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Best In Show Delivers
Top Gear From NAMM

The final morning of The NAMM Show 2010 kicked off with a bang as a panel of music retail experts discussed their favorite products from the convention. Best In Show, a NAMM University educational session held Jan. 17 at the Anaheim Hilton, featured six panelists who represented single-store operations, small- to mid-sized chains and one of the industry’s top trade magazines. The panelists offered views on the best companies, products and services they saw during The NAMM Show.

Nearly 700 attendees listened as the panelists were asked to discuss their top choices in four categories:

• Something Small — A great product that’s either small in price or small in size.
• Gotta Stock It — A product that retailers want to stock right now
• Companies to Watch — An exhibitor with trendsetting products or services.
• Best In Show — The best product or service that panelists saw at NAMM.

This year’s panelists included:

• Todd Skaw, owner of Guitars Etc., Longmont, Colo.
• Myrna Sislen, owner of Middle C Music, Washington, D.C.
• Jim Rupp, owner and president of Columbus Pro Percussion, Columbus, Ohio
• George Hines, owner and president of George’s Music, a 10-store chain headquartered in Berwyn, Pa.
• Mike Guillot, director of purchasing for Mississippi Music, a four-store chain based in Hattiesburg, Miss.
• Zach Phillips, editor, Music Inc. magazine, Elmhurst, Ill.

Something Small
Wia Music Woodies Hanger
Wia Music Single-String Capo

With the Woodies Hanger, the guitar can be upside down, it can be on an angle, it can be on the ceiling, and it can hang a Guitar Hero module. How many homes would like to get that module out of the way? They also have this little capo that slides over the back of the guitar neck and grabs one string, so you can get some really incredible voicings. There’s nothing else like it on the market. They’re both very affordable products.

Oasis Humidifier
This is a small company from Columbia, Md. You fit the humidifier right through the strings. When it dries out, it crumples up so you know when it’s used up.

Rhythm Ring
It’s a ring with a shaker attached to it. When you put this on your finger and play guitar, it gives you a rhythm to accompany your playing.

Rhythm Tech Stickball
The stickball will fit on a variety of drumsticks. It’s held on by these two sturdy bands. It adds a shaker feel and sound to a variety of drumsticks. They’re marketing it with a YouTube video featuring drummer Billy Ward. When I saw that, I thought, “This is great. We can use this.”

Wia Music Woodies Hanger
If you go down to Hall E, the energy down there with all the entrepreneurs is really off the charts. This is one of those products. It’s a guitar hanger. My concern was how rugged is this thing. But the head of the company took it out of the packaging and stomped the heck out of the thing. No problem. It’s extremely rugged. It’s something that anyone can use. And it’s different from other hangers.

Boss eBand JS-8 from Roland
This is a fabulous instrument. This is an audio player for guitarists who want to play along with their favorite songs. But it also has guitar effects built in. It plays rhythms, it plays loops. It also records, so a guitar player can record his own stuff. It has USB. It has an SD card slot built into it. You can fit it into a suitcase. It’s a great piece.

Mighty Bright Lights
Everybody is your customer for these products — everybody in every household, in every church. You can get these lights for under $25 and really sell them. If you’re on stage or in a practice situation and need to read a book or read music, these deliver the light necessary to do the job.

Zoom Q3, distributed by Samson Technologies
It’s like a Flip video camera with a really good condenser microphone built into the top. The MSRP is $249. It sounds like a very high-quality field recording. The video is not high-definition, but the audio quality more than makes up for that. Samson had trouble keeping them in stock when they first came out this fall. This is a hot item.

Gotta Stock It
TC Electronic PolyTune
This functions for two markets. First, anyone who wants a very accurate floor-pedal tuner. But for the first time, this is a tuner that allows you to tune all six strings simultaneously. So, for a better player who just wants to tweak his tuning, you can plow through all six strings. I had a customer come into my store last week asking for a product like this. I said, “Ma’am, that doesn’t exist.” Well, here it is now.

Kala Dolphin Bridge Ukulele
It comes in wonderful colors. It’s at a great price with a great margin. It has real tuners and at the bottom of the uke is a real bridge. It’s perfect for little ones, but I’ve sold these to college students, too.

Tornavoz Cordoba Requinto
They come in half and three-quarters size. It is a wonderful, wonderful instrument for kids. It’s a little pricier than the entry-level. But they can play it, and the sound is beautiful. This is something to check out, a fractional-sized guitar that is a good instrument.

