The gear you see at your local store often begins with a manufacturer showing it off to dealers and other industry movers and shakers at a NAMM show. Like other US industries, the musical instruments industry is looking forward to seeing the economy pick back up. In the meantime, a big question mark loomed over the Summer NAMM show in Nashville. In particular, we were wondering—is this a good time to release cool, new gear?

Attendance was down by a quarter from last year. Exhibitor numbers were down as well, with many high-profile vendors choosing to not host a booth, including Fender, Vox, Marshall, PRS and Peavey. The most conspicuous absence was Gibson, a company headquartered in Nashville. But, as NAMM President and CEO Joe Lamond pointed out in his address to the industry, hard economic times can also present opportunities, and many retailers and exhibitors, both new and old, took occasion to look ahead and find opportunities where they could. Most reported having a better show than they expected, and some said it was better than they’d hoped for.

Despite a palpable sense of uncertainty in the months ahead of the show, we did discover plenty of enthusiasm and an overall mood of genuine optimism. Skeptics that we are, we hunted for signs that the general excitement was being exaggerated to gloss over deeper worries, but we saw plenty of business taking place, and of course plenty of cool gear to check out. While there weren’t tons of new products, we found many interesting new things from some of our old friends, and we discovered quite a few new companies willing to make a go of it in a tough market.