Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Snare Info

Snare tips article

Brass: A very sharp edge to the sound and very rich with mellow overtones.

Steel: A step more towards bright with a very pronounced ring, allot of body and longer decay than brass.

Aluminum: Clear, open sounds with bright, crisp overtones and is capable of incredibly loud rimshots.

Bronze: A close cousin to brass with the overall character of woods, can be loud, a good all around drum.

Copper: A close cousin to the Aluminum drum only slightly warmer.

Hammered: Same overall characteristics as the parent material, only slightly less resonance to varying degrees.

Metal Thickness: The 1mm shells are not as low to mid range resonant as thicker shells such as 3mm plus.

Metal Cast Drums: Very Loud and Resonant due to special cymbal alloys used in the casting process.

Wood Drums: see previous post

Small Diameter: Means higher pitch.

Longer Length: Means more power and shell resonance, longer decay.

Shallow Depth: Means more articulate, less power due to decreased shell area.

Snare Bed: A slight depression in the resonant side bearing edge to allow the snare to ride closer to the head.

Bearing Edges: Less than 45° are not inferior, they simply make for a different sound, usually less resonant and darker in character the less the angle, 35° is popular on Birch Drums. Drums get brighter if the crown of the bearing edge is a tighter radius (sharper) than if the radius is flatter (may be desired on the toms and kick).

Drum Wood

Article on drum woods

Maple is a general overall warm sounding product, it can reproduce frequencies of the drum fairly well across the spectrum. True slow growth old forest maple trees are most prized due to the narrow growth rings and straight grain. The wood resonates extremely well and the finishes are well accepted. Newer and reforested trees do not have as tight a growth ring habit and are not as prized as old growth timber. Solid shelled snare drums made of burled or Birdseye maple are very warm in overall tone but also impart a very bright attack. Maple is generally thought to have very even tone across the spectrum and is prized by many drummers.

Birch is a very dense tough wood, blond in color that tools well. It will have about a 10% loss in reproduction of low end compared to Maple and about a 20% increase in the high end, with the mid range remaining about the same, so the Birch kit will definitely be a “harder” and “brighter” sounding kit. Birch is derived from fast growth trees that are commonly large in diameter and finish reasonably well. Birch is often referred to as a naturally “EQ’d” drum set. This came from its popularity when used in recording studios where the attack portion of the sound was an important ingredient in recordings dating back to the late 60’s. It made it easier to get the drums to cut through the mix with minimal effort.

Poplar is derived from fast growing straight medium hardwood trees and is a less expensive alternative to Birch and Maple. Its finish can be somewhat green in color and is therefore used in the inner ply layers as substitute for more expensive and less plentiful woods. To my ear it takes on more of the tone of birch or mahogany than maple.

Basswood is a great less expensive hardwood that mimics the sound of Maple to some, mahogany to others. Yet it is more plentiful and gives the manufacturer a price advantage. It in many ways is an upgrade to luaan, or ramin and is often used as a core wood with a bit more of the lower register tone to it than realized out of maple. For this reason I tend to think of it more like mahogany than maple.

Snare Drums, More Research

I think I am narrowing my search for a snare drum. Based on internet research only (haven't actually played anything yet) I think I'd like to get a wood snare...probably maple. It sounds like a solid or block snare is the best...but cost will likely keep me firmly in the plywood department. Sounds like you want a thin shell...but not TOO thin.

Some research (all prices are for new from discount retailers):

Pearl (MCX) Masters Maple Snare Drums
6-ply, 7.5mm shells
$275.00 for 14x5.5 ($219 at Sam Ash), $330.00 for 14x6.5
This seems to be an industry standard. It would be hard to go wrong with this unless something was wrong with the drum.

Mapex MPX Maple Snare Drum
$149.00 for 14x5.5
This is Mapex's attempt to bring maple to the masses. Not sure yet if these are decent or not. I'd like to play a MPX against a Pearl MCX to see how they match up. I wonder if this is too thin and I am in danger of warping it if I tune improperly.

Pearl Artisan II Maple Snare Drum
Needs more research

Tama Artwood Maple Snare
7-ply, 6mm thick
$290.00 forn 14x5.5 ($259 at Sam Ash)
Needs more research

Orange County Drums and Percussion Maple Snare
think this is probably really thick
$299.00 for 14x7
I was tempted by an Orange County that was on Craig's List for $150, but the more I look into it, I'm not sure this is what I want. Orange County are notoriously thick shells, which I guess can cause unwanted ringing. The solution is thicker hoops. Also a deep, thick snare is really made, as far as I can tell, to be loud. I think that I'm more of a finesse player than a power player. And I'm never gonna play in a heavy metal band. Any band I play in is gonna have to adjust to me being a more quiet player. A super loud snare seems out of character.

