NAMM 2018 was even bigger than last year, yet much more manageable. The brand new ACC (Anaheim Convention Center) North building housed most of the high tech and pro audio stuff, allowing guitars and related products to be centralized in one area on the main floor of the original building. NAMM further reduced the spread by offering the new boutique manufacturers—previously relegated to downstairs Hall E—smaller, more affordable booths in the main guitar product ghetto. Thus, I was able to cover the show in two relaxed, rather than three grueling, days.
The new AAC North building
Guitar Moderne was conceived as a curation site, and, though I provide original interviews and reviews, I am not able to bring multiple video crews to the show. I have instead brought together some of the best videos of the products that I feel are most interesting to the modern guitarist. As always, for lots more traditional gear coverage please visit the channels of the people whose videos I posted.
Pedal mistress Noveller was everywhere.
Some trends included effects that let you create the theme from Stranger Things, multiple flashing lights, and pedals with animated screens. Also, fuzz was everywhere, so look for a new roundup this year.
In the flashing lights category, and a candidate for Guitar Moderne Best In Show, is the Empress Zoia pedal. Described as a “compact grid of musical anything.” Zoia lets players use modules to construct instruments, effects, and utilities, saving and transferring their work via SD card. This one requires three videos to give you an idea of all it can do, but in a nutshell, it is a like a modular Eurorack system in a box. The tentative price is $450 USD when it comes out in the spring. (Remember: NAMM stands for Not Available Maybe May).
I don’t know if I would call Game Changer Audio’s pedals, er, game changing, but last year’s debut of their Plus Pedal definitely showed this Latvian company’s unique approach to effects. This year’s Plasma Pedal employs a new style of signal clipping, transforming the guitar’s clean signal into a series of continuous high-voltage discharges within a xenon gas-filled tube. In essence, you are playing a bolt of electricity. This creates unique non-linear harmonic saturation. When you stop playing, the electric charge in the tube is interrupted, acting as a natural noise-gate And, let’s face it, it looks really cool.
Chase Bliss Audio is the latest boutique pedal manufacturer success story. Joel Korte’s company has expanded from its beginnings with the David Torn-approved Warped Vinyl to eight pedals and a huge booth on the main floor this year. The Thermae digitally manipulates the analog signal path created by four re-issued MN3005 bucket-brigade delay chips. This allows changing delay times in musical intervals, allowing harmonizing and sonic madness options. Intervals can be sequenced automatically or stepped-through manually. Thermae can also be used as a standard analog delay but with decidedly non-standard analog modulation options. It should be available in May for $499.00
Colour Theory Spectrum Sequencer
The Colour Theory contains an eight-step sequencer that allows you to create rhythmic effects processing. For example: You can play a series of tones in OSC mode, or open and close a filter in FLT mode.
I finally got to sit down with the Tensor, which should be shipping by the time this post goes up. Briefly, it gives you live reverse and tape stop effects, as well as pitch shifting, time stretching and hold functions that can be combined in creative ways. It will slow down, speed up and rewind your guitar signal in real time; stretch or compress time with no pitch change; as well as loop, overdub, and randomly slice phrases up to 4.8 seconds. Foot switches have momentary and latching modes to inject pitch jumps, glitches, or rewind your last riff. I am looking forward to losing myself for hours learning how to use Tensor—as much new musical instrument as effect pedal—while enjoying every minute.
Ringmaster Analog Multiplier
A ring modulator synth designed to create analog harmonizer and tremolo effects that can follow the notes you play, the Ringmaster expands on the “Intelligent Ring Mod” found in the original Mothership pedal. (Pigtronix introduced a smaller Mothership at Summer NAMM) Ringmaster adds LFO and Sample + Hold modulation sources, pitch following tremolo and well as wave shaping for both inputs to the analog multiplier circuit.
The M9 and M13 multi-effect pedals from Line 6 have been the Swiss army knife on many a board, providing a wealth of ambient and/or rarely used but essential sounds to many a session player’s arsenal (think Uni-Vibe). They also integrated well with player’s personal fave pedals. The HX Effects takes that tradition up a notch by including all the things that were loved about the M-series and adding massive editing, control, and sonic options.
The new wave of Greek pedal manufacturers all had interesting wares on display.
