So I witnessed my first NAMM Show since getting back on the guitar trail - from the comfort of my domestic lounge of course.
It was kind of fast and furious as expected but not quite the volume of videos that were promised. Andertons again leading the way, with sterling efforts from Reverb, Henning Pauly, Phil McKnight and Louis Tone King too.
Captain Lee - Mr Anderton himself kind of ’won’ NAMM in being gifted his dream PRS McCarty Guitar - by Paul Reed himself, he and Pete (Honore) then serendipitously hit on the best interview of the show at the Ernie Ball / Music Man stand - when they were luckily video-bombed by 4 of the world’s finest players - Paul Gilbert, John Petrucci, Steve Lukather and Steve Morse as you can witness here:
Anyhoo - NAMM is all about great new gear for 2017, and there was plenty on offer here, with obvious trends forming and very clear standouts. Many of these products won’t properly see the light of day until the middle of the year, but it’s fantastic to be able to see what’s coming down the line.
Coverage was broad and eclectic, and Reverb, Guitar World and MusicRadar in particular did great at compiling all the key details into manageable soundbytes. As expected, the pedals stood out for me - lots of them and across the range - q.v., albeit no proper surprises in the mini pedal area, but my top picks for the show were Ibanez Guitars, Synergy Amps, and in agreement with the Best in Show - the DigiTech FreqOut pedal. You can read more about each below.
The Modular plug’n’play Synergy Amps in all their guises were the clear winner of this category for me - even though prototypes had been introduced at the Summer NAMM Show, this is the first time they really had a fully finalised product range. The concept could not be more simple or more appealing - gain access to genuine boutique amps by way of authentic hot-swappable genuine preamp circuits. Kind of like larger fully loaded gaming cartridges - albeit larger metal ones here with full range tone controls.
This is a product by Boutique Amp Distribution, so all the amps they manufacture and handle themselves will be or already are available - including Friedman, Morgan, Diezel, Egnater, Tone King, Bogner, and 65. They also already have a Soldano module, and are in talks with Fender, etc. The cheapest platform device is the $499 SYN1 - single module slot which you can load into your FX Loop. You then have various rack mounted and proper amp head versions with 1 or two slots. Each module contains two Channels, and the smaller head comes with an included clean channel also - giving you options through the range from 2 to 4 Channels.
Each 2 Channel Module is $399, and they aim to have 10 at launch with more being added as and when agreements are reached with other amp makers.
I am also happy to see the first full proper use of Korg’s new flatter NuTube valves - housed in Vox’s dinky and retro-styled trio of MV50 Heads. I’m generally not a fan of the revival / retro vibe, but these are pretty cute and seem to perform impressively despite their new tech and diminutive size.
Another key trend to note at NAMM 2017 is the rise of the Pedal Platform Amps - in the most extreme boutique fashion courtesy of the $2K Wampler Bravado, but also seen in floor units from Hotone and Seymour Duncan.
For a home player like myself, there is little that can beat the ease and delight of stomp boxes, so I see significant proliferation for both Synergy and Pedal Amps in the coming years. I thought initially that I could achieve all my tone needs via modelling amps, but now I have a significant chain of pedals which I have taken the time to carefully dial in - the versatility and ease of use I have in that floorspace is second to none, so I am not moving away from pedals any day soon. I see Synergy as a great way to get hold of amazing amp tones at relatively low cost vs the originals that is - but for me, tone shaping is likely to remain in the floor domain.
Here are the most significant amp launches at the show in my opinion:
As stated above, I think Ibanez bossed the show on the guitar front. They introduced exotic woods with matching headstocks and superb finishes - burled Poplar, figured Ash and Maple throughout most of the range. Loaded these with top quality DiMarzio and Bare Knuckle pickups and included Stainless Steel frets and more locking tuners than ever before.
Even though officially launched in October of last year (but still new to NAMM!), my favourite is the Marco Sfogli Signature MSM1 Basswood and Tineo combination with rare SynchroniZR trem bridge and locking machine heads - Air Norton pup at the neck, and Tone Zone at the bridge. A gorgeous natural finish guitar with amazing playability and that great classic Ibanez + DiMarzio sound.
