A Guide to Upcoming UK Musical Instrument Shows and Events

There was a time, and it wasn’t so very long ago, when British shows dedicated to musical instruments meant just one thing: major events staged at giant venues. Some were pretty good and some weren’t, but unless you happened to live in London or the South East, they almost always entailed expensive travel, wallet-shrinking parking charges, and eye-watering prices both for entry to the show itself and the obligatory burger and a Coke. They were all-purpose events, too, covering most instruments, so they were great for a visit by all the band.

That kind of show seems to have fallen out of favour in recent years, however, in favour of more affordable regional shows dedicated to particular instruments.

The biggest news these days is that London has lost its stranglehold on music shows. A new generation of events has arisen, some quite small and regional, some big, but most based outside London and benefiting, for the most part, from the reduced costs that entails for the organiser, the exhibitors, and, in most cases, the visitors.

Guitar Shows

The biggest by some margin is The Guitar Show, which has been held for the past three years in Birmingham. This year’s show has been and gone, but all eyes are now on 2019’s event, which is scheduled for February.

Described by some visitors as a step up from small "trestle table" shows, The Guitar Show may lack razzmatazz and superstar appearances, but it makes up for that in enormous diversity, attracting a lot of smaller and more interesting manufacturers and retailers. You’re not going to bump into Eric Clapton in the aisles and Steve Vai isn’t opening the show, but you will see a lot of gear for an entrance fee of £12.50, and the catering prices won’t break the bank.

The Guitar Show in Birmingham

Smaller towns and cities are served better than ever for guitar shows now, largely thanks to the pioneering work of the husband and wife team of Peter and Gail Hoarty. They started Northern Guitar Shows, which have now expanded as far south as London (more or less) in the form of The London International Guitar Show, destined for Kempton Park Racecourse, to the west of London, in October.

The Hoartys’ show format is based on the successful regional guitars shows in the USA, and an attraction they offer is that it’s affordable to book a stand if you’re a collector and wish to sell or maybe just show off your collection. These are shows for bargains and deals, and you’ll find boutique makers, vintage gear, and collectors, as well as performances. Entrance is cheap, parking is free, and food is affordable.

Northern Guitar Shows

The Hoartys’ North East Guitar Show has been and gone for this year (it was held in March) and the North West Guitar Show was in May, but the Leeds/Bradford show (Pudsey) is in September, London (Kempton Park) in October, and Merseyside (Ainteee) gets its show, also in November. The next North East and North West shows are already planned for early 2019.

The regional show concept seems to have taken root in the North, and organisers Mojo are responsible for a clutch of them. Still to come this year from Mojo are their Cumbria show (Penrith) in August, Cheshire (Crewe) in September, Manchester in October, North Yorkshire (Thirsk) in November, and then, tipping over into 2019, the Merseyside Vintage Guitar Mart (Formby) in February, followed by the Lancashire Guitar Show (Whitworth) in April.

These all share splendidly affordable entrance fees (as low as £3 in one case) and are firmly in the trestle-table buy-and-sell tradition, but they offer some entertainment, too.

A newcomer to the scene is organiser My Classic Guitar Shows, who are staging the first Northampton Guitar Show in October. So far they list only a small number of exhibitors, but watch the website for further details. My Classic promise possible future shows in Cambridge, Southend, and Southampton, all with dates to be confirmed.

Bristol is one of the few places in the South West of England that has any shows of significance, having enjoyed its own Bristol Guitar Show in 2017 and in April ’18. At the time of writing, no firm date has been confirmed for the 2019 show, but the organiser promises it will be going ahead in April and at the same venue as last year, the Ashton Gate Stadium. Check the website for details.

Northern Guitar Shows

The UK Guitar Show, organised by Future, the publisher of Guitarist and Total Guitar magazines, promises to be at the opposite end of the scale, closer to the old giant shows. It takes place at Olympia London in September. The announcement of this show was unexpected, and details of exhibitors and artists are still a bit thin on the ground—though we are promised tuition sessions, discussions, a Guitarist of the Year Final, and a vintage zone. With the entry price £20 per day or £32 per weekend (not to mention all the fun of parking in central London) it’s worth keeping an eye on the website to see who will be attending.

Another new show for 2018 is the Liverpool Guitar Experience. Organised by the team at Sound Affects, the show will feature everything from boutique pedals, through to high-end new and used guitars. Alongside the treasure trove of gear on display, the venue's conference rooms will be home to workshops, classes, Q&As and meet-and-greets with industry professionals and luthiers. The show takes place on Sunday 14th October 2018 at the Park Hotel in Aintree, Liverpool, and tickets go on sale from 1st September.

Are these shows only for guitarists? Well, pretty much so, yes. Basses make an appearance at most of the them, but the instrument’s only solo spot is at Future’s Bass Guitar Show, although that’s not until April 2019. It’s at London Olympia, again, and details have yet to be announced.

