As some of you know, I’m a musician. My friend Manu has been telling me for a long time about a convention called Musikmesse that happens every year in Frankfurt (merely 2 hours away by car), so this time we decided to go together and that’s where I was today.
Rock & Pop hall (guitars, amps & drums)
This was my first time at such an event. I was expecting a European version of NAMM with all the major manufacturers having a booth. While there was a gigantic one with 50 shades of Gibson/Epiphone Les Paul, some other obvious names such as Fender or Marshall were completely missing from the show. That was really surprising. Manu told me they had been there in the past and that the event had scaled down compared to previous years. I was also looking forward to finally try some Mayones and Strandberg guitars, maybe even a Chapman but, alas, there were none.
A large corner of the hall was dedicated to Chinese manufacturers. Most of the Chinese salesmen showed disappointed when we told them were not trade visitors. It seems they were all told they would meet potential distributors, and weren’t expecting random consumer encounters. The quality of their offering varied greatly. There were some crappy (but dirt cheap, to be fair) pedals that looked like they would be crushed at their first gig, but there were also amazing looking and sounding amps like the Joyo ones.
Later we discovered that for some reason there were also electric guitars in the hall that was supposed to have only acoustic instruments (with a classical music theme). We saw some nice ones, as well as cool acoustic guitars. Some very expensive ones too, of course. :-)
This latter hall also had a ukulele section. That made me ponder having one for when I travel.
Yamaha had an entire floor for their products. That seems fair as they cover an extremely wide range of grounds, including grand pianos, percussions, drums, wood instruments, strings, electronics, and more of interest to me guitars and amps. They also acquired Line6 in late 2013 —I wasn’t aware of that— and so the Line6 gear was on the same floor.
That gave me an opportunity to try out their new Helix line. The testing booth had a Rack unit and a Control floorboard. It’s difficult to do a full review in such a short amount of time, but the overall feeling was great. The controls were quite intuitive, the sound was good, the number and quality of available effects was high, and the material used felt sturdy. It’s definitely high end.
The guitar that was plugged in on the booth was obviously a Variax. I had never tried one before and I was bluffed, especially by the ability to switch to a dropped or open tuning by turning a button. Note that this is not like the Gibson robot guitar that can physically change the tuning by mechanically operating the machine heads. The guitar will physically remain in standard tuning and acoustically sound in standard, but the guitar will correct the sound coming from individual strings to adjust it and produce a sound matching another tuning. Now pitch shifting the whole sound of the guitar is quite easy and can be achieved with an external effect like my Digitech Whammy DT (or any pitch shifter). Altering the sound coming from each string separately on the other hand is very impressive.
They had a small museum with their most iconic products, it was a nice touch. My Spider III 75W was amongst them and it was interesting to see how the design evolved accross time, putting things into perspective.
Before we left, we wandered around in the electronics hall, with keyboards, synthesizers, software and studio equipment. It was fun trying out those old school Moog synths that require you to physically connect the outputs and inputs with patch cables, even if the results were not always that great. One has to spend time learning the outcome of various effects to be able to use them properly, but the possibilities seem limitless.
I was able to test a Seaboard and it was nothing like what I expected it to be. I thought my fingers would glide along the surface, making it easy to slide from one note to another. Instead the surface is a grippy rubber and when you try to slide you feel a drag. The experience didn’t really feel that great. Maybe the Haken Continuum is more like what I’d want from such a device, but sadly I haven’t been able to play with one yet.
Finally there was a playground area and it was awesome. It had plenty of small workshops and experiments aimed at teaching children many aspects of music. They were open to adults as well and everyone was having tons of fun.