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Golden Gear Ticket: Winter NAMM 2011

Go with us as we take you inside Winter NAMM 2011–the year''s biggest musical products show in the US.

For serious players who obsess about everything in their signal chain, attending the January NAMM show in Anaheim, California—the year’s biggest US gear show—is the stuff of dreams. It’s the guitarist’s equivalent of stepping inside Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Everywhere you look there are wonders to make you gasp in awe or blanch in terror. Instead of Oompa-Loompas, you’ve got hordes of mullet wearers, goths, shred heads, aging hippies, rockabilly dudes, and hair-metal survivors and revivalists in their respective garb, all intermingling with more “normal”-looking people, all striding purposefully toward the next piece of gear promising to revolutionize their tone and/or how they play. Instead of people inflating into giant human blueberries or getting swept away by chocolate rivers, you’ve got product guys doing their best to hawk their wares—and sometimes employing rather gratuitous hyperbole to inflate their value—while sweep-picking maniacs wail across the way in an attempt to lure you to their booth. Instead of spoiled Veruca Salts marching off to steal squirrels busily sorting nuts, you’ve got buxom, scantily clad booth candy leading vulnerable attendees around by their . . . well, you get the idea. It’s madness. Glorious, glorious madness.

This year’s NAMM was remarkably busy, which was somewhat surprising, considering the economy is still hurting pretty badly. Unlike last Summer NAMM, which had a public day to boost attendance, this show didn’t have a public day, but you never would’ve known it. Whether the place was hopping because people knew there would be so many cool new products or whether that was just a lucky coincidence, the fact remains that this was one of the most productive NAMMs in a while. And that holds true for both exhibitors and Premier Guitar. As usual, our entire editorial staff was there, keeping you up to date with constant posts and pictures on Facebook and Twitter, shooting more than 100 demo videos, sending e-newsletters with our daily Editors’ Picks from the floor, and arranging for gear to be sent in for reviews.

Here we’ve assembled a selection of electric, acoustic, and bass gear that grabbed our ears and/or eyes. Look for reviews of many of these in the coming months, and be sure to check out our demo videos. Let us know what you think via email and online posts. Enjoy!

Electric and Acoustic Guitars

Gretsch G6128T-GH George Harrison Tribute – This painstaking recreation of the Beatle’s ’57

Duo Jet has a mahogany back, 3-ply maple top,

1-piece mahogany neck, rosewood fretboard,

and Seymour Duncan-designed recreations of the

original DynaSonic pickups. Only 60 will be made.

MSRP $20,000

Framus Vintage 5/131 Hollywood (LEFT) – This semi-hollow

looker had one of the best-playing necks

at the show and features a plywood body (like

an old department store guitar from the ’50s),

vintage-voiced single-coils, an aluminum pickguard,

a 4-position selector knob that includes

an “0” position for off, and Volume, Bass, and

Treble knobs.

Manuel Rodr’guez Sr. Nylon-String (RIGHT)

This masterfully made classical instrument

features a solid Canadian cedar top, an

ebony fretboard, a Honduran cedar neck,

a cow-bone nut and saddle, and eye-popping

solid Brazilian rosewood back and

sides (inset).

AXL Badwater USA (LEFT)

– This 24 3/4"-scale single-cutaway features a mahogany

slab body, a set solid-mahogany neck with

a rosewood fretboard, a single P-90, and a wraparound


Sugi Guitars & Basses DS499R (RIGHT)

– Built by Makoto “Nick” Sugimoto—who built guitars for Fender and

Ibanez at Fujigen for 23 years—the DS499R has an alder body, an

aqua timber maple neck, 22-fret rosewood fretboard, Sugi pickups

(including a tappable humbucker), Gotoh SGS510 tuners, and a

Wilkinson VG300 tremolo.

B.C. Rich USA Gunslinger

This shred machine has a bolt-on

maple neck, EMG 81 and 85 pickups,

Floyd Rose Special trem, and

a Mike Learn zombie graphic on

the basswood body.

