Stephen McSwain began building guitars for his enjoyment in the early 90s. Seeking a creative outlet that incorporated his hobbies of metal work and woodworking, he combined his two passions to create a business that has become his life’s work, McSwain Guitars.
We spoke with McSwain last year as he launched the highly anticipated Stealth Star guitar and discussed his passion for music and luthiery. To read the full interview, please visit https://ww1.namm.org/playback/career-business/boutique-luthier-debuts-%E2%80%9Cstealth-star%E2%80%9D-guitar.
In August, McSwain Guitars announced its most recent build, the Machine Custom, a stunningly gritty melding of McSwain’s exceptional luthier skills and the ever-popular steampunk genre. For those unfamiliar with the term, steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction that incorporates futuristic technology and aesthetics inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery. While the Machine Custom is the perfect encapsulation of this unique niche cultural phenomenon, if you’re still drawing a blank when trying to envision steampunk, think of the 1999 film, The Wild Wild West, starring Will Smith or elements of the long-lived television series Doctor Who.
The inspiration of the Machine Custom is a bit Mad Max, a touch Terminator, and just a drop of Jules Verne that takes metalwork to the next level. McSwain spoke about the design concept saying, “When I first moved to Los Angeles in 1998, I was working on some guitars for Schecter. I became friends with Mike Tempesta of Powerman 5000. He had seen a guitar with a gauge that Billy Gibbons owned and asked if I could modify his signature Schecter guitar with metal and gauges. Naturally, I accepted the task and started scouring an old aircraft surplus store in North Hollywood. I ended up modifying about 20 guitars for Schecter with these gauges as a special limited run of the Tempesta model. I loved the uniqueness of that design so much that I started building my version and continue to this day.”
The Machine Custom includes a carved mahogany body, a three-piece mahogany neck, an ebony fretboard with ToneLayer™ binding, and comes enclosed in McSwain’s signature aircraft aluminum with metal binding. Sadly, the visually stunning and equally impressive sounding Machine Custom that can be seen and heard in the above video won’t be available at The 2023 NAMM Show as it instantly sold upon launch. However, McSwain wants to assure those hoping to play a riff or two on this guitar that he plans on building another Machine Custom specifically to showcase at The NAMM Show this April.
McSwain is excited to return to Anaheim in April 2023 for The NAMM Show as part of the Boutique Guitar Showcase. He reported that exhibiting at The 2022 NAMM Show cemented his belief that face-to-face interaction cannot be replaced and said, “A huge part of a luthier’s brand is the luthier. People want to meet and get to know the builder and understand what goes into creating their instruments. I, as a builder, want to get to know my clients. I have so much gratitude for the people who have supported my business over the years and love when I can hang out with them and get to know who they are, and The NAMM Show is the perfect place to do this.”
In April, McSwain plans to network with other builders at the Show and grow his skills as a builder. Beyond that, he plans on bringing three instruments, a pair of guitars and a bass, to represent the depth of his skills as a luthier.
To catch a glimpse of the Machine Custom or any of McSwain’s builds and to stay up to date on the latest NAMM Show registration information, please visit https://ww1.namm.org/thenammshow/2023/attend.
For more information on McSwain guitars, please visit https://www.mcswainguitars.com/.
Co-founder of Mix Magazine, TEC Tracks, and the TEC Awards, David Schwartz's career has been a study in the evolving landscape of the pro audio industry, and he's got the stories to go with it. We met up for a great chat at his home in Santa Fe.
Daniel Keller has followed a wide and eclectic career path within music and pro audio. He’s been a touring and studio musician, songwriter, composer, and arranger. He has worked in music publishing, as a studio technician, audio engineer, independent producer, and record label owner. He’s been involved in product design, music software consulting, and studio design and maintenance. He’s managed artist relations for major manufacturers. He’s a published writer with hundreds of articles in trade magazines, blogs, and websites, and has written more product manuals and technical documents than he cares to remember.
Since 2002 he’s headed up the PR firm Get It In Writing, providing consulting, marketing, brand building, product development, and video content creation for clients ranging from Avid to Zildjian. He’s VP of the Board of Directors of the Bob Moog Foundation, as well as working closely with the MIDI Association, SoundGirls, Women’s Audio Mission, and the Hey Audio Student Facebook group. He’s a presenter and moderator for NAMM’s TEC Tracks sessions, a long-time member and mentor of the Audio Engineering Society, and host of several audio and video series including “Insights In Sound” and “30 Second Chances.”
The MIDI Innovation Awards are presented each year with the support of The MIDI Association, Music Hackspace, and NAMM.
