Flying back to New York from LA after the recent NAMM show, I was treated to a 30,000-foot view of the Grand Canyon. Looking down at its majestic wonder, I reflected on how long it took to make such a marvelous creation — something that made me appreciate that we each have only so much time on this planet to do not only what we need, but want to do. There are lots of people who have told me they always wanted to go to a NAMM show, but have yet to do so. They really should, because the people I know who did make it out this year were rewarded with a learning, listening and musical experience that will resonate for years to come.
There are a number of reasons that I like going to this event. To begin with, I live in the northeast, so winters can be challenging to the mind, body and spirit. Feeling the warmth of the California sun in January does wonders to lift my spirits. Then there’s the meetup with a regular group of friends that I refer to as my “NAMMily.” It’s always great to catch up and talk about our musical adventures over the past year, but the primary reason I go to the show is to check out the latest musical equipment and technologies, and to gain knowledge. Needless to say, there is an amazing amount of all of it there, in one place at one time!
But with so many booths (there are literally hundreds of exhibitors) and so much noise, NAMM can be overwhelming. For that reason, I have found it best to go in with what I call an “attack list.” This is a list I compile ahead of time (based on the advance press releases most companies issue) of the various products that I want to see. Having face-to-face meeting with those who can explain the technology and demonstrate the gear to you at the booths is invaluable. I also put together a list of people I want to see who work at those booths. That’s the left-brain organizational component to my NAMM strategy. But then there’s the right-brain spontaneous component — the fun part — which is simply discovering things that I didn’t know about ahead of time. This is also where my NAMMily comes into play.
As we make our individual ways around the aisles, there’s a lot of texting back and forth between us as we come across a booth that has something interesting to see. Then we will either drop what we’re doing and meet up, or make a plan to get together and visit the booth later. This way, we keep the information flow to a manageable level; it’s also fun to take breaks for lunch together and compare notes about what we’ve seen and should see.
At this year’s show, one of the coolest meetups was at the Yamaha pavilion. The company has so many musical products (over 70 new ones at this year’s show alone, plus hundreds of other current ones), they can’t actually fit into the Anaheim Convention Center. Instead, they take some 34,000 square feet of space at the Marriott hotel directly across the road. I joined fellow NAMMily members Dave Koch (who’s a drummer and guitarist), Ray Levier (a drummer and producer who I’ve written about here previously) and his brother Greg (a keyboardist and piano technician) there and we spent an exciting couple of hours exploring the wide range of products on display and chatting with the helpful staff.
As a guitarist, I was especially impressed with the new NX Series of nylon acoustic-electric guitars and THR-II desktop amps, and we all were blown away by the new SLB300 SILENT Bass™. Ray loved the EAD10 Electronic Acoustic Drum Module, which provides a new approach to recording drums, and we all had a blast playing the huge lineup of drums in the concert percussion area, which gave us lots of ideas about how to sonically make our recordings even bigger.
We then wrapped things up by trying out various pianos, digital keyboards and synthesizers. The best thing about visiting with a company as large as Yamaha is that it gave all of us the opportunity to learn about instruments we don’t play and open our minds up to new sounds.
Another benefit of going to NAMM is that you also never know who you will run into at the show. It seems there’s a famous musician at every turn! At the Yamaha pavilion, Ray ran into one of his favorites — drumming legend Steve Gadd — who had a new signature snare drum on display. Joni Mitchell was receiving a Les Paul Innovation award, and though she herself didn’t perform, attendees at the ceremony had the thrill of being in the same room with her.
Speaking of performances, it’s amazing how much music is happening at NAMM. This not only includes scheduled shows at a variety of stages and booths (including, this year, Yamaha-sponsored concerts by Earth, Wind and Fire, Kenny Loggins and Tower of Power) but any number of spontaneous jams that happen. I had a fabulous experience with just such spontaneity while checking out ukuleles, where a hot uke jam erupted, to the joy of not only those of us who participated, but the excited audience that quickly gathered.
So if you’re amongst those who have always wanted to go to a NAMM show but have yet to, my advice is, don’t wait another year. Even if you have to cross that Grand Canyon to get there, it’s worth it! There’s no other place where you can see, hear and feel so much technology and musical gear. Even better is to experience it with your friends and share in all the learned knowledge. And who knows, you may become part of your own NAMMily.
Photographs by Steve Leiken and courtesy of the author.
Click here for more information about Yamaha at the 2020 NAMM show.