James Trussart

Custom Guitars

SteelX (LEFT)

– The SteelX features

a ’59 Standard neck

shape and a korina

body with a recessed

metal top in “Antique

Silver Gator.”

National Reso-Phonic

ResoElectric Ra3 (MIDDLE)

– The new hollowbody ResoElectric

RA3 has a koa

top and mahogany back

and sides, and sports an

L.R. Baggs Hex pickup

in its biscuit bridge.

Fender Wayne Kramer

Stratocaster (RIGHT)

The MC5 guitarist’s stars-and-stripes Strat features two

single-coils and a Duncan humbucker

for kicking out the jams.

Ernie Ball music man Game

Changer Reflex Guitar

The 25 1/2"-scale Game Changer

features a chambered basswood body

with a maple top and mahogany tone

block. Its electronics let you combine the

custom DiMarzio humbuckers’ coils in

any order and save analog presets to the

5-way switch. Controls include push-pull

Volume (push restores factory defaults)

and Tone knobs (the latter selects between

banks A and B), and an optional

piezo Volume. With a USB cord and a

click of a mouse, the included software

lets you make real-time, analog circuit adjustment,

as well as access artist presets.

The Game Changer Reflex Bass with dual

ceramic-magnet humbucking pickups is

also available.

Floyd Rose for

Stop-Tail Guitars

Itching to add locking-tremolo

action to your stop-tailpiece-equipped

guitar? This new

Floyd Rose model enables you

to do so without any sustain-robbing


Takamine TF87-PT Acoustic (LEFT)

The TF87-PT has koa back and

sides, a cedar top, a 12AU7-driven

onboard preamp, and a 12th-fret

inlay of palm trees and a sunset.

Breedlove Cascade Series (MIDDLE)

The J25/CRe has a western red cedar top,

rosewood back and sides, mahogany neck,

rosewood fretboard, Sitka spruce top bracing,

and L.R. Baggs Element active VTC


Santa Cruz Don Edwards

Signature Cowboy Singer (RIGHT)

This immaculate, all-mahogany OO

sounds warm, alive, and sweetly

popping whether fingerpicked or


Guitar Amps

Dwarfcraft Love Buzz

The quasi flower-power styling

of the two-channel, 50-watt

Love Buzz might not be everyone’s

cup o’ tea (for the record,

we love it), but its EL34-driven,

class AB tones are stellar.

(Using a Squier Classic Vibe

’50s Duo-Sonic, Dwarfcraft’s

Ben Hinz nailed the gritty, detuned

glory of Radiohead’s “I

Might Be Wrong.”) It features

turret-board construction

that aims for Bassman-about-to-explode tones, and its

controls include Fuyamater

(gain), Trebles, Mids, Bass,

Presence, and Master.

Bogner Panama (LEFT)

The new 4-watt, 6V6-powered Panama offers ’80s-style high-gain

tones at bedroom levels and features Volume and Schizo

knobs—the latter has four EQ presets—a Mode toggle, and a

Hi/Standby/Low toggle that lets you power down to 1.5 watts.

3rd Power British Dream (RIGHT)

This handwired, all-tube 45-watt combo offers two

channels—one inspired by a ’59 Vox AC30, the other

by a ’68 Marshall plexi—and a half-power switch.

The 12" Celestion Alnico Gold is housed in 3rd

Power’s proprietary Switchback triangular enclosure.

Rivera RockCrusher Power Attenuator

The RockCrusher allows you to attenuate the

speaker output from any amp while controlling

equalization characteristics with Edge and Warm

switches. Ideal for capturing the full bloom of tube

amps at workable volumes, it also features a balanced

XLR out, a 1/4" unbalanced out, two 1/4"

speaker outs, variable Studio and Line Out controls,

8 or 16 ohm impedance control, and true bypass.

