October 26, 2014

Vintage Slingerland maple snare drum

By Darin Soll

About a year ago, I sat down and listened to Rush's "Signals" album from start to finish.  There is something special about the tone Neil Peart extracted from his Slingerland maple snare drum on that album.  Since then, I have been keeping an eye out for a 1960s or 1970s Slingerland 5.5x14 maple snare in good condition...

Sure, it would be great to pick up a Radio King with its highly sought after solid maple shell.  But having read that Neil's "Ol' Faithful" Slingerland maple snare was actually an Artist model, I decided to broaden my search.  The Artist was available with the same solid shell as the Radio King until the early 1970s, and then shipped with the 3-ply maple-poplar-maple shell also found in Slingerland's Hollywood Ace and Deluxe Student models.  There is some debate as to whether Neil's Artist had a solid shell or a 3-ply shell, but it was likely a 3-ply.  As a result, I decided that any of the above models at a good price would be a worthy addition to my snare drum arsenal.  I have never been a fan of the 5-ply shells Slingerland offered later in the 1970s, so I avoided those drums.

50 years new!  1964 Slingerland Deluxe Student maple
snare drum with upgraded heads and snares
Two weeks ago, I stumbled upon a Deluxe Student model at my local Sam Ash store.  This fine example of Slingerland's Sparkling Red Pearl finish caught my attention when I saw the black and brass Niles badge.  According to the date stamp inside the shell, this drum was manufactured in February 1964, and it was in excellent condition, particularly for a 50-year-old drum.  It appeared to be all original, including the chrome-over-brass hoops, 12-wire snares, tone control, throw, and Slingerland concert heads.  The finish was in amazing shape and there was no separation in the shell plies or re-rings.  Sam Ash priced the drum at $250, and while that is a bit high for this particular model, I had never seen an early 60s, all-original example in such good condition.  I decided to pick it up.

Wood snare drums from 1964 Slingerland catalog,
courtesy of VintageDrumGuide.com
Slingerland manufactured this iteration of the Deluxe Student model snare drum from 1963-1976.  As you can see at the bottom of the 1964 catalog page shown here, the Deluxe Student model featured the 3-ply maple-poplar-maple shell with re-rings, chrome-over-brass stick saver hoops, tone control, the basic but functional "Rapid" throw, and six Sound King lugs.

The Hollywood Ace model pictured directly above it is identical except for its eight lugs, 16-wire snares, and a 7-inch deep shell option.  Slingerland charged 1964 Hollywood Ace buyers a whopping $15.50 premium for the two additional lugs, 8-hole hoops instead of 6-hole, and four additional snare wires!  Slingerland's classic Radio King model is shown above the Hollywood Ace.  The only other wood snare in the 1964 catalog, the Artist model, not pictured, shipped that year with a solid maple shell, 20-wire snares, and the Zoomatic throw.  The Artist was actually $2 more expensive than the Radio King in the same 5.5x14 size.  For an additional $5, you could order an Artist snare with ten lugs instead of eight, an option that was not available on the Radio King.  I was a bit surprised to find that the Artist, not the Radio King, was Slingerland's top-of-the-line wood snare drum during this time period.

Who says you have to slow down after 50?
Speaking of lugs...since my new drum is a Deluxe Student model, it has only six lugs to tension each brass hoop.  Knowing that brass is a bit softer than steel, I immediately wondered whether fewer lugs and softer hoops would affect tuning.  In other words, should I have held out for a Hollywood Ace, Artist, or Radio King with at least eight lugs?

But before we get to tuning, let's talk upgrades.  Since I'm not starting a drum museum (yet), this will be a player's drum.  So--I removed the original heads and snares and stored them for future restoration.  Evans G1 coated batter and Hazy 300 snare side heads are good choices for any snare, especially vintage snares, and they dropped right on the vintage shell--a good indicator that the shell is still round.  I also replaced the original 12-wire snares with 16-wire Puresound Custom snares.

Tuning the 6-lug snare with Tune-bot was slightly more of a challenge than with 8- or 10-lug drums.  It does appear that the wide spacing between the lugs results in a bit of flex in the brass hoops, so Tune-bot lug frequency readings showed a bit more variance if I tapped more than than an inch to either side of a lug.  I also noticed that tension changes at one lug had more significant impact on tension at the other lugs.  However, as long as I brought the tension up evenly across the drum, it was only slightly more touchy from a tuning perspective.

