This years show wasn't smaller for a change - guess it's hit the bottom and stopped. The usual bigger names were there: Peavey, Marshall (same huge stand, but also renting a demo room elsewhere) Fender, Rosetti (Gibson/epi/BCRich/Adam Black + a bunch of stuff) Hughes and Kettner, Vintage guitars, JJ, Dennis Cornell, Line 6, Vox plus a bunch of small British Luthiers and amp makers.
I wandered in, avoiding the Rosetti stand - always a HUGE affair with all the Gibsons out of reach and covered in Epis for the kids the thrash. Off to the left was Ovation, sharing a stand with Vintage. Tried the Ovation 'old board' guitar and was actually surprised how good it was. I last played an Ovation 20 years ago, and had decided they were not for me. This was relatively warm, responsive and sounded like an acoustic guitar. Not bad.
I could hear someone playing a really good version of ZZ Top 'Heard it on the X' so I wandered off to find it coming from the Peavey stand. This guy:
Introduced himself as 'Martinez' I think - US accent anyway. He was using a custom 3 P90 guitar + a little delay and going into a Delta Blues. Not only a cracking player, but the 2nd best tone of the whole show. Tone may be in the fingers, but it's in everything else you use too, and none of the guys using the delta blues sounded bad. I walked off after 15 mins because I was missing the show and had to leave at 2pm, but really wished I could have heard more.
While he was playing I saw someone off to the side and thought I recognised him. Went over and asked if they were demonstrating too, and he said "I'm on at 11 O'clock". So on the dot, back I came for Jerry Donahue.
Another custom made guitar, with strat and tele tones. Jerry was talking a lot about the special PU in it that was wound half way, a cap added and then wound back the other way. Semi hum-cancelling, nasal semi-out of phase tones, but with full bass response and fat tones. He was playing through a special amp-simulator pedal (made by Award-session) and although it added some grit, I'd say it actually detracted from his tone. I understand that on all Hellecasters studio recordings, that's what you hear.
But Jerry was talking just like any normal guy, demoing using the Hellecasters 'rock the dog' and using those famous bends behind the nut. Cool bloke that I wish I'd talked to a bit more.
Wandering around a bit more, came across Guthrie Goven.
He was demoing for Cornford, and they had his new CD 'Erotic Cakes' pls Tees etc all out. He's an astonishingly brilliant player that apparently thinks good tone sounds like a swarm of bees. If I'd been Cornford I'd have gently eased him off the stand unless that's how they want their amps to sound. He was playing through a head + 2X12, and once you got past the sheer technical wizardry of his music, you realised he just had completely shameful tone. He was using a Suhr, so there's no excuse - Just sucked really badly. I'm not sure if it was the tone getting in the way, but after a couple of minutes it just stopped being musical and descended into scratchy, annoying noises. A shame, as I had always viewed GG as something of a hero, and was really anticipating something good.
But you can't worry about these things, and I next heard THE best tone of the whole show. This is Thomas Blug.
He was demonstrating on the Hughes and Kettner stand with his white '62 strat. He was everything that GG wasn't: toneful, musical and he made me want to try the kit. Brilliant. I think he was using the new Triaxis head with just a wah pedal in front, and the tones were just fabulous. Smooth, fat lead lines, a quick channel change for sparkle and a touch of chorus from the amp, full clean tones and all the way back to rocking drive. His performance wasn't stilted either: it was hard to get a pic of him as he was moving with his playing, rather than standing and widdling away. Very, very good.
A little more wandering and I found the PRS stand with Johnny Hyland in full flow:
Very sweet tones from his PRS with maple fingerboard, and a nice fluid, funky sounding number that gave the ears relief from the usual meedley meedley meedley SCREE! that seems to be the standard riff for testing any guitar or amp. The bass player was using Line 6, and I think Hyland may have been too, although I couldn't get close enough to see. It was also nice to see and hear a PRS being used for something other than metal, and that it could produce such sweet tones was a surprise.
Just a couple more pics to share:
This is NOT a PRS, but a Bailey, and was my 'guitar of the show'. Simply beautiful in a way that was just one step up from the very similar looking PRS that was also at the show. I didn't ask the price as I didn't want to know what I'd have to sell.
I've seen the Tufnell guitar before:
It is what it is - a piece of rock legend.
I did a fair bit of amp listening on my way round the show. After my experience hearing the Cornfords I started to notice what the demonstrators that sounded good were using. Let me say, Line 6 have a lot of great tones these days. The demonstrator on the Ernie Ball stand was using a Vetta, and sounding pretty darn good on it. The Line 6 stand itself was a source of great tones pretty much all the time. From the way things are going I'd say some valve amp manufacturers are going to have to watch themselves in the next few years.
Other honourable mentions:
I Tried a Gretsch Electromatic (£299) on the sound control stand - best fret job I've seen on any guitar for a long time.
Tried a Variax 300 there, and was surprised at how much better the neck shape and fingerboard was than the original 500s that I tried and hated originally. It wasn't a 'good' guitar, but I'd have been happy to play out with it.
Didn't try one, but the Vintage demonstrator was getting some good tones from their new Trev Wilkinson designed models, AND they are a fresh take on the original designs at great prices. On the opposite side, Indie guitars were there, looking a little bloated and overpriced these days at £500+ show prices.
Saw a guy with some Trussart guitars - Nickel plated and rusted finishes. Sounded good, however the nickel looked like too much bling and the rusted looked like a piece of garbage. On the same sand they had 'Spear' guitars, with a 5-piece laminated through-neck Tele and a double cut. The tele again looked gorgeous with flamed maple top, but clearly didn't have the tones of the trussart to back it up.
Talked to Dennis Cornell of DC Developments. He said the show was for publicity purposes only for him, and that no-one really came expecting to spend his kind of money on amps.
Orange had a stand, with some great offers on ex-demo heads and cabs. Maybe it was the lack of good demonstrators, but I didn't hear any *great* tones coming from them.
Torres had a stand, and seemed to have cleared out their workshop of old amp models, bit of junk etc to scrape up enought to bring to the show.
Bareknuckel were busy, but that kind of environment is just the wrong place to start testing different PUs for one you're going to find satisfying.
Picked up a Bad Monkey for £29. Haven't had time to try it yet, but I got the last one on the stand - they'd been amazed at selling them all.
Not a bad show, although I doubt I'll go back next year.