Friday, 12 June 2009

London International Music Show 2009

It's June which means it's time for the London International Music Show (LIMS09), which once again is being held at the ExCel Centre in London's East End and is on for four days until Sunday 14 June.

When you enter the hall you can always tell it's a music fair even if you've been blindfolded, because amid the sheer cacophony of sound you can always hear someone thinking he's the next Mark King slapping away on a bass guitar as if the 1980s never went away. It always happens at these events. I think it's a tradition or an old charter or something.

Of course, in recent years it was the London Guitar Show, last year it was the London International Music Show incorporating the London Guitar Show, now they've dropped the Guitar Show moniker altogether. I think some other instruments wanted a look-in too, and that's not really a bad thing, and there's still plenty of guitars to look at, play, and generally lust after. Or even laugh at.

Speaking of which, you'll notice I started this post with a photo of a display of Spongebob gear. Well, that's got the ridiculous out of the way. Let's look at some more serious stuff!

Some of the first guitars to catch my eye were these beautiful examples from Sparrow Guitars, many of which feature custom hand-painted finishes. These are some serious rock'n'roll machines and they have the looks to make sure you look great on stage.

These rather attractive Mayones Guitars (below) were on display at the Blackhawk Music stand.

I particularly liked this finish (below) which I assume was created by sanding through the black finish to the red beneath. It's a lovely textured finish and is definitely quite eye-catching.

The Patrick Eggle stand. Fine guitars made in the UK.

...and you know how I love perspex-bodied guitars. This Patrick Eggle example (below) isn't highly polished like acrylic guitars from most other manufacturers. The edges have been sanded to a rough matt surface that helps define the outline of the instrument. I also love the straight-through-the-body f-hole.

A whole heap of Airline guitars. It must be the...

...Eastwood Guitars stand.

Ah, you know about Eastwood by now, surely? Retro-looking guitars but with modern playability, reliable hardware, good pickups, etc. They certainly look the part.

Pictured below is the one I really wanted to try. Regular readers will know that I'm a big fan of the Ovation Breadwinner, and I wanted to check out Eastwood's re-issue. So, I tried it out and you know what? It gets the thumbs up - it feels exactly like my 1976 Breadwinner - only newer and without the dents! Eastwood president Mike Robinson, who was on hand to talk about the guitars (what a thoroughly decent chap), tells me that the pickups are hotter than the originals, which I can well believe as that's one area where the Ovation originals are lacking.

Fret King guitars are the baby of a guy you may have heard of by the name of Trev Wilkinson. These I do like. The influences are there to see on these vintage styles with a twist. They also have two ranges - the UK hand-built Green Label series, and more budget conscious Blue Label series featuring the same designs produced in Korea.

I'm not normally a fan of guitars with a "relic" or road-worn finish, but I did like this S and T-type pair from Fret King (below). I like the way the pickups and control knobs are deliberately mismatched, especially on the S-type guitar with has a nice mix of Strat and Tele features.

Now here's a sight to behold, these beautiful hand-built aluminium guitars from Goulding Guitars. Anthony Goulding, who builds these fine instruments, also makes all the hardware, the bridges, pickup surrounds and knobs. There are also many finish options: the purple example on the left in the below picture has been anodized, whilst the one on the right has a chrome finish.

Each guitar is custom-built to a customer's requirements, but all share the same basic shape. And what a great shape it is too! Anthony, who, it turns out,is a Guitarz reader (we had a good old chin wag) mentioned that I had once likened it to the shape of the Acoustic-branded Black Widow.

The guitar in the next picture takes design inspiration from the cut-out details on the cone covers of resonator guitars, although obviously this isn't a resonator. The finish is ... (what did you call it again? I should have made better notes...) splash anodized (?).

I had a great time talking to all the guys and girls on the booths. I also met Tom of Inky Hollow who creates custom artwork for guitars and basses, and seemingly any other instruments you care to throw his way such as drums, and also other items, e.g. motorbike helmets and surfboards. Check out the website because my photo here really does not do this particular example justice.

What else was there? Some of the big names were absent: Fender, Gibson, Rickenbacker... Did we miss them? No, not really.

