Review by Katelyn Isaacson
Edited by Sam Hughes
We welcome composer and vocalist, Katelyn Isaacson! You can find out more about Katelyn on our About page. Meanwhile in her debut article on the site, Katelyn reviews the recent NAMM show!
The National Association of Music Merchants show, or NAMM as it is most commonly called, is a gearhead’s paradise. Jammed into Anaheim Convention Center in Southern California, NAMM boasts hundreds of companies representing everything from sequencers to microphones to acoustic orchestral instruments. As a first-time NAMM-er, I was instantly overwhelmed by the sheer amount of activity (and noise!) on the show floor. After checking out the sole bassoon booth shoved in the corner and playing a $26,000 instrument I will never be able to afford, I decided to focus on some of the more unusual and surprising displays on the floor. Here are Katelyn’s completely unbiased picks for most interesting and stand-out booths!
Rock-Tips is a liquid callus formula used to protect the fingertips of stringed instrument players. It comes in a small bottle with a nail polish applicator-type head, and the user paints a thin layer of clear liquid on their fingers. After 30 seconds of drying, one is left with a flexible yet tough membrane that is said to hold up to even the most intense of guitar or string sessions. It lasts around a day or two, but can easily be scrubbed off with soap and warm water. It certainly seemed to be effective- it wouldn’t come off until I tired of having a shiny and extra strong index finger and went to wash my hands.
Artist Wesla Bay Weller makes jewelry and gifts out of recycled and repurposed musical instruments. Her pieces were absolutely beautiful; she had earrings carved from old cymbals, necklaces made from tuning pegs, and paperweights made with guitar strings. She also had crafted necklaces with the star of David and chai on them- something that greatly pleased and surprised this East Coast Jew! Wesla also gives a percentage of each sale to the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation to help needy schools with their music programs.
I was walking by a booth when I heard a sax-like sound. Upon turning around, I saw the source was a small recorder-like instrument- quite different than what I expected would be making the sound! Intrigued, I went over and was introduced to the Xaphoon, an instrument that describes itself as having a sound between a sax and clarinet, while remaining as portable as a recorder. The Xaphoon is played with a tenor sax reed on the end of a non-detachable mouthpiece, and has a fully chromatic range of two octaves. As a bassoonist, I found it very easy to pick up and start making noise, and was so taken with the little instrument that I bought one!
The Swedish company, Ehrlund, makes microphones with a triangular-shaped membrane rather than the traditional circular one. The triangular shape muffles resonances much faster than the circular one, as was demonstrated by hitting these metal shapes with a hammer. .
Ehrlund says their mics are designed to give you the most accurate re-creation of a source, capturing small nuances (and a particularly fantastic low end). The demos shown were very impressive, including micing an entire Haydn cello concerto, soloist and small string orchestra, with one EHR-M, their flagship model.
This Table that looks like a Cassette Tape
Not technically a booth, but it’s a neat looking table, right?
Rocking the Clock
David Hurwitz of Rocking the Clock makes clocks, lamps, and other pieces of furniture out of old instruments and music-related equipment. His pieces are absolutely gorgeous, including a lamp made with a clarinet and a clock made out of an old turntable. He also is willing to create pieces out of old instruments you find yourself, so if anyone has an extra terrible bassoon lying around, feel free to let me know!
Half One Speakers
Developed by the Japanese company, Nihon Onkyo Engineering, Half One is a loudspeaker that basically looks like it’s been cut in half with no cabinet enclosing it. It’s a pretty wacky thing to look at, with the exposed voice coil radiating most of the mid to high range, and the low range from the remaining half of the cone paper. As NAMM’s show floor is in essence hundreds of different performances and audio demos shoved into an enclosed convention center, I can’t vouch for the sound quality- but they sure look cool!
Ondomo by Asaden
The Ondomo is an updated version of the Ondes Martenot made by the Japanese company, Asaden. The Ondes Martenot is an electronic keyboard instrument invented in 1928 by Maurice Martenot. The sound has an eery, almost vocal quality to it that is similar to the theramin. Asaden carries a 64 inch, 4 octave version that can be plugged in and includes an internal speaker.
Miscellaneous Guitar Paraphernalia
By my estimation, NAMM is approximately 99.99% guitars and guitar-related gear. A guitarist friend of mine put it succinctly, “It’s like Christmas happens and then a month later it happens again.” As a non-guitarist and a (generally) sane person, I couldn’t possibly report on everything guitar at NAMM, but I did see a few things that stood out.
A Little Thunder
A Little Thunder makes a guitar pickup that upon being pressed, add a -1 or -2 octave bass drop to the lower strings. This lower octave signal be routed to its own bass amp, essentially allowing a player to play bass and guitar at the same time.
These weird guitars.
Also these weird guitars.
Swiss Picks make guitar picks with off-center holes in them and raised edges, leading to not only a fantastic grip, but also the ability to adjust and lighten pressure while playing. Also, they look like and are named after sliced cheeses, which is pretty neat.
NAMM was an all-around great experience. Although impossible to see everything, it was a joy just being in a place with so many passionate and excited musicians. I’d definitely recommend it to people interested in the latest gear and technology, as well as those who either have enough money to buy said gear and technology or don’t mind crying due to a lack of funds. Happy conferencing!
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The Sound Architect