Asking us to name our favourite gear at a NAMM Show is rather like asking a parent to pick their favourite child: difficult, but not impossible.
The time has come for us to nail our colours to the mast and select the guitar, tech and drum gear products that left our collective jaw on the floor. There was plenty to get excited about at NAMM 2019 but, to our minds, what follows represents the absolute cream of the crop...
NAMM 2019 - all the news
The dust is settling, but our ears are still ringing. You'll find all the stories that counted in our massive news hub. Below, enjoy our editors' findings as we regrouped at the end of the show.
Best electric guitar: Gibson Les Paul Standard '50s
Gibson's return to NAMM was nothing less than triumphant, with new CEO James 'JC' Curleigh seemingly steering the company back to what it does best.
This period-correct Les Paul is a case in point: there’s real authority in its fat neck, and it just glows with fit-for-purpose build quality and a revitalised relationship with the company’s roots.
Best acoustic gear: Sheeran Guitars range
Lowden and Ed Sheeran dropped arguably the biggest NAMM story of the show, announcing the launch of Sheeran Guitars, an eight-model range of "affordable" acoustics.
MusicRadar was on-hand for a demo at NAMM and can confirm that the instrument we heard sounded lively and quite airy, despite its compact body size, in keeping with Lowden’s reputation for tone. If the price is right, these could fly off the shelves.
Best bass guitar: Dingwall D-Bird 5-string
When we reviewed the 4-string D-Bird in 2018, we said: "Sheldon Dingwall and his team have taken an iconic design, woven their magic and come up with a contemporary bass that doffs its cap in recognition and then moves the classic design forward."
This 5-string D-Bird is another great take on the Gibson Thunderbird, and a worthy best-in-show winner.
Best guitar amp: Marshall Studio Series
Marshall's Studio series features 20W versions of some of its most iconic amps: the Studio Classic (JCM800 2203), Studio Vintage (JMP 1959SLP) and Studio Jubilee (formerly the Mini Jubilee).
Made in the UK, the amps are all available in a head or combo format - the latter of which packs a 10” Celestion V-type speaker - while power switching drops the wattage from 20 down to 5.
Best guitar effects: Chase Bliss Audio Preamp mkII
Chase Bliss Audio's Preamp mkII has actual motorised faders. In a pedal! A collaboration with Benson Amps, it spans boost, overdrive and fuzz with a huge range of EQ and clipping options.
It's sonically and mechanically jaw-dropping, and fully deserving of our award.
Guitar innovation: Audient Sono
Audient and Two Notes Audio Engineering have joined forces to introduce the Sono, which they're touting as “the ultimate audio interface for guitarists” - and they may well have a point.
What sets the Sono apart from the interface crowd is its onboard 12AX7 analogue valve and three-band tone control, plus the addition of Two Notes’ Torpedo power-amp modelling and cab simulation.
We’ve seen an awful lot of interfaces aimed at guitarists, but this might be the first to actually nail the concept.
Best hardware synth: Korg Minilogue XD
Korg’s biggest - and we would say best - product of this year’s show has to be the Minilogue XD. It’s a new beefed-up version of the Minilogue, with what seems like all the best bits from the existing pile of ‘logues.
The standout feature to be added is the digital multi-engine, borrowed from the Prologue. And just like on Korg's flagship synth, this third oscillator features Variable Phase Modulation, Noise and User options. A winner in every sense.
Best music software: Kilohearts Phase Plant
A hybrid modular platform, Kilohearts' Phase Plant combines the company’s Snapin effects with a range of new signal generation and modulation devices, giving you everything you need to create powerful synthesis- and/or sample-based instruments.
That’s quite a lot to take in, but Kilohearts has endeavoured to keep things simple for the user by offering a single-window interface.
Best studio gear: Elektron Model:Samples
Elektron has a bit of a reputation for gear with a steep learning curve. While instruments like the Octatrack and Analog Four are undeniably deep and powerful, a considerable amount of practice and a thorough read of the manual is required to even scratch the surface of their capabilities.
Its new digital sample instrument, Model:Samples, certainly bucks this trend. With a neatly laid out sequencer and plenty of up-front, hands-on control, it’s far less daunting then its bigger siblings.
What's more, It also doubles up as a capable MIDI sequencer, so could make a great centrepiece of a portable live setup.
Best DJ gear: Denon Prime 4
Billed as “the world’s most advanced DJ system,” Denon’s Prime 4 is a standalone DJing system (no laptop required) with a multicore processor and a 10-inch touchscreen.
If any product is in a position to challenge Pioneer DJ's dominance, this is it.
Best Eurorack gear: Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator Modular
Teenage Engineering has gone all ‘flat-pack’ with the new Pocket Operator Modular synthesizers.
Continuing the PO ethos of low-cost instruments, the modular range was developed as a platform for people new to modular synthesis to enable them to explore and grow their own system. It seems like a great idea to us, with Eurorack compatibility sealing the deal.
Hi-tech innovation: McDSP APB-16
In what it’s calling a world-first, McDSP has developed the APB-16, a 16-channel programmable analogue effects box that can be controlled in software.
This represents McDSP’s first foray into the world of hardware, and will enable you to use the likes of compressors, mastering limiters, transient enhancement devices and multiband and multi-channel processors. A range of APB plugins to complement the hardware is in development.
Best MIDI controller: Sensel Morph
The Morph is a pressure-sensitive, multitouch input device. Nothing unusual about that, you might think - and the product has actually been available for a while - but the Big Idea here is that the control surface is completely customisable, so you can turn it into anything you like by adding different overlays.
Produced in collaboration with Buchla, the latest of these is based on that company's Thunder interface, and looks set to bring its unique design to a new audience.
Best drum kit: Gretsch Brooklyn Micro
Paying homage to Gretsch Drums’ New York birthplace, the USA-made Brooklyn kit hit the sweet spot between warm vintage tones and modern design touches when it launched in 2012.
The new Gretsch Brooklyn Micro is the same great kit, but with a much smaller footprint ideal for more compact venues, rehearsal rooms or home practice where space is at a premium.
Any setup that makes load-in and load-out easier is a winner in our book, and we’re excited to see Gretsch get in on the portable kit game.
Best percussion: Zildjian FX Stacks
Zildjian has led the stack pack for a while now, and with the re-launch of its FX line and the introduction of a new range of FX Stacks, its reign is set to continue amongst drummers looking for modern, trashy accent sounds.
FX Stacks come in 8”, 10”, 12”, 14” or 16” pairs and can be stacked in the traditional fashion, or used as hi-hats. Switching between the two is a breeze courtesy of a new Zildjian Cymbolt mount.
Each pair comprises a rounded top with a distinctive hole pattern and flattened lip, plus a cold-rolled steel bottom. Experimenting with cymbal orientation and Cymbolt tension delivers a range of sounds, from bright, fast and cutting, to trashy and raw.
Drum innovation: Roland TM-1 Trigger Module
The TM-1 is the newest addition to Roland’s vast hybrid drumming arsenal, and is aimed squarely at drummers yet to dabble in the hybrid world, but who want to bring a wider range of sounds to their performances.
This small and affordable trigger module features a pair of mono inputs (which can also be used for one stereo pad) for expanding your acoustic drum kit with pads or triggers. As a result you can enhance your acoustic drum sound by layering electronic sounds or expanding the range of sounds at your disposal.