Real Gear Reviews for the Worship Minded
(To the tune of the classic “Meow Mix” commercial jingle)… “NAMM, NAMM, NAMM, NAMM, NAMM, NAMM, NAMM, NAMM, NAMM, NAMM, NAMM, NAMM, NAMM, NAMM, NAMM, NAMM…”
If you have been perusing music gear online in the last few weeks, you haven’t been able to avoid the frenzy of NAMM. Nor would I be able to understand why you would want to. NAMM is always a fun event to see all of the exciting offerings from small and large companies that make all things music related. And this year was no exception.
But, NAMM can be overwhelming. To say there is a lot to see and take in, is an understatement to say the least. It’s a lot to process.
Now that I’ve had some time to process it however, I present to you my highlights from NAMM 2017 in no specific order. It’s still going to be a lot, though, so you have my permission to skim and look at all the pretty pictures. Just kidding – you must read everything and take notes as there will be a test at the end. No pressure.
1. Vox is potentially releasing an updated version of the classic Continental combo organ?!!!
Are you kidding me?!! I have always had a love affair with the trashy tones of the combo organs from the sixties and Vox’s offering were always at the top of the heap. I know that the argument can be made that this isn’t necessary because Nord has already nailed all the combo organ tones, but I don’t give any validity to that argument as I have long wanted someone to release (or re-release) a simple combo organ that only does one thing but does it incredibly well. This wasn’t plugged in or turned on, but I was able to put my hands on it and it is real. I have no idea when we can expect to see it hit the market, but I will definitely be on the lookout.
And…it’s red so you’ll still fit in with all the cool kids on worship teams playing Nords.
2. Supro is getting back into the guitar manufacturing business.
…and it’s about time. Their reissues of their classic amps are amazing in my book. Admittedly, I have a love of quirky, vintage, music gear, but Supro’s guitars have been touted as a thing of beauty by a ton of impressive musicians. I was able to play a couple of these and they feel solid. Definitely cool.
3. Zildjian has a “worship” pack of their iconic K series cymbals.
You know that worship musicians have made a mark on the music gear industry when a company as huge as Zildjian decides to market directly to them. The K series cymbals are undeniably quality cymbals with a nice range of sounds. I do, however, find it amusing that they have decided what specific cymbals should be used for a worship setting. Heaven forbid you mistakenly purchase the “Rock” cymbal pack and try to sneak that by your worship leader!
4. UE releases the Sound Tap personal monitoring system.
So you’ve saved up the money to finally afford those custom in-ear monitors only to realize that you still need to buy more equipment to actually use them on stage? UE has you covered with the Sound Tap. It’s a simple idea – a plug and play personal monitor system to use on stage. One feature that I found particularly interesting is that you can tie it directly into an existing wedge monitor on stage without having to do anything special or convincing a sound man that you’re not a diva with extra-special needs. Without actually playing with this product on my own, I was impressed with how solid it is – this thing doesn’t feel like it’s going to break easily. I was equally impressed with the price tag – $250. It is wired (as opposed to wireless), but when you compare it to the wireless options that Shure and Audio Technica offer, you’re going to pay at least twice that for an entry level model that definitely doesn’t feel this solid. The demo musicians they had at the booth had rigged up some cool wiring options where they had the Sound Tap sitting on top of a guitar amplifier and then bundled an extra long headphone cable that traveled along the length of the guitar cable to the guitar player – definitely an innovative idea. I know that this would be particularly handy for a worship drummer that doesn’t have to be mobile. If at some point I’m able to get my hands on the Sound Tap I will definitely report back on it’s usability in a live context. In the meantime, you can check out the press release we posted here.
5. Walrus Audio always impresses with their array of pedal offerings.
It wasn’t brand new for NAMM, but what brought me to the Walrus Audio booth was the 385 overdrive that is based on the guts of an old projector – the Bell and Howell Filmosound. This pedal really does provide a nice array of options from a subtle bite to a deep growl. I’m hoping to add the 385 to my current pedal setup as soon as my budget permits and I will definitely provide a more in depth review. New for NAMM is their Red high gain distortion pedal and it also sounded amazing. I particularly enjoyed chatting with Colt Westbrook, the Walrus Audio head honcho who also, as it turns out, is on staff at OLCC (Our Lord’s Community Church in Oklahoma City) as a youth pastor and plays on the worship team with Brad Kilman. He is an incredibly humble guy and I have a deep appreciation for what he has done to make Walrus Audio a standout company in the extremely competitive world of guitar pedals.