No, I think I want something versatile. I want to be able to tune it high and get a loud and sharp crack and a good rim shot, but I also want something that can be tuned a little lower and have a warm and fat tone. And I want something that avoids as many unwanted overtones as possible.

I think I've defined my price range as $150-$300. I'd like to stick with a well known brand and model. I used to not care about that, but if you are going to upgrade you might as well go with a known quantity...both for quality and, sadly, to impress others that you mean business. The New Beat hi hats that I bought convinced me that there is something to all of this on many levels. I don't need the most fancy or expensive or impressive equipment...but I want time tested recognized quality. It looks like Pearl, Tama, or Mapex will be my best bets to balance cost and quality.

As to size, it seems reasonable to go with a standard size...I think 14 x 5.5 or 14 x 6.5. I'd have to play them side by side to choose. I don't want to get a 13 inch and I don't think I want anything smaller than 5.5 or deeper than 6.5. Again, though, I need to play more snares to know. But it seems that if I am looking for a versatile workhorse, it's best to stay in the standard sizes.

Snares and Ride Resources

Maple Snare Drums (


Ride Cymbals (

Monday, October 25, 2010

Buying a New Snare

So in the process of upgrading heads and hardware over the last several weeks I've removed and reinstalled my heads more often than ever before in my short life as a drummer. What used to feel like a scary prospect is now just a pain in the ass. Mundane.

But this post is about snare drums, right? Yes. See what all that head changing has made me painfully aware of is that not every drum is so easy to tune. And I suspect this is due to imperfections in the bearing edges, the roundness of the drums, the hoops...and various other things related to the quality of the drums. This is fine because they are cheap drums and I wouldn't expect them to be perfect. They tune well enough for me for now.

But if I am going to buy a new snare drum...something that will become the centerpiece of my kit and my sound...and if I am going to spend more than $150...probably more than $200...for it...I want it to be decent. Which makes me realize:
#1 I'm not sure if I can tell what is decent and what is not
#2 The way that one buys drums is not very conducive to being able to tell.

The first of these can be solved with study. The second, not so much.

The ways one buys drums are generally:
-used in person from an individual
-used online
-used in person at a store
-new in person at a store
-new online

From my limited experience what I take that you need to do in order to properly test a drum is:
-take the heads off and examine the inside of the drum. Check the bearing edges and that the drum isn't warped or out of round and that there's nothing else wrong
-check the hoops and the hardware for problems (stripped screws, bent hoops)
-put on decent heads, tune them, and play the drum, preferrably along with the rest of your current setup

If one was able to DO all of would take an hour or more probably. Trouble is, one isn't often in a great situation to do all of this.

For an online purchase, of course, all bets are off. Pretty much you are gonna get the drum and have to decide if it is bad enough to return (if you can). Returning it might be at your shipping expense too.

In person, things are better, but still not great. For a sale from an individual, you are relying on their patience with you dicking around. At a shop you might be able to at least take the heads off, and perhaps put on ones you brought with you...but you can't drag your whole kit with you are still shooting in the dark a bit until you get it home. And I'm sure that the store attendant is gonna be THRILLED when you ask to take the heads off. I always feel rushed and nervous in stores anyway...and am rarely planning to buy THAT DAY.

Even with a high quality brand and model...each drum is gonna vary in quality and sound...and need to be tested on its own.

I'm not looking forward to the whole thing.

Upgrading Hardware

I own two el cheapo Pulse drum kits. I've generally been pleased with them except that the hardware that attaches the toms to the bass drum is very cheap, prone to loosen, and I feared, apt to fail at a moment's notice. I've experienced enough other kits now to know that I really like Pearl-style hardware, and so I decided to try to up grade my kits to this kind of tom mount.

I purchased the BB-3 and two BT-3's from Musician's Friend. This weekend was the conversion.

I learned that my 1990s era Pulse, though it seems to have the exact same hardware as my 2010 era fact does not. The tubing on the older kit is smaller in diameter, too small, in fact, for the Pearl hardware. The newer kit's tubing fit perfectly though. The BT-3's went on the suspension mounts just fine. Unfortunately, I discovered that the holes drilled in the bass drum only matched up with half of the BB-3. I could screw in two screws and line up the tubing...but couldn't line up the other two screws. I thought this might work, but as soon as I tried it and set things up it became apparent that this would lead to ripping a whole in my bass drum due to the two missing screws. Also, the old holes and the new holes that would need to be drilled would be far too there was no hope for the BB-3. So I am now partially upgraded. I'm happy that the MORE key connection is the one that worked out fine.