Vox Tony Bruno 1x12 Combo

– Boutique amp guru Tony Bruno helped design this classic-voiced, 6V6-

powered 35-watt combo that’s equally capable of super-high headroom and

chime and bruising brawn. It features a Master Volume, a Master Volume

bypass toggle, a 3-band EQ (Bass, Middle, and Treble knobs), Volume and

Reverb knobs, a Bass Boost toggle, a Macho gain boost switch (which is

also footswitchable), and a Celestion G12-65 speaker. Also available in 2x12


Marshall AFD 100

The long-awaited 100-watt AFD100 Slash signature head is based on the

third prototype presented to Slash and features two gain structures—#34

and AFD. Marshall modeled the #34 side after Slash’s modded JCM800 and

added more gain to thicken up the tone for the AFD side. Only 2300 units will

be available worldwide.

Mesa/Boogie RA-100 Royal Atlantic

The 100-watt RA-100 Royal Atlantic can be powered by EL34s or 6L6s and runs on class

AB power. Tonally, the combo launches off the TransAtlantic platform and mixes both classic

and modified British sounds with Boogie’s trademark high-gain thump. It also has the

company’s proprietary new Multi-Soak feature, which lets you notch either channel down

16, 12, 8, or 4 dB. Front-panel Clean channel controls are Master, Bass, Middle, Treble, and

Gain, while the Hi/Lo channel has vintage high-gain and vintage low-gain modes and front-panel

Master Hi, Master Lo, Bass, Middle, Treble, and Gain knobs.

65amps Empire (LEFT)

The 6V6-powered Empire features a trio of classic high-gain British

voices from different eras. The first offers early ’60s tones, the

second aims for ’68-’72 tones, and the third offers up hot-rodded

’80s tones. The amp is powered by 22 very loud watts, but it also

features a Master Voltage control for bringing the volume down to

bedroom levels.

Celestion G12H 30-Watt 75 Hz (RIGHT)

The new addition to Celestion’s blockbuster

G12H30 series features a resonant bass

frequency of 75 Hz (the original’s is 55 Hz) to

offer players a tighter, more articulate low-end

response. professional.

Effects, Etc.

Misa Digital Instruments Kitara

– Touch-screen devices are everywhere these days, so it’s no shock that a company

would decide to integrate one with a unit dedicated to creating music.

Adventurous players like Muse’s Matt Bellamy had electric guitars modified

with parameter-controlling devices like the Korg KAOSS Pad many years ago,

but the Kitara isn’t going for that—it has no strings, so it’s really not a guitar in

even the most lax interpretation of the word. Although its neck has 24 “frets,”

each with six buttons, the Kitara runs on a Linux operating system and has

more than 100 internal synth sounds that are activated via an 8" multi-touch

display. You can choose to display six lines representing strings if you wish,

and the touch screen also enables manipulation of up to six built-in effects

that you can assign to the screen’s X and Y axes.

The Kitara will never replace a serious guitarist’s real 6-strings—but it’s still

intriguing for several reasons. First, it may be the most affordable, most convenient,

and coolest-looking way for guitarists to play synth-generated music

using the same chord and scale shapes they’ve always used on their solidbody

and flattop guitars. Second, its form factor likely avoids the glitchy tracking

and latency issues that often plague traditional guitars outfitted with a MIDI

pickup. Though $2800 seems steep for the aluminum-bodied version, $800 for

the heavy-duty polycarbonate version seems quite reasonable. Connections

include MIDI, 1/4", and headphone outputs, and both designs can easily be

configured for left-handed players.

Kemper Profiling Amplifier

Technically, it’s not an amp because it can’t power a cabinet

(though plans for that option are in the works), but this new unit

from Germany’s Christoph Kemper, designer of the Virus line

of acclaimed synthesizers, effectively takes amp modeling to

the next logical level. Yeah, it comes stocked with “profiles” of

venerated vintage and modern tube amps (as well as lots of additional

effects, cabinet simulations, and extensive EQ-ing capabilities),

but what’s revolutionary about the Profiling Amp is that

it enables you to capture the tone of any amp at your disposal.

