Melbourne Guitar Show 2019 Coverage
Report: Greg Phillips. Photos: Jason Rosewarne (unless specified)
The annual fabulous festival of fretted instruments, the Melbourne Guitar Show has been run and won again at Caulfield Racecourse. Three floors of exhibits, performances and sessions, running all day meant that people had to make choices but whichever area of the event they ended up at, there was sure to be product or performances of quality and interest.
Upon entry to the show area on day one, punters were greeted by the Triple M street team and their spinning wheel full of prizes donated by some of the exhibitors including a Katana Mini amp and Waza MT-2W Distortion pedal from Boss, Slinky strings from Ernie Ball Music Man, stickers from Fender, as well as a whole bunch of merch Triple M brought along too.
Once inside the ground floor level, an assemblage of attractive, well stocked exhibitor stands were looking inviting, many featuring guitar show special offers. Of course you could find all of the well known brands such as Fender, Jackson, Gretsch, Gibson, Epiphone, Ibanez, Schecter, Ernie Ball Music Man, MarkBass, Ampeg, Yamaha, Line 6, Vox, Boss etc, all spotlighting new gear releases. Fender’s walls were lined with the wonderful new era-specific Vintera series guitars in all the vintage colours you need. You can catch Angus Marshall talking his way around the new gear on the Fender stand HERE. Gibson is back in business in a big way after a huge Winter NAMM relaunch and backing it up at Summer NAMM with many new releases. Australis Music Group were proudly flying the Ibanez flag with a special guest appearance by Jake Bowen from iconic metal band Periphery. Jake delivered a fascinating masterclass, utilising his new signature model JBM10FX Ibanez guitar. We caught up for a chat with Jake which you can watch HERE. Of course as well as the big brands, there were also plenty of the lesser known but equally as exciting products and curiosities on view. Eastman guitars for example are just gorgeous looking instruments and sound wonderful too. So too the Duesenbergs on the Cranbourne stand and the Hagstroms as well are extremely hard to walk by without picking one up for a play. There was much interest in the new Kemper Amps Profiler Stage unit at the Innovative Music booth too, as it was just released at Summer NAMM a couple of weeks ago.
Then there are the independent makers, the incredible luthiers who display some of the most beautiful instruments you’ll ever see. Take Ruben guitars for example. Every year Ruben Becker is on a mission to make the most incredible instrument possible and this year was no exception. On display behind glass was the amazing “Celt”, featuring outstanding Brazilian Rosewood, a 2850 Ancient Sitka Spruce soundboard, solid platinum, rubies and a gorgeous Celtic Sword pearl fingerboard inlay. The $74,000 guitar was actually sold on the weekend too. Always one of the most popular exhibits at the show is the Charles Cilia guitars stand, one of our most respected local builders. You can tell he’s much admired in the industry by the amount of high profile players who step by to say hello to Charles. Everywhere you looked there was quality craftsmanship, particularly from the independent builders. It wouldn’t be a guitar show without colourful industry character Owen Ray and his amazing collection of rarities and treasures, many of which were #1 models off the production line.
It’s not just the guitars which were impressive, some of the amps and pedals were mind blowing too. As we know from previous years, George Evans make a mighty fine amplifier and they were certainly getting work out on stand this year. So too were the audio products from Brookfield Tube Audio and Lovell. Yamaha Music have taken on Australian distribution of Earthquaker Devices pedals and their booth was one of the more eye catching on the weekend, chock full of awesome effects. The retailer stands were great too as they carried various brands for people to browse. It wouldn’t be a guitar show without the collective stock of high class gear from KCs Music, GH Music, Cranbourne Music, Guitar Brothers down from Queensland, Musos Corner and Bass Centre, always adding much colour to the event. Check out the guitar show exhibitor list HERE for a rundown of everyone who was involved.
There was plenty of on-stand performance action with tunes from Tonight Alive’s Jenna McDougall for Fender. CMC Music had a full schedule of performers too, highlighted by the return of The Omnific and also Mixdown editor Nicholas Simonsen on the other side of the media coin playing tracks from his band Caution: Thieves’ repertoire.
Before people headed upstairs to the acoustic guitar exhibits, Mezzanine stage and workshop room, there was always time to grab a snack or grab a seat at Cafe Corner where I Heart Guitar blogger Peter Hodgson was hosting the Meet the Players sessions. These are invaluable sessions in which Peter gets to interrogate famous guitarists and get them to reveal all of their career and gear secrets. On day one Peter chatted to Jeremy Barnes, James Norbert Ivanyi, Michael Dolce, and a bunch of great fingerstyle guitarists, such as Van Larkins, Phisha, Drew Roller and Ella Belfanti.
