Myrna Sislen, owner of Middle C Music in Washington, D.C., shows off a Giannini guitar at Summer NAMM’s Best In Show panel.

Best in Show Spotlights Top Gear

Best in Show, the popular Saturday-morning breakfast panel discussion at NAMM U., highlighted the best products, services and companies on display at Summer NAMM 2014.

Six retail-buying experts shopped Summer NAMM and presented their top products in four categories. On the morning of July 19, they discussed their choices in front of a packed house of NAMM attendees. The categories included:

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 Accessories and Add-ons — A great product from the
small-goods arena

This session’s panelists were:
• Billy Cuthrell, owner, Progressive Music Center, Raleigh,
North Carolina
• Shane Kinney, owner, Drum Center of Portsmouth,
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
• Gabriel O’Brien, sales manager, Larry’s Music Center, Wooster, Ohio
• Myrna Sislen, owner, Middle C Music, Washington, D.C.
• Ryan West, Senior Vice President, West Music, Coralville, Iowa
• Tom Menrath, head of strategic development,
Vintage King, Detroit, Michigan
• Moderator: Frank Alkyer, publisher, Music Inc., DownBeat
and UpBeat Daily magazines, Elmhurst, Illinois

Best In Show

Ultimate Ears In-Ear Monitors
(Selected by Billy Cuthrell)
“They’ve got these great UE 900s. They come in really nice packaging and it’s basically set-up for the retail store, there’s no audiologist involved. You open up the box, and inside they give you every sizing option you could want. Ultimate Ears has figured out a gateway headphone that would lead your customer into doing custom in-ear monitors.”

Zivix JamStik (Selected by Ryan West)
“It’s a wireless MIDI guitar controller. The sensors are all infrared so it gives you the opportunity to interface with an iOS device directly. They have apps with it where you can actually see where the fingers are. The great example is if a teacher is teaching, the student can actually get that visual feedback. And for a guitar player, they can go ahead and jam out on this thing and it goes right up to their iOS apps.”

Pearl Crystal Beat Drum Series (Selected by Shane Kinney)
“The shell is very strong all the way through and there are no weak points. It also allows for better sound because there’s no seam or glue inhibiting the resonance. The thing is, they sound good. I never really liked the sound of acrylic drums, but when I walked by the booth, they actually sound great. My first instinct was, ‘That’s gonna sell.’”

Taylor 814ce Acoustic Guitar (Selected by Gabriel O’Brien)
“In search of better tone they’ve made a thinner finish guitar and completely redesigned the bracing from the ground up. It’s really lively and has a great dynamic. I’m really knocked out by a company that, at the top of their game, will redesign their best-selling product for the sake of making it better. ”

Samson Expedition XP106w Rechargeable Portable PA (Selected by Myrna Sislen)
“This is a battery powered P.A. system that you can take anywhere. You can work it with your phone, you can also plug a guitar or a mic into the back of it or you can go wireless. We sell a lot of these, they’re so affordable. And listen to the sound – it’s just amazing. It brings people into your store and it’s worth every penny. The people we sell it to are so happy.”

EarthQuaker Devices Afterneath Guitar Pedal
(Selected by Tom Menrath)
“EarthQuaker Devices came out with a reverb this year, and I hesitate to even call it a reverb. It’s called the Afterneath. It’s got six parameters and it breaks the parameters of what creates a reverb effect into the individual delays and other effects that make the reverb happen. It does an amazing array of things and this is an unbelievably fun, creative grand-slam as far as I’m concerned.”

Companies to Watch

Walden Guitars
(Selected by Billy Cuthrell)
“We took a chance on them and brought them into the shop. We gave them to our teachers to start using in lessons and teachers just loved them. You get a really nice gig bag, everything’s included and they’re well built at a terrific price point. The biggest thing about Walden is they’ve got amazing customer service.”

Hal Leonard (Selected by Ryan West)
“They do a phenomenal job in print but if you haven’t already, you’ve got to go by their booth because of the additional agreements they’re doing in regard to distribution like the addition of QSC and Hamilton. At this show they just rolled out the M4 Mobile Music Making concept; they really are looking at it as a new category for retailers. They’re always there to pick up the phone, and they really are a company that continues to grow, evolve and set the pace for the industry.”

Ayotte Drums (Selected by Shane Kinney)
“Ayotte was a very prominent brand in the ’90s and had ups and downs over the years, but it seems very invigorated. The product looks really great, they seem to be really aggressive in terms of getting into the higher-end retailers. These are very high-end, expensive drums for stores that have very high-end customers. The drums look beautiful. Ray Ayotte is back as the founder and I’m really looking forward to seeing what they’re going to be doing in the future.”

