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    Tuesday, January 19, 2010

    NAMM 2010 Recap

    Oh my.  Has it really been 6 months since our last blog entry?  Well, this will make up for it.  We have recently returned from the 2010 NAMM show in Anaheim CA, and wanted to share our experience.  This is usually an annual trip for 2 or 3 of us HMT-ers, though we declined to go last year (partially because of the economy, partially because of the Inauguration which happened right around the same time).

    NAMM used to stand for the National Association of Music Merchandisers.  While that organization doesn't officially exist anymore, the acronym remains as a moniker for this semi-annual trade-only convention (there is a summer NAMM show that happens in the midwest, but by all accounts the winter show in Anaheim is the bigger and better one).  It's a time for manufacturers and distributers of music products to showcase their wares, introduce new products, and meet face-to-face with their buyers (i.e. retail music stores, educational institutions, etc).  While technically closed to the public, a significant number of "regular folks" do make it in under the auspices of other businesses.  Which is important--we want the public to check out these products and create a buzz about what they like.  There is also a bit of celebrity factor involved.  Artists who endorse certain products make appearances at booths and do performances around the area in the evenings.

    According to reports, around 88,000 people registered for the show, and there were 1,373 exhibitors--with a record 250 new exhibitors (showing a comforting surge in market enthusiasm).

    Just a bit of background for you.  For us, it's a time to meet face to face with suppliers, check out in person some of the products they try to sell us sight unseen (not always an easy task), look at what's new on the market, and generally get excited about being in the music retail biz!  Oh, and spending 4 days in southern California in the middle of January ain't bad either.

    So let's get down to it!  HMT's contingent to the show was owner David Eisner, general manager Kristen Jones, and fretted instrument salesperson rob hinkal.

    Here's the entrance to the Anaheim Convention Center, in all its sunny glory.

    On Thursday, we started things off at the Breedlove booth.  They are one of our main guitar and mandolin suppliers, and we had the opportunity to purchase several unique custom shop instruments.  Many of these will head back to our store as "vendor demos" we will be able to offer at special prices.  Pictured is the gorgeous koa back of a Revival OM with a slotted headstock.  You can see our awesome sales rep Colin to the right.

    We also ran into our good friend Marcy Marxer, who was there at the show as a demo artist for Gold Tone and Martin.  Breedlove has started to delve into the ukulele market, and Marcy tried out one of their prototype models.

    We also decided to pick up a gorgeous koa-topped Revival from Breedlove.  We're often wary of koa guitars (they sometimes look better than they sound), but this one wowed us in both aspects..

    Speaking of koa, just across the aisle was Goodall Guitars.  They have completed the move of their shop from Hawaii to Fort Bragg, CA.  James and Luke Goodall have started production again in the new facility.  At the show we were able to pick up two "Aloha" models, the last made in the Hawaii shop.  Of course, the new-shop guitars won't be any less stellar, but as production is still getting up to speed, these are the last Goodalls we'll be able to have before the summer, most likely.  Here's Dave and rob with Jean Goodall, who runs the business side of things.

    And catty-corner from Goodall, there's our friends Dusty Strings from Seattle, WA.  Ray and Sue were there with a stellar assortment of their harps and hammered dulcimers.

    We encountered a new company called Two Old Hippies, which distributes Bedell Guitars and the slightly lower-priced Great Divide line.  We were very impressed by their products, displays and marketing.  And we're a sucker for the story of owner Tom Bedell, who sold his fishing tackle business and invested in his dream of creating an acoustic guitar company. It didn't hurt that they were giving away this customized VW bus at the show (sadly, we did not win).  We are keeping these guitars in mind for the may see them in our store!

    Our friends Mid-East Manufacturing (where we get most of our Indian instruments, dumbek drums, and our lower-priced bodhrans from) usually have a presence at NAMM.   This year, their booth was almost exclusively devoted to a new line of ukulele-hybrid instruments.  Yep, the uke craze has hit everyone!  Up on this wall were lute-ukes, balalaika ukes, and...

    ...rob is trying to wrap his head around the concept of the sitar-lele.  Wow.

