The Event That Was: NAMM 2016

A Diary By Peter Hodgson

If you’ve never been to NAMM before, imagine this: pretty much every rock star you’ve ever heard of, every gear company you’ve ever heard of, and once you’ve been to a few NAMMs, every industry buddy you ever got wasted with - crammed 100,000 people deep into a huge convention centre right next to Disneyland. Between the gear, the people-spotting and the performances, it’s a huge assault on the senses and it’s not until it’s over that you get to stop, take a breath and realise how many awesome things you got to do. My time at NAMM this year was divided between general reportage and helping out with social media at Seymour Duncan’s booth. Here’s a day-by-day breakdown of the insanity.

THURSDAY

As a lifelong Ibanez nerd the rst thing I checked out was the new Steve Vai Universe series in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of his Passion & Warfare album. Each of the three models is swirl-painted in a different colour scheme. They ain’t cheap... other cool Ibanez stuff included the revived Talman line with Strat and Tele-style pickup con gurations and some new mini pedals (an analog delay, chorus and Super Metal distortion). At SD we launched the Catalina Dynamic Chorus (which responds to how hard or soft you play) and the Palladium Gain Stage preamp/dirt-box. After checking those out I zipped over to Ormsby to get my paws on the HypeGTR (reviewed in this issue). I checked in with Perry Ormsby every day to see what the response was like and it seems to me that you’ll be hearing and seeing a lot of Ormsby Guitars this year.

Then I zipped up to ESP and Schecter to see their latest, including ESP’s enviable collection of Exhibition Limited guitars and Schecter’s new Wylde Audio line with Zakk Wylde. Zakk previewed these guitars a year ago but they’re now ready to go and they play and look great. Schecter also showcased new signature models for Keith Merrow, Wes Hauch, Nikki Stringfield and Jeff Loomis. And among ESP’s creations were a pair of Exhibition Limited Eclipses with Gretsch-like appointments that had to be seen to be believed. Hopefully this design will lter down into ESP’s regular line someday.

 

No visit to NAMM is complete without a visit to Taylor, who launched the redesigned 300 and 500 Series models with new tonewoods, unique new models, and within the 500 Series, tone-enhancing bracing.

 

FRIDAY

It was on Friday that the word started to circulate: “Did you notice there are no Parker guitars at US Music Corp?” This is the parent company of Washburn (with lots of great Parallax models on show including new Ola Englund and Michael Sweet models) and Randall Amplifiers (Mike Fortin is no longer with Randall but his designs like the Satan live on), and they’re now not making or promoting Parkers. No official word yet on whether the line is being dropped completely or if the Parker brand will be sold. 

 

Also on Friday I bumped into Devin Townsend (I’ve interviewed him for Mixdown many times), who thrust his new Framus signature guitar prototype into my hands and demanded I play. It sounds great, with triple-mode Fishman Fluence pickups (vintage/modern/single-coil) and cool light-up inlays.

Over at Gibson I checked out the new Les Paul Standard HP with super-speedy neck and G-FORCE tuners, the Epiphone Tony Iommi Limited Edition SG and the exceptional Les Paul Monitor speakers. Gibson’s display was very hands-on, with TASCAM headphone amps set up so everyone could play guitar. 

 

Reverend unveiled a new Billy Corgan signature model with his own new Railhammer pickups. I checked out Marshall’s new CODE series of digital modelling amps which are utterly killer. Back at Seymour Duncan we had Loudness legend Akira Takasaki shredding at our booth, which was mind blowing. I interviewed him afterwards about his pickups and his Killer guitar company. Awesome guy.

DV Mark featured the DV Micro 50, an ultra-small 50-watt amp with two channels, XLR out, headphone out, aux in and onboard reverb; the DV Gen 15, a 15-watt Class A all-tube head designed with classic tone in mind (and super-light), and the Frank Gambale Signature FG 121 combo with matching 2X12 cabinet. The Markbass Evo 1 has a built-in tuner, headphone output, active and passive inputs and the ability to mix two channels together.

Tonight I went to John 5’s concert at the Grove of Anaheim. Keith Nelson and Josh Todd of Buckcherry joined in for the encore but the real highlight was simply John’s incredible guitar technique and his ability to seamlessly blend in authentic country licks. 

SATURDAY

Today we had Yngwie Malmsteen do an hour-long signing at the Seymour Duncan booth at 4pm, then we needed him back again at 6 for a photo shoot. I was assigned the task of making sure he was at the SD booth on time for those two appointments. And I gotta tell ya, it’s pretty surreal walking around a packed NAMM floor with someone whose playing you’ve studied since you were 14 years old! Yngwie was super-cool and funny, and though he has that unmistakable aura of rockstar about him he just seems like a guy who, above anything, just loves the guitar.

 

Charvel turned a lot of heads with their neon Pro Mod series of So Cal and San Dimas models in 80s-approved hues with twin humbuckers and Floyd Rose tremolos. And EVH launched a baby micro version of the 5150 amp. But Gretsch’s new Streamliner series provoked one of the biggest reactions from attendees. These affordable guitars feature low-output pickups and many are rockin’ the Bigsby vibrato. Particularly nice: the G2622T Center Block, which has a bit of a Hofner Verythin vibe but Gretschified.

Tonight the Seymour Duncan/Schecter NAMM Party featured Arch Enemy and headliners Zakk Sabbath, Zakk Wylde’s Black Sabbath cover band with Blasko from Ozzy’s band and drummer Joey C (ex-Queens of the Stone Age). Zakk says he’s toying with the idea of a Zakk Sabbath tour but for now they just play one-offs. Awesome stuff.

 

SUNDAY

With the crowds thinning a little I rocked on over to Ernie Ball Music Man to investigate the new St. Vincent signature model as well as the new model for Maroon 5 guitarist James Valentine, and the Sterling By Music Man John Petrucci Majesty, which I’m sure will sell in insane numbers. It was also nice to get my paws on some Mayones and John Campbell guitars, and see Aussie John Campbell endorser and Segression guitarist Michael Katselos (actually I can’t remember which day I saw Michael – it gets to be a bit of a blur).

My all-time favourite NAMM memory occurred right before leaving on Sunday: as I was walking down the hall on one of the upper levels I noticed a small crowd gathered around a keyboard display. As I got a little closer I saw what all the fuss was about: Stevie Wonder was sitting there at the keyboard, just gently sprinkling a few serene-sounding chords upon the air. After all the chaos of the previous few days it was the perfect way to end the experience. 

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