Once again the Anaheim Convention Center was the site of the National Association of Music Merchants; a global crossroads for manufacturers and retailers to check out the next wave of innovative products and technology, schmooze prospective customers, and party hardy. This “industry only” affair deals with every imaginable musical instrument, accessory, and service the vast trade has to offer from Aria Guitars to Zildjian cymbals and everything in between. This year’s slogan was simply “ Believe in Music” connoting ways to increase and expand one’s music, business, and profits in this ever-changing economy.

Founded in 1901 NAMM has been the driving force enabling the business to maximize productivity, reduce costs, and propel the industry forward. With over 5,000 members in the U.S. and over 50 different countries, it is truly a global marketplace conducting research to make the world a more musical place. In addition to products and services, NAMM is an avenue for lengthy panel discussions, marketing strategies, and a wide variety of topics, such as retail theft control, the burgeoning software market, and global trends for the 21st century. Some of the more interesting panel discussions this year explored strategic ways to monetize your music in film & tv, develop disruptive technology to lower overhead, accelerate turnaround time, and broaden the marketplace.

Signature models seemed to be a dominant presence at this year’s gathering. Signature editions are created with artists and manufacturers who work in close collaboration to custom design and personalize an instrument to appeal to fans, collectors, and players alike.

Guitar mega-god Eddie Van Halen introduced the all-new EVH Striped Series Shark in burgundy with silver stripes paying homage to his original guitar and features an angular ash body with a rock-solid set maple neck, carved to a modified ‘C’ profile. The hockey stick headstock matches the paint job on the body. He then added a coat of silver paint and tape, finally, a spray can of burgundy Schwinn bicycle paint to finish. The Striped Shark came into being when the notoriously mod-happy guitarist took a saw to the angular offset body of his guitar, the result was what looked like teeth protruding from the wood.

It was premiered during Van Halen’s first World Tour back in 1978 and appeared on the back cover of the “Women and Children First” album. It’s since become an all-time fan favorite.

Rick Vito, guitarist with (Fleetwood Mac, Bob Seger, Bonnie Raitt) offered up his third signature model, “The Soulshaker” with Reverend Guitars that features a single cut set neck with a pair of humbuckers in either Ivory Pearloid or Grey Pearloid. The Korina body has strategically placed chambers for extra resonance and a maple top to add zing to the overall tone. (

Even the humble harmonica got some signature love courtesy of the “Piano Man” Billy Joel. Teaming up with Honer, the legendary singer/composer designed the Billy Joel Signature Harmonica that features custom engraved stainless-steel cover plates mounted on an exotic Doussie mahogany wood comb. The harmonica is packaged in a beautiful display case, which also contains the score of the famous intro to “Piano Man”. (

While not quite falling into signature series status, it was nevertheless a hoot to see former Spinal Tap bassist Derek Smalls (aka Harry Shearer) host a whimsical event for Ampeg. Taking place in the Marriott Grand Ballroom to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Ampeg’s SVT bass amplifier. Shearer, in full Derek Smalls regalia, touted the merits of and played through his 11ft tall bass amp (yes, it goes up to 11) and took questions from the audience. Select tracks from his newly released solo album “Small’s Change” received an enthusiastic crowd response. The album also features some of the greatest talents in rock and roll music and beyond including Peter Frampton, Donald Fagen, Dweezil Zappa, Rick Wakeman, Richard Thompson, Steve Lukather, Joe Satriani, Waddy Wachtel, Michael League, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, Paul Shaffer, Steve Vai, Larry Carlton, Judith Owen, Jane Lynch and The Hungarian Studio Orchestra. (

Hal Leonard the leading publisher of songbooks; sheet music, band, orchestra, and choral arrangements debuted a new instructional music theory book by uber talented axeman Steve Vai. Cleverly entitled “Vaideology” it explores the basis of music theory to help players become more musically literate. Vai combines practice exercises, diagrams, and tips. (

Speaking of Steve Vai rumors were running rampant about the possibility that Diamond David Lee Roth of Van Halen would reunite with his former bandmates, drummer Greg Bissonette, bassist, Billy Sheehan, and guitar wizard Vai from the 1986 release “Eat ‘Em and Smile” at the Ultimate Namm Jam.

Vai, Sheehan and Bissonette came together on Saturday night 1-26-19 for a two-song performance. They were joined by singer Jeff Scott Soto (Sons of Appollo, Talisman, Yngwei Malmsteen) to play a cover of the Queen classic “Tie Your Mother Down” and the Sheehan-penned Talas headbanger “Shy Boy” which appeared on the “Eat ‘Em And Smile” album.

About the possibility of a “Eat ‘Em And Smile”-era band reunion, Vai said: “Well, you never know. It’s something that’s come up now and then, and if the starts aligned, sure, it might be very nice. When I’m planning my career, or my next project, you have to plan years in advance,” he continued. “I’m already booked out to 2021. So, if nothing is written in stone and booked way ahead, it doesn’t really happen. And with this kind of thing, when we’ve spoken about it, the timing just wasn’t quite right.”

