September 1, 2015

Drum head selection...a closer look

How standard, 45-degree, and roundover bearing edges combined with coated, clear, and edge control heads affect the tone of your drums.

By Darin Soll

In the three years since My favorite head combinations, one of the first posts in this blog, I have had the opportunity to experiment with additional drum head combinations across four different drum kits.  In this post, I will share my updated drum head recommendations, the result of dozens of additional hours of changing out heads, tuning them up, and then playing them in the rehearsal studio.

Typical drum bearing edge profiles, courtesy of Modern Drummer
But first, a refresher on drum bearing edges is in order...

Many of you have probably seen the illustration on the right from Modern Drummer magazine, which depicts various bearing edge profiles.

Bearing edges matter.

Drum kits from the 1960s and 1970s were built with rounder bearing edge profiles.  The "Vintage Roundover" edge pictured above was common on snare drums and rack toms, and it was not uncommon to see full roundover edges on floor toms and bass drums.  Vintage roundover edges produce a warmer tone as the increased shell contact with the head reduces harmonic overtones ("brightness"), attack, and sustain.  The shell plays a greater role in the overall tone of the drum.

Conversely, "Standard" or "Double 45" degree edges produce a brighter tone as the reduced shell contact with the head increases harmonic overtones, attack, and sustain.  These modern (1980s to present) 45-degree edges are cut more sharply, and with sharper bearing edges, the shell's role in the tone of the drum is reduced.

We already knew that different types of drum heads can affect the tone of our drums, and now we know that bearing edges affect tone as well.  So, that raises a does the interplay between drum heads and bearing edges affect the overall tone of our drums?  What combinations of heads and edges will produce the tone we are looking for?

I currently have access to four acoustic drum kits, so I had the ability to do "head-to-head" (pun intended) comparisons between drums with modern Standard edges and drums with Vintage Roundover edges, and then cross-check the results on other kits with similar bearing edge profiles.  These comparisons have been extremely useful in helping me to choose the most appropriate drum heads for the specific sound I want.

Drum kits used in this comparison:
  • PDP X7, thin all-maple shells, Standard bearing edges
  • PDP FS, thin all-birch shells, Standard bearing edges
  • Slingerland, 3-ply maple-poplar-maple shells with re-rings, Vintage Roundover edges
  • Stone Custom Drum, 3-ply walnut-poplar-maple shells with re-rings, Vintage Roundover edges

The following Head Selection Matrix summarizes my recommendations for toms.  It's really two separate charts--the top half shows head combinations for toms with vintage/roundover edges, and the bottom half shows head combinations for toms with modern/45 degree edges.  The desired tone ranges from warm to medium to bright as you move from left to right across the three columns.  For each tom type (rack and floor), I list my batter head choice over my resonant head choice.

Head Selection Matrix for toms--click the image to enlarge

So for example, if you have vintage/roundover edges and you want a "medium" tone, I recommend the middle column selections in the Vintage section of the matrix--coated 1-ply batters over clear 1-ply resos on your rack toms, and coated 2-ply batters over clear 1-ply resos on your floor toms.  Move to the right for a brighter tone, and to the left for a warmer tone.

To achieve a "medium" tone with modern/45 degree edges, you would use the middle column selections in the Modern section of the matrix--clear 2-ply batters over clear 1-ply resos on your rack toms, and clear EC2/Powerstroke batters over clear 1-ply resos on your floor toms.  Note that the "medium" tone selections in the Vintage section of the matrix will result in a brighter tone on Modern edges.  Note also that the "medium" tone selections in the Modern section of the matrix will result in a warmer tone on Vintage edges.

Obviously there a dozen other types of drum heads that I haven't covered, and thousands of drummers out there with different needs and tastes.  This matrix is not intended to be all things to all drummers...I'm just sharing what I've observed as I tried these combinations of heads and edges.  Hopefully this serves as a useful resource as your strive to get the best tone out of your drums.

Happy drumming!


