If you are not familiar with the National Association of Music Merchants otherwise known as NAMM that holds it's annual convention in Anaheim, CA you might not understand the journey one takes as a musician upon entering the center's doors. Merchants, exhibitors, manufacturers and musicians come from all over the world for 4 days of non-stop auditory and visual mayhem --- an assault on the senses in the truest and most rewarding fashion. Why would anyone subject themselves to such a gregarious yet punishing microcosm of never ending hallways of light and sound? Well, to put it simply... because we love it.
It's hard to think of NAMM without the trials and tribulations of travel, traffic, hotels, overpriced food and spirits -- the never ending Stanley Kubrick-esque halls that just seem to go on forever with no real escape for oxygen or respite of one's senses. But for many it's all worth it, and I for one, love the experience.
One of the reasons being, I'm a Gearhead (ahem... check out my Gearheads Blog). The mechanisms of music making have always been something I've been compelled to be a part of. Seeking, learning, and finding new pieces of gear to make interesting and memorable musical experiences. There is, suffice it to say, a world of gear here at NAMM every year, and certainly this year's 2017 show. While I always feel like I never end up getting to see everything and everyone I'd like to, it's quite akin to swimming in the coral reef and just soaking up what you can. The bold and brazen, the beauty and the beast.
A very simple reason for my returning visit is that it's the one time a year where I can connect in person with all my friends from around the world who make great music gear. In the world of social/digital media it's just a nice thing to sit and connect with others who care as much as you do about this stuff. So with that, on to a few of my favorite moments and finds from the show....
My friends at Vemuram Custom Pedals have been making incredible pedals for some time and I'm happy to see their booth is getting bigger and bigger every year. I've been using their Jan Ray overdrive since it came out and have been supporting them as they support me, which I'm very grateful for. They've got some very cool new pedals coming, one of which is the new Shanks 3 knob: A new fuzz in their line of pedals co-created with guitarist/producer John Shanks. I've got their original Shanks 3K pedal, which is mixture of a treble and full range booster - not a load of gain and very good at pushing amps or pedals. Their newest offering, to my ears, is closer to a Fuzz Face but with a much different personality. It uses a mixture of Silicon and FET components and is rich with a medium gain profile, and most importantly it sounds FAT! Perfect for a robust fuzz tone and feels great, which is always important with guitar pedals --- they have to have the feel and touch that makes you want to dig in!
I also spent some quality time with the guys at Source Audio. They've got a wonderful array of digital effects that have incredible secondary control via a dedicated Source Audio APP. Look forward in the coming weeks for a review and demo of some of their pedals including the Nemesis Delay, Kingmaker Fuzz and L.A. Lady Overdrive. One of the things that really surprised me about Source Audio was their unabashed optimism and intent on listening to their customers by constantly updating and improving their designs. For instance they recently uploaded new delay and drive engines for both the Nemesis and LA Lady pedals. The yet to be released Ventris Reverb, which is still being perfected with side by side communication from it's customers, is looking to be very interesting and I am looking forward to reviewing it. It's not too common in this age that companies are willing to create and work alongside the musicians who will be using their pedals. Very cool indeed.
Another very cool offering is the new Digitech FreQout sustainer and controlled feedback pedal. A lot of pedals have been trying to make a natural sounding feedback emulation (Ebow comes to mind) but this is the first time I've ever heard it sound so natural in pedal form, as if you were getting the guitar's pickups right into the speaker cabinet. While this effect may have limited use in the standard sense, I can see a lot of moments where something like the FreQout would create some very interesting sounds. Check out this clip of Ford Thurston, Digitech's rep, demonstrating the tasty sustain on the new pedal.