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Mandolin Cafe Blog

Summer NAMM

Rating: 13 votes, 5.00 average.
As a rule I don't like to eat my own words, so excuse me while I grab fork and spoon. The Nashville NAMM Show which I'd boasted on the home page was quite the networking opportunity for mandolinists is not what it used to be. Still, there are valuable contacts made, experiences you're glad you were a part of and information that might not have been discovered otherwise. Allow me to share some of those.

I was invited down a day before the show by Tim Nelson of Eastman. Tim's lengthy title includes Regional Sales Manager - Eastman Guitars and Mandolin, and North American Product Manager - Schertler. I've known Tim for well over 20 years dating back to his work at Mass. Street Music in Lawrence, Kansas. From there Tim entered the sales rep career with stops at Collings, Huss & Dalton and a return to Mass. Street before landing at Eastman. He seems really happy there so when he asked this favor, I was happy to oblige.

The owner of Eastman, Qian (pronounced "Chen" ... a wonderful gentleman as were all of the Eastman visitors) was bringing his lead luthier Ke Wa and several key Eastman employees to Carter Vintage Guitars with the purpose of inspecting and listening to high end mandolins that included Loars and individual U.S. and Australian builders. My job? Sit and play these mandolins for a couple of hours for their evaluation. This is work I can get into!

It took only a few minutes to figure out we shared opinions on the attributes of the finest sounding instruments. For two hours they discussed build details and how they differed from the Eastman F model they brought in for comparison.

I didn't ask, but don't be surprised to see changes in Eastman Mandolins at some point. It was a fascinating look into their company and their love of acoustic instruments and what makes them great was easy to spot. I'll be eager to see what ultimately becomes of this experience.

Later that evening I was invited to dinner with a small group of Eastman retailers and special guest Ray Benson, the iconic vocalist and guitarist from Asleep At The Wheel (they're introducing his signature model electric guitar). When we were introduced, Ray immediately whipped out his cell phone and started showing me pictures of a teens Gibson F-2 he'd purchased, had plenty of great stories of early gigs his band had shared with David Grisman and Jerry Garcia and Old & In The Way, and his friendship with the late Western Swing mandolin legend Tiny Moore. Fascinating. One of my favorite musicians, and one of the most delightful gentlemen you'll ever meet. It was a pleasure to share his company.

Below: Ray Benson with Christie and Walter Carter.

Thursday the show opened and I was happy to run into Tom Ellis hosting a shared booth between his Precision Pearl and Ellis/Pava Mandolins. Pava was along and I spent some time playing both a natural finish (no pick guard) and a more traditional sunburst model with pick guard. To say that both the Pava and Ellis mandolins are as close to perfection in sound/craftsmanship as you can imagine is not an understatement.

Pava Knezevic

As NAMM goes, while visiting with Tom, Jon Green, the new owner of Calton Cases strolls up and joins us. Jon tells us their production is steadily increasing as was noted in the interview we did with him back in April. Side note: the cases sold at Carter Vintage Guitars produced in an elegant and understated cream color can be attributed to Christie Carter.

Present on the floor: Weber/Breedlove (both of Two Old Hippies), The Loar, Kentucky, Eastman, Lakota Leathers, V-Picks, and a Ted Eschliman ( sighting. Notably missing: Collings, although we did spot General Manager Steve McCreary. Gibson hosted a small electric guitar presence but nothing in the way of mandolins, not a surprise to anyone. Other notable vendors like D'Addario and Martin that build small cities at the Winter NAMM show hosted remarkably scaled down displays that one could actually visit. The general noise level is also considerably less, and this in itself is one positive note.

Vinni of V-Picks, an enthusiastic supporter of the Cafe

Of special interest to mandolinists, had my first in-person chat with Joe Spann, author of Spann's Guide to Gibson. Joe is working on a new book about Lloyd Loar and has is his possession a tremendous amount of information by Loar that has never publicly surfaced. That's sure to get our attention when it comes out. We also discussed the possibility of a feature interview in the future. Watch for that one.

Special thanks to Mike Compton and Heidi Herzog who shared coffee with me at Nashville's CREMA, one of my favorite coffee shops in the U.S. Watch for a future interview with Mike about his upcoming Monroe Mandolin Camp and a big secret project he's working on! Can't wait to blow the cover on this one.

As NAMM goes, as soon as you write about the show and publish a piece, something new and unexpected happens. Off I go looking for more of the fun to be had here.

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Updated Jul-23-2014 at 7:17pm by Scott Tichenor

General Mandolin Comments


  1. Scott Tichenor's Avatar
    Since publishing that a few hours ago I picked up a couple of tidbits of interesting information from the folks at D'Addario. The hybrid Thile set of mandolin strings that were originally thought to launch this Fall will likely arrive in January instead. Also, just picked up one of the new NS Micro Universal Tuners. It's like their current mini except that it has a Dual-swivel clip-on mount. Same tuner, different way to attach it. Should be receiving more information about it in the form of a press release to be published once it arrives.
  2. Pete Jenner's Avatar
    There's a coffee shop in the US?