"...comes back from Hammersmith."
What we saw at the big fair, including famous gear and famous people.
Where the world was treated to this year's British Music Fair – more gear than you can shake a bucket of weevils at. We were at the six day show to bring back the news and a sandwich. This is what we saw, plus a few stories that didn't make it to Olympia 11. Reports: Jon Lewin, Tony Bacon, Paul Colbert, Andy Duncan.
A new constellation in the guitarist's firmament: 'Epiphone by Gibson'. Like Fender for Squier, Gibson have given their approval to an Oriental firm, with their seal of approval theoretically ensuring high quality. A new series of electrics are being marketed under this once famous name: the two four strings are the Accu Bass (single pickup) and Rock Bass (twin pickups). Of the new guitars, there's an Explorer, a V shape (it's called the V-2, goes like a rocket, ha ha), and three Strat shapes with pointy headstocks. The Stratuesque S200, S300, S400, and S500 models come with single/single/double and double/double pickup coil configurations, replete with trems, five way switches, et al.
Anyone buying any item of Roland or Boss gear from either of the Gigsounds shops in S.E. London apparently automatically qualifies for membership of the Roland Super JX Club. Evidently run on more commercial lines than Yamaha's DX equivalent, the Club offers a regular newsletter, seminars and meetings, as well as the expected discounts on Roland equipment. For more information, contact Eric Lindsay at Gigsound, on (Contact Details).
DEPENDED what sort of guitarist you were, really. If you were one of those noisome fellows who uses two hands tapping on halfway up the neck, you headed for the shiny but expensive Jacksons and Charvels on the JHS stand, then sat for half an hour playing a Hondo through the numerous supplied Rock Boxes; or you annoyed everyone by playing a Guild or Tokai through one of Blue Suede's new 'spensive Sundown amps. You would have liked the Marshall stand, with great rows of stacks, including the well wacky 3ft high tranny powered ministack. We won't mention their fairly soundproof booth. Peavey showed their new Butcher stack, which looked like a Marshall, only bigger, and nastier.
Weirdos loved the Gittler, with its tubular frets and six pickups, the familiar Steinbergers, and those Atlanssia hand-made Japanese semis with their hand carved tops and circular pickups, but were a tad puzzled by Dynacord's Rhythm Stick guitarist's drumkit think – probably the most popular playable item there; it's a drummer's guitar... wait for the review.
Traditionalists expressed disappointment in the Fenders – the guitars were nice, but where were the promised chorus amps? New Gibson reissues, like the Les Paul Junior and Firebird looked good, but not as gorgeous as Hugh Manson's custom mades. And if you'd seen Adrian Legg playing, you'd probably have made a beeline for those Ovations too.
So many baby amps, and British gear too – the weeny Ross 10w practicette with clean and overdrive split channels was impressive, and Custom Sounds and Design also drew attention. ILP showed a new and severely untraditional combo design, while Laney had their new Linebacker facility packed combos, and Carlsbro presented their Rebels, and the valve equipped Sidewinder.
Anything you could fiddle with was always crowded; the Boss effects stand was impossible, Dod pedals were always busy, some Washburns got scratched, and the new Westone Panteras got handled a lot. Lots of claims were made about 'best quality Japanese copies', but Fernandes weren't showing so ESP guitars on the Rhino stand got credit.
You weren't allowed to tamper with the numerous guitar synths, unless you were trade or famous. Bert Weedon looked worried by the Ovation system, Ian from Saga showed off the Shadow, and I perspired over the IVL, having been impressed by its jazz demos. We had lots of enquiries about the Stepp, which wasn't there, but they illustrated the level of interest in these inventions, the only real innovations at the show. Now the initial hooha has died down, the guitar/MIDI instrument is actually developing character and purpose – people are beginning to take it seriously. But because it's an expensive and complicated tool, its appeal is slightly limited.
The overall impression I received from talking with visitors to our stand was that most were a bit disappointed with the new gear on display – they enjoyed the show, thought it was well organised, blah blah, but where was all the new stuff? People went to see the gear that they already owned (Westones, Arias, Session, Ibanez, etc), or to lust after famous names (Fender, Gibson, Marshall, Rickenbacker). And that was that, apart from the odd demo.
There was new gear, but most of it was unspectacular. Manufacturers had obviously been consolidating their positions with already established lines: refinements had been made, improvements in circuitry, changes in design, but nothing startling or eyecatching – with the exception of the guitar synths, and the Rhythm Stick. But what innovations can the guitarist reasonably expect?