Reverend Guitars (Selected by Gabriel O’Brien)
“There’s nothing more boring than a music store filled with the same four guitar shapes. Reverend has such a strong presence. They really stand out on the wall, they have great designs, they’re incredibly well made, and when’s the last time you picked up a phone and got the CEO on the line?”

Giannini USA (Selected by Myrna Sislen)
“They are putting out some really wonderful and well-priced instruments—for instance, the Craviola. Also, for the entry-level acoustic customer, there are these electric acoustics. Buy-in is very easy to do, and for my store it’s the entry-level people coming in. To be able to put something in their hands that’s affordable for me and that’s going to work well with them, at this price point, is amazing.”

Supro USA (Selected by Tom Menrath)
“Supro USA is reissuing the legendary Supro amp. They sound amazing, they look completely original and authentic and, much more importantly, the signature sound Supro is famous for, that vintage collectors have been looking for, is now available at a very reasonable price point.”

Gotta Stock It

Age-specific print Music
(Selected by Billy Cuthrell)
• “Rich Redmond’s FUNdamentals” by Modern Drummer
• “Guitar For Kids” by Hal Leonard
“What happens is we get all these students who bring in a book and they bring in the wrong book. It’s a watered down version for adults. Generally, what we do is put them in an actual book that’s really specific for the kid. You have to stock the books that are specific for the demographic. You can’t just take a one-size-fits all approach.”

D’Addario NYXL Guitar Strings (Selected by Ryan West)
“They’ve done a phenomenal job of developing this product as well as putting together a super compelling marketing campaign, so customers are going to be coming into the store asking for this. This is one of the strongest strings out on the market. They’re going to stay 131 percent better in tune.”

Dixon Bright Key (Selected by Shane Kinney)
“It has the key, but what’s really noticeable about this is it has the light on it. It also has a handy little bottle opener. The cool thing is they put batteries with it too. I can’t help but think if you put this on your counter with the bright light and bottle opener and tell a drummer that, I think he’s going to buy it.

Earthquaker Devices (Selected by Gabriel O’Brien)
“EarthQuaker devices are hand-built guitar effects pedals, they’re built Akron, Ohio. They’re really hot, and I love companies that really put their money where their mouth is. They’ve been doing a lot of advertising in guitar magazines and they’ve been getting a lot of reviews and write-ups — a lot of famous guitar players are using them.”

Alfred “Teach Your Child To Play” Series (Selected by Myrna Sislen)
“On one side of the page is the script the parent can use. On the other side is what the child will actually do to play the piano. In addition, you can use it for those parents who know nothing about the piano or guitar, because they have one for guitar as well, because it can educate them. These books will really answer a burning question.”

Blackbird Pedalboards (Selected by Tom Menrath)
“These guys have come up with three sizes of pedal boards that come with an ATA flight case at an unbelievably shocking price point. They have a little tiny one that will still fit a power supply underneath, they have a medium one and a large one. I think it’s the best value pedal board solution I’ve seen in a long time.”

Best Accessories and Add-ons

Porter & Davies Drum Monitoring Systems

(Selected by Billy Cuthrell)
“I’m a drummer and what happens a lot is when you play you kind of lose the bass drum. This actually uses your bones to conduct the real sound through your body. Even at low volume, it’s there. It doesn’t disappear, there’s no lag time. You just have to go there and kind of feel it. The guys at the booth, they told me it’s like in-ears for your butt.”

Dixon Cajon Pedal Plus (Selected by Ryan West)
“The pedal itself has phenomenal construction, the cable is fantastic, but what it can do besides just attaching to the cajon is you can easily convert it to a secondary stand or cymbal stand.”

Tune-Bot by Overtone Labs (Selected by Shane Kinney)
“You put it over the tension rod and it measures your note across the drum and then you can store your settings. So if you find the settings you like, you can store it and use it for different sets. It has a great little price point and nice display on the wall and it’s easy to ship, too.”

Henry Heller Guitar Straps distributed by OMG
(Selected by Gabriel O’Brien)
“They have great price points, great profits, and they’re still hungry and want to do business with more stores. It’s such a no-brainer, add-on for guitar sales and they’re really easy to move. They have such nice price points and it’s easy to get consumers to add one on.”

Tuners by IMS Technologies (Selected by Myrna Sislen)
“These are for kids. They have animal shapes and they’re so cute. One button turns it on and it will do chromatic, guitar, bass, ukulele and the price point is fabulous.”

Griffin PowerMate Wireless Programmable Controller
(Selected by Tom Menrath)
“They’ve made a little control that you can assign to any function on the computer that you want. Whether it be volume or scrubbing or changing applications. They came out this year with a wireless version. It’s a beautiful design. It’s the only one that’s Bluetooth, and you can put it to any function you want on your computer — with up to six functions. You can turn, click it or hold it down.”