I also lubricated the bass spurs on the new kit in hopes that they will become easier to loosen.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

R & B Drumming

Footnote to the last post, saw presentation at PASIC last year by Zoro and Daniel Glass about their book The Commandments of R&B Drumming: A Comprehensive Guide to Soul, Funk and Hip Hop . Related: The Commandments of Early R&B and The Commandments of R&B Drumming Play Along Book and CD. I think all are worthly purchases, though not ones I'm ready to make yet. I have a poster that summarizes the beats from the book...and right now I just don't have the time to get into these styles much more than that. I have plenty of materials I've purchased and not put time into these will have to get in line. But for those needing the info now...they look like a great tools.

Language and Nomenclature

A reoccurring theme in my life in bands in recent years is difficulty in communicating musical concepts. Literally, someone asks me to do something and I have no idea what they are talking about.

I've learned that there are two main reasons this happens:
1. I don't know enough about music
2. They don't know enough about music

For a long time I blamed #1 most of the time. And perhaps that was valid. But over the last couple of years I've worked hard on correcting #1. Now I find #2 happening more. And I've begun to wonder if #2 wasn't happening all along and I just didn't know any better.

A few examples of things that were confusing to me that maybe would not have been if I'd been more fully musically educated:

The Bo-Diddley Beat
Loretta was supposed to have a "Bo Diddley Beat" but I gave it something else, which I now call "The Loretta Beat". Looking back, I recall that I was actually copying the beat from a demo that used a drum machine. The demo had the beat I ended up using, which wasn't a Bo Diddley beat. What I don't know is, if he wanted me to change what I was doing to a Bo Diddley beat, or if he was mistaken in what a Bo Diddley beat really was.

Actual Bo Diddley Beat explained here, but think I Want Candy by Bow Wow Wow or Faith by George Michael are good examples.

The Motown Beat
This may have been the most frustrating of these kinds of conversations, and perhaps lead to the beginning of the end for me in a certain band. Ultimately, the person who wanted me to play "a motown beat" couldn't explain to me what he meant by that.

My subsequent research:
Motown used a host of drummers who came to be known as "The Funk Brothers," the first of which was William “Benny” Benjamin. Another famous member of the drum crew was Uriel Jones.

My confusion about "the Motown Beat" seems reasonable now. There were several "Motown Beats". Motown took from jazz, soul, funk, latin, and other genres. In retrospect, knowing what I know about his song-writing style, I think that the person who asked me to play "a Motown Beat" really meant that he wanted a funk groove, which is related, but not strictly the same thing, and a little easier to classify.

A Shuffle
This one came up recently. Someone said they "really liked my shuffle" and I thought "I wasn't playing a shuffle." I think of a shuffle simply as being a beat that is swung strongly, either by playing eights notes with a triplet feel or by accenting a beat. I looked it up to verify today, and my read is correct.

The classic version using an accent instead of a triplet would be the "train beat" like on Fulsom Prison Blues or Radar Love. More on shuffles, including the Purdie Shuffle (shuffle with ghost notes, like in Rosanna, or Fool in the Rain) here.

Fool in the Rain


I have no idea what I was doing that this person thought was a shuffle. Maybe I was swinging the beat slightly, but it wasn't a shuffle.

So what's a drummer to do?
There's lots of trickiness to this whole topic. In a very basic way, it makes it hard to know what someone is asking of you. But it's easy to turn that into a defensive tone...or to make the person asking you feel worry that they don't know what they are talking about and that you are trying to call them out on it. My plan for the future and nod and take as many notes about what the person said as possible and tell them I'll work on it and get back to them. Then look it up. Figure out whether it's them or me that doesn't know what they are talking about. If it's me...try to learn what they want. If it's them...DROP IT.

Being in a band isn't really about's about relationships and fragile egos.

Bottom as well and broadly educated as you can...but don't ever make someone else feel stupid.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Goofing Off In A Good Way

When I sit down to play the drums it tends to be in one of two ways...playing along to songs I know or am learning and trying to copy the drum parts...or doing exercises, rudiments, stuff like that.

I don't goof around much. And that's probably not such a good thing.

After enjoying many of their videos, I finally downloaded OK Go's disk, Of the Blue Colour of the Sky. Last week I sat down and, with the disk on, goofed around on the drum kit. I wasn't trying to copy the drum parts, I was basically just using it as an interesting metronome. I tried some stuff that I have trouble with, and did random things. I tried playing left hand lead...and switching back and forth between left and right hand lead. And other stuff.

While not something I think I need to do everyday, it was a good thing to do. It got me out of my comfort zone and trying new things and being creative.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Clash of the Titans

It was only a matter of time before this happened. Dec 4th. Celebrity death match between Chrissie Hynde's and Kim Deal' s local dopplegangers.

I might not look or sound the part quite as much...but I get bonus points for knowing nothing about the Pixies prior to January 2010 and having the bass parts to half their songs committed to memory by October 1st. I also take great pride in the fact that I had absolutely nothing to do with the booking of this show or the selection of the bands.

