Now that the annual NAMM show is over, there’s time to take a breather and take time out to sift through the deluge of new gear that was unveiled to both the retailers and industry pros at the show itself in Anaheim and an expectant public online, all eager to see what’s new and exciting.
Noticeable this year is the trend for smaller yet more powerful bass gear; the Ashdown heads and TC Electronic and Fender Rumble cabinets being a prime example. Bass amps are also increasingly incorporating some sort of dedicated overdrive or distortion capability which is definitely a new thing; check out the new Orange OB heads.
Also trending is the marked increase in the number of signature guitars, especially in the metal genre. Ibanez, Jackson, ESP and Charvel – all heavily involved in specialised instruments geared up for metal players – have new and updated artist and signature models this year. Fender and Gretsch are also in on the action with some new artist models, some with individualised custom graphics like the Fender David Lozeau Strat. There are also an increasing number of guitar products offering Bluetooth connectivity and/or an app to control things from your smartphone or tablet; the B-Social from Ashdown and the Line Firehawk FX being the newest examples.
All the big guitar companies had a lot to show off in terms of new models and new ideas. Gibson advanced on two fronts; first with the made in Memphis ES-Les Paul, a semi-acoustic version of the Les Paul, which offers the best of both models, and second with the more radical Standard range which now incorporates some controversial features like a wider fingerboard, adjustable nut and G-Force self-tuning system. Weight-relieved Les Pauls are not a new, but the ES version takes the Les Paul to another place entirely, incorporating the ‘centre-block’ design rather than a traditional solid body. All the classic Les Paul finishes are covered: various versions of the traditional sunburst including Heritage Cherry, Lemon Burst, as well as a Goldtop, a Black Custom and a Classic White Standard. Completely new is the ES-390, a compact version of the hollow bodied ES-330, equipped with ‘dogear’ P-90 pickups and a trapeze bridge and tailpiece.
The continuing popularity of the ES-335 has warranted a Studio model, a Satin finished version and a model with a slimmer 390 neck, as well as a Figured top version in four different finishes including Indigo blue and period-correct 1959 and 1963 versions in historic Sunburst and Cherry colours. Usually delivered in gold only, the new 1952 ES-295 hollow body is now available in ‘60’s Cherry and looks very fine indeed. Rounding out the semis are also a new Figured ES-345, a vintage-correct 1964 ES-345 and an ES-355 in Drab Olive Green with a Bigsby and a new B.B. King Lucille with a different logo on the headstock. Possibly due to Dave Grohl’s preference for an ES-335 with a Firebird headstock, Gibson has also revived the Trini Lopez on which his signature model is based on, which is available in Ebony only.
Fender combines old and new in the Limited Edition 1955 Strat, Esquire and P-Bass collection which are built to original specs but with modern player friendly features like larger frets and flatter radius fingerboards. There are also a lot of unusual FSR (factory Special Run) guitars becoming available like a standard Strat with a solid rosewood neck, Strats with sandblasted finishes, hardtail ‘70’s style Strats, a Shawbucker Strats equipped with a bridge humbucker designed by pickup guru Tim Shaw and well as Jaguars and Jazzmasters with extra-thin lacquer as well as a Squier version of the Dimension bass. Famous artists are well served too; Dee Dee Ramone, Geddy Lee and Steve Harris get new signature basses and there’s a new Dave Murray Stratocaster. The Blacktop series has been replaced with the new Standard Series Humbucker range including a Floyd Rose model. Completely new for Fender is the Limited Edition David Lozeau Stratocaster in four different graphic finishes signed by the artist and the Steve Vallin Artist Edition, which features a small, Strat-style body and a 5-bolt neck plate.
Also revealed by Fender at NAMM was the ML212, a signature edition of a Hot Rod DeVille 212 combo, re-spec’d for respected session guitarist Michael Landau. Bass players get a new powerful Bassman 500 head and two lightweight Rumble bass cabinets in 112 and 210 configurations. The Fender 5-string banjo range gets an upgrade with improvements like ebony capped bridges instead of rosewood, rolled steel tone rings instead of aluminium and a host of other changes.
For sheer numbers of new models released this year, Ibanez won out over any other manufacturer, with new guitars and basses in all departments. Notable are three new Steve Vai JEM models including a 7-string, and Joe Satriano, Andy Timmons, Paul Gilbert, Paul Stanley, Eric Krasno and Brian ‘Head’ Welch all get new signature models. Also of note is the amount of 5-string and 6-string basses unveiled by Ibanez, including the thru-neck BTB models which feature exotic wenge and bubinga tonewoods and Nordstrand pickups and look out for the extraordinary SRFF ‘fanned-fret’ models. For the so inclined, Ibanez has also launched a single-cut 8-string model, the ARZIR28, in solid black with matching hardware. There are also new parlour acoustics and a resonator guitar.
