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Summer NAMM '09

Staff picks from Summer NAMM

The gear you see at your local store often begins with a manufacturer showing it off to dealers and other industry movers and shakers at a NAMM show. Like other US industries, the musical instruments industry is looking forward to seeing the economy pick back up. In the meantime, a big question mark loomed over the Summer NAMM show in Nashville. In particular, we were wondering—is this a good time to release cool, new gear?

Attendance was down by a quarter from last year. Exhibitor numbers were down as well, with many high-profile vendors choosing to not host a booth, including Fender, Vox, Marshall, PRS and Peavey. The most conspicuous absence was Gibson, a company headquartered in Nashville. But, as NAMM President and CEO Joe Lamond pointed out in his address to the industry, hard economic times can also present opportunities, and many retailers and exhibitors, both new and old, took occasion to look ahead and find opportunities where they could. Most reported having a better show than they expected, and some said it was better than they’d hoped for.

Despite a palpable sense of uncertainty in the months ahead of the show, we did discover plenty of enthusiasm and an overall mood of genuine optimism. Skeptics that we are, we hunted for signs that the general excitement was being exaggerated to gloss over deeper worries, but we saw plenty of business taking place, and of course plenty of cool gear to check out. While there weren’t tons of new products, we found many interesting new things from some of our old friends, and we discovered quite a few new companies willing to make a go of it in a tough market.

G&L Guitars Rampage Jerry Cantrell Signature Model–U.S. version
While the G&L Jerry Cantrell Signature USA Model won’t be officially released until Winter NAMM 2010, they already had all three Fullerton, CA, hand-built guitars on display at their booth. Built to the specs of the Rampage played by Jerry for years, the guitar will feature a soft maple body, maple neck and an ebony fingerboard on a flat neck with a 25.5” scale. Also, it comes loaded with a Seymour Duncan JB humbucker in the bridge position and a recessed Pro Series Kahler tremolo with a Floyd Rose locking nut. The guitar finishes include Whiskey, Black and Ivory–the finish most associated with Mr. Cantrell. In addition to the USA Signature models, G&L will be producing some competitively priced import Rampage Jerry Cantrell Tribute Series models.

MSRP $2660
Watch our booth interview

photo by Bob Capazzo
Jason Z. Schroeder Guitars
Based in Redding, CA, Schroeder offers several different models and familiar body styles, but the two that caught our eyes and ears were the double-cut Stormy Monday and the single-cut Tweed Top. The Stormy Monday features a 5A quilted maple top, Honduran mahogany body and neck, Brazilian rosewood fingerboard and quilted maple headstock side treatment and backplate. Built upon a Radio Lane prototype, The Tweed Top comes with a tweed top that sits on flamed Eastern maple top complete with a nitrocellulose finish. Also, it comes loaded with Seymour Duncan Antiquities. While Schroeder’s guitars embrace traditional roots, he adds some new flair with breathtaking and heavilycontoured tops, custom-made Schroeder stoptail bridges, stainless steel frets and coil splitting to provide a full range of tones.

MSRP–Stormy Monday $4700
MSRP–Tweed Top $4250
Watch our booth interview & demo
LSL Instruments 52.5 Aged T-Bones
We’re always on the lookout for some spankin’ new/old T-style instruments. At this show, it was LSL Instruments that popped up on our twang radar with their 52.5 Aged T-Bone guitars. Built with either a traditional swamp ash or pine—a super lightweight tonewood—these T-style guitars took us right back to ‘52. Other features on these guitars include a 7.25” radiusmaple fingerboard on a “C” profile maple neck complete with a walnut skunk strip, an old-school Fender or Joe Barden bridge with three brass saddles and LSL custom, handwound vintage-style pickups. To fully produce the vintage look and feel, LSL manually ages all the metal parts and fingerboards, and the guitar edges are hand rounded for a silky-smooth feel and well played appearance.

MSRP $1949
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AboveGroundFX, a small startup company based out of Chicago, IL, sprang into the effects market in 2008. Now they offer five pedals: the Rebote Delay, Compressor, Venue Reverb, El Grit—n (distortion) and Tone Control. The pedals designed by Francisco Peña all feature similar sleek designs with top loaded input/output jacks to maximize pedalboard room. Sonically, the pedals are designed to enhance your tone, but not muddy it up with noise. The Venue Reverb’s special attention to the dry signal provides a transparent and clean operation. The Rebote Delay uses a digital chip to simulate tape decay and offers echo patterns ranging from slap back to 560ms of delay.

