Best of NAMM 2019: Highlights, Trends, and Releases You Should Know

Another NAMM show come and gone and another cavalcade of new releases to parse and consider in the neverending saga of tone that we all love so much. If you've been following Reverb on social media or checking back on our main NAMM news page, you already know that this year saw no shortage of new releases across all music gear categories. To help break through new noise, today we're offering a roundup of some of the key highlights and trends on display this year.

Fender Offers Something for Everyone

Positioned on the top floor of the Anaheim Convention Center, the Fender room at this year's NAMM may have been the biggest statement of the convention. Each corner of their booth offered something different, reflecting a company that increasingly knows how to speak to their diverse user base.

It all kicked off early this week with the unveiling of the Acoustasonic Telecaster, a new type of acoustic-electric hybrid which has piqued consumer interest to say the very least. Check out our video for a sense of what that's all about.

But for those Fender fans who aren't interested in this sort of forward-thinking guitar tech, Fender still had plenty on tap to quench the thirst of the collective electric masses. The Jimmy Page signatures are sure to appeal to the older guard classic rockers, while the more budget-minded Alternate Reality series gives something new to the indie-leaning noisemakers, with the new Tenor Tele, Electric XII 12-string model, and other quirky goodies.

A 10-part song using the acoustic and electric tones of the Fender Acoustasonic Tele

The Rarities collection includes a smattering of lesser-seen tonewoods and hardware, and that's to say nothing of the always jaw-widening gallery of one-of-a-kind Custom Shop artworks that ring the outer layer of the Fender room.

Fender also gave us new amps, basses, and pedals, all of which contribute to the perception that they are listening to their customers and doing a fine job of developing new models to satisfy the demands of the many players who consider Fender to be their home base for all things guitar.

The Year of "Step-Up" Synths

At this year's NAMM show there were demonstrably fewer boutique Eurorack and other modular synth makers showing off modules. But that certainly doesn't mean there weren't plenty of new synths to plug into and space out with for a bit in that most California state of mind.

The theme this year is what you might call "step-up" synthesizers. The past few years have given us a range of excellent entry-level synthesizers (think Volcas) that have given a growing legion of musicians a starting point in the world of synthesis and electronic sound design. Some of the big releases this year seek to offer that same group of players a next step in their sonic journeys.

Most directly, the Minilogue XD from Korg is quite literally a more feature-rich version of the most popular entry-level analog synth on the market, the original Minilogue from 2016. You can read a bit more about the new feature set of the XD here, but as someone who owns an original Minilogue and had the chance to sample the XD, it's clearly a more compelling and engrossing instrument than the earlier model. It'll be interesting to see if prices on used V1 Minilogues start to plummet as people start to list them on Reverb when upgrading to the more extensive version.

Korg also released the Volca Modular which, while still part of the extremely accessible Volca line, certainly represents a more sophisticated interface and workflow than something like the Volca Beats. Similarly, Arturia's MicroFreak has packed a number of rarely seen synth features and formats into a noticeably affordable format, providing yet another pathway for burgeoning synthists looking to break out of the classic subtractive paradigm.

Though not a synth per se, and clearly positioned as an entry-level unit, the Elektron Model:Samples also launched this week, giving aspirining beat crafters intrigued by the vaunted workflow of the Elektron line a new way to get in on their idiosyncratic grooveboxes.

The Year of the Synth Pedal

At every NAMM show, the sheer volume of mind-blowing pedals on display is enough to overwhelm even the most ambitious of shoegazer, and this year was no exception. If there was one trend to spot within the mountain of new pedals, it would be a fresh wave of synth pedals. This broadly defined category can mean a lot of things, but generally refers to a pedal that brings synth textures and sound generation to a guitar through internal oscillators and filters or other emulative means.

Keeley Electronics Eccos, DDR Drive/Delay/Reverb, Fuzz Bender & Synth-1 at NAMM 2019

Leading the charge was the wild Resotron, a filter that's designed to capture the sounds of a vintage synth filter section by means of a SSM2040 chip. And Source Audio's new Spectrum Intelligent Filter similarly promises synth-like textures for guitar and bass. According to the firm, this is the first in a series of synth-like pedals coming out soon.

Electro-Harmonix also released two new synth-emulator pedals—the Mono Synth and Bass Mono Synth—which, like their popular 9 series, can generate a slew of different synth sound modes which some nifty preset options onboard. You can hear EHX's new pedals in action here.

And while not exactly synth pedals, the newly released Wampler Terraform and Spaceman Mission Control Expressive Audio System also get into synth-adjacent sounds with deeper layers of modulation and out-there sound generation potential.

Pedal People Are Excited About: MXR Dookie Drive

For all the heady sounds and engineering innovation typified by the synth pedals mentioned above, at the end of the day, it's an artifact of a platinum-selling punk record that seems to have generated the most buzz of all this week's pedal announcements. As teased by Billie Joe Armstrong late last week, MXR is set to launch a new pedal specifically designed to capture the sound of Green Day's breakthrough 1994 record, Dookie. While certainly not the most ground-breaking effect at the show, it is, based on the comments and view counts on our blog and YouTube channel, one of the pedals that many people are talking about most.

Of course, there were plenty of other attention-grabbing pedals on the floor, so we had Andy Martin share seven of his favorites in this video.