Hopefully the blood splatter will only reach to the first row. I better make sure to wear a cup.

Friday, October 8, 2010

SSW, Mr. Roberts, 10/7/2010

We opened at 10pm for The Media and The Type.

I brought my two new cymbals, new kit (minus snare). I used my new snare bag and an old bag I already had for hardware (heavy, but nice to make one trip). We used their PA with our mics, stands, and cables. We had two monitors (one for vocals and one for drums...the bass was SOL). They had a drum riser, which I don't believe I've ever played on before. It was nice for claiming one could crowd me. Load in, from a parking lot out back to a door close to the stage, was a breeze with the bags and minus my 12" tom.

I don't like the bass spurs on the new drums, they are hard to unscrew. I think that I like the old kit better for gigging for this reason and the reason that I plan to replace my tom brackets for easier set up/take down...and I can probably only find replacements in chrome, not black. So I should upgrade the old kit (which has chrome hardware) and use it for gigs and use the new kit (which has black hardware) for practice. I like the look of the black kit...but this is all about practical matters. Plus...I've noticed the black shows finger prints and the red doesn't. So maybe it's for the best.

We've only had one rehearsal, the night before the gig, in about 4-6 weeks. Considering that, it went pretty well. My playing was fine, though I longed for my bass drum to be mic'ed. The bass amp head died and The Type loaned us theirs.

I ate a good dinner around 5pm. Had two beers before show, one during, and two after. Couple glasses of water. Stayed up late night before but didn't seem to hurt me.

Band brought in $40 ($10 a person). Must have been a percent of bar cause the show was no cover.

Generally, I liked the venue. It is a cozy stage area. Running your own PA sucks, but the sound seemed pretty good considering. I ended up having to stay the entire night cause the other bands didn't bring mics/stands/cables and had to use mine...but it ended up being ok. It was a strange crowd...a mix of friends of each of the bands and who I suspect are the regulars. The regulars were colorful. It reminded me of why I never went in this place when I lived a block away from it. Though I'm much more world-worn these days and bothered less by "scary dive bars." It didn't feel scary last night at all. Just colorful.

The Type was good...they do the angry/sexy grrl thing. Not my cup of tea, but they do it well and the music is decent. The Media was pleasant enough musically...but pretty derivative of lots of 80s rock. And they had a stage presence that was somewhere between "we think we're cool"/cliche/and "douchey" (general term decided upon last night, though not one I'd normally use. About right though). Sunglasses and stage jumps/slides type of thing. If they were being ironic it might have been funny (hell, it was funny anyway) but I think they were serious. Ah well...who am I to judge?


Thursday, October 7, 2010


I've long held that the problem with upgrading or with using high quality equipment is that then you get accustomed to that level of performance and your life becomes more expensive. I've thought this to be true of bicycles and of musical instruments in particular. And so I've tried to some extent not to expose myself to higher quality things.

I don't really know why, but when I bought the second kit I started feeling bad about the fact that I had bought something so crappy. It made me feel like a loser and made me immediately want to upgrade the kit. This is an unusual way for me to feel.

But so began the great update. I am now about $600 into what began as "I'll just pick up this cheap kit off Craig's List". I can feel another $600 going out the window before I'll feel totally set up for a while too.

In the end I still think that the kit purchase, at $150, was probably a good deal. The toms and bass are solid and it would have cost double or more to buy any other ones. And heads, stands, cymbals are usually sold separately it's not like I would not have needed those things anyway.

Yesterday, my order from Musician's Friend of heads and a straight cymbal stand came in. I replaced the resonent heads, including bass, on the new kit...and switched my good bass batter head to the new kit as well. The new baby now has new stuff all the way. Well, with the exception of the snare, which I think is kind of crap. I'm going to use the new toms with my old snare and all of my best hardware as my "gig" kit now...leaving whatever is left over set up permanently at home to practice on. My best cymbals will do double duty on both kits. I'm pretty happy about the new straight stand. I've been using the light weight one from the new kit at Drain practice and it scoots away from me constantly. The new one is REALLY heavy. It should stay put.

I also, after days of research but still relatively on a whim, went to Good N Loud and bought a set of used Zildjian A New Beat 13" hi hats for $185. I wanted the 14" ones and wanted to pay less than $175...but by the time I got there...there was no going back once I saw that they had a set of New Beats. After my nearly exclusively online research, these had emerged as my main choice on a list of "keep your eye out for" models. These would have been $300-$325 new.

At SSW practice last night I used the New Beats and the El Sabor ride I bought last weekend. The El Sabor had been a little bit of a disappointment when I got it home. It is very bright and I didn't like it as much as I thought I would (I do like the bell a lot though). But playing the El Sabor without ear plugs with a live sounded fine. I do think one day I may want to get a "darker" ride. I'm finally starting to understand what that means. Something in the "K" family of Zildjians maybe.

