Gear

Phatman joins Mapex!

mjrhPdayhPTLJ4pEPYfwVQQI’ve been holding on to this news for quite a while . . . mostly ’cause I was waiting from someone to come to their senses and realize just who they were partnering with!  But I think it’s safe to announce that I  have officially joined the Mapex family as an endorser.  I’ve played Mapex since 2000 and have absolutely fallen in love with their drums. Check out the video below for more details!

Oh, and check out this rad Armory kit that’s on its way to Phatman Studios!  Really really cool stuff.  Of course, I’ll post a review as soon as I can!

Mapex Armory Drums in Photon Blue Finish

Mapex Armory Drums in Photon Blue Finish

It’s a Phat Day at Sabian!

Sabian_logo - Transparent WhiteI’ve been working on this deal since last August, so please believe me when I say that I am majorly stoked to announce that I just signed a deal to be an Educational Endorser with Sabian Cymbals!  The reason I chose Sabian is almost the exact opposite of why I chose Vic Firth for my drumsticks.  I’ve always played Sabian.  Since 1998, I’ve  a very few other cymbals.  I’ve even tried to get away from Sabian before.  I looked at all the other cymbals companies out there and I never found one that had everything I wanted.  Some had great hats and rides, others had great crashes, and still others made killer effects cymbals.  But I’ve never found another cymbal company where I could build an entire set-up and love every cymbal I put on the kit.

But that’s exactly how I feel about Sabian:  I love every stinkin’ one of my Sabian cymbals.  I love the dark, raw energy from the HHX.  The cuts-like-a-knife quality of the AAX.  The old-school sound of the AA.  And the classic, mellow vibe from the HH.  And then there’s the Signature and Vault cymbals that get really crazy cool!  I just love everything I’ve ever played with a Sabian logo on it.  Heck even the entry-level stuff like the B8 or B8Pro have a great quality to them!  It’s just awesome.

If you’ve got questions, I’d be glad to answer ‘em.  I’m just pretty humbled right now that two major percussion companies think this kid from Wichita is worthy of a business partnership!

Vic Gets Phat

Over the past few months since I’ve been absent from here, there have been several major events in my playing career. One of the most significant being that I have joined with Vic Firth as an educational endorser. This move has major impacts on me and my studios so I wanted to make sure that I used this opportunity to let you in on why I made this decision.

First of all, you need to understand that I didn’t just send out a form letter to every stick manufacturer in the world. Rather, I deliberately sought out Vic Firth. The reasons are simple:

  1. I kept finding Vic’s sticks in my bag. While I used another company’s stick primarily, I kept using Vic Firth for more and more things – brushes, mallets, rods, concert snare sticks, marching sticks.

  2. I wanted to partner with a company that offered a full line of sticks and mallets. In my experience there are only two full line stick companies in the US.  Several companies offer drumset sticks while others offer concert and marching sticks, still others specialize in mallets. But only two offer everything and do it all reasonably well. But in my experience, only Vic Firth does it with a consistent quality time and time again.

  3. Vic Firth has an unparalleled commitment to education. Just check out vicfirth.com to learn more.

I’m really excited to be a part of the Vic Firth family (and it really does feel like  giant family).  So please take a few moments and check out everything that Vic Firth does (you can even get pepper mills and rolling pins from them!)

Free Drum Lessons | All That Other Gear Pt 3: Footwear

We’ll talk about pedals all day long, won’t we?  Speed Cobras, Demon Drives, and all other sorts single or double pedals.  But we never talk about what we wear when we hit those pedals.  So let’s talk about footwear today.

I started out like most all students . . . playing with whatever happened to be on my feet when I sat down at my drums.  As I got more experienced, I got more more finicky.  That’s when I ditched tennis shoes for plain old socks.  And that idea stuck with me for most of the rest of my drum set playing days.  A look at other players found that some like Dave Weckl seemed to use dance shoes, others went barefoot, and Mike Portnoy looked like he was sporting wrestling shoes.  But about 4 years ago I saw something that I’ve been using for my drumming footwear ever since: Vibram Five Fingers.

Okay, so they look pretty funky (and can smell that way too if you don’t wash ‘em regularly).  But these shoes are the perfect balance of form and function.  The design gives me a great feel on my pedals; just like wearing socks.  But they also give just a tiny bit of cushioning and support.  In fact, I like them so much that I’ve ditched tennis shoes altogether and wear my Vibrams all day long now!

Check ‘em out!  And start thinking about what you wear on your feet when you play the drums!

Free Drum Lessons | All That Other Gear Pt. 2: Ear Protection / Monitors

Now that we’ve talked about saving our rear ends – literally – lets talk about saving another of our critical body parts: our ears!  Let’s face it folks, drums are loud, and there are countless drummers out there who have done serious damage to their ears throughout the course of their playing careers. Just ask Lars Ulrich, drummer for Metallica. But in the last three years I’ve found ways to really help protect my hearing without detracting from the fun of playing my instruments. So today, we’re going to talk about using headphone or ear buds to help you protect your ears while still having a blast behind the kit.

