NAMM 2018 is over and wow, my feet (and ears) still hurt. But it’s the good kind of hurt, filled with guitars, basses, drums, amps, mics, keyboards, and software and hardware of every kind. Not to mention the social time with good friends and personal connections made at the show. If you’ve never attended, I can’t recommend it enough. Here’s a few thoughts, observations and gear lust I walked away with.
Wow, this show is big. It takes several days just to cover all the ground, and even then it’s not enough. I still don’t even understand what was where exactly, as the whole thing is a tornado of energy. But the main hall seems to have most of the guitars, drums, amps, percussion and band instruments, including several floors up of, well, more guitars and gear. In a separate but attached hall was the pro-audio gear, such as the speakers, software and hardware manufacturers, mics and so on.
AES provided a lot of educational offerings for the NAMM show with its new AES@NAMM arrangement, which was ‘attached’ to the NAMM show this yea. Most of its events were in the upstairs section of the Hilton hotel, which is like ground zero of social events. This year, I was asked, along with Richard Chycki (Rush, Dream Theater, Aerosmith) to give an AES ‘lunch chat’ which we did. It felt like Spinal tap trying to find the room, and we hope next year they have this part a little more organized. But it was fun and we were able to share some of experience with the attendees.
The best way to get your NAMM groove on is to just hit the floor. Getting in at first was a challenge, because this year, due to the world we live in, you had to show ID and go through a metal detector every time you went in and out. So there were lines here and there, but worth it to be safe. Walking into the main hall, the thing that struck me the most was the sheer cacophony. Imagine the sound of thousands (literally) of cymbals, amps, guitars, basses, brass, drums and keyboards all going off at the same time. It borders on deafening, but the energy is thrilling.
I tend to have a ‘hit list’ of people and booths I need to see, so I might get some of those out of the way first, just to say hello and catch up on the latest technologies. I found that the NAMM app for my iPhone was an invaluable ally, letting me quickly look up booth numbers and get to where I needed to go.
As a TV composer, I need a little bit of everything for my work, so I hit booths as diverse as Zildjian and Paiste cymbals, Supro Amps, Sony, Universal Audio, Vienna Symphonic, D’Angelico guitars and even companies that make capos, straps, picks and cases.
In my explorations, I discovered a bad ass little Korg Minilogue analog synthesizer, which I have already procured and am using for crime/drama shows. I stumbled into the beautiful ESP booth, where we were greeted by a wall of custom-made guitars from Japan where they give their craftsman free reign to create NAMM specials, which are works of art in their own right. Exploring further, I discovered a great 7-string ESP LTD MH-1007 with something called an Evertune bridge, which literally (seriously) never goes out of tune. I do a lot of hard fast sports/car tracks for TV with 6, 7 and 8-string guitars, and this baby is going to be in my arsenal soon.
Exploring more, I came across the Supro booth. As a guy that loves to play vintage amps and uses them quite a bit, I was curious. Turns out they have a line of amps I didn’t even know about, including one that I have to have (I know, I know…). The Comet is a single channel 6-14 watt 1X10 with reverb, tremolo and switchable power. I’m a fan of pushing small, low-wattage amps hard (especially with Les Pauls) and I can tell, even from the show floor, that this thing is a monster in box.
PRO AUDIO HALL
Wow, I think I was exhausted after just a few hours in the main hall, but if you're going to do the show, you have to have stamina. Finding my way to the audio hall, I checked out some new Slate products, Genelec speakers, Earthworks mics and SoundToys software, and I was able to learn a lot about the Empirical Labs Arouser, which to me is like a Distressor on steroids. I’m big fan of the Distressor, and use both the hardware and software versions. But when you go to a show and can have Dave Derr, the designer of this gear, run you through the plug-in, you learn things you never could just sitting in your studio. And that reinforces just why you take the time and effort to attend a show like this. Personal connections and information that you can take home and apply to your craft.
OFF THE FLOOR
Not all the booths are in the main hall and audio hall. Attached to the Marriott Hotel were the massive Yamaha exhibits and Line 6, where I was asked to be a guest speaker on their Saturday panel. I happen to use the Line 6 Helix quite a bit for my work, and they had four Helix users discuss how we use the product, including guys who take it out on serious tours instead of amps. We then answered questions from the audience and had a nice experience all around. While I was there, I learned about the HX Effects, which has over 100 Helix effects and additional effects from the Line 6 line in a sturdy floor unit. I hope to get my hands on one soon, and I’ll report back.
EARS AND EYES OPEN
Once you’ve gotten your ears and eyes pounded for about two days, I’ve found it useful to walk the show with no plan, letting yourself stop in here and there. That’s where i found the Yamaha LL-TA Transacoustic Jumbo Concert guitar, which has a unique twist. Inside the body sits something called an Actuator, from which the vibrations of the actuator itself are resonated out of the body and soundhole. Three knobs on the guitar lets you adjust the Chorus, Reverb and Volume, and while I was skeptical at first, it actually works and sounds great. I would record these effects. I still don’t understand all the details of how it works, but it does, and I intend to explore this further. That was something unique.
I also came across a company called Orchestral Tools, which produces some great orchestral virtual instruments using top-flight players on the Teldex Scoring Stage in Berlin, Germany. I was impressed with Metropolis Ark 3, The Beating Orchestra, which includes orchestral sections, percussion ensembles and single instruments, as well as the epic Taiko ensembles, including a 60 inch monster Taiko. Just another product I hope to check out soon and I’ll of course report back.
IT JUST KEEPS GOING
As I mentioned, one of the great things about the show, aside of the gear, is the people. Even on the plane ride home, I ended up sitting next to drummer extraordinaire Daniel Glass, who not only toured for years with the Brian Setzer Orchestra, but is a drum historian and educator. We ended up not only talking for 6 straight hours but just finished a great TV session together at Clubhouse Studios in Rhinebeck, where we spent a full day creating cues for several upcoming shows. Point is, sometimes you have to get out of your studio and go pound the pavement at a show like NAMM. You never know what will come of it!