Frankfurt: Drums, Electronic Drums And Cymbals
Bob Henrit reminisces on a plethora of electronic drums and a naze of excess
Several major drum manufacturers were conspicuous by their absence among the exhibitors at Frankfurt this year. Certain illustrious names like Rogers and Slingerland were missing — perhaps forever — while other companies had much smaller stands than usual with no really new products. Of course there are new makers springing up, but these in the main seem to come from the Orient as entrants into the burgeoning, if somewhat oversubscribed electronic drum manufacturers' stakes. As well as new products from the total electrodrum companies, many of the 'real' drum makers are getting in on the solid-bodied act. Pearl, Premier, Sonor, Tama and Yamaha all have electric sets now. Of course some of these concerns had them last year but they all appear to have been up-dated.
Pearl, of course, had Drum-X last year and that system was still on show, but they've added a new dimension to it. Another brain has been designed which uses 'digital wave synthesis'. While this ain't a new concept for the keyboard player, it certainly is for the drummer. It's called SC.40 and in its unexpanded form contains 32 kits of eight sounds, all of which maybe changed by 16 parameters. To accomplish these 'edits' you move a cursor around and it boasts three MIDI sockets and a host of useful features like sound copy from pad to pad (with pitch drop). Because the sounds are neither digitally sampled nor dedicated it can also have 'cymbals'. I am told it will sell for just about four figures.
Premier surprised everyone with 'Power Pak' which is their analog electric set. It's uncomplicated with one factory-set sound and one you set yourself and all the modules are identical. The snare has a gate control while the toms have a 'pot' which adds harmonics. There's an inbuilt controllable metronome and an input for your hi fi so that you can practise to records; each module has a rectangular finger pad which you may tap whilst working on your sounds. The whole thing is mounted on a very sturdy bent-tube frame which looks to me like it could even hold real drums. Price is just under £800.
Sonor too have an EDK. It's called Mammut (in Germany) but what it will be known as, when and if it gets here, is anyone's guess. Its pads were very similar to Ddrums with a tunable head and snare and large tom larger than the others. The brain itself has six channels for its digitally sampled voices, and there are three sounds inherent for each. It's actually a digital/analogue unit and uses a cartridge system to contain its sounds whilst parameters including pitch, bend, decay, attack etc, are changeable. It must be said that I was highly impressed by their sounds. The cymbal was the most realistic I've heard. I'm looking forward to testing it.
Tama showed their five voice drum set as well as their add-on dual module, both now with newly shaped pads. They have also released a sequencer with 32 program; as well as a trigger bank which copes with audio in and trigger out. All of these pads were securely mounted on the company's Power Tower system rack.
I had hoped to see the Yamaha electronic kit before the show but it wasn't to be. However when I did see it, it was quite a revelation. A lot of thought has gone into construction because the pads are not like anyone else's. They're glossy, black and reminded me of Darth Vader! The pads are roughly the same shape as a paddle-ball racquet whose electrical connections take place at the end of their tom holder pipe. There's a rubber concertina-gaiter to hide this tube and the playing surfaces are sprung. The interesting thing is that this is not your actual drum set complete with brain.
It's meant to interface with a drum machine via a drum-to-MIDI-convertor and extricate its sounds that way. Yamaha's convertor is called DIOM and boasts eight channels with sensitivity triggers and push-buttons with 12 further controls for functions; channel, note, program change, sustain, modulation range etc. You may mix mono and polyphonic MIDI channels, but for any drum sounds you must have a drum machine too. It would appear that the pads are going to be very expensive while the convertor is not so bad.
Simmons as usual made a huge splash at the show. They introduced their new amplifier called SDC200 which has 200 watt output from a mosfet amp and its speaker which has been specifically designed by ILP for drums. It has inputs for bass drum, snare, toms, hi hat and cymbal. There's a volume pot for each channel (with a thumb notch), and different factory-processed eq for each. There's also a separate send for each with an overall return. The unit is all contained in a wedge shaped cabinet which enables it to be used as a monitor too if you already have the benefit of a large PA.
