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

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Cymbal Shopping, Art Blakey's Ride Cymbal and My Cymbal Experiment (Mistake?)

I spent some time in the drum shop this weekend. I was sent to the drum shop with a budget to pick up some cymbals for my school. I had to pick cymbals that were quality but still fit in my budget. I also didn't have time to spend hours selecting each individual cymbal. I found a boxed set of K Zildjians for a reasonable price. The set included a 14" K HiHats, 16" K Dark Medium Thin Crash, 20" K Ride and a 18" K Dark Medium Thin Crash. It has been 15 years since I last went shopping for a Zildjian cymbal but I believe I know their lines pretty well. I opened the box of cymbals when I got home expecting quality. I was wrong. Admittedly, I have been playing handmade cymbals for the last 15 years and I wasn't prepared for the sounds of these cymbals. Growing up, K Zildjians were the cymbals I always wanted because they were "jazz" cymbals. There is no way these cymbals were created for jazz. They are so heavy, The hi hats are heavier than the New Beats I owned when I was a kid and the ride has absolutely no character. These are terribly generic cymbals.

And that's my problem. I started playing handmade cymbals because they sounded like instruments. Sure, they have tons of issues like not being completely round or having drastic variations between cymbal models but they sound like instruments. Cymbals that are manufactured by computer have no character and they all have a hum. Listen closely and you can hear it. They have also become extremely heavy and metallic sounding over the last 20 years. I know that so many of you are getting ready to attack right now. I hear you. "I've been playing Zildjians since 1950 and they are the greatest ever!" "My Sabians make me cry tears of joy each time I strike them!" "Tony, Elvin, Jack and everybody else played Zildjians!" I know and I understand. I'm in the middle of a personal situation (more later) which will likely lead me back to playing computer made cymbals. Still, hear me out. All computer made cymbals have a hum and it is annoying. I'm not sure what the solution is or why I'm going on about it except that it makes me miss old Ks and leads me to the next part of this post.

Art Blakey is the man. His playing was inspiring and his "college," The Jazz Messengers, trained tons of amazing musicians. Look at the picture on the left. The man is a badass. In fact, it is this picture which gets a lot of us drummers in trouble. I started smoking because I saw how cool Blakey looked in this picture. I quit two days later when I kept dropping ash all over myself while playing. I'm still not sure how he did it. More importantly, the cymbal we see in this picture is one that has captured the imagination of drummers for a long time. When I start talking about rides with drummers eventually Blakey's will come up. What's weird is that no one ever talks about the sound of the cymbal. Talk is always about the rivets. I have searched for a cymbal with tons of rivets for years and outside of the Swish Knocker, could never find one. After this afternoon, I think I know why.

The only thing I wanted for my drumset when I started playing music was genuine Zildjian cymbal. In 1994, I finally saved enough to buy my own. I was told that the most important cymbal is the ride and went into my local music store to buy a 20" A Zildjian Medium Ride. I was the happiest kid in America. I used that cymbal for a long time and it actually sounded okay. After all the gigs in bars, animal lodges and school dances, the cymbal started to change and so did my ears. In 2000 I upgraded to a set of K Customs and sold all of my cymbals except for the ride. It was the first and so it was special. I took it to the local music store and had them punch 3 rivets into it, The rivets did nothing to make the cymbal sound better. It developed a weird hum that I couldn't unhear. The K's also developed the same kind of hum and in 2005 I gave up using Zildjians and started using Bosphorus/Crescent cymbals. A few weeks ago, a friend of mine told me to stop by because she had a cymbal for me. It was my Old A which I totally forgot I lent her. So, to make this story longer...

I took the Old A to the drum shop with the hopes that they would help me with a little experiment. I decided to turn this Old A into an Art Blakey cymbal. I read somewhere that he used an old K that had the same sound and character as one might find in a modern Zildjian Medium A. So I figured, why not? I am a regular at this drum shop. The employees know me and usually go out of their way to help me out. When I asked them to drill the rivets for a Blakey cymbal, they all said no. Finally one guy said he would do it but he would have to charge their usual price of $5 per rivet. He estimated that I would need around $200 worth of labor. I couldn't believe they wouldn't knock this out for free. I could buy a new A medium ride for less than $200. I took the ride home and decided I would do the project myself. It took everything I had once I returned home not to go back to the drum shop and offer them $400 to do the job.

Do you know how hard it is to drill equal distant holes in a circle while having to use 3 existing holes as a guide? I didn't have the math skills for this job. After hours of planning, I finally mapped out my hole pattern and started drilling. I promise you that drilling 3 or 6 holes is no big deal but trying to drill 56 holes is a nightmare. I did my best and the cymbal actually looks pretty good. Well...as good as a 20 year old cymbal that's been in every bar East of the Mississippi can look.

