I have heard only great things when it comes to Benson Amps. However coming from the worship tone world, I didn't know if the Benson sound would be my cup of tea. However I can now say I am a believer! This amp sounded wicked (yes I said wicked) awesome! These amps are pure tone. You could hear the difference of the point to point wiring that allowed the full frequency range to push through the amp. Just to put this in perspective, a guy from Veritas shared with me that Ryan Adams stopped by, played a couple Benson amps, and then bought 2 of them. I think he knows a little bit when it comes to guitar tone.
I heard about Slate Digital almost 2 years ago when I was introduced to their virtual tape machine plugin. I've wanted their plugins ever since and now I am a member of their "everything bundle" which is amazing! So I checked out their booth and got to see them record a band live using their new VRS-8 interface using only their virtual large and small diaphragm microphones. I was very impressed with the sound especially since there is so much noise in that convention center. They also had Chris Lord Alge share some of his practical mixing tips which I can't wait to try on my own, and finally they had Stevie Wonder give an impromptu recording performance on stage! Hearing him sing so close was a moment I will never forget!
Creation Music Company
I am probably a bit biased here but I love my flat board from them so I can be. However I want to tell you about their amps. I got to try out a couple of their Milano amps (15 & 50 watt). These amps are fantastic. They had a great smooth tone to them, not to bright, not to dark, just rounded out nicely. The 50 watt has a ton and I mean a ton of headroom, and both of these amps take pedals like a champ. This is the kind of amp that worship musicians were born to use.
Veritas Custom Guitars
I'm happy to say I've now tried every model they have to offer, and here is what I found. The 503 is an incredible guitar! I love the way it plays and for a big guitar fits better than any other larger guitar I've ever played. The sustain was to die for, but unfortunately the price is as well. I'd love to get one but I don't think I could fork over $5k for it. However the real reason I put them down as a winner is their pickups. Yes their pickups! I had no idea Veritas was making their own pickups but I got to try them on the 503, Texas Miracle, and Mini Master. All of them sounded fantastic which I expected because I thought they were all Lollar pickups. I was incredibly surprised at the quality of these pickups and I feel confident in saying you can get any one of these guitars and be incredibly happy with it. The question then becomes which model, pickups, wood, body color, finish, etc?
Every producer knows Neumann for their incredible microphones such as the U87. It was so helpful to be able to go around to each microphone and test them all with a pair of headphones. I got a good idea how each one sounds and the sonic characteristics that each of them holds on a basic level. However what I was very surprised by was their studio monitors. They had a small room setup with 3 of their studio monitors. I was very impressed with the quality of the speakers. Of course the biggest model was the most impressive but I was happy to see the smaller 4" speakers hold up very well for their size. For $500 they could be a great option for someone looking for small studio monitors or a secondary solution.
Chase Bliss Audio
Chase Bliss Audio has just blown up recently in pedal planet. They have created some incredible pedals such as the Tonal Recall and Gravitas. Most recently they created the Brothers overdrive pedal that I wanted to try. Now going through an amp simulator I knew it wouldn't be the perfect representation of the pedal, but I would get a decent idea of its capabilities. Overall I can easily say this is the most diverse overdrive pedal I've ever seen. It has 2 different circuits you can activate individually, stack on top of one another, and decide which circuit is first or second in the signal chain. We went through so many tones we didn't even touch all the dip switches on the back of the pedal. This pedal can go from some nice overdrive to massive distortion tones with ease. It also has midi capabilities which could make it very appealing to someone with a midi controller like I have in my Mastermind PBC. However even though it was impressive it was not my favorite overdrive pedal at NAMM.
Suhr continues to amaze me with their guitars. I can confidently say that I believe these are the best guitars you can get for $2-2.5k. My Suhr Classic Pro strat is one of my favorite guitars I have ever owned for a reason. Now they just released some new models my favorite of which is their JM Pro, their take on a jazz master. Unfortunately they weren't available to demo but I was closely inspecting the JM Pro and everything I loved about my strat and tele I could see in this new model. I am curious at the tones you can get from what looked like humbucker pickups, and if they are anything like the humbuckers I tried at Chicago Music Exchange I'm pretty confident this guitar will do very well.
Now onto my favorite overdrive pedal. Strymon recently released the Riverside pedal that sent the guitar world into a frenzy, or at least the worship guitar world. So I wondered if it was that good. Well I'm here to tell you, yea it's that good. This is an incredible overdrive pedal that ranged from just some bite into some solid raw overdrive. Now my only drawback is that this was hearing the pedal direct through an interface and not through a tube amp. So I would love to hear it interact with a good amp, but have you ever heard an overdrive pedal direct? They always sound horrific. So I don't know how they did it but the pedalboard of Strymon pedals with the Riverside sounded incredible and from they said it was 100% direct. So hats off to Strymon. I was also very impressed with the Flint pedal as well. The reverb was sounded beautiful and the tremolo was solid. Definitely one of the better tremolos I've heard which I would put right next to the Cusack Tremolo and right below the Chase Bliss Gravitas.