The Apache Relay Invade NAMM 2011

For our second day at Summer NAMM 2011, American Songwriter brought along the guys from Apache Relay to have some fun and test out some new gear. We hit all of the big names, playing some high-end Martin acoustics, messing around with some of Electro Harmonix’s latest toys, playing stainless steel instruments and checking out Taylor’s newest solid body electrics. Overall, it was a great day to be in Nashville.

Apache Relay prepare to make their mark on Summer NAMM 2011 at the Nashville Convention Center.

Our first stop was at Martin, where Mike Harris, the guitarist for Apache Relay, tested out the new CEO-6 Sunburst acoustic-electric guitar, which was designed by Martin’s CEO Chris Martin. The guitar combines the traditional “Sloped Shoulder” Dreadnought styling of Martins from the 1930s with modern accompaniments such as a Fishman F1 Aura pickup system and a Performing Artist Profile neck. The guitar retails for $3,299.00 and is available now.

Mike Harris checks out Martin’s new D-18 Authentic Sunburst.

Brand new from Martin for Summer NAMM 2011 were two new Madagascar Rosewood renditions of two of their most popular guitars, the D-35 and the HD-28. Madagascar Rosewood, which many believe is comparable to the highly esteemed yet ridiculously expensive Brazilian Rosewood, “produces bright, distinct highs, strong midrange and deep, rich lows.” These models, the D-35MP and HD-28MP, also feature Martin’s Performing Artist Profile neck, which has a nice taper to allow for comfortable playing on both ends of the fingerboard. These guitars retail for $3,199.00 and should be available in the late summer or early fall.

Two of Martin’s new offerings at Summer NAMM 2011, the HD28-MP (top) and the D-35MP (bottom), both of which feature Madagascar Rosewood back and sides.

Our next stop was the Electro-Harmonix booth where Apache Relay drooled over their new Ravish Sitar pedal. As the name implies, this pedal can make your guitar emulate a sitar, but there’s also several other features, such as a freeze function, 12-string guitar emulation and lush harmonizing. One of the coolest features of the pedal is the freeze function, which can emulate the drone of a shruti box. For instance, can play a low A, hit the freeze switch to get a drone going, and then play sitar lines in your favorite raga in a higher register. So if you’re planning on covering “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” or “Paint It Black” on your upcoming tour, leave your sitar at home and add the Ravish Sitar to your pedal board.

Electro-Harmonix’s new Ravish Sitar pedal really impressed the guys from Apache Relay with its freeze functionality and convincing sitar emulation.

Another new release in the pedal department is Source Audio’s Soundblox Pro Bass Envelope Filter. Even though they’re a smaller, boutique effects manufacturer, Source Audio holds a spot on several celebrity pedal boards, including Victor Wooten and Phish’s Mike Gordon, but more importantly yours truly. This new pedal combines several different filters, phasers and a 7-band equalizer to give you everything from funky wahs to dubstep whomp. You can also store 6 presets and plug in an expression pedal to use the pedal as a traditional wah-wah. The pedal’s mix knob allows you to retain your low end so you keep your place in the mix when the pedal is engaged, while the Hot Hand motion-sensing ring allows you to manipulate the signal with your hand and their wireless controller. Check out this video demo of the pedal to check out what this pedal can do.

The three footswitches on Source Audio’s new Soundblox Pro Bass Envelope Filter can be used to switch between presets or as a tap tempo for the LFO.

The highlight of the day came when we stopped by the DWatkins Acoustics booth to check out some of their stainless steel instruments. Kellen Wenrich immediately went for the stainless steel fiddles the company offered, while Mike Harris picked up a stainless steel electric. The two jammed over some bluegrass chords while a crowd slowly gathered around the duo to witness the impromptu session.

Kellen Wenrich and Mike Harris jam out on DWatkins’ stainless steel instruments, which they both noted played just as well as their wooden counterparts.

DWatkins Acoustics, a new company out of Arizona City, AZ, are looking to bring modern flourishes to traditional instruments such as the fiddle, mandolin and acoustic guitar. The stainless steel bodies give the instruments a strong, ringing resonance that just can’t be found in wooden instruments, but Kellen noted that his fiddle played just as well as any concert violin he owns. So if you’re looking to try something different, definitely check out DWatkins Acoustics (ssacoustics.net).

Kellen gives us his rendition of Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” by running one of the DWatkins stainless steel fiddles through a wah-wah pedal.

Over at the Roland booth, I spent some time with their GR-55 Guitar Synthesizer, which they released earlier this year and retails for $799.00 with a MIDI pickup, or $699.00 without the pickup. I’ve never owned a guitar synthesizer, but I have spent many an hour in Guitar Centers across the country messing around with them, so I feel like I have a pretty good point of reference. I was first struck by the convincing instrument emulation from the GR-55. It produced great piano and trumpet tones and the tracking is top notch, even catching bent notes. The chord tracking did get a bit muffled when I played more than three strings at once, but it worked great when I hit a low bass note followed by a higher triad. So whether you’re a one-man band looking to add some extra instrumentation to your act or a full band that just can’t handle another member, be sure to check out the Roland GR-55 for some great synth tones.

The new Roland GR-55 Guitar Synthesizer gives you an unlimited number of sounds, including several instrument emulations.

Our last stop was at Taylor Guitars room of instruments, where we were all surprised that the company devoted so much space to their line of electric guitars. You can see multi-instrumentalist Brett Moore contemplating the complexities of an open D chord on their uber-manly purple sparkle Solidbody Classic. The company also featured several of their new Double Cutaway models that they debuted at Winter NAMM 2011. Be sure to head to the Solidbody section (http://www.taylorguitars.com/guitars/electric/models/SolidBody/) of Taylor’s website, where you can build your own Taylor Solidbody to your exact specifications.

Brett Moore gives us his best Joan Jett as he models one of Taylor’s new solid body electric guitars.

That’s it from Summer NAMM for this year. We saw some really nice new gear, but there were also several moderately priced offerings for the everyday musician. Hopefully something caught your eye that will make your life as a musician and songwriter a little easier.

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Alela Diane

Vetiver, “Worse For Wear”