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 gretschguitars.com

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. framus.de
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). guitars-m-r-sons.com

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 bridge/tailpiece. axlguitars.com
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. sugiguitars.com

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. bcrich.com

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.” jamestrussart.com
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. nationalguitars.com
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. fender.com

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 routing. floydrose.com

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. takamine.com
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 electronics. breedlovemusic.com
Santa Cruz Don Edwards Signature Cowboy Singer (RIGHT) – This immaculate, all-mahogany OO sounds warm, alive, and sweetly popping whether fingerpicked or flatpicked. santacruzguitar.com

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. dwarfcraft.com

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. bogneramplification.com
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. 3rdpower.com

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. rivera.com

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 form. voxamps.com

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. marshallamps.com

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. mesaboogie.com

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. 65amps.com
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. celestion.com

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. misadigital.com

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. kemper-amps.com

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. tech21nyc.com
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. sourceaudio.net

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. redwitchanalogpedals.com

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. rolandus.com

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. visualsound.net

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 effects. eventide.com
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. shure.com

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. reverendguitars.com
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. noguera-basses.com

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. henmanguitars.com

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. kbguitars.com
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. fendercustomshop.com

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. aquilinabasses.free.fr
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. danelectro.com
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. brubakerguitars.com

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. eden-electronics.com
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 compression. tcelectronic.com

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. aguilaramp.com

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. epifani.com

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. ampeg.com

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 controls. gallien-krueger.com

MXR M87 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 capabilities. jimdunlop.com
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. ibanez.com

Name: John Nania
Hometown: Omaha, Nebraska
Bass: Blade Runner Bass

The emerging parts market in the ’80s, a luthier friend, and a cousin who studied acoustic engineering helped this bassist create a one-of-a-kind instrument.

Thank you for allowing us to share our bastardized beauties with you. I built this bass with the help of my friend Drew in 1980 or ’81. It was an instrument born out of necessity. Stock instruments of the time weren’t keeping up with the musical progressions that were happening in the ’70s and ’80s, so if you wanted to advance your art, you had to get creative. Fortunately, parts manufacturers and inventive minds were there to accommodate.
Read MoreShow less

See a sampling of picks used by famous guitarists over the years.

Marty Stuart

Submit your own artist pick collections to rebecca@premierguitar.com for inclusion in a future gallery.

My years-long search for the “right” Bigsby-outfitted box finally paid off. Now how do I make this sumbitch work in my band?

Considering the amount of time I’ve spent (here and elsewhere) talking about and lusting after Gretsch hollowbody guitars, it’s taken me a remarkably long time to end up with a big Bigsby-outfitted box I truly love. High-end Gretsches are pricey enough that, for a long time, I just couldn’t swing it. Years ago I had an Electromatic for a while, and it looked and played lovely, but didn’t have the open, blooming acoustic resonance I hoped for. A while later, I reviewed the stellar Players Edition Broadkaster semi-hollow, and it was so great in so many ways that I set my sights on it, eventually got one, and adore it to this day. Yet the full-hollowbody lust remained.

Read MoreShow less