6. At one point I was 10 feet away from Larry Mullen, Jr. and I got to see him perform!
I’m not typically one to get starstruck, but U2? C’mon. When I heard all the U2 songs being soundchecked throughout Saturday behind the locked doors of the ballroom at the Anaheim Marriott, it became clear that I probably needed to stick around for Yamaha’s hush hush party that I happened to have a ticket for. I didn’t get all of U2 (that would have been insane), but I did get to see Yamaha execs present Larry Mullen, Jr. with a Lifetime Achievement award and got to see him play some U2 classics with Butch Walker playing the part of Bono. Very cool, indeed.
7. Saul Koll continues to make awesome guitars.
Koll guitars definitely wins the award for coolest booth – they parked their Koll work truck in the space provided and still had room to show off an always impressive array of guitars that I will never be able to afford. And, to top it all off, Saul Koll is a seriously nice guy who makes guitars that marry modern innovation with vintage vibe.
8. Jake Shimabukuro made playing the ukulele look easy.
If you don’t know who Jake Shimabukuro is, you must’ve been hiding under a rock. He is a serious driving force in bringing the ukulele back to the forefront of modern music. He’s even hosted multiple TED talks on why he thinks everyone should play the ukulele (which often finish with him playing the entirety of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody). I had the opportunity to watch him play a couple tunes in the Kamaka booth and got to take a picture with him. He is a super nice guy who plays the ukulele like no one I’ve ever seen.
9. Dustin Kensrue signed some stuff.
I didn’t get to talk to him or wait in line to get anything signed, but I was just excited to see him. I know that he was primarily there to represent Thrice, but I have come to know and love Dustin Kensrue from his worship stuff from The Modern Post. If you haven’t checked out The Water and The Blood album, it’s time. For reals.
10. G7th has a new super light capo.
The UltraLight is the newest addition to their corral of capos. It really was surprisingly lightweight and didn’t feel like a serious piece of music gear at all, but it worked incredibly well and was fairly easy to maneuver. I’m still not ready to move on from the Performance 2, but this is still a solid little capo. And it’s pretty.
11. Dipinto guitars returns to NAMM to represent their new American-made guitars.
I love my Dipinto Galaxie 4 and I play it all the time. I know that it’s a funky looking guitar, but for my money Chris Dipinto has perfected the marriage of the classic offset Jazzmaster-esque look with pawnshop quirk. He is now exclusively making his guitars in America and although they are bit more expensive, they play great.
Prisma and Otis shared a booth and both company’s offerings were pretty. Really pretty. Prisma has made a name for themselves producing guitars that are made from recycled skateboards and Otis has perfected the art of making beautiful looking and sounding amps.
13. I spent too much time at the Source Audio booth.
I know that I’m late to the bandwagon, but Source Audio has some serious digital offerings in the guitar pedal world. It’s not new to NAMM 2017, but I couldn’t keep my hands off the Nemesis delay and I think it’s going to be my next purchase. It just sounds so good! I don’t need a new delay pedal, but I can always sell my current delay pedal, right? Right? 4 presets and fully tweakable parameters on all 12 settings makes for a versatile delay that covers a lot of territory. I look forward to reviewing this later.
14. Fuzzrocious Pedals has a fun new fuzz pedal with momentary delay built in.
I’m not sure exactly how this would be usable in a worship context, but I would like to spend some time finding a place for it. The fuzz on the Blast Furnace sounds great and the onboard delay is controlled via a momentary switch. This is a super small company that puts out quality pedals with solid tone.
15. JHS continues to amaze with new pedal offerings.
I’m a huge JHS fan. I currently have the Double Barrel overdrive and Pulp ‘n Peel Compression on my pedal board and am convinced that this company can do no wrong. Only two of these pedals are actually new (the Calhoun is V2). I know that most people will be drawn to the VCR (Volume + Chorus + Reverb = Ryan Adams signature tone) because Ryan Adams is undeniably cool, but I really found myself drawn to the simplicity of the Milkman (a collaboration with Milkman Sound amplifiers) that is a slapback echo and boost in one pedal. Either way, I’m looking forward to hearing more about these pedals.
There it is. Fifteen vivid memories I can’t shake from NAMM 2017.
Don’t worry – I was just kidding about the test.