December 28, 2013

Classic steel snare drum for $100

By Darin Soll

Many drummers own more than one snare drum. In a previous blog post, I discussed how different types of snare drums can provide different voices to your backbeat.

I admit that I enjoy experimenting with drums of different sizes, depths, shell materials, and tunings. When I'm in full geek mode, I'll try them out with different heads and snares as well. My current collection includes snare drums with maple-ply, birch-ply, brass, carbon fiber, and aluminum shells, as well as a steel-shelled piccolo. However, I haven't owned a steel snare drum in a standard size since I played a JCPenney blue sparkle five-piece kit back in the late 70s and early 80s. When Gretsch released a steel-shelled Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters) signature snare drum earlier this year, I decided that it was time to give steel another look.

I began my search by listening to snare drum videos on YouTube. Listening to YouTube videos with quality audio and a good set of headphones provides a decent starting point. One video that caught my ear features ten classic snare drums, including the Pearl Export chrome over steel.

Pearl released the original Export series of entry-level drumsets in 1982, with significant changes in 1987, 1990, and 1994 (see Export Series History pdf). While Export bass drum and tom shells were formed from a variety of woods over the years, the mahogany/birch shells have a significant following.  The history of the Export steel-shelled snares is a bit murkier. Export kits shipped with steel-shelled 6.5x14 snares from 1982-2000 under six different model numbers.  I believe the double-beaded 6.5x14 steel shell is model EX-614D, available with Export kits from 1986-1996.

Fortunately, because the Pearl Export remains the best selling line of drumsets of all time, used Export snares are fairly easy to find. After watching eBay and Craigslist for a few weeks, I found a model EX-614D in good condition locally on Craigslist for $40. "Good condition" for a 25-year-old steel drum generally means a round and true shell, no dents, minor scratching and pitting, some rust, and nearly all original parts present and working. The drum I picked up needed a thorough cleaning, some rust removal on the tension rods, new heads and snares, a minor repair to the throwoff lever, and replacement of one stripped tension rod.  An additional $62 for new Evans G1 Power Center Reverse Dot and Hazy 300 heads, Puresound Custom 16-strand snares, as well as an upgrade to 2.3mm WorldMax hoops brought the total drum cost to $102.

Refurbished Pearl Export snare drum
6.5x14, 8-lug, chrome-over-steel shell
As you can see, while not perfect, the drum cleaned up pretty well. It also tuned up very easily, and I was able to quickly reproduce the sound of the Pearl snare in the YouTube video, using Tune-bot to tune the drum to 3f# (380Hz at each reso lug, 280Hz at each batter lug). True to the character of steel shells, this drum rings a bit more than my brass snares. To my ear, though, the ring simply accents its deep-shell punch.

At $102, the Pearl Export is the least expensive standard-sized snare drum in my collection.  With its wide availability, low cost, and classic tone, the Pearl Export is an excellent choice for a budget-minded rock drummer looking to upgrade or expand his sound.

--Darin

November 16, 2013

Paiste Signature setup

By Darin Soll

I mentioned in a previous post that I had tried out a few Paiste Signature cymbals, and that I was really impressed with their tone and smoothness.  While the point of that post was to share my experiences with purchasing used cymbals on eBay, several of you noticed that I seemed to be putting together a complete setup of "Sigs."

That's exactly what I was doing.  I decided to retire my Zildjian A Custom/K setup and replace them with Paiste Signatures.  In the process, I wanted to see if I could put together a setup with all used Sigs, in very good to excellent condition, for about the same price as a new Zildjian K box set.  Here are the details on that journey...

As you probably already know, cymbals in the Paiste Signature line are extremely pricey.  Fortunately, used Sigs are fairly easy to find on eBay.  Every time I searched for them on eBay, I found a number of examples for sale, so it seemed pretty likely that I would be able to assemble a complete setup.

I recognize that purchasing used cymbals online violates the rule of playing any cymbal before buying it (see "Selecting cymbals," March 28, 2013), so I spent quite a bit of time listening to audio clips of various cymbals on Paiste's website...

From the main menu on Paiste's website, I drilled down into "Products," "Cymbals," and then selected "Signature."  From there, I browsed the types of cymbals in the line (rides, crashes, hi-hats, etc.), and listened to audio clips of specific cymbals that seemed appropriate for my setup.  Like all cymbal lines, Paiste Signatures come in a variety of types, sizes, and weights, so I spent quite a bit of time switching back-and-forth between audio clips of similar cymbals.  While the sound of physical cymbals will vary from audio clip representations, the audio clips really helped me determine the relative differences between cymbals--for example, 16" mellow crash vs. fast crash vs. full crash vs. power crash.  A good set of headphones and Paiste's cymbal-to-cymbal manufacturing consistency helped as well!  The point is that you can use the audio clips to sort out the relative differences between cymbals (pitch, volume, sustain, etc.), but don't expect an audio clip to be an exact representation of the corresponding physical cymbal's sound.

Zildjian, Sabian, Meinl, Dream, TRX, and other cymbal makers offer sound clips on their websites as well.

Paiste allows you to add your favorites to a "Soundroom," so after spending about 30 minutes listening to clips, I had the following cymbals in my Soundroom:
  • 20" Full Ride
  • 13" Dark Crisp Hi-Hats
  • 14" Sound Edge Hi-Hats
  • 16" Fast Crash
  • 16" Full Crash
  • 18" Fast Crash
  • 18" Full Crash
  • 10" Splash

Obviously, I had already decided on a ride and splash, but I wanted to spend a bit more time with the hi-hats and crashes.  My final setup ended up like this:
  • 20" Full Ride
  • 13" Dark Crisp Hi-Hats (I liked the lower pitch of the 13" Dark Crisp hats, and they have a reputation as being "the" hats in the Signature line)
  • 16" Full Crash (I liked higher pitch, which creates more "separation" from the 18")
  • 18" Fast Crash (I liked the thinner weight for "washy" crash rides)
  • 10" Splash

Once I had decided on a setup, I started watching for good used candidates on eBay.  To streamline the search process, I saved a search for each cymbal I was looking for on eBay as a "Followed Search."  This way, eBay did the searching for me, and emailed me each day with new items that met my criteria.  For example, the following eBay search string (text entered into the eBay search field) looks for Sig 16" full crashes, but excludes Reflector, Precision, Traditionals, and Heavy models (the minus sign before the second group of search terms tells eBay to NOT include results with any of those terms):

paiste signature full crash (16", 16 inch, 16-inch, 16inch, 16 in, 16-in, 16in) -(reflector, precision, traditionals, heavy)

Once I refined my search terms, I clicked the link to "Follow this search", and eBay began to automatically send email alerts to my box as eBayers posted cymbals meeting my criteria.  At that point, I simply watched my email each day for cymbals in great shape at a good price.  Check out my August 24, 2013, post "What to look for when buying used cymbals" for details on my experience buying used cymbals on eBay, as well as tips to help you buy online with confidence.

Did I meet my objective of assembling a Paiste Signature setup for the price of a new Zildjian K box set?  Let's see...the Ziljian K0800 cymbal pack currently runs about $900 new and includes a 20" ride, 14" hi-hats, a 16" crash, and a 18" crash.  Including shipping and handling, I paid $250 for my 20" ride, $237 for my 13" hi-hats, $184 for my 16" crash, and $197 for my 18" crash, for a total of $868.  Mission accomplished!