And then there was the New Beats.

Oh my god. These sound and play totally differently than any hi hats I've ever played. They are awesome. I'm going to have to totally adjust my playing because they are so sensitive to my foot pressure...I used to have lots of slack and now it really matters how much pressure I apply. It feels like a whole new world.

And I suspected...I'm ruined and in for great expense. Perhaps another $600 before the dust settles, though there's no rush on any of it.

The anticipated progression of money:
-replace the tom brackets at least on the gig kit if not on both kits. I researched today and to replace these with Pearl-style mounts it will cost about $65-$75 per kit. This is the most cheaply made thing on my kits and the most irritating. I took a good look this morning and realized it is totally replaceable with Pearl-style mounts. This would make set up and tear down way easier and I wouldn't always have toms getting loose or falling. This may become priority one now that I know it is possible

-Probably priority two: get a good quality crash. I'd like to have two on the kit. First get something bigger than the 16 inch I have...then later add a second 16 inch to replace the Colorsound I have (maybe...maybe not...would be down the road). I can get a crash for less than $200 used I suspect...perhaps even lower...but research pending.

-get a good quality snare. I wasn't really worried about this until last night...but I realized that it could really elevate my playing the way the new hi hats will. My old snare is actually in decent shape...the new one is crap. I'll need to decide if I want an upgraded metal snare (both of the ones I have now are metal) or to get a wood snare. This could run a huge range of cost and I imagine will take a while to research. I think I probably could find something in the $200 range to suit me though.

-a good quality splash...still not sure if this is needed. I think most splashs kind of sound's inherent in the product. Probably I will just move away from using the splash so much and move into using crashes more. Wearing earplugs will make this possible and playing with louder bands may require it. rush...get a darker or better ride cymbal. This would be a "keep an eye out for used" situation. Just wait until a steal or a really great cymbal comes along. I don't want to spend more than $150...but rides, especially nice ones, can be really expensive. I want to wait for the right one more than pick up a steal. I bought my cheapie already (the El Sabor) and that'll be fine until something great comes along.

The good news...I think my hardware is where I need it to be for the most part now except for ongoing repair and replacements. And I'm totally happy with my bass pedals. There isn't much in the way of accessories that I need either. Heads and sticks will continue to be an ongoing expense, of course. But I think I can make things respectable for a reasonable amount. $1200 at the end of the day SEEMS like a ton of money...and it is for me...but I essentially saved another $600 on the kit.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Comparisons: Cymbals

Cymbals may the the most complex thing to compare. My situation is that I have two drum kits. One has the cheapest cymbals they make on it...the ones that came with a beginner's kit. The other has half of what I'd classify as introductory cymbals...a few steps up from the ones on the other kit...but nothing fancy. The other half are perhaps a step up from that...we'll call them intermediate or semi-pro cymbals. I've recently decided to get a set of used "pro-grade" cymbals and shift my intro and semi-pro cymbals to my second kit.

I currently have the following:
-Paiste 2000 Colorsound 16" Crash (given to me for a ridiculously low $25 by RD. It's a good cymbal and research tells me it is in the quality area that I want to up grade to. It sounds ok but the sound isn't special to me)
-Paiste 302 20" Ride (came used with my first kit. Research says this is an old intro line. It's ok, but nothing special. The bell is also too small for my taste.)
-Zildjian Scimitar Hi-Hats, either 13" or 14" not sure (came used with my first kit. My research tells me this is an old intro line of cymbals. The top hat has some keyholing starting)
-Wuhan 12" Splash (bought new for I think around $30 at PASIC)

Stashed in the pile I don't use much:
-Zildjian ZXT Titanium 10" Splash (came used with my first kit. I much loved this cymbal, but it ends up being too high and quiet for my needs. I've also trashed it so it has a dent and some cracking at the center)
-Meinl Bell. I don't remember the size or know the model. (bought new at PASIC for close to retail...didn't realize this at time. I got it cause I was unhappy with my ride bell. It hasn't worked into the kit well though.)

And the first purchase in my upgrade plan
-Sabian AA El Sabor 20" Ride (bought used for $60 last weekend. When I was looking to get a 12" splash I really like the El Sabor line for its sound and its unfinished bells, so I jumped at the chance to get this so cheap. In particular because I'd just seen one on Craig's List for double the price. After I got it home I wasn't that happy with the ride sound...though I like the bell a lot. The ride is brighter than I'd like I think. It may just take getting used to, though.)

So, as I've mentioned, I'm a cheap bastard. And there's no getting around that cymbals are really expensive. Which would normally lead me to cheap out. But in this case it just doesn't pay. If I wanted to go that way I'd stick with what I have and call it a day. But I want to improve my sound and to be taken more seriously, and I think better equipment will help in that. The consolation is that good cymbals played in the way I play them will last a lifetime. They won't ever need to be replaced unless they get stolen or damaged by accident unless I want a new sound. So it is worth going with something decent.

