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NAMM 2014 part one

Hello Troubadourians! Every year in late January, the Anaheim Convention Center is overrun with all things musical. Yes, the annual Winter NAMM show was in town and that’s where practically every manufacturer, independent builder, and obsessed inventor came to display their products and ideas to the musical world. The NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) Show is an industry-only convention and is not open to the general public. As a member of the music press, it’s my job to attend and then write about the cool (and sometimes not so cool) things that I saw and tested and that I think could be of use to the performing musicians in the San Diego scene. In recent years, there haven’t been many things that impressed me, but this year’s show was a pleasant surprise. There were literally dozens of interesting and innovative products, more than I have space to write about so I’ll give you the highlights; the items that really made me think, “I have to have one of those.” In no particular order, here they are…

Tech21 Fly Rig 5 (tech21nyc.com/) The Fly Rig 5 is an all-in-one effects pedal that contains five of the most useful effects for guitar in one elegant – and relatively small – box. In the Fly Rig 5 are a genuine Tech21 SansAmp, a reverb, a delay, the Tech21 Plexi distortion, and an adjustable boost function. The Fly Rig measures 11.5″ long x 2.5″ deep x 1.25″ high and weighs only 18.6 oz. It is designed so that guitarists can always have the basics of “their sound” even when having to use an iffy backline amplifier. The reverb is contained within the SansAmp section and is only active when the SansAmp is engaged. This isn’t a big deal since you’ll probably want to have the SansAmp on all the time anyway. The Plexi distortion is a good basic distortion section and can be voiced to suit most overdrive tone needs. The boost function is contained within the Plexi section but can be activated independently. The delay is voiced to sound like a tape echo unit and can be adjusted for delay and chorus sounds. This thing is cool!

Quilter Labs Steelaire amplifier (quilterlabs.com/) The Steelaire is intended for steel guitarists but works exceptionally well for standard guitar and electric violin. The amp is solid-state but has an exceptionally warm, tube-like tonality. I’m a real tube amp purist but I really dig the tone of the Steelaire. The features include an extended 4-band EQ section, a limiter, 3-knob reverb, 2-knob tremolo, and channel switching between clean and overdrive tones, all powered by a 200W class-D amplifier through a rich-sounding 15″ Eminence neodymium speaker. Solid-state amps usually excel at clean sounds and very distorted sounds, albeit usually somewhat sterile; they generally fail miserably at reproducing the edge-of-breakup tones where tube amps shine. The Steelaire – in fact all of the Quilter amps I heard – will fool you into believing that it is a tube amp. It really nails the natural tube-tones at all levels of gain. I need one of these…

FXConnectx wireless pedalboards (fxconnectx.com/) Okay, how many of you love your pedalboard effects but hate having to deal with all the cables that are required to plug it all in? This is especially complicated when some of your effects are in front of the amp and others are in the effects loop. What if you use a multi-amp rig with different effects assigned to different rigs (and even some that are assigned to both rigs)? What if your amp has channel-switching capabilities and you want that on your pedalboard, too? Now, we’re talking real spaghetti and the probable stink-eye from your bandmates for taking so long to load-in, set-up, dial-in, and load-out. Been there, done that. The wireless pedalboard systems from FXConnectx can solve all of the above mentioned problems. Systems can be custom configured to blend stomp box and rack mounted effects, provide custom effects routing with a single switch, switch channels on your amps, interface multi-amp rigs without ground loops or hum, and provide all of this access to you in a single (or multiple) stage location with no cables to hassle with. Everything stays in the rack (on easy-access pull-out drawers for the stomp boxes) and all switching is performed wirelessly (and noiselessly, too). These systems are custom-configured for each individual player’s rig and the pricing varies depending on the number of channels and level of complexity so they aren’t cheap, but if you use a lot of effects and/or have a complex rig, I strongly recommend you check out FXConnectx systems.

Beard resonator guitars (beardguitars.com/) If you’ve ever wanted to experiment with acoustic blues slide guitar, learn to play bluegrass-style slide guitar, or if you just want add some flavor to your playing, I suggest you check out Beard Guitars. These are the resonator guitars that all others are compared to. The squareneck guitars are set up for bluegrass slide playing. Often referred to as “dobro” type guitars, these instruments are the forerunners to modern steel and pedal-steel electric guitars. Played flat and using a bar, this is the ultimate tone to add some of that “High Lonesome” sound to your music. But even if you don’t want to learn a completely new technique, you can still get your groove on with a resonator guitar. Almost all models of Beard guitars are available in roundneck versions and most have an excellent Fishman pickup system installed from the factory. Acoustic blues players, both slide and standard, have been hip to the mojo of resonator guitars for decades but they can be used equally well in folk and country genres as well as imparting a unique character when played by a singer-songwriter. Resonator guitars are an interesting blend of technologies that rely on the craftsmanship of both the woodwork that goes into them as well as carefully machined and tuned aluminum and metal components. Over-emphasis on either part of the recipe generally leads to either an abrasive sounding instrument or one that is difficult to play. But when the blend is right you are treated to the unique experience of playing a quality instrument that is simultaneously bell-like and woody. While most of the Beard Guitar line is relatively expensive, they also offer the same resonator components and Fishman pickup systems in the less expensive Gold Tone line of instruments.

That’s all the space we have for this month’s column but I will feature some more highlights from NAMM 2014 next month.

Need to know? Just ask… Charlie (ask.charlie@hotmail.com)

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