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

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Elephant Bells

I was wandering through an antique store in Amish country when I stumbled upon these little beauties.

These are commonly called elephant bells or meditation bells. The following is from creekbed.org which explains what these bells do better than I can.

"The bells are cast in factories in a small town called Jalesar. This is a town in a northern state of India, called Uttar Pradesh; an area well known for brass work. The cloisonn-like coloring is done in another town situated close by, called Moradabad. The bells are hung about the elephant's necks so the Mahouts can locate their animals while they are out in the jungles.

The style of these bells has not changed since the 17th century as can be seen on Mughal paintings from that period."

I really love the detail on each bell. I am not sure how old these bells are or how they ended up in Amish country. All I know is that they are useful in the percussion world, including serving as part of the instrumentation for several Lou Harrison compositions.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

New Sabian Cymbals Post 1-- 22" Artisan Medium Light Ride and an 18" Ed Thigpen Signature Flat Ride

Well, a lot has happened recently. I never thought I would say it but...I am a Sabian artist, sort of. I was an artist with Bosphorus Cymbals and when the company split, I continued as an artist for Crescent Cymbals. Earlier this year, Crescent sold everything to Sabian, including their artist roster. It's a weird time that I have yet to completely understand but I am excited about the possibilities. Since I did not actually own any Sabian cymbals, I thought it might be nice to pick some up. I think of my first order from Sabian as having 2 parts. Part 2 will be discussed in another post. 

The first cymbal in my Sabian order was a 22" Artisan Medium Light Ride. The first thing I have to tell you is the presentation of this cymbal is unlike anything I have ever seen. The cymbal came in its own velvet lined bag which included a letter that discussed its inclusion as part of a very limited run of cymbals. Pretty cool! In addition, the cymbal looks amazing. The logo is small and the hammering markings are unique.

Of course a cymbal can look amazing but it is the sound that is most important. I took this cymbal on a gig too see how it would perform and I have to tell you that I have mixed reviews. The gig was a typical jazz group with piano, bass, and drums augmented with 3 horns players and a singer. I thought this cymbal would be an interesting choice with so many horn players.

This is a big cymbal and it responds a such. It has a lot of wash and can easily get out of control, which is a problem. I must say however that no matter how washy the cymbal got, the stick definition was always clear. I will admit that the cymbal did not match well with my Crescents. It didn't seem to have the same complexity or subtlety. The cymbal was just too aggressive for playing standards. There was a point in the gig where I started playing a groove like Elvin and the cymbal really came alive but moments like that were few and far between on this gig. During a set break, two of the horn players asked me not to use this cymbal while they were soloing. Ouch! With that being said, I still like this cymbal. I'm just not exactly sure where or how to use it. I am not giving up on the Artisan series and I think with a little extra love, this cymbal will become a favorite in the future.

I was super excited about the second cymbal I received in this order. It is an 18" Ed Thigpen Signature Flat Ride. If finding a ride cymbal is difficult, I believe that finding a good flat ride is damn near impossible. I have had several and have never been completely happy with any of them. I used to own a 22" Ed Thigpen Signature Flat Ride which was a nice cymbal but it was simply too big for any gig at which you would need a flat ride.

Anyway, I requested this ride and Sabian made one for me at their custom shop. I'm really excited about this cymbal. I haven't had a chance to use it yet on a gig but it sounds amazing out of the box. I added 2 rivets to the cymbal yesterday and it really made this plate sing. It has a beautiful crystal sound with all of the refinement you would hope to have in a flat ride. If you're looking for a good flat ride, this might be the one.

New Sabian Cymbals Post 2 -- 10" Sabian SR2 Splash and a 12" Canadian Crescent Splash Cymbal

The Sabian splash cymbals discussed in this post were not part of my order placed with Sabian but cymbals I bought over the last few months. 

There was a weird time in between the merger of Sabian and Crescent when it appeared that Crescent would exist as a separate company, but would be distributed by Sabian with Sabian making one specific series of Crescent cymbals. I honestly don't know how long this idea lasted, but it wasn't long. I ordered a 12" Classic Splash from Crescent, which should have been hand made in Turkey and instead, received a 12" unmarked Crescent Classic splash made in Canada. It was a confusing time and also telling of what was to come. 

As I have mentioned in other posts, I like my splash cymbals to sound like little crash cymbals, not like bells. This cymbal fits that bill and is a nice all around splash. It is still weird for me to see "Crescent: Made in Canada," but I'm getting used to it. 
This 10" Sabian SR2 Thin Splash is a great example of what happens when I go to a drum shop. Do I need yet another splash cymbal? No. Did that stop me from buying one? No. The SR2 series is made from cymbals that have been returned from trade shows or by artists. They could be any model from Sabian which are then re-lathed and re-stamped. I don't completely understand why you would have to go through all of this trouble to get a different cymbal. For example, in the Sabian video which explains this series, there is a guy who says something like, "There are fingerprints on this cymbal. It'll be a good candidate for the SR2 series."  Why not just clean off the fingerprints and sell the cymbal? I'm not sure but I am a fan.  First, the price of these cymbals are super discounted. A student can now purchase a descent sounding cast cymbal for the price of buying cymbals made of sheet metal. Second, the cymbals are all different so you have to actually search through them to find one that suits your taste. Finally, the cymbals are marked Heavy, Medium, and Thin. I truly believe all cymbals should be marked this way. 

This particular cymbal caught my ear because it sounded different than my other cymbals. It has a clangy sound, think Wuhan splash sound, but is still musical. I think this will be a nice cymbal to use with a multiple percussion piece I have been playing. Seriously, the price was so cheap I had to buy it. If you get a chance to check out some of the SR2 cymbals, I suggest you buy one. They are a lot of fun.

