Report: Greg Phillips Photos: Jason Rosewarne.
It had been four long years since we’d gathered at Caulfield Racecourse, the spiritual home of the Melbourne Guitar Show. A lot has happened in the world in that time but it was reassuring to know that Melbourne’s great musician community and music fans in general didn’t need much prodding to gather back together again and they did so in record numbers. Traditionally an August event, this time the 2023 Melbourne Guitar Show took place on a balmy early Autumn weekend, so no frozen fingerboard hands to thaw out like back in the old outdoor stage days.
DAY 1 – SATURDAY
If you’re going to come back from a four year layover, you wanna do it in style and what better way to open proceedings than with Grammy-Nominated American Blues legend Eric Bibb on the Marsh Mezzanine Stage, who kindly took part in a fascinating Q&A session, ending with some thoughtful story-telling and powerful, heartfelt tunes. He then stuck around to sign copies of his new album ‘Ridin’ and chat with fans before making a beeline for the acoustic guitar exhibits. Eric is on tour around Australia for a couple more weeks with some tickets still available.
Soon after, opening the Whammy Bar stage we had the slicks licks of Chris Bieniek with his amazing band featuring Gerry Pantazis on drums, Gavin Pearce on bass and Hong Yang on keys playing and paying tribute to their jazz rock guitar heroes. Other first day highlights included a thrilling electric set from Hussy Hicks (who we’d been trying to entice to the guitar show for years), Lloyd Spiegel Trio, fabulously road ready from their successful Canadian trip and then there was Kathleen Halloran with her band, an artist who continues to develop into a major Australian performer.
Elsewhere in the house of guitar, Steph Strings, Australian Musician’s Musician of the Month for February showed why she’s been summoned by The Cat Empire to support them soon throughout Europe. Canadian guitarist extraordinaire Nick Johnston impressed all with his Schecter guitars session in the Winners Circle Workshop Room. Nick Charles presented his traditional acoustic guitar jam and this year featured Lloyd Spiegel, Corey Legge, Kyran Daniel, Julz Parker, and Monica Weightman, while Charlie Bedford added electric licks from side stage … too many guitarists to fit!
Upstairs in the cosy 1876 Bar, singer, songwriter, guitarist Ben Kelly was running proceedings, presenting Corey Legge, Joyce Prescher with Duncan Yardley, and Joshua Batten, before the luthiers session kicked off, where guitar makers were able to network and compare notes.
Of course the most anticipated act of the day was Simon Hosford’s band performing Yngwie Malmsteen’s 1986 Trilogy album note for note. After a delay due to technology gremlins, the band rocked into ‘You Don’t Remember, I’ll Never Forget” and we were immediately transported back to the eighties with Phil Turcio’s huge keyboard sounds! Chris Stark, just out of hospital, nailed the highest of notes, giving a hundred and ten percent to the project, while Pete Drummond on drums and bassist Peter Mollica in the engine room kept that train chuggin’. And then there’s Simon Hosford. Anyone who witnessed Fair Warning’s performance of Van Halen’s debut album at the 2019 guitar show will be familiar with his ridiculously slick guitar skills. What a treat to have these guys at the show.
Meanwhile downstairs is where all of the noise making machines were cranking up (except for the hourly 15 minutes of silence imposed on the booths). It was all there, from the major guitar companies to the new guns and some amazing local builders of fine guitars, amps, pedals and accessories. And punters seemed to be in shopping mode at Australia’s biggest pop up guitar shop. Where do we start? Let’s try Lauda Guitars, just at the base of the escalator, where they showed their unique hollow-bodies, the versatile Night Owl and the stunning Bluehawk and on the Sunday had our current Musician of the Month Marcel Yammouni demo the gear in the 1876 Bar. Hey Laidy and Colonial Leather presented their wonderful handmade straps, which seemed to be flying out of the door.
