Report from NAMM 2010

So, once again, I got to hang out at the EASTWOOD booth at this year’s NAMM 2010 show. I wrote a report for these pages on my first trip, but haven’t done one since mostly because the show is pretty much the same every year.

  • Some very cool products come out.
  • Some slimy companies try to sell their (generally) useless products with scantily clad women (and, hey, I’m all for scantily clad women, but it seems out of place, silly and kind of skanky in a bad way at a trade show).
  • There are rooms and rooms of guitars and amps and pedals to check out.
  • And there is what seems like a whole floor of drummers and drum products to avoid. (Only the most aurally masochistic of us should ever have to endure the “World’s Fastest Drummer” competition.)
  • A surprisingly large amount of guys (most in their 40’s, but some younger, however this is an offense that even youth offers no excuse for) walk around with sunglasses inside and look pretty much like their trying to win a “look like a pathetic moron” contest.
  • And so on.

But, it’s still a blast and a half to go—largely because the Eastwood crew (Mike Robinson, et al) are some of the greatest people to hang with. So, what happened this year at NAMM? What follows are some random notes and observations, things I saw and heard, from the NAMM show, this year’s model.

  • One of the things about booth placement at NAMM, is that you’re pretty much at the mercy of the gods…or, at the very least, whomever it is who decides what booths go where. The Eastwood booth was in the company of several very cool booths. It was, however, maddeningly placed kitty-corner to some “carry it in a bag” acoustic amplifier. The theory behind this gizmo seemed to be that any singer-songwriter could carry this tall thin speaker and amp and play a gig anywhere without back strain. Unfortunately, the makers didn’t seem to consider ear strain when making this. The sound quality was not helped by the fact that everyone who demo’d the thing seemed to be the first handful of people they could find off the street who knew a G C and D chord and who promised to howl out of tune at any public opportunity. But the amplification system itself sounded so bad that I don’t think Bob Dylan himself could have sounded good through it. As the great and funny Peter Robinson said at one point, “That thing sounds like someone strumming a screen door.”
  • The booth directly behind us seemed to be for some brand of bass. However this wasn’t some company trying to take business from, say, people who play Fender Precisions. People who play, you know, actual bass. No, this bass was for guys who thought holding down the bottom and playing tastefully and melodically were archaic notions and quaint ideas of the past. Not for them subtlety or musicality…bass is made for playing as fast as possible. And it gets even better if you can tap and snap as often as possible. Spend four eight hour days with this tuneless rumble directly behind your booth, and you will go insane. You’ve been warned.
  • Relic guitars are, inexplicably, as popular as ever. I may get some flak for this but, damn it people, if you want a beat-up looking guitar, beat up your own damn guitar. For one thing, there’s something truly disingenuous about having a fake cluster of wear on your guitar. Do it yourself! Play the hell out of it. It’s not hard to beat a guitar up—I’ve done it to several. However, the worst thing about these “relics” is that they LOOK fake as all hell (including the ones that cost about as much as a car coming out of various custom shops in, not to name names or anything, places like Corona, CA). I have a 1969 Telecaster I’ve had since 1982. It was beat up when I got it. In the twenty-eight years I’ve had it, I’ve played it more than any other of my guitars. It’s been on several tours. It’s been through THREE sets of frets. It has acquired beer and sweat and blood (all, literally) in its electronics. It’s been banged around by luggage carriers, band-mates, tour vans with crappy suspension and questionable brakes and played night after night for years by yours truly. It’s full of dings, scratches, wear marks and a couple of cigarette burns. Why do I tell you all this? Because, as beat up as my Tele is (and I’ve hardly taken great care of it, physically) is has NOWHERE near the “wear” of the average “relic” guitar. I checked out several “relics” (from several well known brands—all the big players) and they, without exception, looked extreme, ridiculous and phony. I can see the logic of wanting to feel a worn-in neck, but these relic bodies are goofy. Most look like a stoned teenager took a belt sander and mallet to them in shop class.