New Sabian Cymbals Post 3 -- 16" HH Viennese and 18" Artisan Medium Light Hand Cymbals

The second part to my Sabian order was 2 pairs of hand cymbals. I play both popular and orchestral music so it is nice to have a few sets of hand cymbals.

The first set in this part of the order was a pair of 16" HH Viennese crash cymbals. They looked beautiful out of the box and came with nylon cymbal straps. I will most likely replace these with leather straps soon. They have a focused sound which is neither too dark or too bright. They have a lot of shimmery crash sound without a lot of bell like tones. All around, this is a nice set of cymbals. While a pair of 16" hand cymbals may seem too small for many people, I find that they are actually quite versatile.  These cymbals are great for pit work, musicals, small operas, use with brass bands, and other types of chamber percussion work.

The second set of cymbals to arrive with this part of the order was a set of 18" Artisan Medium Light crash cymbals. Like the Artisan mentioned above, the cymbals came with a card designating them as part of a limited run of cymbals. This pair of cymbals came with a pair of leather straps. Out of the bag, these cymbals look gorgeous. The raw bell against the dark bronze color of the cymbals is really striking. The cymbals are really interesting. They sound unlike any pair of crash cymbals I have played before. They have a dark, complex sound which is pleasant but unique. The closest comparison I can make is that this pair of cymbals sounds like cymbals you might hear in symphonic recordings from the 1930s and 1940s.

I completely recommend picking up a pair of these plates. They are super expensive but anyone buying a set of crash cymbals usually isn't worried about the price. It's all about sound and this set of cymbals is worth every penny.  I can't wait to use them on a gig!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

18" Zildjian K Thin Dark Crash

I've received a ton of cymbals in the last few months. It's like Christmas! If I have some time to kill when travelling, I will always haunt a pawn shop. It turns out to be a waste most of the time but I have found some deals including this 18" Zildjian K Thin Dark Crash that I found at a local pawn shop. It looked like it had never been used so I assumed it was purchased new by the store. When I asked, the salesman said some kid brought it in because it didn't sound good. It sounds like your typical K to me. I wouldn't have purchased it but the price was extremely low. Think 2 people eating at Taco Bell low. Anyway, I couldn't let it die in the pawn shop. I bought it and I figure I'll use it on my teaching kit so my students will stop beating on my good equipment.  

Start searching those pawn shops. You never know what you might find.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

"Grab-n-Go" Bass Drum Project

I play a lot of percussion music that needs a bass drum. Most of this music requires a bass drum that is smaller than a concert bass drum and tuned differently than a drum set bass drum. That is why it is nice to have what I like to call, a "Grab-n-Go" bass drum. "Grab-n-Go" is the stupid name I use to describe a bass drum that is not attached to anything. For example, it is not part of a drum set and is not strapped to a concert bass drum stand. It is simply a drum that I can Grab and Go. I cannot tell you how many different situations call for a drum like this. 

A "Grab-n-Go" is such an easy drum to find and most of the time it is one that you can add to your collection for free. Most high schools have an old bass drum laying around that they would be willing to part with. Check around and I am sure you can find enough parts to get your own project started. 

I started my project with a 20" Pearl Championship Series Marching bass drum. I picked this particular instrument because it had most of its parts, it looked like it had not been abused, and I thought I could quickly turn this drum around. I would typically try to find an older drum because they are usually a little lighter, but this drum was free so I couldn't turn it down. The main goal with this project was to finish without spending a lot of money.

I decided to remove the white plastic wrap from the drum which had yellowed with age. Most of the later model Pearl marching drums have two strips of glue which hold the wrap on the drum. Once you pry the seam apart, the wrap will usually fall right off the drum. There is no way to know what's under the wrap but like this instrument, you will typically find a B grade maple shell. For this project, it doesn't matter. Keep in mind that with most of the marching drums, the wrap is considered part of the thickness of the shell. This may come into play later when you put the heads back on the drum and as it was with this drum, there is a little play between the head and shell where the drum is slightly undersized.

The hardware was easy to remove from this drum however, the air hole grommets on this drum took a little work. Once they came off the drum, they were no longer functional. I had to buy six new air hole grommets to replace the ones I took out. I could have simply left the grommets off the drum but there were so many holes in this shell, I thought it would look better to replace them. While I was placing an order for parts, I ordered replacement tension rods. I have never seen a marching bass drum that didn't have bent tensions rods and this drum was no exception. A new set of tension rods was cheap enough that the benefit out weighed the cost.

I had some stain and sandpaper hanging around my house from previous projects so I spent a few afternoons applying coats of stain to this drum. Because of the condition of the shell underneath the wrap, it may take several coats of stain to make the finish even. This drum took five and still had an uneven quality to it because of the weird grain pattern of the shell.

Once the shell dried, I added several coats of polyurethane, painted the hoops and put all the hardware back on the drum. I wanted to replace all of the hardware with new tube lugs but the cost of all of those replacement parts would actually be more than buying a new Pearl bass drum. I decided to go with what I had and be happy about it. The end result was a fun "Grab-n-Go" bass drum that cost me about $20 to get working again. It looks nice and sounds great.

Speaking of sound, I should tell you that I approach the tuning of this drum differently than my other drums. This drum will get used in a lot of different musical situations so I want to have several tuning options available without having to spend a lot of time adjusting the tuning. (Grab-n-Go, remember?) This particular drum has two different heads. One side has been fitted with a coated ambassador and the other side has a pinstripe. Neither head would be my first choice for a bass drum but this instrument is a little different. The playing situations which will require this drum will most likely also require that the drum be struck with either sticks or hard felt mallets. With that in mind, the head choice allows for a round warm sound if I use the ambassador side and a fatter sound if I use the pinstripe side. Each side has a strip of felt under the head so that the drum will not need much dampening.  

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.