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NAMM 2019

Hello Troubadourians! Well, NAMM 2019 has come and gone. I was able to spend three days at the show this time, which was good. This year’s show was a mixed bag of things for me; a lot of the same-old, same-old but a lot of new things as well. Much of this had to do with my relaxed attitude and knowing that I was going to take my time and look for things that I wouldn’t normally pay much attention to. Several years ago, I started bringing my daughter Chesalie to the show as a photographer and, more recently, as a videographer. I had wanted to add some video content to complement the online version of the Troubadour so I started a YouTube channel especially for interviews that I would do with (hopefully) interesting people at the NAMM show. Our initial attempts were fairly lame as you might expect but we’ve gotten better over time and we bought a new microphone for her camera, which was a big help to the audio portion of the videos. You can now actually hear me and the people I’m talking to as well as the instruments I might be playing. The channel is: Ask Charlie… (San Diego Troubadour), and I’ll be putting up more contentthis month. All of the products mentioned below have associated videos.

Cling On: This is actually two products: a tuner and an acoustic guitar pickup. These folks won Best in Show at the 2018 NAMM and, somehow, I missed them. Petar Chekardzhikov from Elite Guitar was demo-ing both the pickup and the tuner as I walked by. The pickups sounded amazing, especially two of them in stereo so I stopped to listen. If you have a need to amplify your guitar and you either don’t want to install a permanent pickup or can’t afford to do so, the Cling On pickup system is for you. Simply place the tiny self-adhering magnets to the inside of the guitar–several different locations are recommended and yield different tones–and the pickup will attract to the magnet on the outside of the guitar. No holes to drill, no marring of the finish, and the pickup sounds really good. Especially when you use two in stereo as I said above. The pickups have an integrated volume control so you can control how loud you want to be and if you choose the stereo route, you can blend the pickups to create the tone that works best for you and your guitar. If you have a vintage guitar that you don’t want to modify in any way but still want to amplify it on occasion–and have it sound reasonably like itself–you must try this system. Of course, the visual aspect of having the pickups on the outside of the guitar will take a little getting used to but that’s a small price to pay for a great sounding, inexpensive, and non-permanent amplification solution. But the pickups are only half of the story; the small tuner also utilizes a magnet to attach to the guitar–this time on the outside–and is so small that it effectively hides behind the headstock. I’ve never liked the look or the bulk of clip-on tuners so this one got my attention immediately. The actual tuner is small but is almost all display with large, bright graphics. It shows what note you’re playing and turns from red to green when you’re in tune. I bought one on the spot and some extra magnets so that I can use it with all of my guitars. Way. Cool. (https://www.clingon.co/)

Beard Guitars: Paul Beard has been building elite resonator guitars since 1985. Superstar players like Jerry Douglass have been using Beard guitars almost ever since. Most of the guitars that Paul builds are squareneck models meant to be played with a bar and it is with these guitars that the legend of Beard resophonic guitars was built. If you’re looking for the best resophonic you’ll ever lay a slide on, this is the one. But Beard also builds some fine roundneck models for us regular players and it is one of these that caught my attention. As I happened upon the Beard Guitars booth, my eyes fell upon a black guitar with a tortoise-shell pickguard. I was instantly smitten. This beautiful mixture of worlds has a Les Paul-like shape, a single Lollar P-90 pickup in the neck position and a Beard 9.5″ hand-spun biscuit cone and Fishman Nashville bridge pickup. This is one of the coolest guitars I’ve played in a very long time. (You need to watch the video to hear and see it.) I must have one of these guitars. (http://www.beardguitars.com/)

Visual Note: This was probably the most surprising product I saw at the show. Part light show and part guitar instruction, the Visual Note system really must be seen to be believed. If you are familiar with the Fretlight system, you’ll have just the basic concept of Visual Note: the Visual Note system is essentially an overlay that installs easily–and non-permanently–on any Strat-type guitar. (Versions for other types of guitars as well as acoustic guitars are in development.) The overlay is basically a flexible circuit board with micro LEDs built into it. It attaches to the fretboard of the guitar in a cleverly positioned and non-marring way that looks a lot like a custom inlay job even when it’s not active. When you turn it on, it lights up with multicolor LEDs that can be programmed for some amazing lighting effects as well as an extremely deep learning tool. The light show itself was impressive to me but would have been relegated to the “just for flash” dustbin if it weren’t for the learning tools that come with the app. It is here that the Visual Note really earns its “reason to buy” as it can display chords, scales, and entire songs in easy to follow lighted graphics. Songs can be displayed in multiple keys and speed controlled for however fast or slow you need it to be. Sections can be looped as well. The interface works on your smart phone and connects to the system wirelessly. In performance mode, the system “listens” to the music you are playing–as well as to the rest of the band–and can respond to what it “hears” in predetermined patterns and colors or randomly based on the musical input. I don’t have room to adequately describe the Visual Note system here so watch the two videos and go their website. (https://www.visual-note.com/en)

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

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