- 25 Feb 08
Some of Ireland’s leading instrument manufacturers, distributors and retailers converged on Anaheim, California in January for the 106th NAMM Show.
I arrived at the Anaheim Convention Centre a little jet-lagged. I’d had no sense in advance of the ground I’d have to cover, but now here it was, all stretched out before me. No wonder I felt boggle-eyed. The sheer magnitude of the show was stunning, with retail buyers from around the world checking out the new products, networking and catching lots of superb live music. During its 100-plus year history, the show has hosted virtually every important product launch. With almost 1,600 exhibitors and 80,000 attendees, NAMM 2008 was no exception.
Impact on the Irish Industry
Aside from acquiring the major instrument and equipment distributor Kaman for about $117million, the guitar giant Fender also announced a stategic relationship with Taylor Guitars, aimed at raising Taylor’s brand awareness in Europe. In a move that will have wide-ranging implications, Fender will distribute Taylor products in Europe (as well as Africa and most of the Middle East). According to Paul Lyttle of MIDI, “Consolidation in Europe seems to be the big thing at the moment. The Fender range is huge and now they’re adding to it. They’ve got Ovation Guitars and Takamine (from the Kaman deal), which are huge brands in their own right – and on top of it all, they have Taylor in Europe.”
Lyttle was impressed with Fender’s new American-standard Stratocaster guitars, which he says have set a new standard for Fender. “The build quality, everything about them, is just beautiful. They’ve gone the distance and made a guitar of the finest materials that plays beautifully straight out of the bag.”
Martin Guitars – the oldest maker of guitars in the world, this year celebrating its 175th anniversary – unveiled two limited-edition anniversary model guitars, which will be distributed exclusively in Ireland by Keynote Music. For Keynote’s Aidan McCullough, NAMM also highlighted the importance of extra service and offerings. “There is a need for value added service levels, for retailers and for customers,” he explains.
The Roland stand was spectacular – covering about two-thirds of an acre (!), it came complete with a 300-seater live venue.
At the show with a seven-strong team from Roland Ireland. MD Gerry Forde also spoke of the significance of the big deals: “Our industry is getting quite serious and grown up, with large manufacturers merging, with buy-outs and buy-overs,” he observes. “It’s a very interesting time.”
A NAMM exhibitor for many years, master craftsman George Lowden, of Lowden Guitars in Downpatrick, believes it’s an important show for the Irish industry. “The wider industry tends to go to NAMM,” he says. “We meet shop owners and musicians from Korea to New Zealand, South Africa, Europe, America, Canada and so on.”
The Stars Come Out
Every year major stars visit NAMM to try out, demonstrate and endorse new products in what amounts to a musician’s paradise. On the show floor, I spotted Ben Harper, Herbie Hancock, George Benson, Dave Navarro, Billy Corgan and Paul Stanley, as well as members of Metallica. And as the day drew to a close I was tinkering with a keyboard, when none other than Stevie Wonder landed himself beside me to try out some of the latest gear at the Korg stand. Wonder – a living legend of contemporary music – seemed to be neck and neck with Slash to win the ‘biggest entourage’ accolade, after Marshall brought the Velvet Revolver guitarist along to meet and greet a very long line of retailers...
At the Native Instruments stand, guitarist Mike Scott and drummer John Blackwell (whom MIDI brought to the RDS last year) showcased their skills with a stunning performance, which was followed by a brilliant set from Grandmaster Flash.
Drummers, more than other musicians, seem to look to their idols as a source of inspiration and fascination. In Anaheim, all the brands had a list of stars that would make any drummer salivate, including Zildjian (Steve Smith, Alex Acuna, Jason Bonham, Clayton Cameron), Vic Firth (Carmine and Vinny Appice, Fausto Cuevas) and Sabian (Chad Smith, John Blackwell).
Into The Night…
After visiting a vast number of exhibition stands and showrooms, the day finally came to an end – only for the late-night wheeling, dealing and socialising to begin. The Sabian party at the Sheraton Hotel was drummer nirvana. Such was the extent of the talent, one had to wonder that, if some natural disaster hit the Sheraton that night, would all the world’s best drummers be wiped out in one swoop? Backstage after his mind-blowing performance, Chad Smith of Red Hot Chili Peppers was in high spirits, joking with Glenn Hughes and Shannon Larkin. The slick-as-ever John Blackwell and fellow stickmen soon relocated to the Marriot, where the party continued until the early hours.
My next port of call was the equally star-studded Hilton. On arrival, I noticed the one and only Mr. Paul Hewson, arm in arm with two leggy blondes – well not quite the one and only. Yes, in a scene that could only be from California, there standing before me was an (almost) perfect Bono double.
With a little (more) nip and tuck, this guy was the ultimate Bono doppelganger.
NAMM is the not-for-profit association that unifies, leads and strengthens the $17 billion international musical instruments and products industry. NAMM’s activities are designed to promote music making to people of all ages.