Hello Troubadourians! Another NAMM show is now over and it’s time to let all of you in on what I saw and what we might expect for 2015. Overall, I’d say that my experience this year was positive. You can usually get a feel for how things are, both at the show and by extension the general music industry, from your first step onto the show floor. Happy, excited people are an obvious indication that folks are having a good time and that the show is going well, and the products being shown are interesting, well-accepted, and relevant. I saw happy people in abundance each day I attended and everyone I spoke with made a point to ask me, “Isn’t the show really cool this year?” or something to that effect. And it wasn’t just lip service either as I have a well-calibrated BS-meter at the ready for these musical self-congratulatory extravaganzas but the BSM didn’t go off even once. Now before you go all jealous on me, I’m way past the entire “kid in a candy store” fever that possesses NAMM newbies. While I do enjoy playing the “half a year’s salary” archtop guitars that call my name like the Sirens called to Odysseus, I actually spend most of my time playing more moderately priced instruments and looking for gear that will be of benefit for the performing musicians and players who read this column.
One of my finds were RainSong Guitars (http://www.rainsong.com/). These guitars are made from carbon fiber and glass fiber construction. The full carbon guitars sound differently from the hybrid carbon/glass guitars and are more expensive. I know a lot of people shop for guitars with their eyes and since the RainSong guitars are anything but traditional in appearance, some folks might be put-off by their Batman-type visage. But if you are at all open to the “look” of this very high-tech material, I believe you’ll really dig these guitars. They aren’t new in the sense that RainSong has been making guitars since the late 1990s but this was the first time, which upon seeing them, I was compelled to play one. I wasn’t expecting to like them as much as I did. As an engineer in my day job, I was intrigued by the technology and virtual indestructibility offered by the carbon construction. Literally everything on the guitars is carbon or glass fiber except for the frets and tuners. You would think that any instrument series that can draw such a comparison to a bullet-proof vest would also sound and play like one. You would be wrong. Very wrong. I played about a dozen of the guitars that were on display ranging in price from about $899 to over $3000 for an APLE Al Petteway Limited Edition model, and all of them played and sounded like “real” high quality guitars. I fell in love with a model H-WS1000N2, which at about $1,899 street price is about in the middle of the price range from the company. The company claims that through the use of carbon and high-tech manufacturing processes, the guitars will be very consistent from one to the next. I had to agree that the RainSong guitars do have a unique, characteristic tonality much like guitars with mahogany, rosewood, or maple construction would each have a unique characteristic tonality, but each individual guitar that I played sounded a little bit different from the others. In my opinion, this is a good thing in that it allows the player to choose the guitar that speaks to him or her. Likewise, each guitar played a little differently than the others (the N2 I played had a killer setup) and felt a little different even when they were the identical model. Again, this is a good thing as you want the one that feels right to you. According to David Coram, sales manager for RainSong, even with all of the “tech” involved in the guitars during construction, there is still a lot of handwork that goes into each guitar. It’s that type craftsmanship that turns a technological marvel into a viable musical instrument. RainSong guitars can be purchased online at the usual online music stores or locally at the Blue Guitar.
I have seen two schools of thought regarding tuning machines. Also called tuners, tuning keys, and machine heads, these are the devices that are on the headstock of your guitar where the strings attach and that the player uses to tune the guitar. My apologies if that was an overly simplistic/complex/condescending explanation, but in the guitar lexicon there are so many terms that are — correctly or incorrectly — used interchangeably to describe the same thing. (Don’t get me started on the tremolo vs. vibrato bridge discussion). The first school of thought is: if it came with the guitar it must be what is supposed to be there. The other school of thought is: I like so-and-so brand of tuning machine so I’ll install them on all of my guitars. Folks belonging to the second school always have a favorite brand of tuning machine and they will swear that nothing else is any good. Nothing even comes close. Those folks that belong to the first school are mostly averse to changing anything on their guitar — except the strings — because they lack the confidence or experience to experiment with their guitars. The debate becomes even more heated when the “vintage-ness” of a particular style/type/brand of tuning machine is in question. The “don’t change anything” folks’ argument usually breaks down to their belief that the manufacturer of the guitar selected the tuning keys for a reason. The “gotta change” folks’ argument is almost always based on the belief that new technology means better technology and that is always a good thing. Having been in both schools at one time or another, I know each has merit, but I think that the decision to change parts that are still functional should ultimately be based on improving the tone of your instrument. Otherwise don’t do it. Old-style Kluson tuners were the standard on many quality guitars, 1950s Gibsons in particular. Their light weight kept the guitars from feeling neck-heavy and added airyness to the tone. They also wore out fairly regularly. Fortunately, the good folks at Tone Pros have collaborated with Kluson and developed a new tuning machine that combines the best of old and new. These tuning machines are light, toneful, and vintage approved but have the tuning accuracy and durability of modern tuning machines. Give them a look at http://www.toneproskluson.com/.
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