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

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. 

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.