January 17th-20th, 2008
by Todd K Smith
The NAMM 2008 show started off in grand style. Thursday afternoon (Jan 17), right as we entered the convention center we ran into our good friend from Survivor Jim Peterik. We had a nice chat about his involvement with Hammond 44 Melodion and Chris Neville. He also gave us an exclusive on his new collaboration with Jimi Jamison commenting, “I’m so thrilled to be writing with Jimi again. We’ve written about ten songs all of which are big numbers. I think it will give people a much better view of Jimi and how he is seen as an artist. We wrote this song called ‘When Rock Was Kin’ about music in the ‘80s. It has a big chorus and his idea is to have several of his friends like Mike Reno (Loverboy), Mickey Thomas (Starship) and Dave Bickler (original Survivor vocalist) to sing on it.”
Q-Lighting was our first stop and we were able to land our interview regarding the Trans Siberian Orchestra and their partnership for this years massive show. We should have that posted in a couple weeks but it sounds HUGE. There will be something like 18 semi-trucks rolling around the country hauling the largest light and laser show currently on the circuit. Next stop was Gretch Co. and our chat with Link Wray, Brian Setzer (who just walked in) and Dick Dale the king of Surf guitar. Dale was strumming the new White Falcon, a distinctively elegant guitar that hasn’t changed it shape all that much since 1954.
The current Gretch White Falcon guitar (model numbers 6136 and 7593) commemorates every phase in the design of the White Falcon. Modern Falcons are also available in black and silver, and include a Stephen Stills signature model (based on the 1958 incarnation), as well as a green Bono Irish Falcon that incorporates the original vertical headstock logo and engraved block inlays with the post-1958 electronics configuration. It features "The Goal Is Soul" silkscreened onto the pickguard. Gretsch recently added a Brian Setzer Black Phoenix model to its lineup. Like Brian Setzer's signature Hot Rod 6120, the Black Phoenix features stripped-down electronics that consist of two pickups, a selector switch, and a volume knob. Henry Paul (Outlaws) is another high profile Gretch Falcon user. Last summer he told us, “I always have played a white guitar bit this Gretch is amazing, so full in sound and a pleasure to play.”
Friday Jan 18th was a busy day. We started over at Schecter Guitars where we met up with main man David Schecter. He had high praise for our recent review and testimonial of his model C-1 Elite. We got the full tour of the new models including the Extreme series (006 Extreme, Omen-6), Demon series (FR, 7, 7 FR) and Hellraiser series (006, Avenger, C1, C1 FR, C-7, C7 FR, Sunset FR, Tempest, V-1). In my opinion this was the best sounding guitar with a clean pick action and sharp look. Then there was the Blackjack series (C-1, S-1, ATX, ATX FR, EX Baritone, C-7, ATX, Tempest). Not all were on display but those that were missing were noted in their catalog.
The Van Nuys-based company was really pushing their Diamond series, which has become overwhelming popular. There are a large variety of models available in the Diamond range, many are 'mixed and matched' parts from different Schecter guitars. For example, all Omen, C, Hellraiser and Damien basses have the same body shape, although some have through-necks rather than bolt on necks, different finish colors, and different woods. However, on the whole, Schecter produce many different guitars from a smaller number of core parts. This mix and match culture has the benefit of allowing guitarists to find a Schecter to fit their exact requirements, but negatively gives less of a 'core product' range as shown by Gibson Guitars who only have a small range of guitars available. David was very generous and invited us out to The Addicts show Saturday night at the House of Blues across the street at the Disney Park.
Then it was over to the Dean booth where we spent a large part of the day. Dean’s become and enormous force primarily with younger players, They push their signature series with huge posters and displays. The Dean girls don’t hurt any either. Uli Jon Roth came up and said, “Hello” and talked for a bit about his student projects and his next record. All of which sound very exciting. He will be doing more shows with the Scorpions as they’ve reached a point in their career where it’s equally beneficial for both parties. The first guitar to catch my eye was the Tommy Bolin (Deep Purple) signature. His brother Johnny (Black Oak Arkansas) was on hand to talk with fans about the guitar. Tommy played mostly Fender Stratocaster guitars, favoring those with maple fingerboards and even had one fitted with a Telecaster neck. He also had a Les Paul Goldtop guitar and a guitar made by a Japanese luthier that he used on the Deep Purple MK IV tour in Japan. Dean has done a great job replicating the Fender with Tommy’s “Teaser” on the front.