THE MESSAGE for drummers at this year's fair was that, as far as the manufacturers were concerned, stands are out and scaffolding is in. Both Tama and Simmons followed the initiative taken by Pearl, who introduced the Jeff Porcaro designed drum rack (essentially a heavy-duty fire screen) by developing even sturdier looking alternatives. The Tama stand was dominated by an enormous pink, double bass drum kit which was barely visible through what seemed to be its own set of shop fittings. Closer scrutiny revealed that various drums, cymbals and lights were being suspended from this impressive structure.
Simmons were equally determined to show off the positioning potential of their tubing and the resulting sweep of pads would no doubt be just the ticket as a work of conceptual art should there be a lack of consumer interest. While this is all very wonderful for pro players with flight cases, humpers and a fork lift truck, this gear will still have to be broken down by the many lesser mortals who tote their own and will still occupy the same space when you turn up for a pub gig and find the entire band restricted to an 8 by 4 stage.
Pearl meanwhile were happy to display a vast selection of conventional kits, all including their new chain-driven bass pedals and hi-hat stands.
Fibes, a name formerly associated with the development of fibreglass drums, have obviously suffered during the years since this was a fashionably desirable material, this year the name could only be found on a range of more conventional, though attractive, hickory sticks.
Yamaha have had no such problems during the same period but seemed curiously reticent about their new PMC1 Electronic kit. Only the pads were on display, these resembling a set of hi-tech table tennis bats. We wait with almost baited breath for sight or even sound from this device.
Sabian were showing off their new budget range of sheet metal cymbals. The B8 or B8 PLUS (brilliant finish) will compete with the Paiste 404 for the first time buyer but rather like the modern car, has a limited lifespan. Keep them well polished to make that top end last.
Sonor drums have a reputation for quality and this certainly extends to their conga drums, which they produce in wood, in four sizes (including a super-quinto). The set on their stand was beautifully finished inside and out (no dried lumps of glue squeeze out from between the slates of wood) and had excellent skins which produced a rich, resonant tone. At 300 quid a go they're good value and right up there with the Gonbop (wood) or LP (fibreglass).
Anyone with a yen to conga, but no experience, could do worse than pick up a copy of Hans Mater's "Introduction To Latin Percussion" which was the best bit of tuitional literature I saw. Step by step, with lots of photos it shows you where to put your hands and what to do with them when confronted by congas, bongos or timbales. Most of the guys you see flapping away at a hired set of Natals on TV shows are no help to the beginner. They need a look at this book as much as you or I do.
Do you want to enter our 1986 Synthesizer Tape Contest and win three synths, some drum machines, various books and stuff, and a slot on a winners' compilation tape? If you do, make some noises 'entirely or mainly with synthesizer/computer instrument' into a tape recorder, then send five minutes or less of it on a cassette to SYNSOUND (Dept. STC), (Contact Details).
Fancy a Firebird? Love a Les Paul, Junior? Desire a Doubleneck? Make passes at a Melody Maker? Swing for an SG? Effuse over an ES175D? Now you can, with Gibson's all-new old guitars series, which revives all those old models that died out because not enough people wanted them. Now they're back, so watch those secondhand prices tumble.
Also new are a double cutaway Les Paul (the XPL), a Les Paul Studio Standard with tremolo, an SG Special (the 400) with two single coils and a humbucker, a Q-4000 fat Strat shape with three pickups. The bassists are catered for with Victory, Explorer, and Q-80 models.
It's good to see Gibson finally doing something 'new' – but there's no specific news yet as to when they're likely to be available in the shops.
Not content with bunging us Vision guitars from the Far East, Rosetti are also importing Vision strings from the USA. Made by 'a well-known and highly respected US company' (now who could they mean?), they proffer high quality at a low price. Now there's a slogan.
The promised Guitar Weekend at the Barbican has now been postponed to November 14,15,16. So don't hold your breath.
MTR of Watford have announced a 19in rack-mounting eight-into-two mixer intended to cater for multi keyboard set-ups, electronic drums and the like. Each channel has Gain, FX Send, Pan, and its own stereo Send/Return loop, while the output section has master volume, FX Return volume and Pan. The channels operate at line level, and all controls and inputs are mounted on the front panel, so there's no need to crawl around in the dark behind your rack. This sensible machine is enticingly entitled the SLM82 Line Mixer, and sells for £233, including VAT.
Now here's a good idea – we think. The Richmo Transverse replacement bass drum beater puts the head across the shaft. Like a tin can, with a pencil shoved in the side rather than down the end. It will cost £5.90.