The drum seems very happy at a 3g# tuning.  At 3g and higher, the maple shell really adds its voice to the drum's overall tone.  I have spent several hours with this drum, and it's a delight to play.  In a future blog post, I will compare this drum head-to-head with my PDP Platinum 5x14 solid maple snare.  Now for my Tune-bot tunings...

Darin's Slingerland 5.5x14 maple snare drum Tune-bot tunings

Fundamental drum note: Tune each reso lug to: Tune each batter lug to: Reso:batter frequency ratio:
3g, 196Hz 400Hz 292Hz 1.37
3g#, 207Hz 400Hz 312Hz 1.28
Drum:  Slingerland Deluxe Student 5.5x14, 3-ply maple-poplar-maple shell with re-rings
Heads:  Evans Level 360 G1 coated batter, Evans Level 360 Hazy 300 snare

As always, be sure to check out my "Tuning drums with Tune-bot" post, especially my Top Ten Tips for Tune-bot Tuning.  These tips provide general guidance that will help you avoid common drum tuning issues and get the most out of your Tune-bot.

Once again, a vintage drum really impresses me with its tone and playability.  If you haven't played a vintage Slingerland maple snare, I highly recommend it.


August 24, 2014

Budget snare drum options

By Darin Soll

Finding the right voice for a new song in the studio often involves trying out new snare drums or upgrading existing ones.  As a result, my snare drum arsenal has evolved a bit since My wife thinks I have too many snare drums, a post from just over a year ago.

Despite my wife's concern, I continue to find ways to bring new and creative snare voices to my sound on a budget.  Each of my current snare drums cost between $40 and $299 before upgrades.  Here is my current snare drum lineup, from most-used to least-used:

Slingerland Sound King 6.5x14 (vintage 1965-1979)
Shell: Chrome-over-brass   Typical tunings: 3F to 3G
Upgrades: Trick GS007 multi-step throw (chrome) with Retroplate, Puresound Snappy 20-strand snares, Remo Controlled Sound reverse dot batter head
Comments: Workhorse heavy brass snare; this 1975 model's original Zoomatic throw was broken; low-cost alternate to Ludwig Black Beauty
PDP Platinum Solid Maple 5x14 ($299 new)
Shell: 1-ply solid maple   Typical tunings: 3G to 3A
Upgrades: DW Mag throw, DW 3.0mm True-Hoops, Puresound Custom 16-strand snares, Remo Controlled Sound reverse dot batter head
Comments: Low-cost alternate to vintage Slingerland Radio King; shell really sings at higher tunings; awesome rimshots with 3mm hoops
Slingerland Deluxe Student 5.5x14 (vintage 1963-1976)
Shell: 3-ply with re-rings   Typical tunings: 3G to 3A
Upgrades: Puresound Custom 16-strand snares, Evans G1 coated batter head, Evans Hazy 300 snare head
Comments: This 1964 example of Slingerland's lower-cost 6-lug student model utilizes the same maple-poplar-maple 3-ply shell as the 8-lug Hollywood Ace and 1970+ Artist models
Rocket Shells C-900 8x13 (used)
Shell: Carbon fiber over core  Typical tunings: 3F to 3G
Upgrades: WorldMax 2.3mm chrome hoops, Puresound Custom 16-strand snares, Evans Power Center reverse dot batter head, Evans Hazy 300 snare head
Comments: Lightweight, versatile, and powerful; tone somewhere between metal and wood; smooth Nickelworks throw
PDP Limited Edition 6.5x14 ($200 new)
Shell: 20-ply maple/bubinga   Typical tunings: 3F to 3G
Upgrades: Remo Emperor coated batter head
Comments: Low-cost alternate to Ludwig "Brick;" includes DW Mag throw, 2.3mm hoops, and quality snares; heavy and loud; using 2-ply batter head to dampen volume a bit
PDP Limited Edition 6.5x14 ($200 new)
Shell: 20-ply birch   Typical tunings: 3F to 3G
Upgrades: Remo Controlled Sound reverse dot batter head
Comments: Very similar to PDP 20-ply maple/bubinga--no need to own both, but black satin finish looks great with my PDP FS kit; includes DW Mag throw, 2.3mm hoops, and quality snares
Ludwig Acrolite 6.5x14 (vintage/used 1962-present)
Shell: Aluminum   Typical tunings: 3F# to 3G
Upgrades: Trick GS007 multi-step throw (chrome) with Retroplate, Puresound Equalizer 16-strand snares, Evans Power Center reverse dot batter head, Evans Hazy 300 snare head
Comments: Newer Classic reissue model; P-85 throw was bent; lower-cost alternate to Ludwig Supraphonic
Ludwig Acrolite 5.5x14 (vintage/used 1962-present)
Shell: Aluminum   Typical tunings: 3F# to 3A
Upgrades: WorldMax 2.3mm chrome hoops, Puresound Snappy 20-strand snares, Evans G1 coated batter head, Evans Hazy 300 snare head
Comments: Classic aluminum tone; this 1966 model's P-83 throw seems smoother than newer P-85; weak rimshots with original 1.6mm hoops
Pearl Export 6.5x14 (vintage 1986-1996)
Shell: Steel   Typical tunings: 3F to 3G
Upgrades: WorldMax 3.0mm black hoops, Puresound Custom 16-strand snares, Remo Controlled Sound reverse dot batter head
Comments: Very low-cost steel snare; 3.0mm hoops dry out tone a bit; consider upgrading stock Pearl throw
Mapex MPX 3.5x13 piccolo ($50 new)
Shell: Steel   Typical tunings: 3A to 3A#
Upgrades: None
Comments: Throw is not smooth, but it gets the job done

