The Beats Go On

For any professionally driven and/or neurotically habitual visitor to the NAMM show at the Anaheim Convention Center each January, the meaning of the term “too long at the fair” is bound to strike. It might be two days or two hours into the sprawling music merchants and instrument expo (NAMM = National Association of Music Merchants). You reach a point where the sheer muchness of the experience wears on your mental receptors.

Suddenly, you feel like a bumpkin on a first encounter with the big city, initially dazzled but soon enervated by the multiplicity of perspectives and values of right and wrong. Is it wrong, for instance, to ogle the scantily-clad cheesecake gals propped up at certain booths, in cornball conventioneer fashion? The jury is out.

On the other hand, there may be no other more democratic forum in the music world than NAMM, where all manner of music-related businessfolk gather, from staid Midwestern music retailers, to the expanding domain of software nerds seeking newer versions, and sneering rock ’n’ rollers. Music becomes an evermore fragmented cultural realm, broken up into different demographics, radio formats, and lifestyle flavors. Here is a rare place where the gamut meets. No wonder the experience gets dizzying. From the local-ish contingent, familiar music businesses put out their shingles. From San Luis Obispo, kitschy-fun Ernie Ball had a Caddyshack-themed little piece of convention floor real estate, while SLO’s National Reso-phonic Guitars (i.e., Dobros) and Triplet Harps held forth with humbler, more unplugged wares in the downstairs zone.

The German-made Warwick basses, as well as Framus guitars, are funneled through a Santa Barbara distributor. And, reassuringly, there is always Seymour Duncan, the world-famous custom guitar pickup — and then some — manufacturer, based in our own good land burg of Goleta. Many of your favorite pop stars and other concerned guitarists have Duncan pickups tucked into their instruments. This year’s Seymour Duncan product line included new guitar effects pedals, aiming at a warm retro sound — adding polish to the days and memories of old.

Nostalgia is alive and well in the electric guitar world. Just ask the throng of folks in the Fender booth gawking at Jeff Beck’s well-battered old Telecaster. If anyone knows how to soulfully abuse a guitar, it’s Beck, and this object glowed with a funky-assed mythic aura.

Sensory-overloaded NAMMsters can always find respite from the racket, in genuine musical form. Over lunch, the old-timey Tora Bora Boys displayed their bluegrassy grit ’n’ glow and sang honeycomb harmony on “Mother Ain’t Dead, She’s Only Sleeping.” The womb-like Taylor guitar booth hosted new artist Susie Suh (who played SOhO with Glen Phillips a year ago, before her fine Epic album came out), dishing out her nicely moody originals and a fresh take on Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.”

On a sadder note, this was the first year in many that Bob Moog — who died last year — didn’t show up at his NAMM booth, extolling the virtues of the Moogerfooger or talking shop and high musical ideals with any and all.

NAMM 2006 reminded us that the marketplace and the tools of the trade change only incrementally from year to year, despite the built-in capitalist urge to make things seem newer, better, bolder, and hipper. Musical tools change shape, color, and programming, but the song — and the desperate need for it — remains largely the same.

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