year's UK Guitar Show was an enormous improvement over last year's affair, and hopefully will draw in more exhibitors in future years to bring it up to the size and scale of the much bigger Birmingham show. This is not really a show for pedal fans yet and there were really only around half-a dozen stands of note in that area here.
The Fender stand was weirdly sort of claustrophobic and seemed to be in the typical maze style setup of the Ibanez NAMM show stand. Generally there were very few A-Grade stands - with most exhibitors preferring to take just the standard shell booth route - which is fine if you're an independent pedal vendor, but I feel that some of the bigger companies could have done more - and wondered why someone like Boss - with so many great releases this year and a few killer pedals coming into stores any day soon - why this show wouldn't make sense for them. Possibly the show it too new, and people are just waiting to see how it fully evolves before making more significant commitments - it was certainly a great way to spend a Saturday.
In any case this was all-round the most fun show of this type I've attended to date - while there was extremely limited exposure to new and forthcoming releases. And apart from the poor signposting for the main Auditorium, and the location of the Tone Zone on the open floor I could not really fault the organisation of this show - it all seemed to go very smoothly on the Saturday I attended.
The top corner featuring the show-floor cafe, (Tom) Gray Guitars, then ThorpyFX and Crimson Guitars was the place to hang out - being right next to the slightly inaudible Tone Zone too - where you could at least watch - even if you couldn't hear what was going on - until Jamie Humphries came along and cranked up the PA that is. This will certainly remain a fixture on my rounds - and I'll hopefully see most of these same great folks up in Birmingham in February of next year!