Day 1, Wednesday – “…there’s two L’s in Hell…”
It started like any normal day, not enough sleep and getting up to get the kids off to school… Once they had gone there is that horrible moment when I catch Mrs Wilding’s eye and she looks sad. She doesn’t like me going away - we are one of those weird couples that spend 24/7 together and thrive on it so it’s very hard on her as let’s face it, I’m off to California with my peers and she’s at home - but she accepts that it’s a vital part of the job so she puts a brave face on. Once I’d got my shit together and packed up, I got in the car ready for the drive to Heathrow. Now, the journey up is usually indicative of my week and unfortunately, this year was the drive from hell. It was absolutely pouring down, in the most English way, all the way there. I don’t mind driving in the rain, but when you have visibility of about 50’ and people are going past you at what looks like about 100 and they don’t even have their lights on it’s just plain scary. The English, what are we like?
Arriving at Heathrow I quickly found my travel buddies, Tom Quayle (who was about to have the biggest show of his life due to his Ibanez signature model being officially released), Jay Henson, Jake Willson and David Beebee, and we started settling in for the long journey to LaLaLand. We got on early due to Jake being picked out as needing extra attention by the customs guys (so we blagged on through the line with him) and found our seats. The flight was barely 1/10th full so we spread out and for once, got as comfy as possible. The best thing about the flight is that this is the chance I get to truly catch up with Tom (who everyone who is connected to me on Social Media knows I love like a brother) and as usual he unwittingly gave me about 10 guitar lessons during the flight! Bonus. The conversation with everyone was as random as usual - it went from theology to philosophy, music to movies, life to death and a lot about how our kids are trying to send us to an early grave. The highlight for me was when we were talking about how people misspell, or mispronounce, our names that led to a conversation about what our Darts names would be, Jake “There’s two L’s in Hell” Willson and Tom “Legatenstein” Quayle. Believe me, 9 hours into the flight when half of the group had been drinking somewhat it was much funnier than it sounds written here.
The absolute worst thing about the NAMM journey is US Customs. We’ve usually been up for 24 hours at that point and you are made to feel like a terrorist coming through… So, we puckered up and prepared for the inevitable. For once, we sailed through with barely any waiting and I found myself on the shuttle heading to the Wamplers and NAMM. Arriving at the hotel at around 9pm, I was almost dead on my feet – I got a text from Brian saying he had just left the convention center (he’d had to rewire one of the boards) so I had time to unpack… when I got the message they were back. I walked to their room and Amanda was half passed out already (not a good sign) and the first thing we said to each other was “You look as tired as I feel”. You would have thought that we’d all just hang for a bit and get some sleep, but no, that would be far too logical. I poured myself into bed at 2:25 having drunk a little too much.
Day 2, Thursday – “…my wife really fancies you…”
BOOM, 4 hours sleep. Thanks Jetlag, you are a cruel mistress. I Facetimed my family then staggered down to breakfast. We got to the show and I had a nightmare getting my badge so was about 30 minutes late getting to the booth. I was greeted with the booth being packed and poor Greg facing it on his own… This is the busiest Thursday I can remember at NAMM. It seemed like we were packed ALL day. The first couple of days tend to be all about the meetings and I was lucky that I didn’t miss any (a wise man doesn’t book the early slots). It’s usually the day that we all fly off in order to see industry friends around the immediate area as well and them dropping in to see us – it was a delight to see the likes of Seymour Duncan and Phil X – who I actually got a photo with this time based on the statement “Hey Phil, let’s have a photo together as my wife really fancies you”. Thursday is a bit of a blur to be honest, we had a LOT of people come by and they all loved the new pedals.
After the show we went out to someplace somewhere to eat. I don’t actually remember where. But, I think it was a Pizza. Probably was. We went back to the hotel via Target to get some supplies, accidently bought a ton of beer, and went back with the intention of being in bed by 11 so we would be prepared for the day ahead. Amanda did this… Brian and I on the other hand… 2:05 I went to bed after we talked about the new releases, next releases, our kids, our lives, absolutely everything. And we had the first discussion about my favourite time of the year… April 1st
Day 3, Friday - “…Nah mate, you’re talking bollocks.”
