Winter NAMM 2008 Show Report: Guitars and Bass
By: Derek Davodowich and Scott Kahn
Do you play guitar or bass? NAMM is definitely a mystical and magical wonderland if you get an opportunity to make it to the show. Only then will you truly understand that your local music store only stocks about five percent of what’s available for you in the marketplace.
The NAMM show has more floor space dedicated to guitars, basses, and their amps and accessories than any other instrument for the simple reason that guitar is the most widely played instrument of all. But despite the feeling that every guitar-related company on the planet is at the show, there are still a few companies who don’t even bother to exhibit on the show floor. After all, it’s a huge expense to show off your gear just for the equipment buyers, dealers, and music industry press.
While this report is nowhere near exhaustive, remember that it just captures the products that caught the eyes of our editorial staff while roaming the show, and it’s possible we forgot to comment on something cool that you’ve already been reading about elsewhere. For now… on with the report!
As we approached the Ashdown booth, we were immediately greeted by James Lomenzo, the outstanding bassist currently playing in Megadeth, and whose former credits also include David Lee Roth, Ozzy Osbourne, Slash’s Snake Pit, and Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Society.
James was there to introduce and promote his new artist pedal created by Ashdown – The Lomenzo Hyperdrive. With its cool retro look, The Lomenzo Hyperdrive allows you to select a band of frequencies from which to add distortion and then mix the distorted range of frequencies with the original dry bass signal, resulting in a full-bodied bass tone with distorted overtones.
This is one of the most clever distortion concepts we’ve seen implemented and it http://badcatamps.comwas one of the most ingenious innovations seen at this year’s show. Why haven’t we seen more frequency-dependent distortion products? There are so many great possibilities for this type of tone control!
Babicz didn’t have much in the way of new guitars to show off in their booth directly, but the excitement was clearly in directing us to other booths. Michael Kelly Guitars licensed Babicz’s patented continuously adjustable neck design for an entire series of acoustic guitars, and Martin Guitar was showing off their acoustic guitar featuring the Babicz technology, too. If you haven’t experienced this technology, read our review of the Babicz Identity Series Dreadnought.
Bad Cat “Main Cat” James Heidrich introduced us to the newest line of Cats, the BC-50, which is tagged the “Boutique Within Reach” series. Continuing that Bad Cat distinctive look, the BC-50 sat right at home with the collection of Bad Cats and is said to purr with the best of them by providing the great vintage tone we all crave from the earlier years. We look forward to getting our hands on a review unit.
As with all products, the most desired is often that of hand crafted quality and provided a lot of love from inception. Benedetto Guitars is no stranger in the boutique jazz guitar market, where devote jazzmasters routinely spend from $18,000 to $25,000 on these outstanding instruments. Prayers have finally been answered for the rest of us mere mortals: Benedetto have introduced a new line of guitars with prices in the $3,000 to $7,000 range.
Quite honestly, we thought these guitars felt as pristine as their higher tagged big brothers, and still provided first class quality. Check out the beautiful Bambino Deluxe, with an MSRP of only $5,500 with hardshell case.
Carvin Guitars had plenty of new guitars on hand to show off, but the big news was in the amplifier area. First, you can now order Carvin amps like the fabulous V3 and Legacy with custom-colored vinyl coverings! But perhaps even more exciting is that Carvin has reintroduced one of their classic amps in the form of the X100B Series IV. The X100 series amps were played back in the ‘80s by artists including Frank Zappa, Craig Chaquico (Jefferson Starship), Warrant, Steve Vai, and Warren Cuccurullo. Complete with retro-styled logos, the reissues have gained a master volume with solo boost mode.
The Diamond Amplification booth was sure to catch everyone’s eye with its red illuminated amplifier head chamber and chrome grille. Their flagship amplifier, the Diamond SPEC OP, has a lot of new siblings in the family line to keep company with. For those of you looking for a “Furious” head, you will want to check out the Diamond NitroX that provides over the top gain/crunch tones with a tight low end and plenty of mids. And for that vintage vibe, the single-channel Spitfire has been joined by a two-channel sibling, the Spitfire II. If they can slow down sales long enough to get some inventory buildup, maybe they’ll be able to send us some review units!
