We Got The Beat
It's been a month since the 2014 NAMM Show blasted its way through Anaheim, CA. For my part, the videos and photos have been posted, so all that’s left is the gear and a final analysis. This year, I didn't scour the showroom floor for miscellaneous products. No, as a drummer, my eyes were set on drums and drum-related products. Still, it being NAMM, I couldn't help but notice a couple of guitars, microphones and the world's most popular camera I could include.
Below are 10 companies with a presence at NAMM. Some make one product, some have multiple lines. Vintage Rock interviewed representatives from three companies below (you'll see the links), plus Anvil Cases, Sterling Guitars, Fender, Peace Drums, Pioneer and Bohemian Guitars. What I saw barely touches the surface of what there is at NAMM. But if you're looking for something specific, it's nice to know your needs can be met.
Samson started out with wireless microphone systems in 1980. Since then, they have diversified into an industry leader in audio, wireless and bass amplification. At NAMM, I checked out any number of microphones, but zeroed in on the Stage v266 Dual Headset Wireless System, which lets you use two microphones simultaneously with a single receiver. Playing in a band with multiple singers, one of whom is a drummer, makes this system a desirable option. Many of the microphones Samson introduced at NAMM were computer-based, designed for recording and conferencing applications, like the Meteorite USB Condenser Microphone and the Go Mic Beaming Portable OSB Condenser Microphone, which you can attach to your Mac or PC to integrate with Skype and FaceTime. A full line of speakers, amplifiers, mixers, Bluetooth-friendly PA systems and MIDI controllers round out Samson’s products for 2014.
It goes without saying that Martin makes some of the finest acoustic guitars in the world. Case in point: Artist relations coordinator Scott Follweiler showed us the Eric Clapton OM-ECHF Navy Blues Model, the third in a series of collaborations between the company, Clapton and the guitarist’s associate Hiroshi Fujiwara. This edition incorporates a longer 25.4" scale than previous ECHF models for added string tension and tonal projection. The neck and body are lacquered and polished with a striking dark navy coloration combined with East Indian rosewood on the back and sides, plus a European spruce soundboard. Each guitar bears an interior label, individually numbered and personally signed by Eric Clapton, Hiroshi Fujiwara, Dick Boak and C. F. Martin IV. With an MSRP of $6,999, quantities are limited to 181 guitars. It’s likely sold out by the time of this reading, but it doesn't hurt to look.
Regal Tip drum sticks are known primarily for their innovative nylon tips, invented by the company’s founder Joe Calato in 1958. As a professional drummer and woodworker, he created a stick that lasted longer and created a new sound. The wood and the famous Regal Tip P.E.F. finish are major factors in Regal Tip’s success. The feel of the finish not only gives me a firmer grip of the stick; it adds a significant degree of comfort to my overall playing as well. Whether you’re using a thin E Series 7A stick with the patented E-Tip technology (my choice), the wood tip, beefier Classic Series Q3000 stick that Vintage Rock correspondent Junkman plays with, or any of the signature Performer Series sticks imprinted with names like Alex Van Halen and Brian Tichy — Regal Tip, based in Niagara Falls, NY, and operated by Calato family members, is pretty much where it begins and ends with reliable drum sticks.
We did come across a rather interesting alternative to the common, everyday wood drum stick: Techra polymer carbon drum sticks. The company lists balance, control, stiffness, vibration absorption and high durability as the five principle benefits of their carbon stick. Moreover, the Italian-made sticks utilize what they call an “anti-vibration device” that apparently reduces the usual vibrations associated with wood sticks. The pair of Carbon Pro 5A sticks I received were a little thicker and heavier than my usual Regal Tips, but they were solid on the skins and comparable to sticks in their weight, class and dimensions. Doesn’t seem like they’d break or wear out as easily as wood sticks, but you should never under-estimate the power of a heavy hitter.
Audiofly’s premium in-ear headphones are for music lovers and musicians. To underscore the company’s emphasis on getting the right fit with your headphones, they have introduced a Replacement Tips program for customers who register newly purchased Audiofly headphones. Note your preferred tip size, and you’re entitled to two free pairs of replacement tips. According to Audiofly CEO Dave Thompson, correctly fitting your ear tips to get a solid ear canal seal is essential to a great listening experience. Without a proper seal, the sound suffers and too much outside noise interferes with your music enjoyment. We were fortunate to be able to try two different Audiofly models of in-ear headphones: The best in class AF33s and the AF56. Our staff member said the AF33 was like having a concert in your head, and she loved how the control button allowed her to pause songs for phone calls. The AF56 features a Clear-Talk Mic for Apple and Android devices, and also features the control button to pause music for calls. The Audioflex braided cable doesn’t tangle like regular polyethylene or PVC cable, and it’s more durable, too. There’s definitely something to the whole tips concept, because the snug fit locked in the music, driven by 13mm drivers. The AF56 comes in four color colors: Edison Black, Vino, Blue Tweed and, our favorite for obvious reasons, Vintage White. By far, the best in-ear headphones I’ve heard (and I’ve tried a few at previous NAMM and Consumer Electronics Shows).