Up until seeing the MSM1, I was thinking my next guitar would be another PRS - a Satin SingleCut S2 per chance, but I’m currently leaning towards the Ibanez.
I am also a fan of St Vincent’s Signature Music Man, now available in matt black stealth edition. I like seeing modern innovation and progressive development, and much prefer modern design instruments to retro or revival ones.
Official show winner was Supro with its relaunched Americana and Island ranges. My pick of those would be the Tobacco Sunburst 3-mini gold foil humbucker Hamilton. The pickups are really pretty, it’s a nicely styled retro guitar if that’s your thing. It sits somewhere between Rickenbacker and Reverend guitars really.
I also prefer the more woody Premium JEM77 over the slightly garish Prestige JEM777 80’s dayglo reissues.
Phil McKnight remarked that there were far less aged / relic’d mainstream guitars visible at the show, although Fender still do a fair few. There are also increasingly a number of Strandberg-alike guitars appearing across the ranges, including another new one of their own - a sort of evolved Boss take on the Line 6 Variax.
Here are my new guitar picks from the show:
I have attended numerous trade shows in my time - in various guises, and am always amused to see semi working or ’black-box’ prototypes - which are rushed to the show in any format possible - in order to generate some sort of PR buzz, - but often gets called out by suspicious / doubtful show attendees and ends up generating inconclusive results.
The most immediate pedal and worthy official ’Best in Show’ winner is DigiTech’s new feedback modulation ’FreqOut’ pedal, I already have and love the Whammy Ricochet - and this is a slightly different take on a similar theme, so I am pretty much sold already, not a bad price. And if you are willing to wait a few months, the price will likely drop a good 10-15%.
Empress demoed their new flagship delay workshop pedal - Echo System, while T-Rex rolled out the Rolls-Royce of Tape Echoes, a fantastic steam-punkish original reproduction of the vintage Binson Echorec. Devin Townsend helped Mooer complete a heavyweight dual delay plus reverb sequencing pedal - which saw them up their game significantly.
Then there was the story of Distortion Workstation pedals - hot on the heals of the Empress Multidrive, Strymon Riverside and Elektron Analog Drive, we now have a slew of newcomers to that scene - the Chase Bliss Brothers Gain Stage, Emerson Custom Pomeray Dual Overdrive and Positive Grid Bias Distortion - variations on programmable, analogue, stackable and digital overdrives and distortions. My preference for overdrives and distortions tends very much towards analogue, so I am most interested in Emerson’s multiple clipping options take on this genre. Chase Bliss always do fantastic pedals - they are a tweaker’s delight, but seemingly rather fiddly for most for practical applications. If I were to acquire some Chase Bliss pedals, it would most definitely be Tonal Recall and Gravitas, but I’m kind of willingly and happily locked into the Strymon way of doing things - bankable footswitchable presets with a plethora of settings - so I am looking for solutions of that nature.
I have a forthcoming post specifically targeting just overdrive and distortion pedals, as well as some ideas and recommendations for what Strymon should do next.
This year’s show was dominated largely by the larger pedals. I have noted elsewhere the polarisation of effects pedals to either huge genre multi-tasking workstations or elegant miniatures. Ibanez and MXR continue to release new quality minis, but while Boss have emulated the Strymons of the industry with their DD-500 Digital Delay Workstation, they’ve still to do a Reverb equivalent, and they’ve not thought to target the mini pedal sector at all. Talking about mini pedals, and almost overlooked here is the fantastic looking Pigtronix Micro Disnortion - which looks to do much of what the Emerson Pomeray does but in a mini pedal format!
A final oddity here which I have included as I did not want to put it in a category of its own is the new Teenage Engineering PO-32 Tonic Drum Machine - I am a huge fan of Teenage Engineering, and already have their OP-1 synth, as well as a couple of their smaller pocket operator devices - always innovative and always brilliant.
There were numerous fantastic pedals launched at the show, here are my highlights: