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NAMM 2023 Oddities

Les Deutsch, in addition to playing piano with the Night Blooming Jazzmen, plays many other instruments and has been in the technical end of the musical instrument industry since his teens. He has attended the National Association of Music Merchants' (NAMM) giant trade show each winter since 1976. the "NAMM Show" is one of the largest trade shows in the world. The most recent show that took place April 13-15, 2023 at the Anaheim Convention Center.

This was the first reasonable complete NAMM Show since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic started just after NAMM 2020. NAMM 2021 was virtual-only, which really did not work very well. After all, it is hard to test new instruments without actually being in the same room with them! NAMM 2022 was very scaled down. I had arrange to be there but canceled at the last minute because they announced a relaxation of their COVID protocols. I needed to stay healthy to play Caltech Commencement, which was only a week after NAMM 2022 – so I could not afford the risk.

NAMM 2023 had the look at feel of the regular NAMM Show - although it was still in the spring rather than their regular time slot in January. Also, the show took up only about 50% of the standard space. Still, it was very much worth attending and it was great to be back after the two-year break.

Each year at NAMM, Les finds a small number of strange things on exhibit. Some of these don't last until the next NAMM Show. Some are the start of new trends. Others are simply crazy and designed to draw people into someone's exhibit space. What follows are a few of the things Les picked out this year, explained in his own words.

I attended the 2023 NAMM Show on Friday, April 14. It was the only day I could attend, but the smaller show was very see-able in a single day. Here is the front of the Anaheim Convention Center with typical NAMM posters.
Here are Big Johnson Basses. These are acoustic double basses that are clearly designed for people who normally play electric bass – no arco playing here!
As usual, there were plenty of booths dedicated to non-musical instruments. This company, Aeris, makes material for packing your instruments for travel. I haven;t had to worry about this since COVID! Hopefully I will start traveling with bands again soon.
I saw the usual assortment of cymbal shapes that make little sense. This one is from a Chinese manufacturer which I neglected to notate.
A company called Guven presented a set of drums that are manufactured from very solid and think metal. I played this snare drum and it sounded fine. However, it is VERY heavy. This is not something I would want to travel with to gigs/
You can find MIDI controllers in just about any shape nowadays. This one, from Lumen, is based on steel drum pans. It works very well as a percussion MIDI controller – but I have to admit that I am not proficient at pan-style playing. Scales are played by moving close to 180 degrees form the previous note and chromatics require a second entire pan. I am not sure how many musicians will want this device.
Bhava is a company that imports harmoniums from India. This booth also caught my son, Elliot's eye, when he visited the show on Saturday. These are very nice quality instruments - but with only two ranks; 8' and 4'. The other drawknobs are for divided ranges or effects like tremolo. Unlike European (and American) harmoniums, these use positive air pressure rather than suction. The pressure comes from hand bellows behind the instruments.
Here are pocket tubas, in C, Bb, and F, from Zheng Du Musical Instruments, a Chinese company. I tried playing the C tuba, but the valves hardly moved. It did play well enough - on open notes.
These MID controllers (the square button arrays, that is) are form Wolrde, which is also Chinese. They are plug compatible with the Launchpad devices and program in the same way. When I asked if they have any additional features that make them different hat Launchpad, I was told "no." I don't understand...
This was a very interesting booth from Blocki Flute. The name of the company is a play on "blockflute" using the founder's name Kathy Blocki, who was actually there at the booth! Kathy has invented several devices to make teaching the flute easier. The yellow mouthpiece actually is not a mouthpiece. It has embedded wind vanes that spin only when the student is using a correct embouchure. The very small numeric scales on either side of the mouthpiece joint allow students to make an accurate and reproducible angle with the mouthpiece. The black device from the flute to her shoulder is intended to teach proper posture. She told me that the latter device was first invented by a colleague – but he used a bicycle yoke for his prototype. It was heaver and sharp, so he asked Kathy to develop the version shown here.
This device, called PedalPal, is a large flexible base plate onto which you can strap your piano sustain pedal. This keeps the pedal from moving while you play – which I can assert is definitely annoying. It was fairly expensive for a device I think I could readily build myself.
The company here is called "this.is.NOISE". Despite the name, they make MIDI controllers that are VERY small. These 16 button controllers with seven shift levels are only about two inches on a side. I worry about breakage on devices this small, but the people at the booth say they have done a lot of testing and these are very rugged.
This is another this.is.NOISE controller. This one is about the same size but instead of buttons, it measures the distance and angle to your hand (or other object, I suppose). Hence, it is sort of a Theremin controller. I asked if they had a Thermin program to demonstrate and they did not! They are really missing something here.
Here is an interesting new MIDI controller from a French company called "Embodme." It is a touch and pressure sensitive tablet with an array of programmable LEDs . The resolution of the sensors is actually much greater than the spacing of the LEDs, by the way. You can press a spot on the tablet and it will measure you pressure - for multiple spots at once! I think this would make a great graphics tablet too - and I told them this.
This strange device is from another French company, Joue. It is a MIDI sensor array built into a small wooden tray. They make five different rubberized overlays that you can play into this tray. An RFID device on the overlay tells your computer what software to use to drive the system for the particular overlay. In this photo, you can see a guitar interface. Once the overlay s in the tray, you can use the controller - and then switch it to some other instrument later. I asked if a user could have the ability to create their own overlays - and they said that are discouraging this to protect their intellectual property.
Here is the Robkoo woodwind MIDI controller. Since I was the only one at this booth who can play woodwinds at the time, I demonstrated it for a while. The funny led array along the side and be used for things like portamento. I asked if they had a NAMM discount and was told that if I posted something about it to social media sites, I could get $10 off. I passed on this unremarkable discount!
Some NAMM products are really obvious. Desksaver makes plastic covers for your music electronics.
Exactly one gallery at the Anaheim Convention Center has a great overlook vantage point – so here is a photo. This is the lower floor of the North exhibit area.
Nothing says crisp and clear undistorted audio to me like "diesel locomotive"!!!! Yet, this pro audio companies name is indeed "Locomotive Audio " and their logo is an Electro Motive Division F7 diesel locomotive heading straight for you.
Another strange company name is "Soyuz" microphones. The fact that their logo says soyuz in Cyrillic characters s a hint that they are a Russian company. They actually have been making very high-end microphones by had for about 50 years. By the way, the Russian word "soyuz" actually means "union" (as in "Soviet Union"), but I don't know why this company chose this name.