Equipment Makers Gather To Make Music, Deals

Annual NAMM showcase brings together artists, manufacturers, buyers.

LOS ANGELES — A cacophony of drum solos and impromptu jams on new guitars filled the vast Los Angeles Convention Center during the weekend as manufacturers of music gear demonstrated their wares at the 2000 NAMM International Music Products Association convention.

The convention, held Thursday through Sunday, attracted thousands of industry insiders, artists and well-connected aficionados. The annual exhibition is a forum for manufacturers of music equipment to showcase their products, wheel and deal, and celebrate their industry.

"It's important for your presence to be known," said Rodney Gene, 32, a technician at Santa Barbara, Calif., pickup manufacturer Seymour Duncan, whose booth hosted appearances by members of Powerman 5000 and Anthrax. "It's an awesome opportunity to meet and talk with people from all over the world ... and keep in touch with everything that's happening in the music industry."

At the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) convention, manufacturers of instruments, amplifiers and recording systems hook up with makers of smaller parts to decide which strings, knobs, pickups and speakers will become standard features in their products.

Well-known musicians — including ex-Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash (born Saul Hudson), Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst, ex-Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir and Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony — sat at the booths of companies whose products they endorse, meeting fans, mugging for photos and signing autographs.

Large manufacturers, such as Fender and Gibson, had their own rooms, in which the companies' lines of guitars and amps hung on the walls. One hall was filled with newer exhibitors, such as "boutique" amplifier manufacturers, who build only a small number each year.

"The trend is toward more compact rigs for guitar and bass players, as well as for PA systems," said NAMM attendee Paul Knight, 42, a sound engineer from Marin County, Calif. "For bass players, that means more power in a smaller package that they can fit in the back of their car. Guitarists want that vintage, overdriven sound at a lower volume."

Many vintage-gear aficionados at the convention were excited by the return of the Jensen guitar speaker line, some of which were standard equipment in early Fender amps. Jensen began producing reissue versions of their popular vintage speakers in 1999.

NAMM 2000 also saw an increased presence of Chinese manufacturers, some of whom already had been supplying equipment, such as microphone components and speakers, to better-known American companies.

The show is not all electric guitars and rock 'n' roll, however. Some exhibits featured only saxophones, hand drums or grand pianos. A few sold sheet music. At one end of the South Hall, a row of Spanish companies showed off their classical guitars.

Knight, who specializes in sound for acoustic musicians, also noted an increased amount of acoustic music equipment at the show. "There are more and different designs for upright basses, more acoustic guitars, and even [surf-guitar pioneer] Dick Dale is doing an acoustic set as part of his show."

George Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars played two sets, including the classic "Cosmic Slop" and "One Nation Under a Groove," for around 50 fans at a time Friday in a soundproof-glass room at the Peavey Electronics booth.

A Yamaha-sponsored tribute to singer/keyboardist Michael McDonald on Saturday night at the Shrine Auditorium featured McDonald's old band, the Doobie Brothers, blues pianist Ray Charles, soul singer Patti LaBelle and others.

An all-star guitar jam at the Wilshire Grand hotel included bass virtuoso Victor Wooten (Bela Fleck and the Flecktones) and jazz player Stanley Jordan.