So, first things first. I am definitely not cool enough to go to the NAMM show. Luckily, I do associate with people who are. See, I would love to say that Boss or Mad Professor or someone saw one of my demos here and promptly offered me a lifetime pass to NAMM to be a demonstrator of their gear. Ya……not so much. Actually, if Boss were to somehow have seen my latest PS3 demo, they probably would have politely asked me never to play their pedals again. So when I do get to go to NAMM, it is strictly on the good graces of others. Sometimes from Sal Hamby, who posts here sometimes and is the nicest guitarist you’ll ever meet (currently borrowing his Taylor 710…see what I mean by nice? ); other times from a friend’s friend’s dad who was high on the chain at a power supply manufacturing company or something. (That really happened.) And still other times from an old roommate, who just seems to know anyone and everyone in the music world. And this time courtesy of Jared Valencia, who’s sponsored by Bad Cat. Thank you, Jared. So…pretty much, whenever I meet people, my first question is, ‘So…do you get tickets to NAMM?’ And if the answer is no, I do not pursue that relationship.
Unfortunately, Friday was the only day I could go. So I went early. I only live about 25 minutes from Anaheim, but an hour and a half later, I pull into a Disneyland annex parking lot (Buzz Lightyear said hi to me) for NAMM. Apparently, Disney owns the Anaheim Convention Center, too. So I join the herd of people heading across the street to the convention center, and call my friends, who have my badge-getting paperwork. And they’re about an hour out. Remember what I said about not being cool enough to get into NAMM without cool friends? Yep. So I get to hang around outside NAMM for an hour. Knowing full well the wonders that are awaiting inside. Luckily, this guy was playing outside:
No, not the spandex rock chick in the front there (I think that’s a chick), the guy in the background with the guitar. (You’ll notice that at various times I inexplicably forgot that I had brought an actual camera with me, and instead used my phone…and my phone is always whatever is the oldest and freest model currently at Sprint.) He said his name was Mike Logan, and he was good. Just simple chord progressions with great melodies and heartfelt lyrics that seemed to be borne from experience. The melodies were so good that they almost…almost…overcame the inhumane amount of delay the sound guy was drowning both his voice and guitar in. Hey, I guess it is a show about music technology, not necessarily music. But Thank you, Mike. This would pretty much be my last taste of melody for about 9 hours.
My phone beeps, and there’s a text (yes, it is new enough to at least receive those) from my posse (is that still cool to say?) saying they are on their way. So I go to meet them at the front. At the front, there was a large stage for some reason. I say for some reason, because all day, no one ever played on it. Every time we passed it, the same people were scurrying about, running the same cables, with all the same instruments on stage. Odd. But no worries, as the gear was disappointing. Like 7 brand new, out-of-the-box, Fender Twin’s. Yep, this is about sponsorships, not artistry. Nothing wrong with a Fender Twin, just the fact that every amp is the same.
So I finally meet them, get my badge (from a guy who was extremely excited to take my paperwork and print me a badge…couldn’t figure that one out, but alright! Nice people are cool!), and head up to the second floor. There were tones (no, that’s not a typo) of booths and displays and companies, but for the purposes of not boring your mind off, I’ll just highlight the ones that jump out at me:
Digitech–we went in here as it was one of the first rooms on the second floor. The second floor is mostly rooms, whereas the main floor is all booths and setups and stuff. Digitech is trying very hard, which I have to give them credit for, and they are trying to diversify. On the one hand they’ve got the RP 1000, which looks as if it’s trying to bite on the heels of the Line 6 M13. And then they also have the Hardwire series, which is trying to be boutique. There were too many people in there to try out the pedals, but…fair amount of props to Digitech for staying up on what’s popular. I don’t particularly tend to care for their tone, but alright. Do something about the name of your company, and you might be set. Oh, and they did have a lady demo’ing out a vocal harmonizer and you’ve never heard anything more fake in your entire life.
