The main takeaway of my experience is “incredible”. I attended as a fan with no obligations other than to do some recon for a few friends which I didn’t do very well. The “we” in the article is an old friend of mine from college, Jay Nathan, who went just for fun as well. Talk about a good buddy!
Another side note- I am not a great photographer and half the time I did a poor job documenting the pictures. Fortunately most are fairly obvious.
Thanks for taking time to read, let r’ rip!
According to other attendees I spoke with, exhibitor attendance was off by approximately 45% (take that with a grain of salt) and pedestrian traffic was off by about that much as well. Having been my first show it’s kind of hard to imagine what regular attendance would look (and feel) like.
Some of the major guitar manufacturer’s that were not present were Fender (and subsidiaries including Gretsch, Guild, EVH, Charvel and Jackson), Gibson/Epiphone, PRS. Dean was not there and nor was Dean Zelinsky Private Label, Schecter, Ovation, and G&L. Also missing was Marshall, Peavey, and DiMarzio.
The unofficial answer I heard was supply chain related. Why exhibit if there is the potential you cannot fill additional orders? That’s fair, but for the betterment of the industry if you are one of the “majors” I question whether or not that was a wise move. I know fulfilling orders is an issue for Fender at this moment in time, but cash flow? 2020 was the biggest year of sales volume in Fender history. I imagine a full-scale “booth”, staffing, and accommodations for a company like Fender or Gibson is likely hundreds of thousands of dollars. Regardless of the reason it certainly took away from a long-anticipated return of the largest musical products trade show in the world. I am a believer in a rising tide lifts all, but I am not a CFO.
That said, we had dinner Friday night at the Marriott seated by the pool. The table was large enough for six people and it was just the two of us so another couple sat down. By chance, one of the guests is the CFO of a “major” guitar manufacturer and we asked that person, “where is Gibson and Fender?”, they expressed a similar, yet politically correct sentiment.
The people! Everyone was extremely nice and you could tell the exhibitors were grateful for returning to a sense of normalcy and appreciated the enthusiasm from attendees. Most of that is to be expected, a huge gathering of like-minded people talking and gawking about what they love.
The people! Southern California certainly has their fair share of individuals. Of course we are talking about musicians, many of which would stand out in any crowd, and here they are under one roof. But I’m talking about the hardcore rockers, the ones you either wanted to hang out with or stay away from in junior high school. If I had a nickel for every guy that looked like some incarnation of Fabio I bet I’d have five dollars. The people watching was off the charts! Whenever the show returns to Nashville I imagine it has a different cast of characters. For the record, I didn’t see one pair of cowboy boots. I’m sure I missed some, but that gives you an idea. On top of that, I had to look really hard to find a mandolin in the building and there was only one banjo company in the entire joint, Deering Banjos. Mind you, I live in rural western NC and the major cities I have lived in are all in the south- Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville, and Memphis, so boots and country-style slingers are much more common.
Boutique Guitar Showcase! This was by far my favorite place to walk around and drool. From original designs to incredible figured wood and finishes, AMAZING! Part of my appreciation for the guitar is in the physical artistry. Much of that is aesthetics, whether it’s a production run, boutique model or completely custom, but when you look at an instrument that has a literal piece of the builder’s soul inside, it’s so inspiring. The lion’s share of my love of the guitar is also related to the soul, the actual soul’s of previous owners and their experiences on the instrument that live on for the next owner. Obviously then, a used guitar speaks to me louder than a new one, but I won’t digress.
I talked to one custom builder from Switzerland(?) who brought three acoustic guitars for display and to sell. Each one was close to $20,000 and he makes about 15 guitars per year. Neither the price nor the units per year was surprising, but to travel all the way to NAMM… love that dedication. Generally speaking all the boutique guys only had a handful of guitars on display so he wasn’t alone.
Music! Of course if you are going to play at NAMM you’d better be on your game. And if you are a tech or engineer behind the scenes you must also be one of the best. Music and stages were everywhere starting before lunch and going to midnight. All the groups and artists we saw were absolutely on point and represented a world of genres. There were zero disappointments across the board. One of the standout performances we witnessed came from gospel singer Fred Hammond. I didn’t even know who Fred was. He brought it, the guy is lights-out incredible.
“Biggest Booth” awards goes to Martin, Taylor, ESP, Ibanez with Yamaha in first place by far. However, Yamaha had all of their retail lines on display and guitars are only a small part of it. In fact Yamaha had one Pacifica on display, a handful of Revstars and a small rack of budget acoustics that were not picture worthy.
"Lamest Booth” award goes to Rickenbacker. Not because of their display, which was pretty decent, but it was so sterile at the same time. I don’t recall seeing a Rickenbacker representative on the floor. Of course I must have missed them, but that also tells you something. They had two private conference rooms and presumably there was an amp in one of them. Perhaps their intention was to deter tire-kickers and get down to business, if so, mission accomplished. Unimpressive enough I didn't even take a picture.
Martin had a few ridiculously cool customs on display. They also get the “Most Ridiculous in Show” award for the 5k Uke model. A $5,000 ukulele.
“Best Overall” was Fibenare Guitars out of Hungary. The company consists of three brothers and a handful of other employees. Their guitars are completely custom including pickups, bridges, and electronics. Every single instrument is absolutely stunning.
“Best Conversation Starter”, hands down, was Minarik Guitars out of Las Vegas. If you only see these from their website they appear gaudy and outrageous, which I think is part of their “MO”. However, when you see them in person and talk to the team the paradigm shifts to one of meticulous detail, love of the craft, and love of the guitar. It just so happens their style does not suit everyone (to say the least). I was able to speak to the founder, Mark Minarik, and though we didn’t chat for too long, his passion for what they create is crystal clear from the first words out of his mouth. Honestly, I went to see Minarik for the oddball appeal and instead I ended up a changed man.
Tough Luck, Not Cool-
There were a couple of guys I felt sorry for. On day one we visited a custom guitar stand maker that turns out beautiful stands to compliment your Number One (any more than that and it would cost a small fortune). The guy had already lost his voice and his wife was having to do the talking for him. Fortunately she was an ace! Then there was the Aria Pro II booth which only had one rep. The guy was incredibly sweet and gracious, but that’s a huge task to handle alone for three days even if the booth was small.
There’s much more to the show, but I’ll stop here and say, “thanks again for reading”. If I loved amplifiers and pedals as much as I do guitars then maybe my experience would be different and I’d have different stories to share. I was fortunate enough to attend my first NAMM out of pure pleasure and it was an absolute blast. I did some networking for Guitar Gavel which was part of the plan but I had no itinerary other than what I wanted to do. I am blessed- GREAT WIFE!
Here's me and Jay rocking our Guitar Gavel t-shirts!
Candid photo taken by Jules Leyhe
Lick of the Week by Steve Kuykendall
Stevie K demonstrates double stop tracks. Every key has several double stop tracks, adjacent strings being plucked and ringing together simultaneously, often times with a drone note. Huh? Watch and learn :-).