Best in Show: Winter NAMM 2015

Winter NAMM 2015 has come and gone, and the Reverb crew was on the scene to soak in the latest and greatest new gear from every corner of the industry. From big to small, boutique and major, every mover and shaker in the gear world was there to show off their sounds and generate buzz for what's in store. Take a look at our picks for the best of what Winter NAMM 2015 had to offer.

The Korg ARP Odyssey and the Rebirth of Dave Smith’s Sequential Circuits

Perhaps the biggest theme from this year's show, and certainly the most discussed among the gearheads in attendance, were the releases of a long list of new analog and digital-analog hybrid synthesizers. Brands like Oberheim, Roland and Moog all showcased new synths in their lineups, while newer makers likes Pittsburgh Modular and Teenage Engineering represented on the smaller-format synth front. All these examples carried the common theme of marrying the classic analog goodness of synths from the '70s with modern materials, control features and convenience.

Two synths in particular stuck out to us as marrying the best of the analog past with all the form and function modern players seek out. The Korg ARP Odyssey, for example, packs all the filters and parameters of the original while adding things like a drive circuit and headphone jack. Watch the video here for a slice of how this reborn classic sounds.

Exploring the Korg ARP Odyssey Reissue

Similarly tapping into the legacy of one of the all-time classic synths, the line-up of new Prophets from Dave Smith Instruments made for one of best booths of the entire show. As Dave (aka the Father of MIDI) explained, the new Prophet 6 isn't so much a reissue as it is an extension of the original, packing all the endless tactile tweakability of the Prophet 5 while shunning the elaborate menu screens of modern workstations.

We were honored to have a chance to speak with Dave and get his explanation of how the new models uphold yet differ from the originals. In addition to the Prophets, the Dave Smith Instruments booth contain a number of smaller format synths for more entry-level tweakers such as the Tetra and Mopho.

Legendary Synth Pioneer Dave Smith shows new Prophet 6

Overall, the buzz in the building pointed to a new era of analog synths serving as main course for the gear buying world's appetite. For anyone wondering where all these synths are going, a simple scan of any Top 40 radio stations should solve the mystery faster than you can spell VCO.

Shure iPhone Microphone

The expansion of mobile friendly gadgets has been a theme at NAMM for several years, and 2015 proved to be no exception. One of the most impressive is the Shure MV88 from the new Motiv Series of portable recording units.

Shure Motiv MV5 at NAMM 2015

The MV88 plugs into any iOS device via Lightning connector, and records to a specialized recording app in 24-bit48 kHz quality. This is a stereo mic with a flexible, rotating hinge to get a wide stereo field on the go.

Gibson and Fender

While the synth buying world was alight with a refreshing crop of newfound bleeps and bloops, much of the name-brand guitar makers on display stuck to what they do best.

The Fender room on the upper floors of the building surrounded entrants with the normal array of body shapes, including a few new variations like the MIM Standard Jazzmaster and Standard Telecaster HH, as well as some limited edition signature models. The real standout from Fender-land was the display of unique Custom Shop creations.

New Guitars from Fender and Fender Custom Shop

Overall, the Gibson room was a bit more jarring to expectation. While it had its share of classic Gibson models (including an impressive new Bob Dylan Signature SJ-200), other displays showcased a curious array of Gibson-branded microphones and headphones, as well as turntables and stereos from the rest of the family of Gibson brands. The Gibson zone came off as more of statement of future intent than anything.

Gibson at NAMM 2015

Premier Builders Guild

PBG consists of five successful boutique brands in one room—Fano, Two Rock, Koll, b3 and Tone King—it wasn’t hard finding choice instruments.

Master luthier and mastermind behind PBG, Dennis Fano picked the new ML-6 for us to play, a guitar he describes as the “missing link” between the Gibson SG and the Epiphone Wilshire. With a perfectly chunky neck, a Bigsby, and Lollar Imperials (also available with Fralins), this guitar is almost certainly the missing link between our current gear budget and our next Reverb purchase.

Dennis Fano Introduces the new Alt de Facto ML-6

The Tone King Falcon is an office favorite, so we were excited to play the new Imperial MK II. It goes without saying that build quality is top-notch, as with all PBG builds. From chimey cleans and hi-fi clarity to the creamy compression of the lead channel, the Imperial completed a “dream rig” as we demo-ed two different Fanos.

Tone King Imperial Mark II Amp Demo

Framus and Warwick

One of the most impressive booths (it was more of a complex actually) we visited was the Framus and Warwick booths. With unique offset masterpieces like the Idolmaker on the Framus side, plus the Jack Bruce signature bass and thunderous new amps on the Warwick side, everyone on the Reverb team made multiple trips back to play their favorite on the wall.

Kyuss Bassist Scott Reeder

We also ran into Scott Reeder from the seminal stoner-rock band Kyuss, who hipped us to his signature bass, his Hovercraft IONOSTROFEAR Fuzz pedal, and the Guy Pratt Signature bass with moveable pickup.