Latin Percussion Percusso
We had our Five-Star Drum Shops breakfast, and a bunch of guys talked about the LP Percusso. It’s a very cool little instrument. It’s basically a tambourine with a trigger on it that makes a clave sound. So, you can get the tambourine sound with the clave block sound together in one instrument. It’s one of those items that, if you hang it on the wall, you’ll sell some. If you take it off the wall and show how it’s played, you’ll sell a lot of them. It’s one of those products that we all said, “That’s really cool.”

Tascam DP-008
It’s a very portable, very small eight-track recorder that can be used for recording fast ideas or with a band. It has a built-in stereo condenser mic. So, you can just bring it to rehearsals. And it fits in a guitar case. It’s that small. It breaks the price-point barrier for anything like it. Instead of needing a computer, here you still have something that’s very convenient and versatile. It has a USB connect. It has an SD card built in. It is just really well-thought-out. This is like a dream come true for those of us who want to do home recording.

Kala Ukulele Package
It’s a great, great instructional book, along with a case and the ukulele. So someone can buy this thing and almost immediately start getting some enjoyment out of it. The more we sell ukuleles, the more of these packages we’ll start seeing. But putting it all together is a really good move.

Tascam’s new recording family
They’ve got 25 new products. Everything from the DR2d, which is a mini-recorder that will record two different tracks and you can slow down a recording without changing pitch, to the DR-08, a super-small digital [eight-track] recorder. The stuff is great. It sells. You can make a lot of money with it.

Fender Acoustasonic Tele
This guitar is a great idea. Basically, it’s an electric guitar; it’s an acoustic guitar. But it’s in the beautiful Telecaster form. This is the guitar for the gigging musician who needs an electric and an acoustic but doesn’t want to haul them both around. The body is chambered, it has a rosewood bridge. But at the core, it has Fishman’s Aura technology and an under-saddle piezo pickup. I found the acoustic sounds to be really convincing. They sounded like a really solid plugged-in acoustic with a great pickup.

Companies to Watch
Keith McMillen Instruments
Keith McMillen is a mad scientist. He has a lot of very cool, little products. For example, a product called the Batt-o-meter. This solves a million problems. If you sell a bass guitar that has an active pickup at Christmas, a week later the buyer might come in and say it doesn’t work. You immediately plug this in, and it checks the battery and gives you a percentage on how much power is left. So, we’re not going to be tearing guitars apart, wasting our time because batteries are dead. MSRP is $29.95. The other product they have is a MIDI controller called SoftStep that will be coming out.

Alfred Music Publishing and Hal Leonard
If you’re going to be in retail and want something that can deliver strong profit margins, then you’d better be selling print music. Alfred has a new CEO in Ron Manus. I expect some great things out of Alfred under his direction. Right now, Alfred has a new band and orchestra method called Sound Innovations. The nice thing about this is that the band directors will be able to design their own band books. They can choose the repertoire. They can choose what kind of technical aspects they want to stress. It’s very innovative.

Hal Leonard is another innovator. First, they have a book out by DownBeat magazine called The Great Jazz Interviews. As Quincy Jones said the other day, the kids don’t know Louis Armstrong. Well now, they can read the real interviews with him from DownBeat magazine. It’s a wonderful collection. Any jazz person is going to pick this up. Also, get Hal Leonard’s 100 Greatest Songs Of Rock & Roll. I got this in and thought it would never sell. I cannot keep this book in in my store. It is wonderful.

They have strong leadership, they’re innovative, they work with their dealers on what’s working in the marketplace. For example, they have a brand-new pedal called The Falcon. They looked at their pedal line, spotted a weakness and corrected it with this. It’s a premium pedal at a mid-line price. It also has a small footprint. So, it solves a constant frustration for drummers. The other thing I love about this company is that they don’t show anything at NAMM that I can’t get in my store now.

They are very connected to the industry and stay ahead of the curve. If you stop by there, you’ll see that they are doing these custom drumheads called Inked By Evans. They have preset designs, but you can also go online and do your own designs. They’re keeping it exciting, and they’re doing things that are interactive with our customers.

Hoshino USA
When you look at them as a company, Hoshino is always analyzing the market and adjusting for that. For instance, they actually started a line of ukuleles, and now they actually have an Iceman-style uke. It’s just really cool and hip. They have totally revamped their drum line to match what’s happening in the market, and it’s impressive to watch them. Every six months, they’re changing the company somehow to make sure they’re matching the market.

