I didn’t get to run around as much this year at NAMM as I did some other years, but I still enjoyed being there. Overall, I didn’t see anything that completely knocked my socks off and made me think that the entire paradigm of making music is going to change, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some things I could imagine in Ember Studios. So this isn’t a list of all things at NAMM 2017 or even a best of, just a short list of what I saw I might want.
Dave Smith Instruments REV2
Essentially, this is the update of the Prophet ’08 which I used to have. I loved the Prophet ’08 (according to the video below, Dave Smith sold more Prophet ’08s than he did Prophet 5s!). I ended up selling it because it didn’t quite integrate into my studio conveniently enough, and it was missing a few things that would have made it fit more with what I do, namely direct USB MIDI for DAW support, sub-oscillators and feedback/distortion. Well, now it’s got all that, and a whole lot more (effects, waveshape modulation, poly step sequencer, plus more). And Dave Smith doubled the polyphony. And reduced the price. Oh—and it sounds even better. Not sure I need it, but I want it.
Korg has been touting their nutube technology for a few years now. Last NAMM, they showed a really cool prototype glowing blue VOX nutube head. Well, that prototype was still on display, but so were their shipping nutube products, the VOX MV50 (for Micro-Valve 50 watt). Man, these things are so small! They’re about one pound, with a nutube front end and 50W digital power amp that they claim they specifically voiced to sound like a push-pull tube amp. They had three on display: AC (designed to sound like the Vox AC-series), Rock (sort of Marshall-ish), and Clean (sort of Fender Twin-ish). NAMM is really not the best place for a nuanced tone demo, but I think that the AC might be the winner here—go figure. I could hear that AC-chime and that greasy rock overdrive that I’d expect, and I was blown away that it was coming out of such a small box. The MV50s are already for sale in the USA at $199, and that’s almost “impulse buy” price. These could be a backup rig, a pedalboard amp, a recording amp (it’s got a speaker emulation too, no idea how good it is), hell you could buy a couple for a wet/dry rig and it’s still cheaper than most even bargain combos. All for the price of a guitar pedal.
Orange Rocker 15/Rocker 32
I don’t need another Orange amp (I have the excellent Dual Dark high gain head). Especially a combo amp. But damn, the Rocker 32 sure appeals. It’s got the kind of clean channel that I love—just a volume control (same as my Friedman Runt 20; the tone is all there, no tweaking necessary). And it’s got that high gain Orange thermonuclear gain that I love. But these have some really nice extras. The Rocker 15 has a “Bedroom/Headroom” switch that knocks it down to 1W or .5W (in half-power mode) so you can bring your Rocker 15 to small gigs and to play at home really quietly. The Rocker 32 doesn’t have that, but it does have two stereo power amps, so it’s got a stereo effects return. This means you can set up stereo effects either as true stereo, or with one speaker mono and the other with effects (like the Roland JC-series). And they’re lightweight to boot. I’m guessing these are made in the Far East, since they’re affordable (I think $799/$1099), but they’re definitely all British in tone. Again, I don’t need this, but…
DigiTech FreqOut Pedal
First of all, if you’ve listened to some of the heavier Ember After songs, you know I love feedback. Love. It. But the volumes required are punishing. There have been other feedbacker pedals, not to mention sustainer pickups, but this is the best I’ve ever heard. Apparently, HARMAN (DigiTech parent company) pro audio division had a great feedback squelching algorithm, and DigiTech discovered they they could reverse engineer it to produce rich harmonic feedback at musically tunable levels. With a latch or momentary switch like their Whammy Ricochet pedal and lots of options for frequency and harmonic feedback, this blew me away. Unlike the other options that are wants but not needs, this pedal will be on my board.
BOSS and Strandberg Boden V-Guitar Prototype
To end with something that I definitely won’t be buying (both because it’s a prototype and right-handed), I have to say that this prototype Strandberg Boden guitar with the BOSS V-Guitar DSP built-in was definitely intriguing. I’ve got both 13-pin BOSS gear and the BOSS SY-300 guitar synth that works without an extra pickup, and I’ve enjoyed this technology for a long time. I appreciate that Roland/BOSS is continually trying to push it further, and putting a DSP synth into a guitar that only needs a regular cable. When I first saw this I was a little bit surprised that they went with a Strandberg—previously they’d tried something similar with a Fender Stratocaster, a much more mainstream guitar. But thinking about it, this is probably smart. The technology is mostly interesting to experimental players, so a more striking, experimental looking guitar makes sense. Anyway, it’s nice to see Roland/BOSS still pushing this technology, and that is quite a pretty guitar!