As you can see, there are excellent options available to the budget-conscious drummer looking to build up his or her snare drum arsenal.  Happy drumming!


July 5, 2014

Vintage Slingerland Drumset

By Darin Soll

Over the past few years, I have been watching eBay and Craigslist for a set of 1970s Slingerland drums in good shape for a reasonable price.  While I've picked up a few Sound King COB snares along the way, most of the used Slingerland drumsets I saw were either too pricey or in poor condition.

1979 Slingerland "Country Roads" kit with oversized
concert toms and Rogers MemriLoc hardware retrofit
Regular readers of this blog already know that I grew up playing Slingerland drums in the late 70s and early 80s, and my first professional quality kit was a 1979 Slingerland "Country Roads" 7-piece kit with 5-ply shells in white gloss wrap.  It included a 14x6.5 COB Sound King snare, the first of many that I have owned.  The previous owner replaced the stock tom mounts with Rogers MemriLoc hardware, unfortunately drilling the virgin bass drum in the process.  I sold that kit for $400 in 1987 to pay rent.  I never liked the oversized concert toms, but I do miss the only 24-inch bass drum I ever owned...

Vintage 70s Slingerland drumset in violin red wood finish
Until now.  A few weeks ago, a 70s Slingerland drumset with a beautiful violin red wood finish, 24-inch bass drum, and 12-, 13-, and 16-inch toms appeared on eBay.  According to the listing, the drums included all the original parts, and from the photos, the finish on all the shells appeared to be in excellent condition.  I noticed that the seller was also offering a 14-inch floor tom in the same finish, so it was a great opportunity to purchase a vintage Slingerland kit with my typical two-up, two-down tom configuration.  I decided to go for it.

When it arrived late last week, there were no disappointments--Slingerland's revered maple-poplar-maple 3-ply shells with reinforcement rings, 30 degree roundover bearing edges, beautiful original finish, bass drum hoops with the chrome inlay intact, and the famous stick saver hoops.  The kit's violin red wood finish first appeared in the 1976 Slingerland catalog, and its serial numbers are in the high 230,000s, indicating that this is a 1975-1977 vintage kit, most likely 1976.

While this is going to be a player's kit rather than a museum piece, I decided against any upgrades that would prevent me from restoring the kit to original condition.

First upgrade:  Heads, of course.  The drums arrived with Remo Pinstripe batters all around, which decay too quickly for my tastes, but do produce the dull thuds typical of 70s pop/rock recordings!  Each tom is now outfitted with an Evans coated G2 over a clear G1.  The bass drum now wears Evans EMAD2 and EQ3 resonant black heads.  The EMAD2 does a good job controlling the boom emanating from the 24-inch bass drum.  A Remo Double Falam Slam Patch protects the EMAD2 from solid beaters, and a Slingerland bass drum decal adds a vintage touch to a modern bass drum setup.

Gibraltar SC-USS Universal Suspension Mount
is an excellent solution for vintage rack toms
Next upgrade:  Suspension tom mounts.  While Slingerland's Set-O-Matic tom mount system is quick and convenient, I prefer to position my rack toms closer together, and off of the bass drum.  After researching my options, I went with Gibraltar's SC-USS Universal Suspension Mount.  It is similar to Gretsch's current suspension tom mounts, with a smaller profile and three-point suspension design.  Threading through two tension rods instead of four, the Gibraltar mount stays out of the way when you position two rack toms close together from a single stand.  Using spare PDP tom brackets I already had, installation of the Gibraltar SC-USS was a snap.

