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NAMM 2015 GUITAR GEAR OVERVIEW

ANAHEIM, WHERE ALL YOUR MUSICAL PRAYERS ARE NAMMSWERED!
Report and photos by Peter Hodgson

The first time you go to a NAMM Show in Anaheim, California – the National Association of Music Merchants trade show where the world’s musical instrument companies unveil their new wares for the year – it can be an utterly overwhelming experience. Aisle after aisle of pretty much every brand you ever heard of, being perused by every rock star you’ve ever hung a poster of on your wall, along with the world’s musical instrument retailers, distributors and media. And on top of that there are hundreds of performances, from in-booth demonstrations to full-on concerts by everyone from Megadeth to Stevie Wonder. The 2015 NAMM Show was my sixth, so the manic energy of my first one or two NAMMs has subsided somewhat and it’s become more of a fun catch-up with old friends, a chance to make new ones. But most importantly, once you get over the “Oh my god, there’s Steve Vai …holy cow, that’s Quincy Jones!” factor, you can more easily get on with the really important stuff: scoping out the gear that we’ll all be making music with in the months and years ahead.

Day 1
I help out Seymour Duncan USA with their social media, so I spent much of NAMM zipping back and forth between SD’s booth and the various other booths checking out what’s what. So after checking in with the folks after the previous night’s pre-NAMM dinner, I set out to visit Roland to see what is bound to be one of the most talked-about items of the year: the new BOSS ES-8 effects switcher. Plug your pedals into the eight separate loops and create presets of whichever combinations of pedals you like, in whichever order you want. You can even program it to control channel changes on your amp, and incorporate MIDI devices within your presets too. There are 800 patch memories, the audio path is all analog, and you can even create parallel effect chains.

BOSS 1

BOSS 2

TC Electronic launched a few new pedals to their TonePrint range – y’know, the ones that let you beam artist presets from your smartphone or computer right into the pedal – including the Viscous Vibe vibrato, which is based on the legendary Shin-Ei Uni-Vibe and which sounds eerily like the real thing, and the Helix Phaser, which is designed to give you those swooshy old-school 70s phaser sounds. There were also three new K-Series Bass Cabinets; the K210 with two 10” speakers, the K212 with two 12” speakers and the K410 with four 10” speakers. Each has high-quality custom-made drivers and a 1″ ceramic tweeter in a durable and roadworthy plywood cabinet.

TC Electronic

Earthquaker Devices showed off their ever-increasing range of pedals (which you may have seen if you attended the clinic by bass god Juan Alderete at World of Music in Brighton East recently), such as the Sea Machine Mega Chorus, Fuzz Master General Octave Fuzz Blaster, Hummingbird Repeat Percussion Tremolo V3 (modelled on the vintage “Repeat Percussion” unit and similar to those found in old Valco and Vox amplifiers) and the Park Fuzz Sound Vintage Fuzz Tone, developed with the newly resurrected Park Amplifiers.

Earthquaker2

Over at Gibson’s booth were the Gibson USA 2015 range with Zero-Fret adjustable nuts, G FORCE automatic tuners, screw-less removable pickguards and slightly wider fretboards. Particularly exciting is the 2015 Les Paul Traditional, which has plenty of old-school features including big fat 50s-style neck, hand-wired electronics and no weight relief; and the Les Paul Special Double Cut 2015, featuring a new body shape, two P-90 Soapbar Alnico Slug pickups, wraparound bridge/tailpiece and simple master tone and master volume controls. But the real belle of the ball was the Satchel (Steel Panther) signature model Kramer Focus, available in leopard print in your choice of yellow or purple.

Kramer Satchel1

Gibson

Inspired by their ‘Custom Color’ line of amps in the 60s, Vox released a limited-edition red model of its Pathfinder 10 mini combo amp as well as red versions of the AC4C1 and AC15C1. There was also a limited edition Valvetronix VT20+ Classic modelling amp kitted out in old-school Vox livery and incorporating a 12AX7 for true tube tone.