JHS was showing a pedal that offered various iterations of the Tube Screamer in one box, but I found this offering of multiple fuzz sounds more interesting. NOS Germanium transistors are paired with a smart switching circuit to offer six settings inspired by the Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face, Vox ToneBender, Sola Sound Tone Bender Mk 1.5, Sola Sound Tone Bender MkII, Dallas Rangemaster treble booster, and a combination of a treble booster into a fuzz. Not shipping until April, but pre-order now as they have a limited supply of these transistors and the current price of 229 saves you thirty Euros
The Eureka pedal uses silicon transistors to create a circuit that combines the dynamic, mid-range germanium fuzz saturation with gritty, full-bodied, well-rounded muff-style fuzz-distortion. Jam has also incorporated a three-way toggle switch that incrementally introduces more low-end.
Our third Greek company has combined Uni-Vibe, rotary, vibrato, phaser, and flanger modulation effects in one pedal. In addition, you can blend two different types of modulation to create some new sounds.
As usual, David Rainger has come up with a new idea in a unique package. This digital reverb mini-pedal offers up to six seconds of reverberation time and a post reverb distortion that can be blended in (ala My Bloody Valentine). A built-in noise gate keeps unwanted hums and buzzes to a minimum, and can help create edited guitar sample simulations. An effects “send” function allows reverb to fade away while you carry on playing dry. The £147.00 price tag includes Rainger’s unique Igor pressure pad controller for real-time control.
The Classic 108 Fuzz features the guts of Dunlop’s BC-108-loaded Fuzz Face Distortion with a buffer switch to allow it to work “properly” with wahs before the input. However, turning off the buffer with a wah pedal in front will create a sonic freak-out some modern guitarists will love.
Cult Germanium Channel
Screech Octave Fuzz
The Cult Germanium Channel is an expanded version of the Cult Germanium. A tuned 2-band active EQ stage shapes tones before and after the drive circuit. Or, you can bypass the EQ stage to replicate the sound and feel of the original Cult.
Purr Vibrato’s ends option anxiety with a single oversized knob knob that links rate and depth and lets you control both with your foot. The pedal uses a standard 9-volt power supply, but its internal charge pump generates 18 volts for more headroom. Separate wet and dry outputs allow faux-stereo through two amps.
Screech Octave Fuzz is descended from vintage octave fuzzes like the Ampeg Scrambler and Dan Armstrong Green Ringer but provides clearer octave overtones. Screech delivers consistent octaves regardless of neck position or pickup setting. Dual footswitches toggle between octave sounds and non-octave distortion. A tri-color LED indicates octave status even when bypassed.
Porkolator Distortion’s design descends from the legendary, unobtainable1970s Harmonic Percolator but with more aggressive tones and greater tonal range. The original featured only passive input and output trim controls, but Porkolator adds adjustable input capacitance (a sort of a “crisp vs. fat” control) and a new mid-circuit gain stage.
The 95000 Performance Loop Laboratory
This new looper was something we previewed In GM.
EHX also showed two new iterations of the iconic Big Muff.
Green Russian Big Muff
This faithful recreation of the original is now available in a compact chassis.
Op-Amp Big Muff Pi
Sometimes referred to as the IC or V4 Big Muff, the original circuitry has been re-created along with some enhancements added including a compact, die-cast chassis and true bypass switching. Popularized by the Billy Corgan who first used it on the Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream album, the pedal relies on op-amps rather than transistors and three gain stages rather than four.
Slammi Plus Polyphonic Pitch Shifter/Harmony Pedal
Having realized that their rocking cradle format pedals are not universally loved, EHX has re- released some of those pedals in more traditional housing. The Slammi Plus features glitch-free, polyphonic pitch shifting over a +/- three-octave range. It can transpose up, down, or both simultaneously. An 11-position switch selects the transposition interval. Dual Mode outputs two separate pitch-shifted intervals simultaneously. An X-Fade function fixes the interval and cross-fades between dry and pitch shifted note or from one interval to another.
The + adds on to the original Superego, itself an expansion of the Freeze pedal. Now available are 11 effect types, an expression input for effect parameter control, a jack for a 3-button controller, and an effects loop. Look for my review coming soon.
Death By Audio consistently pushes the envelope (no pun intended) with their approach to effects.
Deep Animation Envelope Filter/Follower
Waveformer Destroyer MKII
A new company offering interesting pedals and pedalboard solutions, including buffers, boosters, splitters, fuzz and compression.
The boutique art guitar exhibit was the biggest yet, featuring some old friends like Malinoski, Splat, and Tao, along with some newcomers Like Alquier, Pagelli, and Noah.