Jackson has also released a huge amount of new models, including the Scott Ian Anarchy Soloist with ‘Thaxaram’ graphic finish, Misha Mansoor Signatures in six and seven string versions in no less than five different finishes, a JS32 warrior with a natural oil finish, and a trio of King Vs including a Pro Series model in new finish options. There’s also a new Pro Series Rhoads RR with a Floyd Rose in Gloss Black and several new Dinkys with arched tops.
Gretsch has also announced some significant new models at NAMM. Most notable is the new Brian Setzer Hot Rod which offers a stripped-down single cutaway equipped with Setzer’s own TV Jones Signature pickups and 2-Tone Harbour Blue, Highland Green, Roman Red, and Tuxedo Black two-tone finishes as well as Blonde and Green Sparkle.
Nashville legend Chet Atkins is also honoured with three new models, the limited edition G6120-1959LTV, which features a quilted maple top and TV Jones pickups and the G6120 in polyurethane finish Cadillac Green equipped with Filte’Tron pickups. Finally Gretsch has added a rather splendid looking 12-string Chet Atkins G5422DC in a natural finish.
ESP has not disappointed this year, with a large haul of newies and upgrades. First out is a range of 40th Anniversary Limited Edition guitars with quilted maple tops with see through black finishes which includes two Eclipse single cuts of which ESP are only making 20 of each. The increasing popularity of baritone guitars has prompted ESP to launch a series of six, seven and eight string models in single cut, S-style and V shapes to satisfy all tastes, all with hard tail bridges and see-through black finishes.
Signature models are also in abundance at ESP, with Exodus and Slayer guitarist Gary Holt nabbing three new models, the most striking simply named the ‘Gary Holt’ finished in red Liquid Metal Lava with red coloured EMG pickups while the GH-600 is black outlined in red, also with red EMGs. New to the ESP roster, Animals as Leaders guitarist Javier Reyes acquires two new 8-strings, 27” scale models while jazz/fusion bassist Bunny Brunel is honoured with a 4 and 5-string basses with quilted maple tops and Aguilar pickups. Gus G., Will Adler from Lamb of God and shredder Andy James haven’t been left out either. Adler’s Warbird roster has been rounded out by two new models, including a distressed finish version.
ESP also launched a glut of new LTD guitars, including the unique looking special edition M-1000SE featuring a Floyd Rose bridge, a Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates/ Jazz pickup set and a flamed maple top in a Vintage Natural Satin finish alongside the FRX shaped 6 and 7-string models, available for the first time in LTD versions. In addition, there’s the unusual looking Thinline Series TL-6 which is now available with spalted maple top.
Completely new to the ESP stable are the new Tombstone acoustic-electric range, an affordable range of electros with solid spruce tops and Fishman or B-Band pickups. Appropriately, the signature model in the Tombstone range goes to George Lynch with the GL-J2E, a jumbo acoustic-electric with a solid Sitka spruce top, flamed maple back and sides and a sunburst finish. There is also a jumbo-sized acoustic bass, the JB-320E which features a solid cedar top and Fishman Presys+ pickup and pre-amp. The company has also replaced its ESP Standard series with the new ESP E-II range which is made in japan and feature the ST-2 with Floyd Rose, quilted maple tops in four finishes and the E-II Arrow with thru-body construction and an ebony fingerboard.
NAMM 2015 also saw some new Charvel models, notably two Warren DiMartini Signature guitars with Blood and Skull or Snake graphic finishes, plus new Slime Green or Specific Ocean finishes for new Pro-Mod San Dimas and So-Cal Style 1 HH and Style 1 HS HT models.
German amp manufacture Bugera unleashed three tasty looking amps, notably the hand-built T5 and the T50 Infinium cage-style heads which as well as retro looks feature Bugera’s Infinium Tube Life Multiplier Technology and are designed to deliver both vintage and modern tones while extra features on the T50 include channel switching and a speaker-emulated output.
The more conventional looking G20 is a 20W boutique-style Class-A head incorporating Bugera’s Morph technology which delivers both British and American tones. Also new is the AC60, a feature packed acoustic combo including a high-end Klark Teknik processor with 16 effects pre-sets and a Turbosound speaker. A real head turner is Bugera’s new BT115TS bass cabinet, rated at an astonishing 1,600W. Containing a British engineered Turbosound 15” speaker and a 1” horn, this ruggedly built cabinet also features internal bracing and rear porting for extra low end response.
