So I attended the inaugural Future Publishing UK Guitar Show this past Saturday at the Olympia Exhibition Centre London - Levels 2 & 3. It was not the most auspicious day for an event in London, considering there was a strike on the Piccadilly line, and the important chunks of the Circle, District, Hammersmith & City, and Metropolitan lines were down for maintenance. I therefore ’tubed’ it to Shepherd’s Bush or Westfield essentially, and walked down from there - a leisurely 25 minute stroll in glorious sunshine.
The entry to the venue was sparse and there was nothing there with any fanfare that indicated a Guitar Show in progress (bar the exterior digital signage) - just a few guys checking bags and handing out armbands - but no branding in the reception area at all that I could see. I would have though the lifts would have been another cool place for mini ads or placards, but no - still nothing to indicate the show. And then you come out of the lift - and straight up to the Yamaha stand, or at least I did.
Yamaha in my opinion were the only company that had a proper ’designed’ stand at the show - everyone else was just using the basic default shell scheme booths - to differing degrees of impact and success. I was disappointed that there was no show guide or equivalent pamphlet with stand map etc. - or certainly not that I could see. Also beyond business cards there was very little to take away from the show. Whenever I attend an event with one of my businesses, I always ensure that I have some sort of material takeaway - basic literature etc. for later memory recall and as a trigger for further interaction.
The show felt somewhat chaotic and cramped, and not particularly well sign-posted. I felt that with all the various mini shows in different rooms - presentations, masterclasses, performances etc. that there was a genuine need for better signage and some sort of guide with itinerary and a map.
To be fair, the show happens at rather an odd time in the calendar as all the big ’new’ announcements have already been made at the two NAMM shows. In fact I could not see that there was anything specifically new on offer here apart from at the ThorpyFX booth - which we will come to later. Readers of this blog will know that I am not really a fan of vintage gear - with its various inherent flaws and sky-high prices - so the Vintage Zone was rather lost on me. I was looking out for interesting Pedals and Guitars and accessories even first and foremost, and fortunately there were some of each of those to be seen at the show - even though the pedal-makers in attendance were very few and far between. I had a weekend pass, but had covered off all the essentials within about 2-and-a-half hours - I wasn’t particularly interested in any of the breakout events and what was happening on the exhibition floor was relatively quickly covered - although I had to do a few circuits while waiting to get in to speak to the key individuals.
One of my main intentions at the show was to reach out and connect with some of the leading pedal and guitar -makers and I achieved this to a moderate success. I was glad to have finally touched base with the UK's current pre-eminent pedal engineer - one Adrian Thorpe - known internationally now as Thorpy of ThorpyFX. In my feature on the 'Best of British Guitar Pedals and Pedal Builders' I singled out 7 builders as having significant worldwide renown - Hamstead Soundworks, Hudson Electronics, Magnetic Effects, Origin Effects, Ranger FX, Stone Deaf FX and of course ThorpyFX. Of all those I feel that Thorpy is now the best established with the most fully-formed range of high quality pedals.
In the above picture (top) you can see the mainstay of the current range - Team Medic Boost/Buffer/EQ/PreAmp, The Fat General Parallel Compressor, The Veteran Silicon Fuzz + Boost, Peacekeeper Low Gain Overdrive, Warthog Distortion, The Dane Pete Honoré Signature Boost + Drive, the legendary Fallout Cloud Fuzz, and the formidable Gunshot Overdrive. Fans of Thorpy may think they have most of the above pedals - but they would be wrong! In fact the only pedals here they might be likely to own are the pretty much brand new The Dane and Team Medic.
What is not initially clear is that Thorpy has shrunken the whole range now by a good 10% - so that all his pedals now fit nicely within a standard 'Compact' size slot on your pedalboard. The first two pedals release in this size were the above mentioned ones, but the whole range has been re-tooled and if you order direct from Thorpy's site - you can also buy the Fallout Cloud, Gunshot and Warthog in the smaller enclosures - with the whole compacted range being fully available within the next couple of months or by the end of the year at the latest.
