My Trip To NAMM 2019 (Not that NAM)

By Art Podell

NAMM 2019 ACCI visited the NAMM trade show in Los Angeles on Sunday, January 27th. Or did I? If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it…I checked my Fitbit and it had clocked six miles and then some while I was in the Convention Center so there is proof that I spent time in that behemoth in Anaheim, wandering the two thousand plus booths sponsored by vendors of everything and anything that closely or remotely is associated with the production of music. Did you get that number? Two thousand, one hundred twenty-eight separate vendors displaying their wares by my casual count. The Thomas Guide of yesteryear had nothing on the printed menu of vendors handed out so casually at the doorways of the great halls. They might as well have given me a phonebook from Toledo Ohio.

Since I am a guitar player, a sometimes banjoist and a dabbler in home recordings, those were the vendors I searched out. Martin Guitars, of course, had cordoned off an entire area of the main floor and the display was fearsome. Almost every current model hung seductively available to the touch along the walls of the display. Likewise for Taylor. I personally sought out the Huss and Dalton display. I’ve recently become fascinated with the brand after hearing John McCutcheon play his H&D. To my dismay, Kimberly Dalton at the H&D booth remarked that that they have no distributors in the Los Angeles area. A personal disappointment to me frankly since their guitars strike me as truly exceptional and identifiable. Other premium brands like Larivee, Santa Cruz, Lowden, Collings, Gibson (am I leaving someone out? I’m sorry) were all comfortably located on the lower level and wandering through them took me back to being a kid in New York wandering through the display of Martin guitars at the Wurlitzer retail store in Manhattan, Martin Guitars’ distributor at the time during the late forties and early fifties. Now for the ‘other’ guitars.

I do know that the business of guitars is strong medicine for hungry hands and souls seeking expression, but in my wildest fantasy I never realized just how many versions of a guitar are possible. It would be impossible here and yes, a disservice to luthiers if I tried to describe the shapes, configurations, and variations on a theme are possible in the construction of guitars. Salvadore Dali had nothing on some of these guys. Let’s leave it that if anyone is interested in how many variations in shape, sound hole placement, wood design, etc. exist, wait until NAAM comes around again and bring your camera and some Dramamine.

I spent the rest of my time, exploring some of the DAW exhibits, since I dabble in home recording. I’m personally a fan of a program from PG Music called Band In A Box and their partner product Real Band and the folks at the booth were polite and even answered one technical problem I’d been having with the product. The number of gadgets, computer programs and electronic devices that are available for music creators was overwhelming and I set myself to the task of trying to absorb only those items made from wood, of which there were hundreds. Violins (fiddles), dulcimers, banjos (well, maybe not all wood), bouzoukis and the like. I tested the new Tonewood amplifier, a standalone device that attaches to an acoustic guitar and amplifies the sound. Interesting. For the serious customers (yes, purchases can be made), there were soundproof phone booth like structures here and there for instrument testing. Clever. In some areas the din was so pronounced it would be difficult to play an acoustic instrument and hear it accurately.

I also stopped to listen to a few minutes of a very informative seminar presentation by a panel of writers and publishers on the nuts and bolts of music publishing. Informative and worthwhile time spent.

Not to be one who returned without evidence that I had been there, I purchased a set of Black Smith strings (made in Korea) for my Goodall guitar upon the advice of Mark Humphrey whom I miraculously ran into during my trek through the halls. I consider it a miracle to run into anyone you know and the miracle occurred when I ran into Mark and Mary Katherine Aldin during my wandering. Familiar faces in the crowd of thousands made me feel that serendipity truly exists in the Josef Conrad jungles of Anaheim.

Strolling back to my car for the journey home, despite the enormity and confusion of the experience, I felt as though I had accomplished a great feat. Although I’ll admit it’s a long way to go for a set of guitar strings.

Art Podell was one half of the iconic Greenwich Village duo Art and Paul before moving to L.A. in 1961. An original member of the New Christy Minstrels, Art wrote songs for many of the artists of the day. He continues to perform and write and he rotates as a host of KPFK’s Roots Music and Beyond.