If you're looking for new musical instruments, the NAMM show is the place to be. Although Winter NAMM is far larger, manufacturers still introduce scads of innovative products at the summer show—or at least confirm that they're finally shipping the ones they announced back in January.
This summer's show once again graced Austin, Texas. I hit the floor with my digicam and press pass, searching for products that sparked my "Wow, I wish I had one of those" smile.
Summer NAMM has a reputation as a guitar show, and I definitely noticed the absence of the big software and pro-audio companies. No Digidesign or Cakewalk, no Manley or Presonus. There was also very little in the way of podcasting gear, with the notable exception of Belkin's TuneStudio, a nifty four-channel mixer that records directly onto an iPod and connects to a computer via USB. Record and upload, all in one light, sturdy package. (More on this in a moment.)
But happily for this guitarist, the boutique guitar and amp makers made a solid showing. I've tried to capture that for you here.
One of the more memorable electronic items was the PowerTune by Tronical. This add-on essentially enables your guitar to tune itself. Push the modified volume button, pick your tuning, strum, and the motorized gadget automatically tunes your guitar to perfection. Gibson was showing the PowerTune as an option on its guitars, where it had the added feature of telling the guitarist exactly how many half-turns to move the saddles to achieve perfect intonation.
DigiTech was showing off its Vocalist Live 4, which I tried out myself and fell in love with. (See our test of the Vocalist 2.) At the Roland display, I was completely amazed by the V-Accordion and its virtuosic demonstrator. Here's a short QuickTime movie I made:
This is Chris at the Roland booth demonstrating the V-Accordion. He makes it look like anyone can do it—and maybe anyone can! This accordion has bellows, but no reeds; every sound is digitally synthesized. (IE users, click to activate, then click play.)
On display in the Peavey booth was the Orange County Choppers custom motorcycle designed in honor of Peavey. There's a Peavey speaker on the back of the bike; a guitar fretboard is inlaid on the gas tank. In return, Peavey designed a limited edition custom guitar in honor of the Orange County Choppers.
Tronical's glowing PowerTune knob that replaced the normal volume knob on this Strat. Rechargeable batteries under the pickguard send their power through the guitar strings to the tuners on the headstock. The batteries are easily recharged by plugging one end of a normal guitar cable into your guitar and the other into a special AC charger.
Here you can see the motorized tuners displayed on the back of a Gibson SG. They're quite fun to watch work.
One thing I found very interesting was the prominent display of Red Octane's Guitar Hero 80s, the recently released video game. It always had people playing along on their Gibson SG-inspired guitar controllers. It's encouraging to see someone in the music industry taking the game industry to heart like this.
On display with no explanation was this awesome Reverse Flying V, also from Gibson. It must have been a good day in the custom shop.
Fender had some impressive examples of its custom shop work on display, including this Day of the Dead Tele and matching amp.
Joe Naylor, founder of Reverend guitars, holds an orange Flatrock. Reverend is one of my favorite boutique success stories. Joe Naylor has successfully transitioned his handmade guitar designs to overseas production, managing to maintain very high quality while keeping costs down. These are sometimes referred to as "midrange" guitars, but everyone I talked to agreed that they are much higher quality than their price tags would suggest.
Burriss Amps had an impressive display of Class A goodness, including this innovative head design of their Switch Master model. The head includes a 9" Eminence speaker built into what would be the bottom. It's a full-power head, and once a cab is plugged in, you can rock to your heart's content. From bedroom to arena, all in one unit.
A nice lineup of JudyBox amps was on display. I spoke with the owner here about the struggle of boutique amp builders trying to remain true to their hand-made quality, yet being able to deliver quantity enough to succeed. But that's another blog.
A new line of straps from Levy's is always good news. I couldn't resist snapping this picture. If they'd had a cash register, I would have bought a strap right there.
With all the custom guitars on display at the show, it seemed only fitting to see this display from Postal Monkey, with custom cases. You have to take that axe home in something, don't you?
