Seven pages of new products revealed at this year's NAMM Expo in Chicago
The National Association of Music Merchants' International Music & Sound Expo held this past June in Chicago featured a large number of new lines of keyboards, guitars, amps and other sound equipment, generally marked by lower prices as well as some improvements.
"The new look in medium priced guitars is going to spur instrument sales," commented one retailer, George W. Jones, owner of The Music Pantry, in Richmond, Indiana.
Fender guitars, which has been losing sales to lower priced electric guitars that copy much of Fender's design, introduced 23 new models. "We're trying to recapture the market share we should have," said Dan Smith, Fender's marketing director for electric guitars. The new upgraded Strat with tremolo and case, for example, lists at $650, compared with a retail list price of $950 for the previous model.
To cut some of its prices for loudspeakers and stage monitors, Eastern Acoustic Works introduced kit versions of three of its popular systems. The kits sell to retailers at wholesale prices $100 below the retailer cost for the already assembled versions. They are kit versions of the SM 120B stage monitor and the FR-100B and FR-300B loudspeaker system. Eastern Acoustic also introduced a new three-way system, the JF-500 which features a 15-inch horn, and a new bass horn, the BH-500LR, a 10-inch version of its BH-102LR which features a 15-inch horn.
Electronic instruments moved further into the computer age as many of the new electric keyboard instruments can interface with computers. "This business of tying electric keyboard instruments into computers is going to turn the music industry on its ear," Robert Press, owner of The Sound of Music chain of stores in Langley, British Columbia, Canada, reacted. "I feel acoustic piano eventually will all but disappear."
But while keyboard instruments continue to move into the computerised future, part of the amp industry continued to return to one aspect of the past. New tube amps were introduced by Fender, JMF, Legend and others.
New electric keyboards were shown by Kustom (the Kustom 88), Korg (the SAS-20 which can be used for composing and arranging as well as practising), Octave-plateau Electronics (the Voyetra Eight programmable eight-voice polyphonic synthesiser), Seiko (Digital Keyboards DS101 and DS202), Fender Chroma (the Polaris), Roland (HP-300 and HP-400). Technics (the SX-K100 and SX-K200 digital keyboards and six electronic organs, some previously available in Europe) and Gleeman (The Pentaphonic Clear).
The continuing popularity of the cleaner sounds of older rock 'n' roll accounts for the growing tube amp activity.
JMF Electronics introduced its Spectra Tube Series, six new amps with power ratings of 30, 60 and 120 watts rms. The Spectra 30-T, 60-T and 120-T are all identical except for their power ratings, with the 120-T are all identical except for their power ratings, with the 120-T featuring a switch to select either 60 or 120 watts. Each contains a 12-inch heavy duty speaker with a rhythm channel plus a distortion block and has self-contained singles, twins and powered heads. Controls include volume, treble, middle, bass, master, lead gain, lead master, reverb and presence. The rear panels include EFX send, EFX return, extension speaker and AC outlet. Head versions of the Spectra 60-T and 120-T are available as the Spectra H60-T and H 120-T.
JMF's other new tube amp is the Spectra 212-T. With 120 watts rms of power, it has two 12-inch heavy duty speakers plus two channels with autoswitch and mix capabilities. All switching is electronic with LED indicators. Channel 2 features are identical to those on the Spectra 120-T while Channel 1 controls include volume, treble, middle, bass and master.
"With other amps, overtones are on everything but tubes are selective," said JMF's Don Rees in explaining the advantages of tube amps.
Legend Amplifiers, which previously had a 50 watt tube guitar amp with a single 12-inch Celestion G-1280 speaker, the Legend G-1250-SC, has added a 50 watt rms tube head unit, the GH-50 and a version of the earlier amp but with double 12-inch Celestion G-1265 speakers to its tube amp line, dubbed the Rock 'n' Roll Series II guitar amplifiers. Versions of each with bass boost also are available under the name Super Lead Series II. There's also a new Model A Series II of the guitar tube amps — 30 watt and 60 watt versions, each with a single 12-inch Celestion G-1280 speaker, and a 30 watt version with a single 12-inch Legend G-1260 speaker. Prices in the line range from $500 for the latter 30 watt version to $975 for the 50 watt double-speaker amp with bass boost.
Fender has such all-tube amps as its Twin Reverb II, Princeton Reverb II and Concert series. Totally new is the Montreux amp, the Stage Lead amp and the Sidekick amp line. The 100 watt Montreux with its heavy duty 12-inch speaker features two channels, programmable effects loops, dual reverb controls, a four-band equaliser with two independent midrange controls and a high-gain lead channel preamp with gain and master controls. The 100-watt Stage Lead 212 has two 12-inch speakers, two channels, channel switching, dual reverb, and effects loops.
