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Guitar Tech: Winter NAMM Awards - Best Guitars PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 07 February 2007 12:40
Image By Jim Basara
Question: If you were blindfolded and placed in front of a bar, how would you know that you were at NAMM???

Answer: It would be 10am and the bar would be featuring Sammy Hagar’s own Cabo Wabo tequila!

As Nick and Ken did a great job of describing the conference itself, I wanted to pass on some of the cool and not-so-cool items that I saw at the show. Since it’s Oscar season, let’s run our own award show. Here are the award categories:

1. Best Guitars – Clearly the show covers a lot more than guitars, but we’re focusing on what I thought were some of the best instruments of the show.

2. Best Products in a Supporting Role – These are some of the cool guitar-related products that I particularly liked.

3. Products Most Likely to Dramatically Affect the Guitar Industry – These are products that I feel may have a huge impact on our market in the future.

4. Best Innovations on an Existing Product or Design – These are new advancements to anything guitar related that has been stagnant for years.

5. What Were They Thinking? – These are products that you have to wonder what the product manager or creator was thinking when they made the go-forward decision.

6. Hmmmm, on Second Thought… – These are products that I originally had classified as a candidate for the “What Were They Thinking?” category, but after further thought, felt there might actually be a market.

In today’s article, I’m going to name some of the best guitars that I saw at the show. Picking just a few guitars to highlight is almost an impossible task. I saw thousands of great guitars at the show and I check out over a hundred in detail. The guitars that made my list impressed me with their look, tone, playability, and the care which I felt the luthiers/manufacturers took to maintain high quality. In many cases, I found great guitars, but the person representing the company at the booth either couldn’t answer my questions about quality, or wouldn’t engage me in a dialog. It was frustrating because there were some beautiful instruments in this group, but I can’t recommend them to you if I don’t have confidence in the builder. In many other cases, I picked up instruments that were absolutely gorgeous, but their playability was very unimpressive. This mostly happens because a great craftsman finds making beautiful guitars a passion and pursues it as a career. While this is a wonderful pursuit, these folks have to realize that a multi-thousand dollar boutique guitar needs to offer much more than beauty. It needs to play like budda.

Anyway, here are some of the guitars that I found particularly impressive given the factors above. They are in no particular order.

First up is Gary Kramer Guitars. For anyone who has been playing for more than 5 years or so, you probably recognize the name Kramer. Kramer first hit the market in the late 70’s with a revolutionary aluminum necked guitar that was one of the warmest sounding instruments I’ve ever heard. I bought a Kramer the first year it was made (yes, I’m dating myself) and of the many guitars that I’ve bought and sold, letting it go is one of my most regrettable transactions. Gary left Kramer in the 80’s and it was subsequently sold to Gibson.

Gary is now back in action, along with luthier Leo Scala, who moved to this country to start the business with Gary. They were sporting three instruments at NAMM, each of which blew me away. The Crusader is a Strat-style guitar that offers incredible playability. It is one of the most playable guitars I tried at the show. The Delta Wing is a futuristic looking instrument that actually provides great balance and playability. For hard rock and metal players, this guitar really screams. The Bondage model is one of the most elegant guitars I saw at NAMM. It’s smallish, Les Paul styled body is bound in high quality Italian leather. It is a masterpiece to look at and it feels just as great in your hands. Figure 1 shows Leo and Gary in front of their Bondage model. The Crusader is shown to Leo’s left. Figure 2 shows the Delta Wing. All are worth playing. Click here for more photos and details of Gary’s guitars. The retail pricing for Gary’s new line ranges from about $1500 and up, based on a whole slew of available options. Also check out Gary’s web site for more info. In addition to detailed information on his guitars, the site also provides a great historical perspective of his experience at Travis Bean and the original Kramer guitars.

Next up is the Brazen Caleb Quaye model. If you’re an avid reader of Guitar Jam (and if you’re not, you should be), you’ve heard Ronny North mention Brazen guitars a few times. From a value-for-money perspective, Brazen has one of the most impressive guitar lines on the market. They are very reasonably priced, they all play great, and the company takes great care with the setups. Simply installing high-end pickups puts this inexpensive guitar line into the professional category.

Brazen’s newest limited edition model, the Caleb Quaye, is a masterpiece that is clearly a professional-class guitar. For those of you who have not heard of Caleb Quaye, he was the long-time friend and guitarist for Elton John in the early days and has played for many of the biggest names in music. Eric Clapton himself called Caleb the world’s best guitarist on the David Letterman show. Brazen’s Caleb Quaye model sports a Brazilian Patagonian rosewood set-in neck and fingerboard, a mahogany body with a beautiful flame maple top. The pickup configuration offers a rare SSH format with Seymour Duncan Cool Rails in the bridge and middle position, and a Seymour Duncan Jazz humbucker in the neck position that is coil-tapped. The tonal ranges are fantastic and the guitar plays fantastic. It comes standard with a Wilkinson HC, VS-100N bridge. Only a limited number of these instruments are being made and I highly recommend getting in line to buy one, right behind me. The retail pricing is roughly $3500, which puts it squarely in the range of high-end boutique guitars, and it more than deserves to be there. Figure 3 shows Caleb himself demonstrating his signature Brazen model at NAMM. For more pictures of the Caleb Quaye model, click here.

Next up is the line of steel-bodied guitars from James Trussart (Figure 4). Trussart guitars have been around for years. The company has quietly developed a wide range of customers including Billy Gibbons, Nikki Six, and Clarence Gatemouth Brown, among many others. I’ve seen these guitars many times in ads and articles, most recently in the Guitar Player article covering Lynda Kay of the Lonesome Spurs. I’ve always liked the look of Trussart’s guitars because they combine the warm esthetics of a relic’d Fender, with modern artistic creativity. At NAMM, I had the great pleasure of seeing the Lonesome Spurs several times and was really amazed at their tone. Both Lynda and rockabilly virtuoso Danny B. Harvey play Trussart guitars and each has a different, but incredible sound. Naturally, I had to try them out for myself. Getting to the booth, I was able to talk to one of the luthiers, and was very impressed with his dedication to producing world-class instruments. Trying one out was an absolute pleasure. The guitar felt every bit as great as it sounds. They offer some of the most crisp country and rockabilly you’ll find, as well as warm bluesy tones that give the player a wide range of applications. The retail pricing for Jay’s guitars begin at around $3800. For more pictures of Trussart’s guitars at NAMM, click here.

As I stated earlier, there were hundreds of manufactures, and there were many guitars that deserve to be in this category. These represent the instruments that impressed me most on the days that I tried them out. If you have any questions on any of these guitars, please feel free to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 
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