A personal view of percussion shown at the AMII trade fair by Bob Henrit.
My main reason for being at the AMII Trade Fair this year, apart from seeing old friends among the manufacturers, was to find out if any innovations were being made as far as drums and percussion are concerned. Therefore I'll restrict this particular article to those manufacturers with something new to show. The star of the show must definitely be the "boom cymbal-stand". Everybody seemed to feature one. Pearl make one, Ludwig make one, Tama make one, Premier make one, everybody makes one. How on earth did we get along without them before?
The Ludwig stand was dominated this year by their newish Plexiglass drums called Vistalite, which seem to come in a variety of rainbow colours. I won't dwell on these since I shall be reviewing them shortly in a Road Test. Bill Ludwig's son was on the stand when I was there so I had a very informative guided-tour and heard news of some developments which I couldn't possibly have learned elsewhere. Ludwig now make a boom cymbal stand which I should think was one of Carmine Appice's ideas. It's a very heavy model and comes complete with a hefty counter balance to prevent "over-reach". This stand has tubular steel legs for a change. Bill says all of their heavy-duty stands now come with tubular legs, since they give extra strength and rigidity. Their chrome-metal finish has been discontinued because the quality of the plastic they were buying had deteriorated so much. However, they are about to launch a completely solid stainless-steel line. Drums of all sizes will be available in the new material, which sounds like a very exciting if somewhat expensive concept. Ludwig now make some new centre-dot heads, either transparent or white with a silver dot to brighten the sound and response.
The parent company have recently met with one Gunter Ringer to develop some completely new pedal timpanis. Briefly, their copper bowls are suspended freely without any steel contact points, the drum being supported by struts attached to its rim. These orchestral drums are virtually hand assembled with a mechanism and alleged constraint and decay-less pitch. For the future, among other things, the Ludwig's have plans for fibre glass self-hinged cases for all their drums and accessories.
The Slingerland wholesalers are also concessionaires for the complete range of "Latin Percussion", available, I think, for the first time. All of the New Jersey based company's effects are now imported. Fibre glass congas, tuned wooden bongos, solid steel timbales, several different cowbells including a monster made from brass, three different cabasas, two wood-blocks, a vibra-slap, clackers, solid claves, Flexitones and beautiful fibreglass maracas. None of the L.P. stuff is cheap — their cowbells go from £6 to £12 — but compared with these Latin Instruments I feel everything else is, by and large, money wasted.
Slingerland had perhaps the most impressive and certainly the largest kit on show. Two 24" bass drums, one row of bass drum mounted regular tom-toms: 12", 13", 14", 15", 16" and 18" and in front of these a row of their stand mounted single headed Octaplus-type drums, 6", 8", 10", 12", 13", 14", 15" and 16". A thousand pounds worth at least, I would say.
Slingerland now have a new and enthusiastic wholesaler so I expect them to finally gain some ground over here. Their pedal timpanis are being imported for the first time, and so are their range of parade and marching drums. There's an improved double tom-tom holder too; this new one allows the angle between the faces of the drums to be changed. Also new to us is their 16" bass drum outfit in trendy blue denim. It comes with 12" and 14" tom-toms and a 5" wood shell snare drum.
Avedis Zildjian are this year featuring their "rock" hi-hat cymbals for the first time. Bob Zildjian explained their development to me. "As you know, these days kids like Billy Cobham are playing the hi-hat in a new completely different way, basically alien to the techniques the instrument was designed for. Therefore, it seemed logical and necessary to rethink hi-hat cymbal technology. Our "regular"
hi-hat set up was two medium matched cymbals, the "new-beat"
set up had a heavy bottom and a medium top. The new 'Rock'
hi-hats use a heavy top and a heavy bottom". Of course, this is over simplifying the explanation, because the cymbal design has been radically changed. A little more meat left in some areas and a little less in other places. Evidently because "rock/jazz" players look for a different but complementary crash and punctuation sound. Much more use is being made of their "Pang" and "Swish" cymbals. Bob Zildjian is going to send me some of their not normally available literature on cymbals and players so I should soon be in a position to tell you exactly what type of cymbals the more modern drummers of the world are using.
Horst Link has been making superior acrylic drums sets for some time now and (as far as I know) without the stress and strain problems experienced by some other manufacturers. This year he's showing new heavy-duty stands and triple-flange counter-hoops on all drums. Sonor's heavy duty basket-type snare drum stand has a unique feature: a quick release mechanism. A lever allows the drums to be removed from the stand without laboriously unscrewing the clamping arms. Pride of place this year goes to their K182. This is a brand-new stainless-steel set, it seems to be beautifully made but at more than £665, this is probably a luxury few can afford. The new kits all boast self-centering nut box inserts — the idiosyncrasies of which were completely lost on me. Another kit on display was their Champion Six. It combines all the larger sizes being adopted by the more progressive manufacturers. The 24" bass drum, 13" and 14" tom-toms and so forth. It also includes the ubiquitous 6½" shell snare drum, with ten lugs and locking rings to maintain tension once the drum is tuned. All Herr Link's drums now come with Remo C.S. or Ambassador heads. Sonor are also into timpanis and they had a futuristic looking perspex prototype which comes complete with four wooden legs. No information seemed to be available on these but I hope to find out something soon and I'll let you know.
