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Summer NAMM

The lower-key little brother of the sprawling wintertime tradeshow held every January in Anaheim, Calif., Summer NAMM, held this year June 20-22 in Nashville, Tenn., featured a surprising number of honest-to-God product launches and some bona fide innovations. (Country) Music City ain’t so bad either-if you like chicken-picked Telecasters, barbecue and light beer, it’s something of an Avalon. The weekend’s jazz highlight arrived via Larry Carlton, who received a Lifetime Achievement award from Guitar Player magazine onstage at the Ryman Auditorium. He thanked mom and played a solo piece, and it was all very touching. But enough sentimentality already, here’s the gear.

Without a doubt the biggest and best launch of the show was a guitar (pictured at top, left and right) by the synth innovators at Moog, namely inventor Paul Vo. This alien instrument (not a synth guitar) might’ve made news even without the groundbreaking electronics. It’s a stunning guitar with an ’80s-era solidbody vibe, a handcrafted swamp ash body and maple top, and a maple neck with an ebony fingerboard and a sharp Moog logo inlay at the 12th fret. The Moog-designed single-coil pickups look and sound unprecedented, and an added piezo can stand alone or be blended with the Moog pickups. But what makes the ax so special-and it is, even if the pre-NAMM video demos weren’t jaw-dropping-is that its “effects” are being created organically on the string level and not, as with MIDI, stompboxes and rack effects, through post-processing. (Moog actually recommends their custom strings over regular strings, and they might be pushing it.) All that translates to better real-time control: Just picking and noodling around on a demo model, the sense of manipulation is astounding. The sonic tweakings are controlled via switches and knobs on the guitar; a Moog ladder filter can also be operated via an accompanying foot pedal or CV input.

So what are those fascinating sonic torques? The ability to sustain pitches, acoustically, for as long you like, then mute them, then apply a “controlled sustain” function that mutes all strings except the ones you’re sustaining, and, finally, to coax otherworldly harmonic overtones by blending the main sustain and mute functions.

For the jazz guitarist, these sustain capabilities help realize what most players post-Charlie Christian have been after all along-the ability to vividly impersonate the long, true, seamless lines of the saxophone (and without EBows and pedals). At a morning press conference, one Moog exhibitor played the theme of Ellington’s heartbreaking “In a Sentimental Mood” on one string without breaking the pitch. With the mute function activated, all sorts of blunt tones can be coaxed, from a Japanese koto sound (with the right amount of finger tremolo) to-in the instance a Dixieland standard pops up mid-set-a sprightly banjo comp. Moog has already rounded up approvals and testimonials from guitar iconoclasts who generally don’t bend over backwards for gear manufacturers, among them Lou Reed, Vernon Reid and Nels Cline. Kenny Vaughan, the artiest of Nashville session players and an acolyte of Bill Frisell, was also present at the press conference demo, and summoned convincing pedal-steel tones. (Frisell himself needs to get one of these in his hands pronto.) The instrument, with a case and foot pedal, is crazy-expensive-$6,495 retail-but the invention is revelatory. Don’t believe what you see (and read) on YouTube.

JazzKat, the company that made super-portable solid-state amps expertly voiced for archtops a trend in amp design, incorporates Alesis effects and a tube in two new models, the TwinKat (featuring two 10-inch Celestion speakers) and the TomKat (one 10-inch). Still to guitarists what Bose speakers are to audiophiles in need of space, these new models offer a stylistic versatility not available in the earlier JazzKats. The tube is especially effective and can be turned on and off; when not operating, you get the responsiveness and extreme clarity of a solid-state amp-punch a button and the amp instantly gains some grit and decay.

Another quiet revolution came at Summer NAMM with Peavey’s ReValver MK III software, an incredible program that allows amp geeks (and out-of-work repairmen) to pull up schematic diagrams for classic amplifier models (not just Peaveys) and switch out virtual tubes and electronics and hear the results expertly simulated, in the studio or onstage.

Other toys of note include Roland’s new Juno Stage and GW-8 (pictured above) synthesizers. With 76 keys and an extra-large LCD display for dark stages, the Juno Stage is expertly suited for live settings, while the GW-8, a new addition to Roland’s line of workstations, boasts a 128-voice sound engine, an extensive store of prerecorded play-along songs and the ability to download MP3s and CD tracks, then remove the vocals for beatmaking and karaoke. (Perhaps most singular is the song bank’s emphasis on ethnic music, particularly Latin styles.) Korg unleashed the Pa-588, an amalgam of the company’s Professional Arranger technology and an 88-key digital piano. The ‘board features weighted keys and genuine-sounding acoustic piano tones sampled from a concert grand. Finally, the Alesis ProTrack recorder (pictured at left) allows for straight-to-iPod (and iPod nano) recording. A versatile, go-anywhere machine for musicians looking to document jams and ideas, it comes equipped with condenser mics, works with XLR and 1/4-inch cables, and can operate on batteries or AC power. Not bad, Nashville.

Originally Published