Taylor–we joined half the people attending NAMM in here. Cool guitars, but nothing I hadn’t seen before. Except that on stage there was a cool-looking Bad Cat Lynx set up for one of the artists to play later. (Bad Cat’s light up!) And, just like in Guitar Center, there were a slew of people sitting down, playing Taylor guitars, hoping to get ‘discovered.’ How do I know they weren’t just trying out the tone of the guitar? Because they were singing, too. Usually a Tom Petty song. Although it’s difficult to tell, because there’s so many of them all around each other playing different Tom Petty songs. And how do I know they weren’t just having fun? Because of the desperate and eager looks on their faces as I walked by them, hoping I was a celebrity or Taylor rep who would sponsor them and make them famous. And even if I was, it’s like, ‘You’re playing an E chord. Badly. What do you want me to do?’ And if that sounds harsh, don’t worry. I get my chance to play some stuff, and I’m sure people walked by thinking, ‘Dotted 8th delay again? Doesn’t he know that’s already been invented?’ It had to have happened.
Line 6–they didn’t even try. Terrible room, with absolutely zero setup except for like, a few pedals in the corner. It was almost as if they knew they took over the world last year with the cursed ‘M’ series ( ), so they didn’t even bother with NAMM this year. I resisted the urge to trash the room in a rebellious rock ‘n roll statement.
Godin–surprisingly, they had some amazing electrics in there. Really great woods. I might have to check these out in the future.
ESP–incredible looking guitars. Sure, they sound thin and they haven’t made any tonal advances since 1985, but they did have a guitar that was carved into an angel and actually went over the strings, so that the neck was almost a tunnel through the body, and was still fully playable. I should have taken a picture, but it was difficult to take a picture of any one guitar in that room without unintentionally getting one of the other thousand guitars with naked women on them in the background of the shot. I guess ESP’s stance on artistry is who needs tone when you can just paint the female anatomy on a guitar and it sells just as well. But the carved angel guitar was pretty cool.
Then myself and the piano player of the group couldn’t find the rest of the group, so we went off and looked at pianos. I wish I could remember the names of the companies, but some of them were handcrafted, and sounded amazing. Real, acoustic strings moving air. Beautiful. He played like a champ, while I went around and faked it with what I like to call ‘Variations on A minor.’ Which really means, hold the sustain pedal down and play all the white keys. The sales reps of these $30,000 pianos seemed displeased.
Kurzweil–the only piano company I can remember the name of. Their keyboard stuff back in the ’80′s still has some synth sounds that haven’t been matched. So I tried out their newest flagship keyboard model on some string and pad sounds, and was thoroughly underwhelmed. Bummer.
So next was upstairs again.
Fender–they took up the whole third floor.
Then we went back downstairs. (Fender has some classic designs that have a great balance between quality and price, surprisingly. But at a place like NAMM, I want to see the little independent companies. I can see Fender anywhere. And everywhere.) And into the main hall. Where we saw:
That’s right. Remember Staind? Ya, I thought not. They were huge for about a year in the early 2000′s. Kind of a Creed rip-off with heavier vocals. Anyway, we walked right by and I was like, ‘No way. That’s Aaron Lewis.’ So, we got our picture taken with him because…well, why not?
I never really got into Staind, even in high school, but I told him I appreciated his music. I think he knew I was full of it, but he was cool anyway. Because he definitely looked like he could have beat me up if he so chose.
Then we checked out some more stuff. Well, amongst the aural assault of pentatonic blues…faster and faster. I guess you can only truly demo how gear sounds while playing (successfully or unsuccessfully…guess it doesn’t matter) 32nd note blues riffs. It was less about hearing gear with these guys the companies had hired to do their demos and more about trying to show you were the better guitarist than the guy across the way. Like Guitar Center, but with the 13-year-old’s playing on the Marshall stacks all grown up. My ears started screaming for some sense of melody. Just two notes that aren’t chromatic or in some mode you made up yourself to prove something. Please.
Elixir–the guy I was with, Kenny, who’s a killer musician in his own rite, also owns a music store. So he’s talking with Elixir about carrying their products, and they mandate a $1000 minimum order every time. Way to take care of the little guys, Elixir. Another reason not to like them.
Orange–I’m not the biggest fan of Orange, but they’re definitely decent. However, they may have the coolest logo and branding known to gear. That medieval/Zeppelin looking crest logo against the orange tolex is spectacular. They were in a central spot so we passed them a lot throughout the day. And on one of the times, someone was playing a bass through one of their newer tube bass amps and…uh…whoa. Really good sound.