I have included a couple photos of my "new" Sigs below.  I am currently using them with my recording setup.

Used cymbals are a great way to obtain top-of-the-line sound on a drummer's budget.  Happy shopping!

--Darin

Used Paiste Signature setup
Top-quality cymbals purchased on eBay

October 5, 2013

Trick GS007 retrofit kit, Ludwig edition

By Darin Soll

In my last post, I reviewed Mike McCraw's "Retroplate" adapter plate system (http://www.dwsnare.com).  Mike's Retroplate kits enable drummers to upgrade the stock snare throwoffs on a variety of snare drums to the Trick GS007, without drilling additional holes.

The Slingerland Retroplate that I reviewed includes a very small plate that is covered entirely by the GS007 throw.  As a result, the Slingerland Retroplate install is very clean and looks fantastic.  But, I know the Slingerland fan club has a much smaller membership than the Ludwig fan club, and several of you have asked if I plan to review the Ludwig Retroplate as well...

The answer is "yes!"  Mike was kind enough to ship a Ludwig Retroplate to me for review, and I finally had a chance to try it out on my Ludwig 6.5x14 Acrolite.

As I mentioned, the Slingerland Retroplate installs very cleanly, mostly due to the compact spacing of the mount holes for the stock Zoomatic throw.  Ludwig is an entirely different story, as those of you familiar with the Ludwig P85 throw already know...the P85 mounting holes are spaced 2.5" apart, on either side of the shell bead.  This means that there is no practical way to hide the adapter plate.

Trick GS007 with Retroplate adapter
However, Mike crafted his Ludwig Retroplate in such a way that the plate lines up with the 2.5" hole spacing, clears the bead perfectly, and mounts the Trick GS007 securely.  The aluminum plate has a matte finish that looks like it belongs on the side of the Acrolite's shell, and the final result is worthy of the drum.  The black mounting screws could easily be swapped out if you prefer chrome or aluminum over the contrasting black screws for an even more integrated look.

Once installed, you wonder why you ever put up with the P85 throw.  The P85 on my Acrolite was problematic from day one.  To engage the snares, I had to pull the lever up and slightly outward.  The outward motion was necessary to prevent the lever from "catching" and failing to engage the snares.  And the lever on my P85 bent easily, so I was constantly bending the lever due to the outward motion.  Trying to finesse a throw lever in the middle of a song is not my idea of fun.

The Trick GS007 ends the P85 misery.  The GS007 is amazingly smooth and solid, and the simple but elegant helical groove design will result in reliable operation for years to come.  And, because the Retroplate uses the existing P85 mounting holes, restoring my Acrolite to original condition is a matter of removing two screws and reinstalling the P85 throw.

Here are a few more photos to help you get a better view of my Acrolite's Trick GS007 upgrade using the Retroplate adapter:

Until next time!

--Darin

September 1, 2013

Trick GS007 retrofit kit

By Darin Soll

Drummer Mike McCraw designed and patented a series of adapter plates that allow you to upgrade the stock throwoff on a variety of snare drums to the Trick GS007 without drilling any new holes.  The Trick GS007 is one of the best throws available today, utilizing a helical groove design and beautifully machined parts for extremely smooth and reliable action.

I ordered the "Trick GS007 to Slingerland kit" from Mike's "Retroplate" website (http://www.dwsnare.com/), which includes your choice of Trick GS007 (chrome or black, single- or multi-step) and the adapter plate for $94.95 with free shipping.  Prices vary a bit across the different adapter kits he offers.

I received my order last week and upgraded my 1975 Slingerland 6.5x14 chrome-over-brass snare, replacing the original Zoomatic throw.  You can see the results here...


Trick GS007 retrofit to Slingerland chrome-over-brass snare drum

As you can see, the chrome throw looks great with the drum, and the adapter plate makes it a very simple and clean install.  And what difference it makes when playing with a throw that works smoothly, holds its setting, drops the snares completely off the snare head, and well, isn't a Zoomatic!

$95 may seem like a lot of money to invest into a $300 drum, but my "go to" snares need to have good throws.  This upgrade fixes the one weak spot of an otherwise great snare drum--and, I can return it to original condition at any time by pulling a head, removing three screws, and reinstalling the Zoomatic.

If you are struggling with the current throw on your snare, take a look at Mike's site and see if he can help you out...and yes, he offers a kit for the Ludwig P85!

--Darin

August 27, 2013

Tuning drums with Tune-bot

By Darin Soll

Earlier this year, Alleninallen posted a comment on my November 4, 2012, post, "My favorite head combinations," that led to a detailed exchange on using Tune-bot to tune your drums.   I've been asked to re-post the key points from this exchange, since they are buried in comments under that old post. Here they are again, edited for clarity...


Why use Tune-bot?

Tune-bot transforms drum
tuning from art to science
Before Tune-bot, I tuned my drums by ear, of course, trying to match my toms to drum voices on my electronic kit, or to sound clips of various drums on the web.  I got pretty good at getting consistent tone across lugs, except with my floor toms, where overtones throw my ear a bit.  But, I wasn't dialing my drums into musical notes, and I wasn't tuning my toms to intervals that made sense musically.

My band covers "Melt With You" by Modern English, which has a distinct floor tom ride, and my bass player grimaced every time we played it.  Then I discovered Tune-bot.  After tuning my 14" floor tom to 2g, I got the "thumbs up" from my bass player.  Now, all of my drums are precisely tuned, and my drum kits have never sounded better.

When using Tune-bot, you dial in lug frequencies (i.e., frequencies observed when tapping a couple inches away from each tension rod/lug) to specific values, while achieving consistent frequencies across the lugs, in order to achieve an overall note for the drum (i.e., the frequency observed when hitting the center of the batter head on a freely resonating drum).  The lug frequencies required to achieve the desired overall note will vary from kit to kit due to differences in drum shell depth, thickness, and composition, so expect some trial-and-error as you figure out the relationship between lug frequency and overall frequency on each of your drums.


Studio tested Tune-bot tuning schemes

See the tables below for Tune-bot tuning schemes for several different drum kits and music types.  The frequencies listed are the result of dozens of hours of fine-tuning drums in the rehearsal studio.  Tunings are listed by drum, starting with the desired overall note and frequency, followed by the frequencies at the lugs for both resonant and batter heads.  All toms and bass drums are fitted with 2-ply batter and 1-ply reso heads.  After the drum kit schemes, you will find tunings for a variety of snare drums.  All snare drums wear 1-ply coated batters with 3mil snare sides.