Whether you’ve got your own killer collection of amps you wish

you could gig or record with more easily, or whether you know a

magnanimous dude who’ll let you Napster-ize his collection of

mind-boggling amps, there’s some pretty mouth-watering potential

here. Here’s how it works: Mic the source amp and connect

the Kemper to its input via 1/4" cable, and then wait about 30

seconds while the Kemper routes a series of test signals through

the source amp’s circuitry and captures the amplified tone as a

snapshot inside the Profiling Amp.

Tech 21 Roto Choir (LEFT)

This rotary speaker simulator

emulates the entire signal chain of a

mic’d Leslie cabinet, from the tube

power amp to the low-frequency

speaker, high-frequency horn, and

XY stereo-mic setup. The pedal’s

Fast/Slow switch lets you slow

down, ramp up, or even pause the

simulated rotary speaker in a variety

of positions to create a cool “frozen

flange” effect. The Roto Choir has a

buffered bypass, a Bi-Amp switch,

a Drive control, and stereo outputs.

Source Audio Soundblox Guitar

Envelope Filter (RIGHT)

Optimized for guitar and compatible

with the Hot Hand Motion Controller

Ring, this stompbox contains 21

different filter types—including 2-pole

low-pass, 4-pole low-pass, single

peak, triple peak, and phaser—and

you can adjust the direction and

speed of the filters.

Red Witch Seven Sisters

– This new line of diminutive pedals—the Lily Boost, Eve Tremolo, Ivy Distortion,

Scarlett Overdrive, Violet Delay, Grace Compressor, and Ruby Fuzz—

provides a lot of pedalboard convenience. For starters, each is powered by

a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, thus eliminating the need for outboard

power. Secondly, their jacks are located along the top edge, which means

they can be placed closer together to optimize pedalboard space.

Roland GR-55 Guitar Synthesizer

– Roland has long been a leader in the guitar-synth industry, but the new GR-55

goes a long way toward simplifying the process of getting a universe of sounds

out of your MIDI-pickup-equipped guitar. It’s housed in the smallest guitar-synth

housing we’ve seen, and has perhaps the cleanest, most uncluttered interface

on the market. It includes revamped pitch-detection technology, more than 900

editable PCM sounds, COSM modeling (23 guitar types and 17 bass types), two

multi-effect engines, looping capability, and 297 memory slots.

Visual Sound Dual

Tap Delay

– The Dual Tap features

two independent

delay circuits that

are identical except

for the Modulation

control that lets you

add some chorus-type

sounds to the

second circuit. The

Tap Tempo footswitch

locks both channels

into a single tempo,

or a metronome input

allows you to sync

delays with an outside

source. You can

also select quarter,

eighth, dotted-eighth,

and eighth-note-triplet

repeat values.

Eventide Space Reverb (LEFT)

The Space is a pedal worthy of its name. With reverb modes ranging

from the super-cosmic Blackhole mode to settings that sound

like U2’s the Edge, it also offers a vast menu of tremolo and delay


Shure PGXD14 Wireless System

(RIGHT) – This 24-bit, 48 kHz digital wireless system

includes the PGXD1 transmitter and PGXD4

receiver, which operates in the 900 MHz range.

The PGXD1 transmitter is sleek and has a tiny,

recessed pot for varying your output from line

level to +26 dB.

Bass Gear

Reverend Basses (LEFT)

Left to right: the Mercali

5-FM 5-string, Decision,

Justice, Thunder Gun, and

short-scale Dub King have

solid korina bodies and new

Reverend pickups.

Noguera Yves Carbonne Signature 8-String Fretless

(RIGHT) – This 34"-scale, left-handed wonder features a chambered

mahogany body, spruce top, ebony fingerboard, ebony

bridge with brass saddles, thumb rest, and Volume, Bass,

Mid, and Treble knobs.

