Every January the musical instrument industry gathers in Anaheim, California for The NAMM Show. NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) is a non-profit organisation created to strengthen the industry, bringing together manufacturers, retailers, media, artists and investors in the name of networking, sales, generating new contacts… okay, that’s the professional, dry way to say it. NAMM really is four days of checking out sweet-ass gear, enjoying a few too many beers with the friends you only see once a year and watching killer shows by artists from the obscure to the massive (Stevie Wonder played this year - Stevie Wonder!). The 2015 NAMM Show seemed to have a nice relaxed vibe compared to some years when it can seem ultra-hectic. It seemed like everyone had a story to tell about a particularly beneficial meeting or deal, or a fun hang with a favourite artist. Let’s have a look at some of the millions of items on show, shall we?
Martin Guitars debuted a number of new models including the CS-00041-15, CEO 8 and two new Authentics Series models, as well as introducing their new Martin Vintage Tone System (VTS), which uses a unique recipe based on the torrefaction system. It allows craftsmen to ‘target’ any decade and age the top and braces to the specific era, allowing them to recreate the look and sound of an old guitar from a particular era. Martin also introduced the Dreadnought Junior, a new body size fashioned for player comfort, clear powerful tone and easy action. It sounded surprisingly full-voiced for such a small instrument. But the standout has gotta be the CEO 8, with favored specifications selected by Chris Martin. Martin’s largest acoustic body size, the Grand Jumbo, with D-TAR Wave-length Multi-Source electronics, and a look that is cheekily reminiscent of a Gibson Jumbo (hey, they can’t say it but we can), right down to the styling of the Martin logo.
ERNIE BALL MUSIC MAN
Ernie Ball Music Man showed off a neckthrough StingRay bass, a few new John Petrucci models (the Majesty Artisan looked amazing, and the JP 15 was quite a looker too) and the Steve Lukather Luke III BFR in Blue Berry Burst. Sterling By Music Man revealed plenty of new models including a beautiful koa-top JP100D with John Petrucci’s DiMarzio Crunch Lab and LiquiFire pickups, a beautiful Ruby Red version of the JP170D 7-string, the S.U.B RAY4-MG/4 in mint green with maple neck, and a new S.U.B. AX4-TBL in Translucent Blue. The Ray34-PBB in Pacific Blue Burst is also particularly beautiful.
Gibson had already unveiled the bulk of their 2015 models during the last quarter of 2015, with many guitars upgraded with G-FORCE self-tuning technology, a Zero- Fret Adjustable Nut, new slightly wider fretboard (with the same string spacing) and a new top wood grading system. Also on show were Les Paul headphones and monitor speakers. Epiphone launched new signature models for Gary Clarke. Jr and KISS’s Tommy Thayer based on the guitars they’ve been playing lately (a blue/black Casino and a white and chrome Les Paul, respectively), and Kramer unveiled a signature model Pacer for Steel Panther guitarist Satchel in a leopard print finish in your choice of yellow or purple.
TC Electronic launched several new pedals including the Helix Phaser (which sounds amazing) and Viscous Vibe (based on the legendary Shin-Ei Uni-Vibe), K-Series Bass Cabinets (K210, K212 and K410, which all contain high-end custom-made drivers and a 1” ceramic tweeter, all encapsulated in a durable and roadworthy plywood cabinet).
DV Mark expanded its great-sounding Multiamp modelling system with the Multiamp Mono and Markbass Bass Multiamp Mono as well as a the Multiamp FG for Frank Gambale and the Tube Multiamp inspired by virtuoso Andy James and designed to blast its tone through a speaker cabinet via a pair of KT88 tubes. There was also an 800 watt version of Randy Jackson’s signature bass head incorporating a tube preamp, tube-emulating digital power amp, tube compressor and tube-driven ‘Colour’ contour control.
