From left: Frank Alkyer, Tim Pratt, Sammy Ash, Shane Kinney, Leslie Faltin, John Grabowski and Gabriel O'Brien.

'Best In Show' Highlights Top Gear at NAMM
Best In Show, the popular Sunday-morning breakfast panel discussion at NAMM U, highlighted some of the best gear seen at The NAMM Show 2016.

Six retail-buying experts shopped NAMM and presented their top products in four categories. Moderated by Frank Alkyer, publisher of Music Inc., DownBeat and UpBeat Daily magazines, and held on morning of Jan. 24, in the Anaheim Hilton, the panelists discussed their choices in front of nearly 800 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 included:

  • Tim Pratt, President, Dietze Music, Omaha, Nebraska

  • Sammy Ash, Chief Operating Officer, Sam Ash Music, Hicksville, New York

  • Shane Kinney, Owner, Drum Center of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

  • Leslie Faltin, Co-owner, Instrumental Music Center, Tucson, Arizona

  • John Grabowski, Senior Director of Merchandising, Sweetwater Sound, Fort Wayne, Indiana

  • Gabriel O'Brien, Sales Manager, Larry's Music Center, Wooster, Ohio
  • Here are this year's selections:

    Ernie Ball Music Man James Valentine Signature Guitar
    (Selected by Tim Pratt)
    "[James Valentine] told me this week, had they not won the [Ernie Ball] Battle of the Bands, things might be completely different. The attention to detail on this instrument is amazing, but the story that goes behind it is the absolute coolest part."

    FOMOfx Virtual Jeff (Selected by Sammy Ash)
    "It's a small device, [made with] extremely well-made machined aluminum. It does not mar your instrument, and it is a virtual whammy bar. You plug it into a whammy pedal, [pitch] shifters — whatever can change the pitch by an outside controller."

    Tama Star Bubinga Drumset (Selected by Shane Kinney)
    "In the past 15 or 20 years, the emphasis has been off of the high end. I see a lot of companies cut costs here and there. And what [Tama] did with this series is they just said, 'Go make the best drum set. I don't care what it costs.' "

    Yamaha YEV series electric violin (Selected by Leslie Faltin)
    "This violin is made with six different woods. They've really gone through and redesigned the whole thought process. It's passive, you just plug in to whatever device you've got and it's good to go."

    Dave Smith OB-6 analog synthesizer (Selected by John Grabowski)
    "It's a six-voice analog synthesizer that [Dave Smith and Tom Oberheim] did in a partnership. This synthesizer absolutely nails the Oberheim sound. As an added bonus, it's got some digital effects that emulates [Oberheim's] original remodulator and phase shifter."

    Reverend Billy Corgan Signature Model Guitar (Selected by Gabriel O'Brien)
    'These are guys who are always pushing, and always innovating. They make guitars at fantastic price points. Joe Naylor made custom designed Railhammer pickups, and there's some cool body modifications."

    Marshall Amplification
    (Selected by Tim Pratt)
    "They've come out with the new Astoria line. They've reissued the Jubilee. And they've made the CODE amp. This is kind of the legacy company meets the future in a big time way. They're really looking at every aspect."

    D'Angelico Guitars (Selected by Sammy Ash)
    "They are industry insiders in the sense that they've been around the NAMM shows and the music business for at least 30 years. Now people want to know about it. If they could pull this off in a very short period of time, where are they going to go in two or three years?"

    Ludwig Drums (Selected by Shane Kinney)
    "I've always said about Ludwig, 'There are people out there that want to buy Ludwig drums — Ludwig just needs to give them a reason to buy them.' And they have. Over the past seven or eight years there's been a real resurgence, and there's been real innovation."

    Eastman Music (Selected by Leslie Faltin)
    "They own Haynes flutes, so they own a very high-end, hand-made Boston flute company, and they recently bought Shires, another iconic brass company. They're starting to innovate and use the technology that they've taken from those types of companies, and take that information and put that into even their student model instruments or their Chinese-made import instruments."

