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2007 NAMM Show Report
By: Scott Kahn

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Close to 85,000 music industry folks from around the world convened in Anaheim, California, for the 105th NAMM show. We suspect that attendance once again broke all preceding records since the prevailing comments on the floor were that Thursday (opening day) looked like a Saturday, based on the volume of people checking out new equipment. If we use the NAMM show as an industry barometer, it would appear that the industry is in a healthy state, which of course means we get to look forward to lots and lots of new gear.

From manufacturers to retailers to rock stars, if you are part of the industry, there’s a good chance you were at the show. But if you’re a musician just working your way into the industry, sit back and leave it to us to tell you about some of the fabulous sights, sounds, and smells that we experienced.

Unlike other NAMM reports, we’re not just listing things we received press releases about. Rather, we’re talking about items we specifically saw and experienced at the show to give you a personal perspective on the new gear.

Evolution vs. Innovation

For the most part, this was a year of evolution rather than one of innovation. To understand the difference, we can look back at major innovations over the years to see things that stand out in groundbreaking ways such as the introduction of the Korg M1 Music Workstation (first combined sample-playback, drum machine, sequencer product), the Alesis ADAT (affordable digital multi-track recording for the pro studio), the Roland VG-8 (the first real guitar and amplifier modeling product), and Digidesign Pro Tools (computer-based recording). These products took technology to new heights and inspired countless other companies to develop products of a similar nature.

To that end, there weren’t any innovations with such significance this year, but scouring the 815,000 square feet of convention space, we did find two products that registered extremely high marks on our Evolation meter, only differing from the legends above in that they won’t necessarily reshape as large a percentage of the music industry: Optical Pickup Technology and Rare Earth Magnetic Resistance. Oh, and some digital guitar stuff, too, but we'll get to that in a moment...

While products in the other sections of this report are listed alphabetically, below are the most innovative products we found listed in order of their significance (to us).

LightWave Systems Basses and Guitars
Optical Pickups = Pure Sound

By now, you’re probably familiar with the basics of magnetic or piezo pickups interacting with the vibration of string in order to capture sound, but now comes something different – optical pickups! LightWave Systems has been developing this technology for a few years now, providing it in some very costly premium bass guitars such as their flagship Saber SE.

The basics of an optical pickup are this: instead of magnets interacting with the vibration of a guitar or bass string (which alters the vibration based on the characteristics of the pickup), the optical pickup has no interaction with the string vibration at all! A light sensor captures the string vibration without affecting it (no magnetic pull from a light, you know), theoretically allowing for a truer and longer sustain from the instrument as the string is allowed to decay purely at its own rate of decay. This pickup technology has the added benefit of introducing virtually no noise whatsoever!

LightWave Systems is finally introducing more affordable bass guitars in the form of their Saber Bass SL, as well as their first electro-acoustic guitar, the Atlantis. Both instruments will be available this year for less than $2,000 apiece, and we’re already scheduled to review these beautiful instruments.

Drumnetics Drum Pedal
Its Magnetic Personality Is Sure Different Than Those Other Kick Pedals!

The Drumnetics Company introduced a kick drum pedal that uses magnets for resistance instead of traditional chain drives, ribbons, and springs. The patented technology is very clever, adjustable, and provides a perfectly smooth response that physical resistance methods can’t approach. Pedal response appeared to be lightning fast, and we’ll be taking an in-depth look at this innovation soon. Drummers with pacemakers are advised to stick to other pedal technologies, though!

Fender VG Stratocaster
A USA Strat Melds With Roland Guitar Modeling Technology

Innovation was definitely on the minds of guitar builders – Fender and Gibson to be precise. Fender, along with development partner Roland, jointly introduced the Fender Stratocaster VG, a USA Strat with Roland’s GK pickup and guitar modeling technology built into the actual guitar.

No longer requiring connectivity to a separate processor like the VG-88 or the impressive new VG-99 V-Guitar System, this Strat has two extra knobs providing access to the new onboard technology: thirty-seven models of guitars ranging from acoustic to telecaster, humbucker-loaded, and more. The second knob controls alternate tunings ranging from drop-D to baritone to twelve-string emulation. While the demos were somewhat convincing, we’ll reserve judgment until we get one of these guitars into our testing labs. But hey, if you don’t care for the wild new technology, at its core, it’s still a USA Strat, and that’s always a pretty decent thing.

Gibson Les Paul HD.6X
A Les Paul That Rocks Your Home Theater and Beyond

Gibson took a different approach with their recently introduced HD.6X-Pro Guitar System, or HD LP for short. Yes, it’s a USA Les Paul featuring a hand-oiled mahogany neck and classic Gibson humbuckers, but with the inclusion of a custom-built six-way hex pickup (sandwiched in between the bridge and the bridge humbucker) and some new onboard electronics, guitar output takes on a whole new life.

Sure, there’s a standard instrument jack (as with the Fender VG Strat), but there’s also an Ethernet jack! Using a special connector that has metal reinforcements (picture the end of an XLR mic cable, but in the middle of the outer shell is an RJ-45 Ethernet plug), the digital output from the hex pickups gets routed to a breakout box that provides six independent outputs – one for each string!

We were treated to a fantastic sounding demo of the guitar being played live in a 5.1 Surround environment, with each string sounding from a different position surrounding us. Additionally, we heard demos where the lower strings were sent to a high-gain amplifier while the high strings remained clean, and of course the layering of clean and heavy tones on top of each other were readily achieved. It will be interesting to hear how some professional players put this technology to use in new songwriting and recording.

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