Report and Photos by Zach Pino
Any guitar player, music enthusiast, gear head - basically anyone with a finger on the pulse of the music industry - knows what NAMM is. It's that big annual music convention where virtually every music product company convenes to show off their sexy new instruments, amps, effects, accessories, techy gadgets...all that amazing sought after gear you'd probably commit heinous acts to get.
On top of said gear, what makes the National Association of Music Merchant's trade show particularly special as compared to, say, a pharmaceutical industry convention, is the allure of star power the high-profile musicians endorsed by these companies, walking amongst the attendees, conducting demonstrations, performing in concerts, signing autographs, and generally appearing badass.
It's a grandiose event a who's who of music product companies. But you can't get a ticket. After all, NAMM is supposed to be exclusive, not for the general public.
And then there's me the UG writer sent to cover the event over two days. After learning I got the assignment and jumping into a mid-air freeze frame with a victorious extended fist over my head, my initial excitement about this promising opportunity quickly turned to underlying anxiety; once I started researching event, the sheer magnitude NAMM became largely apparent. I scanned the extensive exhibitor list and read the artist appearance/performance schedule; it was going to be tough to capture everything at NAMM, which ended up drawing a crowd of 95,709 registered attendees and 1,441 exhibitors.
Would it even be possible to capture everything? To be able to photograph, observe, and experience everything that the convention had to offer? Probably not, but all I could do was wait and see.
Better be ready. Welcome to the 110th NAMM Show.
Day 1 The Intake
At an average 5'10'', I felt insignificant as I craned my neck staring at the gargantuan NAMM 2012 banner towering above me upon arrival at the Anaheim Convention Center.
Registration and check in went smoothly and after a quick stop at the press room (with free coffee and Wi-Fi PERK!), I was ready to see what NAMM was all about.
Day 1's goal was to take everything in and shoot lots of pictures and gather information for feature articles, such as the one you're reading now.
Hall E, my starting point, was the quietest hall, consisting mainly of smaller music companies, classical instrument makers that sort of thing. But a drastic change happened upstairs; the volume of the convention grew increasingly louder as I rode the escalator up to the main series of halls. The roar and scrambled sound the convention halls sounded of distant, echoing cymbal crashes, slaps and pops of electric basses, distorted guitar tones, trumpets, voices hyping products through PA systems, and of course, attendees yelling over each other to hold audible conversations.
It was sensory overload for sure, and then there was me, a reporter standing alone within a crowd of several thousand, sporting a backpack and Nikon camera, which although I had a press pass made me look and feel like a tourist. But I was, essentially.
Imagine your local shopping mall on Christmas Eve, except each store has no doors or windows and you're free to touch pretty much anything within reason.
The thousands of attendees scrambled through congested aisles, fawning over the likes of Ernie Ball Music Man electrics and Martin Acoustics. For hours I walked in and out of booths - Orange, Paul Reed Smith, Peavey, Dean, Gibson, and (my favorite) the deep neon-lit Fender cavern with brilliant, pristine guitars lining the walls.
For the majority of the day, I walked in relative silence, trying to take everything in.
Often, I'd catch a glimpse of musicians at artist signings, like Nicko McBrain of Iron Maiden, Steve Morse, Lita Ford, and Corey Taylor of Slipknot. I figured it wasn't exactly a wise use of time to plant myself in the long autograph lines that formed, so I resorted to snapping pictures of these music stars like you do monkeys in a zoo cage. A lot of controlled chaos, a lot of walking, almost too much to see.
The pinnacle of the day was a stop at the Aphex booth. First, I got a rundown of some impressive new Aphex pedals (Xciter, Headpod 4, Punch Factory) from their jovial rep, Jace. As I was leaving the booth, I noticed that James LoMenzo, former bassist of Megadeth, Black Label Society, David Lee Roth, White Lion and Ozzy, was hanging out. I approached him, and conveyed how much I loved his bass tone on Megadeth's 2009 record, "Endgame." He seemed genuinely happy to hear this and he relayed my complement to an older gentleman standing next to me who turned out to be the president of Aphex. Picture time. LoMenzo couldn't have been a nicer guy and based on this positive interaction (and the fact that Alan Parsons, the legendary producer of Pink Floyd's "Dark Side Of The Moon" endorses Aphex), I urge you all to check out some Aphex gear. Rock on, James!
The day wore on. More fatigue, more photographs. Break needed. My friend and roommate, Taso, eventually showed up and it was nice to see his fresh energy and happy demeanor to curb my tired, weighted self.
