Another signature of NAMM is the marquee concerts, also usually invitation only, such as Friday's John-topped bill thrown by Yamaha to celebrate the company's 125th anniversary. It also marked the introduction of new technology that allowed Yamaha pianos in 20 cities around the world to precisely replicate live in real time what the British rocker was playing onstage in the Hyperion Theatre at Disneyland's California Adventure.
"Nobody told me it was this ... far to Anaheim," Townshend told the crowd, eliciting laughs.
Then there's the matter of business, which, as it happens, also has different levels of relevance to different NAMM attendees.
"I hope we sell a lot of stuff," said "Hippie" — that's the title on his business card — Tom Bedell of Nashville-based guitar-maker Two Old Hippies." "But it really doesn't matter; I just come to see a lot of old friends."
Vendors often extend guest passes to steady customers, friends or family members, who in turn figure out ways to bring spouses, kids or fellow gear heads with them. Nathan Morris, 21, of Santa Paula got a pass from his employer at Pulse Drumming in Ventura and scored another badge for his girlfriend, 21-year-old Mia Lysaght of Ventura, who was on the lookout for tips on which cello to buy with the money she's been saving for one.
All the shopping, chatting and negotiating goes on against a cacophonous background of screeching electric guitars, pounding drums, throbbing bass, dexterous displays of technique by saxophonists, trumpeters, clarinetists and trombonists, fledgling uke strummers and would-be deejays and electronic dance music enthusiasts.
In the early days of the NAMM show, it was all conducted with amplification cranked to 11. But about 20 years ago, NAMM officials instituted volume restrictions to keep the noise to a quiet roar. Ten "sound control" officers trod the aisles armed with decibel meters. Any overenthusiastic equipment testers who push the meter's readout above 85 decibels get a polite but smilingly firm reminder to turn it down.
"Some people come and crank it up hoping to be discovered," said sound control officer Dan Hornback, who said his pedometer clocked 14.1 miles of rounds on Thursday's opening day. "I'm glad I don't have the percussion section this time."
The modestly reined-in din is the aural manifestation of NAMM's melting pot character.
"It's the gathering of tribes," NAMM president Lamond said. "Each tribe has its own culture, its own customs, its own language. There are Bollywood stars here who you wouldn't be able to get within 100 feet of if they were in Mumbai. But they all come here because even though many are stars, they still want to be respected and acknowledged as musicians. In a lot of ways, a lot of these tribes couldn't be more different. But underneath, we're all still that 12-year-old kid who wanted to be John, Paul, George or Ringo."