It is NOT however, worth going with something decent and something NEW. The interesting thing about cymbals is that their sound changes with to me it's better to buy used cause they are "worn in" and you get what you buy in terms of sound. And, of course, used is cheaper. In some cases WAY cheaper.

The pitfall of buying used it that you have to know what you're doing. You have to know what something is worth...and therefore what is a good deal. And you have to know what to look for in terms of damage. Detecting damage is pretty easy. Generally avoid keyholing at the center or cracks (unless it's a smokin' deal and you think you can repair the damage). Speaking to knowing what's worth it...that's a combo of what sounds good to me...and what is a quality product. So this comparison is to tell me what is a quality product.

Entry level cymbals tend to be made of brass and/or be cut from a sheet. Better cymbals are cast of bronze. Typically, the lower/cheaper end of that spectrum has less tin in the 8%. Higher quality cymbals have 20% tin. There are all kinds of alloys used and this isn't a hard and fast rule...but it's a good enough rule of thumb for me. Basically...I'm looking to move into an all cast 20% tin bronze situation.

Then it's just a matter of taste and cost. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), I don't have a very discerning ear. So it's hard for me to say what I like. To be honest, I don't like cymbals in general, they are too harsh to me. So I think I tend away from trashy/washy sounds and towards mellow tones with a quick decay. I want it to be as non-irritating to me as possible and for it to go away quickly. That said, I think not being super picky works in my favor, because I can be open to a broader range of models in the used market.

So my search will generally be amongst Zildjian, Sabian, and Paiste cymbals. These are just the most common. I wouldn't turn my nose up at a Meinl or a Wuhan or Dream brand...but I would want to evaluate them more carefully. I also expect to see fewer of them out there. Other brands are around too...but I'm really looking for well known, well tested products.

Below are general lines. Within each line there are dozens of models...and that's where it starts to get more complicated. Still wading through that, but below are the general guidelines.

Things I Want to Keep an Eye Out For:
-Paiste 2000, 2002, 3000, Giant Beat lines
-Sabian AA, AAX, HH, HHX lines
-Zildjian A (also called Avendis), A Custom, K, K Custom lines

Things I Want to Avoid:
-Paiste pst3, pst5, 101, 201, 302, 402, 404, 502, 505, 802
-Sabian apx, sbr, xs, B8, B8pro,
-Zildjian pitch black, z3, zht, zbt, zxt

Stuff I'm Not Sure About Yet:
-Paiste Formula 602, 1000, Alpha, Rude, Signature, Twenty
-Sabian vault
-Zildjian Z Custom

Monday, October 4, 2010

Comparisons: Sticks

Something I had no idea about when I started playing drums was that drums sticks are consumables. They get used up. And pretty quickly sometimes. I used to think you bought one pair and that was the end. But, no, they have to be replaced regularly.

Vic Firth
I started out using 7A Vic Firth just because that's what was recommended to me. These are lighter and thinner. I moved on to 5Bs when I needed more volume and had built some hand strength (thicker and heavier). I started with wood tips.

I thought that Vic Firth was the leader in the industry. But it felt like a ran through Vic Firth's pretty quickly. They splintered and broke and the tips broke. Sometimes the centers would splinter the first week I used them.

I had one set of 5B wood tip Vater's that I used for lessons only that outlasted a dozen pairs of Vic Firth's...and that made me think about making the switch. Now I use Vater 5Bs with nylon tips. The first pair of those I bought I've had for months now with no problems at all. Very little wear. I bought my second set recently only cause they were on closeout (they are black, we'll see if that makes a difference) for like $3. But I haven't pulled the new pair out yet cause the first ones are going strong. Very happy with these.

I have used some Zildjian sticks and generally been happy with them. I have two pairs that are dipped with a indentation at the balance point that I like sometimes and I bought some Travis Barker's just to see if I could use them because a predescessor had, but they are too heavy for me. He's had good luck with them lasting, though, which is saying something cause he's a masher.

ProMark & Other Brands
I have not tried these

Drum sticks seem to run $6-9 pretty consistantly unless you get them on closeout. You can save a little money buying multi-packs...but the savings isn't much. I can never justify the expense of a multipack.

There's tons of off-brand sticks out there sold much cheaper. I have no idea if they are worth it. They usually come in huge packs and I just don't want to take that chance. Now that I've found sticks that seem to last, it doesn't seem neccessary to buy in bulk anyway.

In general I avoid artist signature lines or weird style types and try to stick with the standard sizes...for now 5B exlusively pretty much. Sometimes I'll go outside that for something interesting or something dirt cheap. I bought some "heavy metal" sticks that I think amount to being 2Bs (heavy and John Bonham would use). I use them on my practice pad only to build endurance.

