"People who make no noise are dangerous."
--Jean de La Fontaine

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Vickkick Bass Drum Beaters

If you've read this blog, you'll know that I typically find something I like and stick with it until it falls apart. I recently had to replace a bass drum beater in my office because it had fallen apart. That's not accurate. The bass drum beater had turned from white to black, had separated in about 15 different places, and would stick to the bass drum head after each stroke. It was pretty gross. I figured it was time to get something new, especially because I teach on this particular kit and didn't want my students to think such a beater was appropriate. The last beater I purchased was in 1994 and it was a basic, no-name, felt beater that I still use today. I took a trip to my local drum shop and was surprised by the many different options available. Most seemed ridiculous so I asked the guys in the shop what they were using. Several mentioned that they had upgraded to Vickick beaters by Vic Firth. Despite some prejudices and wariness, I bought a couple.

I have never been a fan of Vic Firth sticks and mallets. I have never found a pair of their sticks that work for me, I really dislike their timpani mallets*, and have found a lot of their products are easily replaced by other options. I know I just offended half of you who swear by Vic Firth 5As but Vic Firth's stuff never felt right to me. I think part of it also may be the huge label that runs the entire length of the stick. Who knows. I'm not a huge fan and was wary of buying something from Vic Firth. Also, I hate the term, "kick drum." To quote Jeff Hamilton, "I don't kick that drum." I agree. It was difficult for me to purchase a product with the word kick in the title. On to the point...

There are three available beater options, wood, felt, and fleece. I purchased a wood and felt beater. Each beater has two playing options. The "radial" option, where the rounded part hits the bass drum, is supposed to add more articulation and the "flat" option, where the flat part with the logo hits the bass drum, is supposed to add a "fat" sound to the bass drum. I tried the beaters on a Gretsch 18" bass drum which was tuned in the mid-range. I picked this bass drum because it was the one that needed a beater. So, not very scientific but practical.

Both beaters took some getting used to, as they are both heavier than the beaters I am used to using. They weren't uncomfortable, but the weight was noticeable. The wood beater sounded as expected, with a lot of articulation, but did not have the same "fat" sound that I can get from some of my other wood beaters. Still, it was a quality beater and I'm sure I'll find a use for it soon.

The real winner of the group was the felt beater. In the flat position, the weight added some extra punch to the 18" bass drum, but the radial position really made this bass drum come alive. The radial position gave the bass drum a Motown sound with plenty of tone and articulation. It really sounds nice.

I'm not saying that you should run out and replace all of your bass drum beaters with Vickick beaters (ugh, that name) but if you're looking for a new beater, they might be an option for you. The best part about the beater was that unlike other Vic Firth products, they weren't overpriced. I payed $15 for each beater which felt more than reasonable. Check them out and see what you think.

*They are the worst timpani mallets you can buy. They are over priced and once you've played with real timpani mallets, you'll never, ever use them again.  Except for maybe on the drum set, but that's a completely different thing.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Ride Cymbal Comparison

I thought it might be fun to compare all of my ride cymbals. I made a short video using a Zoom Q4 camera so you can hear each cymbal.  The video and audio are not great but it's good enough.  The playing is not great but I was trying to sound the same for each chorus.  The problem is that each cymbal makes me play differently and thus there is a lot of variations.  It was also late and it's hard to play well without other people involved. I hope you find the video useful or at least fun.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

You Know How to Whistle Don't You...

There are few things I dislike more than whistles/whistling. I'm sure part of this comes from the fact that I cannot whistle. Historically, it has been the job of the percussionist to cover any whistle parts found in a score. I don't know why. I realize that a bulk of the time other people have something like a horn shoved into their mouth, but it seems that horn players would make better whistlers. Anyway, it comes up and I have to be prepared.  The following is a collection of whistles which I sometimes have to take on a gig. At the end of each description, I provided the number of times, in parenthesis, I used each whistle on a gig in the last 2 years.

Starting on the left, the first whistle we see is a Acme siren whistle. This is the famous sound of so many cartoons and Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited. This stupid little whistle was very expensive and takes so much air to play. Half the time I feel like I am going to pass out when I play it. (1)

Next to the siren whistle is an instrument that is not actually a whistle but it seemed to fit in this post.  It is a tube which, when turned over, moos like a cow. I must admit that I do enjoy using this one. (1)

Next to it is a crow call. I have used this several times in classical settings of all places. It's kind of disgusting, but if you can actually find a lot of bird calls at yard sales. Just make sure they look fairly clean. You don't want to get some kind of bird flu. (2)

Speaking of birds, next to the crow call is a whistle that sounds like a duck. Again, this one is fun to play but hard to do without looking stupid, especially since it's shaped like a duck bill. (2)