The day eventually came to an end and the excitement of NAMM nightlife was on the horizon. Now, at this point, with a tired brain and body, I wish I could say that I got to experience that exciting nightlife of the NAMM weekend. With a variety of concerts and parties held around the convention center throughout Anaheim, Taso and I decided to meet up with some friends to see Testament play at a nearby venue, The Grove. But because we took our sweet ass time at the hotel room drinking Jger and listening to metal, we became late meeting up with our friends and forgot our passes to the concert after a cab ride. I'm going to have to take a mulligan for that borderline moronic behavior.
Tired and three sheets to the wind, we called it a night.
Day 2 The Splash
I woke up, slightly hung over and extremely parched from an apparent late night Jack in the Box run from the night before. My phone had died during the night, so it wasn't until I slept in a little bit and caught the hotel's free breakfast that I discovered two phone messages waiting for me. A cameraman was on his way and I would be doing video interviews for the day. Crap. Up until that point, it was mentioned that I may be doing interviews, but there wasn't any confirmation set. Now there was. The cameraman was on his way and I stood for a few moments staring at my phone in my boxers, mentally unprepared to conduct video interviews and be charismatically "on."
Check out time. Quick park job and a brisk walk back to the Convention Center.
I darted immediately to the press room and snagged a few necessary cups of coffee. I won't lie, I was nervous to do the video interviews. Coffee in hand to soothe the nerves, the moments before the cameraman, Joel, arrived created a similar feeling of jumping off a diving board into cold water. You know you'll be fine after the jump, but for a few seconds, you're anticipating the s-ckiness of getting cold and wet; it's that mental tug that holds you back, but it's easily beatable.
The amiable Joel arrived and we were off, video camera in his hands and a microphone in mine. Considering I had never interviewed anyone on camera before in my 24 years of existence, I was as ready as I was going to be.
Day 2's goals: get as much video footage as possible and find the most interesting gear and people to talk to. Not really a problem considering we were completely surrounded by the music industry's finest products.
Here are some quick interviewing highlights: Paul Reed Smith (regarding their amazing new guitar, the P22), Ovation (an attractive Yngwie Malmsteen signature acoustic with scalloped fretboard), Peavey (self-autotuning guitar, the AT-200), ESP's impressive output of new artist series guitars, and the tech-heavy Gibson Firebird X.
And as for artist interviewsI'm happy to say that I got to talk to some pretty high profile musicians, including Nuno Bettencourt of Extreme, Mark Tremonti of Creed/Alter Bridge, and DJ Ashba of Guns N' Roses.
I quickly realized that the nature of doing these interviews is quick you grab an available rep or artist and think of questions and comments on the fly. Given the fact that the interviews went over relatively well, the whole time I felt like Chris Farley interviewing Paul McCartney on SNL.
"Remember that time you sang More Than Words'?"
"Yeah, what about it?"
[Nervous laughter] "That was awesome."
But it didn't turn out too bad, aside from telling nervous ticks "uhs" and "ums". All in all though, interviewing was actually fun, and I found everyone friendly and pleasant to talk to. Like Nuno Bettencourt, the down-to-earth shredder from Extreme.
I breathed multiple sighs of relief knowing I wasn't a complete babbling moron who sweated profusely on camera, and with a successful Day 2, all that was left was covering the Ernie Ball 50th Anniversary Party later that night. But that's another feature all together. Stay tuned for that.
Final Thoughts on NAMM
There's no doubt that after attending even just one day at NAMM, you're going to be exhausted and a little hoarse. And even as awesome as it is to be surrounded in this glorified Guitar Center, by the end, you don't want to see another guitar for a few days. It's like eating pancakes at first they taste amazing, but eventually you're bloated and need to take a long nap.
But what's really interesting about the NAMM Show amidst all the excitement and grand spectacle of the convention is how largely similar it is to the experience had by many professional musicians; you notice the need to stay current and popular as companies try to one up each other with the hottest and innovative products; you see the larger affluent companies attract mass attention by using flash and sizzle, while the smaller companies struggle to be seen and heard, tucked away in a quiet corner in Hall E.
And it's definitely unique. In one instance you may see Jackson Browne walking past you, and then the next minute you're standing elbow to elbow with overweight, middle aged rocker dudes and their fortysomething girlfriends who dress the same way they did when they partied on the Sunset Strip in the mid 80s. There's the good, the awesome, the sick, the amazing, the "DUUUDE There's Duff McKagan!." Then there's the washed up, the has-beens, the exaggerated egos, the hordes of attendees who attempt to "shred" on demo guitars.
Good or bad though, NAMM is a crazy experience. I highly recommend trying to befriend at least someone who could hook you up with a pass for next year. But if you do end up going, just don't drink too much Jger in your hotel room before you go outnot a wise move.
But that's not all I have to say about NAMM; stay tuned next week for another NAMM feature focusing exclusively on gear. After all, that's really what NAMM is about!