We hit a few more, and then went down to the basement, which is the coolest part of NAMM. That’s where all the little companies and independents are. And passed another finger gymnast on our way down. Hey, you know that delay pedal you’re supposed to be demo’ing out? How about stop the sweep picking and turn it on. That’s what we’re all waiting for. Okay, maybe just me. And as much as I wanted to hear melody and um…music?…it seems there was no end to the amount of people impressed by the same E minor pentatonic scale. So maybe they were giving the people what they wanted. I guess it is a trade show to sell gear, not to please me. Stupid giant mile-long billion dollar guitar gear gatherings not centered around me.
Bill Lawrence–too many people were stoked about this little booth for me to be able to get in and try stuff out. Guess his stuff is popular!
Moollon–so, so stoked that these guys were here. I’ve been wanting to try them for a long time. The guys there were actually really, really cool and let me sit down, grab a guitar, and try their pedals. Drives were okay, but the highlights were the vibe and delay. Delay sounded spectacularly like the T-Rex Replica in weight and depth but with TC2290 style modulation. Very impressive. And the vibe was washy without being too ’60′s. Hard to do. Only thing with these pedals is that the price point is high. But they said they’re coming out with a new line of the same basic pedals, but without the hand-etching on them. Not as cool, but same sound for a better price. I’m really hoping these guys take off. Nice fellas.
And there was the Batmobile.
I have no idea why. And I have no idea what Hallmark Guitars is, or who they are. And the fact that they think ‘Kick Axe’ is cool and original enough to be their slogan does not bode well. But they did have the Batmobile. Gotta be worth some points.
Fuchs–down there with their Plush pedals, and some goth-girl band playing shred to drum tracks. It was awkward. I think that was Fuchs. I hear good things about their pedals, but wasn’t too stoked on their showing here.
Suhr–one of the highlights of the day. I know a couple guys who work there, and was lucky enough to catch one of them while it wasn’t too busy. (Thanks, Chris!) He let me try out their Shiba drive, Riot distortion, and Koko Boost. The Shiba was decent…seemed like a perfectly fine overdrive. But the Riot was very cool. Like a fuzz, but more controllable. Very dynamic, a lot of response, and allowed each note (even stacked 7ths) to stack well without losing harmonic content. But the Koko Boost is the one I now want to sell my Fatboost for. Wow. Huge difference in fatness without losing the overall tone of the amp. Which, by the way…that Suhr Badger ain’t bad. hehe
Then I saw a guy on a platform demo’ing overdrives. Man, I wish I could remember what brand it was. Anyway, more finger acrobatics and melody was nowhere to be found. I wanted to hit myself.
Dwarfcraft–coolest booth of the day award. These two guys are the most awesome ever. They just wanted to talk tone, and germanium transistors, and how to starve battery power and put joysticks in your pedals…look for awesome stuff to come from these guys. I really think these pedals are gonna take off.
Now, this whole time I’m looking for Damage Control and Strymon. The guys from those companies have been more than generous about my demos of their products (which I never thought more than like, 5 people would ever see), and I just wanted to meet them in person and say thanks. Plus Strymon is coming out with a bunch of new pedals, including a delay and a reverb with shimmer. But I just can’t seem to find them, and they’re not listed in my little Mickey Mouse program addendum. By this time my whole group has gone to get lunch. I decided not to eat, as to see more gear. Tone knows no hunger. So I go up to the information booth to get a full directory. And am promptly told that my badge with the little ‘V’ for ‘Visitor’ on it, is not cool enough to be able to get a full directory. So I browse back upstairs looking for Strymon and Damage Control. And of course, stop by a few more booths of awesome.
Moog–I’ve always loved Moog. Great pedals, great synths. I tried out their new synth guitar deal…almost an exact copy of what Michael Brook has been doing with his infinite guitar for 20 years…and I think it’s cool. I say ‘I think’ because they were only hooked up to headphones. So it’s difficult to tell whether it’s just a gimmick, or if the tone is actually good. But it is a cool gimmick! It just basically makes it easy to do infinite keyboard-type pad sustain on a guitar just by using pickup selection.
