NAMM: So Much More Than Long Hairs and Van Halen Fans

Almost every year for the past decade it seems like I have some musician friend who struts around waving a NAMM show pass in my face like the fucking golden ticket to Wonka's Chocolate Factory. My turn to stroll amongst the aisles of new musical products finally came this weekend. The fact that I had to go for work didn't sour the experience in the slightest. 

It truly was a fantastic experience of Wonka-esque proportions, even for a guy who hasn't played a guitar in years. The event features miles of booths stuffed with every type of musical products imaginable, from the newest line of condenser microphones to doumbeks.  While industry insiders and retailers may look for new products their customers would like to drop some hard earned cash on, it was my goal to try and find a few products that diverge from the buying habits of Chickenfoot fans and check out some of the items off the well-worn Fender/Gibson/Martin path. 
Here's a list of a few items demonstrating unexpected trends or quirky innovations in the industry that may possibly go unheeded by that withered old Steve Vai fan looking to drop a few g's on a new signature Ibanez.  As some of these items are new to the market and therefore untested, I make no claims as to their quality. But keep in mind, that gimmicky musical item you buy today, may just be a coveted hipster toy 20 years from now:


Foot Drums: These wooden wonders, built with the multi-tasking singer songwriter in mind, have been manufactured by Farmer Musical Instrument Co. since 2006. It's basically a large kick drum in a square wooden frame which sits on the floor. It's equipped with seven foot pedals controlling shakers, a cowbell, a snare and cymbals. Though the item 'aint cheap–with a list price of $1,600–just think of all the money a songwriter could save not advertising in the classifieds for drummers. And don't forget the headaches egotistical drummers are notorious for causing.


Ukuleles: Ukes are all the rage right now. It's unclear whether we have Jason Mraz, or Eddie Vedder to thank for that, but the instrument, which is traditionally played acoustically, is popping up all over the place with little built-in preamps and tuners. Factory Representative for Stagg Instruments, Tom Salvo reports a whopping increase in sales in the past year. 
“I used to sell 12 of these a year. Now I'm selling 12 a day,” says Salvo adding that a good chunk of the market is college kids. “Tiny Tim would have been so impressed.” 
Cool thing about ukes is you don't have to be Roy Smeck to get a nifty nostalgic tone out of one, and the price is significantly lower than other instruments. “An expensive guitar is $3,000,” says Salvo. “An expensive uke is $300.”

James Trussart's Steel Guitars: Though Parisian-born James Trussart started making his unique steel-bodied axes back in 1980, I've somehow missed seeing one at the local Guitar Center. While several of his models–like the Steelocaster–bear classic  Fender shapes, Trussart's instruments, which feature tops embellished with roses, gator-skin patterns and pot leaves, have the quality of finely-crafted desert folk art. And their sound is incredibly bright with twangy, vintage goodness. But if you're expecting vintage prices, think again. One of these bad boys can easily set you back $5,000.

Cleartone Strings: File this one under infomercial gimmickry. This company, owned by Phil Everly (um, of the Everly Brothers) boasts a longer life span for strings due to a special “treatment” covering the strings. The young man at the Cleartone booth giving the sales pitch was quick to differentiate Cleartone strings from competitors such as Elixirs, which he explained are “coated” in a thick plastic substance. It's this substance he says which leads  Elixirs sound dull and muted.
But Cleartone Strings are “treated” with a special “coating” which prevents flaking, effectively making them sound better longer. The best part was the brief demonstration with paper towels which were half treated with Cleartone's secret ingredient. I was amazed when only half the paper towel absorbed water and the other half remained virtually dry. The next time I want to take my guitar in the bath tub, I'll think Cleartone.
POSSE, the Personal Onstage Sound Environment: If you've ever watched a band kick off a set at Detroit Bar, you'll often see a lot of non-verbal communication between the musicians and the guy in the sound booth in the back of the room (think of a singer jabbing his finger upward.) It's a common problem — a singer  perfectly dials in a song at the practice space only to play it in a strange room and be unable to hear his own voice through the monitors. It can totally fuck up a vocalist's pitch, just ask Strange Bird's singer Aiden Sadeghi. 
This particular model, manufactured for the past year by Posse Audio out of Brea and sporting a list price of $450, allows singers to control every sound they hear onstage including the audience, and their instrument with a small mixing box attached to the microphone stand. The sound is funneled through earbuds which come standard. A small microphone with a flexible clamp which can be aimed at an acoustic guitar is also available. What's the best part about this device? “No more sign language,” says Posse Audio's Scott Morrisson. “Sound guys love these things.” 
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