My personal picks from NAMM 2019
Winter NAMM Week. An event that can likely be described best as the musical industry whirlwind. A showcase of innovations from companies all over the world, with some of the greatest, and craziest, new ventures and what to expect in the year to come. I often find that whirlwind can feel pretty difficult to keep up with, but this year has felt quite exciting so I've felt compelled to share some of my personal stand out items from following the show online. It has been great to see companies from both ends of the scale stretching the boundaries, I personally feel it's a positive step forward. So here's a few of my personal picks from Winter NAMM 2019!
I'm going start things off with the first new product announcement I saw, which was posted by the US music store giant, Sweetwater, just prior to the NAMM show, and that was of Squier's new Classic Vibe 70s Jaguar! The Squier Vintage Modified series is a fantastic range in my opinion, and it appears this new Classic Vibe variant will be no different. But what caught my eye was the superb addition of the 70s era block and bound fretboard which gives the Squier an aesthetic that far surpasses it's price point. A great move by the entry level brand, which sees some revisions and further improvements across the classic vibe range. As beautiful as each colour way is, I think the black and tort steal the show for me and contrast the block & bound board beautifully. I expect to see these around the £350-400 price point from experience of other similar models. A great buy.
I'm going to continue on with the Fender direction, as the industry giant dropped some pretty surprising new models into the line-up, most notably a revision to the Meteora design. We first saw this shape last year but within their Parallel Universe line, but for me personally I didn't quite get it. The shape was something I liked, but I couldn't grow fond of the Tele configuration, I felt a design like that deserved it's own character rather than that lifted from an icon. So to my happy surprise, I see they've brought the model into their new Alternate Reality (a questionable name as it is so so similar to the Parallel Universe really, but anyway, on to the positive!) and given it some real personality! Two humbuckers, tune-o-matic hardtail bridge, and a range of vibrant yet classic colours. I think this is the direction this design deserves to go and I personally really dig it. It must be hard for a prolific brand like Fender to go with a new shape, and with the original Parallel Universe iteration of this model leaning so heavily on a Tele style layout, this only further proves how hard it must be, but I'm glad to see they've followed it through and will be interesting to see how well this new version hits the streets.
Also from the same Alternate Reality series comes a reprise of the superb Electric XII, another offset but this time arcing back to the 60s traditions and this beautiful design. The split coil pickups, offset shape & crazy hockey stick headstock will perhaps be familiar to fans of Tom Petty or the Byrds, and there was definitely a strong, positive reaction when this was announced. I'm a fan, and it looks like the price point is accessible too at an estimated £859 from reports I have seen from the release.
A quick thanks to Home of Tone friend, Michael Adams on this as he posted it on his Instagram account, but it appears the Fender Mustang will be seeing some new colour ways this year including a beautiful burgundy mist, which looks superb! Fans of 50s and 60s Fender offsets I'm sure will be pleased to see this.
I'm sorry here but I've got to stay with news from the big 'F' here, as the Custom Shop shown off a design which really caught my eye. A very nice blend of Mustang, Jag/JM and perhaps even Strat, and I really like it. I do wonder whether many of these almost quirky designs are a nod to Fender's acknowledgement of the boutique side of the industry, with their twists on classics and unique styling, I don't say that as a bad thing as innovation only pushes everyone forward. But courtesy of Instagram accounts BKguitars and Thornguitars, I found these images of the 'California Special' and look forward to hearing more about this Custom Shop model in the future.
Let's step away from the big names for a moment, and look at the ever growing and innovative Chase Bliss Audio who teased two new releases this year. The first I'll mention is a stunning piece of work and of those items you can afford to call a game changing product. A collaboration between Chase Bliss Audio and Benson Amps, sees the Preamp MkII. I've had the pleasure of playing Benson Amps' Preamp and I absolutely love it, a great pedal in it's own right but a great way of capturing the Benson Amps tone without having to go all out and purchase one of their beautiful (albeit high end price point) amplifiers. The MkII in collaboration with Chase Bliss is far, far from resting on their laurels, as it is absolutely packed with features that surely will only push the pedal industry forwards.
The Preamp MKII features motorized sliders for EQ settings, which you can dial in and save for switching between each of it's effects. Watching those sliders move on a pedal is absolutely mesmerizing! A gear geek cannot deny the cool points. It has a variety of settings and adjustment which has to become expected from a chase bliss product. It's a little while longer before we see a retail price and release date, but boy, what a show stealer from these two great 'boutique' brands.
Chase Bliss Audio also shown off another new pedal, and one that they have stated they will be developing 'live' so to speak in that the design isn't complete yet and they hope to refine and develop the product whilst sharing each step. We are used to seeing brands release a fully dialed in product, so it will be interesting to see how the new pedal develops in time and how it differs to what the prototype offers early on. The new pedal is the 'Blooper', their first looper specific pedal and I'm sure it will be packed full of surprises, especially with the close collaboration with YouTube demo-er 'Knobs Demos', who's videos are full of beautifully creative loop sequences. I'll be watching this one closely!
Mentioning Chase Bliss and the MKII collab, was perhaps the perfect segway into Benson Amps, as they had a new release of their own which I thought looked superb. The new Nathan Junior combo. Admittedly what did initially catch my eye was the expected price point, coming in at around $1500, which for a Benson would be considered an entry level price-point respectively. I'm a big fan of Benson amplifiers, I think the designs allow them to stand alone and I feel have already carved out a 'signature' sound which once you hear one, you can identify quite clearly as a Benson which must be hard to achieve these days. Lot's of demos will be coming out in the coming weeks of these, and it will be interesting to hear how the 5 watt combo 'stacks' up to the rest of the range.
Sticking with amps for a moment, Milkman Sound Amps out of San Francisco had a few very nice looking releases this year. Two based around 'The Amp' which they announced at last year's winter NAMM. They'll be putting 'The Amp' into a combo but for me this wasn't the standout item personally, instead they have made a super neat reverb/tremolo pedal from The Amp circuit which is a great idea and I'm sure will be popular for the brand. The aesthetic is beautiful, and the name is nice for a camera geek like myself, the F-Stop. Very nice looking, and sounding pedal.
But perhaps the real standout from Milkman Sound is their beautiful new HT15, a 15 watt combo with harmonic tremolo. A sound that once you've heard, it's hard not to be captivated by. Very cool to see this available in a modern era combo.
My good friend Chad Jennings at Jennings Guitars also had a beautiful range of his work on display at the show, but it was great to see his Navigator model receiving such great praise. I thought it was worth noting that he is now officially offering matching headstocks on the model, something which I personally feel makes the Jennings headstock design work so well, and gives his Navigator Tele style guitar it's own personality. This white Navigator in particular which was on display looked incredible and a great example of the matching headstock aesthetic.
Speaking of 'Tele' style guitars, G&L, famously Leo's 2nd guitar brand, released this variation which I must say looks incredible. I don't know much about it at this stage but hopefully following on from NAMM, reporters there will be sharing more and I look forward to it! Thanks again to Michael Adams for spotting this and sharing it on his social media for us to enjoy.
There was of course way, way more than this tiny snap shot of NAMM 2019, but I'll leave that to the professional reporters! I just wanted to share some of my personal highlights from the week that I had seen, it was a very inspiring year for guitar fans, an exciting time to be a guitar player and it's fantastic to see brands big and small pushing the boundaries.