01/29/2014 05:18 EST | Updated 03/31/2014 05:59 EDT

NAMM 2014: A Musical Gearhead's Disneyland


Photo Credit: Crystal Morris

NAMM, short for the National Association of Music Merchants, is a not-for-profit association that promotes and strengthens the $17 billion global music products industry. Every January, NAMM organizes a trade show that features innovative music products, recording technology, and sound/lighting technology. Here is Part 1 of my feature on some of the leading-edge products and gig highlights at NAMM 2014:

1. Gibson Guitars 120th Anniversary Double Diamond Series

Show pieces are cool - but I like to play instruments, not hang them. My opinion changed after seeing the Gibson 120th Anniversary Double Diamond Series guitars. In celebration of 120 years of innovation, Gibson Brands unveiled a new line of stunning limited-release guitars.

Gibson's Double Diamond series guitars feature: one carat of inlaid diamonds, hand-painted pinstriping by hot rod artist Rick Harris (who studied under Von Dutch), an ebony fingerboard, Swarovski crystal encrusted pickups, and 24-carat gold plated hardware. Only 120 of each body tape will be available. Pricing isn't set - expect to pay a lot, but the contrast of gold pinstriping against the black body of these classic Gibson guitars is seriously sexy. I began to perspire in the presence of the Double Diamond Midtown.


Photo Credit: Crystal Morris

2. MOOG Theremini

Ever pretend to conduct an orchestra at home in your underwear? Then a theremin is the musical instrument for you! A theremin is controlled without physical contact by the performer. The instrument features two metal antennas that sense the position of the performer's hands. You play the theremin by positioning your hands in various ways to control pitch and volume.


Photo Credit: Crystal Morris

Theremins emit ethereal sounds, which would explain why White Witch Myrtle played a theremin on American Horror Story. Don't be fooled! Theremins are pretty versatile too, you may have seen Ke$ha play a theremin on Conan O'Brien. MOOG has made the theremin, a challenging instrument, accessible for everyone by creating the Theremini.

The Theremini is a space-age looking device that guarantees immediate success to any person that attempts to play it through assistive pitch correction. That means you can still group bad notes together, but not necessarily play a bad one! My favorite feature is a built in display that provides visual feedback of each note as it's played. The display and adjustable pitch correction make The Theremini a fun and un-intimidating way to teach young or new players about notes and scales.


Photo Credit: Crystal Morris

The Theramini also features a preset selection of 32 wave-based patches so you can make a variety of sounds. Recessed in the top of the Theremini is a headphone jack, so you don't annoy the hell out of everyone, and a speaker, in case annoyance is your goal. MOOG's Theremini was a showstopper at NAMM 2014, crowds of people stopped to demo the device. At around $300 bucks, it's affordable too!

3. ROLI Seaboard GRAND

In 2013, I watched an online preview of the Seaboard and was excited to see it demoed live for the first time at NAMM 2014. The Seaboard is a new musical instrument, much like a re-imagined piano, with a continuous surface that provides more playing flexibility for the performer.


Photo Credit: Crystal Morris

You can modulate the pitch, volume, and timbre of a note through one continuous gesture. You can also slide your finger left and right to change the pitch of a note, much like a stringed instrument. Add vibrato and pitch bend with the touch of your fingertip. The volume and timbre of each note is adjusts based on pressure. Glissando ribbons run along the top and bottom of the playing surface, which allows you to play a so-called keywave by sliding your finger across a set of notes. The Seaboard is innovative and intuitive. If you're a piano player or enjoy midi controllers, the Seaboard will help you explore the realm of new music possibility.

4. The After Party - Duesenberg Guitars

The folks at Duesenberg Guitars threw one hell of a wild NAMM after-party on Saturday night with performances by Johnny Depp, Steven Tyler, Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson. Manson, Cooper, and Tyler played 4 songs each. Steven Tyler's voice was like a bolt through the room. Everyone, including female guitarists Orianthi, jumped on stage for a finale performance "Come Together", which featured guitar solos by Joe Perry and Depp. Depp is no stranger to the stage, he's joined the likes of Eddie Vedder, The Black Keys, and Keith Richards, and he can shred too!