The NAMM Awards: Best Innovation Print
Wednesday, 30 January 2008 14:04
namm-anaheim-convention-center.jpgBy Jim Basara - GJD
Today's award category is "Innovation", slightly altered from last year's category. This category is meant to honor companies who made significant, and positive, design innovations. It might be a completely new product, or it might be a giant step forward on an existing product, but it has to be for the better, and it has to be significant.

First up is the new carbon fiber guitar from XOX Audio Tools, called "The Handle". Over the years, there have been a variety of electric guitars made from alternate materials - nearly all have been discontinued, and none have made a real impact on the industry. Several things about this instrument strike me as greatly different from those other attempts.
To start, the design is nothing short of stunning. It was impossible to walk by the XOX booth at NAMM without doing a double-take and stopping to take a closer look, and indeed their booth was packed during the entire show. Designed by Milan-based Peter Solomon, this guitar is sleek and seductive. It is a next-generation design made with next-generation materials. Too many times, builders take a classic body design like a Les Paul or Strat and build it with futuristic materials, but the result is a guitar that just doesn't seem to "fit". XOX has solved that problem by going futuristic all the way, in both design and materials.


The noteworthy features of this guitar don't stop at its looks. As soon as you pick it up, you are blown away by its weight. Coming in at only 4.4 pounds, The Handle nearly flies out of your hand when you first pick it up. Placing the guitar into the playing position, I was very impressed at how well the guitar fit to the body and at the feel of the neck. This is not a second rate guitar that looks cool; it is clearly built to be a player, and it feels natural and amazingly warm in your hands.


Ah, but a skeleton of a guitar made of carbon fiber can't possibly sound good, right? Well, that's what I thought at first, but I couldn't have been more wrong. Plugging The Handle into and amp, I was amazed at the warmth and depth of the sound on a clean setting. XOX says that its "mono-chassis, hollow sectioned construction favors direct transmission of acoustic vibrations and creates a resonance chamber similar to that of a semi-acoustic guitar." Further, XOX claims that carbon fiber surprisingly offers a much wider harmonic range than wood. Well, I wouldn't have believed the marketing hype, but I couldn't deny what I was feeling and hearing. The clean tones were warm and clear; and overdriven, the guitar will produce smooth, searing leads. This futuristic player is for real and it will be interesting to follow how the market reacts to it.


The Handle packs DiMarzio PAF Pro pickups, a GraphTech nut, a Hipshot Baby Grand bridge, and Planet Waves Auto Trim tuners. The wiring is also somewhat non-standard. Rather than a pickup selector, The Handle offers a blending pot that allows the player to dial in the desired contribution of the bridge and neck pickups, providing great flexibility in the range of tones you can get.

Three cheers to XOX for thinking way outside the box on this guitar. We look forward to doing a detailed review on it once they begin to ship. In the meantime, you can hear the XOX on YouTube at the following links:

Next up is the new MW1 Studio Tool from Creation Audio Labs. Guitarists who record are going to love this little gem. The MW1 combines a wide variety of impressive features in a single package. It is a multi-function real-amping device for use while recording, re-amplifying, or playing live. It provides a transparent, transfomerless D.I., variable input/output impedance and other problem solving functions that make it easier to create the exact sound that you are hearing in your imagination.


Features include:

* Transparent, tranformerless D.I.
* Records D.I. and amp tracks at the same time, giving you the ability to track instruments in their purest form while also using your amps and effects for your live sound
* Re-amplifying / real-amping solution, allows you to run a captured guitar track back through the MW1 Studio Tool to dial up great tone and then re-record tracks with different amplifiers or effects while still retaining the original performance.
* Variable input and output impedance allows you to match impedance to any following input stage and use pro studio gear in front of your amp.

The MW1 also allows guitarists to use stompboxes as effects during mix, or engage a full compliment of their favorite studio compressors, EQs, and effects.

It is a very impressive piece of gear that can vastly improve the range of gear configurations that guitarists can dial up both live and in the studio. With the MW1, phase issues, monitoring issues, and latency issues are a thing of the past. If you are serious about recording great guitar tones, you need this box.