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Monday, February 11, 2013

NAMM 2013 - A view from my eyes

The Main Entrance
One of the many performers

The NAMM was held from 24 to 27 January 2013 in Anaheim, California, USA. This show has been called many things, like the biggest, loudest, most in variety, most crowded, etc. I think calling it a marathon may fit the bill because the amount of distance I have walked in four days could very well cover the entire marathon distance. The size of the exhibition halls in combination is likened to football fields. The number of exhibitors are almost uncountable manually. Everything seems interesting in NAMM whereas some are a lot more. Visitors are either attracted by interest or music and they walk from point-to-point to satisfy their curiosity. I was no exception as well. There are not many free seats for visitors thus standing around is pretty much name of the game. A tiring game I must add…

NAMM Show 2013:


Business deals are the main thrust in NAMM, as such it is only for trade and it is not opened to public. In a way it is good for business activities. Unlike Shanghai's Music China, the sheer visitation numbers could dwarf other music trade fairs easily. In such situation, quality is traded for quantity inadvertently. However, if NAMM show wants to drive visitation numbers, reaching out to public is the obvious choice. Well for years, NAMM has never allow numbers to supersedes relevance.

Tech 21
Beautiful Girl, it works all the time

I have heard of the NAMM show for years and it was really a growth opportunity for me to attend the 2013 show. This was made possible by Mi-Si Electronics' invitation. This company produces pickup systems for acoustic guitars. In fact, it is the only active pickup system that doesn't get its power by 9V dry cell instead the pickup gets it juice from ultra-power capacitors. Mikhail, who is the founder of Mi-Si Electronics, he has generously included me as a show visitor. In the show, I have met Mikhail's life partner Simona and Greg Romano who is the Sales Manager.

Mikhail and Greg of Mi-Si Electronics

The love for music as a culture has certainly rooted deeply within the Americans. Playing an instrument seems as common as running, at least in this NAMM show I have observed. It wasn't just recognizing the instruments, most people I saw in NAMM 2013 can really play well. In comparison, Singapore music enthusiasts are way off in terms of the capability to play the musical instruments. Perhaps we can attribute it to the size of the market. Personally I am more inclined to attribute to their passion for music which is intensified by the culture of arts, not forgetting the keen competition among the music enthusiasts to better each other. The music industry doesn't tolerate the half-baked. If you're not up to standard, the natural selection will flush you out of the music industry in no time.

Andy McKee
Thomas Leeb

This is the time of the year for every brand to create impressions to the potential buyers thus they spare no effort to attain that. Big brands like Fender, Gibson, Taylors, Godin, Roland, Yamaha, Peavey, etc. each has its own private exhibition halls and performances. You can expect heavy weight artists to be hired to enhance their positions in the market. They will showcase their best products, some are specially made for the show. Fender made a diamond studded Telecaster which was priced at USD $120,000. When I was photographing it, I realized that the label says "SOLD." Martin Guitars presented a glowing Dreadnought guitar to commemorate her 180th anniversary. Gibson has set up a row of guitars for visitors to get direct hands-on experiences. Each guitar comes with a headphone to allow visitors to listen to the generated sound of each guitar. Many brands have set up live demonstration stations of their products to create instant yet unforgettable experiences for the visitors and buyers. I guess they stop at nothing to make a point.

A USD $120,000 Telecaster
The Glowing Martin 180th Anniversary

As for the regular exhibitors, they are all consolidated in various exhibition halls. Indeed there big brands in these halls as well. Perhaps these companies didn't wish to book private rooms for reasons only known to them. In the past, NAMM show was populated by Americans, Latin Americans, Europeans. In this NAMM 2013, I have notice the number of Asian exhibitors. Most of them were from China. In fact, many business meetings I have seen involved Asians. Looks like the scale is tipping.

This show features many brands in this music industry. I was delighted to learn that a group of luthiers has teamed up to showcase their priced handcrafted guitars in this NAMM show. They called themselves the Luthiers Consortium. It was made up by these luthiers (I may have missed some, apologies in advance)

1. Kent Chasson
2. Laurent Brondel
3. Jason Kostal
4. Bruce Sexauer
5. Howard Klepper
6. Mike Baranik
7. Randall Kramer
8. Eric Schoenberg
9. Mario Beauregard
10. Michael Dunn
11. Michael Lewis
12. Sparky Kramer

Laurent, I and Kent

They were aware that trying their guitars were not suitable in the NAMM show because of the loud sound within the exhibition halls. They invited the interested parties to visit them at their hotel after the show to test drive the guitars instead. I visited them on day 2 of the show. It was a pleasure to have so many handcrafted guitars that I can lay my hands on without restriction. Indeed I have enjoyed the meeting with them. The conversations were so insightful as my key interest is in building acoustic guitars.

