NAMM 2024: That's a wrap folks! The NAMM show is truly over. The electric guitar deluge has slowed to a trickle, the influencers have posted their airport montages – and the mighty doors of Anaheim Convention Center have slammed shut for another year (or, at least, stopped admitting anyone waving a NAMM pass...)
What's left is a haze of a virtuosic guitar displays, bright lights, bruised hands and a lingering feeling that we have to be somewhere else soon.
Did we really see Matteo Mancuso jamming with Cory Wong? Gaze at the northern lights (guitar) with John Petrucci? Hold Jack White’s insane touring Telecaster? Glimpse into the very future of music-making and guitar design?
Checking back across the site, it turns out we did all of those things – and more.
This year’s show proved the event – and the wider guitar industry – is in rude health, amid a new boom of innovative gear, boundary-breaking players, and, dare we say it, a little more room for fun than we’ve been used to across the past few events.
Now that we’ve had a bit of time to pick up the pieces and organize our thoughts, we've put together a list of some of the trends, coincidences, and honorable mentions drawn from across the team.
From a new wave of star-studded semi-hollow signature guitars, to the AI invasion, increasingly fancy foreign builds – and a guitar string vending machine. Here are some of the highlights of the show and the trends you'll see shaping guitar over the course of the next year.
1. DIY pedals weren’t just a phase – they’re very much here to stay
When JHS Pedals unveiled its $99 Notaklön – a DIY Klon clone pedal kit – late last year, it sent a shockwave through the guitar community. Every prominent player got their hands on one, and social media was flooded with clips of guitarists documenting the fool-proof assembly process. Heck, we even gave it a go, and thought it was brilliant.
At the time, it was unclear whether the hype surrounding DIY stompboxes was just a passing phase. Signs pointing to the contrary emerged when Catalinbread announced the Knight School Overdrive, but now it seems as though the trend is well and truly here to stay.
Indeed, one of the biggest announcements of this year’s show was Third Man Hardware’s Fuzz-a-Tron, a build-it-yourself fuzz pedal masterminded by Jack White’s gear brand. It is the cheapest mainstream DIY pedal to date, with a price of just $75, and one that potentially points to a new, relatively untouched avenue for gear brands to explore.
If companies can cater to beginner and pro players alike with an engaging, interactive pedal that both sounds good and gives its owner the chance to play pedal maker, it seems like a no-brainer. After all, the demand is clearly there...
2. Gear furniture will take off in a big way this year
The vast majority of guitarists are not pros with a lock-up for their guitar archive, but home players with limited space. In 2024, manufacturers are clearly thinking more about how guitar gear can earn its footprint in our lives and, more importantly, our lounges.
The sort of stuff that was once the preserve of custom makers on Etsy is being incorporated into the industry’s own offerings. As such, Fender has launched a range of surprisingly attractive wooden guitar and amp stands that are designed to make a feature of the gear they display.
Then there’s On-Stage’s GWS5000 Guitar Workstation (read: fancy shelves), which attempts to hold everything together – with spaces for your amp, guitar, cables, a slide-out pedalboard, plus a shelf for picks and accessories.
Meanwhile, Taylor’s Circa ’74 is possibly the most beautiful amp of the last decade and uses a mid-century modern mahogany cabinet design, with an included mahogany stand. We don’t know for sure what it sounds like yet (having been unable to try one at NAMM), but it certainly looks like a work of art.
Even Eminent Technology’s innovative flat panel amp/cabinets share a similar principle in considering an aesthetically pleasing and space-saving alternative to the traditional black box.
Indeed, not to get too House Beautiful about it, but we’re now at a point where you might legitimately design a living room around your gear, instead of hiding it under the side tables.
3. The age of artificially intelligent guitar gear is officially upon us
Artificial intelligence has loomed over the music industry as a whole for a while now – see the final Beatles song, for instance – but in the gear world, its presence has been fairly unassuming. Yes, it’s been used to make plugins and, yes, it helped design the Revv Chatbreaker Overdrive (sort of), but its overall impact has been rather peripheral.
Well, at NAMM, we saw the arrival of not one, but two effects pedals that used AI in a far more direct capacity. The Mooer GE1000 Li, for example, recruited an AI-driven EQ section that adjusts a five-band EQ depending on a selected music style, while the KMA Machines Endgame offers a double-track effect created with the help of, you guessed it, artificial intelligence.
With Positive Grid also flirting with the idea of “Sonic Intelligence” with its Spark Live, the presence of artificially intelligent products in the gear world can no longer be ignored, and it seems as though we’ve crossed a threshold whereby these appointments will become more and more common.
And that’s just on the pedal front: at this year’s show, we were also introduced to OD Guitars – a brand that turns AI-generated guitar designs into physical products. It was bound to happen at some point, but it looks like AI gear is officially here.