Matchless–I really wanted to stop by here and meet Phil Jamison. My Matchless is perhaps the best thing to ever happen in my gear life, and I wanted to meet the master. Okay, now here’s the thing. Amongst tone after tone that day, and amongst all the ear fatigue going on because of 8 million choruses of ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine but with sweep picking’, some guy plugs into a Matchless and there you are. Nothing sounds like a Matchless. Now, you might not like the sound of a Matchless, and that’s cool. But nothing else sounds like it. So unique. And beautiful. Beautiful and unique and lighting up. What more can you want? Anyway, I talk to Phil for a bit and say thanks, and also ask him about a couple mods I’d like to do on the amp, and he quotes me a killer price and says they can take care of it no problem. Seriously one of the nicest guys in the world, to even take the time to talk to me about that stuff when it’s clear that my badge says ‘Visitor’ and not ‘Sales Rep’, and even though I committed the apparently unforgivable sin of mentioning the name ‘Mark Sampson’ in the Matchless booth. hehe
And now to the crux of this post. (Well besides the fact that real music that touches the soul seems to be dying in the wake of ‘my hands are faster than yours.’) I find the Diamond Pedals booth. Now I have had the Diamond Memory Lane delay on my board since 2005. That’s a really long time for me to have the same piece of gear. Nothing sounds like it. There are things that do other things better, but for what it does, it’s the only thing that even comes close. And they had been rumoured to have been coming out with a new delay, the Memory Lane Jr. So I went over, and what do you know. Aimish, one of their lead techs, invites me to sit down and play their whole line of pedals. And again, the little ‘Visitor’ symbol on my badge is clear as day. Doesn’t say ‘Artist’ or ‘Sales Rep.’ So I just sit there and hack away for like a half hour and he keeps coming over excitedly and showing me some of the features on them. What a nice guy! That, coupled with the fact that all of their pedals sounded so good, makes me just want to sell my car and buy each of their pedals.
Diamond Memory Lane–ya, I have it, but I still had to turn it on. So lush.
Diamond Memory Lane 2–I never bought this one because, even though it has a second delay preset which was cool, because the time of the preset seemed too fast, and it had been said to not have the runaway oscillation and dynamic feel of the first Memory Lane because some people didn’t like it. However, Aimish said that the Memory Lane 2 has an internal jumper that can be switched to make the 2 go back to the 1 settings. And the second preset actually had a good deal of delay time. And the 2 sounded delicious. So now I need a Memory Lane 2.
Diamond Memory Lane Jr.–this one is currently at 1000 milliseconds, and they’re toying with the idea of making it 1500. (It’s still in prototype.) It’s all digital, with an analog dry path. Sounded great. Warm, yet clear…just what you want if you want a digital delay. I thought it was awesome.
Diamond Halo Chorus–this one I’ve owned before, and sold. Great chorus, but very classic sounding. And I was looking for a chorus that was pretty much the modulation sound of the Memory Lane.
Diamond Phase–a little too classic for me. But for that Phase 100 sound, awesome.
Diamond Tremolo–whoa. Just incredible. Huge, slow, tube-like throbs, to just straight gorgeous trem. Want.
Diamond Vibrato–surprisingly like the Moollon one. Maybe a little more ’60′s. Great sound.
Diamond Compressor–not a compression guy, but right on the heels of Strymon and Emma with this one. Probably able to get a more squished sound than the other too, but not quite as transparent. (Alright, there I said it. Can’t go a whole gear post without saying ‘transparent.’ hehe)
Diamond J-Drive MK3–very big surprise. I need to hear this one next to the Tim and Liquid Blues it was so good.
Diamond Fireburst–hard to tell as I didn’t want to draw too much attention to myself. But I swelled into it a few times and it sounded very, very good.
Bottom line is that I could have a whole board of Diamond’s pedals and be completely happy. Well, except the phase and chorus, which were a little too classic rock for me. However, that probably is exactly what 95% of the people at NAMM were looking for. And that is why I say blasted Diamond Pedals. Because I walked out of that booth wanting about $4000 worth of pedals.
That’s Diamond Pedals. Kind of. I am good at photography.
