NAMM 2011 show in Anaheim: The weird, the wacky, the wondrous
The weirdness and wonder of the annual NAMM Show , a gathering of merchants showcasing new musical products entering the marketplace, is hard to convey to anyone who’s never experienced it. Imagine standing dead center on the floor of the United Nations, or maybe in the middle of the “Star Wars” cantina. Everyone surrounding you has been handed a different instrument and each is playing a different song from a different culture or planet simultaneously -- all cranked to 11.
Got that picture and, more important, sound in your head? You’re getting close.
Sprawled across several acres of the Anaheim Convention Center on Friday, this year's annual gear fest once again featured thousands of exhibitor booths stocked with the latest in electric and acoustic guitars, amplifiers, pianos, electronic keyboards, sound processors, audio and video recording, mixing and playback equipment, sheet music, instructional videos, computer software, banjos, ukuleles, saxophones, violins, drums and every accessory imaginable -- and many hard to imagine.
The offerings spanned tchotchkes such as 99-cent guitar picks to the Gretsch Custom Shop’s new reproduction of George Harrison’s famous black Duo Jet electric guitar, copied down to every nick, scratch and scuff the former Beatle put on it. Only 60 will be made, and they sell for a cool $20,000.
Because all this equipment is designed to be used by someone sooner or later, the NAMM show also is a haven for musicians, both participants and just plain gawkers.
One of the former was bluegrass and country musician Ricky Skaggs, who conveyed his excitement about his 2011 tour, where for the first time in years, he’ll be playing an electric guitar and revisiting his catalog of country hits from the '80s and '90s in addition to the bluegrass and gospel material that’s mostly occupied him in recent years.
Funk music icon Bootsy Collins, dressed in a magnificent tie-dyed-style psychedelic suit and matching felt top hat, signed autographs and posed for happy snaps with conventioneers at the booth for Seymour Duncan guitar pickups, whose equipment Collins uses, and later grabbed a few words with surf guitar legend Dick Dale at Fender’s booth.
Natasha Bedingfield was among the artists who stopped by the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus, which was parked immediately outside the convention center. There to promote its mission of giving aspiring musicians both the equipment and the opportunity to make music, the fully equipped performance and recording facility travels around the country 10 months each year.
The Thrashers are billed as the world's youngest rock band (and previously known as Haunted by Heroes); its members are all 10 years old, but they bashed their instruments with the enthusiasm and proficiency of players twice their age.
You never know what you’ll see or hear around the next corner at the NAMM show, which concluded Sunday, across its five exhibit halls, strewn among three floors -- and that doesn’t even take into account additional displays in adjoining hotel ballrooms and meeting centers.
Had Liberace played a squeezebox instead of a Steinway, he doubtless would have been drawn to one or more of the dazzling accordions at the booth set up by reps for Fullerton-based Rossetti Musical Instruments, which also deals in guitars, saxophones, clarinets, oboes, trombones and other band and orchestra instruments.
The owner said that most of the instruments he sells are made in China, and that the quality of the country’s once-maligned instruments has vastly improved over the last decade. “Remember what the phrase ‘Made in Japan’ used to mean? And look how that’s changed.”
He said his company moves about 2,000 accordions a year, and that sales have remained fairly steady during the global economic downturn of the last few years. The bulk of the accordion business is the three-row button models favored in Mexican norteño music, but he noted that Rossetti has filled plenty of orders from young indie rock and Americana bands that have discovered the instrument.
Granted, in its basement level booth of Exhibit Hall E at the far southern tip of the convention center, Rossetti didn’t generate anywhere near the kind of foot traffic that Fender, Gibson and the other behemoth musical equipment manufacturers experienced.
But one of the wonders of the NAMM show is that even the Davids get a shot at the same customers who are flocking to check out the wares of the Goliaths.
Who knows? Maybe next year Bootsy will show up to hawk a psychedelic funk squeezebox. Weirder things have happened at NAMM.
-- Randy Lewis
Photo of 2011 NAMM Show banner: Credit: Namm Show
Photo of Gretsch George Harrison Tribute Duo Jet guitar. Credit: Gretsch Custom Shop.
Photo of Natasha Bedingfield performing at John Lennon Educational Tour Bus. Credit: NAMM Show
Photo of Rossetti V model 34-button accordion. Credit: Rossetti Musical Instruments