June 22, 2015

Slingerland vs. PDP: Maple snares head-to-head

By Darin Soll

Back in October, I wrote about my quest for the snare drum sound on Rush's 1982 "Signals" album.  As many of you know, Neil Peart played "Ol' Faithful," a 5.5x14 Slingerland Artist snare, until 1993.  While the Artist model could be purchased at various times with either a 3-ply maple-poplar-maple or 1-ply solid maple shell, at least one Slingerland authority indicates that "Ol' Faithful" was a 3-ply drum.  Neil himself seems to confirm this in an April 1984 Modern Drummer interview, excerpted here in Andrew Olson's excellent blog on Neil and his drum kits through the years.  Andrew details the kit Neil used for Signals on this page.

Two weeks prior to my October post, I found a 1964 Slingerland 5.5x14 Deluxe Student model in Sparkling Red Pearl finish at my local Sam Ash store.  The Deluxe Student model is based upon the same 3-ply maple-poplar-maple shell as the 3-ply Artist, so I decided to give it a try.  Outfitted with new Evans G1 coated batter and Hazy 300 snare side heads, as well as Puresound Custom 16-wire snares, this classic Slingy's sound is very similar to Peart's snare on "Signals."

Another maple snare drum in my collection, a 2008 PDP Platinum 5.5x14 1-ply solid maple, also produces a very "Signals-esce" sound.  And the PDP has a Slingerland connection--readers of this blog know that I purchased the Platinum solid maple snare as a less expensive alternative to Slingerland's legendary 1-ply Radio King model.  Two very different snare drums, built 44 years apart, both conjuring up The Professor's sound?  This calls for a head-to-head comparison!

1964 Slingerland 5.5x14 Deluxe Student 3-ply
2008 PDP Platinum 5x14 solid maple

Again, I want to point out that while both drums incorporate maple into wood shells of similar dimensions and wear Puresound Custom 16-wire snares, these are two very different drums.  The main differences include:
  1. The Slingy has a 3-ply maple-poplar-maple shell with maple re-rings, while the PDP has a 1-ply steam-bent solid maple shell with no re-rings.
  2. Slingerland used 30-degree roundover edges, while PDP cuts sharp 45 degree edges with a shallow backcut.
  3. The Slingy's shell depth is 5.5", while the PDP's is 5.0".
  4. The Slingy has six tension lugs, while the PDP has ten.
  5. The Slingy has chrome-over-brass stick saver hoops (similar in rigidity to 2.3mm hoops), while the PDP has been upgraded to 3.0mm steel DW True Hoops.
  6. The Slingy wears an Evans G1 coated 1-ply batter head, while the PDP wears a Remo Controlled Sound coated 1-ply reverse dot batter head.
As a result, this comparison is a mostly subjective review of each drum's performance in six categories:  (1) Quality of construction, (2) Ease of tuning, (3) Sensitivity, (4) Projection, (5) Overall tone, and (6) Resembles "Signals" snare sound.  Here are the results of my review:

Snare drums head-to-head:  Slingerland Deluxe Student vs. PDP Platinum solid maple

Rating scale:  1 to 5, with 5 being highest
Category Slingerland Deluxe Student PDP Platinum solid maple Comments
Quality of construction
Slingy remains solid after 50 years!  PDP's original 1.6mm hoops and clunky throw were mediocre.
Ease of tuning
PDP's bearing edges are excellent.  Slingy more challenging to tune evenly with only 6 lugs and less rigid brass hoops.
PDP "edges" out Slingy with sharper bearing edges and even tension between its 10 lugs.
PDP solid maple shell projects more volume, overcoming any dampening effect of the reverse dot head.
Overall tone
PDP solid maple shell adds somewhat more body, "woodiness" to tone.
Resembles "Signals" snare sound
Both drums are close--PDP wins with drier tone due to heavier hoops and 10 lugs.
Total scores

Notes:  Both drums tuned to 3g using Tune-bot.  Volume results are based on average decibel levels measured by Extech 407730 sound level meter.
Slingerland Deluxe Student upgrades:  Puresound Custom 16-strand snares, Evans G1 coated batter head, Evans Hazy 300 snare head.
PDP Platinum solid maple upgrades:  DW Mag throw, DW 3.0mm True-Hoops, Puresound Custom 16-strand snares, Remo Controlled Sound reverse dot batter head.