Drum Workshop (DW)
In 30 years, DW drums, pedals and hardware have become the most sought-after and revered in the percussion world. Everyone from Ringo Starr to Neil Peart to Dave Grohl is playing DW, a testament to the company’s reputation in professional drumming circles. Founder and president Don Lombardi inadvertently started DW in 1972 when he opened a small teaching studio in Santa Monica, CA, where he offered private lessons and monthly workshops. John Good, DW’s Vice President, came aboard after being hired as a part-time sales manager. Together, Lombardi and Good began developing drum products, beginning with a height-adjustable trap-case seat. Successful sales lead to expansion of their product line, first with bass drum pedals, including industry-changing double bass drum pedals, then onto other hardware such as the remote cable 5502LB hi-hat stand. By the 80s, DW Drums were in full production, and by the early 90s, pros like Tommy Lee and Jim Keltner were endorsing them. The company continues to innovate in areas of materials, new technologies and cutting-edge finishes to make everything look good. At NAMM, we got a glimpse of the Collector's Series® Icon™ snare drums honoring Neil Peart of Rush, Roger Taylor of Queen, and Nick Mason of Pink Floyd, configured to each artist’s size and dimensions, and highlighted with laser-cut finishes and hand-inlays from a variety of exotic wood veneers. Peart's drum features the Time Machine motif, Taylor’s dons Queen’s ornate, Freddie Mercury-designed crest, and Mason’s carries Pink Floyd’s the Dark Side Of The Moon prism and waveform image (check out the video of the three talking about their drums).On Media Day, Drummer Peter Erskine showed us DW’s Frequent Flyer kit, designed specifically to the weight and dimension requirements of airlines, so drummers don’t have to pay extra shipping charges moving their drums from gig to gig. Erkine’s challenge to the DW team was to build a kit small enough for travel, but up to the company’s standard of what a “real” drum set should be. By all accounts, it looks to be another hit for DW. Today, DW is a premium brand with kits starting at around $2,000. Pacific Drums are DW’s more moderately priced drums, made in Mexico. They include many of DW’s standardized features without the customization. While I didn’t get a chance to test the goods at NAMM, I’m looking at putting together a four-piece DW Black Ice set in Standard Maple. Here’s hoping it won’t break the bank.
Like DW, Aquarian was started by two men — one a drummer, Roy Burns, and the other, Ron Marquez, with a vast background in high-tech manufacturing. They began in earnest with the Cymbal Spring, followed by the X-10 Graphite Drumsticks. From there, they developed drumheads, where they made a name for themselves with the Super-Kick™ bass drumhead. Whatever set I purchase, I’m going to put Aquarian Vintage™ Series drumheads all around to get that rich tone I like. Designed with the look, feel and warmth of a calfskin head, I put Deep Vintage II™ Series two-ply heads on my Gretsch toms and the punch, depth and resonance are astounding. To hear what these and other Aquarian drumheads sound like, check out Junkman’s interview with Aquarian’s Jamie Harris
During a NAMM press event, I was handed a packet of Drumtacs and wasn’t quite sure what to do next. Then I read the instructions, and they said Drumtacs are releasable, reusable, super tacky sound control pads. I’ve been looking for ways to dampen the sound on my rack tom, so I stuck a Drumtac on, about an inch from the rim as directed, and viola!, I noticed a deeper, more pronounced tone without the excessive ring. I stuck two on my floor tom, and the boom is definitely beefier. You can also stick Drumtacs on cymbals to alter tones, shades and frequencies.
Wilson Guitars Ventures
One of the people I met at NAMM was Tim Wilson, whose father Don is the sole original member left in the Ventures, the best-selling instrumental guitar group in the world. He told me to check out Wilson Guitar Ventures, which he started with his father. Essentially, the guitars are built to the specs of what Don Wilson and the other Ventures play, inspired by the Mosrite and Fender guitars the group endorsed in the 60s and 70s. There’s a full crop of customized guitars and basses in red, white and blue. Collectors will like the Ventures Five-0 Guitar Package that includes a Ventures “Strat-style” guitar, amp, cable, strap, gig bag, picks and tuner. And, of course, the Ventures logo is prominently displayed to verify authenticity.
One of my last stops at NAMM was at a company’s exhibit I didn’t expect to see: GoPro. Here’s an organization whose impact on user-based live-action video has sent shockwaves throughout the world. Unexpected, yes, but I wasn’t surprised to see GoPro dipping their toe in the music world. At NAMM, they introduced the HERO3+® Black Edition/Music bundle, a musician-focused version of its HERO3+Black Edition camera with loads of extras, including clamps and mounts for positioning the camera on instruments, turntables, mic stands and other stage equipment. Musicians can access the GoPro App on a mobile device to control the camera if it’s mounted out of reach, and they can tap into GoPro’s free editing software, GoPro Studio, for editing videos for YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms. GoPro CEO Nick Woodman says, “Music is a big part of our inspiration here at GoPro and we’re fired up to help musicians of all levels capture and share their passion with the world.” Kind of makes you wonder where GoPro plans to go next…