NAMM JUNKIE

By David James

BurstMandoO.K., I admit it, I’m a NAMM junkie. It’s one of three or four annual events that I plan my year around. I turn down gigs; I miss people’s birthday parties; I take two days off of work so that I can be there all four days. After years of trying to find some way to get in, I managed it in 1994, and I’ve been to every one since then. For four days every year, the Anaheim Convention Center turns into the biggest playground/candystore in the world, and I can’t stay away.

Last weekend, the candystore was open. Both of the Morris dance groups I play for attended a day of dance in the Bay Area, and both of them had to find alternate musos. It was no contest, for a bunch of reasons.

First of all, there’s the gear. There’s always a ton of great instruments at the show (and probably ten tons of mediocre-to-poor ones…). My highlights this year:

• Another rebirth of Guild Guitars. After being bought by Fender and shuffled around for years, made in Tacoma, WA and then in Hartford, CT, Guild has been sold to Cordoba Guitars. Cordoba’s never been on my radar, but they seem serious about Guild. They’ve got acoustic guitar guru Ren Ferguson heading up their production facility that’s being set up in Santa Monica, CA, and everyone staffing the booth was talking with fervor about staying true to Guild’s traditional acoustic and electric designs. They displayed some of the last guitars built at the Hartford plant before its relocation to CA, and it looks like, on the acoustic side, they’ll be concentrating on the jumbo and dreadnought 6- and 12-strings that gave Guild its reputation, as well as the electric jazz boxes and thinlines.

• Bruce Weber’s mandolins, etc. Besides the usual droolworthy F- and A- styles, Bruce had a gorgeous 3-point mandolin, a stellar 2-point mandocello and a wonderful guitar-shaped resonator octave mando. Collings and Breedlove also had terrific mandolins there.

• Gibson electrics. Yeah, I know, I’m probably not in the mainstream of FW readers here, but Gibco is doing a couple of cool things with their electric line. One is aesthetic – all non-historic/non-artist-signature electrics made this year have a replica in gold of Les Paul’s autograph and the number “100,” honoring Lester on what would be his 100th birth year. The other is functional – all of these same electrics have, instead of the traditional bone nut, a brass combination nut/zero fret with allen-screw height adjustment. It’s a really interesting design, very functional, and I’ll be interested to see if the market accepts it and it stays on these guitars.

• L.R. Baggs. Their new Session DI preamp incorporates compression and saturation controls that, in their demo, took the already great sound of their Anthem pickup system and made it sound like it was going through high-end studio gear. An amazing secret weapon for acoustic guitarists.

• Veillette Guitars – Joe V. has a line of his designs being made in Asia, which brings things like his wonderful Gryphon into a price range that mere mortals can afford. The workmanship is very good, and they sing very much like Joe’s handmade American models do.

And, no surprise, the Martin, Collings, Santa Cruz, Huss and Dalton, Breedlove, and Taylor booths were full of fantastic instruments, as were the booths of Deering Banjos (celebrating 40 years!), and National Resophonic.

Then there were the performances. Both in the Convention Center where amazing solo performances and jams are happening at any given time in dozens of booths, and at after-hours showcase concerts. I caught Peavey’s 50th anniversary celebration with Lynyrd Skynyrd and Blue Oyster Cult on Thursday night, Saturday night was Muriel Anderson’s All-Star Guitar Night with Kenny Burrell, Laurence Juber, Andy Timmons, Mimi Fox, Shaun Hopper and Scott Law (check out those last two if you’re not familiar with them, they were terrific). My 8-year-old son and I had a great time at the Remo-sponsored drum circle on Friday night, with about 300 other people; Parliament-Funkadelic was playing an outdoor stage as that ended.

Add to all this the reunion aspect – seeing people in the industry that I’ve become friends with over the years, doing our annual catch-up, and running into local friends who gravitate to the same vendors’ booths that I do (like seeing Steve Shapiro at the Weber booth…), and it comes to a weekend a year that I always look forward to, and am always a little bit sad when it’s over.

David James is a string multi-instrumentalist who plays with Rising Phoenix and Wild Wood morris dancers, Contra/ECD trio Whirled Peas, and folk/pop bands Imaginary Friends and Naked to the World.  By day, he's a public school music teacher, spending his days playing guitar and singing with kids in grades 1-6.

Bruce Weber has the most stunning finishes I’ve ever seen on a mandolin. This picture doesn’t do it justice. Really.
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