NAMM 2017: In Photos

We went, we saw, we conquered. Gear and Loathing in San Diego presents: Winter NAMM 2017 in photos. Many thanks to James Albers for his photo contributions (and for the badge!) — Dustin

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THE BEST OF NAMM 2017

I went to NAMM for the first time over the weekend and was alternately blown away and overwhelmed. It’s been a lifelong dream to go – and this year, I finally got to make the trek up to Anaheim (thanks, James!) While there, I tried to see/do as much as I could but, of course, couldn’t get to everything. I’ve made my top picks below, and hopefully can share some info on some new products that I found to be inspiring. Lots of lots of pictures to follow over the next few days. Thanks for reading – Dustin

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Best Booth Experience: Earthquaker Devices. Going to this booth was the equivalent of being a kid in a candy shop. Beautifully laid out, super friendly staff, rad guest artists (Juan Alderete, Swami John Reis, Justin Pearson, and Earthless, among others) and some of the best, wackiest guitar pedals around. Their new Space Spiral is an extremely tasty, zany delay that only EQD could dream up. Loved every minute there.

Worst Booth Experience: ChickenPicks. OK, I understand a lot of companies can’t just give away tons of swag, but when your entire exhibit is based on a new style of pick — simply give them away (how much can they possibly cost?). One of their staff approached us with five picks on a silver platter and after he described why they were better than regular picks, I asked if I could have one to try out. He said no, and instead instructed me to go to their website to possibly get one sent to me (“they’re good about sending out samples,” he said). OK, if nearly every guitar company at NAMM is giving away picks, and your entire company revolves around picks, how can you not offer them to people who come by the booth? Makes no sense. Tip for ChickenPicks: Give one pick out to each interested booth attendee after scanning their badge QR code (like D’Angelico did). That way you build your email newsletter database and get something in return for giving away your precious picks. Ugh.

Best Swag: D’Angelico. Dude: hand sanitizer, rolling papers, strings, lighter, and a legit bottle opener? These folks did it right. Besides, their guitars are super legit.

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Best Giveaway: Clip-on tuner from Reverb. Snagged the last one at the booth! #Winning

Best Off-the-wall Product: VR drums by Aerodrums. Watched a dude play an entire drum kit in real time with nothing in front of him. The future of music? No real instruments needed – just VR programs? Pretty trippy to watch.

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Best New Pedal: (tie) Satellite’s White Amplifier emulator / Empress Echo System. Satellite (made right here in San Diego) blew me away with their new line of pedals and guitars. Their White Amplifier emulator in particular is just everything a great overdrive should be. Warm, raunchy, amp-like tones – it literally sounds exactly the way a cranked low-watt, small-speaker tube amp should sound. I was blown away. Pricey ($349) but very worth it. Can’t beat the build quality either. Super solid, like everything else they make.

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The Empress Echo System pedal is like the anti-thesis of the White amp emulator. Whereas Satellite pedals take one concept and make the best pedal based on that, the Empress Echo System takes everything you’d want about a digital delay and ups the ante with 25+ different modes, presets, several different types of dual-delay engine settings while keeping it surprisingly easy to use. I’m not a huge fan of screens and menus, so keeping this all buttons and knobs appeals to me in a big way. Well done. Not sure on the price point but I’m guessing it won’t be cheap.

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(Honorary mentions: Catalinbread Belle Epoch Deluxe, JHS + Ryan Adams’ VCR, Chase Bliss Brothers Analog Gainstage)

Best New Electric Guitar: (tie) Supro Island + Americana Guitars / Ernie Ball Musicman St. Vincent models. Both of the new Supro guitar series are just great from top to bottom. Had the pleasure of plugging most of them in and they sounded delightfully gritty with much more comfortable necks than their baseball-bat-styled ‘60s brethren. At their price points ($699-$1,299), you can’t go wrong.

Whereas Supro is rehashing older designs, Ernie Ball Musicman and St. Vincent continue to push the envelope with her signature model ($1,899-$2,099). That unique body shape, new pickup configs, and more beautiful colorways improve on an already impressive debut last year. The necks are super smooth and you can get nearly any sound out of ’em too. So rad.

(Honorary mention: Satellite’s Coronet-style guitar)

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Best New Acoustic Guitar: Martin John Prine D-28. OK, it’s a $7,000 guitar but it played like absolute butter. (Honorary mention: Taylor’s new 800 Deluxe series)

Best New Acoustic Amplifier: Orange Valve Pre Twin Channel acoustic pre-amp. “The world’s first stereo valve acoustic pre-amp and active DI.” Has got everything you’d need covered when it comes to an acoustic pre-amp, and sounds as good as it looks. Not sure on price yet.

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Best New Guitar Amplifier: Milkman Sideman (50 watt, 1×12” combo). While it’s got a little more power than I look for in an amp, it still sounds beautiful throughout the volume dial. Milkman craftsmanship is unbeatable too (btw, the amp runs around $3,099). Swoon.

(Honorary mention: Paul Reed Smith J-Mod 100)

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Best New Bass: ESP Frank Bello J-4 ($3,999) / LTD Frank Bello FB-J4 ($999). Fantastic playing and sounding Jazz/Precision-style hybrid with rad red binding. Looks sharp, plays sharper. Honestly though, anything Anthrax gets a thumbs up from me.

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Best New Bass Amplifier: Trace Elliot ELF Amp (200 Watts, 4 ohm, 1.6 pounds). Put this thing in your pocket and go to work. Only $299.

Best New Synthesizer: Dave Smith Instruments REV2. DSI revised their Prophet ’08 synth with a new step sequencer, wave shape modulation, effects and great price points (12-voice for $1,999 and 8-voice for $1,499).

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Best New Snare: Ludwig Black Beauty 14×8 Snare. A reissue of a classic!

Booth of the Year: Moog Music Inc. The legendary company took the road less traveled with their booth this year but not displaying new products or their vast product line — but rather paid homage to some of the musical legends that we lost in 2016, including Don Buchla, Keith Emerson, Pauline Oliveros, Bernie Worrell, and Isao Tomita. It was refreshing to see and be a part of such a classy tribute. Hat’s off to y’all, Moog.

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TAYLOR GOLDSMITH / DAWES

Dawes: Facebook / Instagram / Twitter / Website

In December, I interviewed Dawes’ vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Taylor Goldsmith for NBC SoundDiego. You can read it here. Below are some excerpts from that same interview that didn’t quite fit the narrative of that writeup, but do seem to fit nicely into the Gear and Loathing fold. Many thanks to Eric James and Rodrigo Espinosa for contributing some of their own photos from the band’s Jan. 10 Belly Up show for this feature. Enjoy.

Dustin Lothspeich: Do you guys typically rehearse much for tours? Seems like you’re a well-oiled machine at this point…

Taylor Goldsmith: I mean, through the years there have been tours we set out for where we wouldn’t get together – but this one’s different because it’s “An Evening With” tour so not only do we have to know 2 1/2 hours of music every night, we have to keep it interesting from night to night. We have to brush up on a lot of old tunes that we haven’t played in a while, so there will be a lot of rehearsing for this one.

DL: I’ve been way into acoustic music lately. Been thinking about picking up a real nice Martin or something. 

TG: To me, it’s the most expressive kind of guitar. You can’t pick up an electric and plug it straight through an amp and have it be the perfect sound for a really gentle ballad and a perfect sound for a really loud, angry song – unless you were to turn up the volume or get a bunch of pedals. Whereas with an acoustic, it really can go from the quietest and the gentlest to the loudest and the most aggressive very naturally. People associate it with ballads but it’s actually really expressive.

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DL: Do you typically write on acoustic or electric? Or something else?

TG: There are songs I write on piano and then once in a while, I’ll have a riff that I come up with on the electric guitar, like “Things Happen” or “One of Us,” where it wouldn’t have sounded right on acoustic originally, or I wouldn’t have noticed it or thought it was worth paying attention to. But most of the time, most of my songs are written on acoustic.

DL: One of my favorite songs of all time is “Don’t Send Me Away” – how did you write that?

TG: That one was, weirdly enough, written on a piano. And there’s those kinda like “bop-bop-bop” quarter notes that are going throughout while the bass line changes. As you can imagine, it’s a lot simpler and easier on the piano to do that. It took some figuring out how to play it and move the bass part around while keeping those three notes up top. But yea, it was originally written on piano.

DL: The band’s new record mixes a few different types of styles; it’s pretty eclectic. Do you think We’re All Gonna Die is different from your other albums in that regard?

TG: To us, we’ve always done that. I would say that they’re recorded in the same way – songs like “Most People,” or even “When My Time Comes” or “Don’t Send Me Away” even would be right at home on We’re All Gonna Die. I think any of them would be! I think a song like “Quitter,” or “For No Good Reason,” or “Roll With The Punches” would fit on any of our previous albums. I like that each record has a personality but I don’t think any of our records have strayed too far from what we’ve always done.

DL: I think one of your strengths, in particular, is your ability to write about everyday problems and our constant struggle with losing or regaining hope – without being too preachy. That’s a fine line.

TG: I think a lot of us try to get to a place, and I’m a victim of this as much as anyone else, where we get to a place in our lives where we don’t have to suffer. That we can build something around us and we’re never lonely and we’re never depressed and the reality is, that’s not gonna happen. And the only way to deprive that fear of its power is by embracing it and knowing that it’s going to come in strides. And you’re going to have to sit with it and deal with it sometimes but other times, you are going to feel like everything is OK. There’s a great Smog song where Bill Callahan sang something along the lines of: “We all have peace on earth about every other day,” [laughs] and saying it like that kind of no longer allows you to be scared of ever going through the dark times because when they do come along, you can go, “I knew this was going to be part of this equation.”

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Taylor Goldsmith’s trusty (and well worn) Fender Telecaster (photo by Rodrigo Espinosa)

DL: Off the top of your head, what was the record you listened to the most in 2016?

TG: Shoot, that’s a good question. I mean there have been several I’ve been going back to a bunch – my girlfriend kind of gets like, “Why are you listening to the same thing again?” So I don’t  live with one record like I used to as much anymore, but I was going back to Blood & Chocolate a lot by Elvis Costello & The Attractions a lot. Putting it on over and over. I’ve always had that record, but when you first discover Elvis Costello, you’re obsessed with This Year’s Model, or Armed Forces, or My Aim Is True, and then eventually Imperial Bedroom and Get Happy!! and all that. I had Blood & Chocolate and I’d always loved it but I hadn’t had that feeling of I-have-to-only-listen-to-this-for-the-next-week moment the way that I’d had with all the other Elvis Costello records that I’d loved. So I kinda finally had that.

DL: What was the favorite gig you played last year?

TG: It would probably be Nashville’s Live On The Green Festival, where it’s just this pretty outdoor show and we were playing after Kurt Vile, who we love and they’re obviously an impossibly cool band. We thought, “Aw shit, they’re putting us up after Kurt Vile? Everyone’s gonna leave!” And I didn’t go out during Kurt’s set – I mean, I love Kurt’s show and we’ve seen a lot of his shows, but I was kinda backstage the whole time with friends so I didn’t see the audience until we walked onstage and there was like 18,000 people and it was the biggest show we’d ever played – at least in terms of us playing last. I mean, we’ve opened for Mumford And Sons, but we were the opening band – people were there because they had to be. But with this, they didn’t have to be. It was the most surreal experience playing for that many people and really feeling connected to them. I’ve never had such a high after a set than I did that night.

DL: What are you looking forward to the most in 2017?

TG: I mean, I guess it’s like equal parts – a good tour (I’m really excited to get on tour and play these shows), but I’m also really excited to get a handle on the next batch of writing. It’s always fun to either be playing new songs or in the studio playing new songs. We never wanna be taking too much time off. That’s kind of how we’ve always been and that’s kinda how we want to keep it. Life is better when we’re working. I’m hoping to have these songs start showing up in a bigger way. I’ve written a couple so far but I’m excited for the new year for that.

