I can’t go to NAMM, but I enjoy following the coverage. It took a while to put together, but here are some things that stood out to me this year.
Boss DA-2, MO-2, and TE-2 New and interesting effects in the “polyphonic without a hexaphonic pick-up” category. Not very tweakable, but sometimes that’s a good thing. Affordable compared to many of the other polyphonic effect options.
EHX HOG2 On the polyphonic effects front, EHX updated their HOG.
Marshall Slash SL-5 There’s nigh zero need for a guitar amp more than 5 Watts. Well, it might be useful to have more clean headroom, but is anybody buying a high-Wattage Marshall-style amp looking for clean headroom? (I get more than enough clean headroom from my 15 Watt amps.) 5 Watts amps are loud. This one even switches down to 1 Watt because 5 Watts is loud. If you need more volume, you’re better off micing the amp and running it through a PA.
Low-Watt amps, however, almost always get treated as a “practice” amp. They’re given tiny speakers, no footswitch, and no effects loop. Well, this one gets a 12" speaker, a footswitch, and reverb. (No effects loop, but that is the kind of feature that’s overlooked in bigger amps too. And, hey, it’s progress.) There have certainly been amps like this before, but here’s one from one of the big boys, and it’s nice to see.
IK Multimedia iRig HD Rant time: This doesn’t seem to be any different from the Apogee Jam. It’s a good thing for IK to have in their line-up, but it really bugs me when they act like it is something new. Not even the Jam, which they’ve copied, was the first dock-connector guitar interface. When IK says they’ve been working a long time on this, that isn’t a good thing. They are playing catch-up, and I think they need to be honest about that. Don’t tout your catch-up product as if it were innovation. (And if there is anything innovative here, why aren’t you touting that?)
This is why I’ll search for a competing product before buying something from IK.
Worse, though, are all the people reporting on this that just follow the press release or pitch instead of providing context.
IK Multimedia BlueBoard I may be about to do what I just complained about. ^_^
One of the challenges with iOS music making today is only having a single docking port. I have an Apogee Jam and an iRig MIDI. I could use the iRig MIDI to hook-up a MIDI footswitch to control AmpKit, but I can’t do that while the Jam is connected. (Likewise with an iRig MIDI, AmpliTube, and an iRig HD; if you’re a dedicated IK customer.) There are some dock accessories on the market that have both guitar input and MIDI in/out, but they bring their own trade-offs.
The BlueBoard connects via Bluetooth, so it leaves the dock port open for a guitar interface. Besides four footswitches, it also has connections for two expression pedals.
The downside is that more music apps have MIDI support than Bluetooth support. At least for now.
I have seen another Bluetooth footswitch that can be used for this, but it didn’t have the expression pedal connections. (It was designed for use with presentations rather than music apps.)
Roland G-5A Rant: Another guitar with a hexaphonic pick-up but no 13-pin output. Such a little thing could increase the value of this guitar so much and upsell more Roland products.
In other news, Line 6 introduced another Variax that isn’t compatible with any 13-pin gear.
Roland GR-D and GR-S More ranting: These little boxes provide a small subset of VG-99 features in a small and more affordable form factor. Which sounds like a very good thing. The problem? They don’t work with any other GK/VG products. They don’t work with the G-5A. They don’t work with the GR-55. They don’t work with the VG-99 or any of its predecessors.
They don’t even work with each other. The closest you could get to that is to use the US-20 footswitch to split the 13-pin connection from your guitar to both boxes. Then you could send the out from one box into the mix input of the other. But that gives you the two effects in parallel instead of being able to run the same signals first through one effect and then through the other.
It seems Roland is targeting guitarists that might want to add a little VG into their existing systems. But who wants to buy dead-end gear? Something like this would be an opportunity to turn more guitarists into VG customers but instead it leaves them stranded. Not to mention that even these boxes require the commitment of getting a guitar with a 13-pin output or adding a GK pickup to a guitar.
Roland V-Combo VR-09 To say something nice about Roland†, the VR-09 makes me wish I was a keyboard player. Although the BK-3 is probably a better keyboard for me.
†Although Roland owns Boss, so I did say some nice things about them.
Fishman TriplePlay Wait, wasn’t this from last year’s NAMM? Yes. They are saying they might actually ship in this year. There may be an opportunity for Fishman to exploit the mistakes Roland has been making in this arena. Unfortunately, though, it looks like the TriplePlay does the pitch-to-MIDI conversions on-board and only transmits MIDI. Which is probably wise, but it means it can’t do the VG-style things.
Fargen JL-15 These didn’t look that interesting to me, but the John Lennon artwork on the grill cloth looks nice.
Last minute note This year’s NAMM correspondent for Six String Bliss, Erik, did I great job of talking to some companies that others missed. One stand-out moment was in an interview with Philippe of Caroline Guitar Company. Erik says that their Kilobyte is one of the most unique pedals he’s heard at NAMM. Philippe explains that it was inspired by the SIB Mr Echo. Philippe then say, “I am not afraid to admit to my influences.”