Mohawks and Mavens, NAMM 2005
By Dave Schwartz  

I guess it hit me that Saturday night. Mickie and I were standing in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel, conveniently located right next to the Anaheim Convention Center. We had spent a long day cruising the isles of the 2005 NAMM Convention admiring the newest musical "toys" and putting together our own personal wish lists for the coming year. Trust me, itís tougher than it looks! Thereís more going on here than meets the eye. And I know it may sound glamorous spending a weekend with rock stars and industry moguls, but Iím here to report that they drive their $100,000 sports cars from their multi-million dollar Bel-Aire mansions to the convention just like the rest of us.

We had earned our pay that day and the convention was closing. It was time for the music industry equivalent of the grip-and-grin, a chance to press the flesh with the beautiful people of the industry. So thatís what brought us over to the Hilton, to see if we could crash any of the private shows that we somehow didnít get invited too. We found ourselves enveloped by the movers and shakers who, with the aid of some liquid lubricant, were moving and shaking. Leather clad drummers rubbed elbows with industry suits discussing endorsement deals and product placement. Local baby bands filtered through the gathering in full stage persona just hoping to be noticed by anyone.

Various stages had been strategically placed throughout the lobby of the Hilton to allow live entertainment. A rap artist extended his 15-minutes of fame on the main stage and was quickly followed by a cool jazz quartet. As always the entertainment wasnít confined to the stage. Band members and model-esque women alike skillfully worked the crowd in a never-ending search to find a wallet large enough to satisfy their every need. And amidst all the posturing and all too often bullshit, Mickie and I found a quiet corner, a cold beer and a moment to reflect on the long day. As we looked about it was a sea of Mohawks and mavens. Strange bedfellows indeed.

After walking several miles and speaking to countless company reps we were tired. And it never fails that we ask each other the same question: Why do we do this? It seems like just a year ago, OK it was just a year ago, Mickie and I found ourselves at the same hotel talking to many of the same people. We traded years of our lives for a few fleeting moments running across stages and making people smile. Eventually we traded that for a pen and paper. Weíre covering a convention? I thought we wanted to be in the music business. But as we look around at all the faces in the Hilton lobby we are reminded, NAMM is the music business. And itís nice to see how many lives music touches each day. So on with the review.

Each January the NAMM Convention returns to Anaheim California. And each year manufactures arrive by the hundreds to build elaborate booths and introduce nervous buyers and the ever-critical media to their newest product lines and innovations. If manufactures capture the imagination of their target audience the entire yearís success could be a guarantee. If they fail, well there arenít too many second chances. For this reason manufacturers pull out all the stops. They bring in their top endorsers and of course thereís always the girls, girls, girls to help lure people to their booths.

The convention is expansive, more than five football fields of musical equipment and information. It would be impossible to outline each of the manufacturers. So we decided to grab a few highlights and present them here. If weíve missed anyone, and trust me we did, we encourage the reader to log onto his or her favorite manufacturer's Web site to see whatís hot for 2005.

Gibson Custom presented a new Alvin Lee ES-335, complete with the "Peace" signs that fans of this blues rocker will remember from the film "Woodstock." Custom also debuted a new Neal Schon signature, featuring a licensed Floyd Rose vibrato and custom electronics.

Gibsonís focus on technology continues with the showing of the first production model Gibson Digital Guitar, ban entire line of new Gibson amplifiers. The highly acclaimed Digital Guitar utilizes Gibsonís patented MaGIC digital transport protocol and offers six separate digital signals - one for each string - providing the player with myriad tonal and panning possibilities. The first limited-production run will feature a blue finish and special tuner and control knobs.

The Aerodyne Stratocaster and Telecaster guitars have finally arrived! Like their brother, the Aerodyne bass, these next-generation guitars feature a carved-radius top with cream-colored binding, and a maple neck with a rosewood fingerboard and 22 medium jumbo frets. The Strat guitar features three Fenderģ direct-mounted single-coil pickups and traditional five-way switch; while the Tele guitar utilizes a soap bar (neck) and single-coil pickup (bridge), three-way selector and six-saddle hard-tail bridge. Each guitar is a beautiful instrument and combines classic Fender style with new and innovative designs - resulting in two very cool and unique guitars!

Dean Guitars:  
Dean Guitars introduced several new guitars for 2005. The Vendetta 2.0, The Palomino Vintage Sunburst, The Psychobilly Cabbie, and of course the Dimebag Darrell Tribute series of guitars to name but a few. Unfortunately most were overshadowed by the display at the Dean booth to celebrate fallen guitar legend, Dimebag Darrell. Much has been written about the loss of one of guitars biggest heroes. Click on the following link to read more about the tribute:  

Paul Reed Smith:  
Paul Reed Smith Guitars celebrated their 20th anniversary at this yearís Winter NAMM show. Carlos Santana, Dave Navarro and Mark Tremonti joined Paul Smith at a press conference at the PRS booth.

Marshall Amps: 
New for Marshall is the Mode Four. Attitude, stunning good looks and an incredible 350 Watts of brutal yet toneful power set the MODE FOUR apart from all other amps. Add to this an arsenal of great sounds, a slew of professional features plus groundbreaking, state-of-the-art hybrid technology and you have a Marshall like no other.

The first ever Marshall, the legendary JTM45, was born in 1962 as a result of the Guv'nor, Jim Marshall, listening to what guitar players wanted. Forty years later, the song remains the same and that's how the MODE FOUR came to be. Modern guitarists told us they wanted an amp capable of more gain, more low-end and more headroom than ever before . . . plus great cleans and, of course, the crunch tones that have made Marshall a legend! The company listened and reacted-- the result is the MODE FOUR.