  • Boy, are there a LOT of pedals for guitar players available. Many of them seem to have so much gain, it has NO importance what amp you put behind it. It kind of cracks me up that people will buy a three thousand dollar amp and then put a pedal in front of it that so blocks the tone and personality, they might as well be playing guitar through a Radio Shack PA.
  • There are, and this is an estimate, about five thousand guitar players at NAMM better than me (I say this estimating the number of guitar plays at NAMM at about five thousand). Somewhat reassuring in this estimate, however, is that fewer than a hundred of them play anything I’d want to play. There’s an astounding amount of truly stunning, and truly awful, noodling out there.
  • Based on the purely anecdotal evidence of walking around the NAMM show, I would say that there are a LOT of bass players who don’t know what a bass player’s job is. Yes, Jaco Pastorious and Stanley Clark may have been geniuses, but I think they may have ruined a generation or two of bass players. I’m not saying you have to play Nashville bass and just sit on the root, or that you can’t play it as a lead instrument at time—hell, I love Mingus, for instance, or Entwistle, and they didn’t play “traditional” bass. But, damn, I heard so many profoundly AWFUL bass players just cramming a bunch of notes and slapping and pulling and not seeming to know a thing about the bottom or the melody. It’s an epidemic, people. If you have a bass player like this in your family or band, it might be time for a thud staff intervention. This “style” of playing needs a drastic reaction. Say, public shunning, or something.
  • I had to listen to a guy, some “artist” at a pedal booth demo (wearing a purple suit and purple fedora and more makeup than Tammy Faye Baker) play “Pride and Joy” and (yes, really) “Mustang Sally” several times in four days. He was, sadly, on the way to the bathroom, the food and the beer. He was also, sadly, on the way BACK from the bathroom, food and the beer. He played a Strat through a Tubescreamer and a Wah and he sounded exactly like Stevie Ray Vaughan, except for those ever so subtle little things we like to call originality and genius.
  • A lot of guys (the ones not shredding like someone named Blackie, or Sinister, or Diabolical Jones or Really Scary Larry or whatever their mascara-stained faces are) play “Pride and Joy” when they sit to test a guitar.
  • An otherwise stunningly attractive woman in her mid 40’s with a “SCORPIONS” tattoo tramp stamped at the small of her back. Just sad.
  • Along with the bozos who wear sunglasses indoors (and NO, I will never let up on you clowns until you’re swept from the Earth), there were plenty of guys trying to dress like rock stars—long coats, silly boots, one Goth guy trying to look all scary with those weird “look! My eyes are red! Ooooh, scary,” contact lenses, and so on. Really, NAMM is an interesting place to go to see how pathetically some men handle middle age. Guys, the pencil-thin mustaches, the pancake makeup, the black wigs…it would be funny if it weren’t so obvious and so naked in its Peter Pan desperation.
  • I checked out the Peavey booth, thinking I’d been unfair a couple years back saying everything they made was ugly. But, no, I was right. They make fine, dependable, at times first-rate products. But they slap that hideous early 80’s ‘lightening bolt’ Peavey logo on everything and they seem to have the worst aesthetic sense in the business. Obviously they’re doing something right, having been in the biz since 1965, but boy, their stuff is tough on the eyes.
  • What else? Well, lots of cool guitars. Some fine looking amps (it’s hard as all hell to tell if they’re good sounding at NAMM, since you can’t turn the volume up, which is good, in the long run). More Ukuleles than I’ve ever seen in one place. A Paul McCartney impersonator at the Hofner booth who didn’t look much like Paul McCartney. And, perhaps much sadder, a Catwoman impersonator at the Hallmark booth who didn’t look nearly enough like Julie Newmar. But, then, not enough people in this world look enough like Julie Newmar, so what’s one to do?
  • I’d be remiss not to mention National Treasure Deke Dickerson and his annual Guitar Geek Festival. The man knows how to put on a show and this year was no exception.

So, that’s something of a wrap on this year’s NAMM show. In between all the guitars, the amps, the goofy guys with sunglasses indoors were many hours spent laughing and hanging out with the guys from Eastwood (and I would quote some of the jokes and conversations, but none of them approached anything like a G-rating, so you’ll have to be out of that vulgar loop, my friends)—truly some of the greatest guys I know and people who make even a casual gathering in a hotel room better than most parties. Even though I’m still hearing really bad folksingers and slappy bass bozos as I try to sleep at night, I can’t wait until next year.