If you've read this far, I am sure you care very little about how the cymbal looks. The most important question is of course, how does it sound?  Well, not great...but not terrible. There are two golden rules to follow when adding rivets to a cymbal: 1. Adding rivets to a bad sounding cymbal will not make it a good sounding cymbal; 2. the more rivets you add, the less effective they become. I broke both rules. I took a mediocre cymbal and hoped that adding a ton of rivets would make it sound amazing. I'm an idiot. It sounded bad and now still sound kind of bad. The cymbal is not without character though. It is now extremely dry, although the hum is still there. I'm going to try to take some of the hum out with duct tape tomorrow. The rivets basically add weight to the cymbal. They really don't make much of a noise. It does look cool and a shuffle sound pretty interesting. I'm going to keep working with this cymbal but I doubt it'll ever see a gig again. 

So, if you're interested in making your own Blakey cymbal, my suggestion is, don't. It's a waste of time, money, and brain power. It also creates the most dangerous cymbal in your cymbal bag as there's nowhere to grab the cymbal without getting a rivet in the finger. It does look cool...maybe I'll try that smoking thing again. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

A Question About Cymbal Rivets

I want to throw this question out to those that are older and wiser than I am. I have a ton of sizzle cymbals but I don't own any that are more than 20 years old. I was putting one of my cymbals away after a gig and noticed that the rivet seemed to be creating a key hole in my cymbal. This particular cymbal is thin and has 2 rivets. Both rivets seem to be making the same indentation. I tried to take a picture to show what I am talking about but it's hard to see. The holes were drilled at the factory.  I switched the rivets when the plate was brand new and remember the holes looking correct. Now they are beginning to have an oval shape.

Anyway, I just wondered if anyone out there has seen their rivets creating a keyhole effect on their cymbals?  All of this could be my imagination but I don't think so.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

If I Can Hit It, It's an Instrument...

I was digging through a box of instruments this weekend and found more things that I use to create music that are not necessarily considered instruments. I've written several posts on this blog about unusual instruments and this post is a continuation of that series.  

This first picture is of two brass bells. The bells usually have a hanger on the inside so that they can be rung by hand with a cord. I took that part out of the bell so I could mount them on a stand and hit them with a stick. They have a great sound for when you need to replicate a ship's bell or any other type of small bell sound.  

This is an aluminum fan from the inside of a refrigerator compressor. It makes a great clanging sound when struck and also looks cool when included as part of my set-up. It's easy to find great sounding timbres like this if you spend a little time going through junk piles. Even if I am not sure what I am going to do with an item, I'll save anything that sounds good with the hope that I'll find a use for it later.  

This instrument might be unusual for those of you who are younger, but these two brass cups are from the inside of an old phone. As there are millions of these type of phones not in use, it should be easy to find your own set of these. 

Dig this! Each part has been labeled either "A" or "B" so that it's easy to keep the cups separated if you have various sets. I use these to recreate the sound of a phone. It's not a stretch I know. I gently affix each bell to a board and then use a triangle beater to create the ringing sound. I also like to take this sound into offices and see how many times I can get someone to answer their phone. It's pretty fun.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

You Know...Because Who Doesn't Need a Giant Bell?

My dad saw this giant bell and thought I need it for my collection. He was right. This giant bell is awesome and believe it or not, I've used it several times over the last couple of years. The bell is solid cast iron so it weighs a ton. My dad built the cool wooden stand that it sits on and he created it in such a way that the bell is detachable from the stand for easier cartage. I found this metal frame with wheels and decided it would be the perfect rolling platform for the bell. I have no idea as to what the cart was originally designed for but, my bell stand fits perfectly on it. The are so many crazy instruments that you can add to your collection. Keep an eye out and I am sure you'll find all kinds of fun stuff!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Meinl Knee Pad Jingle Tap

I stumbled upon the Meinl Knee Pad Jingle Tap a few weeks ago and it is the most fun I have had in years. The Knee Pad Jingle Tap, (stupid name) is basically a wooden block with jingles attached to it that straps to your knee. I had never actually heard this instrument and the packaging on the instrument made it impossible to tell exactly what it sounded like. The $30 price tag was low enough to take a chance on this instrument.

Like all Meinl equipment, this instrument is really well made. I have huge legs and the strap fit comfortably around my leg. When struck with the hand, the instrument has a loud "stomp box with jingles" sound. Hitting the instrument with just the fingers creates a secondary sound not unlike a Kevlar headed snare drum although not in an offensive way. I think the possibilities for this instrument are endless. I was so intrigued by the instrument, I opened it in the car and played along with the radio for the entire 2 hour ride back to my house.* If you play a lot of percussion gigs, especially hand drums or cajon, pick up one of these instruments. 

I also picked up a set of Meinl Finger Jingles while at the store. You already know these things are fun to use. I used them while playing congas, cajon and drumset. They proved to be effective in each instance. They were so inexpensive, I recommend grabbing a set.

*I do not recommend playing this instrument in the car if you travel with other people. Passengers will most likely leave you in a ditch.  Also, it's probably unsafe as a motorist to play while driving...