    Kristen, who had ulterior motives for going to the show (to search out electric cello options), was pleased to discover this one by NS Design.  We currently have one of their basses on consignment and are very impressed with it.  We checked out some of their electric violins, and may in fact become a dealer for these as well.

    Probably the most impressive new product we found was at the LR Baggs booth.  They were debuting their new "Anthem" guitar micing system, which somehow manages to create zero feedback.  rob held this guitar right up to the wedge with the mic active, feedback!!  This may very well revolutionize the acoustic guitar amplification world.  Watch out for the Anthem in our store!

    We do enjoy checking out Things That Look Cool.  The Gliga Violins booth did not need "Booth Babes"--they're right on the instruments!

    We closed out Thursday by visiting the Saga booth (best known to us for their Trinity College bouzouki line).  In the past we have carried their gypsy jazz Gitane guitars, and we were fortunate that this killer gypsy jazz player (name escapes me!) stopped by to demo some of the instruments for us.  These may just pop up at HMT again also...

    On Friday, Kristen woke up with an unfortunate stomach bug and decided to take it easy at the hotel while Dave & rob carried on at the show.  They finally got to meet our favorite uke suppliers, Kala, in person.  There's Dave holding their new "pocket uke" (so tiny!!), and Kala rep Leanne.

    There's a Kala artist demo-ing the new U-bass, which we'll be getting in as soon as it's available.  Wow--the polyurethane strings are like nothing you've ever played before.  Once you plug this baby in, it's a fantastic sounding acoustic bass in a tiny package.

    Dave and rob also checked out Luna Guitars, and were impressed enough to pick up a dealership.  They have some high-quality but low-cost instruments with some very unique designs.

    Friday night, Kristen managed to make it out for some of the top-notch entertainment--John Jorgensen and his band were in town, and Kristen's wise enough not to miss them for the world.  First, there was an opening performance of a bluegrass group featuring Rick Shubb (of Shubb capos) on banjo, and some folks representing the Saga company.  Good stuff!

    Then the main event--John Jorgenson's gypsy jazz quintet.  Nothing less than exquisite.  They will be making their annual appearance at the IMT series on March 22--don't miss it!

    On Saturday, a huge marching band greeted show attendees outside.

    Here's Jason Gano, our sales rep for Hanser Music (which represents Michael Kelly instruments) and a great bassist himself, demoing a Warwick acoustic bass.  We were disappointed to find out that Michael Kelly mandolins are still going through a factory transition and won't be widely available again until May...but we were pleased to learn that through Hanser we have the opportunity to order Warwick basses.

    NAMM certainly does attract its share of characters.  Here's Dave buddying up with a Bono impersonator we passed.  Definitely DID turn our heads for a sec...

    We're just not even sure what this one's about.  But it had to be captured on film, don't you agree?

    One of the great new products we picked up are Couch guitar straps.  They're handmade in southern California out of recycled automotive vinyl.  Totally vegan and sweatshop-free...perfect for Takoma Park!  Look out for these soon in our store.

    There's Marcy Marxer again, this time jamming on a cello banjo at the Gold Tone booth.

    We also discovered the fairly new "Hapi Drums" by the Rhythm Earth company.  Based on the concept of the elusive Hang drum (which in itself is a mutation of the steel drum), these metal drums are very cool-sounding and should be making an appearance at our store in the not too distant future.

    Finally, tired and weary, we made our last stop on Saturday the Music Link booth...distributor of instrument brands such as Recording King, Savannah and Johnson.  Great acoustic instruments at great prices.  Here's Dave and our sales rep Misha checking out a Recording King banjo.

    Meanwhile, rob tries out a limited-edition, very ornate parlor guitar...with Brazilian Rosewood back & sides!

    Well.  We came, we saw, we bought stuff, we gawked, we walked...A LOT.  It's good to be home again, but it was great to visit with thousands of others in "the biz" and see what's new and exciting in the music world.

    Sunday, July 26, 2009

    We survived the Ukelocalypse!