I used to practice with a giant stereo system and monster speakers behind me so I could rock out to my favorite tracks while still playing at full volume on my kit. Then, after burning out several speakers and getting numerous complaints from neighbors, I switched to some cheap ear phones. But I still had the stereo cranked up so loud to hear the music over my drums. So now think about it . . . I’m blaring dangerously high decibels directly into my ears along with the brutal pounding of my drums. My neighbors were happier, but I wasn’t. That’s when I found the solution.

I was playing in the Newspring Band at the time and we had just started using in-ear monitors on stage. For me and the bass player we used the Westone 3 ear buds and these things were/are beautiful!  I was instantly amazed at how good my drums sounded with the ear buds in, even without the mics turned on. And the ear tips sealed up my ears well enough that I didn’t have to turn up my monitors very much at all to have a great volume even over my drums!  Hello ear-saving, good sounding bliss!

Deciding on a pair of ear buds or headphones comes down to two things for me:

  1.  Isolation: Good ear buds or headphones will offer a good bit of isolation from outside noise.  For me, that’s the biggest key.  If the ear buds can’t reduce the noise outside your ears, then you’ll have to turn your music up louder and louder to compensate, and that means more ear damage.  Now, that also means that the sound of your drums will be affected, so finding a good balance between noise reduction and sound distortion is key.  That’s why I like the Westones, their foam ear tips work just like ear plugs.  So they seal up perfectly, reducing outside noise quite a bit without muffling the sound of my drums too much (in fact, they make the drums sound like they’re being run through a nice sound board)!  The end result is that my iPod rarely has to be turned up of 1/3 of total volume.
  2. Sound Reproduction.  What good are ear buds or headphones if the sound they produce is junk?  I mean, those little ear buds you get with an iPod are nice, but do they really sound that good to you?  However, you don’t have to spend a fortune to get the most bass allowed to be picked up by human ears.  You should definitely listen to the ear buds or headphones you’re going to purchase before you lay down any cash for them.  Is they highs aren’t clear and the lows are thumping the way you like, then move on.  I chose the Westone 2s for my personal use at home because they give a great reproduction in sound but aren’t quite as pricey as the the Westone 3s which give a little better bass response.
No here’s the catch. A new set of Westone 2s will set you back about $250.  I feel like that’s a good investment in my hearing and practice enjoyment.  But I understand if that’s a bit much for you.  A good, cheaper option are the Stereo Isolation Headphones from Vic Firth.  I find them to be a bit bulky and they distort the sound of the drums a bit too much.  But for $60, they’re a great value!
No matter what you go with, you’ve got to pay attention to the health of your ears.  Once you damage your hearing, it can’t be fixed!

Free Drum Lessons: All That Other Gear Pt. 1: Drum Thrones

So, we spend all day in our local drum shops banging on cymbals and drooling over snare drums. We argue endlessly about our favorite drumheads and try sticks for hours on end. But, for most of us, that’s about as far as our gear conversations go. But there’s a whole ‘nother world of gear that gets ignored, and it’s my goal to shed some light on this pieces of drummer gold in the next few lessons. Today we’ll kick the series off with a discussion on drum thrones. You know, that place where your keister rests for marathon practice sessions and endless nights of the dullest musicals known to man.

For me the drum throne is as important as any pedal or drumhead that’s connected to my kit. If I’m not comfortable on my throne, then my all of my playing will feel awkward or even painful. I can remember one gig not that long ago when I had to buy a cheap stool for the show. My rear end was sore before intermission and I was near tears by the end of the show each night.

But what makes a good drum throne?  Let’s check it out:

  • Comfortability: Well . . . Duh!  A comfy seat is the key for me. I like tractor or bicycle seats because they supply just enough support while staying out of the way of my legs. Roc n Soc probably has the nicest seat cushions, but any high-end throne will have something nice.
  • Adjustability. Number 2 on my list is quick and easy adjustability. For me, that means a hydraulic lift that is not only quick but infinitely adjustable. It just makes life easier. Most all manufacturers have a hydraulic option now.
  • Back Rest. Maybe I’m old, or fat, or lazy (or maybe all three) but I’ve come to really appreciate a back rest on my throne. I find that it helps remind me to relax while I play. Nowadays I like to sit fairly close to my drums and rest my back on my throne. Then I can comfortably reach out to get to my drums and cymbals. Mind you, I’m not leaning back into my throne. I’m just sitting in a manner that lets the throne support my back as I play.
  • Add in a light weight construction and quick collapsing legs for easy transport and you have the perfect throne.

For me, that means the DW 9000 Airlift Throne with the tractor seat and back rest options. All together that throne will run about $270 before tax. That’s a bit pricey, but trust me when I tell you it’s an investment well worth every penny!

Gear Review | New Gear Update

Okay, so I’ve had a few weeks to play with my new toys, so here’s an updated review!

Vater Mike Johnston Signature model drumsticks

Still lovin’ these sticks and the durability has been better than expected. I have chipped one tip and thereby lost a good stick, but only one out of six. And the maple sticks just fly around the drum kit. I love them for jazz!

