Let’s be frank. We were a bit shocked that our video, the video filmed 12 hours before, edited four hours before, and submitted 10 minutes before the deadline, actually won the Premier Guitar Editor for a Day contest. This isn’t because we’re fantastic procrastinators (well maybe a little), but because we doubted that we could actually win.
At 20, Mason has been playing guitar for six years and going to Winter NAMM for four of them. It’s definitely fair to say that when that time of year comes around, he’s more excited than at Christmas (and Mason does enjoy a good Christmas). Even though I am not a musician myself, I have visited the convention several times with my father throughout my adolescence. Fun as it was, I never categorized the experience to be more than a mild enjoyment that came and went. However, dating someone like Mason sort of takes that perspective and tosses it in the garbage.
To call Mason a gear freak is a pretty complete understatement. I have never met anyone who stayed up late thinking about guitars and pedals, and who knew so much about them, down to the tiniest detail, that complete strangers sought him out for advice. Yet it’s not just the knowledge base that matters, he truly cares about playing more than anything, and it’s hard not to learn and gain an appreciation for it to when you’re around him.
Mason’s completely sweet and outgoing personality could make NAMM fun for anyone, and because of him I have met some of the absolute coolest people in the world. I may not be a musician, but now I certainly love the industry. It is because of this that I was 100 percent behind him to take a shot at the competition only hours before the deadline.
This is why finding out that we won was so surreal. It was incredibly touching to know that so many people we loved wanted to help Mason win, and it was worth every ounce of effort. I had an incredible week in Nashville, and found the music community overwhelming and heartwarming. Getting to know everyone from Premier Guitar and other builders at the show was a blast, and I am so grateful for the friends I have made. -- Lindsey Hastings
I’ve been told that I should definitely visit Nashville—and probably move there—since I started playing guitar. Musicians like Hank Williams, Mississippi John Hurt, Tony Rice, Doc Watson, and Carl Perkins are spoken about and listened to so little in Orange County and L.A. that unless you’ve discovered them on your own, you’d never even know they existed. But these are the musicians that I first fell in love with, and who continue to influence my playing. I figured that I would find my way to Nashville one day, but it was not a priority. If it weren’t for winning this contest, I wouldn’t have known what I was missing.
Nashville has been everything that I wanted to see and hear, but 1000 times more awesome. The amount of fantastic music that is playing everywhere at any given time is really crazy, and surprising for a musician who isn’t used to it. My second night in town, bluegrass player Chris Henry told me, “Everyone out here is great. Even the guy serving you coffee is a better guitar player than you.” It’s hilarious, but it’s true. In L.A. most people think they are better than you, but in Nashville they actually are. It’s intimidating sure, but the benefits of this environment far outweigh that.
Because Nashville is the music city, I was a bit shocked when I went to the first day of NAMM. Summer NAMM is one room at the convention center, a gigantic room yes, but only one. I am used to Winter NAMM where you have five or more gigantic rooms and it’s almost like going through airport security to even enter the building. In a way, though, it was nice to experience the small side. I could spend a lot more time talking to friends that I knew, and there wasn’t this huge anxiety that I was missing something. Having spent three days on the floor, here are five pieces of gear that really stuck with me:
1. Earthquaker Devices Talons Overdrive
Let’s face it, every builder has their own take as to what the perfect overdrive sound is, leaving us players with maybe a few too many options to choose from. I always find myself having to choose between personality and versatility when I’m picking out an overdrive, but Earthquaker’s new Talons pedal is one of the first that strongly gives me both. It has a super interactive EQ that I had a blast experimenting with, and its drive knob can go all the way from a clean boost to an all-out “swarm of hornets armed with chainsaws” distortion—all while still sounding completely unique and totally Earthquaker. I cannot wait to get one on my board!
2. Renovo Amp Works Stomp Blox Pedal Boards and Tejas Amp
A newcomer to the industry, the brother duo at Renovo Amp Works brought along their new Stomp Blox Modular pedalboard system that allows you to add or take away from the size of you pedalboard—one of those ideas that the more I thought about it, the more possibilities opened up. What really impressed me though, was their new Tejas Class-A tube amplifier. It just sounded like nothing else I’ve heard, and in a really good way. It had an amazing balance of edge and warmth that to me sounded like some crazy Vox/Supro/Blackface Fender hybrid. I went back several times throughout the show to play through it, each time hoping to pin-point its voice, but no matter how valiant my efforts, I just couldn’t. It’s just a really stunning amplifier, with a sound all it’s own—I loved it!
Renovo Amp Works Tejas
3. Wampler Tweed ’57 Overdrive
There’s no doubting that Brian Wampler (pronounced WHOMpler, as many YouTube commenters have let me know…repeatedly) of Wampler Pedals is one of the best out there when it comes to designing pedals, but with this NAMM’s introduction of the Tweed ’57, he’s once again raised the bar on what a overdrive pedal can be. I had the opportunity to listen to the incredible Ford Thurston play through one for the PG demo video, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard any pedal nail the cranked tweed amplifier sound so perfectly. Plus, with features like the Input Simulator switch, (a switch that lets the pedal react like the different input types available on amps of that era) there is really nothing else like it on the market. Use it as a gritty vintage sounding overdrive, or put it at the end of your effects chain to turn any amplifier into a tweed machine!
