"Isn't that a heavily disguised Carlos Santana over there?" "There's Yngwie Malmsteen... squeezed into an outfit that's at least three sizes too small for him. Just like last year." "Wow, I just saw Joe Satriani's head planted in a hat that looks uncannily like a flowerpot."
Yep, if you're a guitarist, the Winter NAMM show offers the best people watching ever. Where else would you get the chance to rub shoulders with George Lynch, tower over Nuno Bettencourt or chat to Steve Lukather about his gear? In the first few hours of the show I'd spotted surf legend Dick Dale, Hellecaster Will Ray and, er, Randy Rhoads' dear old mum. She was helping Marshall launch her son's new signature amp head in case you're wondering. But more on that later. Slayer's Kerry King was there too - a man who must be single handedly keeping the felt tip pen industry afloat. If it doesn't move, Kerry will sign the bugger. So, yeah, there's always plenty of famous folk at NAMM. It's one of the things that makes the long haul to Los Angeles worth the effort.
It's not the most important reason however: the NAMM show gives me a valuable insight into the hottest gear trends heading our way in the following year. And that allows me to decide which products I want to review for Total Guitar. See, it's not just four days in the sun...
At this year's show the clear trend in electric guitars, and amplifiers, was signature models. One of the hottest stories is that Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi has signed with ESP to produce his new LTD SA-2 signature guitar. The result is a versatile rock axe packing a pair of humbuckers, a Floyd Rose and a curvy, retro-style body. We'll be reviewing the guitar in Total Guitar soon and hopefully talking to Mr Sambora about it too.
ESP love pumping out signature models: last year the company released 16 new artist endorsed models! This year they kept the ball rolling with some new artist models including the ESP Michael Padget V and LTD MP-600 guitars (Padge from Bullet For My Valentine, natch), ESP Jon Donais and LTD JD-600 guitars (Jon Donais of Shadows Fall), the LTD RA-600 and LTD MFA-600 guitar (Rob Arnold and Matt DeVries of Chimaira respectively) and new affordable versions of the Gus G (Firewind) model, the LTD GUS-200, and Will Adler of Lamb of God's camo-covered signature, the LTD WA-200.
Elsewhere at the show I spotted other signature guitars that I know Total Guitar readers will be excited to hear about. There's the Washburn WI26 Joe Trohman (Fall Out Boy) model, a neat take on the company's popular Idol model. I'm also excited about the Epiphone Tom Delonge. I can't believe it took them so long to release a budget version of Tom's Gibson axe. They've done a good job on it though. Herman Li of Dragonforce was celebrating the launch of his signature Ibanez EGN1 guitar. We'll be looking at that soon. And I chatted with Arch Enemy's Michael Amott about his new signature Randall head, the Ninja. He's well chuffed with it! I'm looking forward to trying it for myself.
From Total Guitar's point of view the biggest story in electric guitar this year is the launch of Dean's Trivium signature models (see gallery). Both Corey Beaulieu and Matt Heafey are the proud recipients of Dean axes - the CB1122 for Corey and Matt's MKH guitar. I predict that these guitars will dominate the metal guitar market this year. Only time will tell but as we've seen with previous Dean signatures, the huge-selling Dimebag Darrell Razorback and Dave Mustaine's Vehement, Dean own the metal market at the moment. We'll be running an exclusive review of both Trivium models in Total Guitar soon.
Before I sign off, I should mention some other cool stuff I saw at this year's show. Yep, they're all signature models! My personal favourite guitars of the show were the G Love Gretsch Corvette, Gibson's replica of the Les Paul used by Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols and Phil Demmel's (Machinehead) new brutal-looking Jackson signature model. I'll take 'em all please. I mean, I couldn't give a toss about G Love and his Special Sauce but his new signature Gretsch, with its green finish, white competition stripe and TV Jones pickups, is an absolute peach. You're gonna love it.
As I said Marshall launched the Randy Rhoads 1959RR Tribute amp head at the show. Resplendent in white the amp was launched by Randy's mum, Delores. Some might say that it's not that unusual for Marshall to wheel out a pensioner at a trade show... I'm not even gonna go there. The amp looks magnificent by the way.
The last snippet of good news concerns Vox and shredding slaphead Joe Satriani. Both parties have teamed up to produce a range of effects pedals. I know because I was at the press conference. I was there, Joe was there... the only thing that wasn't there were the pedals. They're not ready yet! Now, that's just teasing folks...
Catch Total Guitar's full NAMM report in our March issue (TG173) which goes on sale on 27 February.