    Well. Last week was quite amazing. It was the ukulele invasion, ukelocalypse...whatever you want to call it, ukes were all over the place.

    On Wednesday July 22, Dave took our mobile booth to the first ever (and hopefully annual) Ukulele Festival at the Strathmore performing arts center in North Bethesda, MD. The attendance was estimated at 1,500-2,000 for this outdoor festival. There were performances by Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer, James Hill, Victoria Vox and Bruce some other special appearances by uke groups that Cathy & Marcy have been helping. While I wasn't personally there, the pictures kind of say it all. Happiness and uke coolness abounded:

    The crowd enjoys a lovely evening. Maybe we could call it a uke-in?

    Marcy Marxer leads a performance of a local Brownie troup she's been working with.

    The Riders--a group of 30 seniors from the Riderwood retirement community in Silver Spring ukes it up!

    Dave Eisner takes a moment out from uke-selling to pose. Most of the inventory we sent over to the booth sold...Dave said people were still shopping at the booth after darkness fell and they had to pack up by headlights!

    (the above photos are all courtesy Paul Sharratt. You can see his full Flickr set here.)

    The following day, we hosted uke virtuoso James Hill for a workshop and concert. We had so many people signed up for the workshop (22...might be a record!) that we had to move it to a larger space up on Carroll Ave. Below is James and participants doin' their thing. There were varying levels of uke skill in attendance, but James really had something for everyone, and all the participants seemed to enjoy themselves.

    Afterwards, James raced over to Seeker's Church for a "Next To the House" concert. While we don't have any pictures/video from that event, I thought I'd post one of his most popular YouTube videos here. Most people's response to James is "I had no idea the ukulele could be played like that!" He definitely blows peoples minds with his virtuosity, and is really showing that the uke is not just a novelty.

    Judging from our ukulele sales in recent years, we've guessed that there is a uke revival in this area...but it was really cool to see it in full force. All the uke players had a great time meeting new friends, hanging out and talking shop. It really is an instrument for everyone, from kids to seniors.

    Hopefully we'll do it again next year!

    Wednesday, July 8, 2009

    A day in the life...

    Whew. It's been quite a day. of those days, lots of stuff going on. Realized I haven't done a blog post in awhile, so I thought I'd give a rundown of the day's happenings. This kind of a taste of the randomness that is a typical day at the ol' HMT:

    First, our former assistant manager and House Tech Geek, Rowan Corbett, came in to help with some computer stuff. The computer we have our store play CDs loaded in iTunes on is dying, so we decided to change things around and transfer everything to our front counter computer, where we can play music from the nicer speakers up there. This will also allow us to get rid of the cumbersome desk and clear some space in our bookroom. Even a year after our move, we're still trying to find ways we can use space better. We're still workin' on it!

    We also got a surprise visit from another former assistant manager, Aleta Quinn. She's home for the summer but still working feverishly on her PhD papers for her philosophy program. Our webmistress Darcy Nair also happened to walk in with her supercute daughter Elizabeth, so of course I had to capture the moment with some pictures...

    Much of the day was spent putting together an enormous order of ukuleles from the Kala company (in tandem with Dave on the phone), in preparation for the Strathmore Uke Festival on July 22nd, which we will have a booth at. 49 ukes, folks. All colors, styles, shapes & prices. Ukes are hot and we're following the trend!

    We also had a good bit of chaos when a semi truck pulled up on the street with loads of boxes for us. We almost thought it was a mistake order that was supposed to go to another store, but no, we eventually figured out it was a bunch of Alvarez guitars that Dave ordered on special. And yes, they're a great deal...the $199 Alvarez is back! rob had to deal with a personal/band emergency where the company duplicating ilyAIMY's new CD rejected the master he'd overnighted to them, so he had to go in search of their preferred brand of blank CD, make another copy, and find a UPS store to overnight it. We're all musicians here and understand the importance of these things, so Rowan stayed on to unpack a dozen guitars to cover for rob.

    I've also had to tie up some loose ends for the Old Time Banjo Festival this weekend...we have 4 workshops happening on Sunday and I've got to make sure everything is straight for that. Takoma Groove Camp is also starting next week and some last-minute registration issues popped up...but we've got it under control!

