Like Christmas, the L.A. Amp and Custom Guitar show comes but once a year. Unlike Christmas, there are no presents and it sounds more like a 1,000 shredders on acid than the jingle of sleigh bells! We sent Stuart Bull and GI’s US cameraman, Jamie Borden, to this year’s October event – the 8th – to bring you this special report.
So the day has arrived for myself and Jamie Borden to visit the L.A. Amp show at the Airtel Plaza in er… L.A. The best way to describe this show is by comparison to a Star Trek convention. At a Star Trek convention you might get to pull a fat chick wearing a comm badge and Spock ears. At the L.A. amp show, the only thing getting screwed is your ears – but more about that later! The show is rather a different set up to your classic open plan trade show deal. This show resides in a wing of the Airtel Plaza, where three conference rooms on the ground floor are being put to use by US effects gurus Fractal Audio and the UK’s Matrix amplifiers, the wing entrance is your badge pick up and welcome area.
We start off our day interviewing a somewhat nervous Andy Hunt, the design boffin behind Matrix. After a few minutes, he warms up a bit and we get some great information on the Matrix products. It becomes apparent to me that Andy’s knowledge of amp design and manufacture makes me grateful he chose this path, rather than weapons of mass destruction otherwise I’m sure I wouldn’t be writing this piece now!
Next it’s time to interview Cliff Chase from Fractal Audio. Cliff speaks openly and honestly about his business and products and it’s obvious to me he’s not doing it for the dollars – he genuinely makes the best stuff he can using the best materials he can find. I feel quite refreshed by this conversation, having a good feeling that our business could be turning a corner in terms of manufacturers having great attitudes and products.
After a spot of lunch and some mutual back-slapping concerning the work done so far, Jamie and I head-off to the elevator to explore the hotel rooms in this wing currently occupied by amplifier and pedal companies. My first encounter is disappointing to say the least. Lisa Spiteri from the Guitar Interactive team based here in the States informs me that Suhr guitars will not allow us to shoot any footage of their amplifiers. My first reaction is there must be some mistake as some of the Guitar Interactive guys are avid users of Suhr guitars, and we had Guthrie Govan using a Suhr amp on screen in issue 13, so I make my way to Suhr’s hotel room to investigate. I walk into what can only be described as… a slightly hostile environment. Lisa’s words are confirmed by a Suhr representative and we are not allowed to shoot any footage. You know that scene in Spinal Tap, where Nigel Tuffnel declares “don’t touch it it’s never been played” then leads the film maker away stating “you’ve seen enough of that one”? That’s the vibe. Thanks, Suhr.
Not to be put off by this experience we move on to the Egnater room where the scene is much more mellow and friendly. Here we are greeted by Nate, the Egnater product specialist. The thing that really impressed me about this young man was his complete accurate knowledge of each amplifier and the ability to talk through the specs with confidence and authority. The upcoming five Watt model really catches my eye.
The amplifier sounds great with a boat load of features to boot, one to look out for in my opinion.
Now we’re heading to the Evil Robot room where, again, we’re greeted by the very friendly John Kasha, who takes us through their amplifier range. The specs on these amps are very interesting indeed, including some designs dating back to the Fifties.
Audio demonstration is provided by the highly talented Phil X, who covered for Ritchie Sambora on a recent Bon Jovi tour. The amps sound great and I’m impressed by the products and the playing. There is also a pedal board and some pedals that work in quite a unique way and this is clearly another range that we are going to have to get a closer look at soon.
I’m compiling a shopping list and high on it is Voodoo, who gave us a great demo of their brand new ODS-60, which was receiving its debut at the show. Voodoo has been around for a few years now, gaining particular respect for its modding work, but the range of amps is growing and as you can hear from the video – they sound great. Voodoo is picking up some serious big name users, too, so is clearly one of the boutique crowd making a move to the bigger league. Watch this space!
Unfortunately, we are now running out of time as we have to be at Kenny Wayne Sheppard’s sound check at 4.30pm, for an interview. We quickly rush in and out of as many rooms as we can to at least take a glimpse at what’s on offer. We talk to the Floyd Rose guys, who have a rather interesting titanium model (I already have one). We take a look at some new pedals from Wampler, Fulltone and many others. It’s that kind of show. However much time you give it isn’t enough.
I personally recommend a trip to this show as you can find many equipment gems. The only person I don’t recommend to go is Michael Casswell (don’t call him Mike). The volume pot choice alone would send him into sensory overload, causing him to camp outside in anticipation of next year’s show!
This isn’t your typically glossy trade show. In fact it’s rather a gritty hands on affair, where it’s all about the gear. If you are looking for boutique pedals and high end amplifiers built by guys with the knowledge of N.A.S.A. and the enthusiasm of someone who owns fifteen train sets along with the driver’s uniform, then this is the arena for you. You can play through the gear ask as many questions as you like, without the product guy staring at the butt of one of the Dean girls. In short it’s serious business for people who are serious about equipment.
I’ll be returning next year, hopefully for both days as one was not enough. The only down side is local guitarist “Tapper McWiddley” who seems to be in ten rooms at once, making a racket for no apparent reason other than the fact he doesn’t have a gig. (Wonder why? Ed) Having said that, a semi well known guitar player was doing exactly that in one of the rooms. I’m not a scientist but I don’t have to look at a car three million times to know whether I’d want to drive it, but apparently with amplifiers you have to play three million notes, then say “I don’t think it’s for me”. Some things never change.
Bye for now!