For now, I'm happy with my Vater 5B nylon tips.

Comparisons: Drum Heads

I've not yet determined my best head combo. For the most part I've run with REMO...either clear Emperor tom batter heads or clear Pinstripes...and a controlled sound coated dot snare. For resonant heads, clear Ambassadors and a hazy snare. For bass batter either a coated Emperor or clear Powerstroke 3. I briefly used some Evans heads (EC2s I think) on a kit I was borrowing as well.

For price, models tend to run, low to high: Diplomat, Ambassador, Emperor, Pinstripe. The specialty heads I don't take note of. Black (ebony) tends to be more than clear...coated more than clear as well. But the price differences are often minor...a buck or two at most. Bigger heads are more expensive as well.

It probably depends on the retailer, but it seems to me that Evans heads are a hair more expensive than Remo, but this might be because I'm looking at heads with more features. I get the feeling Evans tend to be less available...though I think this is changing and depends on where you go.

I think Aquarian heads are ugly. I can't help it. They sometimes seem to be a little cheaper than other brands, but they can also be hard to find. I ignored them.

I haven't listed out prices here...but a single snare or tom head in standard sizes is going to run $10-$20 pretty much depending on size, brand, and model. A 22 inch bass head will run $35-$45. Sometimes it makes no sense to me the prices they assign (sometimes "better" heads aren't much more).

I still haven't decided what my go-to heads are, but I've been pleased enough with Remo for sound, durability, availability, and price. I'm currently running two with clear Emperors and one with Pinstripes. We'll see if I can tell the difference enough to move to Pinstripes permanently. They are slightly more pricey.

I haven't really gone with coated heads for toms at all. Probably something worth researching. I think the kit I borrow on Monday nights might have coated toms.

Without a doubt for kits in standard sizes (which I have...12, 13, 16, 22, 14 snare), "Pro-packs" or pre-packaged sets are the way to go. Much cheaper than buying heads individually. My new thing is to keep an eye out for sales. I picked up a 3 pack of pinstripes with a Powerstroke 3 snare for $29 at Guitar Center recently...which was just ridiculously cheap. Worth buying any time a deal like that pops up. Usually heads are cheaper online (if shipping is free...if not can be an oversized out)...and nearly always there's a better chance of finding what you want online. I have trouble finding the correct models in stores often.

Comparisons: Hardware/Stands

I've been creating some comparison spreadsheets off line for things I've been thinking about buying. It occurs to me I ought to share some results.

So I'm a cheap bastard. I also am not typically swayed by fancy designer labels. But I've been playing drums long enough now to know that, to some degree, you get what you pay for. That said...surely, I thought, there's got to be a balance between quality and economy. Good cheap as possible.

Spreadsheet #1: Hardware/Stands
Generally quality improves as you move up through the model numbers, with exceptions noted. PDP I think is a LITTLE more poorly made than the other companies, but they tend to be the cheapest by far. What this exercise taught me is that it is ok to buy PDP, but that I should be looking for the 800 or 900 and never buy their 700 series. Currently every piece of hardware I own was made by a different company, many of which I couldn't find info on. Like with PDP, the key seems to be where the item falls on that company's spectrum more so than the company itself. Also, some companies add features that I don't need on their upper level series. So generally what I'm looking for is the sturdiest possible product without unneccessary features. Where it tends to break down is on how well screws hold.

2000 Entry-Level
3000 Standard-Medium Weight
5000 Medium Weight
6000 Retro Flush
7000 Lightweight Single Braced
8000 Ultra Heavy Duty
9000 Heavy Duty

700 Light weight
800 medium weight
900 heavy duty


Like with Ludwig (below) I am suspicious that the Pearl name drives up costs.
100S flat single braced

5600 Series
6600 Series
7700 Series
8600 Series Flat Base
9600 Series Heavy Duty
JZ Series Single Braced

Doesn't do a great job of describing their series online, though they seem to have a similiar 600 through 800 scale in the low and mid-range prices as the other companies.

Also did not like their web presence. Also tend to have the 600-800 kind of scale though.

I didn't even bother looking into them. Like with Pearl (above) I suspect they trade heavily on their name and that this drives up cost. I think the only reason to buy Ludwig hardware is if you wanted the name to match your Ludwig shells.

I think brand matters less than model. Honestly, it's possible many brands are manufactured at the same place and different stickers get put on (I suspect this is likely for the lessor brands I've not listed here). Price and availability vary widely both at online retailers and in stores. Also, in stores it can be hard to determine model numbers on stands.

What I've learned is, generally speaking for my needs and cost tolerance...$29 is too cheap...and $100 is too expensive. What I'm looking for is a mid to heavy weight stand in the $50 to $80 range depending on style (prices range, high to low, usually in this order...high hats, snares, boom cymbal stand, straight cymbal stands).

