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The Fifth Course

NAMM 2010 Report #1

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Scott Tichenor is right. The National Association of Music Merchants convention is a cacophony of debilitating proportions. Everything you can think of that might be sold in a music store is being hawked, pushed, dealt, played, amplified, strummed, bowed, picked, struck, blown, printed, digitized, reproduced, sung, and displayed. All of this activity occurs in the same moment and repeats constantly from 10am to 6pm for 4 days.

Music celebrities are not above hawking wares made by companies with which they may or may not have contractual agreements. Slash, Tommy Shaw, Rickie Skaggs, among many others (including a bonafide Playboy Bunny) made appearances generating massive traffic in the convention halls on Saturday. Lines of autograph seekers snaked around corners, spanned the length of city blocks, and interfered with the ability of less celebrity driven products and services to gain attention from convention goers.

Given that yours truly is in attendance on behalf of this blog and the Santa Cruz Guitar Players Forum, I will not attempt further elaboration of the excess and insanity that is NAMM. So lets focus on some mandolin news from NAMM…

Hall E has all the best acoustic stuff, including displays by Breedlove, Santa Cruz Guitar Company, Bourgeois, and Collings among many others. Fittingly, Collings set up in Hall E and debuted an excellent A style mandola. The scale length is 15.9” and the body seems larger than my own Weber Alder #2. The playability is excellent, and the tone seemed very good in the impossible-to-really-hear atmosphere of the NAMM show.

Pacific rim imports seem to be improving in quality, and a number of examples show evidence of this development. The Kentucky KM-900 on display at NAMM sounded better amidst the din than either the KM-1000 or the KM-1500. But in the model numbers below 900, the quality seemed to drop a bit. Scrolls got sloppier on both the headstock and the body, and the finish got noticeably thicker.

On the whole, the Eastman mandolins were better than the Kentuckys the KM-900 notwithstanding. The Grisman insprired Eastmans especially showed quality. The Bacon & Day inspired DG-2 was easy to play despite the shorter neck of the Bacon design. But the strength of the design is the increased size of the body cavity. It creates a deeper richer tone than is usual in most mandolins. The Giacomel inspired Eastman “Dawg” was better this year than last with a pleasing chop and and easy neck.

But the highlight of the Pacific rim imports was a new entrant to the field. Stan Werbin, President of Elderly Music, attended the Friday morning Mandolin Café meet and greet carrying a new F style mandolin called “Northfield.” I was surprised by the construction, finish, and tone of the instrument. All were excellent. Adam Steffy has, according to Werbin, taken a liking to these instruments, which is not surprising if the example he has is as good as the one I saw.

Further, I was gratified to learn that the instrument is the product of a three-person workshop in China, rather than a factory in a massive industrial center like Guang-zhou. Werbin says that the Northfield workshop plans to produce about 700 instruments a year, about the same output as both the Santa Cruz Guitar Company and Rainsong Guitars. But the cherry on top of this sundae is the price point: $1995.00.

I did not get a chance to see if Larrivee was planning in trying another mandolin this year. Larrivee did not have a booth. I did see Jean Larrivee chatting in Hall E with Stan Werbin and a few other folks, but that was the extent of his company’s presence as far as I could tell.

Sound to Earth and their Weber branded instruments stayed home too. Too bad. I was looking forward to tickling some octave mandolins.

Gibson usually has a massive and rather exclusive presence at NAMM. I saw a small display of electric guitars and a meeting room on the third floor. No acoustic guitars, no mandolins, nothing in their budget lines.

Back in a few days with a report on the offerings of interest to electric mandolin players.

Daniel

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