The awards program provides a “platform for MIDI innovation and rewards products, prototypes, installations or concepts that are thought-provoking and inspire new, creative use cases.” In May, world-renowned performer and presenter LJ Rich of the BBC’s flagship technology show, Click, hosted the Awards, joined by a panel of international judges and finalists to explore the latest in MIDI Innovation.
Winners from five distinct categories were recognized for their contributions to their respective fields: Artistic/Visual Project or Installation; Commercial Hardware; Commercial Software; Hardware Prototypes/Non-Commercial Products; and Software Prototypes/Non-Commercial Products. This year’s panel of judges included Craig Anderton, Michele Darling, John Kao, Helen Leigh, Moldover, Kate Stone, and Yuri Suzuki.
NAMM Members were well represented throughout The 2022 MIDI Innovation Awards, with winners including AmeNote (2nd place, Hardware Prototypes/Non-Commercial Products), CME (2nd place, Commercial Hardware), DAWn Audio (3rd place, Software Prototypes/Non-Commercial Products), and Moog Music (3rd place, Commercial Software).
In response to the recognition, CME’s Marketing Manager Thomas Gerbrands said, “It is truly an honor because the MIDI community selects the finalists. In addition, the recognition from MIDI enthusiasts and members of the MIDI Association makes this award even more special.”
Many of these innovative products will be presented at The 2023 NAMM Show April 13 - 15, in the MIDI Showcase collection, and across the campus, helping continue to celebrate the ingenuity and achievements of members of NAMM and the MIDI Association, organizations that share a vision to create a more musical world.
Earlier this year, The NAMM Foundation and the MIDI Association announced the MIDI Fund. The fund, administered by The NAMM Foundation, will serve to support projects and programs that advance engagement in music-making and the varied and unique opportunities to make, create, and explore music made possible by MIDI. The first major project for the MIDI Fund focuses on the development of a MIDI curriculum and certification program to raise awareness about MIDI in education at secondary and post-secondary schools, and for manufacturer and reseller staff members. To learn more about the MIDI Fund, please visit https://www.nammfoundation.org/donate.
The MIDI Association is a global non-profit 501(c)6 trade organization that connects companies that develop MIDI products and new MIDI specifications with people that create music and art with MIDI. The MIDI Association offers two paths to membership, corporate and individual memberships. The corporate membership is open to any commercial entity that “designs, develops, or produces products that use MIDI technology.” Individual membership is free to “musicians, artists, educators, retail salespeople, DIY/Arduino enthusiasts, DJs, game developers, and sound designers.” Today, the association boasts that over 40,000 individuals create music and art with MIDI and are part of The MIDID Association ecosystem. For more information on the MIDI Association, please visit https://www.midi.org/.
Music Hackspace is a community of engineers, artists, and companies with a “passion to build innovative music experiences.” The organization hosts online workshops and meetups from world-leading experts on music, video instrument design, and more. Founded in 2011 by Jean-Baptists Thiebait, Music Hackspace’s mission is to “foster a community of innovating artists, entrepreneurs, and hobbyists eager to build new technologies for music production and interaction.” For more information, please visit https://musichackspace.org/.
In this edition of the Bonzai Beat, GRAMMY® award-winning singer and songwriter Lisa Loeb sat down with Mr. Bonzai to discuss her foray into writing and performing children’s music, her love of summer camp, iconic eyewear, and answered what it means to be a songwriter.
Born in Dallas, Texas, Loeb who also counts actor, SiriusXM DJ, and philanthropist to her credits, started her career with the platinum-selling hit song “Stay (I Missed You)” from the film, Reality Bites. As a trailblazing independent artist, Loeb was the first pop musician to have a number one single while not signed to a recording contract. Throughout her career, she has had several hit singles from six albums, two of which were certified gold. In the last three years, Loeb has released three children’s albums, exclusive to Amazon including her 2018 album, Feel What U Feel, earning her the GRAMMY for “Best Children’s Album.”
As an actor, Loeb’s recent film and television appearances include Community, Netflix’s Fuller House, GEICO’s “Claims Audition,” Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and Orange is the New Black. She also voices commercials, including spots for Alfa Romeo, Chili’s, CNN, and Uber Eats.
In 2008, inspired by her love of summer camp, Loeb started The Camp Lisa Foundation. The camp provides a pathway for underserved kids to attend summer camp where they can sing songs, play sports, make friends, and do arts and crafts, all while learning about community, sharing, empathy, and having fun.
For additional information on Lisa Loeb, please visit www.lisaloeb.com.