SDS1000 is the company's latest electronic drum set. It uses the usual pads but with a completely new rack-mountable brain. The bass drum is software generated, the snare is digital (with four very useful samples but no rim shot) and the toms are synthesised. You may choose from five factory set kits with a facility to self-compose five more. There's the all important headphone socket, five ins and outs and more or less the usual Simmons control over parameters including second skin. It's meant to sell for a good deal less than SDS 9 — somewhere between £600 and £700.
SDE is Simmons' Expander. It's MIDI controlled and has 20 factory pre-set sounds including vibes, marimbas, glocks and gongs. You can also make your own sounds and you can load in even more from cartridge. It, like all the present generation of Simmons stuff, is rack mountable. TMI stands for Trigger-MIDI-Interface which is designed to Midi-up any existing Simmons set. It means of course that you may use the sounds of keyboards with your drums and allows you to record your playing accurately via a sequence recorder and after that the world's your oyster!
Not content with all this, Simmons have produced their own rack mounting system. It's cheaper than the American version since it's built here, and isn't a 'rip off' since they gave the original idea to Ultimate Support anyway. Their clamps are still plasti/nylon with four drum-key operated screws to clamp around each tube. They now have their own tom arms too which seem to have much more potential than the Orientally built ones.
Dynacord have changed quite a lot since last year. Their pads are new and shaped rather like the sail on a surfboard, and the bass drum is simply a very small pad attached to the pedal, rather like the Ddrum model. All the necessary pads now fit on to a rack system called Drum Caddy. Duo-pad has had its shape changed too but still utilises the transducer in the centre and the one on the rim; thus two sounds are possible from a single pad.
Percuter-S is still available and we detailed some of its updates not too long ago — pitch is now controllable for all voices. For those unfamiliar with this piece of equipment, one simply removes a plastic block which holds an IC pre-recorded sound already blown in. These chips are very convenient and drummer friendly and the latest sounds on display were excellent.
However, this year they've added ADD-one, which is an eight channel MIDI-based drum computer. It will (and does) store the many different real sounds already available on the percuter, and should you need any more you can double the number by simply adding two small boards. I haven't seen this happen but knowing Dynacord I don't suppose it's difficult or hazardous. The brochure says that it is possible to set the 'brain' up to give 128 different eight drum/voice sets with a sampling facility too. Obviously with a piece of hi-technology like this you can determine what each of these sets will consist of, but you may also set it so that soft and hard hits trigger different sounds.
Should you not wish to play the two different Dynacord brains from pads with a stick you don't have to, thanks to the Rhythm Stick. It looks like a guitar and was invented by an Englishman. At the top of the neck in positions corresponding to the first four frets are pairs of trigger selectors. One simply needs to press them to output the sound of 1, snare, 2, 3, 4, toms; 5, hi hat; 6, bass drum; 7, alternative snare and 8, cymbal. Now to make these sound we must strike a position just above where the neck pickup would be and (or) one below it where the side of the neck meets the body. Since the sound will only emanate while our left hand is touching one of the triggers all we need to stop a beat is to remove that particular digit. I must say for a drummer who isn't a guitarist it will take a bit of getting used to. It's available with MIDI too.
Casio allowed us to see their RZ-1 drum machine just before the show and by the time we arrived they had a prototype Drum-to-MIDI convertor and a set of pads to go with it. Unfortunately the pads on show looked a bit like turquoise dustbin lids, but when they're available for real they should be a force to reckon with.
Citec are something of an anomaly. They are a Japanese company whose electronic sets are soon to arrive on these shores but whose pads bear an uncanny resemblance to Sonor's. Their brain, though, is different and looks more hi-tech. There are two units: CDX-9 which has five toms, bass and snare, and another unit which is too new to be included in their catalogue and has cymbals and hi hat. These sounds are playable via smaller, solid rubber-looking pads which attach to their Ultimate rack in the usual way. Citec's sounds are unusually rich too and digital.
