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Downsizing Is Good at Winter NAMM 2020

Simplification was the big trend in Anaheim this January, along with the rebirth of some classic brands

Winter NAMM 2020
Winter NAMM 2020 at the Anaheim Convention Center (photo: Bob Beucler)

If there’s one kind of technological development that every gigging musician likes, it’s the kind that makes one’s gear easier to deal with: smaller, lighter, less cumbersome, less logistically taxing. This year’s Winter NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) show, held as usual in January at the Anaheim Convention Center in California, was a big winner in that department, full of products designed to help pare down and simplify.

At the top of the list were three new offerings in the Yamaha sector of the show, which took up an entire ballroom at the Marriott hotel adjoining the Convention Center. The SLB300SK Silent Bass ($4,495) is an electric instrument that sounds and responds to touch remarkably like a real upright but without a giant wooden body—a breeze to carry around, and TSA-friendly too. The Stage Custom Hip drum set ($1,160) is a modern version of the “cocktail” kit, fitting four small but powerful-sounding drums (including an innovative floor tom/snare) into one box. And the YC61 Stage Keyboard ($2,499) uses virtual circuitry modeling to nail the tones of various vintage organs and electric pianos, in a package that weighs less than 16 pounds. Visit usa.yamaha.com for more info.

Nearly as exciting—at least for drummers—was the news that DW Drums has acquired the Slingerland brand from Gibson. At a press conference discussing the purchase, DW CEO Chris Lombardi revealed that it had been presented as a birthday gift to his father, the company’s co-founder Don Lombardi. The younger Lombardi confessed that it was too soon to say exactly what they were going to do with the Slingerland product line, but whatever it was, “it’s going to be done right.” Given how DW has stewarded the similarly hallowed Gretsch name over the past five years, it’s fairly safe to assume that Slingerland is in good hands.

Another heartening revival is that of Benge trumpets by B.A.C. Musical Instruments. The new Benge by B.A.C. Trumpet, based on the 1930s designs of Elden Benge and constructed under the supervision of master craftsman John Duda, will feature a .020-inch hand-hammered Fresno-tempered yellow brass bell, a .464-inch MLP bore, Chicago leadpipe, monel pistons, silver plating, and the original Benge staff logo. Going by the crystalline tone of the two prototypes that made it to NAMM, this should be a popular one.

George Benson models at the Ibanez booth—the Jet Blue Burst GB10EM is on the right (photo: Bob Beucler)

Guitarists, meanwhile, took comfort in the knowledge that D’Angelico will be hand-building both solid and semi-hollow instruments in America once again as of this year. The company’s USA Custom Shop, based in California and helmed by luthier Gene Baker, will build guitars to spec from a variety of exotic tonewoods and boutique electronics. Check out your options at dangelicoguitars.com.

Much more caught our eyes on the NAMM floor, including the arresting Jet Blue Burst finish of Ibanez’s GB10EM George Benson model guitar, the super-hip colors and engravings of Cannonball’s saxophone line, and the five products on the following pages—as well as many others you’ll be seeing in this space over the next few months.

Interested in the Ibanez’s GB10EM George Benson model guitar? Check it out on Sweetwater!

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Mac Randall

Mac Randall

Mac Randall has been the editor of JazzTimes since May 2018. Prior to that, he wrote regularly for the magazine. He has written about numerous genres of music for a wide variety of publications over the past 30 years, including Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, The New York Observer, Mojo, and Guitar Aficionado, and he has worked on the editorial staffs of Musician, LAUNCH (now Yahoo! Music), Guitar One, Teaching Music, Music Alive!, and In Tune Monthly. He is the author of two books, Exit Music: The Radiohead Story and 101 Great Playlists. He lives in New York City.