Music Man were present, as ever, on the Ernie Ball stand and this doubleneck caught my eye for a couple of reasons. For one, I was intrigued at the layout of tuners on the 12-string headstock, and also I thought that the body was quite nice and compact for a doubleneck which are often such cumbersome beasts.

Peavey guitars (below):

And then there was, a whole display of Paul McCartney-esque Hofner Violin Basses...

...and a whole rack of Hofner Verithin guitars. You can see where the name comes from. Very elegant looking, these.

Now, I know nothing about these Faith acoustics (they were on the Shadow pickups stand) but I really liked the little 12-fret parlour guitar in the middle. I think this is what I want from an acoustic guitar, just for playing around the house.

These Atlas guitars were quite beautifully made instruments...

... I especially liked their take on the classic Strat design with its bound-edge flamed top. Very tasty!

The only thing that caught my eye on the Yamaha stand was this retro-styled semi. Saying which is doing them a dis-service, as they do produce some quality gear.

There were no Gretsch guitars to be seen (as part of the Fender empire, I guess they were absent for the same reasons as their parent company), but lovers of big-bodied archtop guitars would have been kept happy not only by Sparrow guitars as we have already seen, but also by these immaculate-looking Peerless guitars. These guys have been in the industry since 1970 and have built guitars for the likes of Gretsch, Fender and Gibson, so they ought to be well worth checking out in their own right.

I liked this line of ukuleles from Ashbury, especially the 8-string tenor. It had a sound that was reminiscent of a mandolin.

...and while we're talking of ukes, there was a fantastic selection over at the Sutherland Trading Co Ltd stand, including something I'd never seen before, a bass ukulele (the Kala uBass - pictured below). At first I thought it was a uke fitted with the silicon strings from a Ashbory bass, but I'm told these are actually polyurethane. What's more, it sounded great. It had a double bass quality to it. Very easy and fun to play - it's tuned just like a bass guitar - I really liked it.

Now before I finish, I want to put in writing here a couple of reminders for myself for next year.

  1. Check the dates carefully to avoid turning up a week early. (Yes, I did go last Saturday, to find no music show. Did I feel stupid or what?)
  2. Charge the batteries in your camera the night before.

Things I didn't manage to photograph included:

The XOX Audio Tools "The Handle" guitar on the PROEL (International) Ltd stand. What an absolutely beautiful guitar in terms of looks, sound and playabilty. Being made of hollow-sectioned carbon fibre it's as light as a feather. If only I had two and a half grand to spare...

Vintage Guitars - the brand "Vintage" from John Hornby Skewes, that is. Someone once commented on this blog that I had judged them too harshly and that they were pretty decent instruments, and that I should do my homework. Now, I'm always one to put my hand up when I'm wrong, so I thought I'd try out a couple. I tried a relic Strat-a-like from the Icon series. It was a little unsubstantial feeling for my tastes (for a Strat, that is), but it was certainly a very nice player, certainly better than many Squiers I have tried. I then tried an LP type guitar. I've never been a Les Paul player but I was almost sold. It played beautifully and it sounded great. Dare I say it even sounded authentic?

Dudley Ross, a very talented fretless guitar player was demonstrating the Vigier Excaliber guitar with delta-metal fingerboard, and which I featured in last year's report. He was very kindly letting people try out the guitar for themselves, including Yours Truly. What a beautiful player. I've experimented with fretless guitar in the past, but never imagined it could sound as good as this - even on the unwound strings (which was where my own customised fretless used to fall down).

I also noodled for a while on a Roland-equipped Fender Strat over at the Roland / Boss booth. It was plugged into a device called the Roland GR20 Guitar Synth. Most the sounds were pretty farty and perhaps someone had screwed up the settings as I could only really get it to track on the D and A strings. However, I discovered that I absolutely loved the Hammond organ patch, and spent ages playing Hammond solos (complete with Leslie rotating speaker effect) on two strings! It sounded very Steve Winwood.

And there - for now - I shall leave it. It's been a long day and I've been up all night typing this lot out and need bed! Until next year, then. (And we'll look at lots of curious guitars from eBay in the meantime!)

PLEASE NOTE: The photos in this article are all my own so if you do want to use one on a forum or a blog or whatever, that's fine, but please credit me and link back here. Thanks.

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