Contrary to what you may have heard, SXSW is in fact an instrument show.
Sure, it's not the sprawling mega collection of all new gear and musical instrument manufacturers contained under one roof like a NAMM show, but there's still plenty of music gear to gawk at. You can get your instrument fix a the Austin Convention Center's Gear Alley exhibit, which is, admittedly, infinitesimal compared to NAMM, but features booths and demos by manufacturer like Ableton, Audio-Technica, Dean Markley, Fender, Korg, Moog, Taylor, T.C. Electronic and more; and the jaw-droppingly awesome Texas Guitar Show, which is packed with a staggering collection of mostly vintage guitars, basses, amps and accessories.
To really get into the gear scene at SXSW, however, you need to get into the action outside the Austin Convention Center, in the clubs and outdoor venues of the festival. From the outdoor stages at The Scoot Inn, The Mowhawk and Emo's Annex to the club stages at Soho, The Headhunter, The Independent, the Red 7 and every place in between, we saw some very solid trends in the equipment bands are using these days, with a few curve balls.
In the SXSW world of bass players, Fender and Ampeg were the ruled the stages. In fact, the only players we noticed who weren't playing Fender basses were Motorhead's Lemmy and White Denim's Steve Terebecki, who both play Rickenbackers; Voivod's Jean-Yves Thériault was hammering on the most evil looking Liberatore we've ever seen; and Man…Or Astroman? bassist Birdstuff, who was playing a Danelectro.
Ampeg was the gold standard of bass amps at SXSW, the only variation we can remember throughout the whole show was the classic Acoustic rig that Voivod's Thériault played through. John Bundy from Naam rocked a pedal board full mostly Elecro-Harmonix effects, but bass players at SXSW this year were largely effects-free on stage.
The most notably low-fi piece of bass gear we saw was being used by the bassist of a three piece alt-blues outfit in the lobby of the hotel (of all places), thumping away on a washtub bass, which he had run through a distortion pedal. Only in Austin...