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Winter NAMM 2015 Special Report:
Guitars & Bass



A few years ago, we were excited when Eden released one of their preamps in pedal format, complete with onboard DI. Now, Ampeg joins the game with their SCR-DI Preamp/Direct Box, which gives you classic Ampeg tone in a compact DI pedal that you can throw in a gig bag. Other companies have given us Ampeg tone in portable packages before, so it’s nice to know we can get the real thing instead of an emulation. How good does it sound? We’ll get one in for review ASAP.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a few new models land in the Aristides lineup, along with splashy new colors. This year, the model 060 Guitar gains single coil pickup options, both in a SSS and HSS configuration. If you’ve never had a chance to check out these innovative guitars, read our review of the original 010 (still a great choice).

The Boss ES-8 Switching System was designed to incorporate all possible dreams and wishlists of the artist when it comes to having command performance over their pedalboard and amplifier rig. The ES-8 includes just about all the functions and features you can think of including: analog circuitry to ensure preservation of your guitar tone, programmable switching of eight audio loops, three function switch jacks for amp control, full effect-chain routing that lets you both change loop order and create various serial or parallel effects chains, onboard memory (800 patches) to store external effects parameters such as delay time for each preset, Buffer On/Bypass switching capability for each patch along with a buffer output level control, LCD and 7-segment LED Display. With completely customizable pedal function assignments, and other extras like switch noise muting, Boss may be the last player to enter the audio looper/function switcher category, but wow… could this be a case of saving the best for last? We’ll be very curious to see how this compares to our favorite boutique options from the big names in rig building.

Breedlove Guitars
Breedlove celebrates 25 years of guitar making this year, and the commemorative Oregon Concert CE guitar typifies the beautiful work that Kim Breedlove and company produce. Competitively priced for premium acoustics, this gorgeous sample features a cedar top grown in Oregon (Breedlove’s home state) joined to their familiar myrtlewood back and sides. Electronics are provided by the L.R. Baggs EAS VTC system.

Carvin Guitars, Kiesel Guitars
Always creating beautiful new instruments, the Jason Becker JB24 Tribute guitar was a real head turner, paying tribute to the shredder who popularized this custom instrument back in that very special decade… the pickups are from Seymour Duncan, something not typically offered on Carvin instruments as they make their own pickups.

Fun story: You’ve probably started noticing a bit of rebranding going on… Carvin Guitars is now a division of “new” parent company, Kiesel, which is still the same company with a new organizational structure. Originally, the company was founded by Lowell Kiesel, and its products were first sold under his Kiesel name. Legal issues “back in the day” necessitated a name change, and Carvin was born. Actually, two sons were born to Lowell, and the combination of his boys’ names created “Carvin.” Recently, the family-owned and run company decided to bring back Grandpa’s name while creating two separate divisions: Carvin Guitars/Kiesel Guitars for the guitar building, and Carvin, for all of the pro audio products. Rest assured, all that has changed is the name. It’s the same great team of builders in San Diego.


On display at the D&A booth was the D&A Starfish+ Active Guitar Stand. The unique five-leg design caught our eyes, and further investigation revealed what a solid stand this is. We now have one in our studio for review and love it. And, according to D&A, this stand is even safe for guitars with delicate nitro finishes! For rock solid support at a rowdy gig, or on the floor in your studio, this is the stand to beat.

D’Angelico had on display several dozen of its art deco-inspired archtop guitars. Answering player demand for a more compact design, D’Angelico released the EX-DH. This 16” design features a classy looking stairstep tailpiece, pickguard, truss rod cover and headstock inlay. Kent Armstrong pickups and Grover Super Rotomatic tuners round out the instrument nicely.

Diamond 327 SD
Diamond Amplification introduced an amazing, new, high-gain beast: the 327SD amplifier, co-designed by Mike Soldano and Jeff Diamont! It features 100 Watts (4x5881 power tubes and 6x12AX7 preamp tubes), 2.5 channels (clean & crunch A/B), Deep control, independent tone controls for each channel, and a tube driven effects loop. When two high-gain amp gurus get together on an amp design… you just know you’re going to want one!