Darin's Tune-bot tunings for pop, urban, dance
PDP X7 thin-shelled maple kit with higher tom pitches for pop/dance/fusion music.
Drum: Fundamental drum note: Tune each reso lug to: Tune each batter lug to: Comments:
8" tom 3e, 165Hz 280-290Hz 280-290Hz Estimated--I don't use this drum
10" tom 3d, 147Hz 252Hz 252Hz Call to Post interval
12" tom 2b, 124Hz 210Hz 210Hz Call to Post interval
14" tom 2g, 98Hz 166Hz 166Hz Call to Post interval
16" tom 2d, 74Hz 130Hz 130Hz Call to Post interval
22" bass 1e, 42Hz 68Hz 80Hz


Darin's Tune-bot tunings for modern rock
PDP FS thin-shelled birch kit with lower tom pitches for modern rock music.
Drum: Fundamental drum note: Tune each reso lug to: Tune each batter lug to: Comments:
10" tom 3c, 131Hz 224Hz 224Hz Perfect Fourths interval
12" tom 2a, 110Hz 188Hz 188Hz Perfect Fourths interval
14" tom 2f, 87.3Hz 152Hz 152Hz Perfect Fourths interval
16" tom 2c, 65.4Hz 114Hz 114Hz Perfect Fourths interval
22" bass 1d, 36.7Hz 52Hz 78Hz


Alleninallen's Tune-bot tunings for classic rock
Getting classic rock sounds out of a PDP X7 thin-shelled maple kit in fusion sizes.
Drum: Fundamental drum note: Tune each reso lug to: Tune each batter lug to: Comments:
10" tom 3c#, 139Hz 224Hz 238Hz Downward pitch-bend
12" tom 2g#, 103.8Hz 170Hz 184Hz Downward pitch-bend
14" tom 2f, 87.3Hz 149Hz 152Hz Downward pitch-bend
16" tom 2d, 74Hz 120Hz 132Hz Downward pitch-bend
22" bass 1d, 36.7Hz 55Hz 74Hz


Darin's Tune-bot tunings for classic rock
Tuning a vintage Slingerland 3-ply kit in standard sizes for classic rock.
Drum: Fundamental drum note: Tune each reso lug to: Tune each batter lug to: Comments:
12" tom 2b, 124Hz 206Hz 206Hz Major thirds interval
13" tom 2g#, 103.8Hz 172Hz 172Hz Major thirds interval
14" tom 2e, 82.4Hz 134Hz 134Hz Major thirds interval
16" tom 2c, 65.4Hz 112Hz 112Hz Major thirds interval
24" bass 1d, 36.7Hz 60Hz 70Hz


Snare drum Tune-bot tunings
Tunings for a variety of snare drums and notes.
Snare Drum: Fundamental drum note: Tune each reso lug to: Tune each batter lug to: Comments:
Ludwig Acrolite 6.5x14 3f#, 185Hz 384Hz 289Hz Aluminum shell
Ludwig Acrolite 6.5x14 3g, 196Hz 396Hz 314Hz Aluminum shell
Ludwig Acrolite 6.5x14 3g#, 208Hz 400Hz 328Hz Aluminum shell
Ludwig Black Beauty 6.5x14 3f, 174.6Hz 334Hz 301Hz Alleninallen's black nickel-over-brass
PDP Limited Edition 6.5x14 3g, 196Hz 400Hz 300Hz 20-ply maple-bubinga shell
PDP Platinum Solid Maple 5x14 3f#, 185Hz 376Hz 278Hz 1-ply solid maple shell
PDP Platinum Solid Maple 5x14 3g, 196Hz 400Hz 302Hz 1-ply solid maple shell
PDP Platinum Solid Maple 5x14 3a, 220Hz 400Hz 332Hz 1-ply solid maple shell
Rocket Shells C-900 8x13 3f#, 185Hz 400Hz 292Hz Carbon fiber over core shell
Slingerland Deluxe Student 5.5x14 3g, 196Hz 400Hz 292Hz 3-ply maple-poplar-maple shell with re-rings
Slingerland Deluxe Student 5.5x14 3g#, 208Hz 400Hz 312Hz 3-ply maple-poplar-maple shell with re-rings
Slingerland Sound King 6.5x14 3f, 174.6Hz 366Hz 274Hz Chrome-over-brass shell
Slingerland Sound King 6.5x14 3g, 196Hz 400Hz 300Hz Chrome-over-brass shell
Slingerland Sound King 6.5x14 3g#, 208Hz 400Hz 326Hz Chrome-over-brass shell


Darin's Top Ten Tips for Tune-bot Tuning
  1. Make sure your heads are seated properly--improperly seated heads cause a lot of tuning and choke problems.  You have experienced this issue if you have ever heard a head "pop" or "crackle" while tuning, and afterward the sound of the drum really opened up.  If your snare drum tone is dominated by dull thuds from the batter head and harsh slaps from the snare wires, re-seat the heads and listen for the shell to begin adding body to the mix!  For more information on seating, see "A Note About Seating" below.
  2. Bring the head up to a reasonably even tuning by ear first, using a cross-lug tuning sequence.  Starting from a reasonably even tuning helps reduce overtones that cause "phantom" frequency readings on the Tune-bot.
  3. Muffle the head you are not currently tuning--I usually rest the drum on a cushion to muffle whichever head is on the bottom.
  4. Tune the reso head first--I find it more convenient to dial in the final note on the batter side.
  5. When tuning the reso head of a snare drum, (a) remove the snare wires or insert a stick between the wires and the hoop, and (b) if the snare bed is deep, back off the tension on the four lugs adjacent to the bed.  I usually leave these lugs about 20Hz-30Hz lower than the rest of the lugs.  This prevents the reso hoop from bending down into the bed and also allows for more contact between the snare wires and the head.  Ideally, you want to tune snare drum resonant lug frequencies to a perfect fifth (1.5 times), perfect fourth (1.33 times), or major third (1.26 times) higher than batter lug frequencies, keeping in mind that Tune-bot recommends against exceeding 400Hz at the lugs with thinner (2-3 mil) snare side heads.
  6. Once you get a lug near the desired frequency, press the "Filter" button on your Tune-bot so it ignores overtones.  Otherwise, Tune-bot may pick up overtones, which will cause varying frequency readings for the same lug at the same tuning.  The Filter function is a huge help in screening out those "phantom" readings.  This takes a bit of practice--if you are tuning a lug to 220, and you believe you are close but Tune-bot is reading 205 on one hit and 130 on another, press "Filter" the next time you get a reading near 205.  I use the "Filter" function on the way up to the desired frequency as well to check for consistent tuning across the lugs.
  7. When tuning larger drums, you will have to move the Tune-bot closer to the lug you are tuning--I've found that I can't leave the Tune-bot in one position on the hoop when working my way around larger drums.  With drums up to 14" in diameter that are close to the desired tuning, I usually tune half the lugs from one Tune-bot position, and then I move the Tune-bot to the opposite side of the drum and tune the remaining lugs.  With 16" and larger drums, I usually hold the Tune-bot directly above the head at each lug.
  8. When checking the overall note of a drum, be sure you are not touching either head or putting tension on a hoop and accidentally altering the note--if practical, place the drum on a stand.  Then, hold Tune-bot over the center of the batter head and hit the drum.  Tune-bot will return the overall frequency or note (you can toggle between the two readings using the "Note" button).  If you are checking the drum close to other drums, sympathetic vibrations could throw off your readings.  When possible, check each drum's note away from other drums, or muffle the nearby drums.
  9. Remember that each drum shell resonates within a limited frequency range.  If you tune the drum outside that range--too high or too low--the drum will sound "choked."  The fundamental note of the shell is the frequency that generates maximum shell resonance.  DW actually stamps the fundamental note on the inside of each of its shells, but you can hear it by tapping the shell in a quiet room with the hoops and heads removed.
  10. As always, be careful with your bearing edges!  It's all too easy to ding an edge when changing out heads.  Uneven bearing edges are a common culprit behind tuning difficulties and poor tone.

