(byline: Trevor Healy) – In January 2009 Tim Frick and I drove to Anaheim for the 2009 Winter NAMM show. Neither of us had ever been but weâ€™d heard many stories from Gary Brawer and others. We walked in and slammed right into the insanity that is NAMM. Ampeg built a 15 foot tall SVT stack, bikiniâ€™ed Jaegermeister girls were pulling in crowds at the booth and the NOISE! I should have grabbed those earplugs.
After moving past microphones and PAâ€™s, the first guitar I saw was the new MOOG guitar which weâ€™d heard about. I was surprised and dismayed by its poor set-up and total lack of innovation itâ€™s reported to have (and which MOOG is famous for).
My main thoughts were on heading downstairs to the custom buildersâ€™ booths. I first headed to Sadowsky Guitars to say hi to my old boss, Roger. It was great to see him and we caught up on the last few years. Rogerâ€™s long time customer Will Lee was playing a set at the booth on his new signature model. I enjoyed seeing the new instruments theyâ€™ve been working on since I left 3 years ago.
There were many familiar faces and it seemed like everywhere we turned someone from the San Francisco area was walking by or showing instruments. Tom Ribbecke had his new Halfling basses and guitars which feature a half flat, half arched top. The sound of the guitar I played had a very full and warm tone. Right across from Tom was Blackbird Guitars, now building their instruments in the Dog Patch area of San Francisco. They make a travel size, fully graphite guitar which really throws people for a loop. The guitars are well designed, comfortable to play, and have a clear bright tone.
I next visited Zon Guitars, with whom I worked when I first moved to CA. Joe Zon and Mark Gullo, two very hard working guys who build beautiful basses, had sold most of the instruments by the time I got to the booth. Walking through hoards of punks with mohawks, tattooed rockers, and relentless salesmen we began to feel a bit claustrophobic. Tim and I headed off to find some beer for a little relief. I had heard there was a bar in the Dean booth, but that was about a mile away so we took what ever was closest. A bar just happened to be right next to a huge line of people waiting to get a signature from Mick Mars of Motley Crue, one of the many strange sightings throughout the weekend.
We met up with Gary shortly afterwards and headed off to the Gibson rooms. They have half a floor to themselves and have filled every inch with new gear. Gary talked with Edwin Wilson about the new Jimmy Page relic Les Paul while I checked out the Robot guitars. Weâ€™d been eager to see the new PLEK machine as well. Joe Glaser demonstrated the new system and its improved speed. An entire fret mill can now be done in 12 minutes.
It was almost 6pm now and the show was closing for the night so we headed up to meet Gary again in the Executive Lounge at the Hyatt. Our good friend Kirkwood was there too, along with friends Liz and Garyâ€™s sister Audrey. I headed off to LA to see a friend perform and Gary with his gang went across to another hotel to check out one of the many concerts.
The next day was a blur but the highlight was meeting Bob Sperzel, designer and founder of Sperzel Locking Tuners. He was very gracious and talked with Tim and myself for a while. We learned about his new bass tuners and a new metal nut for all guitar styles that allows for easier string bending. I tried a full-step bend on the G string at the 2nd fret and it really was easy. To meet someone with his energy, enthusiasm and durability is a real treat.
We headed back over to the Zon booth to check out Michael Manring playing the Zon Hyperbass, which Joe designed for him, allowing many different tuning options both at the bridge and the Hipshot D-tuners. He dazzled the crowd with right hand harmonic pops and surely helped take in a few orders for new instruments. It was hard to avoid the big companies like PRS and Taylor but they suck you right in. I had no idea PRS made acoustic guitars and that R. Taylor Guitars was an offshoot of Taylor. The Martin booth had some stunning inlay work, and it was good to play some instruments from two of my favorite acoustic makers, Santa Cruz and Collings.
I finished off the day downstairs by saying hello to Robert Mazzulo of MUDD Guitars. He was an instructor at the Robert-Venn School of Luthiery when I attended in 1999. He was saying how much he enjoyed seeing so many former students stop by his booth as well as showing instruments of their own at the show. Iâ€™m not sure if I would go to NAMM every year but it was a good first trip and I was glad to have seen so many old friends, new products and experience all the event entails.