It’s time again for the NAMM Show, the annual music merchant bonanza that rumbles into downtown Anaheim each January, and with it, roughly 100,000 artists and instrument makers from every corner of the globe. For industry geeks and gearheads, this is the grand bazaar for the year. The Tripoli of jeans and sportcoats where deals are made over beer and ethnic fusion served from a truck.
Orange County has a rich tradition in instrument making dating back to the orange grove days. Leo Fender of Stratocaster fame built electric guitars out of his radio repair shop in downtown Fullerton. Down the road in Santa Ana, Adolph Rickenbacker experimented with steel-bodied guitar designs before making the electric guitar of choice for John Lennon. The host locale always represents itself well at the NAMM Show—and this year is no different.
Let’s see what OC merchants and local artists have in store this year.
A long time veteran of guitar amplifier design, Laguna Beach native Patrick Quilter of Quilter Laboratories stepped down from a top corporate job with QSC Products, which he helped found with his brother decades ago, to open a small shop where he could focus more on his true passion—amplifier research and development. Quilter has spent much of his time as an amp designer troubleshooting the age old conundrum of tube amplification. That is, to somehow make it not so goddamn heavy. Quilter will showcase his latest solution at NAMM, the powerful and delightfully tiny Pro Block 200.
This company based in Anaheim is a family owned maker of brass instruments. The 86-year-old patriarch and founder Zigmund Kanstul still works in the factory assembling horns—boutique pieces favored by Arturo Sandoval, Doc Severinsen, Herb Alpert, and Wayne Bergeron. As many instrument companies moved operations overseas to save on costs, Kanstul remained adamant about keeping his horns USA-made. He will be honored with an achievement award 10 a.m. Saturday at the Idea Center.
On the other end of the longevity spectrum, Neunaber Music in Santa Ana is relatively neu—er, new—to the industry. The company is hoping to gain traction around its Reverberator instrument pedal. It looks super versatile, housing eight separate kinds of reverb. This looks to be the eighth ambience stomp box the company will put to market. Indie rockers in OC put reverb on guitar and vocals like Siracha on pho, so if Neunaber can manage to tap the local market they will be in pretty good shape.
At last year’s show, Irvine’s Ultimate Ears got a good buzz at its booth with a 3D scanner. With it, visitors could fit themselves for custom in-ear monitors in a matter of minutes. UE will have the scanner back again this year at several locations at the festival. They will also be showcasing its new super hi-resolution in-ear monitors it made in collaboration with Capitol Studios, so audiophiles should take notice and stop by the booth.
With its North America operation based in Buena Park, Yamaha is recognized as the world’s largest musical instrument company. Did you know one out of every three starter guitars sold in the U.S. is a Yamaha acoustic? No, not true, I just made that up. Anyway, Yamaha has several new wares to showcase at NAMM. Perhaps the most notable is the new Revstar solid-body guitar, which resembles a cross between a Gibson SG and a ‘60s European race motorcycle, a nod to the other great Yamaha tradition.
Every year at NAMM you see at least one thing that makes you curse yourself for not thinking of it first. Here’s one—the Quick-Pik thumb pick made by Guptill Music in Santa Ana. This helps guitarists playing hybrid finger styles (like I enjoy) switch between flatpicking and claw-style right hand approaches. Anyone trying to learn Travis style will appreciate what this can do. Hopefully the Guptill booth will have some outrageous acoustic pickers demoing for us, and have some samples ready.
You know that OC musicians will be coming correct at NAMM as well. Here are a few to check out.
(The NAMM Show and performances are for NAMM badges attendees only. Show not open to the public)
Vinnie & The Hooligans are usual suspects around OC taverns and stomp out furious Americana and folk at a high tempo. Pairs well with beer. 11 p.m. Friday at Anaheim Marriott Stage.
Flashback Heart Attack covers all the best ‘80s rock songs (think CBGB), and headlines the Anaheim Hilton after party on Saturday night.
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Katie Stump is a 21-year-old songwriting prodigy from Fullerton, and plays a pretty mean guitar as well. 6 p.m. Saturday at the Sheraton Acoustic Stage.
Temecula Road is from, you guessed it, Temecula—they’re a self-styled teenage acoustic pop trio with a penchant for vocal harmonies. 2 p.m. Saturday at Anaheim Marriott.
James Grey is from Huntington Beach, and sings breezy yacht rock that’s used in TV and film. 2 p.m. Saturday at the Anaheim Hilton.
Willy Beecher (aka Wilfax) haunts cafes and small taverns around South County with his acoustic guitar, and does catchy solo iterations of soul and classic rock. Noon Saturday at Anaheim Marriott