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May 2024
Vol. 23, No. 8

Ask Charlie...

To NAMM or not to NAMM?

by Charlie LoachFebruary 2022

Hello Troubadourians! As I write this column it is end of January and, normally, I would have just returned from attending the NAMM Show in Anaheim. The pandemic has disrupted this annual event just as it has disrupted essentially everything for two years. The last show I attended was January 2020, just before everything shut down. In 2021, the NAMM Show was held “virtually,” and I didn’t “attend.” The virtual event had limited representation from manufacturers and vendors and, for me, it seemed pointless as I go to the show as much for the people I meet as for the gear I see and play. I have friends whom I’ve known for 40-plus years that I am only able to see in person once a year at the show. I look forward to those interactions, to talk about new gear, the state of the music business, and catch up on our personal lives. Despite the sheer number of people in attendance, there is always time and opportunity to have private conversations and those are sometimes the most rewarding. The way that the virtual NAMM was presented, there was no opportunity for this type of interaction. This January, NAMM is again absent from the Anaheim Convention Center, having been rescheduled for that venue in early June in a limited form. Barring a significant change in conditions, I have decided against attending this year for many reasons, not the least of which is the ongoing threat of Covid.
Musicians can be equal parts cooperative and contentious, and often unpredictable under the best of circumstances. Up the ante with a very large group of people in a confined space with everyone jockeying for position, the constant cacophony of hundreds of voices and dozens of instruments all at once and toss in a bit of political opinion for spice, and you have a situation primed for conflict. That’s not where I want to be right now. This leaves me to reminisce about past NAMM experiences that I will forever cherish.
One early memory is of being asked to demo an amplifier for a VIP. It was late on a Sunday, the last day of NAMM in 1980. At the time, I was working at Valley Music, and we were dealers of Randall amplifiers. They had just released an amplifier that was intended to be a rival to Mesa Boogie. (It wasn’t but that’s another story…). We had received early models of the RG80 amplifier a few weeks before NAMM and I was quite familiar with them by the time of the show. I happened to stop by the Randall booth to talk with our rep, Bill Acton, just in time to hear him telling a very large man with long hair and a beard, “We’d love to demo the amp for you, but we don’t have any guitar players right now.” I stepped up and said, “Well, now you do.” Everyone laughed and soon afterward I was introduced to the large, bearded fellow who turned out to be the road manager for the Doobie Brothers. The show closed within a few minutes, and we all made our way across the plaza to the Hilton and up to the Randall suite. I was handed a G&L guitar and they plugged me into an RG80. For the next 15 minutes I proceeded to play every Doobie Brothers song and riff I knew. The RG80 was one on the first solid state amps that was even remotely able to emulate a tube amp and it did so somewhat convincingly. My advance familiarity with it from having played through one at work for a few weeks gave me an advantage of being able to get it to deliver just about any tone I needed, well, at least for Doobie Brothers music. The one thing that it didn’t do well, something that even modern solid state or digitally simulated amps struggle to achieve, is that “edge of breakup” tone, which we guitarists are always wanting to have. I did play some non-Doobies stuff just to show off the amp (and my playing). It was really cool to see all of those important people bobbing their heads and grinning while I played. The final act of the story was that Mr. Road Manager bought four RG80s on the spot. What I didn’t realize until much later was that the founder of Randall Amplifiers was none other than Don Randall, Leo Fender’s VP of sales from the Golden Era of Fender Musical Instruments. Had I known that I just might have been a bit intimidated…
Another memory involves myself and my daughter Chesalie. Chesalie—or CC, which she goes by—has been attending NAMM with me since she was 14. This was maybe her second NAMM show and we had walked into the PRS (Paul Reed Smith) booth to look at the new guitars. I was an avid PRS player at the time and I had a first-name relationship with Paul himself. He had signed my first PRS at a NAMM Show and this visit was to ask if he would sign my second PRS (he did). But that isn’t the story… When CC and I walked into the booth, Paul was talking to a trio of Japanese fellows. We walked up and waited to talk to Paul. He was showing them, at the time, the just-introduced 513 Model guitar. He was very proud of it and the Japanese fellows were listening intently to his pitch and the brief demo of what the guitar could do. The guitar was finished in a beautiful transparent red—CC’s favorite color. The Japanese guys seemed to be very impressed with the 513. So, when Paul was finished with them, and before they walked away, he looked at me, winked, and then handed the guitar to CC. He said, “What to you think of this guitar?” Without any hesitation, she took the guitar, got down on one knee and started to play “Dream On” with an acceptably Joe Perry-like tone. I could tell that Paul hadn’t expected that and the Japanese guys were also surprised and impressed. When she was done, she calmly handed the guitar back to Paul and said very matter of factly, “Nice guitar. Love the color.” Everyone cracked-up. Paul shook CC’s hand and said to both of us, “I knew your dad could play but I’m stoked that you can too!”
There are dozens of stories like this that I can tell you and maybe I’ll write about a few more sometime. These are the moments that make the NAMM Show special and the reason I go every year. That can’t be replaced by any sort of virtual show. If things are reasonably safe come June, I might risk making some new memories… Maybe.
Need to know? Just ask… Charlie (

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