For the past few years, NAMM has held a press preview the day before the show begins. It’s kind of a micro show with a couple of dozen tables set up in the press room for a glimpse of what’s to come. This is kind of an odd setup which probably works better for more serious journalists than me – lots of folks moving from table to table with cameras and recorders. I did a quick look around and spent a bit of time with the few preview exhibitors who had things I’d like to learn more about, and about which we’ll hopefully learn more throughout the show.
NAMM has always been very supportive of music education, so along that theme, Loog was showing a line of guitars designed specifically for small children but I’ll bet that creative musicians will find a place for them, too. The concept is interesting. It’s a three stringed guitar (they suggest tuning to an open G chord) with a kid sized neck and body. It’s acoustic, with two body styles, one traditional acoustic style another kind of solid body electric shaped. It comes as a kit that can be assembled in less than an hour as a parent-and-kid project. It’s all real wood, nicely finished, and it actually feels like a pretty good quality instrument, but solid enough to take a good bit of carelessness.
Ultimate Ears was showing a new pair of in-ear phones with frequency response optimized for vocals. Since there are differences in resonances in the male and female vocal tract, there’s a separately tuned model for male and female vocalists (and, no, they aren’t pink and blue). But what was more interesting was that I asked why nobody makes an in-ear phone like a hearing aid, with DSP that can be tuned to the individual user. Turns out that they have a system that approaches that goal, but in a different way. They have a system which comes to the customer as a kit which allows the user to fine-tune an adjustable version of the phone (hopefully I’ll be able to see it in a demo suite later on and can describe it better), and when he finds the sound he wants, he sends it all back to the company and they custom-build a phone with that frequency response.
The Muse Recptor has been around for several years. It’s hardware box for hosting signal processing plug-ins and virtual instruments. This year they’re introducing a new model that’s scaled down for the stage performer and priced accordingly. There will be downloadable setups available for it but it isn’t as open a design as the original product.
A new trumpet with a carbon fiber bell proposes to sound just like a brass instrument. The designer’s schtick is that the bell of a brass instrument doesn’t make the sound, it only carries it from the mouthpiece to the air. Resonances of the metal tubing along the way dissipate some of the energy generated at the mouthpiece. The carbon fiber bell varies in density in a way that there’s less energy loss which leads back to less effort required to play the instrument. I’ll leave it to the brass players to tell us if Diz or Louis or Miles would want to play one.
Speaking of new technology for old instruments, there’s a tuning peg for the violin family that replaces a standard tapered tuning peg, but has an internal gear mechanism that makes tuning easier and more stable. It’s a new development, but reminded me very much of the Planet (brand) tuners on one of my banjos from the 1930s.
PreSonus had a big blowout with lights, video, music, and jambalaya announcing some new partnerships, extensions and directions. This is a company that, in recent years, has chosen some very good partners to fill in gaps in their product line taking the musician from song to final delivery. In partnership with Dave Gunness’ Fulcrum Electronics, we’ll be seeing new live sound speakers and professional studio monitors based around a coaxial speaker and internal DSP. In addition, there will be a line of monitors priced for the tabletop studio. Along with the new live speakers, there’s a new StudioLIve mixer with 32 full featured channels, a new CPU and operating system (Linux at the core), and, while the current StudioLive series is pretty well tapped out, the new series has plenty of room to expand. Integration with the Dante network and Thunderbolt I/O are in the cards. First hatchlings should be Maybe May.
MIDI is 30 years old this year, and the MIDI Manufacturers Association has an exhibit with a pair of analog synths connected together to remind us what MIDI originally was developed to do – connect two musical instruments. Yamaha had a new inexpensive keyboard, Jackson had some new guitars, Peavey had some new amplifiers, Taylor introduced a new shape.
It’s a NAMM show. Time to hit the deck.