A Note About Seating

"Seating" drumheads is a procedure that involves placing weight on a new drumhead in order to (1) pre-stretch the head to reduce the need for re-tuning over time, and (2) form the head to the bearing edge of the drum to improve the transfer of energy from the head to the shell.   It is a controversial process--many drummers swear by it, while others insist it is an antiquated process carried over from the days of calfskin heads.

The actual seating process is something like performing drum "CPR"--pressing your palms down on the center of a drumhead and performing two or three "compressions."  In my experience, moderate seating of new drumheads does help them remain in tune after playing and will help bring the tone of the drum shell into the mix.  Whether seating is necessary or not depends on the specific combination of drumhead and drum.  I have found that Remo heads typically require seating, while Evans heads often tune up initially and stay in tune without the seating step.  The improved collar design on the new Evans 360 heads seems to reduce the need for seating even further.  However, some drums, such as my Ludwig Acrolite snare drum, require attention to seating regardless of the make of the drumhead in order to achieve the bearing edge contact necessary for the shell to sing!

Snare heads are too thin to seat--they could be damaged by the seating process.  To seat any other batter or resonant head, first, bring it up to an even, medium tuning, and place the drum on something flat and sturdy--I usually use the floor.  Then, spread the palm of your hand across the center of the head, rest your other hand on top of the first, and perform two or three downward compressions, using the weight of your upper body.  Always use your palm--not fingertips, knuckles, etc.--so you do not direct too much weight to any one point on the head.  Also, take care to prevent watches, bracelets, and rings from coming into contact with the head.  Some of the glue in the drumhead collar, especially with Remo heads, may "pop" and "crackle" as you place weight on the head--this is expected.  I do not recommend standing on the heads of larger drums as some suggest.  Seating compressions can de-tune both drumheads--the top head, of course, but the bottom hoop can press upward as well, stretching the bottom head slightly--in that case, you will need to tune both heads back up to the desired note.  Don't be afraid to repeat the process to obtain the bearing edge contact necessary to bring out the drum shell's tone.


Other Tuning Resources

After using Tune-bot for a while, I thought it would be cool to see other drummers' Tune-bot settings, and when I searched for them on the web, I ended up at Tune-bot's site.   Check out http://tune-bot.com/drum-tuning.html.  This page provides great information on overall notes for various drums, and offers tuning approaches for toms, snares, and bass drums.  Tune-bot's lug frequency calcs were off a bit, at least for my kits, so I've shared the "street" lug frequencies I've worked out over the past several months to achieve the desired overall notes.

Be sure to check out http://tune-bot.com/artisttuning.html for several pro tuning schemes.  Also, you can find Tune-bot threads on many of the major online drumming forums, although you may have to sift through posts from drummers who are new to Tune-bot and haven't gotten the hang of it yet.

Last but not least, if you want a deeper understanding of the physics behind drum tuning, check out The Physics of Overtones at circularscience.com.

Take the time to get used to tuning your drums with Tune-bot.  Once you hear the amazing tone your kit can produce with properly tuned drums, you will enjoy playing them more--and you will stop drooling over that DW kit you've had your eye on.

--Darin

August 25, 2013

What to look for when buying used cymbals

By Darin Soll

Five months ago, I discussed considerations for selecting the right cymbals for your sound, and I also shared my cymbal set ups at the time.  Since then, I have found myself playing my Paiste 2002 set up a lot more often than my Zildjian K/A Custom set up.  Recently, I tried out a few cymbals in the Paiste Signature line and I like them even more.  Of course, Rythym Dog recommended Paiste Signatures to me a few years back and as always, it was a great recommendation!

I'll admit I've become a bit of a Paiste fanboy.  There is a lot to love about their cymbals, mainly, (1) they have a smooth sound that is never harsh, and (2) their production processes result in a consistent sound from cymbal to cymbal for a given model.  For my typical pop/rock set lists, the Paiste 2002s always seems to be the right sound.

The challenge with high-end Paistes, such as the Signature line, is that they are very expensive.  Signature high-hats and rides run into the low-to-mid $400s new.  So, those of us without Paiste endorsements and/or mega recording deals are left to pick up "Sigs" on the used market.  Fortunately, there is no shortage of used Sigs for sale on eBay, where they often sell at 50 percent below new prices, bringing them within reach of us mere mortals.

Over the past month, I picked up a set of 13-inch Signature Dark Crisp Hi-Hats, a 20-inch Signature Full Ride, an 18-inch Signature Fast Crash, and a 10-inch Signature Splash, all purchased used on eBay.  While these are not the first used cymbals I've purchased, they are the first I've purchased used on eBay, and I learned a couple lessons the hard way.  In this post, I will share those lessons with the hope that it helps other navigate the process of evaluating and purchasing used cymbals.

The first big lesson I learned is that is that fast or thin crashes and splashes have a tendency to warp, and sellers are unloading them without mentioning that they are warped.  I bought and returned a 16-inch Signature Fast Crash after hanging it on a stand and noticing that when viewing the cymbal edgewise, the outside edge was not flat/true--the distance between the highest and lowest points was nearly an inch.  You can also catch warpage by spinning the cymbal in a level position and watching to see if the outside edge rises and falls as it travels around.  The 10-inch Signature Splash I purchased is warped as well.  While the seller of the 16-inch Signature Fast Crash allowed returns, the seller of the 10-inch Signature Splash did not--it's all mine.  It's unclear whether minor to moderate warpage has a significant effect on a cymbal's sound, but no one wants to pay good money for warped cymbals!  I believe that warpage is far less common on heavier weight crash cymbals, rides, and hi-hats, but it is something to ask about before you buy.

Another big lesson I learned is that some eBay sellers will describe flaws their cymbals do not have, but fail to describe the flaws they DO have.  For example, my 18-inch Signature Fast Crash was described as being in "used...in excellent condition," with "no cracks or keyholing."  That's great--the cymbal is not cracked, and the center hole has not been deformed.  However, upon receiving the cymbal, I was a bit disappointed to find that it had multiple "flea bites," tiny dings in the edge of the cymbal.  A flea bite can range from very light scoring that leaves only a rough texture on the cymbal's edge to a very small but visible indentation or chip that looks like a flea took a "bite" out of the edge, sometimes leaving a small ripple as your eye runs across the bow of the cymbal toward its edge.  Severe flea bites can lead to cracks, but in most cases, they are primarily a cosmetic concern.  In the case of my cymbal, the flea bites don't hurt the sound or playability of the cymbal, but I would have dropped out of the bidding sooner had I known that the cymbal was not actually in "excellent condition," or at least what I consider to be excellent.  