Boss always has something new and interesting at NAMM and this year was no exception. Possibly the star of the show as far as guitarists are concerned is the totally new ES-8 Switching System, an 8-loop programmable control unit for pedalboards which will open up a wealth of possibilities for pedal-centric players who had found these – usually custom made – switching devices non-affordable. Also new are two new space-saving FV30 volume pedals and the BB-1X Bass Driver which offers clean boosts and a range of distortions geared for bass.
Orange raised the bar for practice amps with the new Crush 12 and 20 combos which feature hi-gain pre-amps and 3-band EQ and speaker emulated headphone outputs. The Crush 20 is also available as the 20T which adds reverb and a chromatic tuner and the Crush 35T which features a buffered effects loop and a custom voiced 10” speaker. In addition, Orange has also unveiled the OB1-300 and OB1-500 bass heads which take the basic bass amp platform and adds harmonics and layers of controllable gain, increased harmonic content to the upper registers and overdrive from a guitar amp circuit with a footswitchable blend circuit.
New from Line 6 is the new Firehawk FX, a sleek and modernistic looking multi effects pedal that features app based editing and a colossal 200 amps and effects. Also revealed was a new version of Line 6’s modelling guitar. Called the Variax Standard, the instrument is the result of a collaboration between Yamaha and Line 6 and features all the Variax guitar models and alternative tunings plus three single-coil pickups and a vintage-style tremolo system. If wireless is your thing, then the new Relay G70 and G75 should be welcome: offering lowest-available latency and programmable pre-sets for signal routing and metal construction, the G70 transmitter is stompbox sized to fit on a pedal board while the G75 is designed for those who wish to sit the unit atop their amp.
VOX launches a USB audio interface that plugs directly into a guitar and connects to your computer and the included JamVOXIII software for jamming and recording. Thanks to its ASIO driver support, you can connect amPlug I/O directly to your iPad or iPhone by using the optional Apple USB Camera Adapter kit. Additionally, the amPlug I/O features a built-in tuner with a highly visible LED display and it can be used as a stand-alone tuner when not being used as an interface. Also new is the amPlug2 mini cabinet and some limited edition combos finished in Classic Red including the AC15C1, AC4C1 and the Pathfinder 10. If it’s retro looks that you crave, VOX has launched the very limited edition Two-Tone AC4, AC15 and AC30 which all feature TV front looks with blue and cream vinyl covering with gold piping.
British manufacturer Ashdown offered several new products at NAMM including a new range of Woodsman acoustic combos, available in various power options and there are a couple of compact but very high powered bass heads. Perhaps the most interesting and most eye-catching are the B-Social desktop bass practice amps. Available in three finishes; black, white and natural, the B-Social features a full 75W of power via 2×5” speakers and Bluetooth connectivity and a transmitter that lets the bass connect wirelessly to the amp for cable free jamming. Bluetooth connectivity also enables audio streaming from any compatible music player. New bass cabinets include the Foundation and Classic ranges in 8×10, 1×15 and 4×10 configurations, all with Ashdown drivers and high-frequency horns.
Perhaps one of the most surprising and unusual pedals ever invented, Digitech’s TRIO Band Creator actually provides a bass and drum backing track once it has ‘learned’ the chords and tempo from a quick strum through your song. With seven ‘genre’ and 12 song styles and the ability to play in 3/4 and 4/4, the TRIO is a great rehearsal or songwriting tool for guitarists.
More pedals from Electro-Harmonic include the Super Pulsar, a stereo tremolo with extensive controls and the ability to save up to eight custom settings.
The Bass Soul Food offers overdrive and clean boost while retaining the fundamental character of the bass and a new version of one of EH’s oldest designs, the Deluxe Electric Mistress which now features a compact die-cast housing for easier pedalboard mounting.
TC Electronic also launched a new tremolo pedal, as well as some new compact bass cabinets. The Viscous Vibe a digital recreation of the original analog Shin-Ei Uni-Vibe. Featuring dedicated DSP and true bypass, this compact pedal can produce classic and authentic vibe tones with the ability for guitarists to create and design their own sounds via TC’s TonePrint editor. The lightweight K-Series bass cabs come in 2×10, 2×12 1nd 4×10 configurations and are all loaded with Custom TC Electronic and LAVOCE designed drivers and HF units and designed to stack together.
As soon as new NAMM products become available we will be reviewing them all on these pages.