2012 NAMM Report – Rebound?

The NAMM show is the biggest (in the USA) industry convention show held the 3rd weekend in January in California. While plenty of individual players & customers do get in to the show, this is a closed show that is intended for the industry meaning that most people cannot get in. So every year, I post my “NAMM Report” with a few highlights from that year’s show. As always, I am only going to discuss things that are more or less positive. I do not post anything negative about a brand or product.


It’s a bit of a joke every year after the show that this years show “was the best show ever” even though the past few years have been OBVIOUSLY lower attended by both exhibitors and attendees. In fact, the morning that I started writing this post, I received an email from MMR (Musical Merchandise Review magazine) stating “While naysayers will no doubt gripe about ‘padding the numbers,’ official figures are up”… naysayer or not, I do agree that this year, the show was the busiest that I have seen since 2007.

The one area though that I did not see rebound in attendance were the Asian factory representatives. There were plenty of US Distributors and Wholesalers who import from Asia, but the actual Asian factories (in my opinion) had even less of a presence this year than I ever recall. What exactly this means I cannot even guess. However, I think that overall, the outlook in the industry for 2012 and beyond is positive.

Cool New Stuff

So now on to the real reason you are reading… what’s new?! The past few years have had very little in new or innovating products and while there was nothing really earth shattering, there were quite a few things that stood out to me very positively.

Theo Wanne MANTRA Tenor Sax

Theo Wanne is known for his professional high-end mouthpieces. His mouthpieces range in the $395 – $775 price range and represent arguably the best craftsmanship and most unique designs around. So when he announced only a few short weeks before the show that he was coming out with a saxophone, most people (myself included) had no idea what to expect.

Theo did have a prototype of the saxophone at the show. The horn is a hybrid of Taiwan & American manufacturing and parts. Several of the unique design elements are made in Theo’s shop  and much of the keywork is designed by Theo and his team in the USA. There were a few things that really are unique about this sax both in design and playability.

First, the sax plays GREAT. It was arguably one of the most even playing saxophones that we had played, from any maker at any price. This was really nice. It was simply easy and a joy to play. It wasnt necessarily the biggest or darkest sound, but it was complex and lush throughout. Theo did tell me that the neck that was on this horn is not the final neck promising that the final sax will be bigger and richer than the prototype. I hope he is right because that is a horn we want to play! If he can make it a bit bigger and richer, then this horn is going to blow people away. It should be coming out around May 2012 and has a suggested Retail of $3,995.

Some of the unique features of the horn include a completely rethought bell to body brace as well as a neck octave mechanism that incorporates a structural reinforcement brace while having minimalistic contact on the actual neck tube itself. Theo claims that this is to allow the neck to vibrate as easily as possible. Take a look below (sorry for the low quality of the photos, my cell phone is in need of serious updating!)


Theo has also introduced a couple of beautifully designed braces & hooks on this horn. Specifically, the bell to body brace is completely rethought and minimizes the contact and weight on the horn itself. While I would like to see Theo add or move one of the contacts to a second plane which would increase the brace’s effectiveness and strength, the brace as shown is incredibly strong. I would just like to see it a little stronger. This is something that Theo and I discussed and he agreed about this strength, but whether or not he integrates it into the final design, we will just have to wait and see.

Theo has also gone with a great concept for his strap hook. It allows a lot of free movement for the player and 3 different hook spots so that you can put it where it balances just right for the individual player.

Finally, the horn was setup with Kangaroo skin pads (MusicMedic). Final production models will all be setup with MusicMedic Kangaroo pads as well as setup by MusicMedic. I didn’t love the white pads as they were already showing some grime on the horn at the show. I would prefer to see them switch to a black version of the same pad. Setup was great and the horn felt fantastic.

Antigua Backun Clarinet

Antigua released at the show the new collaboration with Backun Musical Services in Canada. The new Antigua Backun CL3230 clarinet features a bell, body & barrel all made by Backun in Canada with the keywork and assembly being done in Antigua’s parent facilities in Asia. We didn’t have the chance to properly test the clarinet at the show, plus it was way too noisy to do so and give a fair write-up on it. However, the clarinet felt great, was built VERY well and is priced right at $1,299.

The clarinet will be available starting at the beginning of February. We will be posting a more complete review on the clarinet after we have a chance to fully review it.

Backun Protege Clarinet

This is the year of Backun at NAMM. At Backun’s booth, they had the prototypes of the upcoming Protege series Backun clarinet. Just like the Antigua, we were not able to give the clarinet a fair test at the show. However, it too felt great and was built extremely well. The Protege clarinet uses the same quality of Grenadilla and Cocobolo that is offered on Backun’s professional $7,500+ models. Designed to compete with the R13 level of semi-professional clarinets, the Protege should come in substantially more affordable around the $1,800-$2,200 price range with options for the clarinet made entirely from either premium grade Grenadilla or Cocobolo and available with silver or gold plated keywork.

I did have a chance to talk to several players who have tested them extensively including one of our own in-store private instructors Alan Lawson (who is also a Backun fan and endorsing artist) who was really blown away with the performance of the Protege. He said that it will quickly be the clarinet that he is recommending to his students.

The Protege clarinet will likely not be available until sometime this Summer. At that time, we will do a more complete review.

Kessler Custom Solid Silver Handmade Alto Neck

Of course we do not display our Kessler Custom brand at the show. We did however get to meet with our factory representatives and they finally had the production level prototype for our Handmade Series Alto Sax Neck made from Solid Sterling Silver for us to test. Sterling silver contains 92.5% pure silver with 7.5% copper for strength. The benefit to Sterling Silver necks is the increased tonal presence and responsiveness. We briefly tested the neck on a few horns and were absolutely blown away.

This neck should be available by mid-year and will have an estimated sale price of $499. This neck will also be very compatible with Selmer Paris altos.

The “Big 4” Sax Makers

Sadly, there is nothing really new to report with the “Big 4” saxophone makers. I was disappointed in the incredibly small presence of Selmer Paris at the show. This was the smallest booth and display that I have ever seen from them at the show. Yanagisawa was only marginally represented by Conn-Selmer (US Distributor) and Keilwerth was an afterthought on the Buffet display (Buffet owns Keilwerth).

I dont know if this is a sign of things to come with the big names becoming less impactful or whether they are simply assuming that dealers already know the big names and are not really there to check them out but rather the newer products. I tend to think that it is more of the latter and HOPE that it is not a negative sign of things to come.

P. Mauriat

Mauriat is a company that has really built some great name recognition in the sax industry. Their presence each year increases and frankly, I think there quality has as well. The stumbling point that I have always had been price. Well, with pricing from the major makers all going up, Mauriat saxophones are not quite as high as they used to be by comparison. We are evaluating adding them to the collection of saxophones offered in our store and will let you know more. Their build quality has steadily improved each year and now really have a build quality (from what I saw) that is now on par with how they play.

Final Notes

As with every NAMM show, I walked away with not a lot of “new & exciting” things. Most of the show is the same as it was the year previous. Most of the products were the same as the year previous. There was not much change in that pattern this year. The few bright spots to me stood out more as a result. We look forward to further testing these new products in store to give them a fair evaluation compared to the rest of the market.

The highlight of the NAMM show 2012 for me was pretty simple… its only 20 minutes away from The Crab Cooker in Newport Beach. I sometimes feel like it is the main reason that I attend the show every year. This year, I got to take my oldest 2 sons (I have 4 total) to The Crab Cooker for their first visit. Watching my 2nd oldest devour his grilled shrimp & bacon skewers was worth the entire trip!