Andy Martin's Top 7 Pedals from NAMM 2019

Native Instruments New Interfaces

Every NAMM show seems to bring a new entry-level home recording interface or two to the market, and this year was no exception. While the general hardware feature set of Native Instrument's new interfaces aren't particularly game changing, what does make these boxes standout is the collection of NI software, Ableton Live 10 Lite, and two months of free access to sample libraries that comes bundled with the purchase of either interface.

Native Instrument's software suites, like their industry-leading Komplete, is the sort of digital product that claims users for life. By offering these affordable interfaces as an entry into this realm, the company is giving novice recordists access to a powerful set of tools while breeding a new generations of Native Instruments adherents.

Vintage-Style Shells Are Alive and Well in Drum Land

This year, the Ludwig booth may have garnered the most attention of anything in the drum section of the NAMM floor. In celebration of the brand's 110th anniversary, the historic drum maker is releasing a murderer's row of classic-vibed sets and snares. You can see the full Ludwig lineup with our video tour of their booth, which includes a particularly fine-looking Van Buren Series Legacy Mahogany kit and oyster-finished Jazz Fest snares that would fit in with any of Ringo's kits.

Gretsch Drums also put forth some delightful new kits, including new entries in the popular Catalina series and a vintage-tinged Brooklyn Micro Kit. Read more about Gretsch's drum releases here.

Ludwig Legacy Mahogany Kits, 110th Anniversary Snares, & Neusonic Kits at NAMM 2019

Integrated Guitar Recording Solutions

At this year's NAMM show, at least two different companies put forth all-in-one guitar recording solutions that combine contemporary amp modeling and processing with onboard I/O. The Audient Sono is a collaboration with modeling experts Two Notes that essentially adds amp and effect modeling to an Audient-made recording interface for a single box to achieve all your guitar recording needs. The IK Multimedia Axe I/O similarly takes a guitar-primed audio interface and packs it full of tone-shaping options built on IK's history of guitar tone emulation. You can read more about its many features here.

Marshall Follows Path To Smaller Amps with Studio Series

On forums and YouTube comment threads, you can already see Marshall fans applauding the brand's launch of the new Studio series. This line takes the classic circuits of the JCM 800 and '59 Super Lead Plexi and offers them in a small, lower-wattage format, along with very sleek looking vertical cabinets. Each of the two new models—the Studio Class SC20 and Studio Vintage SV20—are available as a combo or as heads with dedicated speaker cabinets available as well. Built in the UK, they're sure to be a great pathway for a guitarist seeking that beloved Marshall tone without the headache of a 100-watt stack.

In this, Marshall is answering the demands of modern guitarists who, in the age of small clubs and reliable PA reinforcement, decreasingly require the amp power needed back in the '70s. Blackstar for their part also came through with some small-format tube tone machines in the form of their new HT series, which includes three models based around three different tube complements, at 1, 5, or 20 watts.

More Short Scale Basses

Those who follow the bass market already know that the past few years have seen a widening embrace of short scale basses in all their many shapes and flavors. Prices on vintage Fender Musicmasters and Mustangs have been creeping up, and more and more companies are starting to put out new models.

At this year's NAMM show, Ernie Ball Music Man displayed a short scale version of their classic Stingray model for the first time. Gibson was showing off a quirky short-scale early EB-0 Style bass with a Thunderbird pickup, Reverend came through with new finishes on the Mike Watt signature Wattplower, and Ibanez offered a new vibrant "medium scale" the medium-scale "Mezzo" SR bass called the SRMD200. There were also plenty of more boutique short scales on the floor from the likes of Serek Basses and others.

Ernie Ball Music Man StingRay Short Scale

Most Intriguing Contraptions: Panoptigon, Gamechanger Motor Piano, and Lâg/HyVibe Smart Acoustic

Admittedly, most of the brand and products mentioned above represent relatively mainstream currents within the gear industry. Simply put, there is just so much going on at the convention that sadly, some of the smaller booths and firms don't always stand out in the crowd no matter how innovative their designs and gear. With that in mind, in closing, I'd like to highlight three exceptionally cool bits of tech I saw while roaming the floor.

First, the Panoptigon. It's a new playback, synth-like device built by Robert Becker at Quilter Labs. This machine is a modern, robust spin on the legacy of the cult-favorite Optigon, an old-school keyboard that relied on optical discs to create it sounds. The Panoptigon can play the old Opitgon discs, second-generation Orchestron discs, along with new ones the company is developing, all with a bevy of more sophisticated controls and features. It is an extremely niche product and clearly a profound labor of love by its designers, and more importantly, it sounds amazing.

Second, Gamechanger Audio of Riga, Latvia—who have previously given us the wildly innovative Plasma Distortion and Plus Sustain Pedal—were sitting in their booth all week finishing a prototype of something called the Motor Piano. This seemingly singular keyboard instrument essentially functions by taking a mechanical, motorized sound generator, like an old Hammond Organ, and augmenting it with a classic subtractive architecture. It's a wild thing and we hope to have more details and sounds from this beast from the East soon.

Lastly, the Lâg/HyVibe Smart Guitar brings effects to an acoustic guitar by turning its soundboard into a speaker. Phasing, drive, looping, and more are available, emanating from the wood of the guitar itself as you play, with no actual speaker or outside amplification necessary. You can also connect to the soundboard wirelessly through Bluetooth to play songs or backing tracks through the guitar. Check out our video to see it in action.

Lâg/HyVibe Smart Guitar

For more of our coverage of product releases and news out of NAMM 2019, see our NAMM news homepage here.

See more New Products and Highlights from Winter NAMM 2019
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