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
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.
1. Tell me about your current rig? The amps I’m using are all Satellite amps or things that we have modified. The one I use most often is a 75 watt model called the OMEGA that we added an additional tube preamp to, so I could get the sound I was after at a lower volume. Second up is a clone of a ’64 Fender Bassman called the ASSMAN; I love this amp for it’s slightly overdriven tones but that doesn’t really happen until it’s too loud to play live so it’s mostly a studio tool for me. And lastly, I’ve been using a ‘60s Dukane PA amp that we re-wired for use as a guitar amp with an old Vox Super Beatle cabinet, that we replaced the speakers in with modern Celestion greenbacks — it kind of reminds me of a brownface Fender Deluxe on steroids.
Guitar-wise, I’m using a parts-Jazzmaster that my friends all helped me put together by donating or selling me guitar parts for really cheap. The end result was a really inexpensive, great-sounding guitar that I think is as good, or better, than any model that Fender actually makes. Secondly, I still use my trusty ‘60s Silvertone Silhouette — mostly unmodded except for an added ground for the electronics and a bridge modded by my friend Brandon Madrid.
Then there’s pedals. When it comes to my live rig, it’s always kind of similar: Fuzz, boost, trem, two analog delays (set to different times) and reverb. In the studio, all bets are off and I just make shit up as I go along, usually trying new pedals that I’ve never used before — but live, I keep it the same and try and emulate the studio sounds with what I have in front of me.
2. What Mrs. Magician song do you feel is the best portrayal of the sound/style you’re after? “Where’s Shelly,” off of our upcoming LP Bermuda and I say that because it really has all of the different sounds that have been associated with our band over the years all rolled into one song. [Ed. note: Since the new album isn’t out yet, I’m including the band’s new single below. Enjoy!]
3. You work here in town at Satellite Amplifiers — in your eyes, what sets Satellite amps apart from others? If someone asked you they should buy one, what would you tell them? At Satellite, we strive to make things that we want to play and in many cases that’s how a prototype for something comes about. If I was asked why someone should buy one, I would just tell them to come play one and they would know why.
4. If money was no object, what’s the one “holy grail” piece of gear you’d buy? A Mosrite Ventures model. I am a firm believer that the cooler the piece of gear looks, the better you will sound using it and that is the coolest looking guitar out there.
5. Who is the musician you admire the most sound/gear-wise and why? The musician who’s sound I admire the most would have to be Rowland S. Howard. He wrote some of my favorite songs and was the most influential guitarist for me (other than the Swami). I also love that he used the same amp, guitar and pedals all the way from The Birthday Party up until he passed away, proving gear is secondary to imagination.
6. What do you have coming up that we should know about? Our new album comes out May 20th via Swami records. We also leave for SXSW next week.
3/12: Phoenix, AZ @ Viva PHX with The Growlers, RFTC, Mystic Braves
3/13: Tucson, AZ @ Club Congress with Rocket From The Crypt
3/14: Albuquerque, NM @ Launchpad with PRAYERS, Plague Vendor
3/15: Denton, TX @ Rubber Gloves with Mind Spiders, SAVAK
3/17: Austin, TX @ Breakaway Records — 1PM
3/18: Austin, TX @ BD Riley’s (Official Showcase) –– 9PM
3/19: Austin, TX @ Dozen Street (Little Dickman Records Party) –– 4PM
3/20: Austin, TX @ Empire Control Room –– 4:30PM