Ddrum have added to their ridiculously comprehensive list of sampled sounds. They also have a MIDI socket fitted to the back of their brain. They maintain that it's not necessary to access their drums from keyboard, but it does allow the process to work in reverse.
Up5 have added an important pair of inputs to their brain. You may now plug in your hi fi and play along with your heroes. That's it as far as electronics is concerned. There were a few other exhibitors at the fair but since they had no plans for bringing their wares to Britain we decided to leave them out.
Capelle didn't have a very large stand this year but they seemed to have a lot of new products. They have updated their tom holder so that it's adjustable even on the Turbo bass drum. The bronze receiver block now has a slot in it to allow you to move the toms away. All their fittings are now available in black-chrome and they have this very macho, Harley Davidson motorbike seat specially for leather freaks. They have just introduced these conga-built wood shell snares which are pretty thick, but with a surprisingly crisp sound; eight inches deep. Their natural wood finishes are absolutely beautiful, especially an orange/red one.
Gretsch didn't really have much to show. It's not too surprising since they have only just been acquired by Fred Gretsch jnr. They have new finishes and plan to re-commence guitar production soon, but I was surprised to see a 'made in Japan' Gretsch set.
Pearl had a deal of new acoustic stuff on their stand. We've already reviewed the World Series set but they had a Carbon Fibre snare drum which I've yet to try out and a slightly less mammoth version of the Porcaro-rack designed for electronic drums. A lot of other stuff has been beefed up. The P880 bass drum pedal now has a nylon cog with its metal chain to cut down studio noise; the 900 hi-hat has a chain drive which is designed to be stronger and there's a hybrid remote hi hat too. It uses the base of a 900 hi hat with the top parts of an 800, a piece of cable joins them together and one of Pearl's AX-25 multi angle attachments holds the cymbal part in the desired position. Pearl's stool tops are now covered in fabric which may well be a boon for ailing drummers! Joking apart, cloth covered seats are more comfortable and hygenic too. I understand that the company's 8" metal shell snare drum has already become a big seller in Britain and I hope to test one out very soon. They had some new finishes too, of course, one is very like a mirror-ball which should look fantastic under lights; they also have a charcoal grey lacquer finish.
Premier haven't exactly been sitting on their hands recently either. The gem on their stand had to be their breathtaking Piano White Resonator set. This is one of the new lacquer finishes which are now applied to the insides of the shells too as well as the bass drum hoops. Premier have now included Black Shadow into the Resonator range and updated it accordingly. APK was a very big seller for the company last year so naturally it was on show in its different configurations. Since the last review the 'Fastball' double tom holder has now found its way on to the up-market sets. It has the facility to be a triple-holder too and uses a plastic ball and cage holding system. (It will, I understand, directly replace the old 392 holder with just a minimum of work done on the original shell hole.) A new multi-clamp has just been made available too. It's designed to join anything from a tomtom to a triangle to any of Premier's stands; and at any angle. Several new heads were on show for the first time too with single and double plies in clear or coated finishes. They seem to me to be very resilient.
Ludwig's products don't seem to have changed much recently but this year they were offering drums with four ply shells. Of course the old favourites like the 400 and Colloseum snare drums were on display alongside a whole range of Japanese looking hardware.
Sonor were playing at home as usual and had an awful lot of new stuff on display. Whether it will eventually be buyable here though depends on public demand. Of course the mainstream stuff will come so we'll concentrate on that. There's a Performer-Plus set now with more bass drum lugs than before and an outside veneer of Birch for each drum. This is for the lacquered sets. Panther is the same as the Performer but with black hardware; it's available in black or wine red. Sonorlite was on display with black lacquer as well as black nut-boxes and rims. The shells for the Signature Series drums can now be bought made from Birch with Bubinga veneers inside and outside or totally from Birch. (The sizes, though, are the same as Sonorlites.) A new double footpedal is just in the pipeline and it's to be based on the much-loved Phonic footpedal and should appear at a very competitive price. Sonor have evolved a miking system with AKG which will work as an ordinary microphone as well as acting as a trigger for an electronic brain. It's a very small shotgun type for snare and tom with something called a B6 for the bass drum. They all clip to the drum rims, have mini goose-necks and need phantom power.