I already put in an order for a Gunshot, I need to swap my larger Fallout Cloud for the smaller size somehow, and add the Warthog, Peacekeeper and Team Medic to the collection. In fact I like all the pedals featured on Thorpy's really cool pedalboard pictured here. The only one missing from the current range is the Chain Home Tremolo - a sort of re-make and enhancement of the Vox Repeat Percussion - it's my least favourite of Thorpy's pedals to-date which is only testament to how much I really like all the others!
I caught Chris Buck and Pete Honoré milling about the stand but they were too beset by fans for me to add to the platitudes they were no doubt already receiving.
Both these American builders shared a really very tiny booth - yet managed to easily accommodate all their main pedals. I have only acquired one from each brand to date - the Beetronics flagship Royal Jelly Overdrive/Fuzz Blender, and Walrus's Jupiter V2 Fuzz. Both are really great fuzz pedals - and I really wanted to tell the Beetronics guy that the Royal Jelly could have done with separate tone and gain controls for the second channel, while the hollow plastic dials on said pedals cheapened the feel slightly of something that was otherwise exceptionally well put together. But Mr Beetronics was either wholly absent or already engaged in conversation.
Walrus were also demo-ing their new Ryan Adams DefCon 4 PreAmp/EQ/Boost pedal which I still feel the novelty side slightly outweighs its practical use - even though it's a very decent pedal, but for which purposes I might probably prefer something with a little more granularity - say the Wampler EQuator for instance. I liked the notched approach of the DefCon - but those active controls only allow two clicks in either direction way from centre - which does not seem nearly enough. In any case it has been mostly billed as a 'Strat Enhancer' and I guess is largely developed around enhancing Ryan's own guitar's tone - so it would not necessarily make too much sense to use with my PRS humbuckers.
Latvian pedal innovators Gamechanger had a healthy presences at the show - focusing on their new Plasma Distortion Pedal - which I still remain to be convinced by. It gives you a different sort of gated fuzz 'sounding' distortion really - that is the nearest equivalent I can think of, and I'm not 100% sure I am fully enchanted by its core tone which is somewhat 'reedy'. It's no doubt a really cool looking pedal and cleverly innovated and built, I'm just not sure I really need or properly want this pedal in my rig. I am actually keener on their previous sustainer pedal - which though is still a little large for my liking - therefore a more compact V2 please! So several things moving in the right direction here, but not quite at the right point for me yet.
I must confess I'm still struggling to get to grips with Flattley Pedals - they had easily the largest pedal stand and selection at the show and a myriad of what looked like nearly 100 pedals on display in all kinds of cool finishes - sparkly and metallic paint-jobs etc. with variously illuminated enclosures in part reminiscent of some of the Boo Instruments Pedals - i.e. where a perspex gasket lights up at the base of the pedal. In any case I've always been slightly confused with Flattley pedals - I feel they're lacking a couple of flagship pedals to pivot the range from. They have around 20 pedal types each for both regular as well as bass guitars, and seemingly lots of these in various colourways - some have cool JHS style outline graphics, some are wholly without graphics, and most seem to be without knob legends to tel you what each dial does.
I think it's something of a case of option paralysis here as is the case with their website - in that you really need one or two things to focus on and then radiate out from - while here you just get presented with the whole plethora. I'm never sure where to start here or what the point of difference is beyond the cool enclosures - these pedals are mostly around the £210 / £230 mark - which puts them at a significant premium versus say Stone Deaf and Thorpy which both have far more custom-shaped / custom-made enclosures.
There were permanently people at the booth testing various pedals so I did not really get a proper look-in as such, I will endeavour to make a proper attempt to make contact with Flattley one of these days to get the full inside story.
Apart from the ThorpyFX pedal shrinkage, the biggest thing at the show for me was luthier Mike Payne's most recent Stone Wolf guitar builds. I have come across these sorts of guitars a few times before, but this is the first time they've fully resonated with me and captured my imagination. I am fastidious about headstock shape / layout / design / use of locking tuners, tuning fidelity and overall ergonomics of a guitar and Mike pretty much ticks every box on my checklist with some truly innovative use of colour and materials also - going well beyond Kiesel-style enhancements in his multiple wood dyes and very cleverly combining different resins with various woods and fabrics even.
I am generally a PRS and Music Man guitar fan and these Music Man 4+2 layout derived headstocks are right up there with my favourites. The proportions and aesthetics are spot on - as are the really distinctive pickups - with the copper windings showing through. In fact the only thing missing currently is a tremolo bridge version or two.