Dunlop went nuts with the new products this year, including Cry Baby Mini Wah (this thing will be a big hit for those concerned with pedalboard space), Marcus Miller Signature Super Bright Bass Strings, MXR Iso-Brick Power Supply, MXR Bass Distortion, Super Bright Guitar Strings, Way Huge Saffron Squeeze MkII Compressor, Herco Vintage ’66 Nylon Picks, Jacquard Straps, New Primetone Sculpted Plectra shapes and gauges, the Platinum 65 Guitar Care System, the 50th Anniversary Gold N ylon Pick and Ultex Thumbpicks.
Orange have dipped into some new areas this year with the launch of the new tangle-free Twister Cable; the Orange Rock Guitar Syllabus (an educational course available online or in paper format), including videos featuring Orange Ambassadors such as Fall Out Boy’s guitarist Joe Trohman. Orange also unveiled the OB1 Series of bass amplifiers, Class A/B rack-mountable heads with two independent simultaneous signal chains inspired by the trend of adding a guitar amp to augment the harmonics of a bass amp.
Marshall launched the 2555X Silver Jubilee Reissue stack with high/ low output switching, vintage style appointments, two channels and 100 watts of power. The Silver Jubilee is a favourite of dudes like Slash and this reissue was one of those “Dude, did you see…” topics of NAMM 2015. Marshall also showcased a limited edition version of the Marshall Fridge decked out in Motley Crue livery to celebrate the band’s final tour.
Roland announced the Eric Johnson Blues Cube Tone Capsule, a user-installable voicing circuit for the Blues Cube guitar amplifier series. It changes the sound and response characteristics of the Blues Cube amps to provide custom voicings tuned and approved by the legendary Eric Johnson himself. “I’ve spent years finding amplifiers to suit my tonal quest and discerning criteria to get my sound,” Eric says. “I’m excited to work with Roland to create many aspects and persona of that sound in a more compact, tangible, and affordable version for all kinds of players.” The BOSS ES-8 Effects Switching System (pictured) is an advanced audio command center for pedalboards featuring eight audio loops, flexible routing options, MIDI, amp channel switching and much more. There was also the VE-1 Vocal Echo offering studio-quality ambience control for vocalists; the BB-1X Bass Driver which can drive a bass amp or go to a mixing console; and the impressive MX-1 Mix Performer, an 18-channel performance mixer with step-sequenceed FX, transport and tempo control. And the JD-Xi Synthesizer is a powerful compact synth with onboard pattern sequencer and vocal effects.
AVID launched Pro Tools I First, a new free version of Pro Tools that anyone can download, with 16 mono or stereo audio tracks, 16 instrument tracks and 16 MIDI tracks. They also of course launched Pro Tools 12, with new flexible licensing options from low-cost subscriptions to buying it outright. AVID also announced that it will now deliver new feature updates in smaller but faster release dates instead of the traditional 18 month wait between big updates. There’s also a new Eleven Effect Plug-In Bundle with 17 stomp box-modelled effects.
Never thought we’d see the day: Zakk Wylde has parted ways with Gibson, Marshall and Jim Dunlop and has launched his own brand, Wylde Audio, starting with guitars and amps and later expanding to all sorts of guitar and audio accessories. The initial guitar models are the Odin, the VIking and the Warhammer, and they’ll be available later in the year. I played Zakk’s Bullseye-pattern Odin and was pretty blown away by the comfortable neck, slinky action and rich harmonics. And the Master 100 amp sounded pretty badass too.
After a relatively quiet electric guitar presence at recent NAMMs, Yamaha has really blasted things open by opening up the full Pacifica line-up internationally again, including the PAC510V with Seymour Duncan P-Rails. Yamaha also had a really fun display of vintage synths to commemorate 40 years of making synthesizers. Yamaha also introduced the drum and percussion industry’s first all-inone acoustic/electronic hybrid drum set packs. The DTX502 Hybrid Pack has a fivepiece Stage Custom Birch acoustic drum set with Yamaha 700 Series hardware, a DTX502 module, two acoustic drum triggers and two electronic drum pads: the TP70 (7” single zone) and the XP80 (8” 3-zone). The other packs are for drummers who already own an acoustic kit and they include all the electronic add-ons.
