NAMM 2004 Tech Overview
By Dave Schwartz firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Dan Quinajon and Dave Schwartz
It's January. It's Anaheim. And this combination can mean only one thing. The
Tom Bradley terminal over at LAX is going to be even more active as the
journalists of the world descend on sun drenched Southern California for the
annual winter addition of the International Music Merchants Association (NAMM)
Each January, music manufacturers open their vaults and present to the world
their latest creations. And to be sure, NAMM is no small event. The larger
manufactures can spend millions to insure a successful product launch.
Everything from big name endorsements to after-hours parties leverages the
attention of the international media. And this year was no different-- plenty
of glitz, plenty of glamour and a fair helping of skin invited the world to the
Given the huge number of manufacturers it would be impossible for me to cover
every significant announcement, but I will endeavor to offer you an overview of
the four-day event.
Thursday morning I attended the Sabian press conference announcing their new
line of Paragon Drumset Cymbals and their newest endorser, Neil Peart.
Commented Dan Barker, Sabian president, "This is a very proud moment for Sabian,
especially for those on our team who make the cymbals. The fact that Neil
Peart's decision to switch to Sabian was based on Sabian cymbals he heard
friends playing makes it very evident that above all other matters, it's the
quality of the sound that counts."
Peart worked with Sabian to help create the Paragon line commenting, "to be
invited to design a cymbal myself was like being invited into the kitchen of a
fine restaurant to direct the chefs- - I may know what I like, but it doesn't
mean I know anything about making it!"
The results speak for themselves and to top it off, the Paragon line is
available in an assortment of sizes.
Sabian also announced that they have teamed up with legendary drummer and
composer Jack DeJohnette to create a new and different percussion instrument,
Resonating Bells. The bells can be played individually or in a piano-like
fashion and are available in a complete C-to-C octave set.
The Sabian press release states: "The bells are hand crafted into a dome-like
design using solid B8 bronze, the octave of bells is strobe-tuned to A=442. The
frequency spectrum produced by these bells when struck with a medium-hard
marimba mallet has a strong, resonating fundamental pitch with a limited amount
of overtones. When played with a drumstick the response is more focused and
penetrating. The sounds of Resonating Bells are unlike those of any currently
manufactured instrument. The bells may be added to drum and percussion setups
for colorful sound effects or playing melodies. DeJohnette mixes the definite
pitch of the Resonating Bells with the indefinite pitch of his drum and cymbal
setup by positioning a full octave of bells atop his cymbals using 3- and 5-note
For more information on the Paragon Cymbals, the Resonating Bells or the rest of
the Sabian product line, visit their Web site at
I wandered upstairs to the Fender room to take a look at the new 50th
Anniversary 1954 Stratocaster. Fender and that other premium guitar
manufacture, Gibson, have rooms up off the main convention floor. Some may
argue that they miss a substantial amount of foot traffic, but neither company
seems to mind. Their marketing strategy proves that if you build a quality
product, the public will seek you out.
Starting January 2004, Fender will be offering faithful replicas of the guitar
that changed the world, the 1954 Stratocaster. These instruments are being
manufactured in limited numbers on many of the same machines and utilizing
methods proven 50 years ago. Fender will also introduce two new modern
commemorative models: the 50th Anniversary American Series Stratocaster and the
50th Anniversary American Deluxe Series Stratocaster. I have to tell you
that these are really great looking guitars and the craftsmanship is apparent in
Whereas I enjoyed checking out the '54 reissue, for me the big draw in the
Fender room came from the Custom Shop. This year, Fender will offer a Limited
Edition Stevie Ray Vaughan Tribute Model "Number One" Stratocaster Guitar. These
guitars have been commissioned to the Custom Shop by the estate of Stevie Ray
Vaughan, and only 100 replicas will ever be built. I took a good close look at
this guitar and the attention to detail was amazing-- from the pick gouges in
the wood to the mounting of the pickups, the untrained eye would be fooled by
these reproductions. Check it all out at
So much for the peace and tranquility of Thursday! The first day of NAMM is
always the quietest, the crowds are small and there are few distractions, but
this year, Friday was very busy. Many of the companies anticipated the masses
and had their endorsers out in force to help build excitement. Joe Walsh was
over at the Paul Reed Smith booth signing autographs. Allison Robertson of The
Donnas was at the Marshall booth doing the same. Serj Tankian from System of a
Down was walking the isles, checking out the new gear. Jazz bassist Bill
Dickens performed at the Dean Markley booth and soon after Ronnie James Dio
signed autographs. Even C.C.Deville was spotted standing out front of the
Tama/Ibanez booth hoping desperately to be noticed. In the end, he had his
share of fans too!
On Friday morning I cruised over to the Dean Guitars booth. Dean has been
around better than 20 years. They build a respectable product geared toward a
younger audience. As a result they have a slightly different marketing plan
than the big boys upstairs. For Dean it's skin, skin and more skin! An
assortment of attractive young ladies was brought in to help remind us why young
men want to learn to play guitar. Their marketing plan was quite effective. So
much so that I almost lost track of their new product line! Yes, I was
captivated by the performances of several endorsers and of course there were
those young ladies. But I did manage to check out the new line of guitars and
basses. I particularly liked the finishes on the Avalanche and Custom guitars.