Large washers help spread the load the suspension
mounts place on the Slingerland 3-ply shell at the lugs
For a cleaner look, and to reduce the weight of each rack tom, I decided to remove the existing Set-O-Matic tom brackets and hang the Gibraltar mounts over the holes left behind.  This worked out better than I expected.  I borrowed large washers from the Set-O-Matic brackets to help spread the new load the Gibraltar suspension mounts place on the thin 3-ply shells at the lugs.  I also reinstalled the bottom Set-O-Matic mount screw on each drum, as that is the spot where the Gibraltar mount's rubber tip presses against the side of the shell.

To restore the rack toms to original condition, I simply remove the Gibraltar mounts and reinstall the Set-O-Matic tom brackets.

The first thing I noticed when playing my "new" Slingerland kit after these upgrades is that the rack toms really opened up with the suspension mounts.  The Gibraltar SC-USS is an excellent solution for vintage rack toms with traditional mounts that limit positioning options or choke the sound.  The warm tone of the toms caught my attention as well, thanks to the rounder Slingerland bearing edges paired up with two-ply coated G2 heads.  And, last but not least, the 24-inch bass drum booms with authority, but the EMAD2 head (using the thicker of the two foam rings) keeps it under control without the need for a pillow--or the classic felt strips across the head approach as shown in the 1976 Slingerland catalog!

The right set of vintage drums can provide a new dimension to your sound.  The warm sounds of classic Slingerland shells, the 13-inch rack tom, and the 24-inch bass drum are perfect for classic 70s rock.  A word of caution, though, before you consider the purchase of a vintage kit:  Each U.S. vintage drum maker peaked at a different time, during which it built quality shells with a signature sound still sought after today.  However, as each party came to an end, shell quality declined, and the sound of the great American drumset declined with it.  Look for vintage drumsets with the maker's signature shells--3-ply shells with re-rings in the case of Slingerland toms and bass drums.  Otherwise, I think a modern mid-level kit is a better choice.


May 10, 2014

Tuning Ludwig snare drums with Tune-bot

By Darin Soll

Last August, I posted "Tuning drums with Tune-bot," which consolidated a number of Tune-bot tuning tips from prior posts.  While that post is by far the most popular page in this blog, a number of you are looking for more details about tuning snare drums, especially Ludwig snare drums, using Tune-bot.

This is not a surprise--after all, there are a lot of Ludwig Supraphonic, Black Beauty, and Acrolite players out there!

Ludwig Acrolite Classic Reissue in 6.5x14
features a seamless aluminum shell
In this post, I will provide the Tune-bot tunings I use for my Ludwig Acrolite 6.5x14 (LM405) snare drum.  These tunings should serve as good starting points for the Ludwig Supraphonic 6.5x14 (LM402) snare drum as well, as the Supraphonic and Acrolite are based on the same aluminum shell.  However, since the Ludwig Black Beauty has a denser brass shell, tuning frequencies at the lugs for that drum will be somewhat lower, similar to my Slingerland Sound King 6.5x14 COB snare tunings in "Tuning drums with Tune-bot," and "Getting the right sound out of your snare, part 2."

Darin's Ludwig Acrolite
6.5x14 snare drum Tune-bot tunings:

Fundamental drum note: Tune each reso lug to: Tune each batter lug to: Reso:Batter frequency ratio:
3f, 174.6Hz 363Hz 273Hz 1.33
3f#, 185Hz 384Hz 289Hz 1.33
3g, 196Hz 396Hz 314Hz 1.26
3g#, 208Hz 400Hz 328Hz 1.22
3a, 220Hz 400Hz 360Hz 1.11
Drum:  Ludwig LM405C Acrolite Classic Reissue, 6.5x14 seamless aluminum shell
Heads:  Evans Level 360 G1 Power Center Reverse Dot coated batter, Evans Level 360 Hazy 300 snare

Supraphonic tuning frequencies may be slightly lower due as the Supra's chrome plating brightens the tone of the shell.

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, and my 3f, 3f#, and 3g tunings conform to this.  My 3g# and 3a tunings do not because Tune-bot recommends against exceeding 400Hz at the lugs with thinner (2-3 mil) resonant heads for snare drums.

Also, be sure to check out "Darin's Top Ten Tips for Tune-bot Tuning" in "Tuning drums with Tune-bot."  These tips provide general guidance that will help you avoid common drum tuning issues and get the most out of your Tune-bot.

My Acrolite really sings between 3f# and 3a, so I can cover Zeppelin or crank it up for No Doubt or Katy Perry.