4.5 hours sleep. **sigh**. Up, Facetime, breakfast, show. Got there on time so had a moment to properly catch up with the guys on the booth. It still kinda freaks me out a little to see Groover Jackson and Bruce Egnator just walking around, and then there’s Dave Friedman, and Joe Morgan… most importantly Jerry Best, Steve Elowe, Paul Wilson and Avi Elkiss – the guys who make Wampler work from the manufacturing and distribution perspective, in other words, the guys that do the real hard work! Friday was also insanely busy, even more so than Thursday. It’s great, but it’s a nightmare. However, getting to meet Andy Martin was a highlight, he’s as cool in the flesh as he is on video!
Lord Thomas of the Quayle rocked up to the booth about 11:20, he was due to play on the booth at 12 but he had no patience so instead of 30 minutes everyone got almost an hour of unadulterated Quayle. That was the strangest part of the trip for me, it was the first time we got a little PA on the booth so Tom could use backing tracks… When I met TQ at Heathrow airport for my first NAMM in 2012 (effectively my first NAMM buddy) I instantly liked him and what a journey it’s been since then. We are now what you might call family friends, we talk regularly about the real world, he’s been a musical mentor to me… we did the Dual Fusion in 2013, I’ve seen him progress into this world class virtuoso and I don’t mind admitting that I got a fraction emotional when he was surrounded by a large group of people just marvelling at what he does best. Improvising. Yep, this was mainly improvised.
Yep, I know it’s portrait instead of landscape but this was for FB – people tend to hold their phones upright ;)
After the show (which included me sliding down the railings outside that Amanda assured me looked cool, but the massive bruise I’ve been left with meant it was anything but) we went out to meet up with some of the members of our Facebook Tone Group which was just ace. We all sat around drinking beer and eating food, just hanging out – for us this is what it is all about. The people, we do this as we are all the same, just people looking for great tone, so to directly connect with the people we help along the way is incredible. I ate too much, drank a little and just had the best time. Thank you guys for coming out, it was awesome. So… back to the hotel for an early night. As usual Amanda went to bed and Brian and I went to the firepit by the pool for a quick drink… we were joined this evening by a few other residents, one who quickly and with the deduction skills of Sherlock Holmes realised I was “European, probably British” and basically took over the conversation for an hour. The conversation actually started with him telling me that Princess Diana was murdered by MI5, to which I replied “Nah mate, you’re talking bollocks” and the conversation went on from there. He was mainly interested in talking about politics… which considering we appeared to be polar opposites on that subject it went quite well, he was much more drunk than I was so I’m not ashamed to admit I kinda walked him around in circles for a bit and then forced him to contradict himself repeatedly without him realizing it. I was actually being my online internet troll persona in real life! And no, he’s never been to a shithole country before... Once he had left the inevitable happened… we went to bed around 2:30 after Brian fell asleep mid conversation after a few beers were drunk!
Day 4, Saturday – “…two middle-aged guys loaded with camera equipment trying their hardest to get into a high school dance…”
The mad day. I arrived really early so actually got to try the new pedals properly. Although I was slightly hungover, I really enjoyed the day as so many people came by just to chat and hangout. We had Andy Wood on Synergy, another performance from Tom and it was all just incredible. I just don’t know where the day went. So many people! I had a load of meetings with dealers, saw some incredible playing and hung with friends – in particular PapaGates himself, Brian Haner, who is one of my favourite NAMM buddies and one of the few people who can talk as much rubbish as I can with the sole intent of saying everything and nothing at the same time... Perfect.
As the show was ending and it quietened down, I ran over to see the “competition” and had a great play through a load of Keeley pedals (Super Phat Mod is HUUUGE), hung and chatted with Robert, sat on Stefan Fast, trolled Josh Scott, checked out Chase Bliss and popped up to see CatalinBread which was kinda weird. It felt empty, obvious since Nic’s death it’s not the same as he would always be there, but no Howard… Scott… I dunno what’s happening, but I didn’t hang around long enough to properly find out. I just couldn’t.
