GearHead: New Toys at Winter NAMM 2013
Impressive new gear on display at annual trade show
Winter NAMM, the musical-instrument industry’s most important U.S. tradeshow, provides consistent, reliable pandemonium over four days each January at the Anaheim Convention Center in Southern California. “Pandemonium,” of course, is only partly accurate: The level of planning and finance in evidence at this thing is astounding. But given the nature of the wares, this highly choreographed exercise in commerce assumes the guise of a free-for-all: tattooed guitar gods, impossibly chaotic drum booths, Bootsy Collins.
Sure, the years are marked by noticeable tweaks with regards to logistics and security measures, but the best way to stave off monotony at NAMM is to home in on the gear, which is what I’ll do now. Expect full-length reviews of many of these goodies in JazzTimes throughout 2013.
Guitars, the instrument market that never stops reinventing and recycling itself, had a lot going on this year for jazzers. Ibanez introduced a slew of new archtops, including two fresh Pat Metheny models: the posh, Japanese-made PM200-NT and the more student-friendly PM2-AA. D’Angelico is now offering authorized reissues of its iconic archtops, as well as a select USA Masterbuilt line. Fender had big news for jazz pickers: a mellow, sweet-voiced George Benson signature amp in its tube Hot Rod line, and the relaunch of Guild’s electric line, including jazz-worthy hollowbodies like the classic A-150 Savoy and the compact, wieldy M-75 Aristocrat. (Guild’s new Custom Shop features higher-end counterparts.) Another choice (and cheap) archtop option: Godin’s thinline Montreal Premiere. In electric basses, PRS’ four- and five-string Gary Grainger signature models, formerly only available through the company’s Private Stock department, are now in the more affordable production line. Acoustic bassists in need of amplification should check out the easily attached Realist LifeLine pickup from David Gage.
In keyboards, Roland’s V-Combo VR-09 impressed with real-deal Rhodes and organ sounds (drawbars included) that belied an amazingly lightweight design and battery power option. For synth players seeking authentic analog tones at a reasonable price point, Moog introduced its 25-key Sub Phatty.
In horns, the Buffet-owned Julius Keilwerth line boasted David Liebman’s signature soprano sax, the SX90-DLS, with a wider bore, ergonomic keys and engravings (including a yin-yang) designed by Lieb himself. For devotees of vintage trumpet craftsmanship—Martin Committee fans, that means you—Schilke displayed the Handcraft (HC1) model. Phaeton’s Custom FX-1100 trumpet looked more toward innovation, with interchangeable bracing options.
Yamaha’s B&O showroom always demands a tour. This year’s haul included the New 62 tenor and alto saxes, with redesigned necks that aim to increase versatility. To mark the 10th anniversary of its Custom Z series, Yamaha introduced the YAS-82ZII alto and YTS-82ZII tenor, designed (with one-piece bells) to find middle ground between a vintage vibe and modern functionality. To more comfortably play these or any other saxes, Vandoren dropped its proprietary Saxophone Support System Harness.
JoJo Mayer was at Sabian’s press conference to demo his Hoop Crasher, a bronze textural tool that fits over a snare drum. Other drum highlights included DW’s aluminum snare; the Retro-Luxe line of cool, kitschy, stylized snares by Gretsch; and RBH’s Monarch drums, which just might grab some dollars from the vintage market.