Lesson learned--when evaluating used cymbals, ask questions about any potential flaws not mentioned--cracks, keyholing, dents, dings, chips, flea bites, warpage, deep scratches, or finish issues.  Ask the seller if the cymbal has ever fallen or been dropped.  Ask whether it was used on the road/gigged, or kept in the studio.  Zoom into all photos on the listing, especially around the edges and center hole of the cymbal.  At first glance, the cymbal below appears to be in excellent condition--however, zooming into the area highlighted with the red box reveals a pretty severe flea bite:


While this flea bite may not affect the sound of the cymbal, the cymbal should not be represented as "like new" or "excellent condition," and you should reduce your maximum bid accordingly.

If the photos of the cymbal aren't clear, or if they don't cover the entire surface of the cymbal, ask the seller to post more photos.  You should be cautious if photos for a cymbal listing omit a portion, or portions, of the cymbal.

Used Paiste Signature Full Ride 20"
Fortunately, the used 13-inch Signature Dark Crisp Hi-Hats and 20-inch Signature Full Ride that I purchased on eBay arrived in excellent condition as described.  The Sig ride is a real beauty as you can see in this photo.  New, this cymbal is priced around $420.  I purchased this used 2006 model for $250 with free shipping, an outstanding deal for a top-of-the-line ride cymbal.  It arrived pretty dirty, since many drummers do not clean their cymbals.  I decided to clean this one up--some light scrubbing with Paiste Cymbal Cleaner followed by an application of Paiste Cymbal Protector produced the results you see here.

While some eBay sellers offer a return policy, most do not.  Without a return policy, if the description of the item is accurate, you have little recourse if you receive a used cymbal that does not meet your expectations.  Don't be shy about asking questions upfront, or asking for additional photos, to get as much information about the true condition of the cymbal before you decide to bid.  Once the seller has answered all of your questions, and posted clear and complete photos for the listing, you can then bid on the used cymbal with confidence!

For tips on using cymbal makers' websites to evaluate cymbals, and tailoring searches for specific types of cymbals on eBay, see Paiste Signature setup.

--Darin

August 4, 2013

My wife thinks I have too many snare drums

By Darin Soll

For some reason, drummers have a tendency to accumulate snare drums.  To be sure, differences in drum diameter, depth, shell materials, and even hoops will result in differences in tone.  But when my wife asked me the other day how many snare drums I owned, I quickly responded, "six--wait, seven--no, actually nine.  But one's for sale!!"

Eight snare drums, not counting the one for sale?  How did THAT happen?  Well, actually, there is a perfectly good explanation...at least from the perspective of a drummer...

The first two snare drums were included with with my PDP kits--a 5x14 thin-shelled maple in the same red-to-black sparkle burst lacquer as my PDP X7 kit, and a 5.5x14 thin-shelled birch that matches my natural-to-charcoal fade PDP FS kit.  These snare drums when equipped with quality heads actually tune up fairly well and would work well in a pinch.  But neither is able to produce the kind of tone that makes you smile as you play.  I'm keeping these two drums mainly so that I have complete PDP kits if I ever decide to sell them--I mean, how can you sell an X7 kit with only six drums?!

Okay, two down, six to go...

The first snares I purchased to upgrade my PDP kit snares are my beloved Slingerland 6.5x14 chrome-over-brass units that I picked up on eBay.  One dates back to approximately 1975 and includes the less-desirable Zoomatic throwoff, and the other is a 1979 model with three vent holes and the smooth and reliable TDR throwoff.  As readers of this blog know, I learned to play drums on Slingerlands, and I think Slingerland's brass snare holds its own against the legendary Ludwig Supraphonic.  When you consider that you can pick up a Slingerland 6.5x14 chrome-over-brass snare on eBay for about half the price of a Supraphonic, the Slingerland is clearly an excellent value.  The one drawback of the Slingerland is that its shell is not as rigid as the beaded Ludwigs, so it is prone to what I call "lug denting"--setting the drum down edgewise can cause the lugs to press into and dent the shell.  Most of the used Slingerland brass snares I have seen have at least some lug denting, so examine the photos carefully before you buy.  While minor dents can be carefully hammered out with a rounded block of wood, that process can cause the gray coating inside the shell to flake off--better to find a relatively dent-free drum.

But this blog post is about snare drum acquisition rather than restoration, so let's move on...four snares to go...

I mentioned my next two snare drum acquisitions in previous blog posts--first, a new PDP 6.5x14 20-ply snare with a maple/bubinga shell.  Like most PDP offerings, this is a very reasonably priced drum and it provides all the projection and crack you would expect from a thick-shelled wood snare.  The included DW mag throw off is a great design, and, if you are in the market for a throwoff upgrade, very reasonably priced at about $30.  I love the tone of this drum for modern pop/rock songs, and the stained and lacquered bubinga outer ply makes it easy on the eyes as well.  The second snare I covered in a previous blog post is my used Rocket Shells 8x13 carbon fiber snare, a drum that surprised me with its awesome tone and looks.  This drum is proof that there are excellent deals to be had on eBay!

Ludwig Acrolite Classic 6.5x14 reissue
In addition to the Slingerlands, I learned to play drums on one other classic model--the aluminum-shelled Ludwig Acrolite.  For 2012-2013, Ludwig is manufacturing "reissued" Acrolite models, and I recently picked up a 6.5x14 "Classic" (chrome hardware instead of the "Limited Edition" brushed hardware) on eBay at a good price.  The Acrolite is essentially the same drum as the aluminum Ludwig Supraphonic without the chrome plating--and without the pitting and peeling that plague used Supras (chrome doesn't bond as well to aluminum as it does to brass).  Typically priced lower than the Supra, the Acrolite is great addition to any drummer's arsenal.

So, why does a drummer with two brass-shelled snares need an aluminum-shelled snare?  My wife asked me that same question...

Different metals have different tonal characteristics.  The differences are less subtle than you might think.  For example, in my experience, steel shells produce the most ring, brass shells produce moderate ring, and aluminum shells produce less ring, what some drummers describe as a "drier" sound.  By "ring," I'm not talking about undesired overtones, I'm talking about the way the metal shell resonates near the sweet spot of its tuning range.  Steel shells ring, and sometimes that's what you want!  But aluminum is on the other end of the spectrum, offering the power of a metal shell with a drier tone, somewhere between brass and the brighter wood shells.

So, once I decided I needed an aluminum shell in my arsenal, I had a number of solid choices to consider:  (1) Ludwig's Acrolite in 6.5x14, which many drummers consider to be the standard, (2) Pearl's Sensitone Elite Aluminum, which for some reason is no longer offered in 6.5x14, so the deeper shell is hard to find, (3) DrumCraft's Series 8 6.5x14 cast aluminum (5mm thick!) model that I saw at Sam Ash for $325 a number of months ago not realizing it normally sells for $500-$600, (4) Pearl's second generation Free Floating in 6.5x14, another expensive model that always has me wondering whether I would ever actually go to the trouble of swapping out the shell, and (5) Crush Drum's 6.5x14 aluminum snare.  I concluded that picking up any of these aluminum snares at a good price would be money well spent, so I jumped on a reasonably-priced Acrolite re-issue in excellent condition after missing out on the $325 DrumCraft deal.  I forgot how much I hate Ludwig's P85 throwoff, but there are a few upgrade options that don't require drilling extra holes...