Mr. Bonzai is an award-winning photographer, author, and interviewer. He has written more than 1,000 articles for outlets in the United States, Europe, and Asia. He has published numerous books, including Studio Life (Mix, 1984), Hal Blaine and The Wrecking Crew (Mix, 1992), The Sound of Money (Focal, 2000), Faces of Music (Cengage, 2006), Music Smarts (Berklee Press, 2009), and John Lennon’s Tooth (BookBaby, 2012). His photos and articles have appeared in Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Billboard, Mix, EQ, Keyboard, Daily Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Los Angeles Magazine, Disney Channel Magazine, Sound & Recording, and Relix, among others. http://www.mrbonzai.com.
In 1968, Denis Wick started the company that would bear his name to make products better suited to produce the musical results he was hoping to achieve. He first manufactured mutes and mouthpieces for brass instruments, primarily to aid his colleagues and himself in the London Symphony Orchestra. Having played in London’s Royal Festival Hall, one of the world’s most acoustically challenging stages, Wick and his counterparts required tools to create the correct tonal qualities to combat this harsh acoustic environment.
Wick’s mutes and mouthpieces “have helped create this distinctive timbre and have come to represent an important part of our musical heritage.” During the development of one of its most popular mutes, Wick played multiple prototypes of the trombone for English composer Benjamin Britten. Finally, with the help of Britten’s keen ear, he selected the trombone mute he preferred, and that selection remains in production today.
The company has since grown into one of the world’s leading manufacturers of brass instrument accessories. Stephen Wick is the Executive Chairman following his father's retirement and the company is run by newly-appointed CEO Steven Greenall. The factory, located in Hamworthy, Dorset, houses skilled technicians and craftsmen, who, alongside a global system of distributors and dealers, sell products to musicians worldwide. In 2013, Denis Wick was awarded the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in International Trade, an extremely coveted accolade in the British business community.
Nearly a decade ago, the NAMM Member embarked on a plan to reduce its impact on the world through a multi-faceted sustainability plan. Its efforts include alternative ways to generate energy, dispose of waste, and source wood.
At the company’s factory an array of solar panels are optimized to combat the effects of running a factory on traditional energy sources. The electricity generated powers the manufacturer's CNC machines and lathes and has saved over 28,294 kg of CO2 emissions since its installation, or planting over 1,295 trees. In addition, when the factory is not operational on evenings and weekends, the energy harnessed through the solar panels is diverted back to the national grid, providing sustainable solutions across the country.
In addition to its solar project, Denis Wick is committed to responsible waste handling and recycling most of its waste material. For example, the mute production process accumulates scrap aluminum and swarf, the fine chips or filings from manufacturing mouthpieces. This byproduct is sent to foundries where the byproduct is melted down and recycled.
The need for birch wood in its wooden mute production has led the company to take a proactive approach to mindful sourcing its wood. Although, according to the NAMM Member’s website, birch trees “play a vital part in the biodiversity of northern forests and help promote the growth of many species including birdlife, fungi, herbivores, and insects,” the company sources all its birch from certificated sustainable forests in Finland.
The importance of the efforts made by the NAMM Member is evident in a statement made by Stephen Wick. He said, "As climate change continues to affect our lives as well as the fate of all other species on the planet, we must all do what we can to reduce our carbon footprints and find ways to become more sustainable."
The team at Denis Wick began its programs years ago, starting with the simple task of swapping their incandescent lighting for low voltage options. Wick also commented on the expansion of solar, saying, “The panels proved to be an astute investment and, although they were expensive to install, they paid for themselves within seven and a half years.”
The future for Wick includes the increased limitation of plastics. The team has been reducing the use of plastics in its packaging, with most of it already being recyclable. Examples include the replacement of bubble wrap with more sustainable cardboard honeycomb alternatives. In addition, Wick reported that the company has already replaced all its vinyl tape, used for sealing boxes, with reliable paper tape that is both recyclable and biodegradable.
Wick used his experience leading a company that puts eco-friendly initiatives at the forefront of operations to advise other NAMM Members. “Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do. We try to be environmentally aware, and we like to think that we consider more than just profits. Companies would be wise to follow our lead. Apart from the small matter of saving the planet, some tenders for government and educational contracts are now beginning to be dependent on environmental considerations and will not be awarded to companies that do not have a well-considered sustainability policy.”
The manufacturer’s efforts to remain mindful of the state of our planet and the steps they are taking to preserve our world for future generations have not impacted its ability to produce high-quality products. The skilled artisans who craft Denis Wick’s line of accessories do so with the intention that they will be used for decades by talented musicians. For more information from Denis Wick, please visit https://www.deniswick.com/.
