There was a lot of great stuff for guitarists and bass players to be excited about at this year’s NAMM show. The convergence of digital audio technologies with guitar continued to evolve, and new products were introduced that hold some real interest for the tone snobs among us. We’re really starting to take note of some modeling products that capture the feel and expressiveness of tube amps, and we also noticed the introduction of more amps with advanced features like MIDI control and cabinet simulated direct outputs.
Two Notes Engineering
One of the best products we found at Winter NAMM 2010 had to be the Torpedo VB-101 from Two Notes Audio Engineering. This clever studio and live tool combines a power attenuator with cabinet, microphone, and room modeling to deliver your guitar or bass tube amp’s full tube tone at headphone and line levels for direct recording, carefully sculpted live sound, and middle-of-the-night jam sessions. Think of it like a DI with cabinet simulation on steroids.
It works like this: take the speaker output from your amp (up to 150W RMS into 8 ohms) and run it into the Torpedo. Then, you can select from eight guitar or eight bass speaker cabinets (expandable via free downloads), choose a microphone (from a collection of eight), set its location (on axis, in room, etc.), add some convolution-based reverbs, and then use the high-quality digital or analog outputs to either record or go into a PA system. This tool may become an invaluable asset for studio recording, playing the corporate gigs, or just cranking up an amp while your kids are asleep. $2,640 USD is the expected price. Read our in-depth review later this spring.
The next coolest thing we saw for guitar players would have to be the new line of tube amps from DAR Amplification. Anytime an amp builder sets out to deliver their own tone that isn’t trying to sound like other popular builders, you know we’re going to be excited. And when we saw the monster-sized tubes and cool colored lighting effects, we knew this was going to be something different.
DAR’s Tuzzia (2 channel) and Forza Quattro (4 channel) amps sounded fantastic (given the obvious challenge of listening to amps at NAMM). They are built around 6C33 power tubes — huge tubes used in military applications, and the tone will definitely appeal to hard rock, metal, and prog players. But the amps are more than tube goliaths: they offer useful modern technology such as cabinet simulated outputs, MIDI control, programmable colored LED selection, and the specially voiced cabinets also shy away from typical speaker selections. We could say “look for the review soon” but you know that gear like this is probably already on the UPS truck to our studio.
There were quite a few new guitars to get excited about at this year’s show. Sure, Suhr had some beautiful new stuff including set-neck models (a first), but their big announcement was a lower-priced Suhr line! For only $1,332 including case, Rasmus Guitars are a new product line with its own name, manufactured in Asia, but featuring much of the same hardware and pickups as their USA counterparts… and final setup and fret dressing is done at Suhr’s Southern California shop.
We had heard good things about Flaxwood Guitars, but we’re skeptical of instruments made from alternate materials. This Finnish company has created a line of guitars using their special Flaxwood, which is a proprietary composite made from Spruce wood chips mixed with an epoxy, injection molded, and then hand finished. We spent some time playing these guitars and were extremely impressed. They sounded like real wooden instruments and played beautifully.
Not to be outdone in the special composites arena, another newcomer, Aristides Guitars, launched a new line featuring the model 010, a super-cool looking hard rock guitar made from a proprietary composite called Arium. It features the usual high-end hardware appointments and plays great, though we didn’t have an opportunity to evalue its plugged-in sound.
Between Aristides and Flaxwood, guitars built from Carbon fiber just seem so old fashioned!
Taylor Guitars seemed to be going crazy with new releases! Their solidbody electric guitars have been very well received, and at NAMM Taylor introduced new models in hot, flashy colors, and boasting higher-gain alnico pickups and optional tremolos!
We also really appreciated the new Jason Mraz signature nylon-string acoustic guitar, the NS72ce, which had some beautiful Zodiak symbol artwork around the soundhole and custom inlays. Also new in the signature line is Serj Tankian’s black and red T5 acoustic-electric hybrid.
Very unique was their introduction of an eight-string acoustic Baritone guitar, with two of the middle strings doubled ala 12-string acoustics. This guitar should be capable of producing some very unique sounding music.
Parker introduced a new design — the Dragonfly. We’re hooked on the refined body, which has slightly more traditional lines along the top half of the guitar, and it’s also built from alder (body) and basswood (neck). It’s also the first Fly to feature a HSS pickup configuration, and the pickups are now user-replaceable if you want to customize the tone.
TC Electronic introduced something sure to set the accessory market on fire: the polytune tuner pedal. This first-of-its-kind pedal provides polyphonic tuning — just strum all of your strings open and it shows you which strings are sharp and flat on the display. Very cool! It also powers additional pedals (similar to BOSS tuners) and supports dropped tunings as well. It’s already in our studio for testing.
For those of you looking to build the ultimate custom shop guitar, Floyd Rose showed us an amazing prototype of their famous locking tremolo unit made entirely of Titanium. Expect this to add more than $1,000 to your guitar upgrade project, but hey, it’s really beautiful looking, and the ultra-light weight combined with the metal’s durability should provide some kind of… tonal difference that we can’t really comment on just yet since it wasn’t installed in an instrument!
Hughes & Kettner
Hughes & Kettner introduced their new flagship amp, the Coreblade. This cool four-channel all-tube head includes some built-in effects and full MIDI control.
What's all this talk about great stuff? The biggest disappointment for us was Marshall’s announcement of the JMD-1 line of amps. Although the marketing hype would lead you to believe that this is the successor to the classic JMP-1 MIDI Tube Preamp, it’s really not in the same category of professional product.
These new amp heads use software modeling for the preamp section (developed by a Swedish software developer), and then marry that preamp with an EL-34 power tube section. There are built-in effects, and MIDI control as well. But the JMP-1 was an actual tube-based preamp with two 12ax7 preamp tubes. The lack of a tube preamp circuit alone means that many pros won’t consider using this product, though we are curious to discover just how good they sound.
Bad Cat Amplification
Put that kitty in the cage... err, rack that is! A two-space rack-mountable preamp from these guys? It was built as a one-off, but we say put it into production. Just make sure it's got a master volume, effects loop, and some switching jacks on the rear!
Speaking of modeling software, IK Multimedia introduced Amplitube 3, which has a greatly-expanded user interface and rolls a few of their independent software packages into one product. We're thankful of that since we can't keep track of all the different product versions installed on our computers!
However, the Modeling-Champion-Of-The-Show Award has got to go to Gallo Engineering’s Studio Devil. Their Amp Modeler Pro doesn’t have half the bells and whistles as AmpliTube 3, but what it does have is fantastic modeled sound that reacts more like a tube amp than most modeling products. We spent a lot of time playing through their software and marveling at the latency-free response, and noting how nicely our tone cleaned up on high-gain amp settings when we rolled off the volume on our guitar. The software is already in the labs for review, and it has a few bass amp models in addition to the expected guitar amp simulations.
Oh, how cute! It's like a "Baby Boogie!" and it ships in its own padded gig bag. Don't let its diminuative stature fool, you, though. Two channels, 4x12ax7 and 2xEL-84, three power settings — assignable independently to each channel, 12 pounds, Boogie tone. Nice!
Check out the other cool gear we saw at NAMM:
Recording & Live Sound