the official website for guitarist Jason Martin

Atomic Bob Goes to NAMM 2011

Hi everyone,

For the first time, last month I was able to head up to the NAMM Show and figure out what all the madness was about and I thought it’d be fun to share some of that. This year, I was invited by Virginia at Voyage-Air Guitars, the same company that I won the Grand Prize from at the ASCAP EXPO last year so thanks again to the awesome guitar company that made the whole thing possible.

Welcome to Anaheim

Sundays event took place up in Anaheim and offered a free breakfast for those who got there early. I live in San Diego and missed the free NAMM breakfast but made it up there as soon as I could so I wouldn’t miss anything else. The minute I got there I got the hint that I might not be able to see everything. It was overwhelming before I even stepped foot in the door. The Anaheim Convention Center is about 4 of 5 floors not including the basement which they made all the people with my particular badge check out before getting to the main floor. Getting in and getting my badge was no problem, but for some reason above my name Virginia decided to put ALIDA on the top. I figure it’s cause she thinks I’m a leader so I took it as a compliment. On my way down the escalator down to the basement there was a wall a huge wall of music magazines that were being given away for free that I took advantage of.

The first showcase room centerpiece I saw was Voyage-Air Guitars. Barney was workin’ hard at the booth when I got there. At first I didn’t know if he’d recognize me, but as soon as I started talking to him I think he knew who I was. He and Virginia had invited me to the Sheraton hotel party the night before and found out that I missed a lot of performances and festivities. I just wanted to say hi to the crew and decided to carry on.

The Voyage-Air Guitars booth looked amazing by the way. I really liked the new electric model they had with all the body art. I had never seen the electric model or how it would look folded into a backpack I was very impressed. Hopefully I can get my hands on one before they go out of stock!

The next few booths got me started taking pictures non-stop. I saw some guitar player hand cream that would help healing and another booth that had a device that would make chords for you. I met up with G7th Capo and saw they had some really good looking, high-tech capos for controling the amount of grip you could use against the fretboard. I was practically in guitar heaven, but with banjos, bass guitars, guitharps, ukuleles, and mountains of all that assorted with all the lastest designs and accompaniments.

Not only were there instruments at NAMM this year, but if you wanted to build your own guitar from scratch they had plenty of bodies and necks that you could choose from as well as a variety of leather straps to choose from to go with your new guitar. I tend to be someone of a guitar geek when it comes to spotting something new and one of the things that I’d never heard of before was a guitar with built-in tubes that directly plugged in to the guitar.

There were also people playing everywhere so I wanted to start jamming myself. One lady gave me a fancy Rockstar pick of hers that I was able to use when the crew at Early Bird invited me to play a set with them. I saw they were playing a lot of blues and decided to follow that trend when they handed me a Les Paul style model. Then they cranked up the gain and gave me that Slayer tone that fit me a little better.

The NAMM Show 2011 had more guitars than I’ve ever seen. There were walls of guitars set up everywhere. I guess realistically a guitar doesn’t take up all that much room if it’s not set up with a regular style guitar stand. I almost need to stock up on my vocabulary to describe some of the guitars that were there. I saw quite a few acoustic cut away models that were particularly cool.

A good selection of the guitars had pretty outstanding body art. If you had any style that you wanted to match up to your character you could find it here. Country, hawaiian, metal, it didn’t matter it was there.

Some of these guitars were famous and had been in a 2011 calendar. The guy who crafted them was there with potential investors while I checked out the pieces of work. One was the guitar with a harp built into it I just thought it was cool. The bodies were all unique whether it was the shape of the body, placement of the soundhole, length of the neck, etc. One of the instruments was dubed “the pretzel guitar” because of the color and texture of the wood. It had some similiar twists and a Les Paul body shape.

There were giant harps displayed in different colors available and plenty of people trying them out. The other guitars there had plenty of people ready to try them out as well.

One of the things that I thought might be a good idea for the beach during the winter time was this gimmick called “Wristies”. These wristies were just fingerless gloves but you could still play the guitar while wearing them. Being from Alaska I think these might be a cool way to play outside without having to worry about whether or not you could play cause it’d be too cold outside and worrying if your fingers would tense up.