At the top of Escalator East you’d find the Acoustic Guitar product. Taking up a prime postion straight off the escalator was Cole Clark Guitars, not only showcasing their usual high quality locally made acoustic guitars but also their amazing ingenuity. Of great interest this year was their FL2ECBLBLHUM model acoustic guitar featuring a humbucker, which possesses true clean and real dirty sounds, as was demonstrated on stand and in clinic by Lloyd Spiegel. Watch Lloyd demo the guitar HERE.
Some other name brands looking and sounding immaculate on stand were Taylor, Yamaha, Fender, Washburn, and Tanglewood. Once again, the independent exhibitors were shining too on the acoustic level such as Cargill Custom Guitars – Southern Tonewoods, Octigan, Eborall and Avocet Cigar Box guitars. On the artistic side there were Melbourne Guitar Show regulars George Racz with his sought-after custom-made leather guitar straps, partnered with Gypsy Spelling of Double Bass Tattoo’s extraordinary pencil art. The stunning looking Timberline Harp guitars were getting plenty of attention too. We spoke to Tonekey Imports-Timberline Australia’s Braegen Russell before the show about the guitars. Watch it HERE.
Just a jump to the west of the acoustic gear section lays the Marsh Mezzanine stage. Day one on the Mezz kicked off with the rousing blues slide sounds coming from Anna Scionti’s cigar box guitars, playing tracks from her debut album Orphan Diary. The mighty Minnie Marks followed, belting out killer licks and dirty riffs, winning many new friends in the process. Ash Grunwald couldn’t wait to hit the stage with his new signature Pratley guitar and rip into tunes from his soon to be released new album Mojo (out August 30), it’s been five years between releases. Phil Manning and South Australian legend Chris Finnen then traded fingerpickings and were joined by Florida based artist and music festival director Steve Arvey, who just happened to be in town. The organic trio featuring Rob Papp, Jon Wade and Rob Mercer had a lot of fun generating infectious grooves, a fine warming up for the International Blues Day Celebration which included Nick Charles, Liz Frencham, Minnie Marks, Phil Manning, Ash Grunwald, Shannon Bourne, Anna Scionti, Charlie Bedford and Corey Legge. A highlight of the session and maybe even the show was Shannon Bourne’s stunningly poignant tribute to local blues legend Chris Wilson, who passed away earlier this year.
Next door in the Winner’s Circle Workshop Room, some serious nerd talk was taking place in some fascinating product information sessions, which included a tube and solid state amp blindfold test, thanks to Brett Kingman, an Earthquaker Devices pedal launch, another fine Positive Grid Bias Amp showcase and an entertaining session by Lloyd Spiegel for Cole Clark, featuring that humbucker-laden acoustic guitar. The rooms were extra buzz-worthy for the two sessions by our international guests. First up as mentioned earlier Jake Bowen flashing his signature Ibanez guitar and offering tales of Periphery, then courtesy of Schecter guitars came Keith Merrow with his signature axe, providing some stunning and chunky sounds from the stage.
Upstairs the new 1876 Exclusively acoustic stage, ably stage-managed by Ben Kelly was a perfect place to wind down and chill out, while catching some top notch acoustic talent such as Paul Carey & Julian Scheffer, Van Larkins, Ella Belafanti, Phisha, Corey Legge and Ben himself. Once more, the Marsh Whammy bar stage provide world class entertainment from local and international guitar stars. Versatile guitarist Chris Bieniek, who could be seen in the Herald Sun during the week promoting the show, didn’t disappoint with his ridiculously slick fingerwork. The Superjesus’ Sarah McLeod has been pumped for months about playing the guitar show and became somewhat of an unofficially ambassador, appearing absolutely everywhere in the media for the guitar show cause. When Sarah finally got to hit the stage she didn’t let anyone down either, delivering a superb set of rockin’ tunes wrapped in a ball of energy and enthusiasm. Her purpose-built guitar loop system worked a treat too. Check out an interview we did with Sarah pre-show about her gear HERE. James Norbert Ivanyi is one of the most respected players in the prog rock music scene and it’s no wonder why, he’s pretty amazing. LA-based blues rocker Dennis Jones, playing with his Australian band Ben Wicks on bass and drummer Johnny Tesorierio, inflicted an electric blues storm upon us, playing tunes from his 6 albums and a few well worn covers. It was the first official Australian stage performance for Dennis and judging by the audience response, it won’t be his last Aussie tour. Wrapping up day one in spectacular fashion was the much-anticipated Simon Hosford and his band Fair Warning performing Van Halen’s debut album live. It was indeed one of those ‘you needed to be there’ gigs! Simon and band had gone into painstaking detail to give us this show and the crowd showed their appreciation. All those lightning fast, melodic Eddie licks were there and Eugene Hamilton played the perfect Diamond Dave frontman. The rhythm section of Gerry Pantazis on drums and Jason Vorherr on bass played a pivotal role in keeping it all solid for the fireworks on top. Gerry even went to the trouble of including an actual Alex Van Halen cymbal to his kit. It was a joyous combination of musical skill and fun rock n roll.