Dean had a number of luminaries on hand including Chris Caffery, (Savatage, TSO) Dave Mustaine (Megadeath), Vinnie Moore (OFO), Dimebag Darrell’s wife and Leslie West (Mountain). It was good to see Leslie again and later we followed him around as he tried out several amps and head. Who else would be brazen enough to walk about carrying his Dean guitar and just plugging in hear and there and cranking it up It was priceless. This year there is a range of good looking product from Dean. We checked out the 30th Anniversary USA ML &V, Vinnie Moore’s "Vinman2000”, Matt Heafy’s MKH, and Rik Emmett’s Triumph V. The Schenker Brothers V was nice looking but didn’t have the tone I was hoping for. We spoke with Chicago’s Michael Angelo Batio about his time with Nitro, the crazy Jim Gillette (Nitro’s singer) and his double V-shaped, twin-neck guitar originally of his own invention and now made by Dean. Vinnie Moore as always was chatty about his gear and the upcoming UFO tour.
Friday night we went over to a local bar to see Gary Hoey and a re-vamped Alkatrazz featuring no other than Graham Bonnett. Hoey was astounding. This is my third time watching the man play and, Lord almighty, he’s a monster. His voice has really matured and delivered a flawless set. Graham Bonnett was backed by a ripping band including Howie Simon who we latter hooked up with and talk gear. Alkatrazz’s set was short but power packed. All the hits were there from “Island In The Sun” to “Hiroshima Mon Amour.” They included the MSG masterpiece “Desert Song” and closed with Rainbows “Since You’ve Been Gone.” Simon was extraordinary bouncing around from Blackmore to Schenker riffs - a more than impressive array.
Saturday (Jan 19) started off with Ritchie Kotzen on the Fender soundstage. Ritchie was just back from South American and European tour. His voice was perfectly soulful and very bluesy. More venders should have showcases like this as they really allow the artist to feature much of the product in what is a very cool atmosphere. Ritchie took the time out to chat and we set a date for our feature story (here). We gathered a number of quotes from Yngwie Malmsteen, Paul Gilbert, Nuno Bettencourt and Joe Satriani - all very happy to talk about the positive and negatives of gear experience.
Duff McKagan was on hand and gave me a tape full on our way down the escalator. Slash was more aloof and wandered around from place to place with a throng of loyal fans in tow. Interviews with Mick Mars, Nikki Sixx and Paul Stanley all fell through however, Kenny G, Michael McDonald and David Pack were more than gracious. As the afternoon progressed it was more that apparent this was the largest day of the show. We were pushed out of several showcases including Yngwie Malmsteen Gray DOD250 overdrive pedal, and Pevey Amps with Kerry King of Slayer. George Lynch gave us plenty of time discussing his ESP signature series (Super V SE, Kamikaze, Sunburst Tiger, M-1 Tiger, Skulls and Snakes and GL-56. “Twenty years ago I found the guitar that fit everything I’d ever wanted to accomplish as a guitarist, the tone, looks and feel. It was the ESP and I’m still playing it today.” Our chat was cut short when we had to dash off to Christopher Cross’s performance at the Taylor booth.
I took the time to sit down and play a couple Taylor models. The Sitka spruce had a wonderful warmth to it as well as the Western Red Cedar. I even tried a couple nylon string guitars which were easy on the fingers and resonated surprisingly well. We had to make haste to get to Yamaha for our appointment with bassist Billy Sheehan but the interview went very well primarily because we’ve know each other since Talas and he has such an easy, intelligent manor about him. We closed our marathon day in the basement with the drums where both Vinnie Appice and James Kottak (Scoripos) were eager to talk about DWdrums, Danmark, Yamaha and and Vic Firth sticks. Says Appice, It took years to get my kit just right. Lots of trying new things from the bounce on the toms to the thud in the bass. DW had it all, just like I like it.” Both we open about new project. One, the Derringer reunion, was very exciting.
Sunday, Jan 20 was dedicated to the ESP and Gibson (see our features here). Then finally made it down to the Orange Amp booth for a key feature on the UK empire and all things loud. Overall NAMM is a tremendous experience. It puts a lot of people in the same place at the same time. The convince for a media personality to shuttle around asking questions from the pros that actually use the stuff is a genuine gift. As long as they have us, we’ll be bringing you the latest and greatest from Anaheim. Incidentally, as we were leaving I bumped into Jim Perterik again. We laughed and talked about the weeks adventure into musical overload, gave each other and hug, and were off till next year.