2016 NAMM Round-Up

When I tell people I'm going to the NAMM show, I often get the wide-eyed, dreamy gaze that only a non-NAMM attendee can give. "You're so lucky! You get to see all those guitars!" Yes, indeed, I get to see all those guitars. Amplifiers. Horns. Bass guitars. Pedals. Pickups. Picks. And the Moog booth that looks like a cactus garden with stereo equipment placed at strategic spots. (That was a really cool new addition this year that grabbed EVERYONE'S attention. The photo below will show you why!)

After an exhausting 4 days at NAMM, I spent the better part of a week trying to digest all of the new products I had tested, and all of the new contacts I had made. Once I settled into my hotel, I was able to realize quite quickly that "free WiFi" means "not really". But I digress. I decided that I'd give all of my readers a "view" of some of the many things I saw that caught my eye on this year's trip. 

My trip to the annual chaos that we all love so much allowed me to witness the change of corporate strategy or personnel behind some "re-launching" of well-known brands, but it also allowed me to discover some little known companies that I feel deserve a lot more airtime than they've been given.

I tend to start my trip in the basement of the exhibit halls, where all of the smaller (and often very creative) companies have their booths. It was no surprise to me that 660 Guitars (introduced to me by Vittek PR) was located in this hall, this being their first time at NAMM, but I can tell you that after playing two of their aluminum body/graphite neck guitars, that they will probably need a booth upstairs next year, because they're a phenomenal product. Stay tuned for a full review of their offerings in the next week or so.

One luthier I was excited to meet, thanks to Stacey Sherman of RSP Entertainment Marketing, is Jon Sullivan, otherwise known as Sully Guitars. Sully has created some beautiful instruments over the years, and this was his first NAMM show as Sully Guitars, which was paired together with Ormsby Guitars (another gem of a company for anyone reading this). I got to play Sully's guitars and I fell in love. Stay tuned for a complete review this coming week. 

I also had the chance to see the 50th anniversary version of the Ovation booth, which has recently returned to being a USA-made guitar company. Their new guitars are stunning to look at, and by the sounds of the ones I heard being played, the quality matches the aesthetics.

Wandering over to Fender and Gibson, I was struck most about the number of Charvel offerings that Fender had on display, and by the relatively few guitars that Gibson brought along. The Gibson throne was all the rage though, and the ability to have a photo of yourself in front of a huge crowd (the miracles of modern technology) while you rock the latest model Gibson Explorer or Les Paul coupled with that throne kept the booth extremely busy. The stacks of EVH 5150's in the hallway in front of the Fender room was enough to keep this girl smiling for minutes afterwards. (If you saw me smiling while on the escalator, the EVH's were probably why!)

Taylor had their wonderful new 614's on display, and having played them, I can say that there is nothing like the sweet sound of maple. Maybe that's the Canadian in me speaking. 2016 is yet another year where Taylor offers a quality made instrument without much fuss or hype compared to the other manufacturers when it comes to their booth. Everything was clearly labelled and easy to find, and for those of us looking to buy some Taylor swag, that was available too. 

ESP offered no shortage of beautiful guitars, as they always do. The Samurai-themed showcase guitar was absolutely stunning. I secretly wondered if the Samurai sword was detachable and usable. That would certainly make it worth the hefty price tag. ESP also had the Takamine acoustics being showcased and while I didn't get to play any of them, some of them looked really sharp.

Dean had it's usual wall of pointy guitars. Those who know me understand that I in no way mean that as an insult. I noticed a lot of crowds around the Dimebag guitars they brought along - that's always an attraction.

Schecter's room was incredible last year, but I do believe that they out-did themselves this time around. The signings they had would have been enough to keep any fan busy for the entire weekend: SixxA.M., Avenged Sevenfold, Zakk Wylde, Jeff Loomis, Nikki Stringfield, Keith Merrow, Nick Johnston, and on and on. It should be noted that each one of those artists also has an accompanying signature model that Schecter now offers, with the exception of Zakk Wylde, who has branded his own guitars (Wylde Audio) and has Schecter making and distributing them. As a Seymour Duncan employee, I was also able to enjoy the Schecter/Seymour Duncan show at the Grove, although the security guard didn't believe I was an employee and refused to let me use the bathroom before the show was underway. Any issues I had that evening were completely forgotten about once I got a tour of the Schecter factory and custom shop the following Friday. Stay tuned for that report too - but I will say: Schecter is the type of guitar company every guitar player wishes they could be a part of. 

BC Rich has re-launched their complete line-up, and they had their display of new offerings up for the public to see. As an old fan of the brand, it was nice to see the higher quality instruments they're going to have available for the general public to purchase and play. It was also nice to see the re-launch of the Custom Shop, which had become the industry's best-kept secret in recent years. 

Michael Kelly Guitars had a very unique booth that saw pieces of art being done on-site and provided the backdrop to their new guitar models for 2016. There was plenty of eye candy - both the guitars and the artwork that complimented them. 

And we can't forget about amplifiers. I saw and heard some wonderful offerings from Friedman and Blackstar. Blackstar's new Artist Tone series sounds as good as it looks. The line is one more reason us Blackstar players/fans can be proud to be supporters of the band. They don't sit back and rest on their laurels - and believe me, coming from someone who owns an HT-100, they could have easily rested. That they choose not to is what is going to continue to build their credibility and longevity in the industry. 

Marshall had their usual stack of amplifiers that everyone - myself included - stopped to take photos of, along with some really neat smaller wattage offerings that seem to be the trend with all amp makers at the moment. Marshall had some really nice products on display that I'm looking forward to testing in the months to come.

I was also thrilled to finally get to meet some of my "online friends" and business acquaintances in person and network while trying to keep my feet from disintegrating by the end of each day. I did learn that walking around with a not-yet-healed torn ACL is harder to do at NAMM than one would imagine. But that's what coffee is for. Until next year, California.