N.A.M.M. Winter Market at Anaheim
A special guitar report from the N.A.M.M. show
Is nothing sacred? Even Disneyland had a dark cloud of foreboding hanging overhead. This year's N.A.M.M. winter market at the Anaheim convention centre had more of a sober English feel about it rather than the usual brash and optimistic extravaganza normally associated with Californian affairs.
As in England the battle is on to produce the ultimate oldie replica, particularly those of Fender instruments. Leading the field in this country is Tokai, so it was interesting to see how they fared stateside. By a strange quirk of fate or possibly by intention Tokai were displaying next to the CBS exhibit and only those fleet of foot managed to view the replica vintage Strats and Teles, for a quiet word in the ear from CBS had the Fender lookalikes cleared from the stand within ten minutes.
However, not to be discouraged by copyright infringements, Fernandes guitars placed rather less obtrusively round the corner from the main hall, displayed their claims to fame, which are in fact regarded by our U.S. cousins to be superior to the Tokai anyway. Every effort has been made to duplicate the authentic feel currently being craved, even down to the choice of lacquer, although to my mind the nut and adjacent neck is not completely faithful to its mentor. One feather in their cap is their linkup with Floyd Rose, the originator of the tremolo system bearing his name. This system, which allows the strings to be reduced to nil tension and returned to pitch with negligible tuning deviation, is still available with its 'made in U.S.A.' tag, but now an alternative made in Japan is available at half the price.
At this stage I was wondering how Fernandes thought they could elude the problems encountered by Tokai, so I asked them along with yet another Japanese Fender clone, Riverhead Vintage guitars. Apparently the secret lies in the head decal design, but time will tell for there was a lot of mumbling into the backs of hands on this subject.
Still on the replica theme but in a different league were Phil Kubicki guitars, Phil who worked for Fender for a number of years and was in fact responsible for their much sought after LTD Jazz guitars, has used his experience to produce a reproduction to end all reproductions and for those wishing for a far slinkier feel, Phil also produces 15" radius fingerboards as an option to the usual 10". Seymour Duncan pickups are fitted as standard so of course they sound good. Inspired by requests from players like Jim Messina and John Sebastian for a practical travel guitar, Kubicki guitars also market baby Les Paul and Flying V type 21½" scale guitars featuring 22 frets and specially designed Seymour Duncan
It may have taken a long time to sink in, but CBS have finally seemed to realise that players actually like Fenders the way Leo used to make them, so they've copied their competitors and copied themselves. It is now possible to buy a brand new Fender'52 Telecaster, '57 Strat, '62 Strat, '57 Precision, '62 Precision and a '62 Jazz Bass (dual concentric pots). In addition they have added Super Champ, a 20 watt combo to their amp range.
Latest edition to the Seymour Duncan range is a replacement Firebird pickup in three configurations: vintage, custom and hot. Seymour's stand is fast becoming the Mecca for players at these shows, I actually rubbed shoulders with James Burton, Eddie Van Halen and Albert Lee who had all dropped in at the same time.
G. & L., Leo Fender's new company, have added the G200 guitar to their impressive range and the first production models have the controls mounted on a plate but this will be changed to rear mounted.
After their success at Chicago in launching their cut price wireless guitar system, Samson have now turned their attention to the add-on preamp market and first in no doubt a long line of products is a frequency booster for Rhodes keyboards, which it is promised eliminates the mush in the mid section without the need of an expensive parametric EQ.
Although Peavey guitars started out as a bit of a joke to a lot of people there are currently many manufacturers choking on their mirth, for Peavey is not only holding its own in these hard times but actually making ground. The new T-20 bass is, if I'm honest, the first Peavey bass or guitar to actually demand my attention and as it will be retailing for under £200 (including case) I should imagine it will claim the attention of many others too. Additional new products from Peavey include flight cased 10" and 12" speaker systems.
New from Yamaha is a portable rehearsal system called the Producer Series. The complete system comprises four units: a headphone amplifier, stereo mixer, stereo headsets and a micro monophonic synth. Literally small and light enough to hangover the shoulder, the amp and mixer allow up to seven musicians to jam together with independent volume and tone controls and the use of headsets mean that a big hall sound can be made without disturbing the neighbours.
Particularly useful for the student or progressive guitarist is a computerised guitar chord method called Chordex. About the size of a large calculator, it has the capacity to display over 1,000 chords on a simulated fretboard.
Having been well established over the last few years as one of the leading add-on active electronics suppliers, Power Pots have now broadened their range with a rack mounted effect, The Redubler, this unit will flange, double and reverb. A multi-tap delay line employing six differently delayed signals is utilised to produce a natural reverb and the effects can be controlled either directly from the front panel or from any guitar volume pedal which can be used to replace the delay time auto control.
One product that hopes to find an expanding market is No. 1 stretch straps. Originally the concept was to distribute the guitar's weight evenly over the shoulder and back, but of course all sorts of fun can be had with them. Peavey were certainly impressed because they snapped up exclusive rights to distribute them in black (so any colour is available as long as it's yellow!).
The ever popular Ovation Roundbacks have taken a logical and what I believe will be a popular move in a new range of cutaway round backs. These guitars have always been highly playable, but with the cutaway giving access to the 18th fret the versatility has been greatly improved. Four models launch the range, the electric Balladeer, electric Legend (deep and shallow bowl types) and electric Custom Legend.
One instrument that I have always felt has tremendous potential but has never been exploited fully due to the technical complications is the violin, so I always keep my eyes open for anything that may inspire the rock musician and this year I came across Alvarez. Although there was nothing revolutionary in the design of these candy apple fiddles, the makers claim that their Hot Bar pickup overcomes the normal achilles heel, feed back.
It is a sad comment on Kramer guitars that they are producing all manner of copies: Fender, Charvel, Steinberger, everything and anything bar a Kramer, when their first models were maybe not the best, but at least they were original.
I was impressed with the Taxi full scale portable guitar at Chicago in June and now the Spitfire has appeared. This 24¾" scale guitar, like its brother, is small and compact enough to carry around in a shoulder bag whilst retaining big guitar feel, in fact baby guitars of one description or another were to be found nearly everywhere.
Dean, whose popular Explorer guitars did much to prompt Gibson to re-issue this model, had his own Baby this year - again full scale instruments based on the V and Explorer. Even the Japanese had got in on the act with Di Mini, tiny Strats, Les Pauls, V's etc., but this time the scale was also reduced, possibly making it more of a toy - but in the hands of the right musician, who knows?
Melobar have been producing slide guitars for many years and presented an updated range with two new stand up slide guitars styled on those two shapes of today, the V and Explorer. For those not familiar with Melobar, these guitars have been designed for playing slide whilst held in the conventional upright guitar position by angling the neck, bridge and pickups to face upwards on a triangular elevated centre section.
Probably the most sought after amp sound in the States is Marshall, so it is no surprise that Bartolini have tailored their new Tube-It effect to a Marshall response, although other Tube sounds can be obtained.
A classic English tube sound means Marshall in America and it is on precisely this platform that Legend have based their whole range of amps, although the natural oak cabinets and cane grille give them a more elegant appearance than our own home grown product. New to the range is a 30 watt single channel four band EQ combo. The tube preamp has two gain modes allowing a switchable choice between any two gain settings and both modes are capable of producing distortion or clean gain.
Finally, good news for bass players. Music Man are back in production with the Stingray bass, and as Charvel guitars are now responsible for the woodwork, things should start looking up again for this troubled line.