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Strung Out by Zach Fjestad

Strung Out by Zach Fjestad
  Zachary R. Fjestad is a former author of the Blue Book of Acoustic Guitars, Blue Book of Electric Guitars, and Blue Book of Guitar Amplifiers, as well as the author of the revised edition of the Gibson Flying V book. Fjestad has been covering the music industry at Blue Book since 2002 and regularly attends guitar trade shows along with several vintage guitar shows. He also reads and makes notes on music industry trade and vintage guitar magazines and is in contact with several musical industry representatives.
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2016 NAMM Top 10

Associate guitar author Ryan Triggs and I just returned from semi-sunny California. We walked every square inch of that show and below you’ll find what we saw out there. Were there some cool new things? Absolutely. Anything revolutionary? Only time will tell. In no particular order, this is my 2016 NAMM Top Ten:

1. Prat 24-string Bass - Multi-string basses are nothing new, but this 24-string model built by luthier Oscar Prat of Spain pushes the limit of traditional instruments. With 24 strings paired in groups of 3 strings, separated by octaves, it creates a unique dimensional sound on an eight-string bass set up. After making a few cracks about the maintenance of this instrument, a representative in the booth told me that changing strings on this beast only takes 30 minutes and it stayed in tune en route to Anaheim. That says something about the construction quality (as well as the strings).

2. Fender Bassbreaker Amps – Although called the Bassbreaker, Fender’s brand new line of amplifiers are actually designed for guitarists. Taking cues from Fender’s iconic Bassman Series of the 1950s, the Bassbreaker has a cool black tweed covering and other unique narrow panel features. Comprised of nine different models, these amps are tube driven and are described as being “full of endless grit, growl, and Fender DNA with a twist.” While I was in Fender’s booth, they were not giving demonstrations on these amps and I’m guessing that’s because they are loud, which is not conducive to holding a conversation for Fender dealers. With a variety of combo and head units priced between $250 and $1,000, this looks to be an extremely versatile amp series.

3. Ibanez Steve Vai 25th Anniversary Models – In 1990, Steve Vai released his landmark solo album "Passion & Warfare" and to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of its release, Ibanez is offering 3 limited edition Steve Vai signature Universe guitars for 2016. The first two models are called "Passion" and "Warfare" respectively. They feature artwork based on the album cover design itself. The third model is a traditional 25th Anniversary with silver accents reminiscent of Vai's custom guitar he used while on tour with Whitesnake shortly after the release of "Passion & Warfare." All three models are produced in batches of 77 guitars each in 2016.

4. Martin John Lennon D-28 75th Anniversary – Honestly, I wasn’t even aware that John Lennon played a Martin – it seems all you ever hear about are his Rickenbackers and Epiphones. However, in 1967, he acquired his first D-28 right around the time The Beatles filled a video for their song “Hello Goodbye.” Since then, his D-28 (and others he owned over the years) was an important part of his songwriting and performing. To celebrate Lennon’s 75th birthday (which would have been on October 9, 2015), Martin is producing no more than 75 of these limited editions that feature many unique Lennon traits including: a headstock overlay of Lennon’s famous self portrait, moon/star/eyeglasses/#9/signature fingerboard inlays, peace signs around the soundhole, a black pickguard with sunrays, and a peace symbol back purfling. List price is $11,999.

5. PRS 20th Anniversary Private Stock Singlecut #5987 - 2016 also marks the 20th Anniversary for Paul Reed Smith's Private Stock program. Launched as their version of a custom shop in 1996, they've produced over 6,000 private stock instruments in 20 years. Private Stock guitars are either built as spec instruments or as custom built-to-order by the customers, but either way they are built with the “one-off” mentality. This Private Stock model is a hollowbody Singlecut with a gorgeous flame maple “10 top” and green bird inlays. According to PRS’s website: “Private Stock guitars represent the highest quality of materials, the most personally crafted instruments, and the greatest level of customization available from PRS.”

6. Marshall Astoria Amps - Announced in mid-2015, the Astoria amps made their NAMM debut in 2016. The Astoria is Marshall's twist on a boutique amp with a traditional hand-wired point-to-point chassis (all tube, obviously), but has other contemporary features including footswitchable channels, gain boost, a series FX loop, and power reduction. Available in three models (Classic, Custom, and Dual), the Astoria amps are all built in Marshall's England facility. If that doesn't sell you, the fact that these amps just look cool should tip the scale. (It's nice to see a Marshall amp with some color.)

7. Recording King USA Blues King Resonator engraved by Greg Rich - The Music Link got serious a few years ago when they hired revered engraver Greg Rich to advise and design a line of guitars for them. Today, they have a USA Custom Shop and produce a limited number of instruments, and recently, Rich was able to display his engraving skills on this resonator. Rich spent many hours engraving this, so many there wasn't even a price tag; it simply said to inquire.

8. Kiesel Custom Guitars Doubleneck - If you didn't immediately recognize the name Kiesel, you're not alone. However, coming across their large prominently placed booth at the show, I figured I knew who they were. I finally realized that this is where Carvin used to be - and in fact, they were Carvin, well at least sort of. A representative at the booth informed me that Carvin decided to split their guitar business off from their amplifier and pro audio side. The new name is Kiesel Custom Guitars (named after brothers Matt and Jeff Kiesel), and they continue to produce Carvin Guitars. This doubleneck is just an example of what their shop can do.

9. Guild M-85 Bass - Cordoba Guitars acquired Guild last year and that's turning out to be a very successful marriage. My contact at Cordoba wouldn't let me take a picture of the prototype Guild Thunderbird they have, so we'll have to settle with this electric bass. After focusing on only acoustic guitars for more than a decade under the ownership of Fender, Cordoba is bringing some much deserved attention back to their electric guitars, including basses. The M-85 is a reissue of the M-85-II produced by Guild during the 1970s. With a MAP price of $1,199, this is definitely a quality yet affordable bass guitar. Expect more cool things from Guild in the next year.

10. Gittler Guitars Are Back - The Gittler is one of the most unique guitars on the market, and after nearly 25 years, these are back. I'm not going to try and explain the Gittler guitar (let the pictures do the talking), but it's basically a minimalistic guitar eliminating all non-critical parts. It's also made out of all metal. At the Gittler booth, I witnessed a guitarist and a bassist jamming out and they sounded great. While it's not a "new" design, it's refreshing to see something different at the show.

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Strung Out - by Zachary R. Fjestad
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