Charles Cilia, who offered the Jack Jones IT-3000 Signature Guitar, Michael Dolce Halkion Guitar, Chevetta Acoustic Model, and 25th Anniversary Limited Edition Guitar, among many other products, told us it was his best guitar show yet! In the art world, Holdfast Custom Guitars had some amazing works of art painted onto guitar bodies, with Gypsy Spelling’s Guitar Art Revolution right next door. Gypsy also gave us a fascinating session on pencil art tattooing in the 1876 Bar. Mark Gilbert Guitars, featured in a pre-show Australian Musician interview made the trek from Tasmania and blew everyone away with his gorgeous handmade instruments. Blues rock great Wolf Mail was on hand to make them sound so gnarly too. Amber Technology premiered James Tyler guitars for Australia and also showed us some beautiful Breedlove acoustics, as well as many other quality brands. Laney Amps were there loud and proud. Marsh, our show sponsor was on hand to educate us all in the need for good insurance coverage. The Wolf Guitars stand near the show entrance had a great vibe with their beautifully crafted, well equipped, sonically brilliant solid and semi hollow bodied electric guitars and basses. Belfield Music had one of the most active stands, mainly due to their exclusive view of the new range of ESP guitars, including a $20,000 model from the Eclipse Nosferatu Limited Edition Electric Guitar Pyrograph Series. Roland/Boss was always busy with their Katana range (Artist MkII Head, 50 MkII EX combo) as well as Space Echo pedals, Slicer, Waza Craft pedals, GX-100 touchscreen multi effects processor and more.
Australis Music, distributors of Gibson, Epiphone, Kramer, Orange, TC Electronic, Seymour Duncan and Ibanez controlled the middle area of the show floor with their very attractive stands full of exciting products. Getting extra attention were Gibson guitars created in collaboration with Slash, Dave Mustaine, Lzzy Hale, Kirk Douglas, and Tony Iommi. EarthQuaker Devices always had a full house with their full range of effects pedals on their demo stations.
Young kids in particular, our future rock stars seemed to enjoy putting the headphones on and creating some exciting sounds. ABC news was on hand to capture some of that action. The previous day Channel 9 news had given the guitar show some on air love. Exhibitors were a mix of wholesalers, the companies that distribute the gear to stores and of course there were plenty of stores on show as well, such as Macron Music with Fenech Guitars, Engl Amps, Revv Amps, Suhr guitars and more, Coleman’s Music with Chapman Guitars and B&G Guitars and Modern Musician with PRS and Marshall as their focus gear. Of course the ever-present Fender was there with gear from the American Vintage, Artist Signature, Tone Master and Made in Japan ranges.
Upstairs in the more serene acoustic exhibitor’s space, Cole Clark held court with their new innovative True Hybrid acoustic and electric guitar. More from us on that very soon. Taylor guitars was all class. Eastman guitars had lured Eric Bibb to have a play of their instruments. Pat’s Music, another fine retailer had a strong presence and even displayed some mighty nice banjoes. Guitar college NCAT was present and informative. Our own photographer Jason Rosewarne presented a photo gallery of Australian guitarists, with proceeds of photo purchases going to the Music for All charity. Look, there was just too much there to list and rather than upset anyone, I’m sure exhibitors will forgive us for directing readers back to the Melbourne Guitar Show website exhibitor list, which includes more information and features contact links. Likewise you can find out more about the artists at the Performer Profile link
DAY 2 – SUNDAY
Another beautiful Melbourne morning saw punters back in droves again. Early starters could choose from Canadian guitar master Nick Johnston, Kyran Daniel or Guitar Art Revolution’s pencil art masterclass. King Canyon featuring James Ryan and Jimmy Cupples made many a new fan, Nick Charles and Phil Manning together set about inspiring us all, and Hussy Hicks went acoustic for their Sunday show. Flamenco rock guitar duo Opal Ocean returned to MGS and showed us why they are such a popular act overseas these days, playing some tracks off their new EP Fish Food.
Before we knew it, the end of show jam on the Whammy Bar stage was upon us. This year the much-loved jam was hosted by Ben Wicks and Johnny Tesoriero, the rhythm section from Blues Roulette, so consequently the jam had a brilliant blues theme. Making the team this year was James Ryan, Simon Hosford, Julz Parker from Hussy Hicks, Marcel Yammouni, and a couple of young gun returnees Kathleen Halloran and Charlie Bedford. Singing up front was the always captivating Jimmy Cupples. And just to put the cherry on the cake, esteemed Melbourne Guitar Show director Rob Walker donned the bass for a tune, a fitting way to end the weekend and to also celebrate Rob, who was earlier honoured by the Australian Music Association when they placed him on the official AMA Honour Roll. It’s an accolade bestowed on very few. With so much going on all weekend, the Melbourne Guitar Show goes so quickly but judging by the comments from exhibitors, artists and punters, we’ll all be back next year to do it again, bigger and better. Congratulations to the AMA and its new CEO Alex Masso for daring to put the show on again post-pandemic and thanks to the sponsors, exhibitors, media, artists and punters for making it yet another unforgettable Melbourne Guitar Show.