Best of Summer NAMM 2016

The ever-expanding world of music products offers everything from the lowest-level entry point to the music industry to the pinnacle of musical luxury, true works of playable art. The unique physicality of music making knows no greater celebration than the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) show. To share just a few items that made me weak at my nerdy knees, here’s Attunement’s Best in Show from Summer NAMM 2016.

Instruments

EX-SS” Hollow Body Electric Guitar by D’Angelico

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One of D’Angelico’s smaller models, the hollowbody EX-SS is still a sturdy size and very comfortable to play. The trademark stairstep tailpiece gives every D’Angelico a classy, jazzy look and affords a little more flexibility for string tension. The Kent Armstrong humbuckers are just gritty enough to deliver a vintage feel, but feel incredibly organic with a wide, deep range. My attraction to the brand is its organic playability. Playing any D’Angelico, I feel like I’m playing an updated acoustic instrument, and their full sound supports this. On newer models, D’Angelico is debuting a six-way switch that both coil taps and toggles, a very cool invention, but hard to keep track of. The positions form a circle, and it takes some getting used to. Although it’ll be a while before I get my next guitar, it’ll be a D’Angelico, and I would be thrilled with this model.

 

912ce” Grand Concert Acoustic Electric Guitar by Taylor Guitars

Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 12.15.09 AMI have a thing for small guitars. The Taylor showroom at NAMM was a sonic hot mess with all the commotion in a tiny space, but one spruce Grand Concert with beautiful abalone inlays around the rosette and binding, and a sleek, ebony arm bevel caught my eye. I dropped in early the next morning to play it and fell in love. The arm bevel is comfortable and the fingerboard is incredibly responsive. It’s just an easy guitar to play. Taylor’s signature brightness is at an all time high on this guitar without sacrificing warmth of depth of tone. Aesthetically, the only thing missing is one of Taylor’s gorgeous textured ebony pickguards, which I would gladly add on if I had the $6,000+ to drop on a custom build.

SJC Drums

I’m not a drummer but anyone can appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into the beautiful SJC drums. Front and center in the booth was a natural set split horizontally between dark and light woods with a thin neapolitan stripe of pink in between. A noteworthy technique by SJC is wood burning, creating complex rustic scenes on sleek builds in a unique style that’s simultaneously flashy and subdued.

Bella Voce Deluxe” Banjo by Recording King

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This pick is pure eye candy. Gold stained flamed maple with a subtle burst, with 24 karat gold-plated and hand engraved hardware and pearl inlays, selling for $8,000. I never even took it off the wall. Slightly disappointing: the less elegant “Recording King” inlaid on the headstock.

Accessories/Gear

KOOLMAX” Cooler/Speaker Combo by Sondpex

The KOOLMAX is not exactly sexy (but you can get it in pink) and it’s a little pricey (around the price of a Yeti cooler of the same volume, and it kills me that I know things like the top brand in the cooler industry). But if you think of it as an amp you can put beers in, you really can’t go wrong. The 40-quart, 350 watt KOOLMAX has bluetooth capabilities, sixteen hours of battery life, instrument and microphone jacks, and of course, waterproof compartments to store electronics. It’s impressively loud and sounds great, which is the real bottom line. At a certain point, all these specs become a bonus. It’s a cooler and a speaker, and it’s probably the best one you’re going to find.

Holy Grail” Reverb Pedal by Electro-Harmonix

I demoed the D’Angelico EX-SS with the Holy Grail and was immediately blown away. Paired with the bluesy EX-SS, the Holy Grail adds a lively spring that elevates the entire tone and convincingly transports the player to any kind of room. It is nuanced, but it doesn’t have to be subtle. It really sounds alive. After chatting with other people at NAMM, I realized the Holy Grail is as revered as its name would imply.

MOD Duo” Stompbox by MOD Devices

Add the MOD Duo to the list of reasons I wish I didn’t buy a modeling amp. My absolute favorite product from all three days at NAMM, this stompbox is an entire digital pedalboard in one compact and sturdy package. Plug the MOD Duo into your laptop to arrange your pedalboard, choosing from a database of more than 450 pedals that grows endlessly as users add their own creations. The MOD Duo is not for frugality. Create anything from a simple one-pedal mod to daisy chains of pedals that would take up your whole stage, and save your pedalboards to use later or share online. Unplug the Duo and bring your boards onstage in just one handheld box. At $450, that’s already a value of $1 per pedal, and it’ll only get better as the community grows.

Jax Series” Designer Guitar Strap by Levy’s Leathers Limited

20160627_164232.jpgLevy’s Leathers has a huge selection of unique and classic straps at a high quality for great prices. While a few of the designer straps can push $150, simpler leather or suede straps sit around $50-80, or even as low as $20. I took home a piece of the Jax Series (right, on my Moniker): a burgundy suede strap with southwestern-style cutouts to seafoam leather. This strap is unbelievably comfortable (unbeatably silky suede and flexible leather), I think it’ll wear well. My only caution would be to shorter players – I’m 5’6” and the shortest available length is comfortable for me.

 

The “Sensel Morph” by Sensel

Another multi-purpose gadget, the Sensel Morph is a pressure sensing tablet that changes faces with flexible 3D printed overlays including a QWERTY keyboard, a piano keyboard, and a “music production” overlay including percussion pad squares, sliders, and touch knobs. An artist can also use any traditional paintbrush for nuanced, organic digital painting. The touch sensor easily detects pressure and doesn’t take any coaxing or getting used to.

CrowdSync” Interactive Concert Wristbands

The EDM answer to waving a lighter? CrowdSync wristbands light up to connect performers to audiences on the most thoroughly individual way possible. Everyone who enters receives a translucent rubber wristband that flashes and changes color based on DMX control, sound, or movement. The cost of the bands for each show comes from sponsors whose logos are printed on the band, so it’s not coming out of the performer’s or the audience’s pockets. It’s a fun look, but the real innovation comes from the social activation when audience members can check in, add media from the show to their accounts, track future performances by the band, and consult a phone app to find out which song is currently being played.

Bonus Highlights

Charlie Daniels on the patio. Surprisingly laid back for someone who shreds so hard.

 

Drum circle open to anyone at NAMM. An easy, fun, and even moving way to connect with so many other musicians all at once.

 

Mixer at Vintage King. A stunning group of industry talent and a bunch of really cool toys to keep them busy.

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It was an incredible opportunity to meet everyone at NAMM, and spend three days immersed in southern charm and total music industry saturation. If you got my card, please stay in touch. I would love to attend more NAMM shows in the future, and I hope to see you all again. If you weren’t at NAMM this year, there are lots of other people like me who blog and live tweet about the event, and we are more than happy to fill you in! For more like this, follow @brianna_na_na on Twitter.

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