NAMM 2014: Armchair Blog Day 2 - Dripping with Keytar

Scott McGrath returns with a few picks from Day 2   25-Jan-14

NAMM 2014: Armchair Blog Day 2 - Dripping with Keytar

Day 1 was a wash of products, and we started our quest to find trends in the mix. But the trend that seems most unexpected would have to be the return, in force, of the Keytar.

Alesis showed one, Korg showed one. If we leave NAMM dubbing 2014 "the year of the Keytar" the music industry may truly be in decline. (And I hope I don't get too badly burned by the flames of Keytar-toting hipsters...)

For today, let's just focus on a smaller selection of very interesting products and demos:

1. Dunlop Echoplex Preamp-in-a-pedal

Dunlop decided to model just the preamp section of an Echoplex in a pedal – no echo, just the plex this time--just that special color of the preamp section of the pedal that warms up the tone quite a bit but with a sound that has an appealing personality. Also featured, a new "mini" Uni-Vibe and several other pedals.


2. Keith McMillen Strong Arm Guitar Sustainer

I'm a fan of geeky polyphonic sustain and have a Fernandes guitar with a Sustainer that provides a ridiculous amount of fun for squeaking out, say, a pale imitation of Steve Hackett leads.  The sustainer gives you a sort of 6-string Ebow effect...and then typically throws in some harmonic content and feedback to keep it fun.

This new Keith McMillen kit is a strange but sexy beast. It essentially replaces bridge saddles on a Telecaster or Strat with a piezo-pickup equipped, magnetic sustain-circuited unit, with electronics mounted in the body of the guitar. I say strange because it does require some substantial modification – the saddles, the wiring in the guitar, and a replacement dual purpose knob that seems to replace the tone knob on the sample Tele.

What could be good, though, is that it's got a motion sensor that controls performance behavior.  It also adds a USB port to the guitar output that can connect to an editor that allows you to customize the sustain behavior in some interesting ways.  The exact sound of it is not totally clear from the video, if you've got a Tele or Strat that you're willing to sacrifice to it, it might be worth a visit to the altar. It is not a non-invasive procedure for sure though..

Support for other bridge systems is due later in the year, and this does appear to be close to a prototype – but with a Q2 projected delivery date.


3. The Moog Theremini. Not a guitar, but this is one of the coolest items at NAMM this year..

I used to have a theremin, and I love that sound, genuine analog Theremin, arguably the first synthesizer ever designed. But I gave up in despair because it was brutally difficult to play. Moog apparently hears this complaint a lot.

The Theremini innovates on the standard Theremin with configurable pitch correction, a built in tuner that will show you the pitches in real time, and a compact speaker. It's got a mini-USB jack and pitch CV output. This is the next generation of the first generation of synthesizers.

Verdict: Objections Overruled. I want one.


4. SonicState has had a long look at the apparently controversial Line 6 AMPLIFi...but we haven't seen the video yet. Somehow I just know, though, that this will be among the most seen of must-see coverage, so stay tuned. This product could be brilliant or might just be a murky mix of ideas – it generated a long discussion among the guitar players at the watercooler at work today, with some very strong opinions.  Some had a very open mind, others wondered if "it even IS an amp." One player argued it was a sign of decadence. Me, I'd just like to hear it.


5. Rich and Rob got to hear a lot of the 65Amps Whiskey during the demo, but also walked in on a trial where Earl Slick was kicking it around with a Les Paul.  This amp sounds good.


Bonus Item: If I were a keyboard player (and relax folks, I am fully aware that I am not), I would have to have a Prophet 12, now available in a desktop interface. Even just a few sounds from this make my brain hurt.


Bonus 2: I can never tell if unique keyboard variants are worth the effort but the Roli Seaboard controller, described in the video as a "fretless keyboard," seems like it would offer a great player amazing options, and a poor player the ability to play nearly every note out of tune.


Bonus 3: Sometimes the armchair seems to push away from the guitars themselves. There are so many guitars  of course, but let's face it, if you can't touch the guitar, it really just feels like a list of features.

Still, the Fender Custom Shop is rolling out a very limited Nile Rodgers Hitmaker Stratocaster, reliced but respectful of Niles' definitive command of the Strat.

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