The 2015 Winter NAMM show in Anaheim, California was more crowded than in years. The main trend, guitar-wise, seemed to be custom guitars that recalled old Harmonys, Silvertones, and oddball Italian or Japanese instruments; not forward thinking—but definitely cool. Also plentiful, as we shall see, were “freak-out fuzz pedals.”
The best in show from a modernist standpoint would have to be the GTC Sound Innovations Rev Pad. This Israeli offering may or may not see wide scale production and distribution, but this touchpad control of a dedicated multi-effect system—one that also offers expression outputs to control external effects—was the most interesting new concept on display.
If their Gemini Chorus, Kingmaker Fuzz, Lunar Phaser, and (Strymon-hunting) Nemesis Delay had been mere repackaging of classic, albeit great sounding, effects, they would have been far from newsworthy. But, though the housings might be standard looking, the effects are far from standard. Each pedal sports a USB port to access their free Neuro Effects Editor.
This software for Mac and Windows, offers extra adjustable parameters and allows users to edit, save, and share presets with others in the Neuro community. But wait, there’s more: these stomp boxes are all MIDI programmable through the Soundblox Hub and compatible with the Neuro App for iOS and Android, which allows editing, downloading, and sharing of presets without a laptop.
We count on Keith McMillen for innovative products—and this year was no exception. His new K-Mix looks to be a must have for the growing number of modern guitarists who incorporate a mixer in their rig. It is an 8 in x 10 out, audio interface and programmable mixer, with two ultra accurate, low noise μPre preamps, and a precision opto-tactile control surface that can be easily transported without the fear of breaking off faders or knobs.
We previewed Paul Vo’s amazing Acoustic Guitar Synthesizer a while back. This year the inventor of the Moog Guitar debuted a new product, the Vo Wand, poised to make EBow fans salivate. This device, held like a pen or pencil, performs the basic EBow function of infinitely sustaining any string it is held over, but offers much more. It will be easier to skip from string to string, the harmonics and timbre will change as you move closer to and farther from the bridge. You can also change the harmonics and power by squeezing harder. And, check out the haptic vibration and morphing features!
Fuzz has truly come into its own, with dozens of new flavors on display. Earthquaker Devices was showing two new fuzz pedals: the Park Fuzz Sound: developed in conjunction with Mitch Colby’s revived Park Amplification company; and the Fuzzmaster General: Earthquaker’s take on the vintage Ace Tone Fuzz Master FM-2 Professional fuzz machine. Also on display were updates of their Hummingbird tremolo, and Sea Machine chorus.
TheRed Panda Raster pedal was in prototype at the show. It will be a delay with pitch shifting integrated into the feedback loop, and will offer a harmonized delays, reverse delays, chorus, arpeggios, infinite descents, self-oscillation, and continuously evolving soundscapes—all the stuff we find so irresistible.
Electro-Harmonix pioneered the fuzz pedal and their latest offering in that area is the Octavix, a classic octave fuzz. Truly exciting, though, was the Super Pulsar Stereo Tap Tremolo. It features adjustable sine, triangle, and pulse waveforms, tap tempo and tap divide, plus user creatable rhythmic patterns that can be stored and recalled. You can save eight presets and modify them with expression control over Rate, Depth, Shape, Phase or Volume.
Connecting to iPads and iPhones is becoming an essential part of any modern guitarist’s process. The most exciting development in this area was the iConnectAUDIO4 interface for iOS/Mac/PC. It supports two computers simultaneously, and allows you to plug everything into one interface: computers and iOS devices, high-res audio, MIDI, USB, 5-pin MIDI, mics, instruments, speakers, and headphones. You can make your iPad a touch-controlled plug-in in your DAW, send dozens of MIDI and digital audio channels back and forth between two computers, or run and record your entire studio from your iOS/PC/Mac by itself.
Filter freaks will love the Warm Star Shape Shift Mountain Filter and LFO. It sounded gorgeous, even under NAMM conditions, and offers the legendary SSM2044 chip, expression pedal control over LFO amount, rate and cutoff, CV inputs for rate and cutoff, LFO CV out, and more.
The Dreadbox Epsilon is another analog filter pedal, one that includes distortion to bring out the frequencies, an envelope generator for any CV Input, a state variable resonating filter, and a momentary gate activation switch that should provide some unique effects.
Mike Beigel, the inventor of the original Mu-Tron filter, has revived the line under the rubric Mu-FX. He showed the Tru-Tron 3X Filter and the Octave Divider.
Fans of WMD’s Geiger Counter will be please to hear the ultimate wave distortion pedal is closer to being available in programmable form with the new Geiger Counter Pro. Also check out the new Super Fatman filter with modular synth routing.
Catalinbread had a slew of new pedals. Of most interest to GM readers is the Antichthon. Designed to be controlled from your guitar’s volume knob, it has dynamic fuzz tremolo, where you can alter the speed and the sound of the tremolo by turning your guitar’s volume knob. It will self-oscillate or can be just cool harmonic fuzz drive.