Also, I used to think a boom stand was always better that a straight stand because of the increased options, but what I'm realizing is a boom has one more pivot point...which no matter the quality of the product, gives one more point of potential failure.

Good rule of thumb...get something with an 800 or 900 series (or 80/90 or 8000/9000). Stay away from 600 and 700 series in most brands. Exception might be DW...which has a 3000 and a 5000 series that MIGHT be ok (to be determined).

Best option, take a tour of your local shop to get an idea of features of the various brands/models...but buy online where you can compare prices and can see the model number clearly. Buy from a retailer that doesn't charge shipping, cause this stuff is heavy.

Checking In

This blog has gone a bit off the rails in the last few months.

My original intent for this blog was to have it be fairly anonymous and to keep the bitching to a minimum. Just track my progress and post info along the way that helped me. Drummer profiles. Resources. Songs to learn.

Not having a weekly lesson hurts the blog AND my progress I suspect, but it isn't the end of the world.

I've been focused on learning songs for auditions and post-audition ramp up the last few months and this has thrown everything off too. And since the new band doesn't have videos online, I can't even post those.

But I'd like to get back to the basics here. In particular I want to get back to posting drummer profiles. I've been reading plenty of Drum! and Modern Drummer articles about people whose names are both familiar and new to me. I'm way behind.

I'm also in the slow, painful process of digitizing my entire cd collection. This will make it much easier to hit "shuffle" and get hundreds of drummers streaming to my ears to play along to. I think this may make me want to learn who those folks are again.

I admit too that this past weekend someone said something to me about blogging and it reminded me of one of the reasons why this blog was post information on a particular subject that, while it would have a personal edge (my journey) would be less about me and more about the subject matter. A blog that would be useful to people who never met me...rather than useful to people who knew me for reposting and screwing me over with my words. Less drama, more rock. I fear I've started to editorialize here too much on my personal daily experiences. And I want to get away from that. I'd like this to be a place that drummers (or bass players) stumble upon and get drawn into...and that people who know me stumble upon, instantly find super boring, and never come back to.

End of unneccessary administrative hyper-self-aware post. Back to the drums.

Adopting a New Baby, Photo Evidence

I went on a little bit of a purchasing binge this weekend. On Friday I ordered resonent heads (including a bass front head) and a straight cymbal stand for the new kit from Musician's Friend. I had been evaluating online merchants for a few weeks and while some have a better selection and lower prices than Guitar Center and Musician's Friend, I finally realized that Musician's Friend has mostly free shipping, which ends up making a huge difference for oversized drum heads and heavy hardware. I also got a snare bag after busting my snare wires last week.

Followup was that I'd forgotten I also "needed" a falam slam patch and new snare wires, so I headed to Guitar Center locally and Good N Loud Music. While at Guitar Center I decided to inquire if they had any used cymbals, after the smokin' deal I got there on used chimes a few months ago. Indeed they did have used cymbals, behind the counter, including a 20 inch Sabian El Sabor Ride. I like that line of cymbals and nearly bought the exact same one off Craig's List last week. New cost $245...CL price $120...Guitar Center price $60. A smokin' deal again. I couldn't help myself.

That got me thinking that I'd seen some pretty cool used cymbals at Good N Loud the last time I was there. They had reorganized their drum stuff recently. So I stopped by. The cymbals I'd seen last time weren't there (pretty quick turnover) but they had other decent ones. Nothing on a screaming deal...but reasonable prices for good used cymbals. I would like to acquire a set of good quality used high hats and another decent crash...maybe an 18" crash. Good N Loud had some Zildjian high hats that run $350 new for $199-ish used. I just wasn't prepared to spend that much. But when I am ready to drop $200...I know where to watch now. Definitely a good deal.

Nevermind that I'd rather get used cymbals anyway so I know how they will wear in. A new cymbal is gonna sound different 6 months or a year into playing it. I want to know the final sound. On the other hand, I don't have a great ear for these things.

Also picked up the coolest thing ever. A locking high hat clutch. No more unscrewing in the middle of a show. Super awesome.

Here's the new kit, taken before last weekend's buying binge. I've transferred my existing hardware and cymbals to this kit...and put away most of the stuff that came with it. Also have set aside the 12" tom rack tom and am using only the 13". By the end of this week it'll be outfitted with all new resonent heads. I'm planning to make this my gig kit and leave the other kit set up for general practice. I'm also gonna probably switch out my this kit will have black toms with black hardware and a silver snare with silver hardware. I don't like the look of the silver snare with the black hardware. Plus, I think the snare that came with this kit has a warped edge. It doesn't seem to affect the tuning, but I'm sure it isn't as good sounding as my other snare.