Finally free to roam through the aisles and halls of what I deem the Greatest Show on Earth unencumbered by the video crew that I have been attached to for the past 72 hours, I decide to start at the pinnacle and navigate the sea of booths until I reach the most remote hall.
By Bradley Weinholtz
The main exhibition is divided into four distinct sectors: the Upper Floor, the Arena, the Main Halls, and the Lower Gallery. Many of the companies have had the same location since the NAMM’s earlier days, and whether by design or chance, several the top-shelf vendors are on the Upper Floor and the newest exhibitors are in the Lower Gallery.
The clock is ticking and I realize that seven hours is not enough time see and experience all the new gear. I ‘m like the proverbial kid in the candy store with eyes much bigger than his stomach; or in my case, an appetite that far exceeds my wallet.
Everything intrigues me and I realize I am a pig who wants it all. I started this commentary with an inventory of everything I wanted, but when the list hit 99, I figured I better stop and sing “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” and get busy producing the goods as my editor would say.
Lucky for me, my associate Tony T. took a few hundred pictures of our favorite exhibits. Here are some of the final day’s highlights:
Gibson was showing off their ultra-deluxe 120th Anniversary Double Diamond Series: six Gibson classics—a Les Paul, SG, Firebird, Flying V, Explorer, and the rare Moderne. These are undoubtedly most lavish and elegant versions ever made. Production is limited to 120 of each model, denoting each year of Gibson’s history. They are completely blinged out with diamonds, 24-carat gold, and Swarovski crystals, hand-painted and individually signed, and come complete with genuine leather cases. These extremely valuable collectibles will be sold through selected authorized dealers and shipped directly from the factory to the consumer as each instrument is completed.
For the rest of us who can’t handle the tariff on these extraordinary instruments, you’ll find all the Gibson 120th Anniversary production models here.
At Fender’s vast display, a collection of their thoroughbred axes — representing the finest work from the company’s top Custom Shop luthiers— was roped off and only special dealers were allowed past the barrier. (On Wednesday night these dealers were given first crack at the deluxe instruments. Placing a business card on one reserved it. In case of multiple cards, they were picked at random from a fishbowl to select the successful buyer.)
At a distance I saw prices well over $6,000 and spotted a beauty at $30,000. No wonder the security detail was in full force. Included in this inner sanctum was an acclaimed 1964 L Series Strat Closet Classic that I had the chance to cradle the day before while interviewing Mike Eldred of Fender’s Custom Shop.
ESP Guitars introduced its new line being produced in a new factory in North Hollywood, CA. This is a noteworthy milestone for ESP. Established in 1975, ESP axes have been primarily built in Japan with the more affordable LTD brand produced in other parts of Asia. ESP showed some exquisite one-of-a-kind hand-carved models, limited USA editions, and the production ESP and LTD lineup.
One-of- a-kind hand-carved models and the new limited edition USA-built guitars stirred up a lot of buzz at ESP’s booth.
The DJ equipment and lighting and stage effects area of the show is a kinetic magnet. Rivals vie for attention with extravagant light shows. But peddlers of DJ gear have to produce excitement in other ways, since NAMM has a Sound Control Patrol that regulates the decibel level. Vendors bold enough to crank up the volume past the 86dB limit are asked politely to turn it down. If the exhibitor is asked more than once, the association could fine them. Monster GO DJ used the star power of the Monster Kids to generate traffic in their booth.
NAMM is a great chance to see a cavalcade of famous musicians. Vendors with endorsing artists have them stationed in their booths to sign autographs and do meet and greets. Fans wait in line for hours in order to get a picture and a snatch of face time with their idols.
Victor Wooten (Bela Fleck and the Flecktones), Marty Friedman (Megadeth), and Makani Terror (international model) meet fans fans and sign autographs.
Manufacturers often spend years developing groundbreaking gear. That’s the case with the new Line 6 AMPLIFi that has already received a lot of critical acclaim. It features a 5-speaker stereo array, Bluetooth connectivity, and iOS app compatibility—all housed in a handsome, compact cabinet.
Some companies take a great item and make it even better with technical or cosmetic improvements. Marshall debuted its limited edition 2014 Custom Shop Tattoo Series available in three of their top-selling models, the JVM410H with 1960 A angled 4 x 12” cab, JVM1H with C110 1 x 10” cab and the JVM215C.
Marshall debuts its limited edition 2014 Custom Shop Tattoo Series
Crush Drums’ organic-looking gnarled stands leads me to ponder the classic philosophy 101 question: if a drum set is played in the woods when no one is around, does it make a sound? Well, if you walked through the drum hall you would have to offer a deafened “yes.” The flowing branches are only one element that brought this woodsy centerpiece to the attention of everyone who passes by – the shells are also illuminated.
Crush creates a show stopper with their Tree of Life Drum Kit fabricated by Sawbladehead Designs.
NAMM is the granddaddy of music gear events and every conceivable thing to make music is on display, including band and orchestral instruments. One hall is dedicated to the symphonic set and includes every variety of instrument and accessory imaginable. Craftsmanship abounds and a rich sense of tradition proliferates the hall. Builders from around the world are represented and it’s intriguing that a subtle performance can engage even the hardest of headbangers here. Beguiled by the size of the instruments and their sonorous tones, I found myself stopping to enjoy The Tuba Trio.
The Tuba Trio rocking the Halls of Namm 2014.
Even on the last day the aisles are slammed with the masses trying to catch a glimpse of the new gear for 2014. I find myself in a sea of eager and anxious people, shoulder to shoulder, pushing my way through. Today, as I bump into my manufacturer’s rep friends I notice their jovial, effervescent energy of the first day has given way to a zombie-esque, yet satiated demeanor. In craggy and hoarse tones, they tell me 2014 has been their best show ever.
Only two hours until the show closes, and the aisles are still packed.
My final destination is what many consider the nether regions of NAMM —Hall E. While the majority of exhibitors in this hall are new to NAMM, a few seasoned veterans present their wares here in relative peace and quiet. Hall E offers a smorgasbord of companies from all over the world, and is staffed by folks who are sometimes amusingly unfamiliar with U.S. customs and culture. There are also some oddball U.S. builders here too. There are guitars crafted from highly polished aircraft-grade aluminum to guitars fabricated out of recycled, rusty aluminum cans. A wide variety of boutique guitar pedals are always present too. Traffic is less dense in this lower hall and it’s easier to demo an instrument and draw a crowd. Since the decibel level is lower, many acoustic instruments are on display, notably ukuleles.
It is five o’clock and security is ushering everyone except exhibitors out of the Anaheim Convention Center. I don’t want leave. I want to see and play more. In my previous life as a Director of Marketing and Sales I would to stay well after midnight packing up my display. I feel a sense of emptiness and longing in my heart though my brain and the security team is telling me that it is time to leave the Greatest Show on Earth— NAMM 2014.
Once outside, I sit and reflect on the past four days, waiting for the traffic to subside, while trying to edit down my wish list of over 100 items. But on reflection, I still want it all. The sun sets over the Anaheim Convention Center and I cannot wait until 2015.
The show closes and night falls upon what I deem Greatest Show on Earth.
See all four days’ NAMM coverage here.