Rocking the Solid at NAMM
With a wall of new SolidBody electrics in the Taylor room at NAMM, this year’s performance lineup tilted toward the rock end of the musical spectrum. The acts included Everclear, young, upbeat bands The Material, Future of Forestry, and The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus; smokin’ country rock groups Lonestar and Sixwire; plus country-pop sensation Taylor Swift and her six-piece band. Familiar Taylor faces Marc Seal and Doyle Dykes also played, even jamming together at one point. On the more acoustic side of the spectrum were crooning tunesmith Christopher Cross, Nashville singer-songwriter Dillon Dixon, and Los Angeles-based artists Jim “Kimo” West and Jenni Alpert. Monster fingerstylist Tim Thompson delivered some amazing instrumental arrangements on his T5.
It was fun to hear the rockers plug in those SolidBodys and let them rip. Art Alexakis of Everclear looked iconic with his low-slung white SolidBody Classic and tatted arms as he and the band (with lead guitarist Davey French on a Standard) cranked through a set of crowd-pleasers, including “I Will Buy You a New Life,” “Father of Mine,” and “Santa Monica.”
“I love the pickups on it,” Alexakis said after the band’s soundcheck. “I love everything about this guitar. I’ve been a Gibson guy my whole life. I’ve got 32 Les Pauls, and this is my main guitar now.”
Both Alexakis and French were impressed with the pickups and the five-way switch.
“You can actually get a lot of different sounds, from the Gibson sound to the Strat. Anything,” French said. “And sounds that don’t even sound like either of them,” Alexakis added. “That’s what really makes them special. There’s so many unique sounds working with your volume and your tone that you get can a very unique sound going. And with these pickups here [referring to French’s Standard] you can get the big, big crunch that you like. Plus, for a guitar that’s lighter than I’m used to, they have just as much punch. You’ll see in a little bit. They want us to rock today, so we’re turning it up.”
A pair of high-energy young acts, Jacksonville, Florida’s The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus and San Diego’s The Material, also cranked up their SolidBody electrics and drew some younger faces into the room, as well.
Guitarist Jon Moreaux from The Material has had a SolidBody Classic for a couple of months now and loves it. “The first time I plugged mine in and Roi [Elam], our other guitarist, plugged his in, we just started laughing hysterically [because of] how good it sounded,” Moreaux said after the band’s set. “The bridge is so perfect for your wrist or palm. The neck just feels great. The weight is awesome. Everything just really seems like it was thought out for the guitarists.” Elam was equally effusive. “You know how a lot of times when you get a new guitar, you put it on and it feels foreign? As soon as I put this guitar on it felt like I’d been playing it for like 10 years.”
Lonestar and Sixwire each left the crowds hooting after tight sets with huge vocal harmonies and sizzling fretwork. Lonestar guitarist Michael Britt (614ce, GS), said afterward that the SolidBody Standard felt great on stage.
“I’ve tried all three different models,” offered Britt. “The Standard to me just fits what I do. I think they’re all great; it’s just a matter of personal taste, which is the cool thing about the fact that y’all have three different models. You can kind of find one that fits your style and flavor.
“The body contours are great, the bridge is really comfortable — there’s no risk of stabbing your hand with a screw sticking up,” he continued. “It’s a beautiful guitar.... I have no complaints. To me, an instrument should just be a tool for you to be creative, and you do feel creative when you pick up that guitar.
“The coolest thing about that guitar also is the 5-way switch and the way the humbuckers are split,” he said. “You get some really unique tones. And when you’re doing rolling picking things like Doyle Dykes, it’s just so articulate. A lot of note separation. It’s a phenomenal sounding guitar.”
