One of the quintessential images of Americana that many people have grown up with is the sight of children pressing their noses up against the windows of toy store displays during the Christmas season. Well, the feeling conjured by that image is akin to the feeling that musicians have when they attend the annual NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) convention, at the Anaheim Convention Center. This past weekend, the nearly-hundred-and-twenty-year-old NAMM and its hundred thousand-ish consumer and merchant attendees came to town, and although I didn’t see any kings or camels, the place was riddled with drummer boys. As usual, there is so much to engage with at the convention — performances, interactive displays, meetings, product demonstrations, photo-ops, etc. — that it can be difficult to experience a decent fraction of the whole shebang without experiencing sensory overload. For this year, the Weekly thought we’d focus in on some of our own community’s exhibitors. After sifting through about two dozen or so listings for Orange County-based music businesses that would be showcasing their goods, we selected a handful of businesses to visit and speak with about their unique products.
Our first stop was at the display of Gulf Music Sales, which is based in Orange. Gulf Music sells a number of musical instruments and products, but as the company’s principal, Luis Rodriguez, pointed out, their bread and butter comes from selling a distinct type of accordion. Rodriguez said, “Diatonic [accordions are] primarily used in Norteño music.” After sixteen years in business, Rodriguez said the accordion business is thriving. “It’s a very good business. It’s directed primarily at the Hispanic market, and we have distribution in most of the states that are heavily populated by Hispanics: Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Chicago, and New York.” After asking if it was possible to get my grandfather’s old polka accordion back in action, Rodriguez laughed at the popular question. The answer is yes, but it’s costly.
We visited one other business based in the city of Orange. For ten years, Brian Neunaber has operated his own company, Neunaber Audio, where he sells his own electronic effects pedals. Neunaber, who holds a master’s degree in electrical engineering, gave a brief overview of his journey in the field. He said, “I got started working for St. Louis Music — I’m originally from the St Louis area — they used to manufacture the Crate brand and Ampeg brand of amplifiers, so I had designed digital effects for many of their products before moving to California, where I worked for QSC audio for twelve years and designed a lot of a loudspeaker processing for some their processors, and their powered loudspeakers. Then around 2008 I decided I wanted to kind of get back into doing effects, which is what I used to at St. Louis Music. So I started by designing a reverb pedal and that just kinda grew from there.” Among the various reverb and cabinet emulation pedals that NAMM guests could play with, Neunaber pointed out that his company was using the expo to launch a new guitar pre-amp pedal.
Next, we visited Elite Guitar, which is based out of Fullerton. The company owner, Petar Chekardzhikov, is a classical guitar player who enjoyed the convenience of clip-on tuners, when he discovered them; however, he was displeased with the design. He recalled, “Going on stage, people were like, ‘What is that thing sticking out of your guitar?’ And so I started thinking there’s got to be something that could be hidden behind the headstock.” The solution to Chekardzhikov’s dilemma came when he witnessed his son playing with magnets, which are the key to his convenient “cling-on” design for tuners and pick-ups. His company launched the first of his products three years ago. Last year, his designs won “Best in Show” at NAMM.
The last stop on our pilgrimage was at the showcase of Anaheim-based California Luthier Supplies, which imports and sells dozens of types of tone woods, lumber, and wood-fashioned supplies. The company’s president, Faizal Assis, shrugged at the competition of wood-suppliers at the convention. He said, “Some of the people here, they are only getting one single species…I go to ever part of the world and bring all exotics.” Assis, who is from India, has been in business here for ten years, but his family’s roots in the industry run deep. He pointed out, “My great grandfather’s lumber business is originally from India; my grandpa started the rosewood business; [and] my father is still cutting the rosewood. We have a mill back In India. We have a mill in California. We have a mill in Africa.” He sells his exotic lumbers (ebony, rosewood, and beyond) to hobbyists and to major companies, alike. He pointed out, “I supply woods to Kiesel Guitars, Fender, PRS, Ernie Ball Gino, all the big factories and also the custom guitar makers, like one guy in a shop or in a garage, who [is] making a single guitar; they come to me and I [give the] same price to everybody. Wholesale.”
Obviously, this was just the tip of the iceberg of the local, niche, music-related businesses — to say nothing of the non-local varieties of specialty companies that showcased their stuff at NAMM. The con maintains its status as “the world’s largest trade-only event for the music products, pro audio and event tech industry.” But among such diversity and such numbers, it’s nice to see that so many unique members of the global community reside right here in our neighborhood.