Monday, January 26, 2015

In Search of a New Key

I must admit that this post is kind of silly. A few days ago, I was helping a student tune a drum so I reached for my trusty key. I placed the key on a tension rod and couldn't get it to turn. A quick look confirmed that instead of being square, the inside of this drum key had was round. I hear all of you shouting, "So what! Get another key you big cry baby!" The thing is, I have had this key on my person everyday since 1994. This key hasn't been left under a bass drum in bar as I hurried out. It hasn't been taken from me by the TSA. It hasn't been stolen by a student. These are amazing accomplishments for this little key.

So now I have 2 problems. The first is that I need a new key. I have a new key on my key ring right now but it  doesn't feel right in my pocket and frankly, I'm not sure it'll ever be able to replace this old Pearl key. I'm sure I'll figure something out. The second problem is trickier. If you've been reading this blog, you know that I am a fan of recycling. I like to recycle as much of my used drumming equipment as I can. I recycle because it helps the environment but as is the case with my drumsticks, I feel there is something spiritual about disposing of something that helped me create art. So, I'm not sure what to do with this key. I would like to recycle it but I believe the pot metal it is made of makes it hard to recycle where I live. If you have any suggestions, drop me a line and until I figure out something, I'm going to keep looking for a replacement.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Meinl Make-Your-Own Cajon Experiment

I have been cajon crazy lately. I recently bought a great cajon and have been using it on every gig I can. I thought it might be fun to build my own cajon. After combing the Internet for different examples, I found that there are hundreds of people making custom cajons. 

I decided the best course would be to buy a Meinl Make-Your-Own Cajon kit and see how these things work then later, build my own from scratch. Plus, the $50 price tag made this an affordable experiment. If I messed up, no big deal. I will do my best to describe each step of the building process so you'll get a sense of my experience. I know I should have taken more pictures of each step but to be honest, I forgot.  

The cajon kit arrived with everything you would need to build except for glue, sand paper, and a small number of tools. The instructions start with the basic construction of the box. Basically, you glue all of the supports to the inside of the shell and then glue the box together. This was really simple with the help of some C clamps and wood glue. The sides come notched so they fit together easily. Make sure you fit the sides together correctly before gluing. There are 2 ways that the sides will fit together and if you pick the wrong one, you're pretty much DOA. The instructions tell you to glue all of the pieces together and then use strap clamps to hold the box in place. Like so:

If I were to make another, I would not use the clamps. You really don't need them and they are hard to work with if you're building by yourself. Just pile some heavy stuff on top of the box and make sure it's square.  It should be fine. Let the glue dry for a day or 2 before going to the next step.

This is another view of the strap clamps. The more observant reader will notice tools and the front piece sitting on my congas. You should not use your congas as a table. I should know better and I am ashamed of this picture.  

Once the sides dry, you attach the snares and the other 2 sides. This isn't a big deal except that it does require some time. The front piece has 10 or so screws that have to be perfectly diagrammed and drilled into the front or your cajon will look bad if a screw is out of place. This takes some time, especially if you're not used to using the metric system (my hand raises) because all of the figures are metric. Aside from a metric ruler, you will also need a screw tap for this step so the screws will sink into the front piece and not stick out.  

Once you have finished putting all of the pieces together it is time to sand your box. Hilariously, the front and back piece that came with my cajon were slightly larger than the box shell. No problem except it meant a lot of extra sanding. I went mental and thought I could sand the box by hand, giving me something to do during commercials. Five minutes of hand sanding made me run to get my electric sander. Sanding this box takes forever if you want to get it right. You have to sand all of the sides smooth but also sand all of the corners round. All of that plus the incorrectly cut back and front pieces made for an all day sanding event. I should have a picture of this but...

I had so much time to think while sanding that I realized I don't need another cajon. I decided to finish this cajon as a gift for a friend. Christmas was about a week away so I had to make some quick decisions. I decided to finish the cajon with "child like" pictures of my friend and his family. I was going to create a cool design in black for the front but I decided this cajon should be fun and not so stuffy.  

Actually finishing this cajon took some thought.  I originally wanted to paint the box but quickly realized that the paint would run on the unfinished wood. I eventually used Prismacolor Watercolor pencils. They are expensive but were perfect for this project.  

The pencils work like pencils but when dipped in water, they function like a paint brush. The mixture of the 2 options made the drawings look like a kid drew them with crayons. I finished the drawings with a paint marker to add outlines. Once the drawings dried, I clear coated the entire instrument. It took many coats of polyurethane to get a solid result. Each coat required light sanding which was difficult because of the drawings, but I made it work. The final step was to add the feet on the bottom, which once again called on knowledge of the metric system.

Overall, I had a blast making this instrument and it sounds great. I must admit that it's probably just as easy and cost effective to buy a cheaper cajon and paint something on the side. This project was about the journey. If you decide to make your own cajon, drop me a line and let me know how it went.