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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Winter NAMM 2010 Overview - Part 1

Winter NAMM 2010 has come and gone and like the shows before it, has left us with lots of good memories, a few less dollars in our bank accounts, and a number of trends and new products to discuss.

If I had to take the market temperature of the show this year, I'd say it was both hopeful and optimistic. A number of manufacturers and distributors told me that 2009 was outright bad (like we didn't know already), but the end of 09 and beginning of 10 were great for business. This must've been the case for dealers as well since the crowds seemed to be up from last year, and any doom and gloom was noticeably absent. Here's hoping that reality follows that optimism.

That being said, there were fewer exhibitors this year, the booths were noticeably smaller, and many of the smaller manufacturers shared booth space. Roland moved into the arena dome, and the lighting manufacturers that usually reside there moved onto the floor, which was a lot better for all concerned.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was that Gibson did not exhibit this year, and rumors of their demise ran rampant through the show. They did have a minor presence in the Monster Cable booth (an odd choice), but even that booth was a small 20 x 20.  Meanwhile, Fender increased it's presence by taking over most of the 3rd floor.

Speaking of Fender, they had a bunch of interesting hybrid guitars, meaning different variations of traditional models like the Jaguar and Jazzmaster. They even had a bunch of interesting double necks like the Bass VI and Jazzmaster like on the left. At first I thought this was a Jag and a Jazz together, which would've really been a visually interesting (though not very practical) combination.

While we're on the subject of guitars, Moog showed the new Moog guitar, which had most of the famous Moog effects built-in. I'm not sure who the instrument is aimed at, but I played it for 5 minutes and walked away scratching my head. Is it a synthesizer or guitar? Or both? It probably does some pretty cool things, but I couldn't dial them up.

Instruments with composite bodies were more and more in evidence this year, and they're starting to sound pretty decent. Blackbird (on the left) likes to state that theirs is the only guitar that's able to survive the Antarctic weather. Maybe so, but I don't see them replacing wood instruments any time soon.

Another trend that seems on the rise is body-less stringed instruments. I can't say that every manufacturer had one, but more manufacturers showed them than ever before. I'm not sure why this is supposed to be cool, but I guess you can't get a more modern look.

There were also a couple of neat things on the guitar tuner front. TC Electronic showed "Polytune," a multi-string tuner that tunes all the strings at the same time. The demo looked like it worked pretty well, but who can say until you get it on a gig? You can tune by just strumming the open strings, then go into a more detailed single string mode like most other tuners. For $100 street, it looks like a definite upgrade from those cheap $20 tuners that everyone is using these days.

Speaking of cheap tuners, the Peterson Strobotuner has always been the holy grail of tuners, but at a cost of 3 to 4 times what a normal hi-end tuner costs, it was left to the guitar techs. Now you can have one on your iPhone for only 10 bucks. This is almost too cheap. I would've paid a lot more for it.

Speaking of the iPhone, it's amazing how many musicians and industry pros have one. It's almost an industry standard now, just like the Mac. It's now noteworthy if someone is using something other that a Mac or iPhone.

Here's something I wish I had last month during guitar overdubs - a single or dual string  capo. I'd want to use it not so much for the capo action, but to mute a particular string to make the performance cleaner. Either way you use it, this is a product that's been overlooked for too long.

We'll cover much more of the show in the next post, but first I leave you with an observation. I know that electronic music is huge and that thousands of people turn out to a typical event by a superstar DJ, but according to what I've seen at NAMM, this whole DJ fad has long since peaked. Case in point, a almost no-name guitar player from a near no-name metal band had a line of around a hundred people waiting in line for a meet and greet, while right across the hall Crystal Method (who I really like, by the way) had maybe a dozen people in the Pioneer room. Even Kenny G (on left) drew a larger crowd. Yay for music!

Next post, amplifiers, keyboards and various other instruments.

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