Kauer Guitars and Paul Rhoney

In our 10 Jazzmaster Alternatives article, we had to point out the Kauer offsets. We were happy to see and play some of these beauties. Paul Rhoney shared the booth showing off a few incredible pieces, including a big-bodied semi-hollow that reminded us of Josh Homme’s MotorAve.

One of Two Old Hippies: Tom Bedell

Tom Bedell is excited about his guitars, and you should be too. The eye-catching woodgrains are just the beginning, and Tom was happy to regale us with stories of pulling old-growth trees from riverbeds and educate us on the holy grail of acoustic guitar materials, Brazilian Rosewood. You can feel his passion in each of the instruments, but none more than the parlor model that we fell in love with.

Tonewood Lessons with Tom Bedell of Bedell Guitars

Classic Amps Recreated: Magnatone and Supro

One of the first booths we found was Magnatone amplifiers. Vintage Magnatones from the ‘50s are some of our favorite recording amps, especially the smaller, low-watt offerings.

The new Maggie’s like the Twilighter and Single V nail that block-letter look and seasick, true pitch-shifting vibrato. Compared to the originals, the reissues use improved components with sturdier electronics and cabinet materials. If it’s the only new amp that Neil Young will tour with, you know they're doing something right.

The New Magnatone Amplifiers at NAMM 2015

Last year, another blast-from-the-past brand, Supro, saw a proper reintroduction. The coveted originals are famous for helping Jimmy Page, Link Wray, and many others record tracks tinged with a signature grit and bite that can only be Supro. Reverb functions are one of the notable difference to the three new additions to the now six-amp lineup of US-made products at a solid price point.

Supro Brings New Guitars and Amplifiers to NAMM 2015

We were happy to plug in one of the latest Supro guitars as well—fast necks and great finishes, plus reproduction pickups by Roadhouse Pickups.

EarthQuaker Devices Fuzz Shoot Out

Leave it to our friends at EQD to deliver us three new fuzz pedals to shoot out. The Cloven Hoof is an update to the Hoof fuzz. Where the Cloven Hoof provided classic compressed Muff-style fuzz, the Park Fuzz—designed to recreate the Park amps—scales back that squashy fuzz sound for clearer attack.

Earthquaker Devices Fuzz Pedal Shootout

Our top pick, though, goes to the Fuzz Master General for its uber-compressed octave fuzz that approaches ring mod territory. Each had a distinct voice, proving again that there is no such thing as too many fuzz pedals.

Boutique Effects Run Down: Walrus Audio, Source Audio, and More

We saw a lot of phasers this year, and the new Walrus Audio Vanguard Phaser got us the most excited. We plugged in and combined the asymmetrical wash of two phase patterns with the new Bellwether Analog Delay, resulting in a trip to space heaven. Many thanks to lead circuit-tweaker Colt Westbrook for showing us around and letting us plug in.

Walrus Audio's Luminary, Vanguard and Bellwether

Source Audio is doing big things lately. First, there is a new line of pedals that look and sound great. But the real story is the Neuro Effects Editor which allows you tweak a custom circuit via a USB (i.e. adding a flanger above a delay). Not enough for you? Grab the Source Audio mobile app and connect the headphone jack to the stereo output of any pedal to control the settings on the fly.

Source Audio One Series & Nemesis Delay

Down in Hall E, we saw two new companies we had to showcase. With an arsenal of original Mu-Tron effects (including a rare Bi-Phase!), Mu-FX is reimagining the classic line with the Tru-Tron 3X Envelope Filter, an Octave Divider, and many more on the way. A few stops down we heard some serious mayhem coming from the Dreadbox booth. Oscillating fuzz, circuit-bending destruction, fun filters both in effect pedal and module format, we’re more than excited to hear what comes next from this young company.

Boutique Drums: Q Drum Co. and SJC Drums

Like boutique effects pedals five years ago, the drum community seems to be entering more and more into a golden age of boutique manufacturing. At NAMM two makes in particular caught our eye.

SJC drums have already carved a reputation for unique and progressive construction and style. This year, they showcased a series of old-school kits that highlight natural wood grains and classic shell construction.

While offering its share of traditional wood shells, Q Drums out of LA wowed us with their lineup of new custom drum options.

SJC Custom Drums at NAMM 2015

Their thinking seems to be if metals like copper and steel are good enough for snares, why not expand their use to the rest of the kit. Notably, the metal kits use maple-reinforced hoops to retain the warmth of wood.

Ludwig’s Orange Vistalite

The Ludwig booth may have been the most eye-catching drum display at NAMM, replete with representations of the firm's most iconic sets. There were finely crafted multi-ply wood kits, as well as a center-stage 20+ piece setup that would make Alex Van Halen blush. Most exciting of all was a John Bonham tribute orange acrylic Vistalite kit.

Ludwig Vistalite Explained at NAMM 2015

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