New for 2015 were the EII-ST-2, a bolt on, Floyd Rose equipped, super-Strat style guitar with DiMarzio pickups, and the E-II ARROW, a neck-thru, v-shaped shredder commissioned with EMG pickups and an original Floyd Rose tremolo.

Friedman Amplification displayed a few of their offerings, including the Steve Stevens and Jerry Cantrell signature models. Yes please, may we have another? These amps sounding amazing, and that’s only because there is no other word to describe what we heard in the demo room. Both amps are two-channel, 100-Watt offerings, with matching 4x12 cabinets available. As if those weren’t luscious enough, not to be missed was the Phil X signature 100 watt head. This was a single-channel, dual master, 100 Watt head. All Friedman amps are hand wired in California, and inspected by Dave Friedman himself—he signs every chassis that leaves the factory.

Fuchs Audio
Amp guru Andy Fuchs showed off some fantastic technology that we wouldn’t be surprised to see licensed to other amp builders… because it’s just so useful you have to ask yourself why it hasn’t been done before:

In the new ODS II (Overdrive Supreme), Fuchs has placed an LED display on the rear of the amp showing the voltage running across the plates… so you can bias the amp for yourself, and instantly make decisions regarding choosing to bias your tubes warmer or colder based on tone preference. 6L6 or EL-34? Decide for yourself, whenever or wherever, without needing to bring your amp in for a service call. Awesome! And, oh… these amps sound pretty glorious, too.

Hughes & Kettner
Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen the rebirth of a classic company in Hughes & Kettner, with many new amps that are each getting significant accolades (not to mention big name artist usage). Well, H&K have gone over the top with their new TriAmp Mark 3. Why settle for two- or three-channel amps when you can have… six! And why choose between 6L6 tubes or EL-34 tubes when you can have both in the same amp, channel assignable? Yes, it’s sounding quite a bit like the Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier Road King II (reviewed here), but that’s fine with us. It’s refreshing to have another option for insane levels of sonic diversity in the market.

The Mark 3 covers a range of classic British and California tones, up through modern high gain sounds. There’s a parallel/series effects loop, built-in Red Box amp simulated output, on-board noise gate, and built-in MIDI capabilities, which is extremely handy since you can store up to 128 sound settings/presets in the amp! There are other cool features we haven’t even touched on, but hopefully we’ll get this in the studio soon for the in-depth attention it requires.

The ever-evolving Steve Vai signature line saw two new instruments this year. From the Premium line is the Jem 77P, a beauty that pays homage to the blue floral pattern Jem of yore (read our in-depth review here). The guitar features Vai’s prefered DiMarzio Gravity Storm and Evolution pickups, a double-locking Ibanez tremolo, and a stunning Tree of Life fingerboard inlay on a maple fretboard. Ibanez also released a lower-priced Jem designed to directly compete with the insane volume of counterfeited Jem guitars that young players mistakenly purchase online.

On the bass side of things, it was great to see the Ibanez Bass Workshop line embrace the concept of fanned frets, which have to be played to appreciate their improved intonation and comfort. The SRFF805 bass puts a wickedly cool looking, advanced instrument within reach for the accomplished player looking to add something unique to their arsenal. Speaking of reach, players with short arms need not apply. Fanned frets change the scale length a bit and require a pretty long reach to hit those low notes.

ISP Technologies
ISP Technologies unleashed the Theta Pro DSP, a potent all-in-one amp and effects solution for the guitarist who wants excellent sound and control at his feet. Featuring a fantastic sounding, digital preamp and stellar sounding effects, it also features ISP’s patented Decimator technology, delivering high gain tones with whisper quiet noise levels. Flying in the face of a sea of modeling amps on the market, this is a digital preamp that is coined by ISP as “the clay for you to mold into your own sound.” With competition ranging from BOSS to Fractal Audio, we were very impressed with our extended headphone jam, but will have to reserve further comments for an in-depth review.

