Moderating a 2017 NAMM panel on “The Future of Guitar.” And where are we today?
As expected, a lot of the angst and hand-wringing over the demise of the guitar—at least that which was promoted in the media over the past year—was pretty much dead wrong. Gibson appears to be reinventing itself with some savvy product moves, Fender is experiencing growth, PRS is super healthy, and other guitar companies are hardly whining in fear over evolving purchasing habits by experienced musicians and first-timers. Likewise, the technology, pedal, amp, and accessory categories appear to be rocking.
But this isn’t a scrupulously researched white paper on the music industry. This is just me talking to you. And I feel with every fiber of my being that guitar playing is still one of the absolute coolest things you can do as a human being. Beyond that, a simple spin through the music press and YouTube shows tons of new bands rocking guitars again. Furthermore, ridiculously intense technique is prized by many young guitarists, and the brainy stuff doesn’t appear to be appreciated solely by nerds, as some of those players are charting tens- to hundreds-of-thousands of YouTube views.
Yep. Guitars and guitarists are gonna do just fine. Let the pontificators write about Marvel versus DC films, politics, and the relationship dramas of reality stars and leave the guitar community to manage itself.
Which brings us to NAMM 2019, and the promise of another year of gear lust…
I haven’t stepped into the Anaheim Convention Center yet—this article was written before the January 24 opening of the show—but here is a short list of the gear I’m most excited to check out. All data has been collected from press releases sent my way, as well as from online research and pre-NAMM discussions with product managers and gear publicists. Here we go…
BOSS DC-2W Dimension C Waza Craft
BOSS didn’t give away much info before the show, and, truth be told, the Dimension C has been talked about since late last year. (Pre-orders are already available from the usual retail sites.) Furthermore, the hottest pre-NAMM news from BOSS is probably the Waza Tube Amp Expander. But I don’t have a personal need for the expander, as technologically fabulous as I’m sure it is. What I’m excited about is the Dimension C—partly because it’s a very cool effect, and partly due to nostalgia. In the very early ’80s, I was recording at a studio in Mill Valley, California, and the engineer put the electric bass through a Roland SDD-320 Dimension D. I was floored. Giddy, even. I couldn’t believe how awesome that sound was, and, of course, I wanted it on everything. Happily, the cooler heads of the engineer and producer prevailed over my youthful enthusiasm. But I hold that beguiling texture in my mind with great affection, so I can’t wait to hear the Waza Craft version. More BOSS news.
Electro-Harmonix Flatiron Fuzz
My first “solo boost” pedal was a 1979 The RAT, which, at the time, seemed impossibly loud whenever I stepped on it to take a lead. I remember shocking myself into a clam or two when the sudden volume increase of my guitar slammed against my ears. But that pedal had a soaring kind of gritty drone that sounded simultaneously brutal and beautiful. I’ve been a fuzz fanatic ever since. The Flatiron is EHX’s version of a RAT2—which I also owned—and I can’t wait to see how the company interpreted that feral buzz. More EHX news.
ESP Guitars Gary Holt Signature
I’ve loved white Les Pauls since seeing Steve Jones wield one with the Sex Pistols, but the ESP GH-600 Gary Holt Signature in its new Snow White finish and red binding is an even more stunning stunner. Playable art! More ESP News.
Fender Lost Highway Phaser
The Fender talk of the show is probably going to revolve around Jimmy Page’s iconic Telecaster recreations, but I’m thinking demand will make it brutally difficult to get either the Custom Shop or production model in your hands. So instead I will lust after something much more accessible—such as this lush phaser that reportedly emulates the sounds of the ’60s and ’70s. I trust Fender designer Stan Cotey, so I’m thinking my regret at selling my old army-green, cast-iron Ibanez phaser back in the 1970s will disappear after I hear this baby. More Fender news.
