Rain, rain go away. For the first time in recent memory, it rained on NAMM’s parade. And not just any rain, but full-on torrential downpours on Friday and Sunday, forcing cancellation and/or relocation of outdoor events. However, the party inside continued unabated, albeit with soggy clothing and damp hair.
The NAMM show has dual functions. The primary purpose is to match makers of music gear to potential buyers. The secondary purpose is to socialize with friends you haven’t seen in a long time, to make new friends, to hear live music, and “meet and greets” with noted musicians. Often, the secondary seems to override the primary—but still, for a musician, the gear lust is undeniable. The powerhouse names in the industry such as Gibson, Fender, Martin and Marshall naturally command respect and large crowds, but there is also opportunities for smaller, boutique manufacturers. There are also clear subdivisions between many different genres. For example, the traditional electric instruments favored by rock and blues musicians, such as the many Les Paul and Stratocaster models that were on display, including the amazing Fender Custom Shop models that accurately replicate the look and sound of a vintage instrument. Then there were the beautiful Gretsch hollowbody guitars favored by the rockabilly crowd.
At the other end of the spectrum, walk into the Jackson and Schecter exhibits, and it was metal, metal and more metal. These are the types of guitars that are endorsed by the dudes (and a few girls) who shred hard and heavy, and rarely play in standard tuning. The looks of these guitars are also beyond the norm, with exotic shapes and graphic schemes to match the extreme music that is made with them.
Another category that is a big draw are the sound effects processors. Effects pedals are huge sellers, as it is rare for a guitar player not to use at least a few to customize their tones. From the industry pioneer Roland/Boss to the niche designers who seem to literally make them in their garages, these devices were displayed everywhere. Each manufacturer was eager to describe why their devices were unique and superior to anything else in the quest for the ultimate guitar tones.
Similar in concept were the amplifiers. Again, the giants such as Marshall and Vox have the biggest displays, competing with a myriad of mid-level boutique amp makers such as Blackstar and Bogner. In turn there are a ton of smaller makers, all promising the discriminating guitarist the ultimate in sound, whether that player prefers the old-school sound of tubes or digital amps that can recreate sounds of many classic amplifiers.
On the lower level of the hall is the acoustic instrument section. As the population ages and baby boomers get tired of schlepping tons of gear to bar gigs, playing into the wee hours of the morning to a handful of family and friends, many are redirecting their focus towards playing unplugged. While almost every manufacturer at NAMM had musicians demoing their gear, the acoustic instrument section definitely had a gray-haired slant to it. Country, folk, bluegrass…all were represented by the enthusiastic jam sessions that took place there.
To someone who is not a drummer, the percussion section is a little forbidding. It’s really, really loud, and the concept of using all four limbs independently and simultaneously is both mysterious and awe-inspiring. To a non-drummer, the most intriguing thing are the electronic drums, or V-drums. The old days when learning to play drums meant the neighbors not liking you one bit are over. Simply slip on the headphones, and the only one disturbed will be yourself when you realize that while you aspire to be the next John Bonham, reaching the level of Ringo Starr might be a more realistic goal.
The DJ gear and the brass and woodwind sections are not the big draws that the rock instruments are, but both are an important component of NAMM, and both have their devoted attendees.
In additional to the technical side of NAMM, there are also educational lectures, awards shows and much, much live music and afterparties. All in all, the NAMM show is four complete days of sensory overload that is both exhilarating and exhausting.