NAMM 2022: With another gear-fueled assault on the senses over – and a nine-hour red-eye flight out the way – we’ve dosed up on coffee to reflect on the NAMM that was.
Although it was a smaller-scale affair than previous years – more on that later – there was still plenty to get your teeth into, and we were pleasantly surprised by the wave of new releases hitting our eyes and ears.
So, with that, we present our 10 ‘hottest takes’ – the stuff that grabbed the headlines, weirded us out, or just plain made us think.
1. Tosin Abasi is coming of age as a guitar designer
Hands down the busiest guitarist at the show, Animals As Leaders guitar god Tosin Abasi was pulling double duty: first, at the Ernie Ball Music Man booth, where he was unveiling his surprise Kaizen seven-string collaboration, an uber-angular, ergonomic multi-scale design.
Shortly after a public press conference unveiling the model – helmed by Rick Beato – Tosin hightailed it over to his own Abasi Concepts booth, where he gave us a guided tour of the Emi, his first double-cut offering with the brand, as well as a near-to-completion seven-string nylon prototype. Abasi has long been recognized as a visionary player, but this year it became clear that his approach to guitar design is starting to reach similar levels of acclaim.
2. There's still plenty of life left in the Kirk Hammett/ESP relationship
Metallica man Kirk Hammett has been in an open relationship with longtime spouse ESP since the announcement of his collaboration with Gibson last year, which has yielded a host of new designs from the guitar giant, including prototype Flying Vs.
ESP reasserted its relationship with Hammett at NAMM with the announcement that a signature LTD KH-V is on the cards for 2023, available in Black Sparkle, Red Sparkle and Metallic Gold finishes. James Hetfield’s Vulture V is set to launch in a new Olympic White finish, too.
3. Steve Vai doesn't need to be at the show to make a big splash
The virtuoso’s virtuoso appeared at NAMM 2020 to debut the PIA, the first-ever wholesale evolution of his long-running JEM model, but this year Steve Vai – who wasn't in attendance – managed to be upstaged by his own guitar. It was the appearance of the Hydra, Vai’s bonkers steampunk triple-neck, that accosted eyeballs at the Ibanez booth, but two models less likely to melt your brain also attracted plenty of attention: a 35th anniversary swirl-finished PIA, as well as a fresh Blue Powder look for the same model.
4. NAMM can still get pretty weird
You never quite know what’s around the corner at the show – and there were some gloriously bizarre goings-ons this year. Chibson USA, the ultimate purveyors of guitar-based puns-turned-realities, debuted their latest creation, the Klontar, which got its first play by a centaur (of course). Then there were booths like NAMM first-timers Cream Guitars: garish, bonkers and utterly brilliant. That’s how you make an entrance.
5. Eastman is developing bold new solidbody shapes
Semi-hollow specialist Eastman turned its hand to solidbodies this year – with spectacular results. The Juliet boasts a radical look, with a raised one-piece okoume body and neck for extra sustain, flashes of tortoiseshell and the company’s first six-in-line headstock. Throw in a choice of Bare Knuckle Old Guard humbuckers or P-90s and it’s a pretty compelling new take on solidbody guitar design.
6. Martin has built over 2.5 million acoustics
As well as its Rich Robinson signature D-28, the US acoustic institution dropped the staggering factoid that it has built over 2.5 million acoustics, and debuted a guitar to celebrate the milestone. One of the most ornate builds in Martin's rich history, the 2.5 millionth model is adorned with 436 diamonds, laid out to depict the map of the stars that Martin founder Christian Frederick Martin Sr. and his family would have seen in the sky the day they arrived in New York City from Germany on November 6, 1833. It’s an outrageously bold vision, and we salute it wholeheartedly.
7. The future of amps is on your pedalboard
Two Notes nearly stole the show before it even began with the launch of its ReVolt Guitar and Bass pedals, which offer a trio of classic amp sounds, a real 12AX7 tube and onboard cab sims. They sound mighty impressive in person, too.
On the more boutique, all-encompassing end, BluGuitar was showcasing the latest version of its long-awaited AMP X analog programmable amp. With all-analog amp sounds and front-end effects teamed with digital modulation, delay and reverb, the Amp X aims to deliver the kind of versatility offered by the likes of the Helix or Axe-Fx, but with an analog front end. Although it’s still not quite there – BluGuitar’s engineers were still slaving over the back-end during the show – it’s a staggering achievement.
8. Telecaster tremolos are so hot right now
It may be sacrilege to classicists, but the tremolo seems to have found a comfortable home on Tele-style guitars this year. First, there was Tom Quayle’s new signature take on Ibanez’s AZS outline, which packs a Gotoh T1802 bridge.
Then b3 Guitars put their own stamp on Strat/Tele hybrids, teaming the classic triple-brass-saddle Tele setup with a Strat-like tremolo on its heavily relic’d Telstar build.
Perhaps most telling, however, was Vega-Trem’s stylish new tremolo system for the Telecaster, which keeps the T-type look in place but with added wobble. We’re intrigued to see where this trend goes next…
9. Some crazy innovations have been cooked up over the pandemic
One of NAMM’s greatest joys is stumbling across an idea that takes you by surprise – something you couldn’t imagine being invented, let alone realized to a workable degree. Among the highlights were the SoulPedal, an insole for your shoes, which offers wireless control of wah, volume and MIDI parameters, powered by a watch battery.
Then there’s Ciari Guitars’ revamped folding guitar, the Ascender Standard, taking the company’s radical mid-neck hinge technology and adding a Grover Jackson and Joe Glaser-designed body and headstock.
Donner Music, meanwhile, was showcasing an iPod-esque control panel on its DMI Smart Guitar, which promises to teach you how to play guitar with Berklee-approved courses.
10. You don't need the juggernauts to have a good show
Nobody knew what to expect from the first NAMM post-Covid. NAMM 2020 had been one of the biggest in the show’s existence, teeming with special guests and every guitar brand under the sun. Yet mere weeks after the event took place, the world collapsed under the weight of a global pandemic.
The show’s return in 2022 was always going to be a somewhat tentative one – it had been shifted from the customary January to June, at a time when many artists were on tour. Several of the largest guitar brands – Fender, Gibson, PRS, Boss – seemed to take their record pandemic sales as a sign that trade shows weren’t needed. Yet the overwhelming feeling shared by everyone in attendance was that of pleasant surprise: NAMM worked just fine without the heavy-hitters.
The likes of ESP, Ibanez and Abasi Concepts continued to draw big crowds, and first-time exhibitors captured imaginations. It was a chance to connect with manufacturers and musicians who had made first contact during the Covid era and never met in person – to spark ideas and bond over a shared love of the instrument and the innovations it inspires.
In short, it was good to have NAMM back – and any fears over its relevance in the post-Covid era were firmly quelled by the success of this year’s show. Bring on 2023.