And then it was time to catch a couple performances. We had seen Tony Levin signing autographs on the main floor earlier:
He’s the guy next to the Ampeg. And we found out he was playing with his band up at, I believe it was the Pro Tools stage, but I forget. For those of you who don’t know, Tony Levin is like, the epitome of the freelance musician. He plays bass and chapman stick (a midi instrument set up like a bass) and has played on countless recordings and with countless bands, including Peter Gabriel and Liquid Tension Experiment (Dream Theatre’s experimental jazz side project). Sometimes his music is cool and he can be the most tasteful bassist ever. And sometimes not. But either way, he takes himself far from seriously, which makes him one of the coolest guys in the world. So here’s the first video of he and his band. It was interesting, and made me respect them, but not my favorite musically. Still fairly cool:
And the second. In this one, he is singing about soup or super-colliders. I can’t tell which. Either way, it was one of the oddest and most awesome songs I have ever heard:
And then right after that, Al DiMeola was playing across the way on the PRS stage. Now, I really like Al DiMeola. In the ’70′s, in Return to Forever, he was one of the first guitarists to use his guitar for soundscapes rather than just trying to play faster than Jimmy Page or in more modes than Robben Ford. So my hopes were high. And…well…he can definitely play fast:
But overall, it was disappointing not to see the mix of skill and melody that I was hoping for. In fact, he only played one song and then disappeared. And kind of seemed like he didn’t want to be there. Oh, well. He’s human…maybe something happened with his family or something. Again, not all about me. Unfortunately. He did, however, call this 20-year-old girl up to the stage. Kristen Capolino. And not only did she rock, but appeared to be having the time of her life. Which was really refreshing. That was cool to be a part of:
Then I tried to see Jason Mraz in the Taylor room and it was already impossible.
So back downstairs. And I guess things were really starting to get into full swing for all the celebrity after-parties and private shows. Lots of celebrities. We passed the Collings booth, with gorgeous guitars. Collings is awesome:
And where everyone is facing, right off camera, I guess they were filming some cake-building show? Everyone was very excited. I was confused.
But then I turned around and saw:
John Petrucci and John Myung, of Dream Theatre fame. The line was like a million years long, so I did not wait in it. But I used to be a huge fan, and still listen to their stuff from time to time, so that was cool.
And then, because things were so incredibly crowded, I ducked into the quite uncrowded Rocktron booth. And started playing their pedals for lack of anything better to do. And wow! Not the best ever, but certainly good! Especially for like $50 each or whatever. The chorus was great, and the delay was very impressive. I was able to get some good sounds going, even through the solid state amps. And they had this other pedal…basically a heavy overdrive. Can’t remember the name, but it was pink and had the name of some mythical monster, complete with a ‘stare’ knob. But sounded so surprisingly good. I talked with the head engineer, who was there (actually, the conversation began because he told me I was too loud, hehe), and he told me the chorus uses the BBD chip, and that the delay’s dry path is analog, and I was starting to think that just maybe these could be cheap sleeper pedals. Pretty cool.
Okay, so then the engineer walks off. And 2 minutes later he comes back and nudges me and says, ‘Hey, you’ll never believe who’s in the middle of the floor over there. Bono.’
Faster than the response of a Telefunken 12AX7 in the V1 position, I’m off. Camera in hand. The real camera, not my phone this time. And there he was:
Eh, sort of. It hit me at that moment that I know way too much about U2. Frighteningly way too much. Because everyone else was astounded, and I was disappointed. The dress was good, with platform shoes and etched stars into the glasses. But he was way too cavalier for Bono. Bono is crazy on stage, but in public is usually reserved and a little shy. And this guy was kissing everything that moved. And his voice was different, he was a few years older, hair was dyed, and to top it all off, once about 100 people were crowded around, he hugged some guy he knew and the guy left looking around at all of us there and muttering, ‘Comedy.’ So, hopes dashed. Not Bono. Although I heard later that the impersonator even sang some U2 songs horribly off-key, so I wish I had stuck around for that. Apparently this guy does this every year.
Unfortunately, it ended up Strymon and I think Damage Control too, were in the Hilton, not on the main floor. And I definitely didn’t look there. But they were doing some private demos and I bet they were fabulous.
And then I left. It closed, and as awesome as all of the gear was, I needed to get into my car, turn on some Coldplay and hear a blasted melody for the first time in nine hours. Oh, who am I kidding. As true as that is, had I been deemed cool enough to hang out at all the after-parties, I totally would have! hehe
And then, the absolute best part of NAMM. I saw this guy the last time I went, a few years back, and had no idea he’d be there again. Michael Masley. The guy who invented finger bows for violin sounds on the dulcimer. Sitting on the street corner, outside NAMM, bringing back all that is good about music. And I loved him:
Music is melody, my friends. In my mind, this guy showed up 99% of the guys performing at NAMM. After hearing 276 people play the same riff just at varying speeds (and levels of cleanness), nothing even came close to touching my soul like this did. Oh, and gear is pretty cool, too. What if this guy had a delay pedal on that dulcimer?! Mmmmmm.