This was my first trip to the Los Angeles area and only my second time in California I’m somewhat embarrassed to say. I had heard and read that the general L.A. area is huge and congested but I had no idea….. My plane was an over an hour late landing so I was forced to deal with the legendary traffic to get to my hotel. One hour and forty minutes in an Uber to go 22 miles! Ugh. The convention center all the surrounding hotels are all about Disney (!) with the original Disneyland literally across the street. Even though we took our kids to Disney World three times when they were young I’ve never been much of a Disney cultist as so many are and it was pretty tough to avoid the pervasive Disney vibe at my hotel, but fortunately there were plenty of NAMM show attendees staying there too.
I knew from my fishing biz trade show days that it’s a very good idea to pick up your show entry badge the day before the show officially starts to avoid the crush of attendees doing the same on the opening day so I grabbed another Uber and headed over. Huge doesn’t even begin to describe what I found. Just about every company who makes anything related to the creation and performance of music was there. The show is for members of NAMM only; consumers may not enter. Even so, I was told to expect 8,000 – 10,000 attendees the first day.
Music was being played everywhere on multiple stages both outside the convention center, inside, and at adjacent hotels to pump attendees up for the opening the next day. I got my badge and stopped to hear a couple bands and they were great. A gig at the NAMM show is very prestigious as many of the movers and shakers of the music business are always there to check out talent.
Having studied my show listings online before the show I had a game plan for the next day, which is vital at huge trade shows. My main objective was to connect with distributors I already use and see some of their guitars first hand that I’ve yet to play, but also to discover smaller, innovative companies whose products I can really get behind when I relaunch my web store in the next few months. I succeeded in that way beyond my hopes – but more on that later!
The next morning I arrived about a half hour before the official opening of the main show area as I knew that a smaller wing of the convention center where many of the boutique guitar makers where located would be opening a half-hour earlier. Entering that area (with many, many others) I first noticed the booth for Dana Bourgeois Guitars. There were about 20 guitars on display and while I didn’t intend to buy one it was a great opportunity to try out a few. And Dana himself, one of the most well-respected luthiers in the world was sitting there. I had a wonderful conversation with him and learned a lot about his instruments, construction techniques and his general philosophy of guitar building. While I as there, James Olsen (maker of James Taylor’s guitars) wandered in and gossiped a bit with Dana as I sat there! Dana could not have been nicer and invited me up to his workshop in Lewiston, Maine for a tour. I hope to do that, even though it could be severely dangerous to my bank account!
I then proceeded over to McPherson Guitars. I knew of them and their great reputation but had never played one of the somewhat strange looking instruments they make. I played a couple and I have to admit, one of them was the best sounding steel string acoustic guitar I’ve ever heard. But, it should be. For $30,000. Again, not in my budget but very cool to play and admire the amazing workmanship.
I tried a few Santa Cruz Guitar Company models at their booth but frankly was not overly impressed although they were certainly nice guitars. Didn’t care for the neck shape, but that’s a personal thing of course. Larivee Guitars of Canada had a very impressive booth with many handsome guitars but time constraints did not allow any playing of them. There were lots of people cramming into the Collings booth and a concert/demo was going on by a couple of their pro staffers. Great playing, handsome guitars, great sounding but nothing that stopped me in my tracks.
Then it was time to head upstairs for the opening of the main convention center floor. Imagine thousands and thousands of excited music geeks rushing into the huge hall! Within ten minutes the noise level was pretty severe. Electric guitars, drums, keyboards, brass instruments and much more, all competing for attention. To their credit, some of the companies had small sound booths set up which helped a bit but the reality was that it was very tough in certain areas to get a good idea what an acoustic instrument really sounded like. But I tried!
My two main distributors have premium higher end imported lines that I’m considering buying. But the buy-in is pretty heavy, money-wise for both so even though I had a good introductory overview from salesmen at both companies I need to think more about that level of commitment. However…. I discovered a WONDERFUL company that is importing very, very fine acoustic guitars and ukuleles, setting them up and inspecting them thoroughly and they were looking for new dealers. I was about as impressed as I have ever been with an imported guitar and these instruments compare and in many cases exceed similar instruments from the American companies we all know for about 1/3 the cost! I bought three. They will arrive next week and I’ll be listing them soon. I’m more psyched than I’ve ever been about being involved with this company.
I also began a dealer relationship with a company that makes hand-made guitar and ukulele straps right here in the U/S., all superb in construction and looks and very reasonably priced. I found a great, small company making guitar maintenance supplies of superior quality and some other items that I’ll be offering soon.
I’ll post some other stories and pictures of the NAMM show plus an overview of the “state of the union” of the music instrument industry in the very near future. Suffice to say, it was a fantastic experience and now I’m considering attending the somewhat smaller summer NAMM show this coming July in Nashville!
Peace & good music,