Henman Rolla Prototype

The Rick Turner-built Rolla has ’60s

Hagstrom-style humbuckers, a Hipshot

bridge, a 5-piece African sapele

neck, 24-fret Makassar ebony fretboard,

a chambered African mahogany

body, and a figured-maple top.

Ken Bebensee Fretless

Semi-Hollow 4-String

(LEFT) – This earthy, elegant beauty features a

walnut top and back, a fl amed-maple body

core, a lined fretless fingerboard, Bartolini

humbuckers, a piezo-equipped bridge, and

Hipshot tuners.

Fender Custom Shop

1960 Jazz and

P-Bass Pro (RIGHT)

These basses both feature

an alder body with a

maple neck and a 1960

U-shaped carve. The

Jazz has a 7.25"-radius

rosewood fretboard with

vintage-size frets, vintage-voiced

J pickups, and

stacked controls. The PBass

Pro has a 10"-radius

rosewood fretboard with

medium-jumbo frets, a P

pickup under the chrome

cover, a J pickup in the

1970s P-bass position,

and a Badass bridge.

Aquilina Shelby 5-String (LEFT)

This 34.5"-scale tribute to the Ford Shelby

GT350 Mustang has a sycamore neck, alder

body, Indian rosewood fretboard, Delano

single-coils, and E-PRO BTB-01 electronics.

Danelectro Mid ’60s (MIDDLE)

Dano’s latest has dramatically

curved horns, lipstick-tube pickups,

dual-concentric Volume/

Tone knobs, and a 3-position

pickup selector.

Brubaker MJX-4 Brute (RIGHT)

Luthier Kevin Brubaker’s new import

line features his famous “bolt-on

neck-thru” design, a humbucker

and a single-coil, and Blend,

Volume, Bass, and Treble knobs.

Eden WTDI Direct Box/Preamp (LEFT) – The WTDI features a 3-band

EQ with Bass Boost and

Mid Shift switches, Gain,

Enhance (boosts low bass,

upper middle, and high frequencies),

Compressor, and

Volume knobs, and 1/4" and

XLR outs with a ground lift.

T.C. Electronic

Blacksmith (RIGHT)

The Blacksmith

pumps out 1600

watts, and its TubeTone

control offers

vintage sounds while

the SpectraComp

knob offers 3-band


Aguilar Tone Hammer 500

This tiny, 500-watt head

weighs 4 pounds and its

Drive control features Aguilar’s

popular AGS (Adaptive

Gain Switching) circuitry.

Epifani Piccolo Head

and Prototype Cab

– The Piccolo can be picked up

with a pinky finger and pumps

out 600 watts of class AB

power at 4 ohms. Front-panel

controls include Active/Passive,

Mid-Cut, Mute, and Vintage

voice buttons, and Gain, Mid

Cut, Bas, Mid, and Treble

knobs. The incredibly light prototype

cab will be available later

this year.

Ampeg Portaflex PF-500

(shown) and PF-350

– Compact and potent, the MOSFETdriven

PF-500 and PF-350 weigh

11 and eight pounds, respectively,

and, at $399 and $299 (street), drop

a lot of thump for the buck. Controls

include Ultra Hi/Lo boosts,

Bass, Mid, and Treble controls and

a -40 dB pad.

Gallien-Krueger MB800

– Driving 800 watts at 4

ohms, the MB800 weighs

4.9 pounds and features

a discreet FET preamp,

effects loop, pre/post XLR

out, defeatable limiter, dual

Speakon outs, Headphone/

Line out, and backlit front-panel



Bass Compressor

(LEFT) – With Release, Attack,

Ratio, Input, and Output

controls, and an LED

readout for gain-reduction

status, the M87 offers

bassists and guitarists

formidable tone-sculpting


Ibanez TS9B Bass

Tube Screamer (RIGHT)

The venerated guitar

overdrive has been

customized for low-end

lovers. It features

Drive, Level, Mix, Bass,

and Treble knobs, and

can add up to 30 dB of

gain for everything from

warm, vintage growl to

all-out fuzz mayhem.