The MLT New Zealand Gold Guitar finals played out in front of a crowd of hundreds when 38 finalists stepped up to the microphone in a bid to claim New Zealand’s top country music prize.

MLT NZ Gold Guitar Awards convener Phil Geary said it was a tough call for judges.

‘‘The calibre was very high — every now and then there is a standout, but this year it was a close call and an awkward one for the judges to decide.’’

Winner Zac Griffith of Nelson took home a prize package worth $18,000 which included cash, an $8500 guitar and a trip to the Tamworth Gold Guitar Awards in Australia.

Previous winners include Kaylee Bell, who opened for Ed Sheeran last year and is at present on her first New Zealand solo tour, and Camille Te Nahu, who now lives in Nashville.

The future looked bright for the winner if they wished to pursue the opportunities given, Mr Geary said .

‘‘It is exciting to see what the future will be for the winner. This win opens up a lot of doors.’’

The Gold Guitar final was the culmination of Bayleys Tussock Country, Gore’s 10-day country music festival.

This year 706 competitors did battle across a number of events including song writing, yodelling and busking.

It was not a record number but anything over 700 was good, Mr Geary said.

Covid forced the cancellation of the festival last year, and this year it was revamped before being brought back, extending its reach to Lumsden where Australian country singer Fanny Lumsden performed to a sell-out crowd.

The festival had an economic impact for the region of $1.7 million in 2019; however, for country music lovers like Mr Geary — who had been volunteering for 27 years — it was all about the music.

‘‘I don’t have a musical note in me, but I love it.’’