4. Signature artists are playing away from home
Excuse the salacious nature of the headline, but this NAMM has made us realize just how much looser firms are these days when it comes to the exclusivity of their deals with signature artists.
Much like the artists who used to be tied to record contracts found the knowledge and freedom to control their own destinies in recent decades, it seems that the wave of self-starting players pioneering their own gear firms (e.g. Zakk Wylde, Tosin Abasi, Ola Englund etc) has led to a more open dynamic in the wider guitar industry.
As such, Alex Lifeson still endorses Gibson/Epiphone, but has been able to launch his own LERXST collaborations with multiple makers, producing amps with MojoTone and the new-for-NAMM LERXST Limelight guitars with Godin.
Likewise, Jack White continues to use his Third Man Hardware label as a banner under which to collaborate with all manner of manufacturers, most recently with Donner on the Triple Threat.
There are many other examples from recent history, but ultimately, some firms are realizing that for the right players, it’s better to have a star’s name on the headstock of the guitar that counts, rather than get heavy-handed about their exclusivity to the brand.
5. ...And signature products are getting smaller. Much, much smaller
While NAMM 2024 saw the unveiling of traditional signature guitars in the form of Rabea Massaad’s Ernie Ball Music Man Artist Series Sabre and Bill Kelliher’s hotly anticipated LTD Royal Shiva, it also saw the arrival of a new wave of much smaller signature products.
For instance, Kirk Hammett – who has released both signature Gibsons and ESPs over the past 12 months – was bestowed with a range of signature guitar picks. He wasn’t the only one: Dunlop issued signature plectrums for Mick Thomson, Andy James, and Jeff Loomis.
There were straps, too, with Dunlop tapping Authentic Hendrix to reproduce the guitar pioneer’s Monterey Pop strap. Steve Vai, likewise, didn’t have a new Ibanez PIA to show off, but he did have a new signature strap to his name, the Botanical.
With that in mind, the discernible lack of signature guitars on display this year was also telling. Ibanez, usually so reliable with their army of signature models at each NAMM show, was uncharacteristically quiet.
Nonetheless, the proliferation of more affordable signature products is likely related to the rising cost of guitars and the desire to give people options at a time when they can’t afford to buy new gear so frequently.
Obviously, no one’s going to the store for a six-string and coming back with a pick, but the trend speaks to some of the other gear releases we saw throughout the show, with companies directing their attention to more affordable accessories this year – see Ernie Ball’s Comfort Cloud strap, for example.
In this case, fans can show their support and get the gear their heroes are endorsing at a wallet-friendly price. Signature guitars aren’t going anywhere, but there’s definitely room for more accessible signature products.
6. The big firms are not quite as ‘out-of-NAMM’ as they insist
With the collapse of comparable events like E3, rumors of dwindling footfall and the likes of Gibson, PRS, and Fender conspicuously absent from NAMM – you’d be forgiven for thinking the event’s future was looking tenuous.
However, the 2024 show felt like the first ‘true NAMM’ since covid. It was noticeably buzzier, there was a huge amount of new gear announced and even those that are not officially taking part seem to be operating in its orbit.
Gibson hosted its own surprise pre-NAMM event at its LA showroom – capitalizing on the media influx to the show, Fender’s brands dropped a heap of announcements in the lead up to the show (including these tasty new Squier Classic Vibes) and even PRS unveiled its innovative ‘Wing Button’ tuners and new Silver Sky finishes with somewhat coincidental timing.
We also witnessed a lot of instances of firms management/representatives attending NAMM and taking meetings behind the scenes – even if they weren’t ‘officially’ running a booth. For instance, Dean gave us a sneak preview of its 2024 line.
We’re not saying you’ll see the likes of Fender and Gibson back at next year’s event (or ever, for that matter), but we suspect their curiosity has been piqued.
Perhaps, more importantly, those that remained at NAMM have started to stretch their wings and fill the vacuum left by the biggest hitters. Ernie Ball Music Man’s booth was a daily must-see, for instance.
7. The next wave of popular signature guitars are all semi-hollows
Now, we know we said signature products are getting smaller, but we also stressed that signature guitars aren’t going anywhere, and the high-profile artist-endorsed instruments unveiled around NAMM this year all have the same thing in common: they’re semi-hollow.
As mentioned, Gibson, though absent from the show, took the opportunity to give Guitar World a preview of the long-awaited Epiphone DG-335 Dave Grohl model.
It’s a trend whose roots can be traced back further. Emily Wolfe’s semi-hollow Stealth Epiphone, for example, arrived last year and won a lot of fans.
There are many solidbody signatures on the market, and semi-hollows pose an attractive alternative to fans who are looking to add something different to their collection.