Premier's latest set is the Super 7. Four single headed tom-toms, a bass drum, a floor tom-tom and an improved snare drum. The kit had new American style triple-flange counterhoops which make a big improvement. A much brighter sound altogether, especially with the Everplay, plus heads fitted. Surprise... Premier's new more robust snare drum has a 6½" shell, a centre bead and 10 nut boxes with the aforementioned new and lighter counterhoops. The drum also has a more positive, less fussy snare release which is quite a depature from their old parallel action system: They have some new solid plastic finishes, and new rigid non-disappearing spurs. Kenny Clare now deservedly has a throne to sit on courtesy of Premier. It's a large diameter, large capacity version which takes lots of accessories and comes in all their new finishes.
Yamaha had two sets on show: the 400 series and their cheaper 200 series. The 200 has cheaper shells but a snare thickness head underneath both tom-toms compensates adequately. The 20" bass drum is standard for this kit but the tom-tom can be either 13" and 16" or 12" and 14". The metal snare drum which comes with both sets has a 5½", eight lug shell.
The 400 series set has very thick shells of curly maple, metal counterhoops and a brand new strong-looking tom-tom holder. They make an unusual bass drum pedal with independently adjustable twin-cams. Yamaha have just begun to make cymbals too, evidently at a reasonable price.
Oddly enough, I almost missed out on Tama, which would have been a great shame because their nine ply shells are by far the most substantial I have ever seen. Their interiors are sprayed with a very hard mixture called Portofleck which looks vaguely like the preparation used by Rogers. Tama, for those of you who aren't au fait with Japanese Drum Companies, are the professional range made by the Star Drum Company of Osaka, who seem to have been making serviceable, if uninspiring drums for several years. Tama Sets now come in two versions: Imperial Star and the slightly cheaper Royal Star. All kits come with a 22" bass drum (although larger or smaller drums can be imported to order) and more conventional 12", 13" and 16" tom-toms. They have a 5½" metal shell snare drum but their 6½" shell comes in wood only. Tama too have locking nuts on their tension screws but theirs are fitted only to alternate tensioners. Their drums have the dubious advantage of lockable adjustable dampers. This means you can set up the damper tension, release it and when used again it is ready tensioned. Like everything else on modern Japanese sets, all of the hardware is heavy duty, although their absolutely mammoth cymbal stands could possibly prove to be too substantial for the gigging drummer who doesn't have the advantage of a heavy-duty road manager.
Gretsch drums have been a problem over the past few years in that their spares were not only difficult but nearly impossible to find. However, I understand that from now on they're turning over a new leaf and everything will be possible. This is great news since the Fred Gretsch Company have always made an excellent drum set. Their drums can now be purchased without spur fittings, tom-tom holders and sundry other fitted accessories. This gives the discerning player the opportunity to fit whatever holders he prefers. Under this new deal a basic 22" bass drum with heads, hoops and turners will sell for £122 + VAT.
The new kit from Gretsch is called the "Tri-Tom Set" which has three mounted tom-toms (as the name suggests): 12", 13" and 14"; and two floor tom-toms 16" x 16" and 18" x 16". The bass drum can be either 22" or 24" in diameter: — oddly enough, for the same basic kit price. The company now make a 10 lug Snare Drum in either their brass 5½" or wood 6½" shell models. A very new tom-tom holder has just been introduced which has a plastic-ball mechanism. It's quite a substantial unit, completely machined and similar in operation to Camco's. They also have a new centre-pull hi-hat, and a double spring bass drum pedal, this time without their characteristic and to my mind perfectly adequate leather strap. A new substantial cymbal stand with grooved indentations for more positive set up is also standard on their new kits. An 18" bass drum is still being made and, is now possible to buy concert tom-toms, although these are only available in the larger sizes at the moment. Some new finishes were on the stand and I especially liked their coloured wood finishes. Very professional looking, but these wood coverings are now more expensive than the plastics. Gretsch drums are unfortunately not cheap — but then as far as I know, neither are Rolls Royces.
Pearl drums have been the subject of an in-depth Road Test in the last months International Musician
, so it would be superfluous to mention too much. The Japanese firm had all their different material options on show, fibreglass, wood and fibreglass, recycled paper and even common or garden wood. The Maxwin kits were also on show and I would like to do a feature on these and the often very good cheaper Japanese kits in the future.
All in all, it was a very interesting show this year with innovations from almost everybody.