In about a week’s time, the most exciting names in music tech will amass under one (enormous) roof to unveil this year’s batch of new designs, new products and new technology. The press will go into overdrive and guitar nerds are promised an almost tantric experience at the biggest music product trade show of the year – NAMM 2016. We’ll be there in the midst, having ourselves now entered the arena of pioneering guitar tech. We’ve got our suitcases tidily packed and have even bought new sunscreen and hats! Which is a bit pointless really, because it’s January, and indoors, but the message here is that we’re very excited indeed.
Events like NAMM are a showcase of the consistently stunning results when innovation meets technology. This is the event where all the crazy new products cooking up in the proverbial lab are revealed to the world. New guitar learning applications where in-app purchases will see songs directly emailed into the fibres of your hand. Guitars that tune, play and even trash themselves. We’re honoured to be rubbing shoulders with some truly amazing companies, both new and established. For your ogling pleasure we’ve decided to compile a roundup of some of our favourite products on show this year.
1. Martin Guitars
SS-Omvine-1 / D-222 100th Anniversary / D-28 John Lennon 75th Anniversary
Martin Guitars is a company which has been around for a very long while indeed. Their ‘dreadnought’ style of acoustic guitars pretty much changed the trajectory of how guitars were to look forever after, becoming the most imitated body size in the world. To celebrate an entire century since the original guitar was produced, Martin are using the NAMM show to introduce the D-222, a limited edition revisit of their classic design, SS-Omvine 2016, D-28 John Lennon 75th Anniversary Edition and few others.
2. St. Vincent
This is a signature guitar made by Ernie Ball with the artist St. Vincent. If you know St Vincent, like St Vincent and want to sound like St Vincent, then this might be for you. There’s literally nothing else to be said.
Touting the ‘first wearable device for musicians’, the applications of this metronome watch are immediate and obvious. Instead of hearing a tortuous metronome click, Soundbrenner‘s product conveys tempo using vibrations for a more bodily approach to musicianship.
Soundbrenner‘s angle is the revolution of the metronome ‘experience’. Metronomes have been a fixture of the musician’s life for centuries. They’re not especially great fun. Nobody has ever said that they love playing to a metronome, but all serious musicians realise the benefits of practising with one. What Soundbrenner aims to do is inject some fun into the chore of metronome practice. An ambitious foray into what could very well be the next dimension of music technology, this idea seems very cool indeed. We can’t wait to try it out.
4. EVH (Eddie Van Halen pedal)
For those special people who want to take emulation of Eddie Van Halen to new, staggering heights, this pedal from Jim Dunlop does precisely that. Check out the videos from Guitar World below.
Digital titans Electro-Harmonix will be at NAMM in force. Following the age-old company traditional of revisiting the past and cyclically churning our digital remakes, EHX have released Lester G and Lester K, their pair of rotary-speaker emulation pedals.
No, not a dyslexic and slightly dim AC/DC tribute band, but the company which has launched the world’s first wireless MIDI controller. I think this product has a fairly singular audience; if you’re the kind of person who reckons he could benefit from having instant access to an virtual orchestra while playing guitar, then this is right up your street. Buskers take note; this is an opportunity to serious up your game.
Aesthetically, if you’re a fan of aged and vintage looking guitars then be warned that this device, slim and streamlined as it is, definitely adds an unmistakeable sci-fi vibe to your instrument. The cool thing is however, is that the ACPAD is easy to take on and off. Dusky Johnny Cash cover for one song, sonic recreation of an asteroid field for the next. The future is about choices, people.
A real solution for a real problem. Roadietuner is a guitar tuner which looks somewhere between a breathalyser and a high-tech vaporiser. It is clipped onto each peg as you tune each string in turn. Not satisfied with merely showing you how to correct your pitch, Roadietuner works like a motorised wrench by actually twisting the peg, tuning the string with mechanical accuracy.
I’m not sure what fickle combination of factors have to be in place for a single product to explode into ubiquity, but if Roadietuner plays its cards right, this could genuinely be revolutionary – a product to be found in every guitarist’s gig bag alongside spare strings and a capo duster. It also connects to your smartphone. Because 2016.
8. Fender Bassbreaker Series
Fender, with all of its longstanding clout and contribution to amplified music, doesn’t really need to bring out anything new. It could simply rest on its (legendary) laurels and still turn over a monstrous profit by selling its existing guitar and amplifier range until the end of days. However, carrying the same creative zeal which birthed products like the Stratocaster and Twin Reverb, the company has finally lifted the lid on its latest oblation: the Fender Bassbreaker series. Like the classic and equally misleadingly-named Fender Bassman, these amplifiers are very much suitable for guitars, and promise a novel and ballsy take on modern amplification.
Fender, presumably after a marketing meeting where everyone left the room feeling especially pleased with themselves, have been promoting this range as some sort of twisted sonic abomination which has finally been unshackled and allowed to crawl out of the dungeon into the rainy night. According to their website, this range of amps promises ‘Fender DNA with a twist’, allowing players to ‘explore the dark side’. Indeed. We’ll be there at NAMM, crucifixes in hand.
9. Virtual Jeff
Virtual Jeff, brainchild of FOMOfx, is a whammy bar without being a whammy bar. Similar to the ACPAD, it’s a slap-on digital accessory which aims to nullify the hassles of a real, ‘mechanical’ vibrato system. These include fiddly installation which may likely depreciate the value of an older guitar as well as the everyday pain points of tuning issues or broken strings. Attach Virtual Jeff to your guitar and enjoy the instant tonal reach of a whammy bar without the commitment or risks of the real thing.
This is it people, the unstoppable charge of digitalisation. It first crushed our cameras under its hooves, then our televisions sets, then our cigarettes. Now even the way we play guitar is sought to being improved and made as painless as possible. In theory, products like Virtual Jeff seem fantastic, a well-targeted product with very reasonable aims. For all of its sleek functionality however, it is ultimately up to the worldwide community of guitarists and guitar nerds to make the final verdict on Virtual Jeff.
10. A Little Thunder
Bassists are a bitch to find. It seems guitar players are a dime a dozen but competent bassists are a scarce commodity around the world. A Little Thunder seems to remedy this issue by removing them from the equation altogether. Yeah. F**k them, anyway. The concept works by introducing a pickup which, at the flip of a switch, lowers the frequential output of the low E and A strings, effectively turning them into bass strings. Although the idea may seem a little gimmicky at first, the company’s earnest product video features a heavily-edited flurry of cameos by moderately well-known guitarists, all unanimous in their praise of the pickup’s sound and functionality.
If you dig the idea, A Little Thunder allows you take it even further by splitting the signal through different amplification. Your bottom two strings will come out through a bass amplifier, while the rest of your strings through a normal amplifier. Interesting.