Blackstar now offer their award-winning HT-5R and HT Club 40 tube amps in limited edition red covering with vintagestyle basket weave fret cloth. They’ve also launched ID:Core BEAM, their first Bluetooth guitar amp which lets you wirelessly stream music to your amp and jam along - and includes two bass, two acoustic and two acoustic simulator voices as well as six electric guitar voices. They also showed off their new FLY 3 amp, a teeny tiny little thing that sounds huge and is very affordable.
Seymour Duncan’s pedal range continues to grow with the Vise Grip Compressor and the Studio Bass Compressor - each of which lets you blend in either the full dry sound or just the high or midrange frequencies of the dry sound - and Shape Shifter Tremolo Pedal with stereo inputs and outputs and a phase control. SD also displayed Fear Factory guitarist Dino Cazares’ Retribution humbuckers for 7 and 8-string, a Dave Murrary Loaded Pickguard for Stratocaster with the same pickups used by the Iron Maiden legend, and a new set which combines P-Rails pickups (which have single coil, P-90 and humbucker modes) with Triple Shot mounting rings that let you select the pickup’s various modes from switches right there on the ring. Previously you had to buy these separately.
Ibanez offered up a few items inspired by their past this year, some with a few tweaks: the return of Paul Stanley’s PS line; Premium reissues of Steve Vai’s blue floral Jem and white Universe; several bass versions of the old Talman guitar; and a new mini-sized Tube Screamer overdrive pedal. They also showed off a new limited-edition Joe Satriani series of 50 guitars each with artwork by Joe himself, and prototype 7 and 8-string fanned-fret guitars with EMG humbuckers.
Taylor Guitars announced the addition of the Expression System Baby pickup to its Baby Taylor Series. The Expression System Baby, or the ES-B, is based on Taylor’s patented behind-the-saddle pickup, the Expression System 2, which features three uniquely positioned and individually calibrated piezo sensors. The sensors are placed in locations that allow more of the dynamic range of the acoustic sound to be captured than ever before, and it’s powered by an onboard preamp with volume and tone controls plus a built-in digital chromatic tuner. The new models include the three-quartersize Dreadnought Baby Taylor, the Baby Taylor Mahogany, and the Taylor Swift Baby Taylor, along with the 15/16-scale Big Baby Taylor. Taylor also debuted their New 600 Series, incorporating changes based on Master Builder Andy Powers’ research into how far bracing, thickness, finish, and new seasoning processes like torrefaction, a wood roasting method, could enhance maple’s tone profile. “I wanted playing a maple guitar to be a more gratifying all-around experience,” he says. “I wanted a tone that was richer, more complex, with longer sustain, without giving up the linearity that I like about maple as a builder.” The newly redesigned 600 Series is available in the 614ce (Grand Auditorium), 616ce (Grand Symphony), 618ce (Grand Orchestra) and 656ce (12-String Grand Symphony).
FMIC (FENDER/JACKSON/ CHARVEL/EVH/GRETSCH)
FMIC has been busy, launching a range of new Jackson Pro Series Dinky and X Series models, a Jackson signature model for Periphery’s Misha Mansoor with Bare Knuckle Juggernaut pickups available in HT6 (6-string) and HT-7 (7-string) versions. Gretsch updated its Professional Collection Hollow Body Brian Setzer guitars with TV Jones Brian Setzer signature pickups and cool two-tone finish options. Eddie Van Halen’s EVH brand launched the Wolfgang Special HT with a TonePros hard-tail bridge with stop tailpiece, as well as the EVH Stripe Series Star, modelled on one of Eddie’s most out-there axes from the early 80s. Charvel had new models in the Pro-Mod series including two new San Dimas models (twin humbuckers with Floyd Rose, humbucker and single coil with hard-tail bridge), a Pro-Mod So-Cal Style 1 HH with two pickguard-mountedDuncans and a Floyd, and a new more affordable Warren DeMartini model available in two finishes. Fender released new upgrades to their Geddy Lee and Steve Harris basses, HSS Stratocasters with ‘Shawbucker’ pickups created by noted pickup guru Tim Shaw, and new humbucker-loaded Standard Series Stratocasters and Telecasters.