Side note:  I've noticed that my Acrolite seems to be really touchy about drumhead seating--has anyone else noticed this with Ludwig snares?



April 26, 2014

Pearl reintroduces a full SensiTone snare lineup

By Darin Soll

For 2014, Pearl has reintroduced a full line of SensiTone snare drums, complete with a couple of interesting upgrades. Over the years, the SensiTone name has been associated with solid, workhorse snare drums for the budget-conscious drummer, so it is very good news to hear that the Pearl SensiTones are back!
Previous generation SensiTone Elite with 6.5x14
aluminum shell and bridge lugs

The previous "SensiTone Elite" series was introduced in 2006. In 2011, Pearl discontinued the stainless steel, bronze, and aluminum shells, leaving only the brass and steel options in production.

Since mid-2013, aluminum SensiTone Elites in the 6.5x14 size have been nearly impossible to find new, an issue compounded by spotty availability on the used market. Several music stores continue to carry inventory of the aluminum SensiTone Elite in 5x14.

New SensiTone with 6.5x14 aluminum
shell and tube lugs
So far, the new SensiTones seem to be scarce as well.  The online music stores I checked show availability as "wait times vary" for drums in the new SensiTone line.  However, this is likely to change as orders start flowing in!

New SensiTones are available in steel, brass (with black nickel finish), seamless aluminum, Premium brass (with patina finish), Premium phosphor bronze, Premium maple, and Premium African Mahogany.  All are available in 5x14 and 6.5x14 sizes, except the Premium African Mahogany, which is only available in 5x15.  Prices range from $299 for the steel in 14x5 to $629 for the Premium brass and Premium phosphor bronze models in 6.5x14.

The most obvious change with the new SensiTones is that they now sport tube lugs, an upgrade that had been on many drummers' wish lists.  While the previous SensiTone Elites' bridge lugs were fairly slim in profile, the new tube lugs do provide an even more lightweight and classic look.  The Premium models are equipped with Pearl's ARL modified tube lug that appears to be a tube-bridge lug hybrid.

The second major change involves the snare throw-off.  The previous generation SensiTone Elite utilized Pearl's SR-017 side-lever throw, while the reintroduced SensiTones are equipped with Pearl's SR-150 Gladstone-style throw, complete with a Click-Lock feature to lock the snare lever and tension adjuster where you set it.  Both generations include Pearl's 2.3mm Super Hoop II hoops, 20-strand UltraSound snares, and Remo Ambassador heads.

As with all aluminum-shelled snare drums, the aluminum version of the SensiTone Elite has been subjected to never-ending comparisons with the venerable Ludwig Supraphonics and Acrolites.  The SensiTone Elite held its own in these comparisons, especially when price was a factor.  The fact that 6.5x14 SensiTone Elite aluminum snares are difficult to find on the used market today indicates that drummers are hanging onto these drums.  And, the new SensiTone aluminum model, with its lower-mass tube lugs, improved throw, and attractive price point, should prove to be an even stronger alternative to the aluminum Ludwigs.

If you are in the market for a quality snare at a mid-level price, Pearl's new SensiTone line is worth a look.  And, as drummers upgrade to the new SensiTone drums, I expect to see more previous-generation SensiTone Elites on the used market.  That's a win-win for the budget-conscious drummer!


April 6, 2014

The Underrated Slingerland Sound King Snare

By Darin Soll

New chrome-over-brass snare drums from
Slingerland's 1963 catalog, courtesy of
Readers of this blog know that I grew up playing Slingerland drums.  I still own two 1970s-vintage Slingerland chrome-over-brass snare drums, a 1975 6.5x14-inch model 133 with ten lugs and the Zoomatic throw (recently upgraded to a Trick GS007), and a 1979 6.5x14-inch model 193 with ten lugs and the TDR throw.

Slingerland's 1963 catalog introduced two chrome-over-brass snares, the "Radio King Chrome" with the Radio King three-point throw, and the "Gene Krupa Sound King Chrome" with the Zoomatic throw.  The Zoomatic version was branded the Gene Krupa Sound King Chrome until the mid-1970s, and then simply the "Sound King" through 1978.  Slingerland claimed that its sturdy competitor to archrival Ludwig's mighty Supraphonic snare drum "needs no sound disturbing center bead."  In this post, I will refer to all Slingerland chrome-over-brass snare drums as "Sound Kings" even though this branding was dropped in 1979.  But whatever you decide to call it, the underrated Slingerland Sound King snare drum remains one of the best quality chrome-over-brass snare drums ever built, delivering all the punch of a metal snare with a depth and musicality that became part of the 1970s signature rock sound.