When I asked Billy Sheehan in the Hilton Bar later that night about Roth’s participation he said: “That would be hard since Dave is in New York.” Rumor squashed!

The official NAMM Show publication UpBeat offered a wealth of information pertaining to the who, what, where, and when involving panel discussions. There were two that caught our eye falling into the not-to-be-missed category.

The first was “Welcome to Electric Ladyland: A Conversation with Eddie Kramer” where studio engineer/mixer/producer went one-on-one with Public Enemy bassist Brian Hardgroove for a riveting discussion about the recording of Jimi Hendrix’s landmark album “Electric Ladyland” from the 1968 sessions. In addition to sharing rare photos and hand written lyric sheets from the Kramer archives he played alternative takes, acoustic demos of early stage songs, and premiered the new 5.1 remix release. It was fascinating to hear about the all nighter recording session where Jimi would work side-by-side with Eddie using “4 hands” to operate the console and the unconventional phrasing variac and joystick to construct Hendrix’s masterpiece. Kramer said: “My brain had to click into another level to capture what Jimi called his ‘rock freakout…rave and blues’”. Kramer described the collaboration as “beautifully savage”. SPACE 

The other was a chance to get up close and personal with famed rock ‘n’ roll photographer/author Neal Preston, who has spent decades capturing some of rock’s most pivotal moments in music and pop culture. For over 40 years, Preston has toured with the likes of Led Zeppelin, The Who, Queen, Fleetwood Mac, Bruce Springsteen, among others, and through his work in TV and film, has amassed one of the largest and legendary archives in rock music photography. His Lightpower Collection Showcase was located in two separate areas and took on two themes.

The first area located at the NAMM Member Center (lobby of the Anaheim Convention Center) featured the most iconic and thought-provoking images from Preston. The other location was in Hall A – at the Behind-the-Scenes booth. The booth displayed a collection of images, including three never-before-seen of the late, great Freddie Mercury (Queen) as well as select shots of Led Zeppelin from Preston’s time as the band’s official tour photographer. His new coffee table book entitled “Exhilarated and Exhausted” was on display along with previous publication “In the Eye of the Rock’n Roll Hurricane”. It was an honor to spend time talking with him about his incredibly prolific career behind the lens…

Growing up in New York’s Flushing Meadows he started shooting bands as a teenager at the local bowling alley gradually working his way up to concert venues where he shot the Jeff Beck Group in 1968. As a burgeoning music fan, he found he could get into the shows as a photographer for free and soon was smitten by the power and majesty of live rock concerts. Never taking any photography lessons didn’t stop him from learning his craft and within a few years, he was caught up in the jet stream with some of the world’s biggest rock bands. I was curious about how he determined when it was time to put the camera away so as not to be too intrusive. He answered; “Work is work… the party is party…be invisible…access is everything”. He hit the proverbial “sweet spot” hitching his wagon to the enviable star of rock music’s meteoric popularity and rode it into the sunset. He also said he has 32 file cabinets at home with more images to share in the future.  The NAMM experience wouldn’t be complete without the numerous live shows happening each night at various nearby venues.

The Ronnie Montrose Remembered was a star studded event featuring performers Jack Russell’s Great White; George Lynch (Dokken / Lynch Mob), Doug Aldrich (Whitesnake/Dio); Tracii Guns (LA Guns); Frank Hannon (Tesla); Keith St. John (Montrose/Kingdom Come); Dave Amato (REO Speedwagon); Derek St Holmes (Ted Nugent);  Paul Shortino (Quiet Riot/Rough Cutt/Spinal Tap); James Kottak (Scorpions); Robert Mason (Warrant); Randy Jackson (Zebra); Phil Demmel (Machinehead/Slayer); Mic Mahan (Pat Benatar); Andrew Freeman (Last in Line/Offspring); Mitch Perry (Edgar Winter Band); Brent Woods (Sebastian Bach); Brad Lang (Y & T); Sean McNabb (Dokken/Quiet Riot), Jeff Kathan (Paul Rodgers Band); Marc Bonilla Keith Emerson Band); Jimmy Paxson (Stevie Nicks/Dixie Chicks); Jimmy Degrasso (Ozzy Osbourne/Ratt); Jim Wheeler (Loggins and Messina); Ed Roth (Annie Lennox) for a unforgettable night of non-stop rock from the incomparable RonnieMontrose. The jam reached critical mass when guitarist George Lynch joined Doug Aldrich and Frank Hannon on stage for a blistering version of “Rock the Nation”. 

Saturday night’s TEC Awards hosted by comedian Demetri Martin handed out awards in 31 categories including products, projects, video games, live performances, television, and film and took place in the cavernous Hilton Pacific Ballroom. Special honoree Peter Frampton was the recipient of the Les Paul Innovation Award and graced the crowd recalling some fond memories of Les and his prolific career. Frampton also dug deep in his sonic arsenal to perform a gem ”Four Day Creep” from Humble Pie’s masterpiece “Rockin’ the Filmore” and his smash hit “Do You Feel Like We Do” from “Frampton Comes Alive”. 

TheNAMM experience empowers the shared global language of music to unite and entertain like nothing else on earth.