That leaves one drum left to cover in my snare collection...my Mapex 3.5x13 steel piccolo.  This model usually runs about $70 new, but you can find deals on this drum as low as $49.  A steel piccolo tuned up high has a great crack and just the right amount of ring.  The throwoff on this drum is not very smooth, but it gets the job done.

So, that's the rundown of my snare drum arsenal.  Hopefully my wife will read this, although I'm not sure it will help.  Oh well...what snares are the favorites in your collection?

--Darin

July 5, 2013

Getting the right sound out of your snare, part 2

By Darin Soll

Back in March, I wrote about the challenge of getting a good sound out of your snare drum.  Since then, I've had time to experiment with a new snare drum (my 8x13 Rocket Shells C-900 carbon fiber snare), different heads, and a variety of tunings.  In the process, I've made some discoveries that have moved me MUCH closer to the goal line than I was four months ago.  I'll share my discoveries in this post in the hope that it helps others, particularly my German audience that seems to share my interest in the "drum tech" side of things...

The first "discovery" is really one I already knew...snare drums sound better with one-ply heads in the Ambassador/G1 thickness.  To my ear, Remo Controlled Sound and Evans Power Center reverse dot heads are the best choice for the batter side of snare drums, and I still recommend that you avoid edge control heads...let the edges sing a bit on your snare!

But more importantly--I realized that I have been tuning my snare drums too low for the type of music I play (pop/rock).  Tune-bot recommends tuning 14-inch snare drums in a pitch range from 3E to 3A#.  When I first started using my Tune-bot, I worked my way up to 3F on my 6.5x14 chrome-over-brass Slingerland snare, and thought it sounded pretty good.  I figured the lower end of the recommended pitches for snare drums would be more appropriate for 70s rock, and the lug frequencies at 3F were similar to what I had arrived at by ear prior to using Tune-bot.  Getting a decent sound at 3F seemed to "confirm" my ear, so I didn't venture any further up the scale.

But then, as I mentioned in my March post, my band played a gig, and in various recordings of the event, my snare sounded "choked."  I originally blamed the thicker Ambassador X head.  I was wrong.  It wasn't the head, it was the tuning.

Over the past few months, I experimented with higher tunings on my new 8x13 Rocket Shells C-900 snare and discovered that 3F# sounded pretty good, even with 70s rock.  I then tried 3G, and as my ear adjusted to it, I realized that 3G sounded even better.  At the middle of Tune-bot's recommended range, 3G did not turn my C-900 into a piccolo snare as I thought it might, even though my batter head tensions were cranked up quite a bit higher than Tune-bot's suggested lug frequencies.  I continued upward through 3G# to 3A, and decided to leave the C-900 at 3A as a higher-pitched side snare option for my drum kit.  At 3A, my new Rocket Shells snare drum's lug frequencies are 364Hz on the batter side, and 400Hz on the resonant side.  This does not conform to Tune-bot's recommendation to tune snare drum resonant lug frequencies a perfect fifth (1.5 times), perfect fourth (1.33 times), or major third (1.26 times) higher than batter lug frequencies, but it does heed their warning to not exceed 400Hz at the lugs with thinner snare heads.  3A is a higher tuning and it creates a great crack for modern pop music.

70s vintage Slingerland 6.5x14 chrome-over-brass snare drum 
The real breakthrough, though, came when I tuned my 6.5x14 chrome-over-brass Slingerland snare to 3G.  Wow.  I thought that 3F was close to the fundamental pitch of the shell until I tried 3G and the deep brass shell really began to sing!  On this particular drum, I tuned the batter lugs to 300Hz, and the resonant lugs to 400Hz, a perfect fourth higher.  The drum sounds fantastic now and it has rekindled my enthusiasm for the classic Slingerland brass snare, which I first played in my school jazz band in 1979.

Another nice benefit of these higher tunings is improved batter head response--it's much easier to perform double-stroke rolls on a snare drum tuned to 3G.

I'm guessing there were drummers out there scratching their heads when I mentioned 3F snare drum tunings before, wondering what I was doing down there "in the dirt."  We live and learn!

Feel free to reply with what you have learned over the years to get the best sound out of your snare drum.

Happy drumming!

--Darin

June 9, 2013

Arranging your drum kit

By Darin Soll

One topic that hasn't received much attention so far in this blog is how to arrange the various components of your drum kit.  Let's talk about that a bit...

Like many topics in the world of drumming, arranging a drum kit is largely a matter of personal preference.  It is a mix of art and science--although the science piece is often neglected, and as a result, learned via the good ol' school of hard knocks, from which many of us hold multiple degrees!

And, like many topics in this blog, I'll start by sharing what I've learned.  Again, I'm not sharing because I think I'm the expert--I'm sharing because I've spent many hours arranging my drums, playing them for a while, making changes, and playing them again with the changes, etc.  You know the drill--your hand doesn't quite fall naturally to a certain drum or cymbal, so you make an adjustment and try again.  You get everything just right, and playing your kit is a joy...until your drummer friend tells you about some new tweak that is working out really well for him.  You try out his tweak and before long, you are wondering how you every got by without it!

Then, you forget to install the memory locks on your stands, and you spend an hour before the next gig trying to recreate the magic set up you had in your practice studio!  But we digress...

Getting back to the topic, I'd like to start off by talking about the major changes to my kit set up over the years.

For most of my drumming career, I have played a two-up and one- or two-down tom configuration.  I learned to play the drums with two-up rack toms in the traditional position, centered over the bass drum.  While I was comfortable with this configuration, I always felt that the ride cymbal and floor toms were too far to my right.  The position of the toms seemed to encourage rolls down the toms instead of more creative fills with cymbal and floor tom accents, and it always seemed to me that one-up rack toms made the ride cymbal much more accessible.

Two-up, two-down tom setup
Several years ago, I noticed drummers using two-up set ups in which the rack toms were offset to the drummer's left, centered over the snare.  A few years ago, I decided to give this set up a try, as you can see in this overhead shot of my PDP X7 maple kit.  Note how the ride cymbal is out in front instead of pushed out to the right, which results in a much more comfortable arm position, at least for me.  Another benefit that surprised me is that I can snug my first floor tom right up against the bass drum, since I no longer have an overhanging rack tom on the right side of my bass drum.  So, my floor tom is a bit closer, and I find myself including it more often in accents and fills.

The other major change I've made to my set up over the years was to reduce the height of my crash cymbals.  I started playing the drums in the '80s, when drummers on music videos were surrounded by over-sized drums, cymbals, and gongs.  Cymbals were placed high, almost as if the thrashing hair band drummer needed extra clearance.  No wonder the drummer was thrashing--most items in his kit required a long or contorted reach!

We pay more attention to ergonomics these days, and we know a thing or two about repetitive motion injuries.  I think drummers have learned that more efficient motion requires less effort and improves speed, and many drummers have incorporated this thinking into how they set up their kits.  For me, that meant bringing the cymbals back down so that a crash cymbal stroke requires only a slightly higher flick of the wrist than a rack tom stroke.