The second day of the show brought Diesel to the track, not to perform but to fulfill his promise to give a guitar lesson to the winner of Triple M’s Club competition, Lee Wilson. Actually it was partner Glen who won but donated the prize to his long-time Diesel fan wife Lee, who also received a Fender Player guitar, which Diesel signed for her. Once done Diesel headed downstairs to sign copies of his newly released EP Sunset Suburbia Vol 1. Your Sunday morning breakfast menu consisted of either a Fractal Audio workshop, a country music performance by the oh-so-funsome Cartridge Family, a world-class performance of classical and Latin guitar by Sergio Ercole (Read his pre-show interview HERE), or a dose of Jeff Beck, played superbly by Robyn Payne’s Engine Room. At what a great opportunity for many to witness the magnificent skills of Robyn on bass and keyboards.
It was tremendous to see the reformed 70s country rock legends Stars in action at midday. Although lead singer Mick Pealing was suffering from a cold, he made a sensational effort to deliver a memorable show. With Mal Eastick, Roger McLachlan, Nick Charles out front helping with vocals and a back catalogue Australian classics, having Stars at the guitar show was a treat for everyone. Elsewhere in the building Adam Miller, who is now Nashville-based showed why he is now such a sought-after international performer. James Norbert Ivanyi was back, this time revealing the tricks behind his prog rock trade in the workshop room during his Tone design for prog metal guitar session for Boss. American shredder Keith Merrow returned for Schecter too and seemed to be having a ball on his first trip to Australia. Sessions followed for Vox amps by Jimi Hocking and Fender’s Matt Colyer gave a great presentation on the awesome Acoustasonic Telecaster, which we first saw at Winter NAMM earlier this year.
It was encouraging to see so many families in attendance and a lot more younger people sitting on stands playing guitar with inspiration in their eyes, the future is looking bright. The beautiful Melbourne musician community was on show again and on it’s very best behavour. As always it’s wonderful to see so many well known musicians in the aisles who weren’t booked for the show but showed up as punters anyway and seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as everyone else. Spotted around the venue this year were Stephen Cummings, Mental As Anything, Colin Lillie and Augie March and I’m sure there were many more.
Meanwhile back down on the ground floor, Peter Hodgson was holding court at Cafe Corner with packed rooms for his chat and play sessions with local legends Dave Leslie and Phil Manning. Upstairs Nick Charles rounded up his annual posse of fingerpickers and launched into another memorable acoustic guitar jam, which this year included Lloyd Spiegel, Van Larkins, Chris Finnen, Sergio Ercole and Adam Miller. However, it was the level two Marsh Whammy Bar stage where the major excitement was building. The penultimate performance of the weekend saw Jeremy Barnes rip into it. I think that the term shredder was coined specifically for Jeremy, who has been officially timed at playing 40 notes per second.
On stage the fabulous guitar show crew were placing mics, tweaking amps and making room for multiple pedalboards in readiness for the marquee spot of the show, the Triple M Super Jam. Kicking off proceedings was Charlie Bedford, a guitarist the Melbourne Guitar Show began nurturing five years and with many gig miles under his belt since, he’s developed into a class act. Charlie traded soulful licks with special guest from LA Dennis Jones and the super jam was off and running. Mal Eastick then joined Dennis for a smokin’ version of Stevie Ray’s Cold Shot before they came together for what many are saying was an event highlight, a magical duet on Mal’s own tune Swept Away. Pete Robinson and James Ryan then donned guitars taking the jam from the sublime to the fabulous with a merry rendition of Status Quo’s Caroline. Guitar show debutante Kathleen Halloran joined the fray with Charlie Bedford and grabbed her stage time opportunity with gusto and gave us some superb note choices. Kathleen is clearly destined for a bright future. The Badloves Michael Spiby was up next, prompting the full cast to join him on a spirited version of his band’s hit Green Limousine. With Spiby on vocals, ‘The Weight’ gave Kathleen another chance to rip some tasty licks. With the pre-planned jam songs exhausted, James Ryan left it to American guest Dennis Jones to select BB King’s The Thrill Is Gone to end the show. The thrill might well be gone for another year but the stories and inspiration will linger.
The Melbourne Guitar Show wouldn’t be possible without the support of the main sponsors, the exhibitors and members of the Australian Music Association, the fantastic businesses, stores and builders that bring the amazing music tools into the community. The range on show was stunning and the love and vibe that the music products community and our artists bring to the event is what makes it so special. It was heartening to see so many people walking out of the show with their newly acquired dream item, be it a guitar that they’ve had their eye on for years or the very latest in music making technology, inspired by what they’d seen and heard on the guitar show stages and stands over the weekend. Thanks to our supporters Triple M, 3PBS, Marsh Insurance, Advanced Audio, Ernie Ball Music Man, Bose, Fender, Yamaha, our media partners Beat/Mixdown and Noise 11 and most importantly the attendees and we’ll see you on August 8 & 9 in 2020.