As you perusePremier Guitargear reviews, you probably notice that just about everything we review in these pages is pretty cool in some respect. Some things that pass through our hands, however, are above and beyond amazing. If they don’t blow our minds or stagger us with their beauty the minute we extract them from their case, bag, or shipping box, they knock us dead when we pick ’em or plug ’em in. These special few receive our prestigious and coveted Premier Gear Award.

The 31 products that received awards in 2010 are a wonderfully varied lot. There are some of the usual suspects—manufacturers like Fender, Taylor, Martin, and PRS that seem to brew up an exceptionally sweet-sounding something every year—but there are lots of new faces and little guys too. Companies like BilT, Strymon, and Elite Tone, as well as luthiers like Jens Ritter, David Munn, and David Flammang who embody the convergence of artistry and craftsmanship that’s possible when an individual is possessed by the drive to create something extraordinary.

Some products, like the TC Electronic PolyTune and the Ultimate Ears 4 Pro in-ear monitors solve musical and performance problems with a smart and practical approach, while others—like the Tone Box Skull Crusher and BC Audio No. 7 amp—are both great sounding and positively bizarre.

What they all have in common is something of our own raison d’être—the power to unlock sounds in our heads and fingers, and to point the way in our quest for the perfect performance, tone, or tune. We’ll be surprised if among these prizes—which we’ve divided into five categories—you don’t find an important piece of your own musical puzzle.