THE PROBLEM with not being a member of the club is that you end up running through the rain. The two most interesting bits of keyboard stuff in the show, weren't, in the show, that is. They were in hotels down the road. This was because the companies concerned – EMU Systems and Sequential – were not as one with the Association of Music Industries which oversees the fair.
So to see the E-Max which will bring Emulator II style sampling below £2,000 (gasp), and the Studio 440, a drums-sampler-sequencer mini studio, you had to dash through the downpour to where they lived.
E-Max first, a remarkable achievement, which manages to squeeze much of the essentials of the Emulator II into a single (massive) Large Scale Integrated Circuit. The boss kept pulling one out of his pocket to show people. The demo was impressive, and though the keyboard won't be around until later in the year, it could be as little as £1,900 and a hit when it arrives. AND it will already have all the sampling library and expertise of the Emulator to call upon for help.
The Studio 440 will take longer to arrive – prototype only in the Sequential room. It's being hailed as a step beyond the Linn 9000 drum machine. It offers 12 bit sampling, (a close copy of the Prophet 2000 sampling keyboard) with a maximum of 33.6 seconds at the 15KHz rate and 12.6 seconds at 4lKHz. The drum section organises 32 channels of external MIDI gear. Lastly the Studio 440 can sync to five different sources... internal, external as a SMPTE slave, external MIDI clock, 96, 48 and 24 pulses PQN and external MIDI Time Code, (a Sequential refinement of MIDI which goes part way towards SMPTE facilities). Big, isn't it, $3,999 in the States, British price yet to be fixed.
Back under the Olympian awnings, there was Ensoniq clogging the aisles. Ivory bashers were keen to try the synth over headphones and dabble with the connected Commodore computers which lead you through a fairly tame demonstration of the sampler's facilities. The Korg DSS-1 (reviewed last month) had a more modest presence as did the new Korg Sampled grand pianos, the SG-1D and SG-1 not getting the attention they deserved, we reckoned. Not keyboardy but intriguing nonetheless was the Korg triple digital delay line – three DDLs in the same box for setting up complex echos or three time-based effects at once (chorus flange delay for example, and all MIDI selectable).
Vaulting to the second floor we came across the Yamaha Village, a fabulous display of their fine FM wares, all linked up and playable over the 'phones. This is the way public shows are supposed to be, boys. Plenty of chances to try the DX and RX series together.
Around, but less common, was the QX5 sequencer, a powerful four track upgrade of the QX7 storing 20,000 notes (15,000 with velocity). As an aside Yamaha have some work to do to change the front room image of their Electone keyboards, but some examples offer reasonable features, and they were attracting interest up on floor two.
Of course, if you have a stand of our own, you will be approached by lone men from Musicorp who will tell you about their cartridges for the DX7 – the E series storing 64 or 128 voices in one cartridge, or the luxury S series available in 64, 128, 256 and 512 voice configurations and able to write or read a synth's worth in 2 seconds.
But even an all area backstage fass wouldn't get you closer to the Roland keyboards than the scores of punters already tinkling away. Those despairing of the crowds sneaked round the back to the look at the Piano Plus home pianos. It's shows like this which demonstrate how far the electronic upright has come.
Those of you splendid BMF voyagers who visited the Making Music salon will remember the spiffy competition we had. Win a Casio CZ-1000 synth (fabulous powerful and digital). Win a Casio SK-1 sampler (small, perfectly formed and waiting for your silly noises). Win a KMD 60watt combo (also small, but very loud). Win a Westone Pantera bass (bass sized and rather fine, actually).
You had to stroll around the show collecting the names of representatives from the Casio, Rosetti and FCN stands, and then guess the number of letters Making Music has received since we started.
The letters, if you were wondering, total 976 which makes the winners as follows (holds breath). First Phil Matthews of Derby at 974; second, Paul Feld of Edgware, Middx at 987; third, R.D. Harston of North West London, claiming 955, and fourth E.G. Carpanini of Canton, Cardiff at 1,000. The stuffs on the way, once you've thrashed out between you who wants what. Commiserations to Andy Moyle and Matt Rose who came so close with 1001. How about free subscriptions to Making Music instead?
But still a moment. That wasn't the only contest us generous Making types ran. Members of the trade (business-chaps) also had the chance to win a Magnum of fine champagne by guessing how many Reader Response cards we received for our first four issues. The totally stunning total... eat your hearts out other music mags... was 17,112 (seventeen thousands one hundred and twelve). Winner is Dick Nordyk of Little Miracle guitars.