Vox

Perhaps the most exciting thing I saw on Day 1 was A Little Thunder, a unique pickup designed by Andy Alt which takes your bottom two strings, drops their pitch down an octave and can send it out to a second amp or through your current one. It even has a ‘Low Note Priority’ mode which cuts out the A string bass sound if you’re playing a chord that has notes on the low E and A strings and don’t want them to both be doubled. I can imagine a lot of Aussie guitarists digging this, especially blues and jazz players but also guitar/bass rock duos, so hopefully an Aussie distributor will jump on it.

Andy Alt with A Little Thunder

My day ended with a visit to the Peavey 50th Anniversary press conference with members of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Blue Oyster Cult in attendance (with a fashionably late appearance by Van Halen’s Michael Anthony). Peavey also showed off their new VYPYR Pro 100, designed to work in conjunction with the Sanpera Pro foot controller and the AT-200 Auto-Tune guitar to give cover band players the ultimate in control over their amp and effects models as well as their custom tunings on the fly. There were also tiny 20-watt versions of the 6505, ValveKing and Classic with silent recording outs.

Day 2
I started my second day with a visit to Taylor’s booth to check out the newly-revamped 600 Series, designed with the goal of bringing out the best tonal properties in maple through changes to bracing, thickness, finish, and new seasoning processes like torrefaction. Next it was over to ESP to see their latest, which includes a series of 40th Anniversary models crafted in the Custom Shop.

Taylor 2

Taylor 1

Cole Clark Guitars had the inimitable Lloyd Spiegel performing for them, including on the stage at the Anaheim Marriot. The Angel 3 series was one of the big standouts of Hall E; All solid timber grand auditorium designs with three-way pickups, abalone inlays (fretboard/rosette/waist), timber binding and headstock fascia. Wood options include Bunya top with Maple Silkwood back and sides, Huon Pine top with Tasmanian Blackwood back and sides, Bunya top with Tasmanian Blackwood back and sides, Tasmanian Blackwood Top with Tasmanian Blackwood back and sides, and Redwood Top with Indian Rosewood back and sides.

Cole Clark A 3 Series8

Cole Clark A 3 Series2

BC Rich offered a number of models with their own special ’1983’ model pickups, recreations of the units found in guitars from that classic vintage. BC Rich seems to be orienting itself more towards this era in general, with less of the aggressively modern guitars than previous years but more of the classic ‘pointy vintage’ stuff. For instance, there was also a beautiful cherry red version of the iconic Perfect 10 Bich – with the highest four strings doubled like on an acoustic guitar but the lowest two left all alone. And BC Rich sister company Michael Kelly Guitars showed off a pair of 7 and 8-string Telecaster-inspired 1950s models with passive pickups, traditional block neck joints and maple tops. Michael Kelly also offers a series of steel and nylon string acoustic guitars and a bass designed with Rick Turner, the famous luthier whose guitars are associated with Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham.

BC Rich

Over at Schecter my favourite guitar was the Keith Merrow (Conquering Dystopia) KM-7 in Lambo Orange. Keith’s a buddy through my SD stuff and he says Schecter have really gone above and beyond in terms of making sure these things are exactly what he asked for, and they’re great guitars whether you’re into his particular style of riffage or not. I also took the opportunity to get up close and personal with a few of Schecter’s baritones, tuned E to E an octave below the range of a regular guitar just like the Fender Bass VI. These are really nicely-built guitars that are great for a bit of 80s goth style or for low-down country licks. I also took a moment to fawn over the reproduction of Prince’s ‘Love Symbol’ guitar from the Schecter Custom Shop.

Schecter Prince

Day 3
Yamaha day! Yamaha had two big news items on the guitar front this year. For starters, the entire Pacifica range of guitars will now be made available worldwide. In recent years some models were only available in some markets, and it was pretty hard for much of the world to get their paws on the high-end stuff. That’s all changed, with some pretty spectacular models now available, including the  PAC510V with a Seymour Duncan P-Rails in the bridge position as its sole pickup (with single coil, P-90 and humbucker modes), and the PACIFICA611VFM with Wilkinson VS-50 trem, a humbucker in the bridge position and a P90 at the neck.
The other new Yamaha news is that A Series acoustic line has been expanded with the A6 dreadnought and concert guitar models which are handmade at the historic Music Craft workshop in Hamamatsu, Japan. They have solid Sitka spruce tops and solid rosewood back and sides along with SRT electronics which employ a DSP-driven acoustic modelling system to analyse the sound of each individual string and faithfully re-create your guitar’s sound live.