There were some pretty nice guitars called Vinnie Vincent there that I really liked that reminded me of something straight from the 80’s, including the available colors.

Another new concept that I had never thought of before appeared in front of me… a Glass Guitar. I’m sure it’s possible I may have seen a clear guitar before, but the body was pure glass and the guitar was promoted by having “glass tone”. Seems to me that the way the sound reverberates off the body has a lot to to with the sound that comes out of the amp. Even if it doesn’t it was still pretty fun to look at.

I ran into a guy that had created a Key Signature Chord and Scale building tool. It was a nice wheel device that when you moved the dial, it would tell you about what you were playing or how to play the correct mode in that Key. Another teaching tool I just had to get featured individual notes on a deck of cards. In between buying a deck of cards and checking out this new wheel idea for building both chords and scales I found Guitar World showing off their new idea called “Lick of the Day” that if I owned an iPhone or an iPad I would be a must have.

The next thing that caught my eye was an electronic pickup that would digitally alter your tuning into 6 different tunings with an unlimited amount of preset options.

I gathered with the other people when I hear someone performing to check out what was going on and there was a guy playing a bass ukulele. I’ve never even heard of a bass ukulele but this guy seemed to have mastered the craft. Later, another guy was playing guitar with strictly an overhand technique. Lot’s of talent in the room.

After seeing quite a few more guitars I found another glass model guitar, but it was shaped like an Ibanez and had a handle grip that resembled the classic Steve Vai model.

One guitar that stopped me in my tracks had a video pickguard. It was a pickguard with some starry design that was moving around like a really bad Pink Floyd video or something you might see during a Grateful Dead concert about an hour or two into the show. Pretty cool, so I got a bit of footage from that and a second model that had a bunch of ladies in swimsuits flashing up every few seconds. Some of the other designs that it was flashing were other guitars pickguard selections from classic Strat or Tele models and used a variety of different types of wood on the video guard as well as the same kind of wood that the guitar was made of to make it look more like an illusion.

One company that I ended up following on twitter recently due to their booth at NAMM was a pick company that made picks out of stone. I’m not sure how much they go for but it seems like a pretty good idea.

From there I saw a guitar that featured Lemmy of Motorhead on it and of all the guitar body cuts, this one was probably the most unique. The bodies were cut into very fancy shapes that included flames and then were covered in shiny rocks or whatnot and then given another badass something or other to make it look even more cool, for example adding an extra neck.

I ended up running in to a guy that was selling banjo picks, and although I don’t own a banjo I do teach banjo so I wanted to see what the guy had to offer. I got one thumb pick that was part guitar pick as well so I expect I’ll be able to use it as a hybrid tool before not too long. On the way to the back of the room to the upstairs escalator I saw something that I remember seeing while I was buying some strings in Nashville last month. An acoustic guitar in a display along with a bunch of other noise making devices that would play song requests for you. Kind of like a piano that plays itself. When the guy saw I was gettin’ video of it I think he pulled a foghorn that caught me a little off guard, but I think he was just having fun.

By the time I made it up to the 2nd floor three hours had past. I rolled up the steps to see an entire floor filled with the biggest names in the music busniness. One of the booths I saw first was Schecter and if you know anything about metal, you probably know a band that has a Schecter signature model. Everyone from Avenged Svenfold to Ministry, Gwar, Black Label Society, I can’t even go into it but they do a really good job not only with the design but they go into detail about what makes a metal guitar sound good. For example, most all the guitars were decked out with EMG pickups and a rock body style but they didn’t just stop there. Many of these guitars had extra strings as well. The first one I saw was an 8-string guitar. The service guy came over and introduced himself and let me try it out. The guitar is still tuned standard but the lowest string is naturally tuned to an F#. Hypathetcially, if you wanted to drop tune it you could go into drop E tuning which that alone just sounds disgusting enough to make me want one. I let the guy know I was interested in 7-string models, but as soon as I saw the 8-string I figured I may just skip the 7-string all together and go straight for the 8-string. The guy was right on que with “It looks like you’re headed in that direction anyway”. I asked the specs on the string guages and I was suprised to hear that the lowest string on the 8-string was only a 64. It sounded really low, and when I get one I think I’m gunna go for an 8-string Schecter. I’ve found there are now enough songs on the market as well as lessons from 7-string instructors to get what I want out of the instument.

