Once a year, in the Anaheim Convention Center, the National Association of Music Manufacturers (NAMM) provides space for the creators of musical instruments, amplifiers, recording equipment and every imaginable music accessory to display and demonstrate their newest wares. As a long-time bass player and a bit of a gear head, I was excited to finally be attending this legendary trade show.
I was a guest of Musicares, a Grammy Foundation health care program that supports musicians who have fallen on hard times. As a chiropractor, my mission was to provide information about how to address common music world injuries: low back pain, shoulder strain, repetitive stress, etc. But I was also there to check out the latest generation of equipment with my ergonomic eye.
Those of you who have read my previous “Rock and Roll Ergonomics” columns know that I’ve been on a crusade against the tube amp. Don’t get me wrong; there are certain sounds that can be created only in the mysterious circuitry of Marshall and SVT heads. But I believe that these holy grails of bottom and wail should be installed as altars in rehearsal and recording studios. They should be played, not moved. There are plenty of onstage options that can give you and your fans the sounds you want, without wrecking your body.
On the bass front, I got to play through some great sounding and lightweight amps. Mark Bass and Phil Jones were most impressive, offering powerful solid state/tube pre-amp heads that weighed in at 6 lbs. Last year I got rid of my Aguilar 750 (45 lbs. of monster tube power) and picked up the Mark tube 800. It fit into my backpack and powered my 6 x 10” Eden stack. No problem.
Speaker cabinets remain a challenge, but with lighter woods and small, high quality speakers, choices are expanding. While I personally favor 10’s, I played some really nice 5’s and 6’s. If you are playing small clubs, check them out. And you can always stack cabinets. The 2 x 10 cabinets are much easier to move in and out of a van than 4 x 10’s. So mix and match to save your back.
I saw some sweet boutique guitar amps that were also easy on the back. Risson Amplifiers caught my eye. Works of art, they are constructed with vintage electronics and low wattage tubes. Beautiful in bright blue and green pine cabs. A pleasure to see, to hear…and to lift. As a bonus, I got to meet designer and builder Bob Rissi. Bob began his career in Leo Fender’s factory in the early 60’s. So I got to hear an awesome amp, as well as some awesome stories from one of the pioneers of the rock and roll sound.
I was also checking out adjunctive equipment. When I do a show, I always go out with two basses. This requires a double gig bag. I have been unhappy with the one I’ve been using, and was on the lookout for a better model. I found it at Mono Cases. Very nicely constructed, with a semi-hard shell. This case will actually protect your instruments. Add to this the wide, softly padded shoulder straps and chest clips (for weight distribution), and you’ve got some easy carrying. With a few minor ergonomic design touch-ups, this could be the perfect gig bag.
I saw pedals with angled metal rests to minimize leg and ankle strain, foot switches that turn sheet music pages on an iPad, and drum thrones that support, strengthen and stabilize the abdominal core so that drummers can rock out and work out simultaneously.
Another inspiring sight at NAMM was a motley tribe of thousands, all brought together by our love of music. Players, dealers, electronic techs and master luthiers, all sharing an understanding of the power of music to raise each of us up and to connect us to one another.
Exhausted and exhilarated after the weekend, I reflected on my own place in this mad and magical world. As a player and a doctor, I was pleased to see the ongoing pursuit of perfect sound coupled with an awareness of what musicians need as biomechanical beings.
But mostly, I was just glad to be in the mix.
Dr. Ricky Fishman is a San Francisco Chiropractor and has been a performing electric bass player for over thirty years. He is the Director of the Musicians Chiropractic Project which specializes in the treatment of musicians injuries and offers special rates for uninsured players.
Copyright Ricky Fishman 2012