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'Best in Show' Delivers Great Gear Picks From Summer NAMM

Six industry experts shopped for the top products and services at Summer NAMM and delivered their picks during "Best in Show," the final NAMM University breakfast session, held July 14.

The panelists presented more than 25 standout products and services from an impressive array of wares at this year's convention. The experts discussed their choices in front of 314 attendees, focusing picks on four "Best in Show" categories:

Best in Show — The best product or service that panelists saw at NAMM
Company to Watch — An exhibitor with trendsetting products or services
Gotta Stock It — A product that retailers want to stock right now, if they haven't already
Best Accessory or Add-on — A great product from the small-goods arena

This session's panelists were:
• Billy Cuthrell, Owner, Progressive Music Center, Raleigh, N.C.
• Vincent Nemeth, Owner, U Rock Music Center, Pittsburgh
• Lisa Kirkwood, Co-owner, Discount Music of Jacksonville, Jacksonville, Fla.
• Mike Guillot, Director of Purchasing, Mississippi Music, Hattiesburg, Miss.
• Alan Friedman, Partner, Friedman, Kannenberg & Co., Farmington, Conn.
• Donovan Bankhead, Vice President, Springfield Music, Springfield, Mo.

"Summer NAMM is a great show to find new companies, discover new gear for the holidays and really spend quality time checking out brands," said Frank Alkyer, publisher of DownBeat, UpBeat Daily and Music Inc. magazines, as well as the session's moderator. "Our panel this year did just that — they found gear that will make money for their stores."

Here are this summer's selections:

Best In Show
Q Lighting Light Show (Selected by Billy Cuthrell)
They're small and ultra-portable, and they are bright. It's a great way for a singer-songwriter to have a light show they can take with them.

CMG Ashlee U.S. series guitars (Selected by Vincent Nemeth)
They have really nice, highly figured tops; hardware, all top-shelf; Grover 18:1 tuners; great-sounding pickups; nice fretwork; really simple design. They're a small American company trying to do big things. They're all built here in the United States. I think that's really important today.

Boss eBand JS-10 (Selected by Lisa Kirkwood)
It's an audio player with guitar effects. It's self-contained, but it has full sound. It allows you to upload your own music, or it comes pre-stocked with music. It also has audio loops. You can add your own library. The thing that I was really impressed by is it also has amps in it that are equivalent to the flagship GT-100.

Yamaha P-105 digital piano (Selected by Mike Guillot)

It has the pure CF grand sampled sound on it, which are fantastic piano sounds that you just can't beat. Also, it has the 88-note weighted, graded hammer effect action on it. This model has built-in drum patterns, which the [previous model] didn't have. This also has some backing rhythms and different splits that you can do, different assignables that you can do.

Yamaha FSX700CS acoustic guitar (Selected by Mike Guillot)
It is a small-body cutaway acoustic-electric. It has a solid Sitka spruce top. A really cool-looking piece. You can feel the quality in this piece. For a guitar that retails at $483 MSRP, it's an incredible guitar.

Retail Truths by Chip Averwater (Selected by Alan Friedman)
For 20 years, Chip has been collecting these stories. He took an awful lot of time to put these retailing stories about bettering your business into a book. They're all pearls of wisdom.

Lag Guitars, distributed by Korg (Selected by Donovan Bankhead)
They introduced this line of electrics that just blew me away. It's at a really, really popular price point. The tops are ridiculous. A lot of times, you'll see a guitar that looks gorgeous, then you pick it up and the frets aren't done right and it's not set up well. Not with these guys. It's set up perfectly.

Company to Watch
Zoom (Selected by Billy Cuthrell)
Everybody's got a great camera in their pocket with an iPhone or Android phone, but the Zoom Q2HD has terrific sound, as well. We've found Zoom products, over the years, keep getting better. I'm always excited to see what the next step for them is going to be.

Taye Drums (Selected by Vincent Nemeth)
I've carried them in my shop since I opened. Great selection of drums, from entry-level to high-end. Their entry-level sets are very nice. That segment, the whole entry-level market for drums, is getting bigger and bigger.

Fishman (Selected by Lisa Kirkwood)
I know they have over 30 years of experience, but they're not stopping. They're continually looking for new innovation, and this Fishman Triple Play is amazing. This little product hooks to your guitar and takes all the fun that the keyboard players have had for years, with different sounds and effects, and offers it to the guitar player.