The PDP Platinum solid maple snare wins this mostly unscientific challenge, 26 to 22!

While a solid shell could help the Slingy's scores, in the context of this challenge, I think heavier hoops, or a Slingy with eight or ten tension lugs, would really level the playing field.  Either improvement would even the tension across the heads and dry out the tone.  Unfortunately, I have not found any 6-hole snare side 3.0mm or die cast hoops for 14-inch drums in my online searches.

PDP drums continue to impress.  Don't overlook them as you search for the right snare for your sound!

This comparison got me thinking...wouldn't it be interesting to have Bernie Stone at Stone Custom Drum build a reproduction of The Professor's Ol' Faithful snare?  "Stone Faithful?"  Hmmm...

Until next time!


April 3, 2015

New Stone Custom Drum kit with American Classic 3-ply shells

Drummers who grew up playing vintage American drums (Slingerland, Ludwig, Rogers, Gretsch) owe it to themselves to check out Stone Custom Drum!

By Darin Soll

Readers of this blog know that I would never buy a new custom drum kit.  Never.  After all, I've written a ton about selecting drum gear on a budget.  I would recommend maple or birch PDP drums to anyone, and I am a big proponent of buying used gear on eBay.

Then, I heard about Stone Custom Drum.  Stone Custom Drum is a custom drum builder based in Fort Wayne, Indiana, building new drums using the vintage Slingerland formula.  Being a huge Slingerland fan, I had to take a closer look.

Stone Custom Drum 6-piece custom kit
Well...the short story is that looking turned into buying.  Say hello to my new six-piece custom kit, courtesy of Stone Custom Drum!

The longer story about Stone Custom Drum, "SCD" in the rest of this article, is worth sharing.  Read on to learn how this budget-conscious drummer ended up purchasing a brand new, custom made SCD kit...

SCD is owned by Bernie Stone, a longtime drummer and drum-maker.  As head of drum repairs at The Percussion Center in Fort Wayne in the mid-to-late 80s, Bernie developed a reputation as a top drum craftsman.  He had the opportunity to work on drums for a number of famous drummers, including Neil Peart.  About ten years ago, Bernie had the opportunity to acquire the tools and molds from Slingerland's long defunct Niles, Illinois, factory.  After carefully re-furbishing the old Slingerland equipment, Stone Custom Drum began building new drum kits with 3-ply and 5-ply shells.  While the classic maple-poplar-maple formula remains the standard, Bernie's crew will also incorporate a number of exotic woods into your shells, depending on your requirements and taste.

I initially approached SCD about building a 18x22 bass drum to match my '76 violin red Slingerland kit.  The original 14x24 bass drum is just a bit too tall for my two-up rack tom setup.  I specified a 3-ply maple-poplar-maple shell with reinforcing rings, knowing that SCD's black oval badge is so similar to Slingerland's Niles badge that to most observers, a new 18x22 SCD bass drum would appear to be an original Slingerland.  SCD responded promptly with an estimate and informed me that I would need to ship one of my existing drums to them in order to color match the violin red finish.  The estimate was reasonable, but it got me thinking--do I really want another orange drum?  What would it cost to have SCD build a complete custom kit?

I already knew what I really wanted...a "new Slingerland" kit.  The classic 3-ply maple-poplar-maple shell with re-rings, vintage bearing edges, my typical two-up, two-down tom configuration, chrome Slingerland hoops and Sound King lugs, and a walnut-to-dark brown burst finish.  A matching 7x13 snare would round out the perfect kit.  I emailed all of the details to Kenton Snyder at SCD, and he replied promptly with an estimate in the neighborhood of $4,000.  I gave SCD the green light to build my new kit, along with a couple photos of the walnut burst finish I was looking for.

