Top Gear: This One Goes To 11
You’ve seen all the glitz, glamour and celebrity of the 2013 NAMM show. Now, it’s time to get down to what NAMM is actually about: Gear. We’re not exactly Gearheads and can't really offer much in the way of in-depth technical tips or advice on what you should purchase to make better music. There are other, far more qualified publications dedicated to that, and we’ll assume you know who they are and where to find them.
What we’ve done is simply compile a list of stuff that caught our weary eyes after spending most of the show interviewing musicians and vendors. We were originally going to feature our top 10 favorite products. Then we realized we liked more than 10 products, so it grew to 11, because 11 is…well, you know. Frankly, with over 1,500 companies representing over 5,000 brands, we’re lucky we were able to narrow it down to only 11.
Technology, of course, takes center stage at NAMM, opening all sorts of possibilities to advancing the functionality of existing products to creating new products and categories. While Gibson has made it easier to tune your guitar, software companies like Jammit are making it easier to learn classic rock songs. Jammit is a music education application that lets you virtually practice and perform in the recording studio with your favorite artists. Using the original multi-track master recordings from such esteemed artist as with artists like Rush, Billy Joel, Foo Fighters, Allman Brothers Band, Grateful Dead, Yes and oodles more, you can examine every nuance of a selected performance and replace it with your own to effectively “join the band.” To get a good idea of how it works, check out Tommy DeCarlo and David Victor performing Boston’s “Rock and Band” using Jammit.
If you’re a drummer who sings, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the challenges involved in using a microphone. Boom stands are the usual solution, but they’re often misplaced, impractical in tight spots, and frequently an obstacle to your playing unless you tighten them up good and high and out of striking distance. The Clamp-It utilizes your boom stand by using a simple clamping system that attaches to the base of your drum throne, raising the stand up behind you. With the addition of a gooseneck, you can then suspend the vocal microphone over your head and out of the way. Singing drummers like Gregg Bissonette have been using the Clamp-It for years. And check out another singing drummer and inventor Danny Gonzalez talk about the Clamp-It, along with the brand-new QuickRack System that uses to Clamp-It parts for mounting hardware, accessories, drums and cymbals.
We saw the name Vintage Vibe and by virtue of association, just had to stop to take a look. Vintage Vibe electric pianos are hand-built to order in Rockaway, New Jersey. The action, tone and look are all inspired by the classic early 70s Fender Rhodes electric pianos. We saw three models: Vintage Vibe 44, a 35-pound 44-key compact; Vintage Vibe 64, described as the perfect balance of portability and playability; and Vintage Vibe 73, which is more of a traditional piano, but another lightweight. Rhodes introduced a similar looking Rhodes Mark 7 at NAMM in 2007, but the Vintage Vibes were the ones that caught our attention in 2013. Definitely a cool addition to any band that plays live regularly and wants that great Fender Rhodes sound without the bulk.
Onari specializes in a variety of guitar straps. The company is headed up by Richie Onori, a seasoned musician who currently plays drums with Sweet and Heaven & Earth. He’s also been actively involved with the music accessory industry for over 20 years, which led to the founding of his company. The Onari line boasts a number of designs including top grain leather, embroidered, sued leather, woven, printed, metal, etc. Onari is also the American distributor of Albion amplifiers. This year, we spoke to Richie Onari, along with members of Heaven & Earth, at his NAMM show booth. Addtionally, we spoke to producer Andy Johns at the 2011 NAMM show about Albion.
Along with everything else a musician has to worry about comes those little details often taken for granted — like cables and mounts. Stage Ninja has a few tricks up their sleeve when it comes to these sorts of items, like retractable instrument and XLR cable management systems your road crew (or maybe just you) will simply love. Then there’s the Scorpion Series™ mounts, which are modular goosenecks with industrial-steel clamps for holding everything from microphones and cameras to flashlights and iPads. In short, Stage Ninja helps you clean up your act in ways you never imagined.
