After leaving the NAMM show, the one thing I keep thinking was, "Man, I wish I had cool hair!" This year, more than ever, the NAMM show was taken over by the Hollywood rock scene. Sure, this means there were some great musicians floating around from various LA bands, but on the whole it meant that the show was flooded with tattooed autograph seekers with dyed black hair, facial metal, black leather, and in some cases brightly colored contact lenses and/or kiss makeup. Don't get me wrong, I think the look is cool, and I don't mind seeing women walking around with corsets so tight that their chests become boob-shelves, but in the end it was circus that obscured what NAMM is really about. Most of the people I saw were obsessed with celebrity to the point where it was disruptive.
(WARNING: "BACK IN MY DAY" MOMENT.)
When I first started attending NAMM in 1993. It was a very different show. The companies brought everything they had, and they all had booths on the main floor. There was live music everywhere. On a given day on the convention floor, you could see Frank Gambale, Joe Pass, Jeff Berlin, and Steve Morse just jamming at different booths. Autograph lines were short. Everything was hands on. Now it's a very different show, and the spirit of NAMM has really changed. Autograph lines wrap around booths several times. They have to put people there to direct traffic around these huge lines. The biggest lines are always for the 80s bands. The sad result of all of these autograph seekers attending the shows is that these great 80's musicians like Steve Vai, Eddie Van Halen, and Ritchie Sambora can't go to the NAMM show because it would cause too much chaos.
Another big difference is the actual content of the booths. Many companies only bring a small sampling of what they have, and most of that is behind glass cases or tied down so you can't use it (because the punters might steal something.) What they do have is a big flat screen with a "What's New" presentation. I guess in the end it gets the job done, but it's not as much fun.
The layout has also changed a lot. Now many companies are pulling their displays off the main floor and moving them to rooms in other areas of the convention center, or in some cases, out of the convention center completely. Every year, I also feel like fewer companies show up to NAMM. I would have loved to try out some Native Instruments stuff this year, but they weren't here.
I don't want to give the wrong impression here. NAMM was great. It was just really tough to accomplish anything on Friday and Saturday when the convention center was raided by celebrity hunters and Criss Angel lookalikes.
Now, onto the meat and potatoes....GEAR!!!!
I saw more cool stuff on Sunday than I saw Thursday, Friday & Saturday combined! Overall, there weren't any huge innovations, just little tweaks here and there. The biggest trends I saw were: Gear that can receive settings from the web, iPad music apps, new guitars that look beatup, looping, better sample libraries, big things in small packages, and things being overpriced.
Let's start with the overpriced thing. Not all companies, but many companies think that their products are like water in the desert. A tele-style guitar shouldn't be $25,000. That's ridiculous. A sample library shouldn't be $2,500. A control surface, with no audio passing through it, shouldn't be $5,000. A stomp box shouldn't be $500. These companies are nuts, and dlusional. I could get an original Fender tele from the 60s or 70s for less than 25k. I could hire musicians for a lot less than the 2.5k they're asking for a sample library. In general I think it's out of hand. Especially given the fact that people don't have that kind of money to spend these days.
The iPad thing was crazy this year. Everyone wants to do music on their iGadgets. Some iPad apps were cool. The ability to remotely control your mixer is very handy. I think passing audio through the iPad is not the greatest idea. Sure, it's a fun thing to do as a gimmick, but it's not really practical yet. Although to be honest, if they came out of with any kind of audio app for Android, I would buy it immediately, no matter how crappy it sounded. I think the iPad will be great for notation and remote control.
TC Electronic makes stomp boxes that can connect to the web. You can download your favorite guitar player's settings and upload them into your pedal and use those settings on your gig later. Music Man made a pickup system called "the game changer." It allows you to connect your guitar to a computer and choose any kind of pickup configuration your could dream of and store it to any switch on the guitar. For example. I have a country gig tonight, so I setup up my pickup selector to have all single coil sounds and some thinned out, out of phase sounds. Then I go to my gig, and that wiring is stored to my guitar. No need for the computer. The next night I have a metal gig, so I can put everything back to standard humbucking sounds. I think there's also a way to program it from the guitar, without the computer, but it seemed a lot easier to do it from the computer.
A lot of companies are following the Fender bandwagon and making distressed looking guitars. I played the Eric Clapton Les Paul model which is beat up to match his original. I liked it. ESP has guitars that look like their 50 years old which is funny, since ESP formed in the 80s. Gretsch is also making a George Harrison duo jet that is all beat up.
I saw some very impressive sample libraries. I will be buying the Big Fish Audio Epic Orchestra plug in. It sounds like the Lord of the Rings soundtrack and will work very well for the MorningStarlett album that I'm currently working on. Vienna Instruments was awesome as usual. Overall, the quality of these samples keeps getting better, but as a result, the prices and the gigabytes keep getting higher.
Everyone is looping now. Most effects companies make looper pedals. I got to see a bunch of very talented people using them, and they do some pretty incredible stuff. It has gone beyond just playing a few chords and then soloing over them. I saw a Japanese girl named Naoryu perform a J-pop song by herself with a few loopers and sounded like a professionally produced pop song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NBbeNHP4bN0. I'm inspired to get one of these loop stations. I'd love to incorporate this into my gigs.
My favorite products at the show were: The Electroharmonix 44 caliber, The SM V-Machine, The Eventide Harmony Pedal, and The Peavey graphite acoustic travel guitar. Of course I also loved everything at the TC, Engl, Dimarzio, and Music Man booths, but I always talk about that stuff.
The Electroharmonix 44 caliber is a 44 watt solid state guitar power amp that fits in the size of a very small stomp box. It's smaller than a boss pedal. It's really loud, and actually sounds quite good. I heard it drive a 4x12 cabinet and I thought it sounded great. I definitely want a couple of those. A pair of those and a pocket pod in my gig bag could be the perfect backup amp in case of emergency.
The Peavey graphite acoustic was very fun to play. They make a standard size version, but I was drawn to the travel size guitar. It had a unique design and it sounded very good electrically which would be perfect for me. It was pretty cool.
Eventide had some great pedals. I really like the harmony pedal. It does all the effects that I use, but in one very small pedal. It's not as flexible as the Nova System, but it's so small that it would be a cool thing to get one day. It has 4 part harmonizing in about 20 different scales in all keys with delay and modulation effects added. It sounded great.
Finally, the SM V-Machine blew my mind. It was the size of a Nintendo DS-Max. But you could load all your VST plugins on it and use it as a MIDI module. It was pretty cheap too. I definitely want to get one to use with BOC. I hope it's not too good to be true!
So there's my big NAMM report. I got see a lot of gear, and I was lucky enough to catch some great performances.
In closing, all I can say is, "I wish I had cool hair."