Electra-Tone was showing off a pedal with an incredible vibe, and great sound to boot. Here we see the "No. 2," a hand-wired, analog boost/fuzz/distortion pedal that uses an innovative "Magnatone" analog technology to achieve very pleasing, tube-like overdrive.
Here are yours truly and someone the photographer conscripted into being the "booth babe" for the shot. I'm showing off a set of Aurora coated and colored strings. A thin coating is bonded to the string to preserve its tone and life, and this coating can have just about any color you can think of.
In the category of cool crossover, we have Cruz Tools showing off high quality bass tool kits. Cruz is an established motorcycle tool manufacturer, but the owner is also a bass player and was dismayed at the low quality of allen wrenches and other tools usually found in maintenance kits. So he decided to make his own. These are very high quality tool kits that should last a lifetime.
The Belkin TuneStudio records an uncompressed stereo wav file onto your iPod (not included). This would be an excellent tool for podcasters—and it's light and sturdy and should travel well. The USB connection to your computer means as soon as you finish recording, you can upload the file.
The mighty Fat Man was also touring the show, and I convinced him to try out the Vocal Acoustic Monitor from VAM Acoustics. "Sing Better Faster" is its tagline. The VAM allows you to hear yourself so you can maintain correct pitch and improve your singing habits, either with a microphone or not.
From the "Eight Is Not Enough" department comes RME's new HDSPe MADI PCI Express audio card, offering 128 audio channels routable and mixable to 64 physical outputs. In case 64 inputs and outputs isn't enough, you can chain the cards together until you run out of PCIe slots.
I have a large collection of vinyl, and I've been considering transferring it to a digital format for a while. The new TTSUSB turntable from Numark seems like an easy way to digitize all that content while giving you an excellent turntable to boot. Essentially a USB-equipped version of Numark's TTX Professional turntable, it enables you to play audio directly into your PC or Mac without negotiating multiple analog connections.
Electronic drum kits are convenient alternatives to acoustic drums, especially if your neighbors aren't fans of your righteous drumming. Sporting an updated DM5 sound module and real drum heads for an authentic feel, the Alesis DM5 Pro electronic digital drum kit is now available. Interestingly, Roland also showed an electronic drum kit, but the Alesis kit stood out for me because it's more affordable ($599 street) and has real drum heads.
I've often wished I could bring my studio with me when I travel, and Open Labs has made that possible with the MiKo. And now, MiKo is getting even better. Its new V4 sound library includes 25GB of premium sounds, a substantial upgrade to the previous MiKo and NeKo software bundles. These all-in-one workstations also now feature E-mu's Proteus X2 Streaming Sound Module V2.5 with over 5,500 software instruments.
When you have a piano bar and your pianist doesn't show up one night, what do you do? Unless you have Peter Drescher's phone number, you could rely on the new Roland RG-3M Digital Grand Piano. You can play it yourself, or it will play all by itself in player piano fashion—complete with moving keys. The RG-3M includes 88-key multisampled piano sounds and 100-watt speakers, a CD drive, and Roland's PHA II Ivory Feel keyboard designed for authentic piano sound and touch.
Can't afford one of those classic Neve consoles that sound so good? Neither can I. But now that dream is getting closer through the efforts of Universal Audio and Neve. The UAD Nevana X2 system, powered by two PCIe DSP cards, emulates seven classic Neve processors including EQs, compressors, and a full 88RS channel strip. The virtual Neves run in AU, VST, and RTAS plugin formats.
It's great there are so many multichannel USB audio interfaces now, but most of them are missing something near and dear to an engineer's heart: knobs. Yamaha understands this and has started shipping the new MW Series II USB 2.0 Mixing Studios. These combination mixers and computer audio interfaces feature eight or more input channels, low-noise mic preamps, tweakable digital multieffects (including reverb, delay, modulation, and distortion programs), and an analog compressor. List prices start at $249 and Yamaha even includes a starter version of Steinberg Cubase.
If any of these instruments sparked your "Wow, I wish I had one of those" smile, leave a comment below and we'll try to arrange a review.
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