    Dave's also been on the phone at home much of the day talking to the folks from the Smithsonian Folklife Festival which just ended last weekend. They sold a lot of percussion for us there, and we're arranging for the pickup of what hasn't sold.

    In the midst of all that, we found a happy customer for an Eastman archtop guitar that's been hanging around for awhile, and a home for one of Alvarez' new model guitars that just came in. Been emailing with a guy in Florida very interested in one of our Goodalls; hoping that comes through.

    We're also in need of a replacement file cabinet...found one on Craigslist and trying to arrange pickup of that.

    The percussionist I'm playing with at a gig tonight called up hoping we had a riq. Luckily, yes...he gave us his credit card number and I shall bring it to the gig tonight! Another person called with a case emergency...they must have an SKB dreadnought case and nothing else will do...willing to pay for overnight shipping from the supplier! Make it so!

    Inquiries have come in for samba whistles, oud strings, some Indian instrument even the ethnomusicology major hasn't heard of. Some time spent pacifying customers who have been waiting for their accordion reed wax for months (our supplier has run into a supply problem from their Italian source. What are they doing to the bees over there?).

    Phew. I think it's time to go. Now off to the wilds of Clarendon, VA to play steel pan and cello with 50 Man Machine for more musical randomness.

    Thursday, June 4, 2009

    The Breedlove Bus

    The last few days have been pretty hectic around the ol’ HMT (nothing terribly exciting, just one of those strings of days of “stupid busy-ness”). But I’ve finally got a few minutes to post about our visit from the Breedlove Bus on Monday.

    I’d prepared for the day Sunday night by going out to procure hot dogs, veggie dogs & accoutrements for our BBQ celebrating the bus visit and our one-year anniversary of our move. Then I parked my car in the metered spot outside HMT to save it for the bus, knowing I’d probably get a ticket in the morning, but chalking that up to the cost of business. Our dutiful parking enforcement officers of Takoma Park did not disappoint of course, even though we had put in a call several days before requesting permission to block that space for the day which went unreturned. Well, we’re a bunch of dreamers.

    The bus rolled up just after we opened with Colin at the helm on this gorgeous, sunny day. After some careful navigation, he got it parked on Westmoreland outside the store…

    ...and after some more finagling, was able to position it in order to expand out the sides to make full use of this mobile showroom.

    Breedlove has sent two of these buses touring the country visiting their dealers, and Breedlove reps Colin Besancon and Branden Carpenter (pictured below hanging up a guitar) have been handling the eastern portion of the US. You might think that traveling around the country in a deluxe tour bus on company dollars, showing off some of the best handmade guitars in the world might be a dream job, and sort of is. But you better believe these guys are working hard. While they're on the road it's a 24-hour-a-day job (and often it's just one of them on the bus--they happened to have joined up to visit us). The bus and its contents are kind of like an enormous baby that requires constant attention, supervision, feeding, watering, fueling and emptying.

    Anyway...after they arrived, with military precision they expanded the bus and got it ready for the public, hanging up all the guitars for display. Our site offered the additional challenge of having to park on a hill, which caused all the guitars to be displayed at a jaunty angle. But they rolled with it. Below, HMT employees and friends rob hinkal, Erik Sharar and Rowan Corbett get a sneak peak while Colin & Branden continue setting up.

    There's HMT teacher Erik Sharar next to some of the lovely Breedlove custom shop guitars--a sunburst Revival Dreadnought (I think), a custom inlaid "Calendar" model, and a Revival tenor guitar.

    Every available space was used to hang instruments. Here a Bossa Nova nylon string and an Atlas "Black Magic" hover over the driver's seat.

    And there's Colin! We've been working with Colin for years, first in sales, then he moved into building guitars for awhile, and now he's back in sales and on the road. We've had a blast hanging with him at the NAMM show in Anaheim a couple years ago, and he's done training sessions with our staff. It really helps to have such personal service from a guitar manufacturer. It's obvious that everyone at Breedlove is extremely dedicated to producing and promoting these beautiful instruments, and making it fun to boot. Wish we could get out to visit their shop in Bend, OR.