Being underrated has its advantages.  I have purchased four 6.5x14 inch ten-lug Sound King snare drums over the years, and I have never paid more than $280 per drum.  In fact, if you shop carefully on eBay, you can find examples of this particular drum in good condition for $225-$250 with the Zoomatic throw, slightly higher with the TDR throw.

But before we continue, let's discuss a few drawbacks with the Sound King.  First, the shell is not as rigid as the beaded Ludwigs, despite Slingerland's product literature claim, so it is prone to what I call "lug denting."  I described this phenomenon in a previous post--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.  In addition, the tension rod receivers inside the lugs are made of steel rather than brass, so the receivers on most Slingerland drums tend to rust, some more than others.  Last but not least, Slingerland's Zoomatic throw is generally despised by drummers as it was easily stripped if adjusted improperly.

If you are a player and not a collector, you can buy two used Sound Kings for about the price of one used Supraphonic, and use the parts from two drums to assemble one great snare drum!  If both Zoomatic throws are stripped, do yourself a favor and order the "Trick GS007 to Slingerland kit" from Mike McCraw's "Retroplate" website (http://www.dwsnare.com/).

1975 Slingerland Sound King 6.5x14 10-lug chrome-over-brass snare
 with Trick GS007 throw upgrade
Once you have acquired (or assembled!) a Sound King in good condition, you will be the proud owner of a sturdy metal snare drum with Slingerland's trademark stick saver hoops and excellent brass tone.  First introduced in 1955, the stick saver hoop features a top edge rolled toward the head to protect sticks during rimshots.  In my opinion, this design results in more rigidity and a better rimshot than a triple-flange hoop in the same thickness.  And, if your drum is equipped with the TDR throw, first available on the Sound King with the introduction of models 192 and 193 in 1979, you can rest assured that this drop-lever throw is much more substantial--and reliable--than Ludwig's P-85.

Let's spend a minute on the topic of extended snare wires.  The legendary Slingerland Radio King featured snare wires that extended beyond the edges of the snare head, with the end plates of the snare wires attached directly to the throw and the butt plate with screws.  Snare wires on early Zoomatic Sound Kings utilized a "half" extended snare approach--the snare wire end plate on the butt side extended out beyond the edge of the snare head, but the end plate on the throw side was positioned over the head.  From the player's perspective, the Sound King's approach to extended snares was a bad idea.  It only provided half the benefit of extended snares, and the end plate on the butt side was riveted to a metal strap!  As a result, even when the snare wires were disengaged, the solid connection to the butt plate caused them to vibrate.  I know--it's hard to believe, but check out these snare side and butt plate photos of a 1960s 3-ply snare by Slingerland expert Carl Wenk ("DrCJW") at vintagedrumguide.com.  Sound Kings with Zoomatic throws used the same setup during this period.

Puresound once offered "Zoomatic" snare wires in its Vintage Series to accommodate this setup, but I believe that line has been discontinued.  My understanding is that Slingerland abandoned extended snares on Sound Kings in 1968, opting instead for the standard snare wire setup we see on nearly all modern snare drums in which both end plates are positioned over the snare head.

1979 Slingerland 6.5x14 TDR snare with
Pearl S025 extended snare wires
But that's not the end of the extended snare story for the Sound King!  With the introduction of the TDR throw and butt plate in 1973 (but not branded "TDR" until the 1976 catalog), Slingerland brought back extended snare wires.  The TDR design supports 15" snare wires, attached by standard straps.  This is a much better approach, allowing each snare wire end plate to extend beyond the snare head--without a riveted metal strap!  Pearl's S025 20-wire bridge type free-floating snare wires are an excellent replacement option.  With an overall length of 15-3/4", and 14-7/8" from solder point to solder point, the Pearl S025 not only fits TDR-equipped Sound Kings perfectly, but also costs less than $10!

While Sound Kings were sold in both 5x14-inch and 6.5x14-inch sizes, the latter provides the deep voice associated with 70s classic rock and 80s arena rock.  Slingerland artists of the time included Clive Bunker of Jethro Tull, Neal Smith of Alice Cooper's band, Bev Bevan of Electric Light Orchestra, Phil Ehart of Kansas, Nigel Olsson of Elton John's band, and even Neil Peart of Rush, who switched from Slingerland to Tama in 1979, but continued using a maple Slingerland snare until 1993.  David Robinson of The Cars brought the Slingerland sound into the 80s.  While Robinson is said to have played Ludwig snares, I often hear reactions such as, "Man, that snare sounds EXACTLY like the original recording," when covering "The Cars" using one of my Sound Kings tuned down to 3F.

