The good news is that NAMM keeps growing. The better news is that the amount of gear, well, geared to the modern guitarist is growing as well. This year, Anaheim featured a plethora of pedals that made new and glorious noises, a far cry from your standard Tube Screamer and Klon clones (though there were some great versions of the latter from J. Rockett). Also in evidence were unique guitars that managed to look both modern and retro. Hall E, always the land of new ideas good and bad, this time served up some really good ones.
The only bad news was how difficult it was for my one-man show to cover even the equipment of interest to Guitar Moderne readers. Premier Guitar and Guitar Player offer access to much of what I missed, but here is what I found to be the best of the rest.
Nick Reinhart shows what you can do with some Red Panda pedals and a Line 6 DL-4. Check out the color coordinated strap, sneakers and pedal. The man is talented and stylin’.
The big news in guitars was the Vox Starstream, which we previewed before NAMM. It looked well made in person, and felt good to play. You can’t hear anything at NAMM, so I will reserve reviewing it until I can get hold of one.
This is a much better video than the Vox site’s demo video; you can infer possibilities for more imaginative uses. Expected to be in stores May of 2016, Starstream Type-1 will be available in five color options for $799.99.
Ernie Ball Music Man had the St. Vincent Signature model on display and Annie Clark on hand to discuss it.
The St. Vincent model is made in the company’s San Luis Obispo, California factory. It features an African mahogany body, Ernie Ball Music Man tremolo; gunstock oil, hand-rubbed rosewood neck and fingerboard with St. Vincent inlays, Schaller locking tuners, and a 5-way pick up selector with custom configuration (bridge, middle, neck, all three, bridge and neck) that choses among 3-mini humbuckers, all for $1899. Can’t wait to get one in for review.
Eastman had a thinline archtop that combined vintage craftsmanship with a thoroughly modern look in the Otto D’Ambrosio designed ER4. It sports a lower bout width of 16″ and a body depth of 2.25.” At under two grand, like most Eastman guitars, it is a steal.
Reverend debuted the Billy Corgan signature model. Its raised center section has thinner wings and strategic chambers under the pickguard to add resonance and reduce weight. A string-thru body bridge provides sustain and percussive attack and the Railhammer Billy Corgan Signature Pickups cross P90 snap with humbucker chunk, but with no hum. And, let’s face it, that segmented aluminum pickguard is cool.
Two French lines shared a booth and showed off some interesting designs. Sauvage displayed a model that had the vibe of a vintage Bugatti, and, at $66,882, the price tag to match.
The Wild Custom line showed off some “steam-punk” designs. They still weren’t cheap but you might not have to own an island to afford them.
Looking for a National or Dobro sound but want something modern looking? Rayco has just the thing.
The Fret King Ventura had a space-age look at a reasonable price of around $800.
Premier Builders Guild, a long time sponsor of Guitar Moderne, seems to have split up. Saul Koll had his own booth, where he showed a gorgeous three gold foil pickup model,
Hagstrom showed their new (old) Retroscape series, which should bring back memories in older players. They will also pique the interest of modern players, who will appreciate plenty of room to play behind the bridge and the myriad sounds available from the six switches.
Hall E saw plenty of stomp box action from cutting edge builders and a pair of performances by pedal master Nick Reinhart.
Rainger FX took the prize for the coolest looking pedal with the Dr Freakenstein Fuzz and its Frankenstein’s laboratory throw switch.
For those who want the Freakenstein sound but are willing to forgo the switch in favor of more pedalboard space, there is the Dr Freakenstein Dwarf shown here with the Air Space Invader.
The Air Space invader is a smaller version of the Air traffic Controller, a distortion to which you can add white noise either with an onboard knob or Rainger’s new pressure sensitive disc. The disc can be used to modify parameters of their other pedals as well.
Minor Concussion is a volume ducker that can be controlled by tap tempo, CV input or a microphone stuck in front of a bass drum.
Earthquaker Devices was showing their new Acapulco Gold, a boost distortion, and the Bows germanium booster with a Black Glass OC139 transistor. They also debuted the Bellows Fuzz, and the Spires dual fuzz, which combines a Rosac nu-fuzz style side with a silicon Fuzz Face based side. Their new Grey Channel is like two DOD 250s in one box, while the Spatial Delivery envelope filter sported a cool sample and hold function.
The Nightwire is a harmonic tremolo/vibrato with dynamic control, and the Avalanche Run delay sports reverse and swell modes, auto oscillate, and tap tempo.
Source Audio showed the Nemesis delay last year, but this highly anticipated pedal is finally shipping. It features a 56-bit signal path with a 24-bit delay line. Various settings include: Shifter, for polyphonic pitch jumps; Sweeper for modulating filter effects; Helix, which combines reverse patterns and pitch shifting; and Rhythmic for non-standard multi-tap delay patterns. The pedal offers full MIDI control and deep editing capabilities via the Neuro Mobile App. You also can store up to eight presets onboard. The tap tempo switch doubles as a hold control, which freezes a portion of the delay in a loop. There is much, more, but suffice to say—Strymon watch out.
Boss brought back the VB-2 Vibrato pedal in their new Waza guise as the VB-2W. Its all-analog bucket brigade circuitry offers the same warble as the original, and it can be switched to Custom Mode for a new filter wave. Additions like Latch mode and an expression pedal input bring it into the modern era. $200 isn’t cheap, but originals are going for between $400 and $500 on eBay.
Their new Vocoder pedal supplies classic vocoding sounds, along with some new twists.