The tall whistle in the back is a train whistle. You can find these every where and they are pretty cheap. Grab one because you can always find a use for this whistle. (1)

The little black whistle is an Acme snipe call. (They exist!) It is a weird little whistle which I have used to make ethereal sounds in some recordings. It's not very useful, but when hunting snipe, it really comes in handy. (1)

The slide whistle sitting in the front is pretty cool. I needed it for a gig and it performed well. I found out later that a lot of people seem to trust the plastic whistles over the metal ones. It's a slide whistle so I honestly am not going to worry too much about it. It works and I'm sure it'll work again. (4)

Start collecting some whistles. It's embarrassing but you'll never know when having a few might get you a gig.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Show Set-Up -- The Producers

I have been really busy over the last few months and haven't had a chance to post. Among the things that have kept me busy, was playing a run of The Producers for a local theater. I love playing in pit orchestras. I enjoy the pressure of the live performance, unpredictable casts, and creating various sounds and grooves. 

The set-up I used for The Producers was an example of how I usually play shows. This show has a drum set and percussion book which call for various instruments and sound effects. I had to play both books for this production so my set-up is a combination of everything I could cover from both.  

This picture shows the bulk of the instruments I used for the show. As you can see, everything has to be close so I can find it in the dark. I usually do not like to use plastic instruments, like the jam blocks, but for this show a lot of my work had to be played with sticks so I used plastic instruments. Pictured: Bass drum, snare drum, floor tom, 2 jam blocks, a mounted tambourine, cowbell, bongos, 14" hi hats, 20" ride, 12" splash. Also pictured is the ratchet which has been attached to the bass drum with a c-clamp. If you have a solid way to mount a ratchet so it doesn't fall on the ground every time you use it, please let me know in the comment section. Until then, I'll continue using the c-clamp. 

The right side of the kit is basically in the picture above but in this picture, you can see sticks, brushes, mallets, and a 16" crash cymbal.

The left side of kit included a triangle, a glockenspiel (sitting on a trap case), a mark tree, and my music stand with a light. Not pictured is a pair of castanets on a machine, a slide whistle, and a siren whistle. 

I have decided to post more of my set-ups so I can show you how I approach some musical situations. This particular set-up was a lot of fun to put together and the show was a success.  

Friday, August 28, 2015

14" Sabian HHX Legacy Hi Hats and 21" Sabian HHX Legacy Light Ride

I have been exploring Sabian cymbals for the last few months and the following two cymbals are the latest additions to my collection: a pair of 14" HHX Legacy Hi Hats and a 21" HHX Legacy Light Ride. I didn't know much about these cymbals when I bought them, but after some research (typed Sabian Legacy cymbals into Google) I found out that the line was designed in part by Dave Weckl. This makes sense once you hear these cymbals. They sound like a cross between Buddy Rich's cymbals and plates you would use to play smooth jazz. I know that doesn't sound very appealing but trust me, these cymbals are solid. 

Let's start with the hi hats. Out of the box, these cymbals look great. There's not a lot of ink on top of the cymbals and they have a finish which makes them appear like they have already achieved a sweet patina. The hi hats are a little heavier than I would like, but are probably lighter than most of you would use. I can't be sure, but the top hat seems to have less of a bow than other hats being made by the big cymbal makers. This particular fact reminds me of old Paiste 602 hats. That last bit could just be in my head. Either way, they have a great chick and sound great in jazz and rock settings. I was impressed with the sloshy sound these cymbals make. They really come alive when you play Jo Jones licks on them, especially if you open and close them with your left hand while playing with a stick in your right. Overall, these are great multi-purpose hats but I think they will really shine driving a big band.   

The 21" HHX Legacy Light Ride is different. It's so different, I am not exactly sure where to use it. It has a descent ride sound. In fact, when I first started playing it, it kind of reminded me of Buddy's ride. It has a high pitch with a lot of wash but plenty of stick definition. The washy quality doesn't allow this ride to fit in every situation but the fact that the wash is so controlled also inhibits the cymbal. In other words, it's too washy to sit on the right side of the kit and has too much definition to be a crash ride. With that being said, this ride still has something that makes it work in the set-up. It makes a really nice crash. It has a lot of crash sound and a fast decay so it doesn't gong out. I found that on a rock gig, the cymbal worked really well as a left side ride. I could crash it but also use it for a different ride sound, especially when the band played 60s garage rock. The cymbal suffered a little when I tried it on a piano trio gig. It didn't sound bad but it wasn't right. I haven't tried it yet but I bet it's going to sound pretty good on a big band gig.