Lower crash cymbal height reduces motion, increases visibility
In this photo of my PDP FS birch kit, you can see the position of my crash cymbals.  While they are still the highest cymbals in the picture, they are actually slightly below my eye level when I'm sitting at the kit.

Recalling that I used to have to duck below my cymbals to see my bandmates, a lower crash cymbal height improves the drummer's ability to see bandmates trying to make eye contact, etc.  So, in addition to reducing my arm motion, which makes drumming more effortless overall, lower cymbals improve my visibility within my band.

So, those are the major changes I've made, but this photo also reveals a couple of the smaller tweaks I've learned...

The first tweak is the rack tom angle.  Most of us who grew up in the 70s and 80s saw drummers tilt their rack toms as if they were cannons to be aimed at the audience.  Even today, some drummers like a lot of tilt, and I've seen Lars Ulrich with Metallica play rack toms positioned so that their heads were nearly vertical.

However, if you watch drummers play excessively tilted toms, you notice right away that they have to drop their shoulders to position their sticks to hit the heads rather than poke through them.  Similar to reaching for high crash cymbals, dropping your shoulders to get the right stick angle on your rack toms is extra motion that adds unnecessary effort to your drumming.  You get better tone when the stick strikes the head at a nearly 90-degree angle--why make that process difficult by angling your toms toward you?

My thinking is that I sit OVER my drums, not BEHIND them.  That means that my stick drops to my rack toms from above, not behind.  To get the desired stick angle, I tilt my rack toms just enough to prevent inadvertent rim shots when I move to play them.  That angle is illustrated in the photo above.

The second tweak involves the hi-hat stand.  I use double bass drum pedals, and I like two-leg hi-hat stands because they more versatile in a variety of double pedal or double bass drum situations.  However, two-leg hi-hat stands have a tendency to sway a bit, especially on carpeted surfaces.  If you are using a rack with wings, however, you can stabilize your hi-hat stand by attaching it to the rack wing with a bracket, as I have done in the photo above.

There are dozens of other tweaks I could cover, but now it's your turn.  What tweaks have you incorporated into your drum kit over the months and years to improve your playing?

--Darin

May 6, 2013

Our love affair with wood shells

By Darin Soll

Rythym Dog mentioned in a comment on my previous blog entry that he is surprised how few artists are using Rocket Shells drums.  I wondered the same thing...why aren't more drummers opting for the consistent tone, durability, and reduced sensitivity to heat and humidity that synthetic drums offer?  Why aren't we gigging with much lighter carbon fiber drums?

"F Series" fiberglass shells
from the 1980 Pearl catalog
As usual, I have a couple of theories...first off, I think drummers just feel more comfortable with wood shells.  Ludwig's acrylic shells, though sought after now, never really took off in the 70s as Ludwig likely expected.  And Pearl and Tama offered fiberglass shells in the 70s and 80s that were incredibly loud, bright, consistent, and durable, but they didn't sell particularly well.  Try to find a used Pearl "F Series" or Tama "Fibrestar" kit online today...it's not easy. Synthetic drum shells have never had a large following.

Secondly, carbon fiber is expensive.  Rocket Shells drums, especially when purchased new, were as expensive as premium wood kits.  I think when drummers finally decide to part with their hard-earned money, they stick with what they know--because they have to know a lot to get a good sound out of their drums!  Dollar for dollar, synthetic shells seem to be a riskier proposition.

"Fibrestar" (not "Fibrerstar" as the
misspelled title indicates!) line of
fiberglass drums from the 1978
Tama catalog
But what do we really know about wood drum shells?

I'm not a materials expert, but it seems reasonable to assume that carbon fiber, acrylic, and fiberglass are much easier for drum manufacturers to mold into round and true shells with consistent tone.  Most drummers will tell you that wood sounds "warmer," but that's subjective.  When you consider that all wood laminate shells are actually a hybrid of natural and synthetic materials--some percentage of all wood laminate shells is the glue that holds the plies together--drummers' love affair with "wood" becomes even more interesting.

John Good at DW Drums has altered the tone of wood shells by changing the direction of the wood grain between plies, so it's clear that characteristics specific to wood are important to the sound of a wood drum shell.  The question is whether the characteristics specific to wood result in a truly superior drum sound.  Given the natural variances in wood products, wood shells manufactured using identical raw materials and production processes could still have different sound qualities.  The debate rages on drummers' forums as to whether those differences in sound quality create the effect that we call "warmth."

Rocket Shells 8x13 carbon fiber snare drum
One would think that given the amount of time drummers spend tweaking their sound with different head combinations, tunings, types of hoops, overtone control strategies, etc., we would all want to start with a consistent shell sound.  And yet, most of us continue to choose wood!

In the end, it comes down to experience.  Rythym Dog recommended that I take a look at Rocket Shells back in 2010.  Three years later, I finally take his advice and I'm stunned by the attack, the body, the tone, and even the look of my new Rocket Shells snare drum.

Is my love affair with wood shells coming to an end?  No...but if I'm ever back in the market, I will definitely be looking at shells constructed with synthetic materials, especially carbon fiber, or maybe a good ol' vintage fiberglass kit.

--Darin

April 13, 2013

Rocket Shells snare drum

By Darin Soll

I should listen to Rythym Dog--he has been right about every piece of advice he has given me.  "Get the Aquarian Super Kick II--best bass drum head on the market."  Agreed.  "Don't buy cymbal packs--you will regret it."  Check.  "Paiste cymbals are worth the money."  Yep, they are.  "Check out Rocket Shells drums--they sound great."  Again--true statement.

Rocket Shells drums utilize carbon-fiber over core shells.  They now focus on manufacturing shells rather than complete drums, but I was able to find a used Rocket Shells C-900 8x13 snare drum on eBay for $250.  The hoops were bent and scratched up, but that's an easy fix for a drum that retails for $800.  I threw away the old hoops and heads and cleaned up the shell and lugs.  New Evans Power Center reverse dot and Hazy 300 heads and a set of 2.3mm WorldMax chrome hoops from drumfactorydirect.com--I'm not a big fan of dark-colored hoops--and I have essentially a brand new Rocket Shells snare drum!

Rocket Shells 8x13 carbon fiber snare drum: Lightweight and powerful

Wow--this thing is a cannon.  I tuned the snare side to 400Hz at the lugs, and batter side to 284Hz at the lugs, giving me a 3F note.  A lot of body with very little overtone ring, and a decent rimshot, too.

If you get a chance to pick up a Rocket Shells snare, listen to Rythym Dog--do it.

--Darin

March 28, 2013

Selecting cymbals

By Darin Soll

Like drum heads, cymbals are a critical component of your sound.  Unfortunately, the number of cymbal choices and combinations available to drummers are even more bewildering...

So I'll start the discussion on cymbals much the way I started the discussion on drum heads--by sharing cymbal setups that have worked for me.  I would be interested to hear what combinations of cymbals work for you.

In my opinion, more than any other component of a drum kit, cymbals require a careful tryout before you bring them home.  In addition to finding a pleasing ping, chick, crash, or splash, you want your cymbals to complement each other.  Rythym Dog recommends bringing your existing cymbals with you when trying out new cymbals at the music store, particularly your hi-hats (if you like what you have).  This is good advice.