Ashdown Amps:
Ashdown Engineering take amplifiers very seriously. You concentrate on your performance, and they'll give you an amp with great tone, effortless power and the reliability to keep you on stage night after night. Ashdown believe that an amplifier should be a thing of beauty and that's why Ashdown amps don't just sound special, they look special too. Ashdown Engineering designs and builds bass amps, acoustic amps, and electric guitar amps with commitment, passion and pride.  Ashdown amps are making a move in the industry.  it's worth your time to plug in a check them out. 

Tama Drums:  
Tama introduced the 2005 Starclassic Exotix, built with inner piles of Bubinga and an outer ply of Scandinavian birch which gives these extremely limited addition sets their name: The Red Viking. Only 60 of these unique kits will be available worldwide.

Pearl Drums:  
For 2005 Pearl introduces the Reference Series. What if each drum in your drum set was engineered as an instrument unto itself. Each tom designed to respond perfectly within the confines of its respective frequency without compromise over any other area of your kit. This is the mission behind Reference Series. A complete set of individually engineered, incredible sounding drums.

DM-3200 Digital CONSOLE
Based on the DM-24 in operational ease-of-use, the DM-3200 adds more busses, more effects, more auxes, USB connectivity and many other new features. Its user interface includes 16 rotary encoders with LED indicators to display mixer settings at a glance. Up to 6.1 surround panning is available, and the optional IF-SM/DM Surround Monitoring interface card adds multichannel monitor and downmix capabilities. When you add the IF-FW/DM 24-channel FireWire interface card, the DM-3200 becomes the most powerful all-in-one computer interface, control surface and mixing console available anywhere, making it ideal for professional recording, post-production, film scoring and installation applications. Meter Bridge optional.

Like the wildly-popular CD-GT1 and the follow-up CD-BT1 and CD-VT1, the Mark II trainers have the ability to slow down the speed of a CD without changing the pitch - allowing musicians to learn fast licks, rhythm parts and solos from their favorite artists. The Mark II CD Trainers also add new effects for even better reverb and amp simulation. A new metronome helps musicians practice even when a CD isn't playing. The new Guitar Canceller effect on the CD-GT1mkII allows players to mute the guitar part so that they can play along.

Museum HR Giger:
Artist H.R. Giger is known for his wild sci-fi stylings, which have graced books, magazines, calendars, films and now music equipment. Consider a microphone stand that looks like an alien woman statue. There's also guitars air brushed so perfectly that you can just make out the intricate designs as the light hits the axe. Giger completes his genetic blend of music and art with actual artwork that incorporates a common band item somewhere within its design.

Outbreak! Music System:
This company is still seeking investors and others interested in bringing its creations to the masses. The company has made the VocalSynth and the VocalHorn, two keyboard-type, yet handheld instruments that turn anyone who can hum into a pipe organ, a saxophone and a range of other choices. Fun and easy, both of these instruments would be great for introducing children (and others) to the world of music by making active participation accessible.

This item may not be what you think of when you think about music, but it just might become all the rage! The Innergizer is a terrific massage unit which includes a variety of attachments to soothe aching backs, necks and feet. The company is hoping that musicians and their managers will see the importance of relieving stress, tension and pain, so that artists can perform to their full potential. We tried it and didn't want the demonstration to stop. Finally the salespeople pried us out the chairs and sent us on our way... but you know what?! We were refreshed and ready to take on more NAMM.

Handhealth Unlimited:
Don't neglect your hands. Guitarists, as well as keyboardists, drummers and anyone who works with their hands, can build strength and flexibility with a selection of ball-based workouts offered by this company. Check out their wares to find the right item for your needs. If you're not sure, drop Finger Fitness Expert Greg Irwin an e-mail and he'll be happy to answer all your questions.

OK, so it's not the first time we've seen picks as a fashion statements, but it is pretty cool. Teens Sean Abramson and Adam Schlesinger have created a line of pick necklaces which they believe help keep the circle of good luck going. When you purchase pick, part of your money goes to support a variety of youth-oriented charities. Keep your karma in check!

Ice Pix:
These picks suck! No, they're not bad, they really suck.... actually they stick. Each pick has a little suction type spot in the thumb area which keeps it firmly stuck to your guitar, microphone stand, whatever, until you need it. Mickie has one that has been stuck to her convertible's rearview mirror for two weeks now! (Better than Dave's forehead!- Editor's note).

Stash Picks:
Weird, cool and intriguing. Stash Picks has a line of five non-slip grip picks. Fat Boy is a large rounded triangular pick with three different gauges. Diamond Back is diamond shaped and has two gauges. The Double Pick is akin to a butterfly with its wings almost folded and turns your six-string meanderings into 12-string songs of beauty. The Wicked Pick's weird shape offers powerful sound and the option of double strike attack in one smooth move. The traditionally triangular Tri-Tip is deceiving, as each tip is a different gauge for your plucking pleasure.

Hot Picks:
Hot Picks offers more than picks-- graphic sleeves for your drumsticks, guitar straps, T-shirts, pick holders and so on. But the company's name is sooo right on, as their pick line includes the Monster Collection and It's Alive!. The Monster Collection boasts picks that are creepy heads, such as skulls, vampires, devils and more. The It's Alive! line is twice the fun because the picks have those "moving" designs like you used to see on postcards when you were a kid. A vampire bat bares his teeth, a cross is turns into an image of Jesus Christ, an American flags waves into an eagle, you get the idea.

Jones Soda:
All right, here's another item that may not seem really tied to music, but we just couldn't resist. Mickie loves the stuff (especially the bubble gum flavored soda) and Dave smiled broadly after his first sip of green apple. The list of flavors runs the gamut from normal, cream soda, to downright strange, turkey and gravy. Another super cool thing about this drink is that the bottles' labels all sport photographs contributed by consumers. Put down your beer and try one of these on for a refreshing change.

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