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Monday, January 18, 2010

Winter NAMM 2010 Overview - Part 2 - Amps And Keyboards

Once again, Winter NAMM provided a variety of new guitar amp ideas, although most of them are just a rehash of something done before. Let's take a look at what the show had to offer.

Jet City Amplification is a new company featuring designs from Mike Soldano at a very reasonable price. Jet City had a pretty good buzz going into the show thanks to a thorough social networking campaign that really raised their visibility. I'm surprised that more companies don't take this approach, as it's a prototype for how it's done. Can't say for sure about the amps though, since I didn't really hear one. But they sure looked nice, the price was great, and Mike Soldano is one of the true amp gurus in the industry.

Perhaps one of the most surprising and disturbing new amp developments comes from Marshall and their new JMD:1 series modeling amp. In truth, this is no different from Line6's Spider Valve series in that the digital modeler is in between a tube preamp and output stage. It's a shame that the maker of music's most iconic amplifier feel the need to go in this direction. That being said, I really like the Spider Valve so maybe this model won't be so bad for Marshall after all.

Here's an interesting look from Randall. Don't know how it sounds but the large volume knob and VU meter instantly caught my eye. It's amplifier eye-candy.

Speaking of interesting looks, check out this idea for cabinet design. The physics of these cabinets don't suggest that they'll sound very good, but give the company points for thinking out of the box.

Here's another interesting look, with the power tubes visible from the front instead of vented from the rear as usual. Might make for a small light show during a gig.

I don't know if a batch of 5 and 6" speakers just came on the market at a huge discount or what, but all of a sudden there are a lot of companies featuring speaker cabinets with large multiples of small speakers like the one on the left. For those of you not old enough to remember, this reminds me of the "Sweet 16" speaker system article in Popular Electronics magazine in the 60's that advocated putting 16 5" speakers in a cabinet to increase the bass response and sound level beyond what any single speaker can give you. The problem is that with that many speakers that close together you get things like beaming and frequency cancellations due to the complex interactions between the speakers. That being said, this is for a bass amp, and we all know how well an SVT works, so maybe they do have something.

One of the items that I liked was "The Ultimate Attenuator," a box that will knock your amp level down to where it doesn't blow out the room while keeping your sound intact in the process. Attenuator systems have come and gone through the years, but this one looked cool because it had an active buffer system in it to give you more control of the output to the speaker and to a mixing console, if that's where you wanted it to go. Pricy at $500 though.

The final guitar item was a preamp tube substitute called "Tube Grinders" that claim to never wear out or change in tone like tubes do as they age. I suspect they're just an electronic FET-based circuit wrapped up in the shape of a tube but the company wasn't saying. They are expensive at $150 each, which is well worth it if you really like what you get from them.

On the keyboard side of things, Nord showed its C1 organ, which comes with all the classic Hammond tonewheel sounds plus sounds from the cheesy Vox and Farfisa organs popular in the 60's. Nord did a pretty good job with the C1 as it was complete with dual manuals, waterfall keys and an optional pedal set.

Yamaha showed a working acoustic celeste, just the thing for emulating those "Born To Run" B sections and choruses.

For those piano bars with bored piano players, this grand comes with a television monitor built into the music stand so you won't miss Desperate Housewives during the gig.

And finally, for the keyboard player that can't fit a keyboard into a tiny car, here comes the foldable keyboard controller. Just fold it up, put it under your arm and you're good to go.

Tomorrow we'll take a look at the pro audio portion of winter NAMM.

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