Jean-Yves Alquier injects eco-responsibility into his Ethiq guitar line by including sustainable bamboo in the manufacture of his instruments. Partner Nicolas Mercadal provides the custom-built pickups.
Pagelli has designed innovative looking guitars for Eastman and Burns. His own custom instruments are even more radical.
Tao was back with the new Kusanagi and one of their traditional (for them) designs.
The Italian company Noah put the steel (actually aluminum) into lap steel guitar, as well as showing some modern shapes.
The Tradition 2P GA Stage TP
This guitar is designed with less than 2″ of depth, but is braced just like an acoustic for equivalent response. The action is raised or lowered by adjusting the neck angle, eliminating the need to destructively sand the saddle. Riversong has teamed up with Fishman Electronics to install an OEM Triple Play wireless guitar performance/midi system. The version at the show was hooked up to a smart phone on the back to create synth sounds sans computer.
The other guitars that piqued my interest lay, for the most part, at the other end of the price spectrum
This offshore line offers budget versions of some of the desirable Music Man guitars, including the Guitar Moderne-approved St. Vincent model, for less than a third of the cost of the standard Music Man version. And, they kept the cool shaped knobs.
Sterling also debuted an Albert Lee model with humbuckers at a similar cost savings that I have my eye on..
Ernie Ball Music Man also showcased some new St. Vincent colors and pickup configurations.
The new Art & Lutherie Roadhouse seems perfect for running through effects. It combines a new denim blue finish with top-mounted controls for the active electronics and a tone knob sweep that is hard to describe but that goes beyond simple treble and bass.
The Guild Jetstar’s back to the future design was eye-catching.
A similar vibe inhabits the Impala signature model developed by Taylor York of the Nashville band Paramore.
Italia’s Marinello MKII sported some cool looking new pickups and they also showed and interesting Marinello Intero baby archtop with a built-in Piezo.
What I like about the Shuriken is that it looks as much futuristic as dark Metal. The result of collaboration between Line 6, Yamaha Guitar Development, and guitarist Steve “Stevic” MacKay of Twelve Foot Ninja, it is nominally designed for heavier or more technical styles of music. But, the Variax Shuriken has the potential to be used for many types of modern sounds. It offers a 27” scale length for those who like heavier strings and lower tunings, and allows instant access to a wide range of guitar models and alternate tunings with a twist of a knob, via Variax HD modeling technology.
Reverend Founder Joe Naylor has followed his own path in guitar design since the company’s inception. This year Reverend unveiled a couple more instruments that display a unique vision.
Is an attempt to meld a solid body’s sustain and attack with the full, tone of a semi-hollow. The Airsonic sports radically thinner wings and thru-body f-holes to increase body resonance, with a thick center ridge to maintain solid sustain. It features forearm and stomach contours for comfort.
The Billy Corgan Terz
Billy Corgan requested a new electric based on the classical Terz guitar, which dates back to the 19th century. A Terz was tuned to a minor third above standard tuning: G-C-F-A#-D-G. It sat in a classical guitar quintet between standard and alto guitars. This instrument could offer a fresh voice in any two-guitar band.
The new (to me) Jennings guitar company out of California had a big booth. Their guitars played beautifully and the Catalina looked badass.
The Prisma guitars are partially made out of skateboard material. My fear that they would sound and play more like a skateboard than a musical instrument was unfounded; they performed like a finely crafted guitar.
The makers of the famous Matthew Bellamy guitar with the Kaos Pad built in, were showing a version (Manson Matt Bellamy Signature DL-1 Swirl Pack Fuzz Factory) with a Z.Vex Fuzz Factory installed.
This wireless amplifier employs a transmitter plugged into the guitar jack to send a low latency signal to the amp. Docking the transmitter in the amp charges it to provide 12 hours of playing time. When no activity is detected, it automatically enters power-saving standby mode to conserve the charge, until awakened by motion sensing technology in the transmitter. Five amp characters and over 50 effects can be stored in six presets. Tones can be edited and organized wirelessly with the Boss Tone Studio app for iOS and Android mobile devices. It can be powered by eight AA-size batteries or the included AC adapter. It has a stereo speaker system with full-range sound driven by up to 30 watts of power when plugged in (20 when running on batteries). This is no toy; it sounded killer in the booth and can be used as a USB interface, making it appear worthy of its $399 ticket.