Duesenburg Guitars’ tag line states “Not All Works of Art Belong on the Wall.” In visiting their booth at NAMM, one can attest that these instruments truly are one of a kind and a true works of art. Taking the stage in the professional market, their instruments are played by many artists including Carl Carlton and Ron Wood. The Duesenburg guitar’s fancy refinements of vintage style accoutrements add to the art-deco theme provided in their instruments. Depending on the model you are looking for, the price range of these instruments is between $2,000 and $4,000.
Boutiques, boutiques, boutiques… We are loosing our minds! But just when you thought you couldn’t afford Egnater amps, they dropped a major announcement in our hands, introducing the TourMaster series amplifiers, which will be available exclusively through Guitar Center. Yes, Guitar Center. The 100-watt, all tube, four-channel amplifier is sure to catch your attention. One of the most interesting components on this amp is the configurable Power Grid where you can actually set separate wattage for each channel from 10w to 100w.
The amplifier will be available in either a combo or head/cabinet configuration and has a very retro looking design following the cosmetic trend of today. The price for the TourMaster 4100 head will be approximately $1,400.00 which will certainly endear the Egnator name to a lot of serious musicians. How will these amps, manufactured overseas, compare to the hand-wired domestic boutiques? Jeff Hilligan from Egnator explained that they were very specific in sourcing the components for these amps to ensure they would measure up comparably to their USA models.
For those of you looking for that extra something special, you’ll want to check out the options for building your own customized Egnater Amplifier by selecting from numerous interchangeable modules that can be installed in head or rack configurations.
One can’t help but to have heard of First Act Guitars. Their marketing has made quite a blitz the past few years. But actually finding their guitars in music stores sometimes seems like a daunting task, and then when you do, they seemed pretty low end. Where is the gear all those pros in the ads are playing?
Having visited their booth at NAMM, we were excited to learn about their Custom Shop line of instruments, and were intrigued with the craftsmanship of their guitars on a higher level. Master luthier and shop manager Kelly Butler earned his wings building guitars for seven years in the Gibson custom shop. Ooh! No wonder the high-end First Act guitars are so nice! A wide range of new models were on display at the show.
Though the Custom Shop line includes some in-house favorites, most of their Custom Shop guitars are made to order. If you are looking for something special and unique, First Act Custom Shop can build your dream guitar to spec.
Andy and our friends at Fuchs Audio Technology were on hand with their line of amazing boutique amplifiers (see our review section). But what we were surprised to see was that Fuchs introduced a line of boutique Stomp Box pedals! Though they were still in the pre-production stage, you’ll want to keep an eye out for this pedal line. If their amplifiers are any indication, the stomp boxes are sure to be a huge hit among MusicPlayers.com guitar readers.
By now, everyone is aware of the “New” American Stratocaster Tele, Jazz- and Precision Bass. Fender has made numerous minute enhancements to their guitars to improve upon an already-successful design.
Although we had hoped to see more radical changes in the “New” American Strat (lose the pickguard on standard models, for example, add some wild finishes, make locking tuners standard, etc.), the little details wrapped up in the changes should equate to the kinds of subtle tone enhancements our readers will debate for hours on end. Of course we’re still waiting for a new Strat to top the Jeff Beck model we reviewed…
Ibanez tagged their new acoustic/electric Montage guitar as a “Kaleidoscope of Sound.” For the solo performer, the Ibanez Montage is a unique one-stop guitar providing on-board effects including two acoustic sounds, two electric/magnetic sounds (with blend options), plus reverb, chorus, distortion, notch filter and tuner. The guts of this guitar contain a B-Band UST pickup (acoustic) and an AP-9 magnetic pickup (electric).
As we listened to this guitar being demoed, we could hardly believe our ears when switched to the on board distortion and magnetic pickup. The sound was really nice – totally useable for the one-instrument performer. And as with all Ibanez guitars, this gem is a cost effective gigging solution, priced between $550.00 and $800.00 for different versions including one with a nice Koa wood top.
For the rock crow, our editorial team was wowed by the new SV Prestige guitar. For the first time, Ibanez has bestowed a twenty-four fret neck upon the S series, but that’s not all! The SV5470 guitars have the SynchroniZR bridge mated to… locking tuners! It’s so nice to see the removal of the locking nut common to most guitars with floating tremolo units. We’ll have one of these in our studios for testing shortly.
