With some 88,000 visitors, NAMM 2008 was a very busy four-day orgy of gear, gear, gear. All well and good unless your mission - like ours - is to visit every stand and get info on all the new products. Even being selective there were over 200 guitar-related stands on our list and fuelled by, er, Corona, Guitarist Editor Mick Taylor and myself set off, pencils sharpened.
Being Guitarist, of course, we'd already written about two of the major stories - Taylor's SolidBodies and Fender's American Standard Series (which will appear in our next issue) - but that was of little comfort. Even experienced hacks like us wondered - repeatedly! - where all this new gear actually goes.
UK makers Fret-King had, for example, some 30 new models which with colour options and the like amounts to around 170 new instruments. We think. ESP introduced around 50 new instruments, including a new design by Richie Sambora. Most signature guitars aren't as hands on as this one and the bigger the artist the more protracted the process. Where was Fender's David Gilmour Signature Strat? Held up with the legal teams we were told.
For many visitors, it's the attending stars that are the draw. You know they're there because a huge crowd/queue ensues. If, like us, you're racing from one appointment to another, getting stuck while some rock star you may never have heard of is signing autographs, is a pain in the butt. Conversely, at the drop of a hat, we get asked to interview/photograph all sorts with no preparation whatsoever. "Hi Dave, meet Carlos/Joe/Slash etc."
Speaking of hats, what's going on with these rock stars? Carlos Santana sported a fine, I think we'd call it a bobble hat, with large dark glasses; Satch copied the look. Then at Fender's annual bash mumbling Billy Gibbons appeared to break the trend. Bobble hat on, no shades. Until... mumble, mumble, mumble... shades on! Clearly, it was the look of the show. Failing that, our advice is just to get some tattoos. Lots of 'em.
But aside from all this gear and star spotting, as 'important members of the media' we get invited to all sorts of evening events. Now, we're jet-lagged, we've walked miles and haven't eaten (unless you count the lime in the top of the Corona) and we then have to hang around, drinking more Corona awaiting the evening's entertainment. This can be very good - Dick Dale at the Fender bash was a personal highlight, as was a two number 'set' by David Grissom, and a great southern boogie set by a band who's name I forget at the Orange event. Perhaps the highlight, however, was John Mayer with just his signature Martin guitar and voice. I think the Americans would call it awesome.
But what, you ask, did we see? Well, Vox's new Virage guitars are certainly something we'd hope Guitarist readers will enjoy. It might be too early to say but there's plenty of evidence to suggest numerous companies want to more the guitar forwards. The single-cut is a favourite platform and semi and hollow construction seems to be increasingly common too. The archtop is making quite a comeback - Godin had a very affordable and good sounding acoustic archtop on show which illustrates that this trend has gone mainstream. PRS had the SCJ (Singlecut Jumbo) on display as a limited edition but also have a hollowbody Singlecut. Nice. More manufacturers are filling in the middle ground between acoustic and electric -- Epiphone's new Ultra II and Ibanez's Montage are good examples. And Taylor isn't the only acoustic company branching into electrics. Breedlove and L'arrivee are two more examples and let's not forget Collings.
Of course, not all the new products will get reviews in Guitarist. A self-tensioning bridge, spotted by Mick, seemed to have the specific aim of flattening out string bends. Hmmm. A biodegradable plectrum made out of compressed wheat that is seemingly prone to instant breakage, anyone?
But that's NAMM. Four days of madness (and not just the gear). We wouldn't miss it for a thing.
Gear Reviews Editor
Guitarist magazine's NAMM coverage starts in issue 300, on-sale 14 February 2008.