A show of such scale naturally attracts many people as well as all kinds of people. These unique characters turned with their desired apparels to make their statements. In fact, I met the "lizard man". This guy has tattoo done on his entire body (I assume) and also certain bodily modifications done to take on the lizard look. His tongue was split to resembles the tongue of reptiles. Some people turned up in all black, wearing mascara, pierced tongue, etc. Invariably, there was also no lacking of beautiful girls in the show.

The Lizard Man

In the show, I have met my local counterparts like the dealer of Samson Technologies, Swee Lee's General Manager, the boss of Tomas Music, staff from City Music, etc. It was a nice feeling to see "your own kind" but I was equally delighted to meet people from other parts of the world.

This show was very well organized in many aspects. I will share my two cents from these,

1. Layout & Booth Design
2. Registration
3. Content

Layout & Booth Design

The entire show utilizes 5 exhibition halls, 1 arena hall and three levels of meeting rooms. If I am incorrect, most likely I have under reported the space utilization. As there are many exhibitors and so little time, it was imperative to locate any given booth efficiently. Near the ceiling of the exhibition halls, huge booth labels are suspended to allow visitors to recognize very quickly the row number. The design of individual booth was like a beauty pageant contest. Each brand presented their strongest visual identity to the visitors. No effort was spared to put up the most eye-catching decorations to compete for attention. In space utilization, it was not about maximizing the space available. The organizer has carefully planned the spaces required to avoid over cluttering of booths and people. Cafeterias were located conveniently in each hall to cater to the visitors' feeding needs. The width of the isle was sufficient for large crowd to move pass with the exception of the passes between one exhibition hall to another that experienced over-crowding situations. Between booths, boundaries were well defined.

Many people would expect the sound level to be deafening. However, it wasn't the case but I am not saying that it was soft. I have witnesses a few "sound patrol" guys enforcing the sound level restrictions at the show floor. They were holding on to sound pressure meters to ascertain if any performance was too loud. It was clear that the sound level within the show was under controlled. Each exhibitor was given the "sound space" to demonstrate their product strengths. I think NAMM show fare better than Music China in this aspect.

There were ample of lavatories to cater to the crowd. The cleaning frequency was increased to keep them clean and neat. While there were some disgusting ones, overall it was reasonably well maintained.


The registration process started off well. I was given an email with my tag and barcodes to validate my attendance for this show. There were many reminder emails sent to ensure I have the email ready for the registration. On day 1, I was all geared up to attend the show. At the entrance, I was turned away by a show usher because of my haversack. This person said that bags aren't allowed for people who are labeled visitors. That was indeed an anti-climax. I had to make my way back to the hotel to dock my haversack and get back to the show venue. This time I was granted entry but I have to queue up with the rest to get my badge printed. This process puzzles many visitors as many have lamented about having to queue for 20 to 30 minutes to get your turn. Why not just send the badge to all registered participants? In my opinion, the organizer has probably given more weight to security over convenience.

To my surprise, I notice other visitors who were carrying bags and they were allowed to enter the show. To clarify things, I approached another staff about this issue. He apologized to me about the confusion. He claimed that they were given the instructions to bare any entry of bags with wheels. However my haversack has no wheels but I was refused of entry earlier. He apologized again for the confusion as certain staff were just exercising their judgement. I hope the incident hadn't happened as it wasted my time and money to catch taxis to and for the show venue. Indeed I didn't expect such confusion to occur considering the years of experiences NAMM show's organizers have garnered. After day 1, there was no more entry barrier.


With years of experiences backing NAMM show, they have accumulated a wealth of relevant content. In fact accumulating content is the easy part but keeping it organized is the hard part. In my opinion, NAMM has done well in organizing the content. It wasn't hard to navigate through the website to obtain things you desired. Detail information of the NAMM show was at your fingertips. Regardless exhibitors classifications, locations, performance schedule and venue, workshop write-ups, seminar schedule and venue, advertisement opportunities, etc. They are a click away. There are many formats of ideas-sharing in the NAMM show. In my opinion, these sharing sessions regardless of format are very important to stay innovative and forefront. Perhaps it is the passion for sharing in NAMM show that made it a success year after year. This year's NAMM, a mobile apps was made available in the open source domain for downloading. Being my first visit, the apps has benefited me indeed. I was able to mark out the booths I have planned to visit. The apps showed the entire floor layout, zoomable option was available to see close-ups. With the apps, performances schedule and venue were easily retrievable. There are many more options in the mobile apps than I have illustrated.

My Closing Thoughts

Indeed it was eye opening for me. I have been to Music China and some other exhibitions and the NAMM show has left an impression in me for sure. Learning is a continuous journey that never ends. In this show the conversations I made with different people have benefited my knowledge of the music industry. Just being present in the show, and being bombarded by the sound and sights have inadvertently heighten my awareness as well. If opportunity allows, I will visit NAMM again!

Pictures time!

























What can I say?


  1. Wow, what an amazing experience Adam! Thanks for the report.

  2. Thanks Peter. Always happy share! Hope to see you in Malaysia this March 2013.