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NAMM 2014, part two

Hello Troubadourians! This month we continue with the “I have to have one of those…” reviews of NAMM show gear that we began last month. There were so many interesting and innovative products this year. I reviewed four impressive products last month and this month, in no particular order, I review four more…

Audio Technica System 10 wireless (www.audio-technica.com/) I have had a lot of success with Audio Technica products including using their 2000 series wireless guitar unit for several years. Audio Technica’s new System 10 wireless is, in my opinion, even better. First of all, the System 10 utilizes a digital rather than a UHF transceiver. This can have both benefits and drawbacks; digital processing eliminates the companding circuit commonly found in wireless systems. Companding is essential for UHF broadcast but it also limits the dynamic range and is responsible for the “breathing” effect that is common when the signal is less than full-on. Digital systems yield a more natural-sounding signal that is especially valuable if you plan to use it with an acoustic instrument. The receiver for the System 10 is stomp-box size, which makes it perfect for mounting on a pedalboard and allows the user to switch between two separate outputs and will pair with up to eight different transmitters so you can switch between instruments without having to move the body-pack from one instrument to the next. The main drawback is a reduction in the distance you can be from the receiver, usually about 50 feet. If you can live with that, this is the wireless to get.

Collings Guitars (http://www.collingsguitars.com/) I have lots of love for the folks at Collings Guitars and for the instruments they build. They always bring stellar stuff to the NAMM show and this year was no exception. Collings have expanded their LC (laminate construction) line of guitars to include the Eastside LC archtop as well as LC and LC Deluxe versions of both their I-35 and SoCo models. In the case of the SoCo models, the LC versions have been slightly reduced in size from 16″ to 15″ on the lower bout (a minor change that in my opinion makes the SoCo look and feel a little sexier). Laminate construction is a fancy way of saying plywood, which used to mean cheaply made, but this isn’t the case here. Bill Collings says, “You really aren’t a guitar builder until you can build a plywood guitar that had the same build quality as a solid wood guitar. Plywood is definitely more difficult to work with.” Many of our favorite guitars, such as the iconic Gibson ES-335, are plywood guitars and they have a sound that guitarists love and that is different from solid wood guitars. Collings felt that there was a need for high-quality instruments that would get that sound and still have the Collings vibe, and just cost a little less. Mission accomplished.

Ultramagnetics stereo pickup system (http://stereopickups.com/) There are literally thousands of replacement pickups for electric guitars available on the market. And most of them are variations on the pickups that debuted on the Fender and Gibson guitars of the ’50s. The stereo pickups invented by Collin Mulvany are truly a sonic breakthrough and yet they will work on any guitar with humbucking-size pickups with no modifications. They will also open some incredible sonic vistas if you’re up for some experimentation. Current models are available for installation in both the neck and bridge positions and allow you to separate the signal from strings 1-3 and 4-6 (models that separate 1-4 and 5-6 are also available). If you play solo electric jazz guitar you can truly make your guitar sound like more than one instrument. Even in a rock context, splitting your guitar’s signal into stereo can allow you to process the bass strings separately from the treble strings and make your sound huge. The real beauty of this system is that the pickups and can be used in mono as well as in stereo and sound truly amazing all on their own. And you don’t need any fancy electronics to make all this happen. The pickups are completely passive and a simple passive splitter box is included and all they need to work their magic. Check out the video on the website to hear them do their thing. Way cool!

Origin Effects Cali76 limiting amplifier (http://www.origineffects.com/) I dig compressors. I’ve used them for years, both live and in the studio, on electric and acoustic guitars, and I like the things they do to both the tone and sustain of my guitars. The stomp-box type compressors that work best in live situations have usually been variations of the venerable MXR dyna-comp. I use a dyna-comp myself with much success but I have always wished that I could put some of the mojo that I hear from studio compressors in my live rig. One of the most famous studio compressors – one that sounds awesome on guitars in particular – is the Urei 1176, but the rackmount studio units while sonically superior, have for the most part been too costly and fragile to use live. Until now. The Origin Effects Cali76 limiting amplifier packs all of the awesomeness on the Urei 1176 into a single stomp-box sized unit. The Cali76 does everything the 1176 does but with the convenience of being able to put it on your pedalboard. The smooth sustain, dynamic control, and attack-release options are all there. The only things I can find wrong with the Cali76 is that it is rather large (8″ x 6.25″) taking up a lot of space on your pedalboard, and while it will work on 9V it really should be powered by 18V. But if you really want studio quality compression that does magical things to the sound of your guitar, these complaints are easily overcome and are well worth the effort.

Coda: I need to report that the vibe at the 2014 NAMM show was decidedly different than it has been in many previous years. Overall, it was far more positive and exciting and focused on the music over the business. The atmosphere at the show has historically been “sell, sell, sell” but this year it was decidedly “play, play, play.” I’m not against selling or the business of music – after all, commerce is essential to the health and wealth of all of us involved with music – but the shift in emphasis toward the art of music, quality instruments, and actually playing them was palpable and welcome. I hope that the trend continues…

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

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