MELBOURNE GUITAR SHOW
THE MELBOURNE GUITAR SHOW IS AN ESSENTIAL EVENT FOR AUSTRALIA’S GUITAR INDUSTRY AND, MOST IMPORTANTLY, THE PLAYERS THEY SERVE. OUR INTREPID REPORTER BRAVED A BROKEN RIB AND ENOUGH PAINKILLERS TO BRING DOWN AN ELEPHANT TO COVER THIS YEAR’S EVENT.
We take a sneak peek at some of the freshest and most fiery gear for 2018.
“And it wasn’t long before this yearly custom became an annual tradition.” It’s one of the great overlooked lines from The Simpsons, but it also describes how quickly the Melbourne Guitar Show has established itself as a given. Now in its fourth year, the event has really found its feet with the right mix of electric and acoustic, performance and presentation, and retail and exhibition. It’s like a mini NAMM where you can buy everything you can see.
This year’s event was headlined by the great Albert Lee, and played host to the national premiere of Fender’s new Diesel signature Stratocaster. I, your humble narrator, was pulling triple duty at this year’s show: hosting live discussion sessions with bassists and acoustic guitarists on the Saturday, and a Q&A with Baby Animals guitarist Dave Leslie on the Sunday; hanging around the Reverb booth to answer questions about Ormsby Guitars, where I recently started doing Artist Relations; and, of course, reporting for Australian Guitar.
Over the two days of the show, I got to see and hear some really great gear, and get a nice overview of where we’re at with the musical instrument industry in Australia.
First thing’s first: this year’s show featured the return of Gibson Guitars, now under the distributorship of Australis Music. As we all know, Gibson has undergone a lot of business turmoil in recent years, and their Australian distributorship changed hands earlier this year.
New stock is just star ting to trickle in, and Australis had some truly beautiful specimens on hand to show Gibson’s renewed commitment to quality. Australis is also Australia’s longtime Ibanez distributor, which means they have a real understanding of the evolving needs of players. I have no doubt in my mind that Gibson will be just fine under their custodianship!
Another company to change its distribution arrangements – but a little while back now – is Fender, who now have their own Fender Music Australia outpost, with most of the same faces as the previous Fender distributor but now with the wider resources of the greater Fender Musical Instrument Corporation.
And you could see it in Fender’s display this year: a comfortably, cozy oasis detatched from the rest of the MGS chaos, plenty of guitars on display, but not so many as to feel cluttered, and with visual merchandising totally in line with what you would see at a NAMM Show in the USA.
Of particular interest to booth visitors this year seemed to be the new Player Series (look for the review in this issue) and the Made In Japan Series, which offers Traditional and modern Hybrid takes on classic Fender designs from a Japanese perspective, with appointments like basswood bodies and U-shaped fretboards.
I’d like to give a special shoutout to my guests during the Meet The Players sessions on the first day – bass legends Rod Bustos, Craig Newman and Mitch Cairns, plus acoustic guitarists Thomas Leeb, Van Larkins and Mark Fisher with Acoustic Uprising documentary director Drew Roller; and Dave Leslie at the Up Close & Personal session on the second day. One of the biggest highlights of the show for me was the three-way bass jam, which was incredibly revealing as Bustos, Cairns and Newman all found their own unique place in a
spontaneous musical moment; Bustos holding down a solid groove and Cairns finding a place in the middle to add harmonic colour while Newman played beautiful melodies over the top.
And the acoustic session was really fun, with each of the three players having their own very unique take on acoustic guitar as a full band. Leslie shared some great stories about jamming on AC/DC covers with Eddie Van Halen backstage and touring with The Angels, while showing off his incredible Grubisa Merlin guitar.
There was a lot of great stuff to discover wandering the various displays and booths. For instance, at the Reverb booth, author Wadih Hanna displayed his book on Maton Guitars. Titled Made In Australia: My Mat on
Collection, the book is almost as incredible as his actual collection, spanning over 400 Maton guitars. He’d even brought a few of them with him, including an ultra rare Phil Manning model stereo electric guitar, which features an easy‑access neck joint that beat companies like Ibanez to the punch with such a feature by about two decades.
Another joy every year is the Sunburst Music stand, where you can gaze upon row after row of beautiful vintage guitars, from ‘40s Gibsons to ‘50s Strats to ‘60s Teles to ‘70s Rickenbackers to ‘90s Charvel Surfcasters, and everything in‑between. This is also a great place to just stand around and listen to Phil Ceberano playing sweet, bluesy licks through primo gear.
And up at the acoustic floor, it was great to catch up with CMC’s Rick Chadwick. CMC has just picked up the Faith acoustic guitar brand – a really beautiful line of instruments with modern playability and a distinctive look. CMC is also home to the Ernie Ball Music Man brand in Australia, so it’ll be fun to see what the y can do with the Faith line and their dealer network.
It’s always fun to stop by the Innovative Music booth to see players trying out the Kemper Profiler for the first time, and learning just how amp‑like it really feels. Likewise, folks at the Line 6 booth were all taking in the processing power of the Helix system.
We’vee really reached the point of maturity for this kind of technology where, even if it doesn’t smell like a real valve amp or put your back out carting it up the stairs, you can sure fool a lot of discerning listeners when they hear these units coming out of a PA system or a stereo.
Perhaps the best thing about the Melbourne Guitar Show is the opportunity to rub shoulders with your fellow guitar players, be they folks you typically only run into a gigs where it’s too noisy to really talk, retail staff you’ve bought gear from over the years, or players from bands like Ne Obliviscaris or Baby Animals, or legends like Diesel. You can even meet the folks who import your favourite instruments to the country (or, in many cases, the luthiers who make them right here).
Events like this are a crucial feedback loop for the guitar community. They let you know what’s happening, they put you in touch with industry and media legends, they help you find your next great guitar, and ultimately, they reinforce that no matter our differences as guitarists, we all have this wonderful instrument in common.
Yamaha’s Revstar model continues to impress (and just plain look cool). Mark Fisher performs at the Art Of Fingerstyle Guitar session. Wadih Hanna with his ultra rare Maton Phil Manning signature guitar, and the book about his 400-plus Maton collection. Sunburst Music’s vintage and vintage-vibed gear is always a Melbourne Guitar Show highlight. Taylor Guitars can always be relied upon for beautiful tops and flawless playbility.
The Bass Centre isn’t afraid of a little bling. The super popular Made In Japan Hybrid series from Fender. The Fender Classic series has some undeniably nostalgic finishes. No heads are better than one at the .stranberg* booth. The latest Ernie Ball Music Man goodies, including the James Valentine and St. Vincent signature models. The Maton booth is always a must‑visit during every show.