Mantic Effects was new to NAMM and I almost missed them, as they were hidden in one of the modular synth areas (yes, there were more than one—modular synths are officially back). Fortunately someone told me to go check out their pedals and I found the Flex Pro Fuzz: a fuzz combined with filtering. It has a filter range selector, a variable speed LFO for tracking modulation, and is approved by power pedal abusers like Nick Reinhardt and Adrian Belew.
Continuing the theme of extreme fuzz manglers is the Electrofaustus Guitar Disruptor.
Another freaky fuzz was at the Animal Factory Amplification booth. The Bombay, India company creates interesting and gorgeously housed pedals. The Animal Three: Claustrophobia creates sounds as wild and weird as its OCD engraved casing.
Fans of the Edge and Daniel Lanois will covet the Korg SDD-3000, a pedal version of the rack digital delay that figures heavily in the sounds of the aforementioned pair.
If you sing or work with a singer, and would like to share your effects with the vocals, Z.Vex debuted the Pedal Thief, a loop with an XLR input for your guitar.
One of the few non-retro guitar offerings at the show was the from Relish Guitars of Switzerland. No normal 3-way-switch for them; an LED-lit touch-sensor system hidden below the wood veneer allows you to select pickups or mute the guitar entirely. It might be a gimmick were it not for its smooth operation, and the general playability and quality sound of the instrument. Unfortunately for Relish and a couple more Swiss builders at the show, the Swiss currency had just been de-regulated and these babies were expensive.
If a classic LP-type instrument is what you crave and you don’t want to pay for historic branding, Godin showed some gorgeous instruments in this mode, with posh inset knobs, 24 ¾” scale, Spanish cedar bodies and mahogany set neck. Add the Godin High-Definition Revoicer system that lets you to go from passive to active pickups with the push of a button, and P-Rails, which select among humbucker, single-coil or P90 tones, and you have a great-looking, reasonably priced workhorse instrument. Did I mention they are chambered? No chiropractor bills here.
Baritone instruments are popular with modern guitarists like Tim Motzer, Stian Westerhus, and Eivind Aarset. Reverend debuted their version this year: the Descent. It sports a 26-3/4″ scale neck and strategically positioned Railhammer Gnarly 90 Bridge and Tel 90 Neck pickups. Reverend’s custom SIT .012-.068 gauge string set (available separately) features a plain 3rd for easy bending.
Modern guitarists often prefer plenty of headroom in their amplifiers to best support a variety of pedals, which often means a large, heavy head or combo. Fortunately Demeter has turned his Mightie Minnie into the Demeter TGA-1-180D Head. The TGA-1 is all tube hand wired, with a special Jensen audio transformer controlling an audiophile Class D power amplifier. This little amp pumps 180 watts into 4 ohms, 100 watts into 8 ohms, or 60 watts into 16 ohms.
Plenty of headroom as well in the new Fender Hot Rod DeVille Michael Landau model, based on the 60-watt DeVille’s the L.A. guitar legend has been using. The Landau version has two basically clean channels with switchable boosts.
Don’t need quite so much headroom? Peavey’s tube amps have long been a secret weapon for guitarists wanting great tube sound on a budget. I got to try the Peavey Classic 20 Mini Head, and can attest it continues that sonic and economic tradition—and you can plug it straight into a DAW.
Boss had a treat for Eric Johnson fans. After unveiling the Blues Cube amp last year, they got the tone-meister himself to help them develop an Eric Johnson Blues Cube Tone Capsule that slots into a socket they had waiting in the back of the amp. Perhaps an Eivind Aarset Tone Capsule in the future? Who knows?
Pedalboard space conservation is always an issue. Half the size of a standard pedal, Dunlop’s new Cry Baby Mini Wah comes with a Fasel inductor, a full sweep range, three internally adjustable voicings, and features true bypass switching. They also introduced a Band of Gypsys version of the Fuzz Face.
Always kicking your pedals and throwing your settings off? Loknob offers knobs that lock in place, yet can be changed by just pulling them up and turning. A bit pricey, but if you need ’em, you need ’em.
Special thanks to the Dutch guys from Thunderplugs. The pair of their earplugs they gave me saved what was left of my hearing from the din of NAMM, and have helped me enjoy listening to and playing live music since. They are the first plugs I have tried that are comfortable affordable and really cut the frequencies evenly.
There was much more, but GM’s main focus is on the stuff of less interest to the traditionalists. You can find extensive coverage of all the guitars, pedals and amps at other guitar magazine sites and blogs.
Keep in mind, the joke at NAMM is that it stands for N(ot) A(vailable) M(aybe) M(arch or May). This is true for much of the above so subscribe to the manufacturers’ Facebook pages or sites for updates as to availability.
And now just for fun: