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
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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)
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.
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)
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.
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).
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.