Gator Cases (Selected by Mike Guillot)
Many people don't realize all the different things that they carry — band instrument cases, both hardshell and soft. They make racks for installs — anything you can imagine for install equipment. And they just so happen to make guitar cases and bags, and they also have drum cases and bags. Lastly, they just introduced a great line of watertight cases, which I think is really cool.

TC Electronic (Selected by Alan Friedman)
They've been making really high-quality pro gear for guitar players and bass players for years. They have fantastic pedal effects and rack processing gear. The reason why I happen to love the new BH250 is it's a very, very small, compact bass amp. It has 250 watts class D power. Sounds fantastic.

Korg USA (Selected by Donovan Bankhead)
They've got some really amazing, innovative products. One of my favorites is the Blackstar amps, which have been out for a couple of years. They actually now have an amp with six different tube emulations. You get the same volume that you'd get out of a tube amp — the same sag and breakup characteristics of a tube amp — all at a very sellable price point for most retailers.

Gotta Stock It
Fishman Loudbox Performer (Selected by Billy Cuthrell)
We have more and more students coming in playing acoustic guitar, but they are not playing their acoustic with an amp. You don't see a ton of acoustic packs that come with an amp, so these are great amps that sound good and are small enough to carry around. They are a great add-on accessory that you can have in your store and package for the student.

Four Force Amplifier (Selected by Vincent Nemeth)
The amp has a really unique design. It's lightweight and has a great tubey sound to it. I thought this amp was a total standout.

Sonic Clamp (Selected by Lisa Kirkwood)
It will clamp onto the top of any guitar without causing any damage to the finish. It will hold one or two smartphones. It's priced and packaged well.

RapcoHorizon iJam 3-n-1 Box (Selected by Mike Guillot)
If you're not stocking this, you need to do it. It's a built-in headphone amp that you just plug your guitar into and listen to it through your phone. Or you can use it with an MP3 player.

On-Stage Stands Folding Uke Instrument Stand (Selected by Alan Friedman)
The feet of this stand fold up, and the item folds together. You can literally put this stand in your pocket.

Pete Schmidt Straps (Selected by Donovan Bankhead)
These are completely 100-percent handmade straps. They are from Peru, use Peruvian leather and are double-stitched. All you have to do is take the strap, put it in someone's hand, then put it on a guitar and it will be sold.

Best Accessory or Add-on
Blue Microphones Tiki USB Mic (Selected by Billy Cuthrell)
I think this microphone is great for teachers. You can plug it right into your laptop, and it has some great noise-canceling software. If you start to type, it blocks that out. It is a great little, portable product.

PicStix (Selected by Vincent Nemeth)
You stick them right on your guitar, music stand or mic stand, and they keep your picks in place. The unique thing about it is if it gets dirty or starts to lose its adhesive, you just rinse it off in some water, and it gets sticky again. I'd love to have them in my store.

Bill Elliott GuitarDocks (Selected by Lisa Kirkwood)
This product is simple and will connect to anything. You can put it on a chair or a microphone stand, and it will rotate 360 degrees. It's not a guitar hanger but a holder.

Bedell Guitars (Selected by Lisa Kirkwood)
My second add-on is Tom Bedell's smile. If we all smiled like him, people would wonder why they're not doing what we do every day.

Hal Leonard Best of Adele — Big-Note (Selected by Mike Guillot)
Anything Adele turns to green and gold. You definitely want to stock it.

Chordbuddy CBT-80 Capo Tuner (Selected by Mike Guillot)
The new Chordbuddy is a combination capo and tuner. It tunes anything, including guitars, violins and ukuleles. You name it — it can tune it.

Hamilton Stands Nu-Era stand (Selected by Alan Friedman)
This desktop mic stand has an adjustable top, so it doesn't matter how heavy the mic is or where you place it because you can adjust it since the little top piece slides. You never have issues of it falling over. The stand is very versatile.

iMSO/On-Stage Stands container program for small goods, from The Music People (Selected by Donovan Bankhead)
iMSO has negotiated a great deal where we can participate in container orders with On-Stage Stands and receive very nice pricing. On-Stage Stands has a lot of quality and unique products. They have wonderful POP packaging, as well.