The Slingerland Sound King is an excellent choice for any drummer looking to add the punch of a brass snare to his/her arsenal.  A vintage Sound King is more than a top-quality snare drum, built at the height of American drum manufacturing--it is one of the voices of American rock history.


February 4, 2014

Arranging your electronic kit

By Darin Soll

Electronic drums are an excellent solution for practicing in residential or other quiet settings, as well as for gigs at smaller venues where acoustic drums would overpower the rest of the band, such as house parties.  However, the compactness and other qualities of electronic drums can create challenges for drummers moving between electronic and acoustic kits.  In this post, I'll cover some of these challenges and how I work around them.

I bought my electronic kit in late 2006, a Roland V-Drums TD-12S with a few add-ons:  (1) an additional P-85 drum pad, (2) a CY-5 cymbal pad that I use as a "splash", and (3) a CY-8 cymbal pad.  The TD-12 sound module provides 560 different drums instruments with thousands of variations, and includes 50 pre-configured drum kits.  The mixer is reasonably intuitive once you get used to checking whether you are in instrument or kit mode before adjusting settings.

The TD-12S includes a double-wing rack, which offers a great deal of flexibility in arranging the drum and cymbal pads.  The rack also provides fairly good cable management out of the box, partially concealing the cables that connect each pad to the mixer.

In all of the product photos from the Roland catalog (see example to the right), you see the traditional two-up tom configuration, with the rack toms centered over the bass drum, as pictured here.  The rack seems to be designed for this configuration.

But what if you play a one- or two-up configuration with the rack toms offset from the bass drum?  As readers of this blog know, this is my preferred setup--positioning the ride cymbal over the other side of the bass drum feels more comfortable to me and draws the floor toms in closer to the bass drum.

No problem!

As you can see in this photo of my TD-12S kit, with some creative pad placement, the TD-12S rack supports a "two-up offset" configuration.

Note that my rack toms splay out as if they are mounted on a double-tom stand.  This enabled me to offset the leftmost rack tom further left than the left front rack post, and center the bass drum on the rack.  I think this is a lot less awkward than simply moving the entire rack to the left, which complicates floor tom placement.

As you can see in this photo, I used a rack clamp to stabilize the two-leg hi-hat stand.  This little trick works with any winged rack, as you can see if you look closely at the acoustic kit in the background.

This photo also shows how the mounting the cymbal stands low on the rack helps keep the cymbals low while minimizing the number of booms sticking out from the kit.  My bandmates no longer have to worry about becoming shish kabobs while we are rehearsing.

So, what is the point of this detailed look at arranging my electronic drum pads?

Playing similar configurations on both my acoustic and electronic drum kits eases the transition between the two.  Obviously, the electronic kit utilizes smaller pads, but if I can arrange them so that my hands fall to roughly the same spots while playing on either kit, I notice fewer muscle memory issues.  In other words, my stick tends to fall to the splash cymbal at roughly the same point in space whether I am playing my V-Drums or my PDP acoustic kits.  I have also noticed that when I move from the V-Drums back to my acoustic kits, accustomed to the smaller targets, I tend to play more to the centers of the heads.

I'm including a couple of additional views of the two-up offset setup of my V-Drums below.  Hopefully this gives you some ideas on how to arrange your electronic kit in a way that works best for you!


January 1, 2014

PDP Platinum solid maple snare drum

By Darin Soll

The PDP Platinum solid maple snare in silver-to-black
sparkle burst
Not many drummers are aware that PDP offered a solid maple 5x14" snare drum in its Platinum series back when Kings of Leon exploded onto the U.S. music scene.  A few music retailers still have unsold inventory, and I decided to pick one up.  The obvious question is, could this virtually unknown, mid-level priced, single-ply maple snare provide the same classic tone as the legendary Slingerland Radio King?

There is not a lot of information available online on the PDP Platinum solid maple snare.  In this blog post, I'll share what I've learned about this drum, and evaluate whether it recaptures the magic of a vintage solid maple snare.

Recently, a limited number of these drums were offered online for as low as $299 new.  Since I saw the same model going for $443 on other sites, it seemed like a good time to buy.  The drum was originally offered in a wide variety of lacquer finishes and finishply wraps, but remaining inventory seems to be in red sparkle, red-to-black sparkle fade, and silver-to-black sparkle burst.   I ordered the drum in a silver-to-black sparkle burst lacquer finish, the most neutral option of the three.

