NAMM Show unveils innovative new instruments, gear and technology


Bigger is undeniably better for the NAMM Show, whose 117th edition opened Thursday at the recently expanded Anaheim Convention Center and runs through Sunday.

Produced by Carlsbad’s nonprofit National Association of Music Merchants, the members-only trade show this year features more than 7,000 brands, made by a record 2,000 exhibiting companies, from more than 120 countries and regions.

At least 400 of those companies are making their debut at the show, which is expected to easily top last year’s record 106,773 attendance. And at least 30 of those companies hail from San Diego County. including Taylor Guitars of El Cajon, Deering Banjos of Spring Valley and Kiesel Guitars, which is introducing at least two new lines at the NAMM Show this week.

The products on display range from ultra-traditional saxophones and banjos to electric violins built almost entirely with 3D printing technology, a battery-operated wireless guitar amplifier and virtual reality music products designed for non-musicians.

Fender Guitars, which has a factory in Ensenada, is bridging the new/old divide with its debut line of vintage foot pedals and its American Original Series of electric guitars and basses designed to resemble and play like classic Fender instruments from as far back as the 1950s.

Then there’s Composite Acoustics, whose Mississippi-made acoustic guitars ae made entirely of carbon fiber, and NEXI Industries, whose Netherlands-made guitar effects pedal board does not need separate power supplies or patch cables, and — in a novel design feature that should be welcomed by many musicians — is beer-proof.

The addition of the convention center’s new 200,000 square foot ACC North Building provides an extra 200,000 square feet for the NAMM Show, which now covers nearly 2 million square feet in the center and adjacent hotel ballrooms. The new, three-level building is devoted largely to professional audio companies.

The expansion has also resulted in a well-tuned reconfiguration of the show, which now features what NAMM CEO and President Joe Lamond describes as “musical neighborhoods” of like-minded companies and products.

This, in turn, has led to the show’s incorporation of several other trade shows and events held by other organizations, including the Audio Engineering Society, the Entertainment Services and Technology Association, and the Parnelli Awards, which honor achievement in the live events industry.

At Thursday morning’s show-opening “Breakfast of Champions” session, the NAMM “Music for Life” award was presented to Grateful Dead co-founder Bob Weir. His signature SS D’Angelico Guitars model won honors at the 2017 summer NAMM Show in Nashville and he has now partnered with Pigtronix to create the Bob Weir Real Deal Acoustic Preamp.

“The Grateful Dead inspired a movement by taking incredible risks musically, culturally and in terms of how they approached the music business...” Lamond said. “We’re honored to present Bob Weir with the Music for Life Award for this his unabashed passion for music making, support for music education and so many more achievements in his long career.”

Accepting his award, Weir said: “If you have faith in your muse, you’re going to get somewhere — if you put shoulder to the wheel.”

Just how many new and established companies will have their faith celebrated — or tested — at this year’s NAMM Show remains to be seen. But their creative muses were clearly at work.

Here are some new products that caught our eye.

3Dvarius (Toulouse, France)

New product: 3DVarius

Suggested retail price: $7,000


Billed as the world’s first electric violin created by 3D printing technology, the 3Dvarius is available in both 4- and 5-string models. Made of a photo-reactive liquid resin, it weighs little more than a pound. The design was inspired by a classic, centuries-old Stradivarius, but with some key twists.

The 3DVarius’ tuning pegs have been moved from the top of the neck to the bottom of the instrument’s body, near the tailpiece. The silver pegs and gold pickup are the only parts that are not transparent. When amplified, it produces a bright, full-bodied sound. The visual appeal is enhanced by an engraving in the body of the French definition of music. An English translation is available upon request.

Survios (Culver City)

New product: Electronauts

Suggested retail price: $20-$40


A virtual reality tool modeled partly after the web game Plink, Electronauts is designed to allow interactive users to experience mixing, re-mixing, composing and performing on several instruments. Expected to be on the market by summer, it can be played simultaneously by two people in the same room, or thousands of miles apart.

Using a VR headset and two Oculus touch hand controllers, users “play” a highly visual game that is designed, in the words of one of its creators, “to make someone who is not a musician feel like a musician and a superhero.” It may also help, he added, if players are “a little inebriated.” What results falls midway between Rock Band, Guitar Hero and an animated version of the movie “Tron.”

MS: Guitars by Michael Spalt (Vienna, Austria)

New product: The Fisherman and His Soul guitar with amplifier

Suggested retail price: $37,300


The design of this art gallery-worthy electric guitar was inspired by Oscar Wilde’s “The Fisherman and His Soul” and the accompanying Apache amplifier has a small, book-size drawer.

This one-of-a-kind guitar’s pickup is housed in an antique hairpiece, while the bottom of the instrument’s maple body is embedded with two antique bisque dolls. What it sounds like is perhaps less important than how it looks. Or, as a company representative put it: “This goes beyond being a musical instrument and becomes a canvas you can hang in your living room.”

Lava Custom Modern Instruments (Riga, Latvia)

New product: The Black Amber Drop guitar

Suggested retail price: $80,000


You can look, but you better not touch, unless you buy it first. The eye-popping price for this eye-popping guitar explains why its designer, Rapolas Grazys, wears white lab gloves when he takes the instrument off its stand.

It took him one year to build this lava drop-shaped guitar. It is made primarily of 4.4 pounds of Baltic black amber that Grazys says is 50 million years old. Its ultra-thin, 5 millimeter body was designed to let light shine through from the front and back of the instrument. Its other parts are made of 24 karat gold, silver and titanium. It is, he says, “a piece of art that is meant to be played.”

YUDO (Tokyo, Japan)

New product: Kami-Oto

Suggested retail price: tba


This is likely a NAMM Show first. It’s a do-it-yourself miniature keyboard kit, made mostly from cardboard, that folds in an origami-like way and is designed for children or people with very small fingers. Moreover, Kami-Oto apparently doesn’t exist yet, beyond a prototype. (Its ongoing Kickstarter campaign has raised $1,320 in pledges toward its $18,347 goal).

The cardboard keyboard frame is mounted over silicon rubber contacts that trigger the 25 keys (10 black, 15 white). Bluetooth-equipped, it can be connected to smartphones or computers and is MIDI compatible. If all goes according to plan, it will be on the market by August. Don’t like plain cardboard? You can paint it any color you like. Just keep it in a safe place. (“Mom, the dog ate my keyboard!”)

Deering Banjos (Spring Valley)

New product: The Alison Brown Julia Belle Low Banjo

Suggested retail price: $5,699


Who better to design a new instrument for San Diego’s homegrown Deering Banjos than La Jolla High School graduate Alison Brown, whose expertise playing the banjo has earned her multiple Grammy Award nominations and a win in 2001?

Made from mahogany with Pearloid inlays, the Alison Brown Julia Belle Low Banjo is an extension of Deering’s original John Hartford Low Banjo from the 1980s. The new model has 24 frets – two more than the standard 22. The extra frets add two octaves and enable you to play not just in the key of G, but also in D, E or even Double C, while the instrument’s thicker head produces a deeper tone. For good measure, the neck has inlays that pay visual homage to Hartford’s tenure as the captain of a riverboat on the Mississippi.

Twitter @georgevarga