NAMM 2012 by Dr. Randall Kertz – Ampeg, Aguilar, Gruv Gear Duostrap, Warwick, Elixir… Hello and glad to be back! I thought I’d get back into the groove with an article about some of my faves from winter NAMM. Rather than the usual recap, I thought I would spotlight products that reflect a growing trend towards musician’s wellness- mostly from an injury preventative point of view. Happily, it seems that manufacturers are responding to musician’s needs- as we grow older, as some of us get tired of hauling around the same old thing and are looking for lighter, smaller, faster gear, there is now more than ever before an effort to accommodate our changing needs. Here are some of the highlights for me:
There is a trend now towards lighter bass heads. About 10 years ago we started seeing lighter cabinets with the advent of neodymium speakers which were/are lighter than what many of us grew up hauling around. Then the wood to make the cabinets became lighter. As neodymium is now used in more products and the price has gone up and available supply has gone down, manufacturers are turning their attention to the power supplies, and we are now seeing lighter, compact heads that still deliver all the juice one could want for most playing situations. One example is Ampeg’s PF series, with its 350 and 500 models. As Dino Monoxelos from Ampeg explains: “We wanted to deliver a product that was lightweight but most importantly had that Ampeg sound. You could put this head in a backpack and have all the power you need.” Or it fits perfectly in its corresponding Portaflex cabinet.
These sentiments are echoed by Aguilar’s US sales manager Dale Titus, talking about Aguilar’s Tone Hammer series of amps: “ With the Tone Hammer, we did not set out to just make light heads. At Aguilar we always start out with the primary design concept of creating a great sounding piece of gear. That is always first and foremost. The Tone Hammer heads may be light and easy to carry around, but they sound big, warm, and punch like Ali!” Indeed. Ampeg’s PF 350 & 500 weigh in at 8 & 11 lbs. respectively, while the Tone Hammer 350 & 500 weight in at 3 & 4 lbs. respectively. These are easily the favorites in this ‘new’ category and trend towards lighter heads, according to players I have talked to and my own personal experience and taste.
Another product that really caught my attention was the Duostrap, a new strap system from Gruv Gear. I personally have spent the last few years trying to perfect an ergonomically correct bass strap, due to the fact that the products out there that have been called ergonomic up to this point, I feel, have left something to be desired. As a result, I know that just throwing a little padding in the shoulder and calling it ergonomic doesn’t do the job. With the Duostrap I found a new twist on a concept that hasn’t been seen in a while- the double strap. The idea is that the second strap helps to balance weight distribution, so that one doesn’t have all the weight from a heavy or unwieldy instrument on the one shoulder, which can cause a host of problems as my previous columns have talked about. I found in the Damian Erskine signature Duostrap an easy to use, good looking, quality product with attention to detail, such as the soft sides of the strap which can cut into a player’s neck and shoulder area on most wider straps. The Duostrap is wider in the shoulder, where and as it should be. I find this to be useful with traditional 4 string, but even more so for 5 & 6 string basses. This company has also put out similar ergonomically minded products, such as carts and bags, and president Jay Baldemoor told me that he has their products tested by ergonomic laboratories, which to me makes all the difference, as with this commitment they are putting their money where their mouth is.
Other things I loved at winter NAMM, just because I did, and not particularly for their ergonomic attributes, were the new Jack Bruce Survivor bass and Steve Bailey signature models by Warwick. I tried the German and Korean Jack Bruce models, fretted and fretless, and loved their sound, and their feel. A very solid, substantial feeling bass, I played it without an amp at first and the wood felt and sounded good. Real good. This is something I want.
Another product I reacquainted myself with was Elixir strings. I had used their strings many years ago, but for whatever reason stopped. As I have been playing mostly rock lately, I have been using and been very happy with nickel strings, and wasn’t really looking to change. Running into Bill Leigh, I was brought over to the Elixir booth to try the latest versions of their strings, and I’m very glad that I did. First of all, the booth was a perfect place to try a product- it was away from the fray, there were a couple of basses set up with the different strings, nickel and stainless, and you could play them and hear what was going on clearly because there weren’t hired guns playing eighty thousand notes a second at max volume at their booth. I was surprised to find that I favored the stainless steel strings over the nickel. It has been a while since I used stainless, but they sounded great, rolling off the fingers and without that jangly sound that stainless out of the box usually gives you. Steve Rosenberg, product manager for Elixir, explained that they have made improvements to the products based on player feedback, producing this more natural finger feel and yet retaining the coating durability that they are known for. He also stressed, as did the other reps for the products described in this article, that it was most important that their products sounded great and felt great, not sacrificing any of their quality merely to improve their efficiency. I appreciated the time spent, the lack of ‘bling’ to push their products, and the accessibility to test the products properly, and again, most importantly, they felt and sounded great, and I am back on the stainless train.
All things considered, a great show, and looking forward to more of the same in the future.
Thanks for reading and see you next issue!
Randall Kertz, D.C.