All 3 guitars I feature above - The Faroe, Rift Bubblegum and Syrtis Buckey go for around £3,000 - the latter two are currently available to buy on the Stone Wolf site, while most of Mike's work is done on commission - with a waiting list of circa 6 months, and another 6 months to cover production - meaning a circa 1 year turnaround from order - with typical guitar pricing around £2.5K to £3.5K. These are now easily my favourite UK-built guitars.
Scot - Alan Cringean's Reiver Guitars were my equal second favourites at the show - particularly some of the Kompakt headless guitars. Generally a nicely balanced aesthetic with a very judicious use of high quality woods. All-in-all there were several very decent looking guitars on the stand.
Scatter-Brain Concepts were my equal second favourites with Reiver with many an interesting guitar on show - and several featuring those sort of really narrow Parker Fly / Ormsby style headstocks - which I've yet to be fully convinced by - they always look too fragile for me. Really cool range of guitars though with a focus on beautiful woods.
I've mentioned Crimson a few times on my site and will again admit to sort of wanting to attend one of their building courses. I think part of me is waiting for them to get to the sort of Warmoth level - where they have beautiful highly finished parts available that you can then mostly just 'assemble' under supervision. I feel they are still one or two CMC machines short of Music Man or PRS levels of quality - and I also feel they need a couple more modern shapes within their range, as I'm not really that keen on either of their main body shapes or headstock shapes for that matter - as make up their current range.
I think Crimson deserve a big mention for really starting off the trend for more unusual woods - particularly those in differing states of decay. I'm not sure they get enough credit on that score - they certainly deserve their own chapter on that though - even though some of the copper-rodded or burned finishes weren't really my think - they should still be admired for their imagination and innovation.
I had a good 10 minute chat with main man Ben who informed me that the critical part of the business was very much the educational-side - and that they were looking to expand that part to accommodate up to 30 students in the future. The Tools business is doing really well, and the actual guitar-building division is still seen somewhat as a work-in-progress.
I feel I inadvertently offended Ben and James by joking about how I felt that James was not fully 'representing' Crimson Guitars by commissioning so many PRS replicas! I forgot how tiring shows can be, and how easily you can strongly react to words merely spoken in passing. So I apologise for any offense given - it was not meant in that way at all - most of the guitars on the stand were already sold, so they looked to be having a pretty great show in any case.
Previous Crimson luthier and master pickup winder Luigi Valenti is now back in Perugia, Italy and has his own really cool range of guitars. I feel he is somewhat missed at Crimson as generally I prefer his more modern shapes to the more traditional ones at Crimson. He showed me some of the new prototype designs for how his current core 3 models - Nebula, Callisto and Pulsar are likely to evolve. Pricing on all guitars starts from €2,160 and is based on individual commissions with custom configurations.
For an inaugural event I felt it was an OK effort, but for me was missing too many detail touches to make it stand out or be in any way remarkable. The actual Event Website is really quite horrible, and all the Exhibitor pages way too basic and wholly uninformative. I always feel that this is totally the wrong way to set up event websites - it's borderline amateurish really - there is scant detail, no exhibitor map - no announcements, interviews or features or news - in fact almost nothing there really to draw anyone in - as an informatic or promotional vehicle it can only be described as abjectly poor.
For events to be successful they really need to have themes and common threads that pull things together - some centrepiece to make them stand out and be memorable. There was nothing here really out of the ordinary. In fact most things were just way too ordinary - there really did not seem to be too much rhyme or reason as to how things were ordered or laid-out. I would expect to see significant improvements for me to ever want to attend again.
These sorts of events are not really at all conducive either to connecting with people - there is just way too much going on and too much noise. Floorspace here seemed somewhat cramped - and too many stands were almost of the car-boot sale trestle table variety.
Also as a mainly pedal guy - I would have wanted to see a lot more effects vendors present - I feel I may need to set up my own Stompbox Exhibit style Show to give the people what they deserve. I reached out to a few individuals at the show - and we will see if there is any residual desire to do anything more creative in the coming months and years. I genuinely feel that things could really be done a lot better - and as always I have plenty of ideas how.