View Full Version : Final (personal) thoughts on NAMM!

01-19-2010, 07:49 AM
NAMM (http://ukuleleunderground.com/namm/) is finally over and after taking one day to fully digest the crazy egg-scramble of music, technology, artistry, and madness, I just thought I'd post some things that stuck out in my mind. You can watch all of the interviews we did at NAMM here (http://ukuleleunderground.com/namm/), but there were a few things that never made it to video that I sort of remember. This is in no way a comprehensive list of things and people we met and saw (there were so many!), nor do my personal opinions reflect the opinions of UU. That said, here we go -

Most interesting ukulele I got to play at NAMM: The Blackbird carbon-fiber uke (http://ukuleleunderground.com/namm/2010/01/16/interview-with-joe-luttwak-of-blackbird-guitars/)

Playing it was an experience. It was amazingly light, made of stuff that looks like the outside of some high-end hardshell cases, and the tone was really distinct. The lows were clearer than anything else I've ever heard out of a uke and the highs had an almost metallic tone. The guys at Blackbird said they'd start playing with modifying the tone with thickness and bracing, but I don't think they can really change it that much, which might be a good thing, because the sound really stands out compared to anything else. I can see people either hating it or loving it and not much in between, and at around $1000 bucks, most people will go with a nice solid koa uke. But those who get a Blackbird will sing its praises wildly. They've got a niche and they'll probably be the very best within that niche for awhile.

Most interesting person I met at NAMM: Bill Collings of Collings Guitars (http://ukuleleunderground.com/namm/2010/01/16/interview-with-bill-collings-of-collings-guitars/)

This was tough, because I met so many amazingly cool and interesting people! But Bill stood out because he wasn't afraid to tell us exactly what was on his mind. And even though he is a master luthier, we found out that he can't play for beans - BUT his love for creating quality instruments really showed through the craftsmanship, attention to detail, and sound of his instruments. He openly admitted to us that making ukuleles was one of the biggest money-losers for his company this past year, but he noticed that his workers were a lot happier, even in these hard economic times, and as a result his ukes sound great. The archtops he makes are far better than any other archtop uke ever made, and though they are way out of the price range of most players, it's kind of comforting to know that they are out there and someone spent the time to make them right.

My favorite ukulele at NAMM - Custom Breedlove ukulele (http://ukuleleunderground.com/namm/2010/01/18/interview-with-peter-newport-of-breedlove-guitar-co/).

There was a custom Breedlove ukulele (I think right now Breedlove only makes customs, but soon they'll have a line of standard ukes) that had a slotted headstock which just blew me away. It had a radiused fretboard that felt like butter and the tone and projection were perfect. The thing is, we played pretty much all of the ukes that Breedlove brought to display and all of them sounded different. Which says something for Breedlove, who really taylors their instruments to their customers. No matter what you want, you can ask for the specifics and they'll give it to you (for a price). And because they just starting out on ukes, their wait times on customs is really short (about 4 months, if I remember right) - which, compared to some of the big names like Kamaka, is about a minute and a half in the custom uke world.

My favorite person(s) at NAMM - Ken Middleton (http://ukuleleunderground.com/namm/2010/01/15/interview-with-ken-middleton-for-ohana-ukuleles/) (of Ohana) and Rick, Mark, & Gary (http://ukuleleunderground.com/namm/2010/01/17/interview-with-mark-rick-gary-of-nalu-ukulele/) (of Nalu)

I spent a little time talking with Ken about all kinds of things, especially Ohana ukes, and while you can tell that Ken really loves Ohana and therefore is biased in their direction, in a lot of ways, he's right. Ohana takes the time to really dial in the specifics of their ukes (even down to the color of the wood!). Plus Ken's got a voice that could placate wild beasts and dragons, so talking with him is like watching a classic movie or having an epic bedtime story read to you. Favorited. I think I got along and felt most at home with the guys from Nalu (maybe because at least two of them are from Kauai). They had a really down to earth vibe, every thing they do (personally and as a brand) has a purpose. Even though Nalu is really small right now they're really committed to putting out the best possible product and continually making it better. Great guys, all of them.

Other thoughts: I never realized how convenient Eleukes (http://ukuleleunderground.com/namm/2010/01/18/interview-with-cory-kerr-about-eleukes/) are. All of them com with earphone and mp3 jacks plus volume and tone control. Previously, I had no interest in ever getting a solid body uke, but my interest has been successfully piqued. Also, though this is not official, whatsoever, we have heard that Fender (http://ukuleleunderground.com/namm/2010/01/18/interview-with-mike-lewis-and-jim-bryant-of-fender-music/) is readying themselves to enter the solid body uke market soon. But you didn't hear that from me. Cole Clark (http://ukuleleunderground.com/namm/2010/01/18/interview-with-jamie-gale-of-cole-clark-guitars/) guitars has one of the best pickup systems for ukulele out there. It didn't show up so well in the video, but when you really play with it, all of the percussive sounds you use (if you use percussive sounds) can be dialed in perfectly. No one else is offering that, and no one else will for a long time. Ibanez (http://ukuleleunderground.com/namm/2010/01/18/interview-with-irene-shvartsman-of-ibanez-guitars/) needs to spend a little more time on product development - their ukes felt rushed to production and the sound spoke for itself. I'm sure they are working on that, but if you can wait, I'd probably hold off on buying an Ibanez uke for another year. I applaud Kala (http://ukuleleunderground.com/namm/2010/01/16/interview-with-mike-upton-of-kala-ukuleles/) for stepping up to bat on all kinds of innovations in the ukulele world, and they continue to put out quality stuff even though their catalog keeps growing exponentially. Jim Beloff was exactly like I imagined him from the cover of his books: genuine, happy, grateful, and honestly in love with his work. Didn't get to meet Dale Webb, but judging from the engineering on the Fleas and Flukes (http://ukuleleunderground.com/namm/2010/01/15/interview-with-jim-beloff-of-flea-market-music/), I'm positive that he is a genius. Everyone else put out exactly what we expected of them, no more no less, so for now I can't think of anything else to note. If I do, I'll update this.

01-19-2010, 08:25 AM
Awesome summary! Thanks so much for this info. I know now that 1) I want a Blackbird and 2) I'll try to get a Breedlove someday.

oh, and 3) I want to kiss Ken Middleton on his cute bare head.

...did I type that or think that?

01-19-2010, 08:40 AM
My number one instrument at the show, by far, was Bill Collings archtop ukulele. It has to be experienced to be fully appreciated. I agree with you about Rick, Mark, & Gary (of Nalu). What great, passionate guys, and such nice instruments, too. I have one coming that I will review here.

01-19-2010, 12:39 PM
I wish there were multiple sound samples for Cole Clark ukuleles. It sounded a little muffled in the video for some reason. From watching all the videos, I think Breedlove really caught my eye. Forget the slotted headstock, the radius on the fretboard looks awesome!

P.S. About the slotted headstock, the guy mentioned more tension at the nut, but from what our luthiers here have said is that the angle of the strings from the nut is pretty much the same because the angle of the slotted headstock is decreased to compensate. I'm so confused now. Maybe the extra tension talk is just salesman talk?

01-19-2010, 01:08 PM
Cool summary, thanks for the low-down Aaron!!!