Gibson Limited Edition Chris Cornell Signature ES-335
It’s certainly great to have Gibson back at the NAMM Show—especially after the company filed for bankruptcy protection in May 2018. It’s also good that the brand appears to be following a “back to basics” approach (NO MORE ROBOT TUNERS!). That said, early reports have the lineup of classic Gibson designs costing a pretty penny. This one won’t be cheap, either, but, man, I just love the look of the olive-drab finish, Bigsby, and aged Lollartron pickups. More Gibson news.
Ibanez Andy Timmons ATZ100
Ibanez is unveiling some wonderful models this year—such as new signature guitars for Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Timothy Henson, and others—but I have to represent for the beautiful and talented human being that is Andy Timmons. Not that the other guys aren’t beauties themselves (they are), but Andy really came through for me last year when he performed at the Play It Forward benefit for musicians affected by the Northern California fires. But, loyalty aside, the ATZ100 boasts a roasted-maple neck, DiMarzio The Cruiser single-coils, and a Wilkinson-Gotoh tremolo bridge. Now, if only I could discover how he makes this thing sound so incredible. More Ibanez news.
IK Multimedia AXE I/O
It’s no secret these days that the guitar tracks we make at home can end up on pro-studio productions, so crap interfaces are not an option. The AXE I/O is a multi-featured interface that allows easy reamping (yay!), two guitar inputs, two XLR inputs, a groovy Z-Tone feature for crafting/refining your input signal, and a boatload of cool models via the included AmpliTube 4 Deluxe software. More IK news.
Knaggs Limited Edition Rocket Packages/Apollo Series
The folks at Knaggs really cooked up something celestially spectacular for their tenth birthday this year—especially as their anniversary also coincides with the 50th anniversary of the 1969 moon landing. A limited run of 50 guitars will include a custom-designed “Rocket Package” by Joe Knaggs and Pearl Works Inlays that is a fabulous work of art. There’s a complete Saturn V lift-off portrayed on the fretboard, as well as a full moon on the headstock and an astronaut on the truss-rod cover. The package is probably going to be quite costly—though not as expensive as a moon launch (even in 1969 dollars)—but while Knaggs is offering the Rocket Package on its Severn X, Tuckahoe, Kenai, Chena, and Sheyenne designs, it is also available on the company’s more-affordable T1, T2, and T3 instruments. More Knaggs news.
MXR Dookie Overdrive (Maybe?)
Green Day guitarist/vocalist Billie Joe Armstrong leaked this pedal on Instagram, so it’s probably a real thing, but we don’t know if it will be previewed at NAMM, or actually released at NAMM. Wily! Theories are running rampant, but as 2019 is the 25th anniversary of the Dookie album, and Armstrong reportedly used a Marshall plexi reissue (called “Pete”) at the time, it makes sense to go along with the overdrive-pedal assumption. Whatever the reality and/or delivery date might be, this would definitely be a pretty fun and raging little box. More MXR news.
Super portable rigs for fly gigs and other mobile-music situations are popular tools for obvious reasons. (I mean, really, who enjoys explaining to the TSA peeps that all of those strange boxes mounted on a metal board and hidden in your carry-on luggage are extremely safe music-making devices?) The Neuron may not negate any security concerns if it’s found in your briefcase, but at least it’s small enough to fit in your briefcase, and it’s likely all you’ll need to play television shows, sessions, and concerts. This one stompbox offers a guitar preamp, a speaker simulator, 3-band EQ, a compressor, a noise gate, six presets, and even MIDI control (if you dare add a MIDI controller to your carry-on stuff). Grab a guitar, a cord, a headstock tuner, and the Neuron, and you’ll sound as if you were plugged into a mammoth amp rig—even though the “rig” fits into a one-quart-sized Baggie. More Neunaber news.