4. CEC Amps
Another up and comer in the industry, CEC Amps brought out all three of their models to this Summer NAMM, and I was equally blown away by all of them. Craig Wildenradt is the main man behind CEC, and I was really impressed by the passion and innovation he puts into each of his amps. The Toll-Free Express is a 10-watt lunchbox-style amplifier that has an incredibly huge, warm, and articulate sound even with the volume barely turned up—you’d never guess it was the size of your toaster by listening to it. The Suckerpunch 15 is a class A, KT88-powered, 15-watt amp that not only sounds great, but it features an extremely usable set of Drive and Sustain knobs, that when used together, can get you totally authentic British or American sounding distortion. The Brigand, CEC’s Flagship model, is an absolute tone monster unlike any amplifier I’ve ever played through. Craig took me through this twin-channeled 80-watt beast, and while I was initially overwhelmed by the number of knobs and features this amp carried (I’m usually more of a “volume and tone” kind of guy), it was quickly clear that not one knob was there without good reason, and they all lend themselves to what were some of the most clever and usable features I’ve seen on a tube amp. What impressed me the most though, was that all of CEC’s amps were so incredibly transparent sounding that even when I switched from one Strat to another of identical features, Craig’s amps were so articulate that they brought out the differences between the two guitars so intensely that they sounded like two completely different instruments. It was mind-blowing!
The CEC Suckerpunch15 MKII
5. Boicebox Pedalboards
Boutique Pedalboards seem to be the next big thing hitting the market these days. Much like the guitar industry, some are touting expensive and flashy woods, finishes, and features, while others are going for straight functionality with no extras. Boicebox is the first pedalboard company I’ve seen to really offer both. Made out of 3-ply carbonized bamboo, they’re both good-looking and extremely durable. They come with awesome features like built-in jacks for both your instrument cables and power, as well as a hinged upper tier made of aircraft-grade aluminum that flips open so you can easily access and mount your power supply inside—brilliant! Plus, when you’re done gigging, just attach the hard top, and the pedalboard becomes it’s own case, equally brilliant! Like I said, just a perfect combination of features and functionality. Wish I had one!
The experience was also made different by seeing it through Premier Guitar’s eyes. It was crazy to see how intense a tradeshow can be when you are under the pressure of trying to cover as much as humanly possible. Running from booth to booth and trying to coordinate interviews with the builders is hard enough, but if you’re walking around with Rebecca, you also have to stop every few paces so guitar nerds can drool at her and take pictures. Plus, I am used to just being the demo guy who doesn’t have to say a word. Being the interviewer, however simple it may seem, is actually hard. You think you can say those three sentences without stumbling, but you can’t.
Brent Mason + a crowd + a camera crew = not intimidating at all. Photos by LP Hastings.
However intimidating being an interviewer was, it actually brought up an idea that I hadn’t really thought much about before. As Lindsey and I watched the first few videos with us on camera, we were worried that people thought we looked like idiots, but instead any negative feedback was aimed at the products and not us. This was definitely a relief to some degree, but it was also frustrating that viewers were so critical of new products—as if something out of the box, unique, and weird was a bad thing. Yes, of course some products that show at NAMM are crazy and would never catch on, but why people are so harshly criticized for trying something different is beyond me. People thought Leo Fender was off his rocker when he introduced the first Broadcaster (later renamed the Telecaster), and I imagine that if the internet existed then he would have received the same degrading comments—just maybe with a few more occurances of phrases like “square,” “dipstick”, and “why, I oughta.”
I think that these really weird, off the wall, sometimes great and sometimes not so great ideas are a key element of NAMM, and we’re truly lucky that such a place exists to showcase them. What other industry is so open to anyone’s innovations and has the capacity to reach almost anywhere in the world and affect people in a positive light?
Lindsey checks out the WhiteLight Design Ergotar and YouTube comments spin out of control.
Even though Summer NAMM is significantly smaller and less of an event than Winter NAMM. It gives more room to really get to know people, and you have time to see everything. Plus, Nashville is a far greater support to musicians than Orange County or L.A. and having everyone meet up in that environment is much more beneficial than hanging out around Disneyland.
If there’s anything to be said here, it’s this: I love NAMM. I absolutely love it. There are, and always will be imperfections and side-effects, but as in life, be open minded. Having the opportunity to hang out with the PG staff was incredible, and I can now confirm that yes, indeed, they are as cool as they seem. If you are to be the next Editor for a Day, I have only one piece of advice. When interviewing someone, do not, under any circumstances ask anyone how they are doing. Steve, the cameraman will in fact, punch you square in the face.