What I Learned at My First NAMM Show

What I learned at my first NAMM show:

  • The NAMM show is incredibly HUGE. It’s fitting that it’s across the street from Disneyland, as you end up walking just as much as you would at the self-proclaimed happiest place on earth (not when there’s a million guitars across the street, Walt). On a further plus, there’s a lot less puke and fewer children at the NAMM show.
  • Parking is a slice of hell. Maybe two slices. And that’s with Disney running the parking, and Disney does parking with an efficiency that rivals the train schedules of Fascist Governments.
  • NAMM is, however, one of the most incredibly organized colossal endeavors I’ve ever seen. We’re not just talking about hundreds upon hundreds of booths with guitars and amps and accordions and ukuleles, but full rooms of grand pianos and other enormous instruments. Add to this the complexity of visitor lists, vendors, exhibitors, performers, and so on, and it’s just incredible that the whole thing comes off without a train wreck of disasters.
  • People who wear sunglasses indoors look like idiots. The NAMM show is no exception. Knock it off, people. If you don’t have some eye condition and you’re wearing sunglasses inside during the day, you look stupid. You do not look like a rock star. You look like a guy trying to look like a rock star. Which is really not an admirable goal for anyone over 14.
  • The guys at the Eastwood booth were a kick and a half to hang out with for four days. Many laughs, much guitar geek love and a cool surf guitar show for the first two days by fellow Buster Keaton fan Peter Robinson of the CA surf band Surf Cinema. Thanks for the great time, guys!
  • Metal and shredding are with us to stay. As is guitar-face. And sunglasses inside. And men in their fifties in leather pants. We can ask why, or we can accept it and move on.

I also learned there were a lot of guitars I wanted. The short list:

  • A radical Fritz Bros Jimmy Reed Thin Twin model (high end…got a spare four grand for a fellow down on his luck?)
  • A cheapie (retail under three bills) Dano Pro (in Aqua, and several colors that were not Aqua…which is what happens to me when a guitar is offered in Aqua and/or Sea Foam Green…I know only that it is offered in other, non-essential colors. Aqua, people!). It played really well, and it had an improved bridge over the last re-issues. And it comes in Aqua.
  • Some very cool Italia models, including an absolutely stunning twelve string electric with a beautiful headstock. Why aren’t there more sparkly guitars in the world? Well, Italia is doing their part to right that wrong. A big sparkly thanks, folks!
  • See-through Ampeg Dan Armstrong. I didn’t play it, but it’s see-through. That’s enough cool factor.
  • SEVERAL Eastwood models released at NAMM, but there were also a couple of others that will be ready in April – the AIRLINE Tuxedo “Kay Barney Kessel” Model and the Map Shaped Bass. The Saturn (man, that’s a fun guitar to play…and I got one!), The Town & Country (ditto), but the big hit was the Map Shaped Guitars. I’m guessing EASTWOOD sold out of those at the show. All great lookers and players.

And a bunch more. What else did I learn?

  • Peavey continues to make solid, well-made really ugly stuff. 40 years and counting of truly aesthetically challenged design. You would think they might have accidentally made a cool looking guitar by now, but nope, you’d be wrong.
  • There was a guy who always dressed in camouflage and sold machine-gun shaped electric guitars. I kept my distance.
  • In a world of large booths, Fender and Gibson have REALLY large booths. No stunner there, but the Fender booth did have some cool historic guitars. They also had a new Eddie Van Halen model that costs a lot of money for something that looks like it was made in a high school shop class by a stoner in 1982.
  • Randy Bachman seems like a nice guy in addition to being a legend who has played on lots of great tunes.
  • I learned there were a lot of amps I wanted.

Again, the short list:

  • The new. Which isn’t really a re-issue, as I don’t think they ever did a Jet with 6V6 output tubes (a early Reverberocket, yes, maybe a Jet, but I don’t remember that…I’m pretty sure they all had 7591’s). But, anyway, it sounded great, and had only Volume, Tone and Tremolo Speed and Intensity knobs. Cool. Low wattage, few knobs. Gotta love that.
  • Our very own Don Mackrill’s Airline 18 Watt amplifier. Just a great looking and sounding amplifier. Hand made, with style and care and great tone. What’s not to love? Don, I want one in Sea Foam Green! (Everything should come in Sea Foam Green with a Bigsby option. I’d put a Bigsby on my Sea Foam kitchen table if I could).
  • Ben Fargen’s 4x6V6 amp. Yummy. Four 6V6’s, which is such a cool way to get to your 30-40 watts, rather than the more conventional two 6L6’s.

What else?

  • Joel Weaver of Home Brew Electronics, in addition to making my favorite overdrive pedal (The Power Screamer), is a nice guy. Check out his pedals. Great stuff.
  • I begged Groove Tubes…I cajoled JJ Tubes…Nobody is going to make a new 7189A tube. Argh. This is sad news to a Magnatone M10 lover. They just don’t run on EL84’s, no matter how rugged, and there is an ever-dwindling (and ever-expensive) supply of 7189A’s. As my niece likes to say, this news is “poopy.” Poopy, indeed.
  • A lot more people that I might have expected wanted Paul Stanley’s autograph. But, hey, it’s a big world. More power to him, I suppose.
  • There’s one very cranky and not incredibly competent woman who checks your bags on the way out. There may be more than her, but I kept running into the same one. She would demand I open my bag, not really look in, and then bark at me to move on. I could have had a severed head in that bag for all she knew. (I did NOT have a severed head, for those wondering at home).
  • There are a LOT of people who play guitar better than me. That’s not a huge surprise to me, but when they’re all in the same room with you (albeit a VERY LARGE room), it’s pretty humbling. A lot of people who can play out there in the world. Pretty cool.
  • I learned that I had to sell some stuff to make some room for what I carried out of there. NAMM is a heady experience, a gear freak’s nirvana (or close…maybe it would be nirvana with vintage axes, too), and a tiring sensory overload that’s a ball.

There’s nothing quite like it, and I can’t wait until next year to see what’s new.

See you in next month’s newsletter.