The Music People
The owner of that company is Jim Hennessey. He’s like an engineering crazy man. You can go in there and talk to him about any idea. He’ll go to China or wherever he needs to to source the product out. Their packaging is excellent. They keep the products fresh. One example is a strap lock that they came out with that has a little wrench, but it’s also a bottle opener. It’s solution-oriented, and it’s profitable for the retailer, and it’s fun for the consumer.

If you’re not doing business with Peavey, you need to stop by there and meet Hartley Peavey. For Mississippi Music and a lot of other dealers out there, we consistently have them in the top five companies that we make money with. The Peavey IPR Power Amplifiers are super-light, high-tech and low-priced. Vypyr Amps, who hasn’t heard about them? Who hasn’t made money with them? Then, there’s Peavey’s new Impulse 12D loudspeaker. It’s a powered speaker that incorporates that IPR amplifier system into the back. You’ve got to hear it. You’ve got to sell it. You’re going to make money with it.

This is a new company, and its first product is called MyMix. Think of it as the JamHub on steroids. It’s a little personal mixer for each member of the band. It also has a built-in, multitrack recorder. Each member of the band has his or her own MyMix box. They plug it into an Ethernet switch and can hear each other mixed the way each musician wants it. You’ve got dual inputs on the back to accommodate dynamic and condenser mics. But the coolest thing about this is the interface, which is very iPod-esque. It doesn’t have the engineer in mind. It has the musician in mind. They’re shooting at the higher end of the market with this right now, but don’t be surprised to see them bring it down to the masses in the future.

Best In Show
Suhr Guitars by JS Technologies
JS Technologies stands for John Suhr and Steve Smith. John Suhr was the senior master builder for Fender many years ago. Steve Smith is one of the most cutting-edge CNC engineers in the world. You get a guitar guy and a robot together, and you get the greatest guitars on the planet. These guitars are not for everybody’s shop. They’re $3,000 and up. But the fit and finish is incredible. The technology is incredible. Their wood selection and their wood sources are incredible. Other than guitars, Suhr offers a few amplifiers that have incredible tone. They also make effects. I would consider this the finest stuff in our industry.

Daisy Rock Guitars
This is Tish Ciravolo’s 10th anniversary of producing guitars for girls and for women. That is really quite an achievement in this industry, which is, well, male-dominated. There is an entire market out there for girls, and they want to play. Tish is the first to really go after that market. Many others have followed. She supports her dealers. This is a really, really fine company.

Yamaha DTX 900 and DTX 950 Electronic Drum Sets
For drummers, it’s all about the feel. Every time I sat behind this drum set, wow! I did not want to get up. Admittedly, it’s an expensive, high-end kit. They designed the pads on this to be realistic. The snare drum feels like a snare. You move around the kit to that last floor tom, it doesn’t feel like the snare. It feels like a floor tom. It’s got more give. Not only does it feel incredible, it tracks. If you’re not doing electronic drums, you’re missing the market. This is the top end.

Korg Wavedrum
The demonstration on this electronic drum blew me away. It looks like a drum pad. You can put this on your lap. You can put it on a stand. You can put it on a table. You can use your hands or sticks to play it. You can play brushes on it, and it sounds like a snare using brushes. Around the edges, you can hit it to get a variety of other sounds like bells, triangle sounds. It comes with 100 presets of really cool percussion. It has a loop function. If you’re a guy who didn’t want to bring your whole drum set, you could bring this in for a rehearsal. It’s just freaking cool. The price point makes it a product for anyone from a beginner to an intermediate player to a professional. It has mass appeal.

Pearl E-Pro Live Drum Set
If you want something new to put in your stores to bring customers in, this is the product. It’s not for everybody, but your customers will want to come in and see this product. If you invest in your salespeople, they’ll either sell customers on that kit or sell them on something else. This electronic kit has real drum sizes, so you’re not playing something strange. It has true-tracking heads. It has real brass cymbals. It looks like an acoustic kit. So, many of our customers, like churches, won’t use electronic kits because they don’t look like a drum kit. But this is a real drum set, but it’s also electronic. So, you get the best of both worlds. The kit includes a component called the r.e.d. box that contains 100 drum kits built in and 1,000 different sounds. Drummers can also download the dream kit they want for a specific gig.

Lâg Guitars, distributed by Korg USA
This line solves the problem of finding a well-made beginner to mid-range acoustic guitar. They have acoustic guitars with an MSRP of $275 that sound and play extremely well. They have guitars in the $700 range that sound and play like guitars at twice that price. They’re made in China but finished in France. They’ve been doing well in Europe for a long time. But now, they are being distributed in North America by Korg USA. MI