The Fender Sidekick amps, which include five models, have a new preamp with full three-band active EQ (bass, middle and treble), super high-gain circuitry, master volume control and headphone jack. The battery-powered Sidekick 10 has 10 watts of power for its high-efficiency eight-inch speaker. The 20 watt Sidekick Reverb 20 has built-in reverb and a specially designed 10-inch heavy duty speaker and adds a presence control to its numerous controls.
Two bass amps round out the line: the Sidekick 30 Bass with 30 watts, a heavy-duty high-efficiency 12-inch speaker and a rigid, open back enclosure and the Sidekick 50 Bass with 50 watts, a 15-inch high-efficiency speaker and a larger cabinet which allows tuning for more bottom-octave projection. Both also feature three-band active EQ, headphone jack, and line out and effects loop jacks.
JMF also has added more than new tube amps to its lines. The Spectra SR112, which will handle 135 or 150 watts rms, and the Spectra SR115, which will handle 140 or 150 watts rms, promise road worthiness, portability, efficiency and wide-range, balanced audio response. The SR112, which weighs 48 pounds, has a heavy-duty 12-inch driver and a 21/2-inch voice coil while the SR115, which weighs 64 pounds, has a heavy-duty 15-inch driver and a 21/2-inch voice coil. Each has a five pound, 40 watt rms driver, high frequency attenuation and bi-amp capability. The crossovers are 6 dB/octave LC networks utilising high-current capacitors and large air-core chokes and the crossover frequency is 1 kHz.
"They have a smooth response," said Don Rees. "There's not a lot of peaky things. You boost what you want boosted because that's easier than cutting back on what you don't want." This characteristic, Rees added, makes the Spectra SR112 and SR115 "good for keyboards and great for acoustic guitar" as well as good for electric guitar.
New amps for basses as well as guitars were introduced by Ibanez, with the GX40B and GX60B offering 40 watt and 60 watt bass amps and the GX20, GX30, GX60 and GX100 offering 20, 30, 60 and 100 watt guitar amplifiers. While the GX20 offers such features as overdrive and normal inputs with individual level controls, headphone jack, extension speaker jack, a line-level output for PA and studio use and controls for master, treble, middle, bass and reverb, the top-of-the-line GX100 boasts two switch-selectable channels for immediate access to lead and rhythm settings.
Channel I contains a smooth, sweet overdrive and a volume control for level matching with Channel II. The equalisation circuit provides bass and treble controls along with a switchable semi-parametric midrange boost/cut while the master volume has a 'bright' switch for enhanced highs. The GX100's two independent effects loops may be assigned to either input channel and may be individually switched in or out. Effects loop switching, channel switching, parametric EQ switching and reverb switching are all accomplished with the multi-footswitch. The GX100's 100 watts can drive an external speaker, a line-level output for studio and PA use and headphone for private practice as well as its own high efficiency 12-inch speaker.
As all the amp and speaker activity showed, the guitar is not being upstaged by all the new electronic keyboards, despite all their new features and lower prices. As the Rolling Stone's Keith Richards explained in a recent interview in an American magazine, the guitar is too basic to rock to ever be replaced by even the most advanced synthesisers.
"The guitar, apart from its musical worth and versatility, also has a mystique about it — the way it looks and plays is very central to rock and roll," he pointed out. "It's pretty much always going to be the central core of most rock and roll."
Although the Stones have used synthesisers to augment their sound, Richards said, "I could never see us adding synthesisers to our lineup permanently."
Even groups that do include synthesisers and other electric keyboards still rely on guitars for their cutting edge of sound. Guitar makers certainly are aware of this and they, from the large Fender company with its 23 new models to small companies with no more than one or two models, were very visible at the NAMM Expo.
"Eighty per cent of our guitar product at this show is brand new," pointed out Fender's electric guitar marketing director Dan Smith. "We've even applied for 14 to 17 new patents for such things as bridge design, truss rod design and active circuits on our new models. That will protect us for a while, and protection is what we had lost in the market. Seventy per cent of world guitar sales are Fender-style guitars but only six per cent of world sales are now our own guitars."
Work began on the new models two years ago, Smith told E&MM, with nearly 200 professional guitarists providing input "on what the changes should be."
On the new Fender Elite series, which includes three Elite Stratocaster models, three Elite Telecaster models and five Elite Precision basses, necks are adjustable both ways. Other new features include active preamp circuitry, mid-range control, tone control, tremolo, noise-cancelling pickup system, drop-in string loading, security lock strap buttons and, on the bass models, bridge fine tuning adjusters.