Rounding the corner we were blessed with the discovery of a few new Prestige models in the RG line. But what also impressed us were the seven-string Xiphos metal guitar (this guitar just reeked of kill-your-friends attitude), Herman Li’s new signature guitar (an S series guitar with a hand grip indentation in the top horn, either as a tribute to Steve Vai’s JEM design or just because Herman is actually a monkey. Based on his outrageous rock god stage antics at the Ibanez party, we’re not really sure what the right answer is!).
If you like the H.R. Giger Alien designs on Ibanez guitars but wish they did this to a model that high school kids wouldn’t be able to afford, look no further than the RGHRG1BKF. It’s going to cost you around $1,500 but the neck has gold alien inlays and skull knobs! And for you jazz cats, Ibanez didn’t forget you either. There were some really beautiful new Artist models including a Pat Metheny single pickup signature model.
In the bass department, Soundgear basses got a neck work-over. Ibanez brought back 1mm narrower necks like the original models had back in 1987. We really liked the new BTB Prestige five and six-string basses that featured extended scooped top horns, Mono-Rail IV bridges (strings have independent saddles without a shared bridge plate), and Bartolini Custom pickups.
IK Multimedia was on display with a wall of workstations providing handd-on review of the Stomp IO guitar interface that is finally shipping after a few years of crowd-teasing exhibition. Stomp IO provides a rugged physical controller interface to the AmpliTube family of products, is controllable via MIDI (or can provide some MIDI control over other gear), and provides both analog and digital audio ins and outs for connecting to a sound system. With its expansive display, you can control most AmpliTube features from the foot controller, enabling you to a use computer-hosted guitar rig in a live situation. Just tuck your laptop away in a corner, have the Stomp IO on stage, and you’re good to go!
Leave it to a California-based New Jersey transplant to design some of the most radical looking modern electric guitars we’ve seen in some time. Gary Kramer’s Simulator and Turbulence are clearly guitars for the new millennia, while his Custom is an updated take on the classic Kramer guitars you first discovered back in the ‘80s.
Gary’s wild creations are available in six- and seven-string models and the line even includes a fretless guitar! We can’t wait to check one of those out in our studio.
The big news from LightWave was the demonstration of their Atlantis acoustic electric guitar that utilizes their patented optical pickups instead of traditional magnetic or piezo acoustic pickups.
We’re sold on the unbelievable audio quality of Saber basses with optical pickups, and expect to put an Atlantis acoustic to the test soon.
Everyone loves to build artist signature amps these days, but the best sounding ones may belong to the artists incapable of playing them due to situations like, um… death! Check out the dreamy limited edition Randy Rhoads Tribute 1959RR Head! It’s a 100 Watt “hot rodded” 1959 valve head — an exact replica of Randy’s classic white Marshall head. It even features the same exact gain modification that Randy had performed by Marshall.
For the modern player, Marshall’s JVM line has been expanded to include combos and two-channel versions. You can read our review of the flagship JVM head here.
While there were no major announcements in the guitar area, Mesa/Boogie introduced a new bass amp in their lineup: the Fathom 600. This newcomer to the bass lineup has a very straightforward and streamlined interface — for the player who wants an amp that’s simple to operate but big on tone, this may be a great amp to consider, especially given that you get 600 Watts (at four or two ohms), a tube preamp, tuner out and line out, in either head or combo configurations starting at only $999. It’s on our way to the testing studio as we write this, so look for the review in the next month or two at the latest.
Pedulla basses are among the most desired bass guitars today. New for 2008, Pedulla presented their “Personal Creations” series. These one-of-a-kind bass guitars are made with special woods, custom colors, and other unique modifications.
It was interesting to know that Michael Pedulla has collected a limited quantity of unique and spectacular woods of the years for producing these truly individualistic models. With limited wood specimens, you can expect that the figure, color tone, patterns, and tonal properties of each Personal Creation series bass guitar will really be personal.
Each of these fine basses will be numbered and signed by Michael Pedulla, and will come with a certificate of authenticity. Not your average bass here — not even close! The cost will be approximately $10,000 for neck-thru-body models and $8,000 for bolt-on neck models.
Just as we made our way into the PRS booth to talk with folks, we practically tripped over country great, Johnny Hiland, just in time to hear him tear through a couple of songs on his signature PRS guitar. If there were such a thing as “shred country” he’d be our go-to player!
