I can sum up my short NAMM experience this last Saturday in two words: Filippo Bertipaglia. But more on that later.
Ah, the NAMM circus in Anaheim … every year I say last one, and every year I’m back (but just for a day). It’s actually fun – mainly seeing all the musical friends I’ve made over the years and meeting new ones. Like most, I also get a kick out of the microcosm of musical human oddities of every size, shape and accoutrement. This time, while I did find myself laughing out loud at some of the more ridiculous, I was feeling more curmudgeonly than usual, wondering (not for the first time) “What in the world do these people do in their normal lives when they leave here?!”
If I was more put off this year, it was mostly because I was under the weather and should never have gotten out of bed. But I had to go, as we had an important meeting with the Timberline factory folks about a new model I’d spent the last month on (designing and engineering). The good news is that it looks promising (spoilers!).
Before I get into harp guitar player sightings, I need to mention Muriel Anderson’s All Star Harp Guitar Night she held a week before Anaheim NAMM down the road a ways. I wasn’t able to make it, but she represented the instrument and players well with (L-R) Michael O’Brien, Jim Earp, William Eaton, Muriel, Stephen Bennett, Jake Murphy, Scott Holloway and Tim Bertsch. Bravo!
My first harp guitarist sighting at NAMM was Jim Earp – Timberline’s longtime endorser. After the harp guitar’s debut at last year’s show, owner Rob Smith handed it to him … Jim said “What am I supposed to do with this?” – and he hasn’t been able to put it down since (to be fair, I do warn all 6-string players of this).
Jim’s already got a harp guitar EP recorded. The soundhole rosette is a feedback dampener he installed.
Later, Jamie Dupuis from Canada arrived for his sets. Another major endorser, Jamie has switched almost exclusively to the harp guitar for his weekly (160k subscribers) YouTube videos. He and Rob were planning to shoot another dozen or more during this Southern California visit.
Kitty-corner from Timberline was Journey Guitars (another patented removable neck travel guitar), where our friend and Harp Guitar Gathering (HGG) Feature Tommy Loose was demoing all weekend.
I took a late morning break to say hello to my Carlsbad Museum of Making Music friends out in the foyer and catch one of their bookings, the marvelous Brazilian accordion duo Creosote.
Next was over to the Mayson Guitars booth, manned by Travis Bowman (our HGG feature 2 years ago). Here I found 3 harp guitarists (none of whom I got to see play): Travis, Mark Grover and Matt Thomas – last year’s HGG featured virtuoso, out for his very first Anaheim NAMM experience. Mark and I chatted about him getting an HG upgrade, while Matt brought me up to date on his custom Tonedevil HG-in-progress. Sorry, no photos of this bunch.
Back at the booth and more visitors. Outermost are Dave and Tone Powell of Tonedevil fame, who were down for a write-off-able vacation. That long-haired dude is Tim Bertsch, newly added to the Timberline family of players.
Role-reversal. During our annual Heavy Metal Shred Face moment, I apparently busted up Tim enough that he broke character.
Other HG friends (not pictured) who wandered by at some point were Don Alder (Timberline endorser, Steve Klein (from the Boutique Guitar Showcase upstairs) and Scott Holloway (who, with Jim Worland, is still building high-end “Dyer” harp guitars when custom-ordered).
The best thing about NAMM is the insane amount of concentrated talent – the number of incredible guitar (and other instrument) players you can see in concert throughout the long weekend. I heard about many great shows and performers I would’ve loved to have caught, but it does takes a commitment.
Then there are all the demo performers scattered throughout the halls – from the unknown (to me, like new FretMonkey players) to the known (Trevor Gordon Hall, my favorite CandyRat composer).
And you never know who might sit down and just start playing. I tuned most of this out at the Timberline booth, including ignoring (seemingly) yet another long haired kid who sat down with a plugged-in 6-string…
…until I heard something that sounded like someone had put on my old LP of the Bucky Pizzarelli Quintet playing Bix Beiderbecke.
This was Filippo Bertipaglia, one of those “Best Guitarists in the World You’ve Never Heard Of.” Not as young as he looks (confessing he was “old”), from Milan, Italy, with seemingly triple-jointed fingers several inches long and a technique and style the likes of which I’ve never heard. Right hand often using flatpick with second and third fingers; left hand, where two random fingers would hold position as two others moved in opposite directions defying all physics. Several of us thus stood around mesmerized for almost half an hour to talk and listen to this amazing and delightful young man, immediately my new favorite guitar player. Fairly indescribable, but, say, somewhere between an entire classical guitar quartet, Allan Holdsworth and modern Impressionists such as Les Six, the creative disciples of the eccentric Erik Satie (Filippo admits he is similarly “mad”). Meaning virtuosic originals – complex, flawless and often incredibly beautiful. Police and Cyndi Lauper covers also, in his own creatively marvelous arrangements (here, I was reminded of another mad genius, our Guitarp-playing friend Phil deGruy). We couldn’t believe he had no recordings yet, but he sent us to YouTube where I was thrilled to find two of the original pieces he had played and the Time After Time cover. Filippo is one of those players who simply begs watching (which is why, sitting five feet away, we were getting goosebumps).
He may not be to everyone’s taste (ex: though he can do all that FretMonkey stuff, he doesn’t) – but all guitar fans should check out at least one of these:
A Trip Through Your Sweetness (a beautiful original)
Time After Time (cover)
Sultry Weather (original madness utilizing his flatpick-fingerstyle technique)
Sorry to blather; this was just one of those magical moments. Needless to say, I wouldn’t gush so publicly without good reason. Subscribe to his channel and tell your friends.
T’was now 5:45 and closing time. From the parking tower, I rolled down my giant box o’ photography gear to shoot the now four models of Gregg Miner-co-designed Timberline harp guitars. (They sell out so fast, we can never get them in one place at one time, so this was it).
I’ll get the listings updated soon – I got these quick shots as best I could in our short hour before I was unceremoniously ushered out, the very last to leave the now hauntingly empty Hall E.
It was then that I discovered that a giant convention center full of NAMM – but devoid of all life and any sound – could be true bliss.