Tony Lee (pictured above with Justin Sims), Owner and Drum Instructor at Freeway Music Downtown, joined us for Winter NAMM 2018 and shared his thoughts with us as both a NAMM first timer and drum aficionado.
“NAMM” is short for National Association of Music Merchants, but I thought it would be a fun exercise to describe my experience there with alternative words for the acronym sprinkled throughout. Enjoy.
Negative App Mention Moment
To say the NAMM show is an incredibly well-attended event is an epic understatement, because the amount of people converging on the Anaheim Convention Center is mind boggling. Not only are there the attendees, which include exhibitors, buyers, guests of exhibitors and buyers, and the general public; but also, there is the army of support staff. It is truly the most impressive example of organization on a grand scale that I have ever witnessed. The official NAMM app…well, let’s just say that it needs a little work. Though it has a few bugs, I feel sure they will get it addressed, and it’s, at least, a very useful curation of info.
Anyway, as a Neophyte Ambling and Meandering Meticulously through its well-appointed layout, I was like the proverbial kid in a candy store. I took two approaches to discovering “my NAMM.”
1) I plotted out specific booths that I wanted to check out based on my interests.
2) I put my iPhone in my pocket and just wandered, getting into an organic “NAMM flow.”
I enjoyed the latter method more. It allowed me to experience the overall vibe much more easily and put into perspective the dynamic occurring between all the booths, the people occupying them, and the synergy of NAMM (NAMM-ergy).
It’s a NAMM thing to describe as many facets of the event by incorporating its one-syllable acronym into the description, NAMM-ese, if you will.
While I was Naturally Agape at the Mammoth Magnificence of NAMM, I managed to utilize the app to create a list of booths to visit in “My Show Planner.” My list included mostly percussion vendors, because I am a drummer. First up was the Zildjian booth. Their cymbals and recent acquisition of Vic Firth meant that I could get a lot of perusing done at one booth. Well, the new K Sweet collection took up more time than I had plotted in My Show Planner! The sounds coming out of these cymbals were incredibly versatile. Personally, I have two cymbal groupings for my gigs: rock and jazz. “Rock” means that I will be testing the upper limits of volume and energy. “Jazz” means that I will be testing the lower limits of volume and expression. The gigs can overlap somewhat, but I definitely don’t want to play “expressively’ on my rock setup and I would never want to push my more sophisticated plates into those upper limits of volume. Well, these K Sweet cymbals were easy to imagine being able to handle all of the above!
Relatively/strategically adjacent to the Zildjian booth, Sabian built a wall of cymbals to landmark their territory. Their FRX line of cymbals, with their unlathed bells and concentric circles of holes spreading from the bell outwards, give the impression that Sabian took their Quiet Tone low volume concept and applied it to actual cymbals, but no…they’re more than that. What’s missing, besides tiny circles of cymbal alloy, are the frequencies that cause so much strife in live and recording situations. Plexiglass shields were created BECAUSE of these frequencies. Well, these cymbals address the unfortunate temple-piercing range with ease. No more headaches for everyone in earshot and no more transparent cages of Lucite needed!
Besides Navigating Amid Metallurgical Manufacturers, I was excited about visiting a couple of accessories vendors. Tackle Instrument Supply Company offers canvas and leather accessories for drummers. Their stick and cymbal bags are classic and modern simultaneously. They are high quality, simple designs that stand out among similar products from other companies. I especially appreciated the buckles and chunky YKK zippers. Sharing a booth with Tackle was Low Boy Custom Beaters, a company that specializes in custom bass drum beaters. These products are eye-catching and high quality! They offer a wide variety of options, but all are crafted from maple and have a rounded cone shape. You can choose between three materials for the striking side of the beater: felt, leather, or wood. What a great touch to complete a drum set! It’s in the details, folks.
So, after realizing what a difference New Accessories Might Make to my drumming life (yours too), I was even more excited to stop by the Snareweight booth. There, I met Mat, the guy responsible for inventing and developing this amazing snare dampening system, and Ruben, Mat’s NAMM-sistant (helping Mat while on leave from Tesla…no lie). The product is simple, eye-catching, and high quality. The original version is a two-piece, solid brass device that attaches to the drum rim magnetically. The combination of its actual weight (3/4 lb.) and the detachable leather inserts creates a variety of dampening options. In addition to this nifty invention, Mat has created a leaner version that clips onto the rim and comes with either leather or mylar inserts. Not only are there multiple combinations of materials, but also each version can be customized; thanks to strategically placed rivets, you can magnetically “fold” the leather version and the mylar version can be cut to suit your needs. Simply brilliant design and execution! I was lucky enough to leave with a customized M1 Snareweight (Thanks, Mat!) and I can’t wait to use it on my Rocket Boom snare drum at my next gig.
Once I checked off my predetermined list, I decided to let go and let NAMM. I wandered through the areas without a destination and it was awesome! I stopped to check out products that caught my eye and/or my ear. My first carefree discovery was a product called “Stick Pro.” I talked with Don, its inventor, briefly about the advantages of this simple device you slide on the sticks and place your index finger through. The “constraint” they provide is not only an advantage, physics-wise, but also a great “grip orthotic.” So, I bought a pair and have been using them with much success with my students!
There are plenty of drums on display, of course, but two companies caught my eye. Black Swamp Percussion and Doc Sweeney Drums. Top quality construction and materials are established facts for any successful instrument maker that makes it to this floor, so what is going to stand out? Style stands out. Style is an extension of your personality, of course. These drums and their aesthetic resonated with me (pun intended). I was able to speak with Patrick Sweeney and Steve Stecher of Doc Sweeney Drums, which only further established my positive opinion of their company and drums. Everything is personal when it comes to our gear. I will be reaffirming my relationship with these guys by buying drums from them.
Yamaha’s EAD10 (Electronic Acoustic Drums) is worth checking out for so many reasons. It’s revolutionary, really. As a drum module, you can record your drums at high quality and share in whatever way you can imagine. Recording, practicing alone, rehearsing with a group, videos for social media…the enhanced possibilities are exciting. This one is a game changer.
There were more products (and impromptu performances) that grabbed my attention, but that’s plenty for now. I will be more than happy to talk about any of these topics with you the next time we see each other.
Lastly…Never Accept Mediocre Memories.
Until next year, NAMM!