Marshall released a reissue of the legendary Silver Jubilee and coined it the Marshall 2555x. This faithful reproduction features three preamp tubes, four power tubes, a serial effects loop, and a half-power switch. Both straight and angled 4x12 cabinets will be available.

L.R. Baggs
We’re long-time fans of the rock solid, Para Acoustic DI (reveiw here), but L.R. Baggs’ new Session Acoustic DI stands a chance of becoming an instant classic when it ships. This DI features tone shaping controls optimized for restoring the presence and depth of your acoustic guitar’s natural sound, and retains such essential features as running off of your P.A. system’s 48V phantom power.

Nemphasis PB-8 Audio Looper/Switcher/Foot Controller
The Nemphasis PB-8 Foot Controller features eight true-bypass effects loops, four function switches, and three programmable MIDI modes: Standard Mode, Preset Mode, and Momentary Mode. It provides 15 banks of 10 presets totaling 150 sound chains. The PB-8 connects to your iPad for enhanced programming—very cool! It can also be configured and managed from PCs and Macs.

PRS Guitars
There are always plenty of new gems to discover from Paul Reed Smith, and this year, the guitar that called our names and begged us to review it was a new singlecut, the P245 solidbody. Vintage inspired with a 24.5” scale length and twenty-two frets, the guitar features new 58/15 humbucking pickups personally designed by Paul. Taking things over the top, however, is the L.R. Baggs designed, custom-for-PRS, Piezo acoustic output, making this one hell of a versatile guitar. (We commented that the PRS P22 guitar had among the finest sounding acoustic output of any solid-body guitar to date when reviewed, here.)

Source Audio
Source Audio introduced a ton of new pedals at the NAMM Show that were quite impressive. The Nemisis Delay pedal appears to be in league with other studio delays-in-a-pedal like those from Strymon, Eventide, and Providence, with memory for presets, MIDI In/Thru, and 12 delay types ranging from analog to digital to tape echo and more. No digital display, however.

Their new Soundblox Hub was very interesting, too. It’s a small device for your pedalboard that integrates all of your Soundblox pedals, enabling you to save preset configurations of your pedals which can be recalled instantly from a compact MIDI foot controller that Source Audio also introduced.

Taylor Guitars
Taylor redesigned its 600 series for 2015, featuring torrefied (dried/roasted) Sitka Spruce tops and beautiful, highly figured, maple backs and sides, and the internal bracing has been modified to best suit the new woods. Their “brown sugar” hand rubbed stain showcases select pieces of wood chosen for their beauty and tonal characteristics. The extra wood treatment yields a well broken-in sound right from the start. Reviews coming soon.

Tech 21
At a glance, you might have noticed the new dUg Ultra Bass 1000, a signature bass amp for legendary prog rock bassist and vocalist, Dug Pinnick. In that glance, you might have thought it looks just like other Tech 21 amps such as the VT Bass 1000 or 1969 (reviewed here, but wow, would those looks be deceiving!

Diehard fans of Dug and his band, King’s X, know that his unconventional tone came from blending a distorted guitar amp with a bass amp, and that’s exactly what you get in the new dUg Ultra Bass 1000. Instead of two traditional channels like the other models that share the same basic housing, channel 1 has a more conventional guitar amp circuit with distortion, while channel 2 is a clean bass amp with compressor. The amp is made to either run both channels in series (instant Dug tone, if you’ve got the chops), or just channel 2 by itself. How refreshing to see and hear something unique among bass amps!

Tronical has been developing auto-tuning machine heads for guitars for years, and the technology is constantly improving, getting more compact and refined with each generation. We were very impressed by the latest edition, hiding neatly behind the headstocks of various sample guitars and more compact than ever. At the touch of a button, the guitar instantly changed to a variety of different tunings (in addition to standard, that is). Bottom line: the system truly worked, and it worked fast! Tronical makes replacement tuning heads for a wide range of guitars, and installation is straightforward with virtually no modification to your instrument. A rechargeable battery source in the latest version is just icing on the cake.



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