For Sixwire, it was their first live set since the Fox TV show The Next Great American Band, where they made it to the final round. Guitarist Steve Mandile, who officially debuted a white Classic on national TV on the show, confessed during their NAMM set that it had been a while since the band played more than a minute and a half of a song. Musician Sheila E, one of the judges from the Fox show, caught their set in our booth and chatted with the band afterward. The band killed with a medley they call “The Beast,” which was stuffed to the gills with familiar electric guitar riffs from so many great classic rock songs they grew up listening to, including “Layla,” “Life in the Fast Lane,” “Ramblin’ Man,” “Freebird,” and many others. The best part: both Mandile and fellow guitarist Robb Houston played them on SolidBody models, and the tones were tasty.
Mandile, who also arranges and produces the band’s songs, called the SolidBody “a blast to play.”
“When I plugged it in, [the sound] was just humongous,” he said afterward. “It was like driving a little sports car.”
Taylor Swift and her band wowed the crowd, showing how much she’s matured as a performer since first playing the Taylor booth by herself in 2004 when she was 14. For all the recent media publicity surrounding Swift (a reporter and photographer from the Los Angeles Times tagged along with her at the show), she charmed the audience and seemed genuinely appreciative of her slingshot rise to success. “I really do try to be a nice person,” she said on stage between songs, “but if you break my heart or hurt my feelings, I will write a song about you,” which elicited laughs from the crowd. Her well-constructed songs are certainly attracting fans: her self-titled debut record recently went double platinum, and at press time she was vying for a Best New Artist Grammy.
Taylor clinician Doyle Dykes performed twice, the second time with frequent bass accomplice Dave Pomeroy. Doyle covered all the Taylor bases, switching between his “Brown Sugar” DDSM, a T5 and the SolidBody. He also brought guitarist Marc Seal on stage for a tune, and the two flew without a safety net, having never played together before. Of course, a trainwreck from those two is still comically better than most of us will ever play.
Marc played his own set on Saturday, ripping through his tunes on a SolidBody, inserting a heavy rocker called “Yes,” which showed off the SolidBody’s prowess as a sonic power tool. Seal, in turn, brought out a special guest to jam with him, 11-year-old guitar wunderkind Grant Austin Taylor. A softspoken kid offstage, Taylor absolutely tore it up on a blues jam with Seal to close out the set, and the crowd went nuts.
Singer-songwriter Christopher Cross (414ce, W14ce, four GS acoustics, T5C2) definitely tapped a more acoustic vibe, performing to a full house, his voice still impossibly pristine and pitch-perfect as he delivered a parade of his ubiquitous soft rock hits, including “Sailing,” “Never Be the Same,” and “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do).”
“I’ve been a Taylor devotee for many years,” Cross said on stage, playing a GS. “They’re the only acoustic guitars that actually stay in tune, especially when you capo them.” Cross used a T5 for “Ride Like the Wind,” and showed how its versatility can serve a song as he reeled off a tasty electrified solo. It was cool to see a room full of such diverse listeners enjoying the set, from Boomers to young, tattoo-clad rockers.
For all the great music on stage, some of the coolest NAMM moments are the unscheduled jams that unfold spontaneously away from the spotlight and slowly attract a crowd. On Sunday, the show’s last day, as things typically begin to wind down, fusion guitar giant Frank Gambale (Chick Corea’s Elektric Band) stopped by and ended up weaving funky grooves with Stevie Wonder guitarist Morris O’Connor for nearly an hour. Gambale had a walnut SolidBody Custom; Morris played a koa T5.
At a show that’s so concentrated with musical products and companies vying for people’s attention, making a good impression has as much to do with creating a fun, welcoming and inspiring “destination” experience for visitors. It’s certainly something that Taylor has tried to do.
“The most rewarding moment for me is when someone comments on how beautiful and functional our NAMM room is,” reflected Taylor Trade Show Manager David Kaye after the show. “Invariably they will ask me, ‘Who designs your room for you?’ With a sense of pride, my response is, ‘We do.’”
Special acknowledgements are in order both for Stuart Liniger, who handled stage lighting, and sound engineers Gary Hedden and his assistant Joseph, whose deft ears helped every band sound superb.
Look for more NAMM performance footage and backstage interviews on taylorguitars.com and in our video section.
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