Overall, I like the Sabian Legacy cymbals. I like them enough that I am probably going to check out the 22" Heavy ride and the 17" crash. I'll let you know how they work out if I get them.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

22" Sabian HH Big and Ugly King Ride

As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently started playing Sabian cymbals. Those of you in the know understand the history of Sabian and will recognize that they make quality cymbals for professionals all over the world. One of the reasons I have always avoided Sabian in the past was that the seem to have the worst marketing team in the world. It's like they purposely market cymbals in such a way that I wanted to completely avoid them. The new Big and Ugly series follows this mold. As I'll explain, I'm glad I disregarded the marketing.

So, let's start with the name. I get it. The entire series is made of ride cymbals that are "big" and "ugly." The thing is, they're really not. The series is comprised of six ride cymbals most of which are 22" with a couple of 24" mixed in for fun. Ok, they're kind of big, but they are anything but ugly in looks or sound. In fact, these are some of the most beautiful and interesting looking cymbals Sabian has ever made. They look like cymbals that sound great. Why Sabian named this series Big and Ugly is beyond me, but the demonstration videos on their website may explain more about their thinking than I can. The demo video is some guy who uses all of the rides as crash cymbals and one giant set of hi hats. It's fine, but I think most of us would rather hear what these cymbals sound like being used as rides...you know, because they're rides.

Anyway, enough complaining about Sabian's poor marketing. I bought a 22" HH King ride. I usually use smaller rides but I am not afraid to go big. Out of the box, this cymbal looked beautiful.  The top is unfinished and the bottom is completely lathed except for the underside of the bell. The cymbal easily bends in your hands and has that beautiful warble that I want in my cymbals. For a 22" it's pretty light. I must say that this cymbal has all of the characteristics I look for in a ride. I picked the King ride over the others in the series because it sounded like it would be the most versatile. I'm not sure it would work on every gig, but I took it to all of the ones I've had in the last few weeks and it performed like a king.

The cymbal is very complex and has a Tony Williams kind of vibe. It has perfect stick definition and a great shoulder crash. If you play modern jazz, this cymbal is definitively worth checking out. I took the cymbal on three gigs; a piano trio gig, a quartet gig and a country gig. You would think a cymbal like this would be too big for a piano trio but it performed pretty well. It sounded great at low volumes and never got out of control as we got louder. The piano player liked it, although he liked my flat ride better. The quartet gig was even better and this cymbal sounded amazing under a tenor player. The cymbal sounded ok at the country gig although I will probably bring a different one next time. It might be a little too complex sounding for George Jones tunes, but it didn't stick out in a bad way.

I recommend checking this cymbal out. It has been a treat to play and I think I will buy some of the other plates in the series. When I do, you know I'll tell you about them here.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Toy Cymbals

I like anything that makes noise. I have a collection of odd cymbals, some of which have been discussed in other posts, that I thought would be fun for you readers to actually hear. Please keep in mind that everything was recorded with a digital camera and that all of the playing was done with one hand.

The Splat

This is a special cymbal for me and I have had it a long time. I bought it and a snare drum for $10 at a yard sale. The cymbal was one of my first experiments. The cymbal is 10" and is made of very thin sheet brass which I drilled and added a bunch of rivets. It sounds pretty weird but in the right spots, is perfect. 


 This recording is the cymbal by itself. It's so light that it works well on a hi hat clutch. The rivets  are heavy enough that it doesn't make sound when  you play the pedal.


This is the cymbal mixed into a groove. 

The Crasher

The Crasher is a pair of Royce cymbals that I found. They are thin and have warped edges. These edges allow them to sit on top of each other without getting stuck together and thus make a cool sound. 

Here is what both cymbals sound like. Apart, they sound terrible but I dig the sound they make together. I have tried to adjust the tension, i.e. making the cymbals clamp tighter together, but it doesn't work. Only having the cymbals lay on top of one another in a loose fashion works.

Toy Hand Cymbals

This is a pair of mini hand cymbals that would come with a kid's instrument set. They sound terrible when crashed together.

However, they work wonders for snare drum sounds. This is an older studio trick where you can change the sound of the snare by adding a splash cymbal. It gives the drum a snappier sound, especially when heard through good microphones. I like using these cymbals for this so I don't mess up my good splash cymbals and because these cymbals have a little handle attached, it makes it easier to get them off the drum when I'm finished.


Sorry about the poor camera work here. I wanted you to hear what the snare sounded like with a groove. The camera is sitting on my floor tom, which I am not hitting, and wouldn't stay still. I thought it looked cool so I decided to keep the video. The playing is so-so. 

If you have the opportunity to find some cheap toy cymbals, grab them. You never know what kind of fun you could have with them.