Thanks to all of Epiphone’s worldwide dealers, friends, fans, and musical family for attending our 2019 Summer NAMM show in Epi’s hometown of Nashville. The Epiphone & Gibson Brands showroom was the largest and best attended “booth” among a galaxy of pro audio, instrument, and technical merchants from around the world who brought their wares to Music City USA hoping to connect with new fans, old colleagues, competitors, and artists.
For those of us in the instrument business, a trip to planet NAMM is as close as most mortals will ever come to landing on the moon. Held in its customary spot in Nashville's downtown convention center, NAMM imposes maximum distraction, sensory overload, and atmospheric deprivation on all who enter. Once on the NAMM floor, all thoughts of the outside world fade away and the blue planet is but a mere memory.
Inside the cavernous space, everyone struggles equally to find gravity among craters and mountains of blinking lights, keyboards, drums, effects pedals, and blaring amps. Executives and studio studs who are used to commanding fear and respect are once again sized-down to average Joe's and are likely to be found in the back of a minnow-like flash crowd of muscle flexers and easy chair rockers armed with burlap bags stuffed with free stuff, all straining for a glimpse of a "Freebird" phenom set loose from their bedroom and put on display by a credit-maxed small guitar maker. This is, after all, a business. The buyer is always right and does not have to be in tune.
But NAMM is also about the new player who is ready to transition from amateur to professional and for that alone, NAMM is worth the trip. It was fantastic to see scores of young teens rocking out on metal, country, rock, pop, fusion, and jazz without regard to fashion, fame, or freebies. Older attendees might dream of owning the stunning new 60th anniversary Gibson Custom Shop Les Paul or a Peter Frampton "1964" Texan
, but the next generation is just ready to plug in and be heard.
Outside the convention center, the rest of the country enjoyed the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing. Inside the NAMM bubble, attendees endured a modern version of atmospheric disruption and cognitive horror that made the Hedge Maze in The Shining
seem like a Level 1 Pac Man challenge.
Maintaining focus at NAMM demands an iron will if you wish to reach your desired location without being diverted by pre-teen shredders, carnival barkers hawking fine wood guitar cabinets, a rainbow of ukuleles framed by young ladies in grass skirts, endless booths of look-alike "Pauls" and "Vs", and dealers from Japan, Germany, Canada, South America, and England dressed in rock and roll black who vie for your attention with bowls of chocolate, stickers, branded bottle openers, water bottles, finger exercisers, and more magazines. To ease atmospheric transition, the convention center stationed giant punch bowels of ear plugs at each entrance and woe to those who rode out the weekend without them. Each entrance was guarded by two serious badge spotters armed with bar code readers. No undocumented rockers were permitted.
The parameter of the NAMM floor was occupied by the smallest, least expensive booths manned with mom & pop inventors--the Les Pauls of tomorrow--who offered homemade straps, violin bridge pickups, hand wired amps, smoke machines, exotic capos, and the latest in foam and bubble packing. Merchants ranging in age from 25-75 hawked updated versions of equipment from another age such as ribbon and tube microphones, recording equipment inspired by legendary bands and studios, magnetic recording tape and cassettes, and analog recording consoles.
The true heroes of the music business have always been inventors like Ned Steinberger, Les Paul, Epi Stathopoulo, and Orville Gibson who mixed Rube Goldberg ingenuity and Willy Loman compassion to convince musicians that they need not fear the future. Their vision of tomorrow was always at odds with an industry that tends to look backward for fear of losing old customers.
In that regard, the NAMM of 2019 was not disimilar to the 1939 NAMM conference when Epi Stathopoulo shocked his button-down colleagues with a line of electric guitars and amplifiers. Today, the past and future appear to still be locked in a a never-ending battle to-the-draw much like Star Trek's
characters Bele and Lokai. Perhaps the instrument industry thrives on the stalemate. This year, the Summer NAMM conference had one foot in the analog era and another in the digital world. Both sides arrived in Nashville hopeful and ready to do whatever it took to win. But by Saturday afternoon, nearly all but the most Red Bull-fortified veterans (hello Dr. Epiphone!) had faded to a pixelated shadow of who they were when they arrived in Music City.
By far, the Gibson and Epiphone area drew the most attendees throughout the weekend providing a oasis of light, color, and sound (plus a cushy black carpet). Attendees and fans gathered like lightning bugs to Gibson's modern yet casual space filled with Les Pauls, Flying Vs, 335s, SGs, Explorers, and acoustic instruments of every size and shape. Thanks to the focused sound system, attendees could almost find moments of peace watching luthiers apply their trade on makeshift factory benches scattered throughout the floor space; polishing, dressing frets, binding, and soldering pickups. Toward the back of Gibson's area, a small stage was set up featuring a non-stop array of singers and pickers.
GRAMMY winners and longtime Epi fans Diamante Eléctrico performed on the Gibson stage and once again showed why they are one of the great rock and roll bands of our day. The annual Epiphone party featured our own Emily Wolfe on her trademark Sheraton II
, Nick Colionne on an ES-175 premium
, Cody Parks and the Dirty South, Matt Marshak on the Masterbilt Century Olympic
, and an acoustic set by Lizzy LeBleu
that inspired the eager but otherwise worn out audience of NAMM attendees and dealers to wake up and take notice.
Though the latest Epiphone offerings like the George Thorogood “White Fang” ES-125TDC Outfit
, Lzzy Hale Explorer Outfit
, Dave Rude Flying V Outfit
, and Jared James Nichols "Old Glory" Les Paul Custom
drew large crowds, new instruments from Kramer
also attracted a new generation of players eager to make their mark.
“This was an incredible experience for me,” said Emily Wolfe after a blistering set at the Epiphone NAMM Party which concluded with a roaring version of the Van Halen classic Hot for Teacher.
“Epiphone has been so good to me. The people, the other artists here. It really feels like I'm part of family...a rockin' family!”
Look for more photo and video updates on Epiphone’s Instagram
and Facebook page
s throughout the week. And be sure to catch our interviews with Dave Rude
, Lzzy Hale
, Diamante Eléctrico
, and Emily
as well as a rare guitar demonstration by George Thorogood
and rising star Jared James Nichols
. We’re already looking forward to Winter NAMM 2020 in Anaheim. In the meantime, stay tuned to Epiphone, Kramer
, and Steinberger websites
for sneak peaks and other news soon.