NAMM 2012 – Big Smile and Tired Feet. About an hour into the first day of NAMM 2012, Stevie Wonder was holding court with his entourage. But with performances by Brian Wilson and Kenny Wayne Shepherd about to take place at the same time — but in different halls of the Anaheim Convention Center – The Dilemma began: which artist and performance was a must-see? Which was the most important and relevant? Who could I bear to miss?

There is nothing new about this. For the past 34 years, NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) has been coming to Orange County every January so musical equipment manufacturers can show their latest gear to retailers, the media and music industry bigwigs. This year’s show was, as usual, jam-packed with the coolest equipment and technology, which of course needed to be strummed, picked, played, banged and otherwise put to the limits for NAMM’s 95,700+ attendees to enjoy.

Whether you enjoyed your music at a concert or on a recording, all of the equipment manufacturers that made your experience enjoyable were at NAMM, showing guitars, amps, strings, keyboards, drums, horns, violins, ukuleles — well, you get the idea. But what is an instrument without a talented musician to make it come to life?…not much. And this is where the fun part comes in!

My first time at NAMM was in 1977, and I have lost count of how many times I have attended since then. One of the first things I do each year is to see what artists are appearing and performing. Again, The Dilemma emerges: who to see? The answer is not that simple, since turning any corner of the massive convention center puts you smack-dab at a booth with an incredible jam session taking place. If you don’t recognize the players, you crane your neck to read their badges…or just ask the rep in the booth. Almost always, the performer is a well-known session or touring musician who has played with headliners from Sinatra to the Stones, and everywhere in-between.

But to give you an idea who did appear and/or perform at NAMM this year, here is a partial list:

Muriel Anderson, Michael Anthony, Carmine Appice, Phil Bardowell, George Benson, Jackson Browne, Stanley Clarke, Bootsy Collins, Alice Cooper, Spencer Davis, Mikkey Dee, Lib Devitto, Seymour Duncan, Doyle Dykes, Sheila E., Duane Eddy, Phil Everly, Steve Ferrone, Danny Gottlieb, Stu Hamm, Tito Jackson, Eric Johnson, John Kadlecik, Abraham Laboriel, Albert Lee, Kenny Loggins, Dean Markley, Nicko McBrain, Dave Navarro, Orianthi, Steve Oliver, Lee Roy Parnell, Alan Parsons, Jeff Pevar, Lee Ritenour, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Neal Schon, Denny Seiwelo, Lee Sklar, TM Stevens, Steve Stephens, Corey Taylor, Denny Tedesco, Steve Vai, Johnny Vatos, Frank Vignola, Bob Weir, Alan White, Verdine White, Tal Wilkenfeld, Bernie Williams, Brian Wilson, and many, many more…whew!

So let’s talk about what we were really there for…equipment. To the untrained eye, it would seem that the guitars, drums, strings, amps, horns, and the other instruments on display do not change much year to year. But spend some time with the product specialists, and you’ll learn the subtle changes and, in some cases, big improvements that have been made. This year my interest was piqued by the very cool applications for effects, recording, lessons, etc. that can be downloaded to any computer, including the iPad. One example is Agile Partners ( whose GuitarToolkit, AmpKit, and other apps were expertly demonstrated by Kenny Wayne Shepherd.

So by now, you are wondering how you can attend NAMM, since it is a trade show and not open to the public. The best way is to work for a music store or manufacturer, a record label, a music publisher, or to be a member of the media. But to get a taste for free, here is one tip that is worth checking out. Every day at NAMM, usually at 5pm, in the Main Lobby of the Anaheim Convention Center is a jam with some of the best musicians in the business. And the best part is that you do not need a badge to catch this incredible hour of great music. All you have to do is show up.

Go to for more information. And with a little cunning and ingenuity on your part, I’ll hope to see you Jan.24-27, 2013, in Anaheim.