With the new MDX mid-range control, a performer can dial in mid-range boost with simultaneous high frequency cut for the classic 'fat' humbucking sound while the new TBX tone control can be used to either cut off high frequencies like a conventional tone circuit or to let the higher resonant peaks of the pickups come through for an extra-brilliant, crisp tone. The resulting sounds, Smith said, encompass hot rock, funky R&B, twangy country and mellow jazz, and everything in between. Tremolo spring tension is now adjustable from the top of the guitar with a simple screw and new magnets in the pickups let the strings vibrate more freely for longer sustain and better intonation.
On the new Elite Precision basses, in addition to a new traditional type single-coil pickup, there's a new single-coil pickup near the bridge on three of the five models for an extra bright, punchy tone.
Some of the Elite series improvements have been incorporated into four existing models and the results are all prefaced with the term Standard to create the Standard Stratocaster, Standard Telecaster, Standard Precision Bass and Standard Jazz Bass to distinguish them from Fender's unchanged Vintage line. "We've kept the Vintage line for people who don't want things to change," Smith pointed out.
The new features on all four guitars and basses include the Biflex truss rod which adjusts the neck curvature in both directions to better accommodate different string gauges and the strap locking buttons. The Standard Strat and Standard Telecaster also have wider, flatter fretboards and jumbo frets for faster action and easier string bending.
The Elite and Standard Stratocasters, Telecasters and Precision Basses also are available in left hand models.
While Fender introduced 23 new models of guitars, Steinberger introduced only one, its first — a much awaited occasion because of the acclaim the Steinberger bass has received since its introduction two years ago. The basic shape and the tuning system design are the same as on the bass, with ball-end strings allowing for quick changing and fine tuning. And the lightweight body is made from a blend of fibre-reinforced epoxy, with an impact resistant polyester gel coat finish that is impervious to moisture and temperature variations. While the overall length is 29½ inches, the Steinberger guitar has a full 25½-inch scale length.
Controls include three-way pickup selector, volume and tone. Two active, low impedance EMG/Overlend pickups are tailored to bridge and fingerboard positions and provide greater dynamic range and signal-to-noise ratio than conventional pickup systems, says designer Ned Steinberger.
The Steinberger guitar, which carries a suggested retail price of $1,800, the same as the basic Steinberger bass model L-1, will be available by late summer.
Ned Steinberger also worked with Stuart Spector, president of Spector Guitars, to help produce the Spector NSX bass, which was also introduced at the NAMM Expo.
Silver Street Guitars, which introduced its first instrument three years ago, the small bodied Taxi (the name derives from its yellow body colour), introduced its second and third guitars at the show. The Spitfire and The Cobra. The company had started in 1979 with a line of products for guitarists, drummers and other musicians, including clips to hold items on top of amplifiers, hold cables on mic stands, sticks on bass drums and guitar picks on mic stands.
Silver Street's Cobra, like the Taxi, has a futuristic body design while the Spitfire features a version of the traditional double cutaway body design. Both the Cobra and Spitfire feature a 24¾ -inch scale, a 1¾-inch thick, four bolt maple neck, 22 fret rosewood fingerboard, Schaller bridge, precision Gotoh gut tuners, master volume and tone controls by Bourns, and two Dimarzio pickups — a choice from Super II, PAF and Super Distortion. The guitars are available in 20 different colours, including seven metallic colours, and retail for $699.95, $100 more than the double pickup Taxi and $150 more than the single pickup Taxi.
Five new Electra Phoenix models were introduced by St. Louis Music, which also revealed plans to introduce two new Phoenix models, the XV2RD and the X700JB, later in the year.
Displayed at the NAMM Expo were the Phoenix Dynasty XV3GR, the Phoenix Lady XV1RD and three models in the new Phoenix Professional Technology series — the X185GR, the X185SS and the X185RM. All have a dual coil pickup that can be operated in an out-of-phase mode and a single coil centre pickup that can be mixed either in or out-of-phase with the two duals.
Among the companies showing a wide variety of new signal processing equipment were DOD Electronics Corp. and Ibanez. DOD has increased ease of operation by making use of separate buttons, rather than a knob, for such effects as flange, chorus and double. Ibanez's new signal processors include two impressive digital delays.
The Ibanez DM500 digital delay, which retails for only $349, is designed for PA, recording and instrument use and is capable of studio quality flanging, chorus, doubling, hard reverb, slapback and discrete echo. It provides up to 256 milliseconds of delay at a bandwidth of 16 kHz.
The DM2000, which lists for $649, provides more than a full second of delay at a 16 kHz bandwidth. Features include four-digit display, five level LEDs, four status LEDs, three footswitchable functions, switch-defeatable modulation, modulation timing LEDs and infinite hold capability.