Continuing on around Schecter I couldn’t not drool over almost every single model they brought in. There was an 8-string Flying V model that was pretty sick, and all the models from all the biggest players in the business. I grabbed one of their catalogs and that really helped put all the pieces together when I got back to my pad and re checked out the models after seeing them up close and it really made a difference. Out of just that one booth I can imagine I got about 20-30 guitars in and is also probably one of the reasons my camera died less than an hour later. Next time I’m gunna buy an extra battery for my phone so I don’t have any problems. It looked like they were having an anniversary as well as they had a new anniversary model guitar out that had a sleek stip down from the fretboard that I really liked. One of the things that was really helpful, and you’ll notice this if you click on any of the pictures is that it not only has the name and artist that plays that model, but a price on it as well.

After the Schecter walk around, I spotted more of the bigger names in the music business. The Musicians Institute was set up there. There were a lot of giant posters of celebrity musicians. One of the first ones I saw was Robert Trujillo for Warwick of the band Metallica. There was a rare autographed signed Gene Simmons Axe Bass presented next to his other signature model along next to his Gene Simmons Bass Case. The band Filter, or at least a few members were hanging out taking pictures at a headphone booth. The headphones were pretty awesome, custom fit mold to your actual ear.

After seeing a few more guitars and basses hung out around the area I saw a guy standing there shredding his new album so I caught a bit of footage and got a couple pics as well. If there was one thing that the show lacked it was people that were just hanging out shredding guitar.

Ibanez are was there and you could get right up close to a lot of the signature models. The famous Steve Vai handle grip model as well as an exotic Ibanez signature of the same guitar. I’ve always liked Ibanez guitar. But what made the Ibanez guitar area different than the Schecter was the acoustic section. Ibanez had a large amount of acoustic guitars available and then had variations on top of that, such as 12-string models. In addition bass guitars, and a line of pedals, one of my favorite models the Tube Screamer was there.

One of the things I thought was really cool, the bass actually played by the late bassist Paul Gray from Slipknot that died earlier last year. It was alongside another Slipknot bass that accompanied this one that was right handed and featured artwork from All Hope is Gone. This place was awesome.

Then I found the next greatest ultra-cool designed by DBZ Guitars. These guitars have been around for a while now, but just within these last few months they’ve managed to catch my evey more than a few times. If you want a high quiality guitar, these are going to be too good for you. They really carried their own unique style and had a large variety of things that added charismatic charm to each guitar whether it was the inlays, the embroidered body, the sleek futuristic shape, or the metal attachments down by the bridge that give it that brutal heavy duty look. Very cool show and the drapes really added to the effect.

I had gotten to see some amazing things so far. It wasn’t but 15 feet away that I saw something that was almost just as exciting as these guitars. Guitar holders! The first one was a piece of foam that had a nice cut for the neck that would fit nice and snug underneath the handle of your ampliphier so that the guitar wouldn’t accidentally fall to the ground. I won’t admit that that’s ever happend to me, but there have been plenty of good “catches” since I’ve started playing that’s for sure. The next one I can’t wait to invest in to was the Monster Grip hand. There were so many catchy designs from monster to zombie to bones to the unthinkable. This happens to be the first really cool company that I’ve seen pull something like this off. Very imaginative, and I will surely end up with a few in the near future.