The Edge Pro and Jeff Berlin
Signature Basses were spectacular as well. Unfortunately the Internet can't do
justice to a guitars finish. Nonetheless I encourage you to check out the
The Ernie Ball booth is another great destination at NAMM. They always take a
tongue-in-cheek approach to the convention by decorating their booth in some of
the most unusual ways. This year's theme was "Pirates of the Caribbean." The
large section of a pirate ship built as part of the booth was the only thing
that could've eclipsed the strange sight of salesmen in pirate outfits. Even
Sterling Ball was in the spirit donning a captain's attire replete with a guitar
headstock in place of a hook. But all of this wasn't a surprise, Ernie Ball has
a long history of strange marketing themes. Last year they celebrated the '60s
as hippies. Several years back all of the salespeople were dressed as either
Elvis or Marilyn Monroe. But with all this distraction there is information and
opportunity. The salespeople are most helpful and there are always has plenty
of guitars on hand to play. But Ernie Ball isn't only about guitar strings.
They also offer a large selection of amp hardware, cables, plugs and
connectors. For more about Ernie Ball check out their Web site at
This year we heard quite a buzz about the Korg PXR4. This isn't a new item. In
fact, it was first introduced at the summer NAMM session in July, 2001. In case
you're not familiar, the PXR4 is a handheld four-track digital recorder, which
records directly to SmartMedia cards. The unit features three recording modes:
standard, high-quality and economy, afford maximum flexibility by enabling you
to select the one that's right for the task at hand depending on the recording
quality and time you need.
Features like eight virtual tracks per track allow you to record multiple takes
of the same track and select your favorite one. It's also the world's first
pocket-sized multi-track recorder to deliver full editing capabilities. The
PXR4 offers a full-sized complement of I/Os. For inputs, there are a 1/4" jack
with a hi/low impedance switch plus a stereo line/mic input. For outputs there
are a 1/8" stereo out jack, a stereo headphone output and a USB. The PXR4 also
boasts a full complement of 77 different built-in effects. It's equipped with
100 "factory" multi-effects programs (with up to five effects used at once!) and
enough room for an additional 100 user programs.
If that's not enough, Korg added 55 different rhythm patterns (and 32 metronome
patterns) that use high-quality PCM sounds. The patterns range from simple to
complex and include rock, funk, big beat, house, reggae, hip-hop, R & B, disco,
dance, jazz and more. You can use a rhythm pattern as a recording guide, or
create the actual rhythm track for your song!
The PXR4 is packed full of options and to our surprise it will support a 12 hour
play time on two AA batteries and the sound this unit produces is amazing. For
more information, check out http://www.korg.com
Friday night we attended the Sabian party. Entertainment was provided by The
Dave Weckl Band; Living Color; and Renata Neto with Joey Heredia and Friends
featuring Joey Heredia, Marco Mendoza, Karl Perazzo, and Raul Rekow. Lifetime
achievement awards were presented to several artists, including Carmine Appice
and Bernard "Pretty" Purdie.
Traditionally the busiest day at NAMM, Saturday can also be the most
interesting, as you never know who you'll bump into. Past years' surprises
include Gene Simmons and Stevie Wonder. This time we found George Clinton
walking the isles, as well as Paul Stanley in full KISS makeup over at the
Ibanez booth signing autographs.
As much as NAMM can be fun, it's also work. I made it back upstairs, this time
to check out the Gibson room. I mistakenly bypassed the room Thursday due to
time restrictions. It wasn't much of a surprise to see that you could hardly
get in the door Saturday. It was a real challenge to get in and have an
opportunity to browse the new guitars.
This year the Gibson Custom Shop introduced eight new models, including the
long-awaited Jimmy Page Signature Les Paul. With specs culled from in-depth
research on Jimmy's original #1 Les Paul and featuring an aged finish, the
Custom Shop replica of Jimmy's legendary instrument will initially be available
in a Limited Edition of 150. An unlimited version of the Page Signature Les Paul
will also be available with a Custom Authentic finish.
Jimmy Page isn't the only Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member to align himself
with the Custom Shop in 2004. The Duane Eddy Signature Model, the Zakk Wylde
model (Camo Bullseye Les Paul) and let's not forget a signature model from
The Custom Collection will also have several notable additions in early 2004. On
the archtop side, the L-10 will replicate an instrument that was originally
custom-ordered by Les Paul in 1938, but which ultimately belonged to Chet
Atkins. There will also be a new version of the L-4CES, this one featuring
mahogany back and sides, as well as a newly rolled out ES-355. On the solidbody
side, the Les Paul Elegant Figured Top makes a return to the lineup, as well as
the "new-to-the-Custom-Shop" EDS-1275 and Les Paul Custom. Check out all these
guitars at http://www.gibson.com
And let's not forget the little guys. For all of the larger more established
companies there are dozens of smaller manufactures struggling for notoriety. I
spoke with several deserving companies but can only feature a couple here.
The first is Coloriffic Pick Guards. This doesn't sound like a very glamorous
product, but to be honest, their little booth in the basement of NAMM really
caught my eye. They make pick guards for a wide assortment of guitars and
basses. The guards feature an assortment of graphics from patriotic to snake
skin or bird's eye maple. They're scratch resistant and extremely durable. And
although I don't think I would put one of these on my vintage guitar, they are
certainly a great way to add some attitude to your daily player guitar. Their
Web site is a great resource to find a dealer near you.
And the last manufacturer I will feature is Shark Tooth Picks. When I played
live I found that, because my hands sweat so much, I often dropped picks. As
most of you know it's a real pain in the ass. Shark Tooth is working to resolve
that problem by designing a thumb wrap that helps the player maintain control of
their pick. I received a nice demonstration at the booth, but to be honest I
didn't play with one. Again, check out the site.
Sunday was my day of play. I took the time to leave my notebook and tape
recorder behind. As I said, NAMM can be a lot of fun and if you ever have the
opportunity to attend, you will understand. I would like to extend a special
thanks to all of the artists and manufacturers that I spoke with. We will
see you next year.
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