Flying into California always gets my heart rate going. It brings back fond memories of when I lived in Hollywood while attending the Guitar Institute of Technology (G.I.T.). In particular, there’s a frenetic, creative energy I feel when heading towards Anaheim to represent Yamaha Guitars at the NAMM show each year.
This was my seventh show with Yamaha. My first experience blew my mind. Yamaha literally took up an entire ballroom in the Marriott Hotel with two performance stages and isolation booths for guitar and piano demonstrations, along with the most incredible display of what seemed like the entire range of Yamaha products. (Yamaha also manufactures live and studio sound reinforcement gear, as well as everything band-related.) My first main stage performance there was flanked by two high-performance motorcycles, a pristine audio backline and a full touring rig including lighting.
Yamaha now occupies much of the third floor of the Anaheim Convention Center (a spacious area I affectionately call “The Penthouse Suite”), but with the same attention to detail. There’s an emphasis on creating flow in order to provide a world-class experience for dealers, musicians and influencers … a goal they thoroughly achieved at this year’s show. Quite simply, you feel like royalty when greeted at the entrance. Friendly smiles welcome you into a very special musical environment, where knowledgeable product specialists and musicians are on hand to answer questions, provide demonstrations, and guide attendees towards the gear they want to know more about.
Over in the guitar area, nylon-stringed acoustic instruments hung gracefully next to futuristic SLG Series SILENT Guitars™, while vintage-inspired “throwback to 1966” FG/FS Red Label guitars amplified their proprietary aged tonalities with a cutting-edge, three-way pickup system called Atmosfeel.
My demonstration setup is shown below. It included a STAGEPAS 1K line array P.A. system, a Line 6 Helix (which I had preprogrammed with several custom patches) and multiple second-generation Revstar electric guitars, including Element, Standard and Professional models.
Beforehand, I had prepared backing tracks to jam with; these also doubled as a great way to hear the pro audio products in a real-world performance situation. I also had the honor to perform briefly for Mr. Takuya Nakata, President of Yamaha Corporation Japan, as well as other executives from Japan.
Giving interviews to magazine editors and creating impromptu video demos on the show floor are also part of the job — and they’re some of my favorite things to do. The most popular questions I received at this year’s NAMM were about the new Focus Switch function on Professional and Standard Revstar guitars, and how to dial in the new cabinet models on the Line 6 Helix processor. Product overviews and demos of TransAcoustic guitars still turn heads (“Where is that reverb and chorus coming from? I don’t see an amp!”), even though the technology is well established and a full range of TA guitars are widely available.
But NAMM is really all about new products, and there were more than a few outstanding ones in the Yamaha display area.
For me, the highlight of the show was the launch of the new flagship line of FG9 Series acoustic guitars. These extraordinary axes feature Adirondack spruce tops, ebony fingerboard and bridge, scalloped X bracing, bone nut and saddle, and a nitrocellulose finish. There are two models: the FG9 R, which sports solid Indian rosewood back and sides, and the FG9 M, which features a mahogany back and sides.
Handcrafted in Japan, these guitars deliver the outstanding projection characteristic of dreadnought-style instruments, while at the same time providing exceptional clarity and detailed articulation — a unique combination especially suited for accompanying vocals.
They both sound gorgeous, but there’s a subtle difference in tonality between the two, with the FG9 R being a little brighter and the FG9 M being a bit darker. After playing and singing with both models for a while, I really noticed that they allowed my vocals to take precedence thanks to the well-balanced bass frequencies they deliver.
A brand new digital mixer, the DM3, also took the show by storm. This compact 22-channel touchscreen mixer can be used for streaming podcasts or live sound (there’s even a model — the DM3-D — that comes equipped with Dante® technology), as well as for recording pristine audio directly to your computer thanks to the built-in USB port.
Couple the DM3 with a pair of Yamaha HS Series monitors or professional-quality HPH-MT headphones, and you’re ready to track the band or broadcast your podcast live. Things were so busy, I didn’t get a chance to try the DM3 with the two STAGEPAS 1K line arrays in my demo rig at the show, but I am certainly looking forward to doing so in the future.
Attendees to the Yamaha display were also treated to some of the very best in live music. On the main stage, Line 6 processors and Catalyst combo amps added a cool mix of the current modeling technology, juxtaposed against the classic tube tone of an Ampeg bass rig.
Bluegrass masterclass performances by Jordan Tice and Jake Eddy let everyone hear just how incredible the new FG9 guitars are (see the video below), and the stunning hybrid techniques and musical brilliance of rock-fusion maestro Matteo Mancuso had many of the guitar players in the audience threatening to give up and take a day job.
As if that wasn’t enough, studio ace and producer extraordinaire Greg Phillinganes brought down the house with an R&B/funk set to die for.
Here’s a video taken at NAMM that shows the amazing dueling magnificence of Jordan Tice and Jake Eddy as they play FG9 guitars.
When a pair of these wonderful instruments arrive at my studio in the coming days, I plan on recording a pop-rock duet that shows another side to these finely tuned instruments. Stay tuned to this space!
With their ever more impressive lineup of guitars, Yamaha manages to refine and honor the art of traditional lutherie, while expanding the possibilities of our beloved six-string instrument with modern technology.
I can only imagine what Yamaha will unveil at NAMM next year … but until then, you can be sure that I’ll be enjoying the current roster of musical companions.
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