Marc Minarik’s journey to becoming a successful designer of musical instruments has one overarching theme, passion. When he talks about music, and his bass and guitar builds, you can feel it seep out of every part of his being. In June, Minarik returned to Anaheim to exhibit at The NAMM Show and debuted one of his latest collaborations.
Minarik began his career in the industry as a musician earning an endorsement from a well-known guitar manufacturer. After developing a friendship with the owner, it became apparent to the seasoned manufacturer that Minarik’s true talent was in conceptualizing and designing guitars. With encouragement and connections from his friendship, Minarik connected with a prolific pickup brand that was instrumental in manufacturing the first run of his debut shape, the Inferno, resulting in the arrival of Minarik Guitars. In our conversation, Minarik encapsulated the goals of his designs, saying, “We create guitar shapes that visually inspire people to dig deep and bring out their gift, their music, their craft.”
Attendees at The 2022 NAMM Show stopped in their tracks when they passed one of Minarik’s latest builds, a Disney Haunted Mansion 50th Anniversary electric guitar. Disney reached out to Minarik to collaborate on a limited run of officially Disney-licensed guitars that celebrated half a century of the beloved ride. The visually stunning builds and the story behind their creation sparked a conversation at The NAMM Show that we continued with Minarik about the importance of collaborating with artists in creating his instruments.
Minarik said of the project with Disney and all his artist collaborations, “Some of the best and most amazing things come through collaboration.” From the start, bringing artists, including galleried artists, on board to uplift his designs has been critical to Minarik. He credits the relationship that led to the Haunted Mansion 50th Anniversary build to a meeting at The NAMM Show. He said, “Somebody saw the Minarik booth and dragged a friend over saying, ‘You have got to see this!’ I got the introduction, and it happened to be a licensed Disney artist. We developed a friendship and a professional relationship, and the opportunity was there to do this project it was a result of a chance meeting at The NAMM Show.”
Minarik reflected on his desire to start a company solely comprised of ornately inlayed, highly decorative, incredibly sounding instruments as its bread and butter. He credits this mindset as the foundation for being able to create 13 of the “outrageously inlayed, airbrushed, UV painted” Haunted Mansion guitars.
“We are always open to meeting new people, and if we can find some synergy, we are bringing you in on a project. When you work with us, I’m going through my mind the minute I’m out of a meeting saying, ‘Okay, who are some people we can collaborate with?’ The relationships we have with artists flowing in and out of our lives over the years never fades. We are a family and a network, comprised of people who are incredibly gifted at creating beautiful things.” says Minarik.
Minarik made it a point to share that he and his team always allow artists to do what they do best, create. “I do not micromanage artists. If we have a direction we are going in, I hand it off to them and say, ‘Go, be an artist.’ I have never had a bad experience doing this, and I know artists appreciate it.”
Today, Minarik still lives his original dream of being a musician, writing, singing, and releasing albums while doing what he’s come to be known for best, creating exceptional guitar and bass designs that help other artists reach their goals. Many of Minarik’s designs appear at The NAMM Show every year, and the company is already predicting making another big splash at The 2023 NAMM Show.
The thought of boarding an airplane as a musician can invoke a strong array of emotions for even the most seasoned traveler. The fear of lost or damaged instruments only compounds the already stressful process of participating in modern air travel. One innovative company, Ciari Guitars, is determined to eliminate challenges guitarists face when taking to the skies.
As a lifelong guitarist and a well-versed patent attorney, Ciari Guitars founder and CEO Jonathan Spangler has felt the pains of being a mobile musician and lugging his electric guitar from city to city and gig to gig. He knows the problems of life on the road, especially those encountered when flying. Struggling to find a guitar that Spangler felt was not only gig-ready but also designed for convenient transport, he realized that to get what he wanted, he’d have to make it. The instruments made by Ciari Guitars are at the intersection of hand-craftsmanship and medical-grade engineering, making them “the first and only stage-worthy, full-size folding guitar.”
We spoke with Spangler, who shared one particularly gut-wrenching story that has served as an inspiration to make guitars for travelers. He recounted an invitation to perform at a three-day metal festival in Germany. With his trusty Martin D35 Johnny Cash Special Edition, he arrived at the airport concerned about whether he would be allowed to board while carrying his instrument. With such strong ties to his beloved guitar, he prepared for his transatlantic flight with no backup plan should the airline force him to check his guitar should it end up lost or damaged. As with many long flights, Spangler faced multiple layovers and became nervous as the size of the plane and the overhead bins became progressively smaller. Despite having luck convincing the airline staff to store his prized possession in the first-class closet, his luck ran dry on his final leg of the journey; he was forced to check his guitar to his final destination. After waiting at baggage claim in Germany, luck remained on his side, and his guitar arrived unscathed. At this moment, Spangler realized there had to be a better way.