MSRP $179–189
Fryette Amplification Memphis Thirty Combo
The ink on Fryette’s prototype Memphis Thirty control panel was still drying when the show launched. The Memphis Thirty 1x12 combo builds upon Fryette’s popular SIG:X clean channel, but that’s where the similarities stop. The new Class-A 30W combo has dual channels (Clean and Drive), Power Shift switching (30W/18W), series/ parallel effects loop, a tube-driven Accutronics spring reverb, and uses a 12AX7, 12AT7, three 12AX7AC, and four EL84 tubes. Other features include a 12” Eminence speaker, specially designed by Fryette, enclosed in a Baltic birch cabinet. The coolest feature of this amp is the ability to change or re-order preamp tubes easily from the front panel—no need for gloves or a cool-down period, because the tubes are housed above a vent that pushes air by means of speaker movement.

MSRP $2200
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TV Jones P-90 in Soapbar Mount
Known for their hot, rockabilly twangin’ pickups, TV Jones introduces their take on the classic soapbar P-90. These pickups crank out a sound that represents the traditional P-90, but with a classic TV Jones bite. They designed specific pickups for the neck and bridge positions. The bridge pup has thicker highs and more defined lows than what is commonly heard from other P-90s.

The neck offers clarity with fullness and is considerably less boomy than regular P-90s. Standard-sized alnico IV bar magnets are used in the neck position, contributing to its clarity and warmth. Larger pole screws are used on both neck and bridge models to help increase inductance. Both versions are available in Black and Cream.

MSRP $95 (one pickup)
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Hanson Guitars
Chicago’s Hanson Musical Instruments, which made a name producing modern and vintage-style pickups, is unveiling a new full line of guitars intended to bring quality and cool, retro-inspired designs to working musicians at prices they can afford. The first two models, available in August, recall the Italian electric solidbody aesthetic of the late fifties and early sixties: the Cigno, a set-neck triple P-90 design, and the Firenze, a triple mini-humbucker with bolton neck. The other members of the line, the Gatto with its mahogany body, set-neck and dual Hanson classic humbuckers, and the semi-hollowbody, mini-humbuckerequipped Chicagoan will be available in October. All models are available with either Bigsby vibrato or stop tail piece.

MSRP $799–$1160
Bob Kilgore’s Harmonic Capo
Invented by fingerstyle guitarist Bob Kilgore, the Harmonic Capo is unlike conventional capos. Rather than pressing down on the strings, it barely touches them. It sits on the guitar’s neck with a strap and a pair of adjustable supports, and six adjustable soft rubber pads rest gently on the strings. Place it over a harmonic point and it turns open strings into harmonic tones, opening entirely new possibilities of note combinations and progressions in your playing. What’s more, it won’t prevent you from playing normally above or below it.

MSRP $34.95
Electro-Harmonix 22 Caliber Power Amp
How’d you like to fit an ass-kicking amplifier into your front pocket? That’s what you can do with the Electro-Harmonix 22 Caliber power amp—it’s the size of a small pedal, no kidding. Okay, technically the power supply (18V 1.66A) is built into a power cord, much like that of a laptop computer, but still—we were knocked out by what the 22 Calliber puts out, poundper- pound. This little beast is 22 watts and very loud. It handles 4, 8, and 16 ohm speaker loads automatically. The 22 Caliber covers a lot ground with just a bright switch and a volume knob. The diminutive amp is expected to cost about $100.

MAP $99
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Olympus LS-11
It’s almost to the point where it’s hard to imagine being a musician and not having a digital recorder. The quality and features keep getting better and the prices keep going down. Olympus rolled out their new LS-11, which is an update to their LS-10. Improvements include 8GB of memory (up from 2GB), the ability to transfer files between the hard drive and an SD card, 23 hours of battery life (up from 14 hours) and a mono feature, handy for recording small size files when you know you’re going to be emailing them.

MAP $399
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Hagstrom has been making guitars again for several years now since taking a 20-year hiatus. Their Ultra Swede has a basswood body with a flamed maple top. The 24.75” scale guitar comes with custom-wound humbuckers and the company’s ultra-thin UltraLux neck. An Ultra Swede with a spalted maple top was shown at NAMM. Also catching our eye was their semi-hollow Viking and a silver sparkle Deluxe F-Tremar with the company’s new Tremar rocker vibrato bridge.

Ultra Swede - Street $484
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Yamaha NCX and NTX Series
Yamaha’s newest nylons are Rodrigo y Gabriella-endorsed and tricked out more like cutaway steel strings. They feature cutaways, A.R.T. transducer-style preamps, and gorgeous appointments. The NCX models are classical-style with a deeper body and a 12 th fret neck joint. The NCX2000FM (pictured) has a Hokkaido Spruce top and flamed maple back and sides. The NTX line has a thinner body and a 14th fret neck joint.