Tama had this massive double-decker, rack mounting-system which allowed the cymbals to hang down in front. Perfect for the shy and retiring drummer — if there is such a person? They also utilised a rack with a single leg which joined to the tom tom holder. It was shown without spurs but I'm not sure if this was intended. There was an exceedingly lurid, but exciting lacquer colour called Cherry Ice; we would call it shocking pink. Artstar is now available in black lacquer and Tama too have their remote control hi hats and double bassdrum pedals. There are three new snare drums: Carbon Fibre, Bird's Eye Maple, and a thick Birch drum called Gibraltar. All are available in 6½" and 8" models.
Remo had Headset on his stand which, whilst not actually being made by him, certainly utilises his PTS heads. I did a report on them very recently but if you missed it, it consists of a kit without shells which goes into a thin bass drum case and only needs snare drum, hi hat, bass drum pedal and cymbals to make it run. It's very handy Andy! Remo's top of the range sets now have his swivelling nutboxes fitted to the Acousticon (Epoxy impregnated cardboard) shells. These days we may buy these fitted with Gary Gauger's 'Rims' suspension system. Remo now has marching drums in all sizes too as well as mirror-like heads in silver and gold called Starfire which are available in single or double ply variations.
Richmo is a new name and reasonably difficult to track down in Frankfurt. The guy who is responsible for them invented Premier's Resonator series. These new drums, though, have six-ply shells with three-ply glue rings. There's a reflective liner inside and a bearing ring made from copper alloy is fitted over the wooden shell. This way the head doesn't actually touch the shell. It's a British invention and like all the things listed here we'll do in depth reviews as soon as it's possible.
Okay, how would you like to have a set of drums with all mini sizes so you can carry them without hurting your poor old back? There's a Danish company called Spanck which makes a 16" bass drum with a 10" diameter snare and correspondingly small toms. It's genuinely designed for real players but could be used by children too. They have PVC shells and sound big.
As usual the four main cymbal companies had impressive displays and all had new products on offer. In alphabetical order Meinl comes first. They may not be quite as big as the others, but I'm willing to bet they easily come fourth in world sales. They had their new Designer series range on show which has distinctive egg-shaped hammermarks, which are computer controlled. They are available with a mirror finish and in several unusual shapes. There's one called Microwave which is thick with a very small bell and an almost flat profile with few overtones. There's also one with a doughnut bell which is set upside down in a Chinese cymbal. Dragon is a very interesting cymbal. It's made from the same material as an oriental cymbal but with a western shape and lots of dirt. Meinl make fibreglass cymbal cases too in many bright colours as well as cymbal and stick bags in the same hues. Their 'sound check' centres were very popular in '85. Paiste showed two new ranges: 3000 and 400. You could describe the first ones as being matured 2002s. They were demanded by players around the world and different hammering and shaving makes them slightly lower in pitch but with an increased high end to allow them to still cut through. In common with all Paiste cymbals an 18" crash is not just a larger 16"; each different size has a different hammering process and often the profiles differ. The usual massive range of shapes and sizes will soon be buyable. They hope to sell for the same price as 2002. 400 is a strong sounding range designed for beginners and drummers with large families; a pair of good hi hats will sell for under £50.
Sabian have added to their Leopard range, we reviewed some last year but now it's possible to find 14" hi hats, 16 and 18" crashes, 18 and 20" Chinese and a very strong 12" Splash. These Leopards have a very strong earthy sound. By the way, the Roctagon (eight sided) cymbal now has a 16" smaller brother.
Zildjian were showing their 'Z' range in Europe for the first time. We reviewed it ages ago of course! Since then the range has enlarged and 13" Dynobeat hi hats have been added and they've pared down their Power Smashes too which shoul
Show Report by Bob Henrit
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