National Association of Music Merchants at Anaheim Convention Center, right next to Disneyland, and I've got quite a lot of information and news for you - feel free to skip to the pictures and videos below, if you want to get straight to it!On Friday I went to the 2023 NAMM Show, a four-day gathering of the
Since the pandemic hit, the event has struggled to reach that level of attendance that it had in January 2020 when it was at its peak of about 115,000 attendees. There are many reasons, certainly COVID itself and the lockdowns being chief among them. But the disruption through other things out of kilter for example, NAMM had been traditionally held in January. Last year it was held in June, and this year, in April. The plan is to return it to January in 2024, with the hope that this will prove again to be an ideal time of the year for it.
While NAMM organizers told the LA Times that the 2023 show promised to be "20 percent bigger for us than June 2022," it was hard not to compare it to "before times" - when crowds were robust, vendors packed the showroom floor and the event lasted five days rather than four.
That said, there were still tens of thousands of people in attendance, from all over the world, and it is always heartening to see people in the music industry making plans, seeking out innovation, sharing ideas, and making music together. Yes, there was fun to be had!
Obviously I went to NAMM to see what was new for violinists, violists, cellists and stringed instruments in general. While this event focuses more heavily on guitars, electronic gear and production equipment, there were still interesting and important innovations and news for violin and other stringed instruments. I did not get to every single violin-related booth, but here is a glimpse of what I found on the showroom floor this year.
The Canada-based Kun Shoulder Rest company debuted its newest and most innovative shoulder rest - the Kun 7 - which will be available in Fall 2023. Below, Juliana Farha shows us its novel features, such as the fact that the pad can be separated from the "bridge" that holds it to the instrument. The pad also slides long the bridge, so its location can be adjusted side-to-side. The pad itself is bendable, so you can change the curve to fit your shoulder. It can also be swiveled to different angles. The feet have been re-designed and are called "boomerang" feet for their shape. The feet tighten to the violin with a ratchet. The rest will only be available for full-size instruments (at least to start!).
The France-based company 3DVarius made a big hit in 2017 when they introduced the first-ever 3D-printed electric violin. Since then, they have kept innovating. In the video below, I had some fun jamming (to a Suzuki Book 3 tune - Bach's Gavotte in G minor) with jazz violinist Rob Flax. I played their Prism 5-string electric violin, which has multi-colored LED lights that flash whenever you place a finger on the fingerboard. Rob played the 7-String Original Line electric violin. In case you are wondering what those seven strings are, they are: E, A, D, G, C, F and Bb.
And speaking of the seven-string electric violin, I learned on Friday that ever since the pandemic, electric violinists have been unable to find the two lowest strings for their seven-string violins, the F and Bb strings. "We'll have one precious B string - and you know you'd better not break it, it's the only one left!" one electric violinist said of the problem.
The "Super Sensitive" brand apparently stopped making them when it was acquired by D'Addario in 2021, said 3DVarius's Géraldine Puel, and ever since, it's been very hard to find them anywhere.
What to do? 3DVarius has been working with Niclas Fröjel, co-owner of the Stockholm-based Prim Strings company, and he has created F and Bb strings for them. Fröjel said that Prim Strings soon will be offering a full seven-string "Electric Set," which should hit stores such as the Electric Violin Shop in fall 2023. Fröjel told me that his grandfather, Gunnar Fröjel started Prim Strings in the mid 20th century. Gunnar was a cellist, and during World War II he was unable to buy cello strings, so he started making his own. Niclas now owns and runs Prim Strings with his sister, Jessica Fröjel.
Back to 3DVarius, inventor Laurent Bernadac also showed me several stands they have created for the "Horizon" electric cello. The stands allow the cello to be played sitting or standing - or even with the instrument tilted sideways!
Connolly Music had a number of its new strings on hand, including Thomastik-Infeld's new Dynamo strings and two new strings by Jargar: Evoke and Young Talent. Connolly Music's Joshua Pedersen said that the Evoke runs around $75 per set, and "Young Talent" - which started out as cello strings but are newly available for violin - are aimed at students and affordability, with a price between $30-40.
There were a good many acoustic violins to be found on the exhibition floor, as well. At NAMM's German Pavilion, I played some especially good-sounding violins that were made by German-based luthier Huajie Hu, who learned his craft from his father. He started his career in Beijing but moved to Hamburg and has been there since 2000.
I also ran into Shar Music's COO Tina Avsharian and daughter Clarissa, who showed me Shar's new logo - you can see it on the tumbler that I'm holding!
NAMM also features a lot of gear that goes with instruments, and for bowed instruments, that means rosin. I stopped by the Cecilia Rosin booth and spoke to founder Peter Bahng. The rosin used to be called "Andrea" rosin - I had a cake of that myself! But Bahng changed it to "Cecilia" in 2020, naming it after his mother, following her death in 2019, "as a tribute to her long life," he said. Cecilia rosin comes in four kinds: Signature Formula, Solo, A Piacere, and Sanctus. I found the "Sanctus" to be the most interesting - it has a light-colored outer rim and a dark center (Bahng is holding it in the picture below). It is actually two different formulas of rosin - one hard and dry and the other softer and sticker - melded into one, to give the benefits of both.
Below is a picture of me with violinists Jesus Florido and Matt Bell - both experts with electric violins. You've seen Jesus Florido before - very recently he appeared on the cover of Strings Magazine, and he also wrote a review of Shar's Performa Shoulder rest here on Violinist.com.
Matt Bell, who is Artist Relations Manager and representative for the Electric Violin Shop, had some really interesting news for me: the University of Illinois is now offering a degree program in electric violin (or viola). Bell knows this because he is studying to earn his masters degree in electric violin (his bachelor's degree - earned some 20 years ago - is in chemical engineering!) The program has about a dozen students currently, and its director, Rudolf Haken, has them applying electric violin to the performance of old music (imagine Ysaye sonatas on a seven-string electric fiddle!) as well as new music and self-written music. They are also bringing music such as K-pop, Indian carnatic music, Baroque music and other genres into the mix. Fascinating!
Below is a picture of Rob Flax (you saw me playing those electric fiddles with him above) and he is holding a new kind of electric violin that he helped develop: the Volta Hybrid Electric Violin.
The Volta has its own speakers and built-in reverb, and it's almost like having a loop pedal built right into the violin. He demonstrated by doing almost a little duet with himself - him harmonizing with the reverb. He's working on writing a set of music that works this way.
Here's another innovation: horse hair for the violin that is not made out of horse hair or any other animal's hair.
Kamel Hair is actually not from a Camel - it is vegan bow hair, made of several kinds of plastics. You can think of it as the Impossible Burger of bow hair. At the booth they were testing the real horse hair against Kamel (in the picture it's real on the right and Kamel on the left). I could not tell the difference in the blind test! Would I be able to tell the difference after two weeks? Who knows! But it did test very well.
And for the last picture, a sad story: The near-vacant display for Yamaha Strings.
No one was there, nothing was new, just four violins hung on a wall. What Yamaha had for strings was dwarfed by their other offerings, and there wasn't a strings representative in sight. It seemed far from the exciting days when the YEV (Yamaha Electric Violin) was premiering and winning "Best in Show" in 2016 at NAMM! Here's hoping they are back on our radar in 2024!
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