Predicting what will be hot at NAMM is silly. The annual music gear conference is just too crazy and unpredictable. There’s 100,000 people, 1,800 exhibitors, millions of products, and enough sheer volume on the show floor to shorten your life by a decade or so. In such a chaotic environment, innovation can happen anywhere. The hit of the show is often some weird accessory no one would have ever thought of. But I do have one prediction to make: This year’s will outshine most of the last ten shows by a long shot. We’re going to see lots of new products and a few game changers.

behind the scenes

Despite the breathless YouTube videos and stories from the media, some NAMM shows are a bust in terms of hot new gear. Sometimes companies bring out a few new colors and few updates to older products and that’s it. Those are the shows that get “5 Mehs” on my trade show scale: the Hoodometer.

This one is different. One way to tell: The hotels are sold out. It’s a week before the show in Anaheim and it’s easier to find a mint-condition Ludwig Super Classic Beatles Black Oyster Pearl kit for chump change than a cheap hotel room. And, when I ask companies if 2018 is a big year or a small year in terms of new products many are hinting or saying it may be a big year.

I’m Making A List

Every year there is at least one product that surprises people. Even if it’s a modest accessory, like, say, Big Fat Snare Drum a few years ago, folks walk away saying “what a great idea” and “I want one.” But this year it could be big products. Drum sets, cymbals, E-drums. I know there will be a lot of action in new drum sets but I haven’t yet seen what it will be. I’m most interested in what Pearl and Pacific are cooking up for the show but I expect there will be many others as well.

And then there are the smaller companies. I know that Dunnett has been working on some special items for this show, as has Doc Sweeney. One company whose designs I want to see is Kumu Drums from Finland. The bass spurs I saw on one of their kits two years ago would have sat comfortably on a shelf in a home in Architectural Digest. This year they’re releasing birch kits.

Finland's Kumu Drums with a custom jazz kit in birch with satinsound finish

Finland’s Kumu Drums with a custom jazz kit in birch with satinsound finish. Tasty.

A&F Drum Company is another. Though they have been working on a secret hardware project for more than a year, it won’t be ready for NAMM. But other innovations will. The company is also releasing a documentary that promises to be as hip as their drums. Here’s a taste.

And there’s others too, like Solidrums, from Argentina, Oriollo, a Serbian company that has been making spun metal drums since 2003, Odery, from Brazil (distributed in the US by RBI), and more.

One of the companies I’ve never seen is Ruach Music.We’re all familiar with Chinese factories that turn out all kinds of products. But this still-young company turns out guitars, basses, effects, pedals, cajons and other instruments in the unlikely territory of Belfast, northern Ireland. These companies all come to make new global partners and try to gain a foothold with retailers and distributors in the US.

Excited Electrons

E-drums, recording gear, pro sound, and lighting equipment take up an ever-increasing slice of NAMM floorspace This year I’m looking for more noise not just from the big guys I wrote about last week but from smaller e-drum makers, too. ATV is one that should be building on their aD5 products and another is Synesthesia Corporation, makers of the Mandala drum. I’m hoping they have a sneak peek of a new operating system.

Best Parties

After the show I like to sit around and imagine a post-show awards—best new color, best booth, best hardware, and so forth. Maybe we’ll do that for real this year. But in the meantime, I’m wondering what’s the best party at NAMM? The heyday of NAMM parties may have been in the ‘90s and early 2000s, when company budgets were considerably more flush than they are today. There’s nothing as wild and radical as those events on the horizon. However, there is a good get-together to celebrate Gretsch’s 135th Anniversary this year on Saturday afternoon. That’s a milestone that deserves recognition. I’m thinking maybe the best nighttime event will be the SheRocks 2018 party honoring women in music. In addition to highlighting the accomplishment of women inside industry companies it will also put some starpower on the stage, like Pat Benatar, Ronnie Spector, and Lisa Loeb, to name only a few. It’s a well-staged event with a great vibe (and food, the way to attract journalists!).

The best secret event, as always, will be the Annual Invitation Drumsmith dinner. But I’m obliged not to let you know where or when it is.