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This year's "Best In Show" panelists, from left: Gayle Beacock, Greg Billings, Brad Boynton, Alan Friedman, John Grabowski, Brian Reardon and Gordy Wilcher

'Best In Show' Names Top Gear

The last day of The NAMM Show 2011, Jan. 16, began with "Best In Show," a gathering of music retail and gear experts who discussed their favorite products and services at the convention. Held at the Anaheim Hilton, the NAMM University session was moderated by Music Inc. Publisher Frank Alkyer.

Nearly 700 attendees listened as the panelists discussed their top choices in four categories, including:

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:

• Gayle Beacock, co-owner, Beacock Music, Vancouver, Wash.
• Greg Billings, owner, Steinway Piano Gallery, Naples, Fla.
• Brad Boynton, owner, Rhythm Traders, Portland, Ore.
• Alan Friedman, partner, the accounting firm of Friedman Kannenberg & Co., Farmington, Conn.
• John Grabowski, director of purchasing, Sweetwater Sound, Fort Wayne, Ind.
• Brian Reardon, owner, Monster Music, Levittown, N.Y.
• Gordy Wilcher, owner, Owensboro Music Center, Owensboro, Ky.

Something Small
Big Bang Distributors

The idea with the HingeStix is that they give beginning drummers the correct sticking action when they are starting out. Teachers are just loving it. It is the No. 1 thing they tell me when students start, that it's difficult for them to get the correct grip. This takes the guess work out of it, and students learn the correct way.

iKlip universal microphone
IK Multimedia

Seven million people have iPads, and if you want to bring them into music stores, this is the product you need.

The Finger Shot and Qube
Latin Percussion

The Finger Shot sounds great in the air, and these work great for guitarists and keyboardists, as well as percussionists. The Qube is awesome. It lets you do 16th notes with one hand.

FirstMix DJ USB/MIDI Controller

If you ever want to be a DJ, all you need is a computer and some music. You take your iTunes library, and it basically lets you sync up tunes. It does scratching, and the transitions are phenomenal.

VRM Box headphone monitoring system

The VRM Box features 10 different speaker models for around $100. This product is amazing.

Superior Vocal Health voice sprays
Superior Vocal Health

You can't sell singers their instrument, but you can help them care and maintain their instrument. These voice sprays are ideal for that.

GHC-200 Guitar Humidifier Controller
Crafter Guitars

This humidifier is really neat. It shows the temperature inside the guitar, as well as outside the guitar. You are really going to do well with these.

Gotta Stock It
What Music Means To Me Book/CD by Richard Rejino
Hal Leonard

The stories and the pictures in this book will move you, and they will teach our customers. The book reinvigorates me and my staff with exactly why we are doing what we do. I've used the paperback version of this book as a recruiting tool for school districts.

Rollicking Piano Bar
Hal Leonard

This is the ultimate baby boomer piano book. It has every song that you are going to want to play at a party if you are over a certain age, with songs such as "American Pie" and "Proud Mary."

Formula 602 cymbals

The line originally had 20 cymbals, and they brought back to about five, which means retailers can stock it without having to go too deep. But because there are only five cymbals, if you have a lot on your wall already, you could put these on a kit so people can play them.

Led Zeppelin Complete Lyric & Chord Songbook

The book is made exactly how the band members wanted to present it. It is the ultimate play-along book for Zeppelin freaks like me.

Kronos Music Workstation

This is a home run. It has nine different synth engines and 4.7 GB of memory. It looks great, sounds great and is designed great.

Grip Studios Custom Guitar Hangers
Grip Studios

These guys initially created these because they wanted to hang their guitars in a creative way in their own studios. They are really easy to mount, and they do a good job holding the guitar. Because they are not available everywhere, people feel like they are buying a really unique product.

Kirlin Cables
Kirlin Industries

Everyone sells cables. I didn't want to share these with everybody because it's such a great secret. We've sold hundreds of these. They are great people to work with, and they have phenomenal cables.

Companies To Watch
Minarik Guitars
They make great products, fill a category and they are great people. Minarik is known for very custom, handmade guitars. They have a guitar called the Lotus, and it has all of the high-end features that the custom guitars have but at a great price point.

QRS Music
QRS's PNOScan can be installed into any piano in 15 or 20 minutes. It is simple, it works and it is not really expensive. They are also shipping everything they make with it installed.

They are a company that has really come up in the last decade. The product design is great, and they are an innovative company. The main thing as an independent dealer is that they just plain get it. The understand that it is important to forge long-term relationships.

Crush Drums and Percussion
They have terrific-looking drums that sound great. Their snares are awesome. They have an interesting use of materials, not just maple but acrylic and carbon fiber.

Radial Engineering
They make truly practical applications and tools for guitar players and owners of recording studios. They have a segment of their business called Prime Acoustics that makes all kinds of small and medium-sized acoustical products for the studio to reduce noise and sonic rumble. Radial's new product, the Workhorse 500, is a modular rack and mixer that features high-quality components and is reasonably priced.

Avid has been doing a lot of interesting things lately, especially with ProTools being available to a larger market than ever before. M-Audio has done really great things with all its interfaces, as well as with its new Venom Synth. It's current and edgy, and it's really going to appeal to younger customers, as well.

Tycoon Percussion
It's a family-owned business, and they own their own factory. There is a tremendous consistency in what they produce. Therefore, you can see it in the woods, the hardware and the skins.

Two Old Hippies
This is a company that cares. Unless you've been living under a rock, you've seen their great marketing. Their exciting news is that they have acquired Breedlove Guitar, and I think that that is going to give them a chance to continue to improve.

Best In Show
YSS-82Z Soprano Saxophone

We have been waiting for this saxophone for a long time, since the 62 was discontinued. As far as I can tell, they have perfected the soprano sax with this instrument. This sax comes in four finishes and comes with a curved neck or straight neck.

V-Piano Grand

They have taken the V-Piano, which was a breakthrough in and of itself, and they put it in the right cabinet with the right amplification and the right keyboard. It is the price of a lower intermediate grand piano, and it performs like a concert grand piano.

Gen16 cymbals

These acoustic-electric cymbals have two microphones underneath, and they basically record the acoustic sound and run it through a sound processor. When you hit the bell, it feels like a bell. Its feel is terrific. It blurs the distinction between digital and acoustic, which I think is great.

The Game Changer guitar pickup technology
Ernie Ball

They have effectively come up with this product that leaves the guitar alone, unchanged, wired normally, but lets you maintain different sounds and combine pickups.

Tempest analog drum machine
David Smith Instruments/Roger Linn Designs

There is a market out there for drum machines. If you want an instrument like this, there are not too many options out there, and if you would choose anyone to make it, it would be these guys.

Lâg Guitars

They are incredibly affordable. They start at around $200. But even at that level, they have carved headstocks, really beautiful binding and solid woods.

NAMM University
This year, NAMM U has been better than ever. And how can you beat it? It's free with great advice.