Acoustic NAMM, Winter 2011

Third in a series of annual reports exclusive to Folkworks

By Larry Rosenberg


Two Old Hippies again exhibited at The Winter NAMM Show, 2011(photo by Susan Rosenberg)

As I toured the vast acres of musical product exhibits and entertainment at the 2011 Winter NAMM Show along with 90,114 other registered attendees at the Anaheim Convention Center, in Southern California, on January 13th through the 16th, 2011, it was easy to "Believe in Music," and to think that music just might be the answer to the problems of the world after all, or at least be an essential tool in solving them.

NAMM stands for “National Association of Music Merchants,” but despite NAMM's continued use of the acronym, the organization is now named "International Music Products Association," to more accurately reflect its worldwide scope, and to complement its motto, "Believe in Music."

With a 3 percent increase in attendees over last year, and a record number of exhibitors from all over the world, The Winter NAMM Show 2011, presented an optimistic picture of music making as an industry "now on a path of recovery and future growth," in the words of Joe Lamond, president and CEO of NAMM, and I talked with many exhibitors who said that this was their best show ever.

My focus here is, of course, acoustic music making, so the field of my review is narrowed somewhat. However, the show is so large, it would still be impossible to chronicle more than a sampling of what goes on in the space of an article such as this. I again must apologize for the necessary omission of many notable people and events, and I will rather attempt to give a representative overview of the state of acoustic music at the show.

In keeping with the mood and success of the 2011 Winter NAMM Show, (Jumpin') Jim Beloff of Flea Market Music told your reporter that his songbook, "The Daily Ukulele: 365 Songs For Better Living," was recently the fourth best selling music book on! There has been an explosion in the popularity of the ukulele in the last few years, which started, as music trends usually do, with high school and college age students, and is spreading to all age groups due to the relative ease of playing the instrument and its usefulness in accompanying singing. Ukuleles were to be seen everywhere and are now again considered serious musical instruments, although, for the most part, they remain economically priced, particularly for the smallest soprano models.

To celebrate its 35th year in business, San Diego based Deering Banjo Co. exhibited a resonator backed, 35th year anniversary banjo, limited to a production run of 35. This very limited edition instrument was beautiful to see and an example of how visual art and sound can sometimes be effectively combined in the experience of banjo playing. Deering also featured a new mid-priced resonator model banjo called the "Eagle II," with an original Deering designed tone ring called the "Twenty-Ten Tone Ring," which they say is unlike any other traditional tone ring ever produced. Deering said the new tone ring represents a refinement in the quality of banjo tone which produces a high quality and versatile sound, making the Eagle II suitable for either bluegrass or old-time banjo playing, as well as for many other styles of banjo playing. The Deering Banjo Company continues to offer a large selection of high quality and relatively entry level-priced "Good Time" models, both open back and resonator backed, and also offers special commemorative Good Time models, such as the Steve Martin Good Time and the Topanga Banjo*Fiddle 50th Anniversary Good Time, with a custom banjo head designed by Remo which will be featured on Sunday, May 15th, 2011, at the Topanga Banjo*Fiddle Contest and Folk Festival at Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills, California.


“One-man-band” acoustic jukeboxes from Ragtime.
(photo by Susan Rosenberg)

From Colorado, OME Banjos brought examples of their new open back banjos, the Minstrel, Wizard, Flora and North Star. These new "old-timey" style instruments were designed and produced after considering vintage designs, current trends and consulting with players. They all feature wider and shorter necks, and a specially designed tail piece, and are available with either 11" or 12" pots. OME also featured a full line of resonator backed banjos, many with exquisite art work and inlays, and in acknowledgement of OME's 50th anniversary, some bluegrass models featured the new and specially designed HG 50 tone ring.

From Florida, Gold Tone exhibited no less than six (6) new acoustic instruments for 2011, including an "A scale" banjo (a shorter scale to play in the keys of A and D without using a capo), the "Dulciborne," which is a 4 string mountain dulcimer in a guitar style (Weissenborn) body with a transducer pickup, and the "ResoUke," a brass body, biscuit style resonator ukulele which Gold Tone claims is louder than any wood body soprano uke . In addition to a full line of traditional acoustic instruments, year after year, Gold Tone has consistently lead in sheer innovation and novelty of new instruments, and this year was no exception.


Limited Edition Pete Seeger 12 String Guitar from C.F. Martin. (photo by Susan Rosenberg)

C.F. Martin Guitar Company again maintained one of the larger open booth exhibits at Winter NAMM, 2011, with scheduled entertainment throughout each day. Virtually all of their many models were on display, as well as their 1,500,000th guitar, inlaid with a Leonardo Da Vinci theme including a reproduction of the "Mona Lisa" on the headstock and "The Last Supper" on the pick guard! (Like the artwork it depicted, there was no price listed for this guitar.) Martin continues to honor the musicians who make their luthiering labors worthwhile and one of the latest of these honors goes to Pete Seeger with the debut of two new jumbo body guitars, a six string and a twelve string, also in honor of the 60th anniversary of Sing Out!, the folk music magazine (now including music CD) co-founded by Pete Seeger in 1950. Martin also confirmed that all new entry level "X" models and many other Martin Guitars will come equipped with built-in digital tuners and electric pick-ups, as is fast becoming the norm with acoustic guitars.

In addition to providing the world with banjo heads, Valencia, California based Remo makes drum heads and drums of all kinds. Sue Kincade, of REMO, Inc., told your reporter that this year the company is excited about new products including frame, and Thinline Frame, Djembes, Doumbeks, Conga drums and tambourines. Remo also introduced their "Not So Loud" series of Djembe, Tubano and Ladoumbe drums, which, as the name implies, allow drummers to express themselves with pulse, rather than volume, for situations where volume might otherwise prevent or restrict drumming.

The Winter NAMM Show 2011, was a potpourri of everything musical and I found many unusual, or one of a kind, delights such as acoustic jukeboxes! Loosely based on the technology of player pianos, Ragtime, out of Ceres, California, offers jukeboxes with a banjo, steel drum, guitar, accordion, or combinations of instruments, that produce sound by mechanical apparatus that actually strums, strikes, or does whatever is necessary, to play the song selected. The machines might be best described as a "one-man-band" without the "man." They were fun to listen to and even more fun to see and watch, and guaranteed to liven up any environment!

Other memorable acoustic products included one of a kind, stone guitar picks that were absolutely stunning, from Stone Works, which took "Best in the Show" at Summer NAMM, 2010, and folding guitars from Voyage-Air Guitar which just might be "The Future of Guitar Travel®" as they claim in their trademarked slogan.

Now the countdown begins until next January when I again hope to experience the Winter NAMM Show, 2012 edition. Until then, if you have any comments or questions about this review, or anything you might want me to look into at next year's show,  contact:

Larry Rosenberg is an attorney and editor-at-large based in the San Fernando Valley. When he is not practicing law or writing an exclusive for Folkworks, you might find him playing his banjo at the 51th Annual Topanga Banjo · Fiddle Contest at Paramount Movie Ranch in Agoura Hills, CA, on Sunday, May 15th, 2011.