WALTER AYLLON / GRIZZLY BUSINESS

Grizzly Business: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Bandcamp / SoundCloud

1. Lovin’ the Tele – tell me all about it.

I use to play shows with a Epiphone Sheraton, but as beautiful as she is, she was just too powerful for my sissy style rhythm guitar playing. I found this Thinline Deluxe Tele on craigslist and fell in love with it. Because it’s like a semi-semi-hollow body (if that’s a thing), it has some of the usual Tele twang but not too much with solid mids, which is perfect for me. Coincidentally, I bought it off of Joe from Burning of Rome who had me meet him at a coffee shop in Golden Hill. He told me he never even took her out of his home which led me to accuse him of using it as his bathroom guitar which he denied. It was honestly an honor to buy from such a distinguished guitarist. Sometimes when I hit certain chords I can almost still smell the subtle scent of Febreze 😉

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2. Tell me what “I am Beyoncé always!” means to you and why it’s scrawled on your pedalboard.

Well, it’s my favorite Michael Scott quote that can fit in that space. In a way, you can say it represents my inner diva perfectly. I’m also known around the band as like the awful boss so I guess that’s encompassed in there as well. The beauty of my pedalboard is that I made it out of a little chalkboard and I can write anything in there at any time. Right now, I have our setlist for our Soda Bar show this Saturday but I can also draw unicorns on there as well.

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3. Talk to me about your pedals – rockin’ the Joyo/Donner options, I see. What drew you to them over other pedals? Would you get higher priced options if you could or nah?

I am very new to the pedal party. When I was 13, I bought a compression sustainer which I thought was going to let me wail long notes like John Frusciante in “Emit Remmus.” That obviously didn’t happen as I now know a compression sustainer is the worst first pedal for a young guitarist. I started buying these within the last year and am beyond stoked. I did a lot of homework watching tons of YouTube videos of different brands and ultimately concluded that these were cheaper and sounded just as good. No amount of fancy pedals could or will ever make me sound like decent guitar player so why break the bank, you know?

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4. What amp are you using and why?

These days I use Brian’s (our bass player) Fender Blues Deluxe. All I know about it is that it’s tubed and I’m supposed to put it on standby before and after using it lol. I’ve been so plug-and-play all my life that it’s embarrassing how little I really know about equipment but at the same time I feel it’s kept things simple which I think there’s beauty in.

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5. If you had unlimited money, what is the first piece of gear you would buy?

I would quit the band and buy the most expensive grand piano I can find. Preferably previously owned by Beethoven and used as his bathroom piano. I can only really play the Jurassic Park and Forrest Gump theme songs but I’m sure they would sound great on such a fine piece of musical equipment. Maybe a massive harp too, who knows.

6. You guys got a new record coming out (Spanish Old-Fashioned)– how does it measure up against your last? What’s your favorite song on it and why?

My ultimate goal is to convert Grizzly Business into a Dr. Dog cover band. I think on this record we made a couple of baby steps towards that. There are a lot of backup vocals and layers upon layers of pianos and different noises. Brian was pretty new to the band when we made our first EP and you can tell he really made this one more of his own with some amazing bass lines. Matt left the studio with his usual angst of wanting to redo his drums which is always silly as they’re always great. I did my best to be as silly and sarcastic as I can with the lyrics. My favorite song on there would have to be “Fake British Accent.” It’s just a song about all the things you hate about the person you love wrapped in an almost ’50s-like happy prom song bundle. The best line I think I’ll ever come up with is in it which is “when ‘enough’s’ just a line you drew up to refine.” Pretty stupid, I know, but it’s the best I can muster.

7. What’s next for you guys after your CD release at Soda Bar on Saturday, Jan. 7?

After our release, we are jumping on planes and going on tour through Europe with a couple shows in New York as well! We are beyond stoked and are very much counting the days. We’ll probably get eaten alive and lose all our fingers and toes to frostbite but it’ll be great and hopefully we don’t give San Diego too bad of a musical name out there.

Grizzly Business tour dates:

1/7: Soda Bar (CD release with Inspired and the Sleep, and Spero)

1/12: Friends and Lovers (Brooklyn, NY)

1/13: The Delancey (Manhattan, NY)

1/17: The Windmill (Brixton, England)

1/18: The Bedford (Balham, England)

1/19: The Dog and Whistle Pub (Hertford, England)

1/21: Brussels Pub Crawl (Brussels, Belgium)

1/23: TBD (Berlin, Germany)

1/25: CC Muziekcafe (Amsterdam, Netherlands)

1/26: Le Truskel (Paris, France)

1/28: The Good Ship (London, England)