NEXI Industries Orianthi and Ace (Skunk Anansie) Signature Pedals
Are you hip to The Solution pedalboard? I’m a huge fan. It’s a tough, integrated pedalboard where you plug pedals into slots that route their signals and provide power. No need for messy cables or 9-volt batteries or power blocks with wires snaking around your stompboxes. There’s also an onboard tuner. The portability of The Solution is tops! That said, at present, a vote for The Solution means that you have to buy into the NEXI pedals that are expressly made to fit into those cagey little slots. I didn’t have a problem with most of the reverbs, delays, and modulation effects, but some of the overdrive and distortion/fuzz pedals were just too much of a compromise to use onstage. So it’s a very savvy move indeed for NEXI to seek out professional guitarists to help voice the next generation of pedals. I can’t wait to see how this all plays out, because the pedalboard itself is pure genius. More NEXI news.
PRS SE Santana Singlecut Trem
I know Paul Reed Smith himself may get kinda crabby about this, but excepting a neon-green S2 Mira (because, well, neon-freaking green), the only PRS models I own are budget SE models. Why wouldn’t I? The SE line boasts super-high quality craftsmanship with great tone and excellent playability. So, thanks Mr. Smith, but I’ll save some money for a Paris vacation, and take one of your SEs any day. After all, PRS certainly isn’t all possessive about keeping its kick-ass designs in the high-priced line. For example, check out this beautiful SE Santana in gold leaf that’s based on the model from the uber-expensive, uber-luxury Private Stock collection. Gotta love such a bounty of awesomeness. More PRS news.
Supro David Bowie 1961 Duo Tone
I loved David Bowie. His music, charisma, and ever-changing image helped me come to terms with what I needed to do to pursue my adoration of music—a quest that was not easy for a kid born into a middle-class Italian family with parents who survived the Depression and World War II. So I pretty much buy anything that says “Bowie” on it. (Is that wrong?) But I don’t think this Supro is just a pretty thing to hang on a wall. The company has stayed true to the original vintage model that Bowie played on 2003’s Reality album and tour, but added refinements such as Supro Vistatone humbuckers (voiced to Bowie’s fave sound), a set neck, and a Tune-o-Matic bridge. But I must admit that even if it didn’t have those features, the Bowie insignia on the headstock would probably win me over. Some things never change… More Supro news.
Tech 21 Paul Landers PL1 Signature Fly Rig
Every since Tech 21 released its first Fly Rig in 2014, I haven’t been able to stop blathering to anyone who will listen about how brilliant the whole concept is. I mean, these suckers are small! So, duh, you get great tone with minimal hassles in a chassis that can fit into my wife’s medium-sized purse. (Not that I’d ever ask her to carry a Fly Rig for me, so—check that—let’s say it will fit into my messenger bag.) I do love the glorious “Monkees Red” Richie Kotzen RK5 Fly Rig, but I’m most jazzed about the Paul Landers (of Rammstein fame) because it fits my rather simple needs for two sounds and a lead boost. Plus, how can I not love the German-language tribute with a clean channel called “Wasser” and a dirty channel titled “Feuer.” I also get multiple signal boosts/cuts (including a groovy midrange boost), an onboard tuner, and delay, vibrato, and ambience effects. So rockin’! More Tech 21 news.
Vox Mini SuperBeetle Union Jack
I want it! I want it! I want it! C’mon—isn’t this thing just too groovy? Yeah, it’s cute and all, but it also puts out 50-watts through a single 10″ Celestion, and emulates classic AC30-styled tones via Vox’s analog NuTone circuitry. There’s even that oh-so-Beatle-y chrome stand. Did I mention that I want it, I want it, I want it? More Vox news.
GOING TO A SHOW, SHOW…
As I put this wish list together from pre-NAMM press releases and web-news items, I was limited to product news that manufacturers allowed to be shared before the convention kicked off on January 24. So I am missing companies I definitely want to check out, such as Reverend Guitars, Mono Cases, Line 6, Robert Keeley Engineering, Gretsch, Rivolta, Yamaha, Daisy Rock, Schecter, Mesa/Boogie, HeadRush, Orange, Ernie Ball Music Man, Taylor Guitars, and so many others. Please standby for my POST-NAMM report, where I will pick my top faves from the show.