There are so many guitar companies at NAMM, it all starts to becomes a big blur after a while. Fender, Taylor, Gibson and Peavey were off the main floor and upstairs with larger rooms of their own. Music Man is where they’ve always been, pretty much in the middle of the convention center. Along with the usual Ernie Ball strings and other products, they have expanded their arsenal with Sterling Guitars, a classy line with a beautiful John Petrucci (of Dream Theater) signature series. We’re talking enticing contours, some truly elegant finishes, maple necks and booming pickups. While Sterling Guitars are tricked out with plenty of high-end. in-house hardware, you can also get them with DiMarzio DP228 Crunch Lab and DP227 LiquiFire John Petrucci Humbuckers to enhance your sound. Check out this interview with Sterling Guitars’ Brian Martin to learn more.
Mey Chair Systems
You may be playing standing room only (SRO) gigs, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a seat. Mey Chair Systems has everyone on stage covered. Your drummer will be in throne heaven with one of Mey’s stylish, contoured stools outfitted with accessory attachments, so sticks, brushes, cups, towels and tuning keys are all easily within reach. And for those on guitar, bass and brass, Mey’s Sit-Stands offer a comfy solution for relieving fatigue whilst keeping you upright. They even have guitar and trumpet holders you can attach! meyamerica.com
It doesn’t get any more vintage than this. The Mellotron has, of course, added its orchestral allure to some of the greatest records in history, the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever,” the Moody Blues’ “Nights In White Satin” and King Crimson’s “In the Court Of The Crimson King,” among them. The polyphonic tape-based replay keyboard fell out of style and out of production for a few years, but has made a bit of a resurgence, largely thanks to Markus Resch, who has brought meticulously hand-built Mellotrons back to the marketplace. The Mellotron Mk VI, in production since 1999, replicates the sound of flutes, violins and cellos recorded on three tracks of a 3/8” wide magnetic tape. All these sounds and more from the complete and original Mellotron sound library can be mixed and balanced to create your own barrage of vintage sounds.
If Rock-Tips had been around 30 years ago, I might have become a guitar player. Rock-Tips is pitched as a new approach to the age-old problem of dealing with painful fingertips as you develop calluses when you first learn to play the guitar. You simply apply a dab of the Rock-Tips formula to your fingertips and it creates a thin, protective membrane that allows you to play longer without the pain and build your natural guitar calluses up faster. The non-toxic formula can stay on your fingertips for up two days of active playing, but will also easily wash off with soap and warm water — for those after-show moments when building calluses is something you can take a break from.
With the invasion of drum makers on the NAMM showroom floor, it’s a real challenge to distinguish yourself from the masses. Peace Drums came to our attention when we noticed the intricate hieroglyphics that adorn their shells, conveying the sort of attention to detail that's essential to a well-crafted drum. We took a closer look. According to their website, the company distributes its nameplate, which also includes a vast selection of parts, accessories and percussion products, to six continents and over 100 countries. When it comes to their drums, Peace uses premium grade hardwoods, high purity metals, and space age composites, while implementing computer aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM). Most importantly, the drums we heard sound great. There are many choices when it comes to drums and percussion. All we are saying is give Peace Drums a chance.
Orange Amplification has had a long presence at NAMM, with a reputation for being a unique, vintage style tube amp with a stylish, orange look. Jimmy Page's rig from the O2 Led Zeppelin reunion show in 2007 featured an array of Orange amps, altered somewhat with the “AN” on the amp head covered up so it read “ORGE,” which reportedly amused the guitarist to no end. One of Page’s favorite newer guitarists, Scott Holiday of Rival Sons, one of our favorite newer “vintage rock” bands, also has a backline of Orange amps. At NAMM, the company was showing off an upgrade to their popular two-channel OR100 amp, which will scale up to 100 watts of what many artists describe as ‘the holy grail’ of tones. They also had the Custom Shop 50 amp, which switches between two modes — 50 watts class A/B and 30 watts class A. You can bet these babies go to 11. Well, at least on our list.
~ Shawn Perry