The annual NAMM show descended upon Anaheim, California January 22-25, 2015 at the Anaheim Convention Center located at 800 West Katella Avenue. Adjacent to Disneyland, one could see the roller coasters and ‘Cars’ ride from the convention center, but the real rides for music instrument sellers were within the event.
For those new to NAMM, it’s a convention where thousands of music instrument, sound recording, sound reinforcement, and many similar companies gather to display their latest and greatest. With that goes an unprecedented amount of live performances, demonstrations, and countless famous musicians come to show of their endorsers. People from around the world come and do business. Interestingly, this is not a place where a guitarist can simply buy a pack of strings. Rather, its primary goal is, for example, a music store to meet with the manufacturer of those guitar strings to come on board and carry them.
While walking the main floor, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. The number of merchants is astounding. Rows and rows of similar gear stretch as far as the massive convention center can go. It’s even grown so that there are now three floors above, with large companies like Gibson, Monster, Peavey, ESP, Taylor and Line 6 creating themed mega-suites on the top floors, with special performances by artists like Billy Sheehan (David Lee Roth), Rick Springfield, Jackson Browne, and Slash, to name a few.
Innovation was all around. A standout was a new take on guitar construction and manufacturing from Sweden’s Relish Guitars. The electric guitar we previewed looked smooth and contoured vs. the harsh, definitive lines on so many other instruments. Additionally, the body was made of three distinct layers: two wood pieces for the top and bottom, and a large metal brace in the middle. This takes away the worry of a guitar neck warping over time, and adds to its sustain and overall sound. Inside, the electronics were also a brand new take. Instead of it being a messy conglomerate of soldered wires, you’re confronted with a super-neat, beautifully laid out series of cables that screw into one another. A user can easily swap out the pickups with just a simple finger screw. The possibilities are wonderful. The entire inside of the guitar was like looking under the hood of a high performance kit car. On the outside, there was one more brilliant idea. Instead of hard switches, the pickups were switched on and off with the press of two elegant light-up touch sensors. Last? All these innovations would be useless if the guitar itself was unplayable. The instrument felt perfectly balanced in your hands, and simply needed to be played. It was comfortable, smooth, and felt like an extension of your body instead of a foreign object that needed to be tamed. Bravo! You can find more at: http://www.relishguitars.ch
Another wonderful and striking innovation was the McCarthy piano, an illuminating piano learning system. Using a tablet, the keyboard reads music and lights each individual key needed to play a song. If the correct key is struck, the key is green, but turns red if it’s incorrect. The keys have velocity, and have a wonderful traditional feel to them. The light colors are very pleasing, and you feel like a rock star just looking at it. I imagine seeing this on the stage and it being really fantastic playing along to your song as if Michael Jackson were dancing on your keyboard, it lighting up like the streets in his classic ‘Billie Jean’ video. The company plans on integrating this keyboard learning system much wider in the near future, and it’s off to an amazing start. Check it out here: www.mccarthypiano.com
We were happy to see so many different cultures of music represented under one roof. Jazz and marching band people chilled in the horn sections. Rockers gravitated to the boisterous guitar booths, holding Paul Stanley of KISS’s new Ibanez guitar collection, which looked even more beautiful in person than in photos. Hip Hop, EDM and Dance were represented in the DJ and computer music areas. At the NAMM news stand, Spanish language music magazines like ‘Musica’ & ‘Mercado’ had equal space next to christian music, songwriting, drums, and popular music. One really had the global feeling of just how communal music is, and that old cliché, that it’s a universal language, was true.
Nowhere was this better on display than with the drum circle that sprouted up just outside the venue. At first, dozens of people drummed on hand drums and percussion lent by Tama, but it soon grew into hundreds of people, all in sync. Tattooed tough guys sat next to businessmen, grandmothers, children, teen agers and housewives and everyone simply channeled for two blissful hours, no pretense, no agenda other than music. It was wonderful to experience.
All in all, The NAMM show has a little bit of something for every one. It’s easy to see why people from all over the world travel to be a part of it.
Photos credit to: Jesse Grant/Getty Images for NAMM