After the show we popped into Downtown Disney to see our friend’s band play, and Brian and I trundled off to the annual pedal builders party… Rather stupidly we didn’t check the address and rocked up to the place it’s always held. We were denied entry by a well-dressed woman stating it was a private party. We told her we had been invited… when she dropped the bombshell that this was a high school dance did we realise how bad it looked… I mean, two middle aged guys loaded with camera equipment trying their hardest to get into a high school dance… we made our excuses and left VERY quickly. Once we arrived at the correct location it was wonderful, this is the only time we all get together so the conversations are tremendous. I shared a lot of abuse with Stefan Fast, trolled the crap out of Josh, laughed with Robert and shot some video with Andy Martin. We had a very interesting conversation outside that concerned how one of us had been totally disrespected by a heavyweight of the regular effects industry. I won’t go into details, but there is a video up, and it’s been heavily edited. Us ‘boutique’ guys kinda stick together and there are a lot of us now that have lost a lot of respect for that one guy. I’ll leave you to work out how that was! The venue was open to the public and there was Karaoke happening as well – a lovely lady called Bunny who must have been about 60 sang some incredible older lounge Jazz stuff in a really low register so everyone who sang after her was just treated to a load of drunken pedal builders chanting “BUNNY! BUNNY! BUNNY!” over and over. I honestly have no idea who started that **ahem**.
We got back, intended to go to bed early… beers, firepit, 2:10….
Day 5, Sunday “…Where’s Heidi?”
Got up super early as it’s the day I go home and I’m always really excited. The booth is always quieter on a Sunday so we all did loads of playing and everyone just floats around to see everyone else. April 1 was discussed a lot, hugs were had, goodbyes were said and at 5pm I walked outside, got smashed in the face by the heat and jumped on the shuttle to the airport. I arrived at the airport before TQ did, and he woke me up when he arrived (I know, how classy am I – I was snoozing as I was sat forward in my seat) and as with the rest of the journey, we just flew through customs and made our way to the plane via the Sushi bar. A couple of years ago we were served by a hilarious woman called Heidi and we wanted to be entertained by her again, but our calls of “Where’s Heidi” were greeted with “She got fired because she… well… kinda…” and we stopped him there, we didn’t want to taint her memory!
The plane was half empty again so we spread out and slept for 6 glorious hours. Once again, Passport control was easy and before I knew it I was doing 100 miles an hour past Stonehenge, home and into the arms of my family and one stupidly excited dog.
NAMM is great, but it’s bloody hard work and extremely tiring. It’s the only time I get to spend one on one time with Brian and we make more plans in those 5 days than we do in the next 360. I see the most inspiring players and come back a better player. Unfortunately for me and my family I was completely dehydrated when I got back and the next 2 days were a complete write off. I blame Brian. It’s always his fault.
Winter NAMM is right around the corner, and with the weeks leading up to it come the crazy of preparations to setup the booth, layout the board and get any marketing materials (shirts, stickers, etc) together. One of the biggest things that NAMM is known for is the plethora of new gear that is showcased by most every company. Some designs are reworkings and updated versions of existing products, brand new designs, or something completely out of the ordinary designed to make a huge impact on the patrons and tone chasers who keep up with NAMM news down to the wire.
Herein lies the issue with presenting at NAMM: what’s the best practice in regard to showcasing new products? In years past our brand-new pedals were given first looks on our social media platforms, either from visitors to the booth snapping a photo, us uploading a sneak peak, or your favorite YouTube or gear channel doing a quick video where someone showcases what we’ve got new. This year is a bit different for us though, because our ideals have shifted a bit with what we’re aiming for. NAMM is a stellar event, but it’s also a tidal wave of new information that overtakes all gear outlets for the days leading up to it, during it, and for weeks to come after it. We’ve got several new designs that we’re extremely proud to have ready, but the question comes in as to whether they’ll get lost in the shuffle of new stuff? Each product Brian and our team has worked on has many hours invested, tone-wise along with aesthetics, marketing plans, and the usual release details that often go unnoticed by most people when we release something new. Are we doing a disservice to ourselves showing our whole hand starting out?
So, our question comes down to this: Despite the designs being done for upwards of 5 new pedals, what do we show at NAMM? Do you go full-blast and hit everyone with all of the information at once, or take a select few and really hammer them home before introducing more? We’ve seen some companies showcasing their NAMM releases already, with the same idea applying of getting ahead of that tidal wave of information and making sure their product is visible and not lost in the mix. We follow a fairly punctual release schedule, so if a design isn’t mentioned at NAMM then it’s a pretty sure bet it will be following suit in a timely manner. This gives us time to prepare, get demos together and the pedals ready to ship to dealers without the tease…or is teasing part of the fun of it?
What do you think? Would you rather know in advance what’s coming up to prepare your wallet and board, or is it like knowing what you’re getting for Christmas, where the magic of the surprise isn’t there? In the end we want happy customers, so we’re curious to know what you personally think and would like to see?