Again, since I've written a ton about selecting gear on a budget, I need to explain why I would even consider spending $4,000 for a six-piece custom drum kit.  The reason is simple--if you want custom drums, that's what they cost.  Custom drums are constructed by experienced craftsmen with no-compromise materials to each customer's specifications.  Keep in mind that over the past 40 years, low-priced imported goods (built using low-priced labor and materials) have skewed our perspective on what products should cost.  Without getting too far off-topic into the economics of the drum industry, I'll simply point out that based on the government's inflation calculator, an $800 Slingerland drum kit in 1976 would cost $3,300 in today's dollars, adjusted for inflation.  And while Slingerland offered a number of factory options, its kits could not be classified as "custom."

All walnut 7x13 snare, before hardware
After shooting a few samples of the walnut burst finish in the SCD workshop, Bernie called me with a concern--his test maple shells were not taking walnut stain well.  He recommended switching the outer ply to walnut to achieve the results I was looking for.  Since walnut is similar in hardness to maple, we decided that this change wouldn't adversely affect the tone of the shells.  Kenton let me know that switching all drums to a walnut outer ply would add a bit over $300 to my order.  I gave them the thumb's up to proceed.

Bernie then told me that he already had a 3-ply all-walnut 7x13 shell that he could use for my snare at no extra charge.  I decided to go for that as well.  I also let Bernie know that I would rather do tube lugs on the snare.  He agreed that tube lugs would look great.  This level of collaboration with the builder is only possible with a custom kit.

I originally specified 8x12, 9x13, 12x14, and 14x16 toms, an 18x22 bass drum, as well as the 7x13 snare drum.  I decided to have Kenton add a 7x10 tom as well, for those occasions that call for a fusion setup rather than a standard rock setup.  After all, why invest in a custom kit that doesn't meet all of my needs?  Kenton let me know that the 7x10 tom would add about $400 to my order.  With shipping, my grand total was now approaching $5,000.

SCD shells, newly finished, before hardware
SCD completed the build of my new custom drum kit in about one month.  They texted photos to me as the build progressed, and emailed me with a few questions about some of the finer details as they came up.  The walnut burst finish turned out beautifully, so when the first photos of the finished shells arrived, the waiting became MUCH more difficult!

The drums had to travel nearly 2,000 miles to reach my home, so shipping meant another week of waiting.  But the wait was worth it--the drums were packed securely, arrived in excellent condition, and looked even better up close and in person!

The first thing I noticed while unpacking my new drums is how light they are.  Poplar core 3-ply shells weigh less than thin-shell all-maple or all-birch drums.  While my vintage Slingerland drums with their poplar cores are similar in weight, the lightness of my new SCD drums still caught my attention.  The next thing I noticed, of course, was the beautiful finish of my new drums!

Finished shells in the SCD workshop 
My drums arrived in the middle of a particularly busy week at my day job, so I had to wait a few days before I was able to set up and play my new SCD kit.  After unloading them at my rehearsal studio, I began the set up process.  First, I added my own WorldMax DSS isolation mounts to the rack toms.  I decided to standardize on PDP mount hardware since I plan to keep one of my PDP kits for gigs, so I attached a PDP 10.5mm tom bracket to each of the DSS mounts.  SCD could have provided all of this for me, but I already had the mounts.

Next up--tuning.  As always, I use Tune-bot to dial my drums into notes, and I followed the "Darin's PDP FS Tune-bot tunings for modern rock" scheme in my previous Tuning drums with Tune-bot blog post.  Bernie's crew did a fantastic job with my shells and edges, and all drums tuned up very easily.

Once I wrapped up the tuning process, I mounted my new SCD drums on my PDP rack, made a few positioning adjustments, and I was ready to play.

Walnut-poplar-maple shell with re-rings
Boom.  Meaning "wow," but also describing the low-end punch emanating from my new SCD shells!  It could be my imagination, but I am wondering if the walnut ply in each shell is enhancing the lower frequencies.  The bass drum fills the room in the same manner as my Slingerland 14x24.  The all-walnut snare has a great voice as well.  The toms have all the warmth of my vintage Slingerlands, mostly due to the vintage-style edges, but partly due to the Evans coated G2 batter heads.