    Pearl Drums (Selected by John Grabowski)
    "They've completely revamped their high-end program, which will now be assembled in the United States to get their lead times down to a month or less. There's just a lot of really good, worthwhile products and new innovations over there."

    Earthquaker Devices (Selected by Gabriel O'Brien)
    "EarthQuaker has been driving the pedal market into the stratosphere almost single-handedly over the last couple of years. Their new designs and new innovations have pushed things in this direction of being able to do anything."

    Roland El Cajon
    (Selected by Tim Pratt)
    "They've taken the hybrid instrument of acoustic cajon and they've paired it with electronic sounds. It's all internal, with 30 built-in electronic kits using high-quality Roland sounds. It's battery operated and has speakers on board."

    Accel Audio Pedalboards (Selected by Sammy Ash)
    "This until will not only be able to support the customers who have pedals, but possibly you will sell more pedals because you have more surface to add stuff on."

    Pro Cymbal Cleaning Systems (Selected by Shane Kinney)
    "If you [sell] used cymbals, or if you take in trades, this is your opportunity to clean it and make it look almost brand new. It also offers the opportunity to fix up the logos. You can also sell it as a service to customers. I see it as a great opportunity to make some money."

    The pTrumpet, distributed by Conn-Selmer (Selected by Leslie Faltin)
    "It's available in six colors, and you can mix and match tuning slides. They're pretty inexpensive, so as a second instrument for a young child that may not be really committed to looking to buy a real trumpet, this is really fun."

    Korg minilogue (Selected by John Grabowski)
    "It's an incredibly intuitive layout. It's got some very powerful, but very simple-to-use and accessible sound-shaping tools. For someone who plays keyboards, it's a no-brainer for them to add to their setup."

    Taylor Guitars 500 Series (Selected by Gabriel O'Brien)
    "[The 510e has] completely restructured bracing with a slightly shorter scale. They've got a soft-carved v-neck that's really nice and comfortable to play. They also have the new 12-fret 12-string. It's so much fun to play if you're smaller in stature."

    D'Addario NYXL Bass Strings
    (Selected by Tim Pratt)
    "This is an opportunity to give your customer a chance to sound better. I love the tag line on the back of the box — it says, "Get ready to expand the scope of your sound.' After all, that's what we're supposed to be doing, is getting people to sound better."

    On-Stage Upper Rocker Lug Mic Stands (Selected by Tim Pratt)
    "This is a great stand. It has a heavy base, and you can put a big mic on [it] and just bend it toward you, and you can be Steven Tyler or whoever you think you need to be. You just raise it up and bend it forward."

    Soundbrenner Metronome (Selected by Sammy Ash)
    "It has Bluetooth, so you can have several of them and you can control a band. The leader is able to speed everything up and everything down from a main control."

    ProLogix Practice Pad (Selected by Shane Kinney)
    "They have several different styles of pad, from a hard pad to a soft pad, which really allows you to build your speed and technique. I feel that it's an evolution of practice pads, and I can't wait to get them in the shop."

    GL Cases Trekking Series, distributed by St. Louis Music (Selected by Leslie Faltin)
    "It's got backpack straps built in [and] lots of storage. The [front] pocket expands and you can almost fit a clarinet case in there, so it's great for doublers. It's available for six different instruments."

    Numark Production Hub (Selected by John Grabowski)
    "Any of your customers using smartphones, or anything that needs to be powered by USB like a portable keyboard controller or a recording controller, or any of your customers that have to plug anything in — you can sell this to them."

    DigiTech Trio+ (Selected by Gabriel O'Brien)
    "It's an expansion on [the DigiTech Trio]. You teach it a riff, and with this one you can teach it up to five parts of a song. It'll also remember songs. It's got an SD card slot, so inside the [pedal] it will store 12 songs, and the SD card will store another 12 songs. So, you can play gigs with this thing by yourself."