It's Wednesday afternoon and I'm just about back in the land of living after getting back from NAMM on Monday. It's a killer trip, both in the new cool way of saying it (please infer from 1990 onwards) and in the old, I'm knackered. Totally. 12,000 miles in 6 days, 3 18 hours days, lots of beers drank, hand shaken, too many notes played, too many burgers eaten and most importantly, too many hugs that will probably end up with me getting NAMMthrax (despite us having branded hand sanitiser on the booth).
I left home at 10am on Wednesday, only had to return twice to pick up stuff I'd forgotten and had a glorious drive through England to Heathrow airport. Cold, clear and crisp meant I had stunning views of this fine country all the way. No matter how many times I see it, Stonehenge is not to be taken lightly. As usual I met up with the legend that is Tom Quayle at the airport, this time he was flying with his Guitar Hour colleagues Dan Smith, Dave Brons and David Beebee. Travelling with us this year was Ibanez and Laney demo legend Lee Wrathe. Many laughs were had. Unusually I'd not seen Tom since last NAMM so we had a lot to catch up on, especially as in August him and Cheryl had a baby girl, Inara, and I had a lot of photos to get through :)
You know that the show is going to be a good one when you rock up to the hotel, dump your stuff and find your boss in the restaurant opposite the hotel already several pints deep into tomorrow's hangover. I had some catching up to do... As usual, we had to set the scene for the rest of the trip. So that means Brian's atrocious English accent had to be deployed and my feeble attempt at redneckery was dusted down. They are both so bad and so relentless it was no surprise that Amanda beats a hasty retreat every time we get going.
After 24 hours awake obviously my body would only give me 4 hours sleep so I stumbled into the show early and was delighted with the booth set up. Not only are we now fully esconsed into the larger booth area of Boutique Amps Distribution (no, they haven't bought us) but we are right in the middle of the golden area. Surrounded by Marshall, Martin, Seymour Duncan, Friedman and other stellar brands, it feels like we've really progressed in the last few years.
Taking control of playing duties this year was the wonderful Greg Marra, a lovely guy from the East Coast who is living the dream on the West Coast - endorsed by Ibanez and Fishman - a great player and an even better person. A true asset for us to have on the booth. With only Greg on playing and Brian, Amanda and yours truly working the booth it was bound to be a busy time, and it was.
This was the first time I'd been able to properly review and see the pedals after the rebrand last year and I must say, I am delighted with how everything came out. A lot of time and money was invested into manufacturing this year and to see the consistency and quality at this level was amazing, it's really obvious that we are stepping up and up each year. Kind of feels like we are entering the big league! Every morning I tried to be in early so I could properly play test each of the pedals through the amp as with the rebrand came a new manufacturing situation, so for my own peace of mind I had to make sure they were as I thought they were going to be. You all already know that they are, but I just had to be sure. I know, tough job isn't it, having to play all of those.
The Bravado was the star of the show for me. People were amazed at what we were throwing through it and it not cracking under the strain, in fact, most of the time the amps controls were set to high noon and it just sounded amazing with every pedal, no matter what level of gain or how they were all stupidly stacked, it just sounded incredible - it truly is the perfect pedal platform. I think it made a lot of fans over the weekend! I do hope you get to try one in store soon, I promise you, you will not be disappointed.
The best part of the show for me is the people - the people are hilarious. There are some classic LA types who look like they still haven't quite got round to celebrating the New Year of 1985 yet and are still loving 1984, people who don't have mirrors in their hourse, people outside who want to save my soul, people who want to talk to you for hours on end about input impedance, people who just want to hang and have their photo taken and people who just love great tone. The best bit though, it does have to be said, is that I have NAMM buddies who I only see once a year, from Frank Falbo to Robert Keeley. From Brian Haner to Seymour Duncan the list of people is so long I won't list it here, but safe to say I am proud to know each and every one of those lovely people and call them friends.
In case you are wondering about the title of this blog, only when you've been in a big room with 9000 booths and literally thousands and thousands of people walking around, nose in the NAMM app, looking for which celebrity they can get their picture taken with next it's like a massive game of Pokemon GO - I only wanted to destroy about 10 people and their phones when they kept walking into me.
Enduring memories about NAMM, listening to Andy Wood almost nailing "Pick It Apart" by Brent Mason at 10am from a standing start (impossible to play almost when you are fully warm), trolling Josh Scott when ever I saw him and Tom Quayle breaking his elbow in the terrible terrible weather. One to remember, that's for sure.