NAMM: Perhaps the Happiest Place on Earth

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This past weekend, my wife and I attended the NAMM show in Anaheim, California. Those of you that remember the old NEPCON shows or the IPC EXPO/APEX shows of over five years ago can picture the convention center, but you can't picture Namm there unless you experience it for yourself.

The rainy weather made it necessary to move the opening ceremonies featuring the U.S. Marine Band inside, but the wet, blustery weather did nothing to dampen the spirits of the tens of thousands of musicians, instrument manufacturers, artists, celebrities, celebrity wannabes, retailers, those in the overall music business, combo music techies, and members of the press who crowded the halls of every area. Believe me, there were no sections, halls, suites, or any other part of the facility not crammed with music-related items. This show is not as big as CES, but no other show is. There were, however, a record 11,981 exhibitors at the show: Huge multi-room suites featuring Fender, Gretsch, and others; custom-carved instruments that not only sound like a work of art, but also look like one; and even small 10 x 10 booths selling--yes, you guessed it--covers and stands for smart phones and tablets. Attendance was reported to have exceeded 95,000 which is more than half the huge attendance at CES.

As soon as you enter you are almost overwhelmed by the sounds of countless different musical instruments playing. You would expect there to be a clash of sounds with trumpets and trombones being played in numerous booths in the brass area and half a room away dozens of guitars, basses, and drums and in the next area piano’s and violins are also being demonstrated or just tried on by artists, pros and amateurs like myself alike. The cacophony of sounds for the most part somehow did not clash, instead it seemed to blend in and become almost a discordant, but highly pleasing symphony.

As a techie and also an armature bass player, I had my focus already planned. Sure, there was a lot of great music to hear and one could spend the entire day searching for celebrities (Racheal, my photographer wife ran into Randy Jackson walking through the show and got a few pictures of him).

This is one industry where what is old is not only good, but is revered. While I remember and welcomed the transition from expensive, hot, slow to turn on, very heavy and low reliability vacuum tubes to solid state devices back in the late 50s, the musicians of today revere “that tube sound.” Last year I saw a number of tube devices, but this year I actually saw something that makes sense to me. New solid-state devices using real (gasp, lest I say it) PC boards using the latest technology to provide a digital copy of "that tube sound" and, according to those that were listening to it, a very good approximation. Also on the technology side there seems to be advances in all types of sound manipulation hardware, guitar and bass pedals of all sorts, recording and mixing consoles from small home basement studios to very large and impressive arrays that look to be at home in any major studio. And, yes, there numerous turntables being shown. I guess to get “that vinyl sound.”

I ran into many who love technology and, in fact, while speaking to one of the developers of the new Fender bass amps (made to look like the old ones from the 50s) I ran into Dick Crow. It seems that a love for technology and in many cases a love for things musical go hand in hand. After a day walking NAMM my feet hurt just as much as a day at CES, but my spirits were higher.



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