Yamaha Pacifica3

Yamaha Pacifica1

Aguilar showed off a limited edition version of the venerable SL 112 bass cabinet with special “Bass Cabernet” finish complementing the same lightweight 12″ neodymium speaker and custom crossover everyone knows and loves. The Fuzzistor bass fuzz pedal also looked cool; it’s a classic silicon transistor distortion with complete control over the blend of the clean and Fuzz sound, with a huge amount of fuzz and a nicely interactive Tilt EQ control.

Behringer’s Bugera line unveiled plenty of new products including the G20-INFINIUM, a 20-Watt Class-A Tube Amplifier Head with INFINIUM Tube Life Multiplier, MORPH EQ and Reverb (as well as 50 and 5 watt INFINIUM models) and the AC60, a portable 60-watt two-channel acoustic amp with an original TURBOSOUND speaker and KLARK TEKNIK FX processor. Behringer sure do love their upper-case product names.

Martin Guitars were all about their new Martin Vintage Tone System (VTS), which uses a unique recipe based on the torrefaction system (some other brands have different names for this but it’s a certain way of using heat to treat wood). Some companies use this to strengthen the wood but in Martin’s case they have a more specific purpose; they use the technology to ‘target’ specific decades and age the top wood and braces to match how guitars made in these specific eras sound and look now. Think of it as a time machine that turns new wood into wood that’s been used and abused for decades. Martin also showed off the CEO-8, which looks an awful lot like a Gibson Jumbo right down to the “The Martin” logo, and which led to a lot of “Martin just trolled Gibson – lol!” comments. Martin is also revamping its string line with new packaging that looks pretty schmick.

Martin CEO 8

Day 4
Godin have gone all-out in 2015. There’s an updated thinline semi-hollow body Montreal Supreme Lightburst Flame HG, with figured flame top, bound headstock & bound Richlite fingerboard; new solid body Session Custom 59 with a Seymour Duncan ’59 humbucker in the neck and Godin Custom Cajun single-coil in the bridge; Progression Plus with a new ergonomic, rounded contoured body, three single-coil pickups (actually the bridge one is a single-sized humbucker); and the carved top Godin Core CT and Summit Classic CT, each with a 24 3/4” scale, Spanish cedar body and mahogany set neck. On the acoustic side there’s the new Concert Hall acoustics with OM body styles from the Seagull and Simon & Patrick brands.

Time for a quick detour to Ibanez to check out their new Paul Stanley series, which resurrect the Iceman-based line Stanley used back in KISS’s 70s heyday. There are four models, from an affordable entry level one right up to a five-figure ‘cracked mirror’ version. Ibanez also turned a lot of heads with the new Tube Screamer Mini, the return of the beloved Talman series in the form of a pair of basses, and Premium series reissues of Steve Vai’s blue floral Jem 6-string and white Universe 7-string models.

Up at Fender/Jackson/Charvel/EVH the items to draw the most gasps were the Misha Mansoor Bulb and Juggernaut models with the Periphery guitarist’s Bare Knuckle signature pickups and the option of 6 or 7-strings; and the new EVH Striped Series Star, based on the pointy, stripey creation that Eddie Van Halen used in the early 80s.

Finally I headed up to Dean Guitars where I was stopped dead in my tracks by a sacred sight: Dimebag Darrell’s actual ‘Dean From Hell’ ML model guitar in a display case. This iconic instrument has inspired countless thousands of guitarists over the years and it was humbling and a little sad to see it in person. And But knowing what a NAMM fan Dimebag was, it was also kinda sweet to see it here.

Dimebag Darrell's Dean

Peter Hodgson is a respected international music scribe, who specialises in guitars. Check out his own guitar website http://iheartguitarblog.com/

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