What’s more, modern amp, pickup and monitoring tech has enabled players to tame the once unwieldy feedback issues that might have put off players of a heavier predilection.
Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but with the SA-126’s inevitable expansion and the furor surrounding the DG-335, it seems like the semi-hollow is entering a new era of rock and indie patronage.
8. The premium offshore build is here to stay
The concept of a good quality foreign-made instrument is not new. Players have been singing the praises of Japanese builds since the ’80s and back in 2022, Fender’s Mexican facility, Ensenada celebrated its 35th anniversary. However, over the last year or two we’ve seen a conscious shift in the marketing and pricing of these instruments.
Epiphone is perhaps the obvious example – with it’s stunning Chinese-made Inspired by Gibson Custom Shop models crossing right into the price streams of Gibson’s cheaper US builds. We expect the Epiphone DG-335 Dave Grohl signature mentioned above to be priced similarly.
Meanwhile, Yamaha’s new Pacifica Professional – beautifully constructed by its top Japanese luthiers with a street price of $2,200 – has us questioning everything we thought we knew about the perennial beginners’ model.
Why is it happening? Well, it’s partly because production standards have improved hugely – we can no longer expect just a decent beginners guitar from these locales, but absolutely tour-worthy models, too.
The other side of it, though, is that prices have gone up faster than incomes and manufacturers’ US offerings are feeling increasingly unaffordable to a large slice of the market.
As such, guitar-makers have needed something to plug the widening gap between the foreign-made beginner instruments and the traditional US builds. The answer? Premium offshore.
9. A lot of the coolest stuff wasn’t even a product
Since NAMM returned for its first post-Covid event, the average spectator’s perspective of the trade show has seemingly been one of resigned defeat. This year, though, created cause for hope: NAMM 2024 was an utter spectacle.
In fact, the coolest aspects of the show weren’t the flashy new pieces of gear on display, but all the casual extras that went along with them.
“It was great to see a decent turnout on the artist front, too, with Ernie Ball in particular bringing the star power,” said GW EIC Mike Astley-Brown. “I also think it was Very Cool that there was so much note-worthy stuff that wasn't actually a product at all.
If the outlook on NAMM before the show was one of pessimism, it now surely must be one of optimism. Gear aside, people go to the show for precisely the sorts of wild and wonderful spectacles that were on display this year and it was good to see all involved seize the moment, in that regard.
10. The natural burst is popping off
As previously mentioned, there was a lot about the Pacifica Pro that caught our eye and ear at NAMM 2024 – from the player-friendly contours to those Neve-designed pickups – but the Beach Burst model showcased a finish technique we’ve not really noticed before.
Essentially, the natural tone of the wood is left in the center while a color fades into it. It’s not an aging effect – it uses the same technique of fading between two colors (e.g. the black to amber Sunburst) of a traditional burst effect, but instead goes from color to (almost) clear lacquer.
It looks great on the sand/ocean-colored tones of the Pacifica’s Beach Burst, but we also saw a similar technique applied from another Japanese luthier, on Takamine’s beautiful LTD2024.
The top-end build channels a solar system theme – complete with planet fretboard inlays – and the effect was used to cleverly fade from the dark blue periphery of the bridge and headstock into the natural glow of ‘the sun’ positioned on the 12th fret.
It’s a simple concept and we’re sure it’s been done elsewhere, but it’s popping up in a few lines – and, in the cases above, feel like yet more evidence of Japanese builders’ latest wave of influence on guitar design.
Whether hands-on, pounding the show floor, or wading through the avalanche of press releases, GW saw an incredible amount of new gear launched at this year’s show.
Those aforementioned lightweight Eminent Model Twenty Two flat panal cab/amps are very exciting indeed, while on the opposite end of the spectrum, Bill Kelliher's super-heavy slab of metal guitar, the LTD Royal Shiva, felt reassuringly monstrous under-the-palm.
Meanwhile, yeah we mentioned it before, but Jack White's Telecaster touring guitar might be the coolest and most-heavily modded instrument we’ve had the privilege of holding.
For similar, retro cool vibes, but bottled up in a new model, well, the “cubist” Kauer Guitars Gripen was hard to beat. The Eastman D’Ambrosio range also continued that firm’s habit of somehow looking backwards and forwards, simultaneously.
Honorable mentions also have to go to the returning Dean Guitars and Fulltone pedals, both brands have not been without controversy (albeit for differing reasons) in recent years, but appear to be righting the ship with new products and, in the latter case, under license with a new management team.
Finally, we're going to give a shout-out to the show itself: the grand old-dame of music-making events is not out for the count yet, and it was great to see so much evidence of a guitar community that – despite all the challenges of recent years – is still absolutely buzzing and, frankly, never more vibrant...