    A few years ago, Breedlove started making electric guitars. Being an acoustic shop, we don't carry them, but Colin & Branden still put some up for display. And guess what was the first thing to sell off the bus? Yep, a very happy woman became the proud new owner of a Breedlove Mark IV electric. Colin did some setup adjustments on this one before turning it over to her. What a great thing to have one of their builders on hand to make that happen! Hey Colin, you wanna stay here with us?

    We got several curious passersby peeking in, perhaps not quite sure what they would find, but everyone who stepped on the bus was pretty much wowed. Breedlove is definitely getting their name out, that's for sure.

    Eventually, Dave's gas grill made it over and we fired it up for some dogs. We even decided we might leave the grill there for the summer--it's a cool thing. So if you stop by on a nice day this summer, you may very well leave with a snack!

    After staying open an extra couple hours from our usual Monday schedule and finally closing up the bus, Dave, Colin, Brendan and I headed over to Roscoe's for dinner so we could show them the transformation of the old space. All in all it was a great day, and we're really appreciative of the Breedlove folks setting this up for us.

    Thursday, May 14, 2009

    The Old HMT Transformed!

    Oh happy day! Roscoe’s Pizza officially opened today in the old HMT location at 7040 Carroll. We moved out June 2, 2008, so it’s been almost a year! Paul the Elder walked in this afternoon with a takeaway pizza, and at almost the same time my friend Adam stopped by the store, so we decided to check out the new place. Here’s a little photo essay of our lunch:

    Stream displays the pizza Paul picked up—a “Capricciosa” with tomato, mozzarella, artichokes, mushrooms and Italian ham. Yum! We all tried it and I decided I needed more—therefore the lunch excursion!

    The outside of the 7040 location. The offices of the Takoma/Silver Spring Voice newspaper are now upstairs--where we used to have our lessons rooms, bookkeeping office, and where Greg Artzner & Terry Leonino (aka Magpie) used to live.

    Here’s the bar near the front entrance. They don’t have their liquor license yet, but we look forward to enjoying fine wines and such there in the not-too-distant future. The bar is approximately where our shipping/mail order department used to be located. Somehow that just seems appropriate (heh heh, just kidding Paul!!)

    This wall used to hold our banjo selection!

    Here’s the view of the main room. I didn’t really get a picture of the kitchen, which is located where our back office and my old desk used to be.

    That back wall used to be the home of our repair closet and the Infamous Wall O’ Squeezeboxes.

    Rounding the corner, we get to the bathrooms, which is where our book room used to be. I did not make use of the facilities, but I have no doubt they are far more luxurious than our old ones.

    Then to the left is their separate dining room which you will recognize as our old guitar room! Hopefully soon they’ll have enough customers to open this up.

    I knew the space was going to blow me away—they put an enormous amount of work into this place (kudos John Mangan & crew!). It was definitely surreal walking around the space that I worked in for 9 years, and which had been there for a total of something like 34 years. Check out our posts from June 2008 to see what the space looked like before we moved out. I'm looking forward to enjoying some great food & drink here for years to come!

    Oh yes, and there was food. Adam and I split a mixed salad which had a yummy house dressing and just a bit of fresh parmesan…

    …and we ordered the “Cafone” white pizza which was supposed to have smoked mozzarella, Italian sausage and rapini. Due to a delivery mix-up they didn’t have sausage, so we substituted grilled chicken. It was delicious indeed. Great thin crispy crust, fresh ingredients, yum! Their pizzas are priced between $8-$12 and feed 2 moderate appetites. They also have a selection of Mediterranean appetizers, salads, panini sandwiches and desserts. I look forward to trying out the whole menu.

    The staff was all incredibly friendly; they seemed very excited about their opening day. We met the owner, Ed Gossman. He said they should have their website up and running soon, and they also have plans to have live music.

    Well, congratulations to Roscoes—please come out and patronize this great addition to Old Town Takoma Park!!