While I wasn’t looking, DigiTech has become one of the hipper pedal manufacturers around, thanks to effect guru Tom Cram. Of course, they have always had the Lexicon-based loopers, but more recently they have been doing things like the Trio, which creates backing tracks from simple strumming of your guitar. The Trio+ now combines looping and tracks. It can learn up to five song parts, and features a Simple Bass button to select busy or simple bass lines. The plus version also allows you to loop and custom sequence your looped guitar parts with unlimited overdubs. Loops can be recorded either by themselves, or along with the “band.” You can apply built-in effects to the guitar signal or connect your own pedals to the TRIO+’s send and return jacks. Up to 12 songs along with loops can be stored to the pedal’s Micro SD Card (included).
The new Digitech effects pedals sport some cool graphics and sounds. The Polara Reverb offers seven Lexicon algorithms including the Halo with cascading octaves.The Obscura Altered delay’s Lexicon algorithms pack an amazing amount of features into a small footprint.
Ventura Vibe has Vintage Modern and Rotary settings and can change speed by just holding down the on/off switch.
Catalinbread showed the SFT overdrive, offering a Stones-y style grit, while a new “Stoner” mode provides higher gain tones.
The CSIDMAN is pronounced “discman, ” recalling the digital skipping of the old Sony Discman. A latch control introduces random glitching effects.
The Bicycle Delay is a lo-fi pitch modulation delay with filters for the delays that put it firmly in the electronic mode.
Chase Bliss showed a new MIDI controllable analog delay: Tonal Recall.
All their pedals are MIDI controllable through a specially modified Empress MIDIBox.
Old Blood Noise Endeavors showed an interesting effect, the Dark Star Pad Reverb.
TC Electronic’s new Ditto X4 adds some new twists looping.
Neunaber’s new Immerse reverb offers many of the sounds coveted by Robben Ford, David Torn and John Scofield in a small footprint pedal.
Perhaps most exciting new product in this category was Earthquaker’s first amplifier, the Class A Sound Projector 25. This head is a perfect pedal platform, with basic controls and 25 watts of loud tube amp power. It allows you to bias your own output tubes: 6L6, 5881, or EL34. It also has a switchable clean boost on the back. And, it is awesome looking.
Vox Nutube Guitar Amplifier goes from 5-150 watts using Nutube technology for tube reactiveness but light weight. With all the issues around vintage tube production, this could be the future. Plus it looks modern, felt pretty good to play, and has a cool recessed handle.
I had my first experience with Victory Amps amps, the brainchild of Martin Kidd formerly of Cornford. The 40-watt Duchess sounded great and seemed like an impeccable pedal platform for the modern guitarist.
The Big Joe Stomp Box people were showing some interesting power supplies. The small, rechargeable Power Box displays current draw, charge status, and available time remaining.
Their new PB-106 Power Box offers something different in the form of a USB power port for the modern iPad wielding guitarist. This, is in addition to twelve 9 volt 500 mA power outs.
Boss showed a smaller five-switch version of their new effects switcher.
As I’ve often mentioned, Hall E can be where good ideas are birthed and a company aptly named ideaBench was showing a couple of them. One was a simple small footprint switcher, with remote loops called Switcheroo.
By splitting the switching from the controller you don’t need to have a big switching unit in the middle of your pedalboard. You can mount the switcher on top and the switching underneath to get more room on your board for pedals. You can also use one foot controller to operate switchers on different pedalboards. The switchers are sonically transparent using studio grade components. A computer app let’s you quickly configure everything.
Their other idea was a multi level, curved, modular pedalboard. The semi-circle shape makes it easy to step on any pedal. The design lets you flip the pedals up, not over, to access the wiring—like raising an auto hood. No more risking broken pots. Two pedalboards become one with easy interconnect wiring and the extension bracket (included).
The Planet Waves brand is being phased out and brought under the D’Addario umbrella, but they keep coming up with the kind of usable accessories you didn’t realize you needed. A new humidifier, Humiditrak uses a Bluetooth sensor to provide a constant stream of temperature, humidity and impact data (as in the airline dropping it) to the free smart phone app and alerts you of hazardous conditions.
The sudden adoption of headstock tuners, considered dorky all through my youth, continues to mystify me—unless it is to fit more pedals on the board. The new NS Micro Soundhole Tuner, lets you tune your acoustic more discreetly than ever.
Esteemed sponsor, Red Panda Labs didn’t show a new effect pedal but had some potentially useful peripherals, like their stylish new Bit Mixer. A small, high-quality mixer designed for pedalboards, it features ultra-low distortion, and low-noise Burr-Brown op amps. Its high-impedance inputs are designed for guitar, but work with line-level signals as well. Each input has a volume knob that goes from off to unity gain. The Bit Mixer is always on when power is connected. An internal LED is visible below the power jack. Potential uses include: connecting multiple instruments to one amp, combining parallel effects chains, clean blend or analog dry path, and taming overly gain-y pedals. Their new Bit Buffer is a tiny (2” x 1.5”) buffer that uses an ultra-low distortion, low-noise Burr-Brown op amp. Placed at the beginning of the pedal chain it will prevent high-frequency loss (tone suck).
NAMM wouldn’t be NAMM without the people watching.
Modern music is growing
Jimmy Vivino flashes cash, ready to buy, in the Asher booth.
Juan Alderete in the Earthquaker booth.
And finally: speaking of steam punk, the $6000 Z.Vex Candela Vibrophase is right out of the genre and all kinds of awesome.