While PDP Platinum and PDP X7 snares are similar in
appearance and hardware, their shells differ significantly
The first thing I noticed is that the PDP Platinum solid maple snare looks quite similar to my PDP X7 maple-ply snare.  From a hardware perspective, they share the same 1.6mm hoops, 1-5/8" True-Pitch tension rods (without nylon washers), and both include gasketed lugs, although the Platinum is equipped with tube lugs.  The Platinum also features a revised version of the X7's Gladstone-style throwoff.  Both snares include generic snare wires with clear plastic straps.

But that's where the similarities end.  The Platinum's 7.5mm thick, steam-bent, single-ply maple shell is meatier than the X7's 5.5mm thick 7-ply maple shell.  In addition, when placed side-by-side, the X7 shell seems slightly shallower.  Sure enough, my X7 shell measures 4-7/8" deep while the Platinum shell measures 5" deep.  PDP shipped the Platinum snare with single-ply DW Remo USA heads and the X7 snare with single-ply Remo China heads, coated batter heads in both cases.

The differences are not a surprise.  PDP Platinum drums were manufactured in PDP's production facility in Ensenada, Mexico, using the same raw materials as the DW factory in Oxnard, California.  Rumor has it that the same supplier delivered wood sheets to both locations, and the "North American maple" tag affixed to Platinum maple drums seems to confirm this.  In contrast, the X7, M5, and newer Concept lines are manufactured in China using locally-sourced raw materials.  While Platinums were manufactured from 2008 to 2011, the solid wood snare appeared only in the 2008 catalog.  In fact, my new Platinum solid maple snare drum is date-stamped "JUL 02 2008" inside the shell, so it sat in a warehouse for over five years before I purchased it.  Also, beginning in 2010, Platinum snare drums shipped with DW Remo Controlled Sound reverse dot batter heads, but it does not appear that the Platinum solid maple snare was ever fitted with this upgrade.

Platinum solid maple snare's single-ply, steam-bent shell
Beyond appearance and features, the first thing I noticed about the PDP Platinum solid maple snare when I pulled it out of the box is that the Gladstone-style throwoff lever is massive and clunky.  That same description applies to its operation--it is decidedly unsmooth.

With any new drum (or drum that is new to me), I typically disassemble, inspect, and clean the parts.  During this process with the Platinum snare, I noticed that most of the lug screws inside the shell were loose, so I tightened them, being careful not to overtighten.  It's also worth noting that this drum does not include reinforcement rings ("re-rings"), contrary to conventional wisdom (not necessarily actual wisdom) that a solid drum needs re-rings to "strengthen" or "stabilize" the shell.

DW MAG throwoff and Remo Controlled Sound reverse
dot batter head upgrades
While the heads were off, I decided to go ahead and replace the clunky drop throwoff with a DW MAG unit.  The mount hole spacing is identical between the two throws, however, the mounting screws for the MAG throw require larger holes, so I very carefully drilled out the existing holes to 5/32".  In addition to ensuring that you drill straight through, you want to avoid splintering around the holes on the inside of the shell.

Once the holes were drilled out, the MAG throw installed in seconds.  In my opinion, the DW MAG throwoff is worth every penny of the $29.99 it costs.  The stock PDP butt plate is solid, so I decided to keep it.

After inspecting the bearing edges, which were as good as any I've ever seen, I took the opportunity to upgrade the batter head to a Remo Controlled Sound reverse dot, which as most of you know is a coated, Ambassador-weight, single-ply head with a 5 mil reverse dot.  I'm not crazy about 1.6mm hoops on snare drums, but I decided to go ahead and give them a try for a while to see how they work out.  I then added nylon washers to the tension rods and installed and seated the heads.

My initial observations after spending a few hours with the Platinum solid maple snare in the rehearsal studio today:
  • The Platinum snare tunes up very easily, perhaps because of the excellent bearing edges.  This drum seemed very happy at a 3g# tuning (380Hz at each reso lug, 328Hz at each batter lug).
  • The tone of the Platinum has a lot more "woodiness" and "body" than the X7 snare.  When played side-by-side, it was difficult to hear any "woodiness" at all in the X7 snare's tone.
  • The Platinum's tone blends well into a variety of music.  It is a versatile snare.
  • Rimshots are a bit weak, which I attribute to the 1.6mm hoops.

The PDP Platinum solid maple snare is a quality drum at an excellent price point.  More importantly, its tone is reminiscent of the legendary Slingerland Radio King.  The more I play it, the more I hear the Radio King in its voice.  It is definitely a keeper in my snare drum collection.