Keyboard Show

Keyboards fans aren’t any better served than bass players, sadly, again with just one show of their own. SynthFest is organised in Sheffield by Sound On Sound magazine this October. It will feature a lot of boutique and modular synth makers present in addition to the big names, but it also boasts seminars (it is run by Sound On Sound, after all) as well as manufacturer showcases, and it has to go down as a must for synth players.

Drum Shows

Drummers fare a lot better than bass players and keyboardists, with two major shows this year, plus a vintage offering in the Midlands. Manchester sees the second UK Drum Show in September, with a who’s who list of top drummers attending as well as just about all the manufacturers a drummer or percussionist could hope to find.

Jojo Mayer will be appearing at the UK Drum Show in September

The other big show of the year is The London Drum Show, once again at Olympia, in November. Artist and exhibitor details are still being announced, so check the website.

Meanwhile, if all that sounds like too much, drummers could always take a look at Simon John’s Vintage Drum Show, held at the Standard Triumph Club in Coventry in October. This show, in its second year, promises to be an altogether more relaxed affair. Over 30 vintage kits will be on display, and details of exhibitors and so on are still being announced.

If you are organising a show yourself, or you know of any that we’ve missed, do let us know in the comments. Keep an eye on the listings here as we’ll be updating them as we get more news.

2018 Shows

Sunday August 26, 10:00am–4:00pm
The Cumbria Guitar Show
Rheged Centre, Penrith, Cumbria CA11 0DQ

Sunday September 2, 10:00am–4:00pm
The Leeds/Bradford Guitar Show
Pudsey Civic Hall, Dawsons Corner, Pudsey, West Yorkshire LS28 5TA

Sunday September 23, 10:00am–3:00pm
Cheshire Guitar Show
Crewe Alexandra Football Ground, The Alexandra Stadium, Gresty Road, Crewe, Cheshire CW2 6EB

Saturday September 29 & Sunday September 30, 10:00am–6:00pm
The UK Drum Show
Manchester Central, Windmill Street, Manchester M2 3GX

Saturday September 29 & Sunday September 30, 10:00am–6:00pm
The UK Guitar Show
Olympia London, Hammersmith Road, London W14 8UX

Saturday October 6, 10:30am–6:30pm
SynthFest UK
The Octagon Centre, Clarkson Street, Sheffield S10 2TQ

Sunday October 7, 10:00am–4:00pm
Northampton Guitar Show
Franklin’s Gardens, Weedon Road, Northampton NN5 5BG

Saturday October 13 & Sunday October 14, 10:00am–6:00pm
Simon John’s Vintage Drum Show
Standard Triumph Club, Herald Avenue, Coventry CV5 6UB

Sunday October 14, 10:00am–6:00pm
Liverpool Guitar Experience
Park Hotel, Aintree, Liverpool L30 6YN

Sunday October 21, 10:00am–3:30pm
Manchester Guitar Show
GH Carnall Leisure Centre, Kingsway Park, Davyhulme, Manchester M41 7FJ

Sunday October 28, 10:00am–4:30pm
The London International Guitar Show
Kempton Park Racecourse, Staines Rd East, Shepperton, Sunbury-on-Thames, Middlesex TW16 5AQ

Sunday November 4, times to be announced
The North Yorkshire Guitar Show
Thirsk Auction Mart, Thirsk Rural Business Centre, Blakey Lane, Thirsk, North Yorkshire YO7 3AB

Saturday November 10 & Sunday November 11, 10:00am–6:00pm
The London Drum Show
Olympia London, Hammersmith Road, London W14 8UX

Sunday November 25, 10:00am–4:00pm
The Merseyside Guitar Show
Aintree Racecourse Exhibition Centre, Ormskirk Road, Aintree, Liverpool L9 5AS

2019 Shows

Saturday February 23 & Sunday February 24, 10:00am–5:00pm
The Guitar Show
The New Bingley Hall, 1 Hockley Circus, Birmingham B18 5PP

February, date(s) to be announced
Merseyside Vintage Guitar Mart
The Gild Hall, Church Road, Formby, Liverpool L37 3NG

Sunday March 10, 10:00am–4:00pm
The North East Guitar Show
Rainton Meadows Arena, Mercantile Road, Houghton-le-Spring, Tyne and Wear DH4 5PH

April, date(s) to be announced
The Bass Guitar Show
Olympia London, Hammersmith Road, London W14 8UX

Sunday April 7, times to be announced
The Lancashire Guitar Show
The Riverside, Whitworth Civic Hall, Market Street, Whitworth, Lancashire OL12 8DP

April, date(s) to be announced
Bristol Guitar Show
Ashton Gate Stadium, Ashton Road, Bristol BS3 2EJ

May, date(s) to be announced
The North West Guitar Show
Haydock Park Race Course Exhibition Centre, Newton-le-Willows, St Helens WA12 0HQ

About the Author: Gary Cooper is a journalist working in the musical instrument and pro audio fields. He edits Music Instrument News (the UK MI industry trade magazine) and Acoustic Review. Gary also contributes to a number of other music magazines and websites. He lives in Sussex, England.

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