Roland SPD-30 and PM-10

I used my new Octapad to sample a lot of different orchestral sounds when I played Into the Woods at East High a coupla weeks back.  The sounds were generally great, with a few typical electronic issues (some rolls were junk). I even got to mess around with the timpani and tuning them. It went very well, and those rolls were quite nice. In general, I’m very pleased!

The PM-10 monitor, however, continues to disappoint. It is just waaaaay too underpowered to be good for anything other than a close monitor. Even then, the noise of playing the pads can cut through the sound of the samples themselves.

Paiste Signature 18″ Full Crash

Still awesome. ‘Nuff said. (that’s from a long time Sabian player)

 

 

Sabian AA 22″ Medium Ride

I have fallen in love with this cymbal!  The articulation is great for intricate ride patterns and the crash/wash is big but controlled. An absolutely great cymbal for Pop/Rock!

Gig Diary | Always be prepared!

You never know what you’re going to encounter when you’re out at a gig.  For example, I showed up at rehearsal at Newspring Church in Wichita to find the main snare on my drum kit had a completely blown bottom head.  AND we couldn’t find any replacement heads.  So this was my set up for the evening:

Tiny Snare

Tiny Snare

So . . . unless you wanna end up with a snare sound designed by Tinker Toys, you might want to make sure you’ve always got spare heads with you at the gig!

Free Drum Lessons | How’s Your Sound?

Okay so yeah, you can shred 32nd notes at 200 bpm all around your kit and that was with just your pinkies. And you can work 8-way coordination with such fluid that Terry Bozzio thinks you’re a freak. And so Steve Gadd just called you up and asked you how to groove better.  So you’ve got all these great skills, but how’s your sound?  Are your drums tuned up right? Is your technique getting a good sound? Is your kit miked up well?  You know, how do your drums sound?

I think as drummers, especially younger drummers, we can get a bit too focused on the technique and chops of playing. As a result we can overlook our sound. That can be a disastrous oversight. I mean, imagine going to hear your favorite drummer give a solo performance, but when you show up he’s sitting behind this old CB700 kit with busted up toms, cracked cymbals, dented heads, an no amplification. He’d (or she’d) still rock, but it would be amazingly distracting to hear the sounds of the crusty drum kit.

So next time you rehearse with your band, focus on your sound. Ask your sound tech for a recording of the rehearsal. Or take a small tape recorder (or your smart phone or your flip video recorder) and set it in the back of the room.  Get a sample of your sound and then dissect it when you get home. Think about each drum and cymbal.  Does any instrument stand out from the others, or does the kit have a nice blend?  Does the kick sound the way you think it sounds from behind the drums? How about about the snare, toms, hats, ride, or crashes?  Remember the drums will sound drastically different 40 feet in front of the kit than they do from your playing position.

So what if the sound isn’t what you want it to be?  Well the first thing is to evaluate your equipment versus the sounds you want. For example, a 7″ deep bell-brass snare isn’t going to give you a nice warm sound for your acoustic guitar driven band. It’s going to give you that cutting blast you need when you’re playing with your metal band. And that beautiful K-Custom Dark crash probably isn’t going to cut through a ton of amplified guitars like an A Custom crash would. And if you find yourself detuning your toms to the point of them sounding flappy, then maybe you need to consider picking up some bigger drums that you can get those pitches out of easier. The right equipment for the right gig is the starting point for developing a great sound.

Next, think about your technique. Is it helping you to get the sound you want?  For example, let’s say you’re playing in the average rock band with lots of guitar amps and a PA system and everything else that you have to cut through. So, you spent some time with your snare and cranked it up in pitch so it’ll cut through all that noise. And you bought some really nice A Custom crashes for the same reason.  Good job!  You’ve probably got the right equipment. But, are you tightening the cymbals washers all the way down?  When you hit the snare are you digging the stick into the head?  Are you gripping your sticks with a grip that would win the local strong man contest?  Then all that work you just did and all the money you just spent are no good. You’re choking the drums and cymbals. They’ll never cut like you want them too.  (If you want your crashes to get out of the way quicker, consider getting Fast Crashes. Or if you want to eliminate some of the high overtones from your snare look at putting fatter heads on it or use some tape to muffle the edges.)

You see, drums and cymbals are resonant instruments – they make sound by vibrating (resonating) when you hit them. Tightening the washers keeps the cymbals from resonating and digging your sticks in your snare head keeps it from resonating. The result is a choked sound. The same is true if you burry your beater into your bass drum head (got that John, stop doing it!). Your technique influences your sound at least as much as your equipment and tuning.

That’s just a couple of quick ideas to help you start evaluating your sound. Now go out and start listening to yourself. And don’t forget to listen to other drums and evaluate their sound too. What are they doing and how are they achieving the tones that are turning you on?  Don’t be afraid to ask . . . Heaven knows we drummers love tom talk shop!  Dave Weckl put out a pretty good (if slightly dated) video, A Natural Evolution: How to Develop Your Own Sound. Check it out.