The next thing that I noticed was that there was a foreign older gentleman that was trying to get me to take a picture of him and this guy that even today after I’ve been told who he was by 3 or 4 other individuals I can’t place. So I helped the guy out and took a picture for him and in return I had him do the same. The guy was trying to tell the famous guy that he was really big in Europe… I at first thought it was Tony Iommi, and then Geezer Butler…. then I heard from another guy that he played with Vanilla Fudge, and another source said he did play with Black Sabbath. I dunno, this guy was cool in my book and since I didn’t get a picture taken with any other celebs while I was there you can tell all your friends I was hangin’ out with Black Sabbath.

B.C. Rich was there. I just got my first B.C. Rich last year and from what I’m aware, they’ve always kind of had that same Warlock style headstock so when I saw some of these new “drenched in blood” guitars without the traditional headstock. It looked like they had taken the Jackson reverse dinky headstock and ran with it.

I knew that I hadn’t been upstairs yet and there was a list of events that were going on up there that were seminars that reminded me of the ASCAP EXPO last year. I looked around at what was going on and decided to check out the seminar on “How to Use Social Media”. The guy at the door zapped my badge and I stepped inside. It was a really quiet place and once I found a seat and it was a fairly meditative spot to be in if you needed to step away from all the chaos that was going on outside. The rest of the seminar was interesting and when it let out I made sure to check around to see if there was any other classes I might like.

Right past all that though was the Line 6 room. And I am a fan of Line 6. I stepped in the Line 6 room and they had the newest Bugera models with actual tubes placed in them with a new tan color. I definitely felt like I was in the future, but it also looked like the room wasn’t really trying to sell amps so much as the devices they had hooked up to headphones. I managed to have a cup of coffee and a few pieces from each section of food thanks to Line 6 before continuing. They did have a massive amount of beer as well but since I was driving I decided to stay professional. But props to Line 6 for only bringing beer that you need a bottle opener for, I’ll keep that in mind for next time.

After lunch at Line 6, I decided to head up to the next floor. It was almost as if they were saving the best for last. The top floor was the home of ESP. I had got my moneys worth and right in the centerpiece of the hallway was my guitar, the KH2 “skully” model. The first thing I saw when I stepped in the room was the baddest ass ESP ever imagined… I think it had diamonds incrusted into it and some sick embroidery. They had whole row of ESPs that were encased were fantastic. I was very impressed they had a stage set up for jamming during the week. They also had a few screens on with a demonstration on a “how to” for the guitar. After talking to a few of the people with the company I took a business card and headed out.

Let me just start by saying that although ESP is the best guitar company on the planet, the Fender room had the most money. I don’t even thing they just had the most money, they had other companies in there as well. I think I saw Jackson in there. Then even better… video games! I’ll start by mentioning that I didn’t come to the show to play video games, but this wasn’t any game I had seen before. Guitar Hero that entailed an actual guitar… brilliant idea who ever came up with that one. I watched one game and then had to try it out… I rocked the song “Crazy Train” and ended up taking over this guys game that couldn’t figure it out. think I got 84% cause I was on medium mode and played a few notes that wern’t on display but it still kicked a lot of ass.

One of the things I was reminded to check out was Hell Yeah’s signing at 4:30 or 5pm, and it was practically the climax of the day so I couldn’t miss it. Once I got back to the main floor I realized that I still had the other half of the room to still see. There were the bigger names in publishing there. Hal Leonard with an arsonal of what could have been the nicest display of instructional books and DVDs that I’ve ever seen. Cherry Lane was there as well as Berkely Press. I figure since one of my students had an audition with Berkely that week that I should go and find out what they had to offer in terms of theory and if they had any other information that might help me out.

I came across the DJ section of NAMM and although I’m not a DJ nor do I have immediate plans to be one, there was a ton of cool stuff for DJs there that made everything much more exciting. I scratched some mp3’s for a bit, was pretty amazed at my new talent, and headed on.

The next area seemed as if it had it’s own arena of NAMM and I like this company a bit which was Roland. Right as I walked in there were people performing everywhere. I found a station with 4 ESP MII Deluxe guitars attached… that were not ESP, and to be honest they didn’t even have pickups. These guitars had the electonic pickup that I saw downstairs that had the digital tuning device. I put on the headphones and was connected to one of the latest digital effect pedals that would turn the already “not guitar-guitar” into a synth. Pretty impressive stuff.