To sum it up, my new SCD drums are beautiful to the eye--and to the ear.  The walnut burst finish is exactly what I wanted, the Slingerland-style shells recapture the warm tone of vintage American drums, and the Slingerland-style stick saver hoops provide triple-flange flexibility with rimshots that rival die-cast hoops.

Drummers in the market for a custom kit, particularly those who grew up with the awesome tone of vintage American drums, owe it to themselves to check out Stone Custom Drum!


February 2, 2015

NAMM 2015

By Darin Soll

Anaheim Convention Center, site of NAMM 2015
As many of you know, the annual NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) show is the premier showcase for the latest in music gear.  2015 NAMM did not disappoint!  From January 22 through 25, 2015, nearly 96,000 people descended on the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California, to see, learn about, and experience the latest in music products.

Attendance at NAMM is limited to music products industry merchants and their guests, and I was very fortunate to receive an artist's pass for this year's show from Stone Custom Drum, LLC, a Fort Wayne, Indiana, builder of quality drums in the American tradition.

Two of the four exhibit and meeting levels on
the NAMM 2015 show map
In a word--NAMM is overwhelming.  With four levels of exhibit and meeting halls, over 6,000 booths, and tens of thousands of attendees checking out music gear, the atmosphere in the Anaheim Convention Center is a continuous crescendo.  There were 526 merchants in the percussion category alone!  Fortunately, NAMM provides a smartphone app to help attendees organize their plans of attack.

Celebrity sightings are fairly common at NAMM.  Many artists were scheduled to appear in exhibits for autograph and photo opps, as well as in-booth jam sessions.

Tre Cool of Green Day talking to fans
Steve Smith and Danny Carey were scheduled to appear in the Sonor booth.  Among the many artists scheduled to appear in the Yamaha pavilion were Kenny Aronoff, Bobby Blotzer, Steve Gadd, Tommy Igoe, Dave Weckl, and Alan White.  Endorsers for Pearl Drums appeared in its exhibit throughout the show, and Ludwig hosted artist autograph signing events.  And Stewart Copeland and Dave Lombardo were on hand to demo new Paiste products--unfortunately in private press rooms.

I was able to get close enough to shake hands with Tre Cool of Green Day in the SJC Custom Drums exhibit, and John Good of Drum Workshop just outside the DW pavilion.

But I was more interested in the gear than the celebrity sightings, and I had the opportunity to see and play the latest gear from dozens of recognized brands.  Just to give you an idea of the breadth of products represented at NAMM, here is an alphabetical list of percussion-related exhibits I saw...

Neil Peart's DW "R-40" kit
Replica of John Bonham's Ludwig Vistalites
Aquarian, Avedis Zildjian, Ayotte Drums, Axis Percussion, Canopus Drums, Craviotto Drum, Crush Drums and Percussion, Ddrum, Dream Cymbals and Gongs, Drum Workshop, Dunnett Classic Drums, Evans Drumheads by D'Addario, Gretsch, Intellistage Stages, Istanbul Cymbals, KickPort, Ludwig Drum, Overtone Labs (makers of Tune-Bot), Pacific Drums and Percussion, Paiste, Pearl Drums, Pork Pie Percussion, Premier Drum, Mapex Drums, Meinl, Peace Drums, Promark, PureSound Percussion, Regal Tip, Remo, Roc-N-Soc, Roland, Sabian, Sakae Drums, SJC Custom Drums, SKB, Sonor, Soultone Cymbals, Stone Custom Drum, Tama Drums, Taye Drums, Trick Percussion Products, Truth Custom Drums, TRX Cymbal, Vater Percussion, Vic Firth, WorldMax, Yamaha Drums...and that's less than ten percent of the percussion-oriented merchants exhibiting at the show!

Attending NAMM should be on the bucket lists of all music gearheads.  I highly recommend it...just be ready for a five-alarm headache at the end of your first full day!