PRS presented twelve new guitar and bass models for 2008 including the David Grissom Signature Model, the Mira, the McCarty Korina, the McCarty II, the Santana MD, the SCJ Thinline, the CE 22/24 Alder, the Singlecut Hollowbody, plus a number of new SE model guitars.
Who can resist the limited edition Kirk Hammett RM100KH half stack? It’s got an all maple shell with a flame top… and yes, that’s an amp we’re talking about; not a guitar. Designed for the recording studio or showcase venue, you probably wouldn’t want to gig with the beauty, but inside, it’s basically the popular the RM100 with Kirk’s signature high-gain modules (interchangeable with numerous others). We like that Kirk’s modules have his personal scribble handwriting for all of the controls – fun stuff for when you’re not brutalizing your audience with that heavy Metallica crunch.
Do you find strats and teles just a little old and tired? If so, you can now enjoy all the joys of playing one of Suhr’s incredible instruments in a modern package destined to appeal to the hard rock and metal crowd. We loved the looks of the New Modern, a guitar that seems to straddle the line somewhere between the body styles of a Jackson Soloist and and Ibanez RG. The dual-humbucker instrument features a Floyd Rose tremolo, some killer finishes, and of course, the dreamy feel of a Suhr. Expect to shell out a few thousand dollars for the guitar with a nice flamed top.
In visiting the Taylor exhibit, we found ourselves in a sanctuary of beautiful acoustic and acoustic/electric guitars. On display were Taylor’s new entries in the solidbody guitar market – the Classic, the Standard, and the Custom. To be expected from a builder such as Taylor, their solidbody guitars offer a unique design giving the instruments a modern look and feel.
Setting their solidbody apart from so much competition are custom designed guitar bridge hardware and the newly-designed Taylor Humbucker pickups. Taylor stumbled across these pickups when they were trying to create a new pickup for the fabulous T5 acoustic/electric guitar (see our review of the T5 here). The result is a pickup that provides the cream of a vintage pickup, but with the power to fully drive an amp without overpowering it. We just got these beautiful instruments in our studio — expect a review next month.
Tired of lusting after the pricey G-System but not satisfied with other cheap all-in-one floor-based effect processors? TC Electronic introduced the Nova System, and while it may just seem to be an electric guitar version of the G-Natural (the mother of all acoustic guitar processors), it is neither a clone of that product nor a baby version of the G-System.
One of the big new features found in the Nova System is the inclusion of analog distortion! Historically, we’ve praised TC Electronic for just sticking to effects and leaving distortion and overdrive in the hands of your capable tube amp, but hey, there are plenty of players who like to get their drive from a little metal box on the floor, especially if you’ve got a boutique single- or dual-channel amp in need of some tonal variety.
Of course you’ll find other hallmark TC Electronic effects inside: modulation, delays, and reverbs, compression, and more, at a price that should be roughly half that of the G-System. So if you’re ready for a robust all-in-one pedal solution but don’t need the advanced capabilities of the G-System, you’ll definitely want to check this processor out.
Your eyes aren’t playing tricks. The company world renowned for their amplification is now producing a line of electric guitars! The configuration of the new VOX Virage guitars is a semi-hollowbody guitar, in both single and double cutaway models.
These instruments are vintage in style but have a slightly different body shape providing a distinguished look.
Washburn had lots of new guitars on display, but we were especially impressed by the new WM526. As part of their HM series, this dual-EMG humbucker, shredworthy guitar features a fast-playing carbon glass composite fingerboard with stainless steel frets developed by Parker Guitars (the two companies share the same parent, US Music Corp)
X2 Digital Wireless Systems came onto the scene with their XDS95 Guitar wireless system last year. This year, X2 introduces an upgrade from the XDS95 to the XDS-Plus. The most notable physical difference between the two units is the new metal stomp box chassis, but technically the new X2 system benefits from an extended operating range, external antennas, and an extended frequency range over its predecessor (the audio specs of X2’s rack system have been squeezed into the pedalboard format).
In addition, X2 introduced a new digital wireless microphone, the XDR-955 Handheld Digital Wireless Microphone. As with the XDS95, the XDR-955 Microphone delivers detailed signal processing without noise, compression or degradation of sound, and features the popular Audix OM4 capsule.
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