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Gearhead: NAMM 2021 Goes Virtual

America’s annual gear megashow pivots online

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Jørgen Lund Karlsen demonstrating a Yamaha YDS-150 Digital Saxophone in a video produced for NAMM’s Believe in Music Week.
Jørgen Lund Karlsen demonstrating a Yamaha YDS-150 Digital Saxophone in a video produced for NAMM’s Believe in Music Week.

As veteran JazzTimes followers know, every year around now we present a report on the annual National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) show in Anaheim, California. Why? Because going to NAMM is a longstanding tradition, rooted in a deeply held sense of duty to scout out the absolute best in new musical equipment and then tell our readers about it, so they can make informed purchasing decisions in total confidence.

Okay, so maybe that’s not the whole truth. The JazzTimes NAMM trip is indeed a longstanding tradition, but it’s only partly about duty. It’s also a chance for us to shake a lot of hands, put faces to the names that land regularly in our email inboxes, shoot the breeze with friends in the business whom we don’t get to see otherwise, and give fancy new instruments a test drive. Since we’re based in the Northeast, getting to soak in the balmy temperatures of Orange County in January isn’t a bad deal either.

All of this, like so much else, went out the window in the wake of COVID-19. This January, gathering tens of thousands of people from around the globe and putting them indoors in close proximity for four days straight was a non-starter. And so NAMM pivoted to Plan B: a five-day all-virtual event called Believe in Music Week. An array of product presentation videos took the place of live press conferences; computer screens stood in for stages at demos, training sessions, speeches, awards ceremonies, and performances; and instead of happy chance meetings in hallways or at lunch tables, we were left to scan the “networking profiles” of our fellow registrants in desultory social-media style.

It was a poor substitute for the real thing—and not fundamentally all that different from a million other online events we’ve experienced since March 2020—but the folks at NAMM knew this going in and, frankly, no better choice existed under the circumstances. This was borne out by the sheer numbers involved, and in terms of those alone Believe in Music Week has to be regarded as a success: 93,226 people signed up, taking part in nearly 1,000 separate events adding up to more than 600 hours of live and pre-recorded content.

At least one aspect of Believe in Music Week, though, was similar to a “traditional” NAMM show, and in a strangely reassuring way: There was simply no possibility of seeing every new product on offer in the five days allotted. Fortunately for us media types, there is such a thing as video on demand. Using that technology liberally and following our instincts, we found several pieces of gear that intrigued us, including the five items in the slideshow below.

Into the Telescope

Into the Telescope

The legendary John D’Angelico came up with the original design in 1959, and the current luthiers at D’Angelico have added a few modern touches to produce the new Excel 59 archtop. Its 16-inch-wide, 1.75-inch body is fully hollow, but its twin custom Seymour Duncan Great Dane P90 pickups allow players to access a range of tones beyond that of the basic acoustic instrument. Available in three finishes: Vintage Natural (seen here), Viola, and Black Dog.

$1,999.99 MSRP |

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.