New amps and speakers, as well as new mixers and other components, were introduced by Canada-based Vibration Technology Ltd. while Sunn Musical Equipment Co. also displayed a variety of new equipment, including amplifiers and monitor equipment.
There were some 567 companies exhibiting over the four day show, and we'll end this month's NAMM report by looking at the exciting new keyboards that were being previewed.
Perhaps the most exciting new keyboard to be seen at NAMM was the Kurzweil 250. This digital keyboard uses computer 'shorthand' to store digital analysis of acoustic sounds made in much the same way as the Emulator. However, this 'shorthand' enables much longer analyses and more harmonics to be stored (more than 10 seconds and up to a hundred harmonics). This together with the improvements in signal-to-noise ratio, enables extremely long sounds decaying to nothing to be accurately reproduced, even to studio standard. Great care has also been taken to make the feel of the touch responsive keyboard identical to that of a grand piano, and timbral quality as well as volume is affected by the touch sensitivity. It is also possible to build up new sounds or combined sounds as well as record and the instrument should cost a fraction of the price of a Fairlight.
For those of you who still find such keyboards too expensive, there is good news from Rhodes. Based on the technology developed for the Chroma, the new Polaris will at the same time cost much less, but be more familiar to those used to conventional analogue programming. In addition to the velocity sensitive keyboard, the Polaris will also have a six-track sequencer. This 6-voice instrument is hoped to sell for around £1,300. Rhodes also showed an interface system called Triad for either the Chroma or the Polaris with the Commodore 64 computer.
Octave Plateau Electronics, the people who made the Cat and the Kitten synths, have moved into a different technological bracket with the Voyetra 8. With a US price tag of $5000, it comes in two separate pieces, a slim velocity and pressure sensitive keyboard (with a joystick controller) and a rack-mounting programmer. This system gives you an 8-voice polyphonic with keyboard split, two oscillators per voice, a hundred programs, 1700 event poly sequencer and MIDI and cassette interfaces. But the real beauty of the system is that the programmer module has replaceable circuit cards, so that when new technology becomes available, you simply replace an old card with the new one. The module is in fact a computer and most of the programming is done on the 'page' system normally only available from more expensive machines.
Computer music was very much a recurrent theme of the show as more and more manufacturers showed interfaced hardware and software for existing instruments or brought out new instruments which are programmed along computer lines.
Sequential Circuits showed their new MIDI sequencer/drum interface cartridge which enables the Commodore 64 to be used as a 6000 note sequencer for the Prophet 600 and T8, or indeed any MIDI equipped keyboard. They also had the Pianoforte on display, an electronic piano with 10 preset sounds.
Also showing electronic pianos for the first time were Suzuki with the Keyman Portable and the 88 Grand. Both of these fold in half for easy storage and transport and the Keyman actually broadcasts in stereo FM (without wires) to your hi-fi tuner.
Seiko entered the world of digital keyboards with the DS system. The DS 202 keyboard features 10 preset sounds, 8 rhythms, with split and duo mode. Connect it to the DS 310 synthesiser and you can build sound by harmonic addition (with LCD display of harmonics and envelopes). The DS 320 Sequencer gives you 1500 notes of poly sequencing with LCD musical notation. They also showed the DS 101 connected to the NEC computer to make a micro-music system.
Other computer music systems were displayed by Alpha Syntauri and Soundchaser, and Moog had a very complete software for the MemoryMoog on an Apple IIe. They were also showing the prototype of a new keyboard behind the scenes, the SL-8 (split, layered 8-voice digitally-controlled polyphonic), something to look out for in the new year.
360 Systems showed their range of products; digital keyboards which use preset samples to recreate natural sounds (see review in this issue).
Roland had three new products on show: the latest addition to the Piano Plus range, the 100, an 88-note version for the home; and two add-ons the PR 800 Digital Piano Recorder (a cross between a recorder and a real-time sequencer) and the Rhythm Plus PB 300 (a rhythm machine with autochord, arpeggiator and bass line).
Oberheim unveiled their DX Drum Machine, a scaled-down version of the DMX all set to compete in price and facilities with the Drumulator.
Gleeman's Pentaphonic Clear is a portable version, with presets and a clear acrylic body, of the original Gleeman synthesiser. Other features include three oscillators for each of its five voices, and eight wave shapes for each of the three oscillators. It also features a hundred programmable presets, computer-tuned chorusing, chromatic transposer and a memory that stores 600 notes.
Finally, for all those who have trouble synchronising these new products with each other, the answer to your problems is the Doctor Click. Containing numerous outputs, clocks, metronomes and pulse shapers, it solves incompatibility between various makes and even interfaces with 'human drummers'.