Behind the scenes of Melbourne Guitar Show 2023

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Behind the scenes of Melbourne Guitar Show 2023

Words by Peter Hodgson

A chat with Australian Music Association Chairman Rob Walker about the ins and outs of MGS 2023.

It’s been a long wait but now it’s back: the Melbourne Guitar Show, one of the undisputed highlights of the guitar-geek calendar, returns after a pandemic-prompted hiatus. Prior to the necessary cessation of festivities, MGS had established its own unique niche in the event landscape: it’s a little bit like the big trade shows, such as NAMM and Musikmesse, but unlike those industry-only shindigs, MGS is open to everyone over its two days. It’s a little big like going to the biggest guitar swap-meet you ever saw, except swap-meets don’t tend to have the absolute latest in brand-new gear displayed by the people who either make or distribute it. It’s a bit like a weekend-long music festival dedicated to guitar, it’s a bit like a social media meet-up with all of your far-flung online buddies… in short, it’s a lot of different things making up one really unique, essential event.

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“We made the commitment to do it as soon as we could and so we managed to do it,” Australian Music Association Chairman Rob Walker says. 

“And we decided to do it sooner rather than later, so we chose an autumn date this time around. And another reason for that is we get to experiment with a warmer climate compared to the winter shows of previous years!”

Research from Fender and others indicated that many additional people picked up an instrument for the first time during the first two years of the pandemic. The return of the MGS presents a unique opportunity for some of those new players to make their first in-person contact with the vast community of like-minded souls they’ve joined. 

“I can’t wait,” Walker says. 

“There was a time during the lockdown period where people turned to music. With nothing to occupy their time for a while there, the music products industry was one of those industries which was one of the winners out of the winners and losers of lockdown, and it’ll be interesting to see how that has translated into people wanting to continue on with their musical exercises. We’re hopeful to see some, some new enthusiasts this time. I feel as though the enthusiasm from all of the social media comments and all of the feedback we’re getting is indicating that a lot of new people are really looking forward to the show.”

One really unique aspect of the Melbourne Guitar Show is that it is effectively Australia’s largest pop-up guitar shop. With guitar shop experiences becoming harder to find, it’s a great way to not only buy some gear on the day, but also for newer players to perhaps make their first in-person contact with what will likely be the local guitar shop in their community. 

“I think one of the strengths of shows like ours has been that people get to see a range of instruments that they would not be able to see anywhere else,” Walker says. 

“In one place, they can see the major brands all showing as much of a range as possible – their new stuff and what have you, but also the local makers and more unusual guitars and the handcrafted stuff. That’s always been a big attraction, I think. Most retail stores don’t stock such a range of one-off handmade instruments, and so I think it’s definitely one of the major draws of the show. Our research over the years has shown that many people come to the show for that reason, to see the gear and experience the gear, pick it up, play it, talk to the experts and to make a really informed decision about the type of gear that they want.”

Another big drawcard is of course the incredible lineup of artists provided this year, as with other years. There are some new faces as well as some familiar ones, including Canadian guitar phenomenon Nick Johnson, who is returning for his second MGS. It really reinforces the ‘we’re all one big family’ feel of the show. Artists include Chris Bieniek, Lloyd Spiegel Trio, Phil Manning, Joshua Batten and so many more.

“Certainly there has been a bit of a family thing with the show,” Walker says.

“Including yourself (your humble Mixdown scribe has performed and hosted live interviews in the past), people like James Ryan and Simon Hosford aand Nick Charles…. but we’ve tried to provide some new talent for people to experience as well. Hussy Hicks, you know, great act, terrific guitar player, George Parker. Kathleen Halloran’s come a long way. She was part of the jam in 2019 but this year she’s performing in her own right as well as in the blues jam. Kyran Daniel, great player, Steph Strings, great young player who’s coming through the ranks. And Blues Roulette is going to host the jam this year. So again, we’ve always tried to provide that sort of diversity of styles and talent – I think this year there’s gonna be something for everybody.”

Simon Hosford has established something of a tradition of one-off tribute sets to various guitar legends, and this time around he will be performing Yngwie Malmsteen’s Trilogy album in its entirely, after performing a Van Halen tribute at the previous show, and a set of Racer X classics prior to that. 

“When he suggested he might try this one, I thought, well, I’ll grab that one with both hands!” Walker laughs. 

“We lost several years in the music industry, and the entertainment industry as we knew it before has sort of started to come back. We’re starting to achieve a little bit more normality now,” Walker concludes. 

“So all of a sudden we’re in 2023 and our last show was in 2019. It’s good to see and hear people. It’s good to see the main stages and the industry back.”

For tickets and more info on the 2023 Melbourne Guitar Show, head here.