The NAMM show, NAMM being an acronym for National Association of Music Merchants, has been a meeting place, and display venue, and idea exchange Mecca and so much more for our industry for over a hundred years. It started here in New York City in the 1920s eventually moving to Chicago, where I attended my first one in the 1960s. It had always been a June affair but sometime in the late 1970s, when electronics started to become a bigger and bigger part of the musical instrument industry, especially with the advent of keyboards, it was moved to California, home of so much of that stuff. Timing was changed to January, where it remains.
What an eye-opener that was for me! The displays! The enormity of it! The Anaheim Convention Center's four rooms are a half-mile from end to end and there's space for over fifteen hundred exhibitors. Companies like Fender and Martin and Steinway have huge rooms all to themselves (imagine a few hundred Fender guitars plus all their amps and accessories displayed handsomely in one place); smaller companies have smaller booths in large areas with booth after booth. The new models of everything, the traditional ones, the one-offs to get dealers thinking, the flashy setup and lighting. Just two unique guitar examples are the clear Plexiglas L-5 made as a demo piece for the 1941 NAMM show and the “very custom” made-for-NAMM 1989 ES-175D, both of which are currently on my website. The NAMM show is one heck of a non-stop exciting event. It is, BTW, for the trade only, no public allowed and one must get named badges via one's accredited music business weeks in advance to be able to gain entry. It’s a four-day event and it can be exhausting. And exhilarating. This is where we make a lot of our plans for what we're going to carry for the upcoming year. And there are the foreign manufacturers who exhibit too. For the first several years I had my store I carried only American-made guitars but via NAMM I got to see the products of, and especially meet and get to know people like George Lowden of Ireland and Jean-Claude Larrivee of Canada, both of whose guitars I ended up carrying with great pride for years to come.
But the best part for me was always the interaction with business principals and business partners, many of whom became close personal friends over the years. Despite the fact that I closed the walk-in store part of my business six years ago and no longer “carry” anything, there are those with whom I still get together socially and communicate with. Case in point: Literally while sitting here typing this my phone rang and it was a woman who in the 1970s was my Gurian rep, later went on to work for Rickenbacker and was their Northeast rep and made monthly visits to my store to take orders. She eventually went on to be a major salesperson for Taylor, covered the Northeast sector for them and we did TONS of businesses together. Separately, we became very close on the outside, went through the years of raising our kids and more, all this while keeping business and personal goings-on totally apart. And there are more. The last two Fender reps I had, for a total of twenty years, are both to this day great pals and despite now living far apart we figure out ways to get together every so often. There are quite a lot of wonderful people in our industry.
Another thing that can happen at the show is the coming together of ideas to create new or special models. At times, through discussions with manufacturers at their displays, we came up with things like custom electric and acoustic guitars, some features of which eventually became parts of standard models for Fender and Martin. And there were the unexpected memorable moments, like the time when the importer of a huge variety of lower-end fretted instruments who, when asked if a particular model was his least expensive, replied “Yes, but it's certainly not our worst”. And one afternoon running into an acquaintance on the crowded show floor, someone who was known to be, well, very tight with a dollar and always looking for free stuff. He asked where we were going and we replied "looking for some lunch", whereby he reached into pockets of the cargo pants he always wore and pulled out two hamburgers, both still hot and on buns and with all the trimmings, and said “Here you go. They were giving them away at the (name deleted) booth". You can't make this stuff up.
The takeaway from all this for me is the gift of music and all that comes with it. Where would we ever be without it?