With the launch of Ciari Guitars and the Ascender™, weary travelers could now put their minds at ease that they had an instrument that could be easily carried on and stored on any flight. Spangler may have solved one of the biggest problems traveling guitarists had, but he was just getting started. In April 2022, Spangler and Ciari Guitars announced its latest innovation, the Music Oasis™ Free Guitar Lounge.
The Music Oasis is an in-airport sanctuary for guitarists with its comfortable seating, guitar tower display case, and multiple guitar play-stations with headphones and tablets so “passengers can de-stress and relax before or after flights while playing the Ascender.” For the exceptional musician, the space also includes a built-in internal speaker system, microphone, and PA functionality to enable performances.
The idea behind the Music Oasis came from simply observing the immense amount of time most people seem to waste in airports. During his travels, Spangler wished he could play music instead of aimlessly wandering the airport or logging onto a never-ending set of emails and calls. “Traveling is stressful enough,” says Spangler. “When we launched Ciari Guitars, the specific design came into focus, as did our primary goal of allowing people to experience our guitar first-hand to counter the skepticism that often accompanies innovation. Starting as a ‘try before buy’ experiential marketing opportunity, Music Oasis expanded to a performance center in collaboration with the Airport Arts Department.”
Currently, Ciari Guitars is working alongside the San Diego International Airport to launch the Music Oasis in Terminal 2 this year. The company will utilize this partnership to test the waters as an in-airport retailer of MI products and, with success, expand to other music-centric or high-volume airports. The NAMM Member reports that visitors to Music Oasis can test out its Ascender model and other products within the travel ecosystem like wireless headphones, travel amps, travel keyboards, ukuleles, and accessories, including straps, strings, and tuners.
For more information on Ciari Guitars, please visit https://ciariguitars.com/.
The Adam Hall Group and its brand, Cameo®, played an integral part in the Queen’s Jubilee celebration earlier this summer. The NAMM Member and its products were critical in producing a dynamic and visually stunning event for the world to see.
In 1975, Mr. Adam Hall founded Adam Hall Ltd. in the English city of Southend-on-Sea, just outside London. While the company initially produced high-quality, robust flight case fittings, today, the Adam Hall Group has grown into a global manufacturer and distributor, providing comprehensive solutions for the event technology industry. With its headquarters in Neu-Anspach, Hesse, Germany, the group includes over 30 well-known brands, including Adam Hall Hardware, Adam Hall Stage Equipment, Cameo®, Defender®, Gravity®, LDsystems®, and Palmer®, among others. Today the Adam Hall Group offers more than 7,000 products, including audio and sound technology, professional LED lighting solutions, cables, moving lights, power amps, speakers, and stands and stage systems.
Cameo, as part of the Adam Hall family of brands, “offers powerful, easy-to-use, state-of-the-art products that allow concert stages, theatres, discotheques, and architecture to be seen in the very best light.” The products, developed in Germany, include everything from modern moving heads, PAR spotlights, LED Fresnels and lasers, and effects machines.
In June, the people of Great Britain flocked to the over 16,000 events to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s time on the throne. Despite the numerous celebrations, the biggest show took place in front of London’s Buckingham Palace. An estimated 22,000 people gathered in front of three stages and an additional 13.4 million tuned into BBC's live coverage to watch performances by some of the world’s biggest acts, including Alicia Keys, Queen & Adam Lambert, Ed Sheeran, and Rod Stewart, among others. Version 2 Lights, a UK-based lighting rental specialist, provided more than 600 Cameo spotlights to illuminate the main stages, Buckingham Palace, and the Tree of Trees sculpture.
Adam Hall Group CEO Alexander Pietschmann shared his thoughts and said, “Adam Hall Group was delighted and honored to be entrusted with delivering lighting fixtures for the Queen’s 70th Anniversary Celebration. Our lighting brand, Cameo®, is dedicated to providing dramatic, beautiful light to any event it touches and arousing great passion and deep emotion. These elements certainly were present at the Queen’s Jubilee, an occasion that served as so much more than a royal anniversary, but as a worldwide beacon of hope and a reminder that good can prevail through challenging times. As a longtime player in the live events industry, this is something we firmly believe at Adam Hall Group—that as long as we continue to gather in observance and celebration of our humanity, we will continue to thrive as a global people.”
All Photos Courtesy of Getty Images