Also in the Roland room, there was a performer I decided to check out that went from sounding like Barry White to Damian Marley to a female pop star and then vocalized a guitar solo (that really sounded like a guitar) all in one song. Very cool. He invited another couple people up that would play some breakbeat drum and synth tracks while he improvised. Even though he mentioned they had never jammed before they still sounded pretty good.

I managed to sneak out with 5 minutes to spare before they shut the place down to make it to the Dean booth. Ironically, it wasn’t that hard to find. I saw Vinnie Paul and the rest of HellYeah sitting there signing autographs and about 3 people standing in front so I figured I’d check it out. I shouldn’t have been suprised when that 3 people turned into a snaked line of 50 people around the rest of the booth. The line was filled with all of the Dean Razorback models that Dimebag was known for and that wrapped around to the inside area where they were doing some filming. Dean has always been a favorite guitar. One of the signature models I saw was from the guitar player from Hell Yeah. They had another one that was pretty sick made for Dave Mustaine. I really did have to pick up the Dave Mustaine model although they put it in a really bad spot and in a strange wall configuation that kept it from pulling out too easy. Needless to say, once I got it out and played it there was no way I could put that thing back properly so one of the security guys came over and gave me a quick warning on how expensive the guitar was. And to be honest, I think it was only about 11 hundred bucks… not really anything I’d have minded having to pay for if he’d let me take it home. So after escaping it looked like the line was starting to die down a bit and I decided to go for one last walk around before heading back to the booth. There was so much more that I saw in that five minutes that it seemed like another show.

Martin Guitars was there. And they were giving away free picks! So I grabbed a few since they were the tortex models and still had the baby powder grip on em. I think they were made for the 35th anniversary which made them that much more cool.

By the time I made it back to Dean it looked like the security guy had cut off the line so I wouldn’t be able to jump in last minute. Luckily, the last guy in line was one of the guys that I had seen shredding earlier so I decided to go chat with him and that was how I worked my way in line. Turns out he had been playing with some of the bigger names in the business that day and was there to promote his new album that he mentioned you can download for free for the convention. Pretty good idea using NAMM to promote music, right? I had met Hell Yeah last year at the Mayhem Festival but I couldn’t come to NAMM and not say hello. Since I was the last guy in line I decided to take advantage of my extra time and compliment the guitar players new signature model. He mentioned that was the original model or something to that extent but it was hard to pay attention cause from behind me came Buddy Blaze. Buddy Blaze is fairly responsible for Dimebags signature series and kinda like me, he just wanted to come over and say hello as well. I made my way to Vinnie Paul and then Bobzilla. Turns out they were coming down to San Diego within the week and I had no idea. I think Bob was a bit distracted as well cause not only was I the last guy in line, but Guitar World came up and started doing a wrap up of NAMM interview with the band right as I was seeing if he would sign something to Jason for me. By the time I checked out the autograph later I couldn’t really make out what it said until I realized it said ALIDA on my badge and he must have just been looking at my badge. Regardless, my actual name was below it on the badge but I still thought that was pretty funny when I figured out what it said.

It was time to shut down and I remembered I had told the lady at the Capo booth that I would come back after I had a look around the place. I made it back downstairs I said take it easy to Voyage-Air Guitars and said hi to Jeff since he was a little more accessable. After saying thanks and everything I started to head out when I realized I still hadn’t picked up my capo. The lights had already been dimmed and by the time I made it back I was suprised the lady remembered me. She hooked me up with the most impressive capo I’ve ever owned that is made of stainless steel and came with a polishing cloth. If you’d like one be sure to check out G7th and that’ll be my last plug for the day.

I had a great time checking out the show and if I’ve learned anything from the experience it’s just that I’ll need to bring an extra battery for my phone so that I can show you all the cool stuff that I could only write about since I couldn’t get a picture. Well, that about wraps up my NAMM experience. Rock on, and I’ll catch ya next time!