Well, there you have it; Winter NAMM 2013 is officially in the books as the annual music merchants’ convention held its final day this Sunday, attracting well over 100,000 visitors during its five day span – including a few of us here at PAL! Just taking a stroll down any of the crowded floors and you’ll be sure to be greeted by shredding guitar solos, banging drums, wailing trumpets and even an astounding rendition of “That’s Alright Mamma” courtesy of the Fender booth and a rather talented upright bass player. While the convention itself is meant to attract people who make and sell instruments, you couldn’t help but feel like a fan going to a concert when some of music’s biggest established names – including Brian Wilson, Lisa Loeb, Victor Wooten and even The Who’s Pete Townshend – made their way onto the floor this past weekend. Overall, the show is riding high on momentum after a few slow years in the industry. Sales for 2012 were up 1% at $6.8 billion – not too shabby!

But now that this year’s winter show is all said and done, it’s time to look back at the best gear of the season! And what better way than to run down the winners of this year’s “Best in Show.” Although NAMM’s Best in Show event took place in the early hours of Sunday morning (8 am, to be exact) there were still countless people excited to hear what the 6 person panel had selected as their favorite gear of the convention. The Best in Show event consists of four categories: Best Add On/Accessory, Gotta Stock item, Company to Watch and Best in Show. Held in the massive Pacific Ballroom at the Anaheim Hilton, the panel was made up of music store owners from across the country – and an emphasis on country as many were rocking some heavy Southern accents! Overall, the panel was a pretty lighthearted affair with a few of the panelists even engaging in some good natured teasing – such as Donavan Bankhead of Springfield Music when he presented panelist Alan Friedman with a pair of Brazilian leather underwear sporting pink tassels. A little awkward, but all in good fun. Anyways, back to the gear. Although there are multiple winners in each category, here are some of the picks that caught our interest.



Best Add On/ Accessory

D' Addario Evans Level 360 Drum Head


Touted as a notable advancement in drum-head technology, the Evans Level 360 Drum Head turned quite a few heads on the show room floor. But whether or not it lives up to the hype – I’ll have to ask my fellow PAL associate – I don’t play drums. But regardless of that little detail, it’s good to see that this add-on won’t cost drummers anything extra – as long as they plan on siding with Evens drum heads of course. Anyways, according to panelist Mike Guillot of Mississippi Music, the new drum head features a unique collar that allows it to sit level making it easier to tune. Later in the day, a rep giving a demonstration at the Evans booth was heard making the pitch "Who picks up a pair of drum sticks and says to themselves, 'I want to spend my time tuning?'" Probably no one ever – but I get his point nonetheless. Check out the video below for a full demonstration.



Best Add On/ Accessory

Ernie Ball Slinky M-Steel Electric Guitar Strings


M-Steel strings? Now this is much more up my alley – and not just because I go through strings faster than Taylor Swift goes through boyfriends. I was especially intrigued when panelist Alan Friedman mentioned this product from the popular string manufacturer was made of defense grade steel.  "They make bombers out of these things," he declared. The strings are said to have increased tensile strength while maintaining additional output, increased clarity and fatigue resistance. The wound strings are comprised of a patented Cobalt alloy wrapped around maraging steel hex core wire. Best of all, they are said to be break resistant though it's unlikely Friedman had a chance to put the product through serious paces in the last four days, it sounds like it might be worthwhile for guitarists to pick up a pack or two and give them a hard strum. M-Steel plain strings feature a patented winding of Cobalt around the ball end of the string which reduces slippage, breakage and stays in tune better than conventional plain strings. The new Ernie Ball M-Steel Slinkys will hit the shelves in mid-summer 2013 and will be available in five gauges: Super, Regular, Hybrid, Power and Skinny Top Heavy Bottom.



Gotta Stock Item

TC Electronic Ditto Looper

It seems as though TC Electronic has their ears pretty close to the evolving digital music scene. If you have ever heard the music created by Reggie Watts or the song “Settle Down” by Kimbra, then you know full well what a looper brings to the table. I am admittedly not a huge fan of the effect but its impressive none the less to see the masters at work. The way these artists use it pretty much consists playing a phrase on an instrument or singing a verse, then using a pedal to record said phrase or verse, then layering said phrase or verse with other phrases--all live. "At TC HQ we really wanted to understand looping before we went to market with Ditto Looper," says Tore Mogensen, Product Manager for Guitar at TC Electronic. "I mean, people do amazing things with looper pedals, but you almost need a degree in rocket science to make sense of all the functionalities. I think Ditto Looper is going to find its way into the heart of guitarists everywhere quickly. It's non-intimidating, super-simple and intuitive, has a great price, sounds killer and does what you want right out of the box." The TC Electronic Ditto Looper features a simple interface with two knobs for adjusting the level and recording. It can record up to five minutes of material at a time. If you think you need more – I contend you don't.



Best in Show

Taylor Guitars Grand Orchestra Series


For fans of beautiful guitars, this was one of those mouthwatering moments. Save for maybe Martin, Taylor acoustics are among the most coveted in the market. According to panelist Donavan Bankhead the Grand Orchestra Series features the boominess of a jumbo body without the mass. "It sounds like a grand piano," he said. Although I couldn’t check it out for myself, you and I can do the next best thing – check out this video demo!



Best in Show

3D Systems


This was the "future is now moment" of the entire panel. If you're not familiar 3D printing, it’s pretty much exactly what the name suggests; in the future we will have the ability to use these digital printers to make anything from a replica gun to a working flute – as long as you don’t mind them being made entirely out of plastic! And by we I do mean those of us with tons of disposable income. It’s a pretty wild and new area of technology that you should definitely check out. Panelist Billy Cuthrell of Progressive Music Center in North Carolina showed off a small rocket ship made of plastic that was literally printed by the 3D systems machine on display. The machine capable of producing the rocket will set you back $1200 and is still sort of a novelty item. Less novel was the red, white and blue colored electric guitar with Statue of Liberty embellishments in the body. It was printed in a larger machine, which I’m sure none of us can afford. But hey, a guitarist can dream!