THE BIGGEST THANK YOU of the entire BMF goes to everyone who came up to our stand to say hello. You said we are the best musicians' magazine ever. Well, we say you're the best readers ever, if the BMF sample was anything to go by. We were about to buy you all a drink, but only had a fiver on us. Next year.
MOST OF THE interest for the humble four-stringer who wandered around Olympia came from bass amps rather than bass guitars. Looking for uncrowded stands (rare) or big bass surprises (even rarer), the mind wandered as stallholders offered such diversions as a string-making machine (so they don't grow on telegraph poles) or a kit to make a Crumhorn (and then you can sample it, natch). But we were talking basses.
Nice basses? There was the Vox White Shadow M-Series fretless, two bar pickups and 175 quid, which'll be here in November all the way from Korea, and a new version of the Hohner B2A (available next month; old version reviewed June) with new pickups "by the bloke who developed EMGs" and true active rather than tone-boost electronics. Horriblist Shape Prize went to the Westone XV200 bass, something like a deformed space invader, while Most Unoriginal 'New' Idea Prize went to the many five-string basses on show (with the honourable exception of the well-yummy Rickenbacker 5). Poor old Yamaha only had life-size pix of Pino Palladino who they'd had in mind to demonstrate their five-stringer – PP was lucky enough still to be busy with Paul Young in Italy.
Nice bass amps? Cougar's 100W bass combo looked rugged and, it must be said, bulky, and a Session person disclosed the interesting news (enough to strike terror into the hearts of competitors) that they have a bass amp on the drawing board, at the moment with little other than two switchable channels actually inked in. More solid was the entry of Carlsbro into Trace Elliot country (in style, at least) with their B150 head (£300) and related combos (£500-£580), all with 12-way graphic, built-in compression, front-mounted DI business and quite a few LEDs.
But even this brave effort was overshadowed by Peavey's masterstroke, their Megabass amp. Sure it's expensive (£770) but it has every appearance of being a winner – and the close proximity of Colin Hodgkinson with a plugged-in bass did it no harm whatsoever at the BMF. Graphic, crossover/bi-amping, boosts, input pad for actives, chorus, fan-cooling, 2x200W in stereo or 400W of mono ooomph, and more. A good one, in fact. After that lot, it was off to relax to the soothing tones of Jonas Hellborg's big bad bass in one of the demo halls. Cripes.
In last month's Bible we said the Fostex X15 Mark II had "improved electronics". That's cos someone at a music shop in London told us so. They were fibbing. So when it came to us asking at the Fostex stand what these improvements were, A Spokesperson shuffled his/her feet and said actually, the only difference between the Mark II and Mark I Fostex X15 is a colour change. And then A Spokesperson underwent a colour change.
Of more substance on the stand were the new Fostex E6, E2 and E22 reel-to-reels. The 16-track will be about £4700; the E2 (½in) and E22 (¼in) are stereo machines at £3200 and £2800 respectively. There's a new 8-track, the (guess?) E8, on its way, too, which'll go for around two-and-a-half-grand. What's the main improvement of the E8 and E16 over the existing B16 and A80, we wondered (mentioning that we would not accept the answer "colour change")? "They have direct drive capstan motors," replied the recovered Spokesperson. Which means? "Easier and improved syncing."
We also managed to weedle out of the tireless Spokesperson that a new Fostex cassette multitracker will appear in November, pitched between the X15 and 260. "Ah, you mean a Fostex competitor for the Tascam Porta One," we countered. Cue second colour change.
Over at the Harman stand, replete with Porta Ones and much else, it was quiet on the new prods front. More interesting things lurked in the JBL section: specifically some tiny new speakers, the Control Ones, which will take 120 watts, are of high sensitivity (ie loud with quality), and, even better, are but 150 quid a pair.
What of the other 4-track cassette people? Clarion seem to have gone into hibernation, and we heard that Peavey are in Complete Redesign Mode as far as home recording goes. Existing Vesta Fire stuff was to be seen on the Arbiter stand (they are the new UK distributors), and though nothing new was visible we were promised the new MR30 4-track at about £200 in October.
Outboard, we were drawn in theory to two machines: the Boss DEP5 multi-effects box (£675, here in October) which we couldn't get near (see BMW News July), and the Ibanez SDR1000 stereo digital reverb, with independently programmable channels and eight 'soundfields' forming the basis for 30 factory patches and spaces for 70 of your own. It's available from this month at £895. Ibanez studio effects are made in Owariasahi, Japan by the Hoshino Gakki company, and new UK distributors FCN will be bringing in new products from January '87 under a new brand name (ie not Ibanez) still to be registered as we went to press. We'll keep you informed.
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!