From low-watt heads to high-powered, fire-breathing monsters, here are some of the amps we caught at Musikmesse.

TecAmp unveiled several new high-powered bass amps at Musikmesse 2014: The Bad Bull 2000 pairs a tube preamp section with a solid-state power amp with 6-band EQ and a built-in compressor with independently adjustable ratio and threshold controls. The German bass company also showed the Black Jag, which houses two separate power amps, each delivering a monster 450 watts. There’s 4-band tone control, an onboard compressor, high and low boosts, and a tone-sculpting “taste” knob.

Musikmesse isn’t what it used to be, show veterans say. Attendance is far from peak. There are fewer full exhibition halls. High participation costs (and the ability to announce and publicize products digitally) have prompted numerous companies to bypass the once-essential event.

But you know what? Messe is still huge.

NAMM’s European equivalent, held each year in Frankfurt, Germany, is substantially larger than its Anaheim counterpart. Far louder, too: As at NAMM, “sound police” armed with decibel meters patrol the floor, but they’re slackers. Messe is deafening.

But, hey, what’s a little tinnitus when you get to spend four days ogling so many cool new music products? From March 12th through 16th we roamed the vast halls, marveling at superbly crafted boutique instruments, solid working-player tools, and some remarkable budget-gear bargains.

The show highlights? For North American players like us, it’s probably the chance to fondle the phenomenal creations of small-production European shops whose instruments tend to be scarce in the States. The phrase “Old World craftsmanship” may be a cliché, but Messe schools you on how it became one. You can hardly turn around without being dumbstruck by a ravishing instrument that blends the engineering chops of Stuttgart or Turin with the design elegance of Milan or Barcelona.

But our report isn’t just some glamour-gear buyers’ guide for investment bankers and lottery winners indulging in a European grand tour. Quality work and compelling style were equally evident in mid-priced gear for working stiffs and in some remarkable entry-level bargains.

It’s hard to summarize such a vast event with a simple tag—but if pressed, I’d go with “retro fun.” Per usual, vintage-inspired designs reigned supreme. But we saw more manufactures playing with vintage aesthetics, recombining old-school elements in winning new ways. By and large, manufacturers seem to be having fun. We certainly were—and it’s not just the beer and schnitzel talking!

It’s ok for a guitar to not sound like a guitar.

As much as we all love juicy, organic guitar tones, it can be just as inspiring to go the opposite way. Combining various modulation effects, envelope filters, oscillators, and more can result in sounds that owe more to Kraftwerk than Led Zeppelin.

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While Monolord has no shortage of the dark and heavy, guitarist and vocalist Thomas V Jäger comes at it from a perspective more common to pop songsmiths.

Photo by Chad Kelco

Melodies, hooks, clean tones, and no guitar solos. Are we sure this Elliott Smith fan fronts a doom-metal band? (We’re sure!)

Legend has it the name Monolord refers to a friend of the band with the same moniker who lost hearing in his left ear, and later said it didn’t matter if the band recorded anything in stereo, because he could not hear it anyway. It’s a funny, though slightly tragic, bit of backstory, but that handle is befitting in yet another, perhaps even more profound, way. Doom and stoner metal are arguably the torch-bearing subgenres for hard rock guitar players, and if any band seems to hold the keys to the castle at this moment, it’s Monolord.

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