Not new but new to me, the Fryette Aether sports separate preamp and power amp modules. Housing the preamp and power amplifier sections in separate chassis keeps hum and noise to nearly imperceptible levels; extends tube life by reducing power tube vibration; and minimizes certain frequency cancellations that can impact tone and sustain. It is also convenient to transport due to the weight distribution of the power amp and cabinet system. The tone controls use active tube equalization. I got to plug in inside a quiet room, and can say that playing this thing was a sinful experience. With its industrial look and a maple/mahogany logo plate custom made by Koll Guitars, the Aether is an aesthetic treat as well. All of this don’t come cheap: $4499.00.
For those that like a wet/dry rig, the AmbiKab Junior’s 16-ohm speaker input connects to the amp’s second speaker output. The Junior routes the signal to a line-level output that patches to your effects input. An Effects Send Level control enables the AmbiKab Junior to accommodate a variety of effects, from floor pedals to studio rack units. The wet signal is returned to the AmbiKab Junior’s Left/Mono and (for stereo effects) Right effects inputs. An Effects Bass Cut knob and Effects Volume knob let you shape your wet signal and mix it to taste. The amplified wet signal then drives the AmbiKab Junior’s 12-inch Celestion speaker. An Effects Kill jack admits a footswitch (not included) so you can instantly switch to an all-dry mix.
I got to hear this at Summer NAMM https://www.guitarmoderne.com/gear-2/summer-namm-2017 and it is now shipping.
I didn’t get to see this because it was over in the tech ghetto but it looks potentially interesting. The iTar claims a touch-sensitive fingerboard with an interactive LED Display, including Ableton Live Session View, and Midi-compatibility through USB or Bluetooth LE with near-zero Latency. They plan a ten-hour power supply for your smart device from a power dock. The company is positing an $800 price tag, which may be a tough sell as the similar Artiphon https://artiphon.com/ comes in at half the price, though it doesn’t have the interactive lighting.
NS Clip-free Micro Tuner
The trend towards clip-on tuners is understandable: one more place for a distortion or ambient pedal is freed up on your board. But sullying the headstock of a classic or boutique instrument still sticks in some players’ craw. The Clip-free Micro Tuner attaches directly to your instrument’s tuning machine so your tuner is always at hand and visible only to you. It features a full-color display and metronome. Of course, if you play more than one guitar a night you will need more than one, but a $34.95 retail they won’t break the bank.
Like D’Addario, my New York City homies at Loknob keep coming up with brilliant solutions to real-world problems. The latest is a way to keep from accidentally shutting off a footswitch that you would rather remain on, or inadvertently toggling a switch for which you have a preferred position.
529 Power Supply
The Mission 529 is a USB power converter for effects pedals. It can power up to five pedals directly from a portable battery pack, phone charger or computer, through four isolated 150mA outputs for standard pedals, plus one 500mA output for high power devices. The standard version includes USB wall power supply, while the pro version also includes a 10,000mA low profile rechargeable lithium battery.
This foot controller has come a long way since Summer NAMM when it required some strange device attached to your foot. A fully customizable floor controller, it bodes some pretty cool possibilities. Be sure to check out the videos at Chroma Coda.
Finally NAMM wouldn’t be NAMM without:
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Thank you, Michael, for being our sherpa! I’m gonna set aside some extra time to go through all the stuff you sampled here.
whoa, if i hadn’t been home with a flu, no chance i could have digested all this cornucopia of last gear’s news!
i never went past the Frankfurt Musik Messe experience in my days, but looking at your NAMM thorough, sensible report, i’m kind of glad i never did, as there’s only as much as one my age can (be willing to) take in!
your NAMM report also creates comfort in the modesty of my available income to guitars, amps and effects purchases: for once in my life, i’m so happy i can’t afford more than what populates my pedalboard and music room.
it sure’s just me, but too many changes (and too often at that) to your gear won’t help me find my own, inner voice any sooner or easier, so while all bells and whistles attract my attention, too, i’m proud of how my sort of poverty shields me from this massive invasion of other-wordly gear.
best jewel in your report for me: a St.Vincent (hopefully) priced at Sterling’s level it’s as close as it gets to a poorman’s dream; it still doesn’t mean i can afford it, but it may be discarded by someone in a couple of years or more (and found pre-owned, with some luck, at a fraction of the original cost).
thank you for such an extended, extensive, and sensible report from NAMM: it’s like having been there, minus the headache and sore back and feet!