Before sharing my setups, here are five tips on selecting cymbals:
  • DO buy professional-quality cymbals.  Brass cymbals, or entry-level product lines from major cymbal makers generally will not produce the sound you want.  Some of the mid-range lines have solid individual cymbals, but better to start with a core of professional-quality cymbals, and blend new purchases with that core.
  • NEVER buy a cymbal pack.  I have made this mistake not once, not twice, but THREE times.  I bought my first cymbal pack, Zildjian A Customs (14-inch hi-hats, 20-inch ride, 16- and 18-inch medium crashes) in 2010.  Today, the only cymbal I still have from that pack is the 16-inch crash.  I ended up returning the second and third packs I purchased in their entirety.  Yes, I know it says "matched from cymbals selected from our vault" on the box, but I think the guy doing the selecting and matching knows more about selling cymbals than playing them!  In addition, it's pretty unusual for a single line of cymbals to meet all of a drummer's needs sonically.
  • PLAY the specific cymbal you are considering before you buy it.  There is a lot of inconsistency from one cymbal to the next, even between two cymbals of the same size, type, series, and manufacturer.  The sound of hammered cymbals (Zildjian Ks, for example) can vary WIDELY between two otherwise identical cymbals.  This is another reason why cymbal packs are a bad idea.  Sound clips on cymbal makers' websites provide a starting point, but you have to play the cymbal before you buy it, or make absolutely certain that you can return it for a full refund.
  • Don't be afraid to stray beyond your preferred cymbal brand.  Brand loyalty helps the cymbal maker far more than it helps you.
  • Definitely consider used cymbals, but examine them for cracks around the center hole and along the edges.  Many drummers prefer the sound of older, somewhat corroded cymbals over shiny new ones.
I have broken all of these rules and learned the hard way that each one of them is important if you want to get the best possible sound for your money.

I will admit up front that I struggle with my own brand loyalty advice.  I am an engineer by training, so I like things nice and neat.  You will see that in my cymbal set ups.  I have two general setups that I use for different types of music.  Both are versatile, but my Zildjian setup is better suited overall to rock gigs, and my Paiste setup is a bit smoother for pop/rock gigs.  Here are the details:
  • Zildjian setup:  14-inch K hi-hats, 20-inch K ride, 16-inch A Custom crash, 18-inch A Custom fast crash, 12-inch A Custom splash, 6-inch Zil-Bel
  • Paiste setup:  14-inch 2002 Sound Edge hi-hats, 20-inch 2002 ride, 17-inch 2002 thin crash, 19-inch 2002 thin crash, 11-inch 2002 splash, 7-inch TRX T Bell
While to my ear, the Paiste 2002 line-up works across the entire cymbal spectrum (except the bells), that is not the case for me with Zildjian or Sabian.  For example, to me, Zildjian A Custom hi-hats and rides are too bright, and Zildjian K crashes are too dark.

So this provides a starting point for the discussion.  What cymbal setups are you currently using?

--Darin

March 11, 2013

Getting the right sound out of your snare

By Darin Soll

My band played a three-set gig at a local Irish pub on Saturday night.  We had rehearsed well, so we played well.  The crowd was into the music, and we all had a great time.

My PDP X7 maple kit is my road kit.  For this gig, I brought along my Paiste 2002 cymbals and my 6.5x14 Slingerland chrome-over-brass snare.  This setup sounded great...at least from my seat...

However, in the various video clips posted on Facebook over the last couple of days, my snare sounds like crap.  At first I thought maybe it was the quality of the audio captured by the mics of the various smartphones involved, but that's not the issue.  While smartphone mics don't do a good job capturing the low end, the snare is not exactly a low-pitched instrument.

But the snare is the most complex instrument, at least in my kit--in addition to the shell and head dynamics all drums possess, the snare drum of course has snare wires snapping against the snare head.  Factor in mic placement, etc., and you have one large sound engineering headache.

So, how do you go about getting a good sound out of your snare?

Well, since I'm having difficulty, this is a work in progress...I'll share what I know, and then hopefully some of you will share what you know to help fill the (large?) gaps in my knowledge.

The first challenge is to determine the snare sound you are after.  What artist and/or track catches your ear as "the" snare sound to emulate?  For me, right now, that track is Seether's "Rise Above This."  I love how the shell adds "throat" and depth every time John Humphrey smacks it.  Does anyone know what type of snare drum he plays?

Words like "throat" and "depth" seem to indicate a deeper shell, but it could simply mean a lower tuning.  Since I like the response of a tighter head, I like to tune my snares up.  So, to get depth, I usually go with a deeper shell.  That's how I ended up with the 6.5x14 Slingerland chrome-over-brass and 6.5x14 20-ply bubinga-maple PDP as my snare drums of choice.

A properly tuned drum will bring out the shell's tone.  When you tune a snare up within the drum's tuning range, the shell's tone will add body to the sound.  Higher tunings can be a bit tricky, however, as metal shells have a tendency to choke (i.e., significantly reduced resonance outside the drum's tuning range) earlier than wood snares at higher tunings.

In the recordings of Saturday night's gigs, my snare drum sound is too much snare and not enough shell for my tastes.  What does that indicate?  Choke--I accidentally choked my metal snare by tuning the heads too high for the drum.  The shell is not resonating enough to add depth and balance out the snare snap.  My preference for the response of tighter heads had a negative effect on my sound.

Going forward, I either have to live with a lower tuning, or stick with wood snare drums.  Lesson learned!

Post a reply with what you have learned about getting the right sound out of your snare...I would love to hear any tips or advice you can share!

--Darin

January 19, 2013

Tune-bot and PDP 20-ply snare drum

By Darin Soll

A couple of new gear acquisitions worth writing about...

One of my Christmas gifts this year was a Tune-bot, by Overtone Labs.  I was skeptical about this product after getting mixed results with a couple iPhone drum tuning apps I have tried.  Tune-bot quickly won me over with its Filter feature, which makes it incredibly easy to screen out overtones and dial in the main frequency at each tuning lug.  Once it picks up the main frequency, you can press the "Filter" button, which causes tune-bot to ignore frequencies beyond a narrow filtered range until you press "Filter" again.

Like many tuning apps, Tune-bot enables you to experiment with different tunings, and then save your favorite settings to recall for future head changes.  Very cool.  I'm finding that tuning my snare drums to 260-280Hz on the batter side, and 400Hz on the snare side sounds best to my ear.

Speaking of snare drums...I recently discovered that PDP released a new 20-ply maple/bubinga snare drum about a year ago.  Both the 5.5"x14" and 6.5"x14" models are very attractively priced.  I chose the 6.5"x14" option when I ordered this beauty a couple weeks back from CymbalFusion for $199!  The inner and outer plies are bubinga, exposing a beautiful grain for the lacquer finish, and the 18 plies of maple between generate a wonderful crack that reminds me of recent tracks by Shinedown and many others.  PDP didn't skimp on hardware with this new drum--it features 2.3mm hoops, DW's mag throw off, and attractive tube lugs, making it a serious contender with Ludwig's "Brick" and Pearl's Reference wood snares.  This drum will not get lost in your band's mix!

Reply and let me know if you picked up any new gear this holiday season!

--Darin