sticks

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!

Gear Review | New Gear!

So I’ve been blessed by God, my church, my wife, and my clients to go on a bit of gear buying spree. I’ve got new sticks, new electronic percussion, and new cymbals! Sweet stuff. Here’s my early impressions.

Vater Mike Johnston 2451 Signature Hickory and Maple sticks

I like these sticks. They’re a bit shorter than I typically use (I usually get as long of a stick as I can – Vater Recording and Power 5A are my usual choice), but I kind of like the length. They’ve got a good balance and get a great rebound of the drums. On cymbals, they give lots of definition and dance very quickly. The hickory sticks are nice and beefy while the maple are speed monsters and just fly off the drums!

The one drawback is the half-barrel tip. I’ve been paying with the sticks for just about a week and I’ve already chipped one tip. That’s the most annoying type of stick damage . . . ever! You end up with a perfectly good stick except for a bunked up tip that messes with your ride sound. I hate throwing away a perfectly good pair of sticks for a tiny chip on the tip!

My only other complaint is the same one I seem to have with Vater sticks in general.  There seems to be a wide degree of variance in weight between different pairs of sticks. I keep all my sticks loose in my bag in case I break or drop one during a gig. So the entire idea of computer weight-matched sticks doesn’t fly with me. I just want sticks that are in an acceptable range of weights so that if I have to grab a new stick out of my bag, I know it’s going to generally feel the same as the one I’m already holding – not the exact same weight, just something reasonably close. With the Pro-Marks and Vic Firths I’ve used in the past, I’ve never noticed a problem, but it has come up repeatedly with Vater. Again . . . annoying.

Summary conclusion: I really do like these sticks. They fly around the kit and respond great on the cymbals. Durability will be the issue that decides whether these become a regular part of my stick bag or if I stick with my Recordings.

Roland SPD-30 Octapad and PM-10 Personal Monitor

Okay, so I’m lazy. I’ve gotten tired of hauling a bunch of toy percussion around to all these musicals I’m playin’. Plus, more and more modern musicals call for electronic percussion samples. So I picked up the latest iteration of the Roland Octapad to help fill in the gaps. I’ve had it for about a week now so I haven’t had time to learn everything this thing can do, but here’s what I think so far.

First of all the learning curve isn’t really all that bad. The manual is even less than 1,000 pages . . . significantly less! It took just a couple of hours to walk through the basics and start building new kits for my latest musical. The menu system is very easy to use and you have a pretty wide selection of patches to choose from and a great deal of customization that you can do to each patch. If you’re familiar with the V-Drums, this is pretty much the same system. The patches sound great. The acoustic samples sound life like and all the fun electronic samples are there too.

The one feature I was hoping for that is missing was the ability to upload new sounds to the Octapad via it’s USB memory port. There’s no method for doing that in the manual, and the early indications are that this won’t be possible. However, the Octapad does have a MIDI port (either traditional MIDI cables or USB) that should allow me to use it as a controller and access sounds from my laptop using programs like Ableton Live. I haven’t had any chance to try this yet, but I’m hopeful that it will make for a good work
around.

Listening to the Octapad through the PM-10 is relatively satisfying. The bass shakes the floor and the highs are crisp and clear. However, the overall volume appears to be such that this will only be useful as a monitor – there’s not enough power to project into an auditorium. Worse still, at times it seems that the sound of my sticks hitting the pads is louder than that of the sample being played. That’s particularly true of short, high-
pitched samples like the marching snare drum. Now, I haven’t messed with the pad sensitivity yet, and I’m hoping to do so soon and see if that solves the problem.

Summary conclusion: It’s very early still, but so far I find the SPD-30 to be serviceable.  I think there may be other better and possibly cheaper options out there depending on exactly what you want to use it for. I think if I had to do it again, I’d check out the pads from Alesis and Yamaha. I would definitely look for a better amp instead of the monitor that I bought.

Paiste Signature 18″ Full Crash

I am loving this cymbal! I checked out half a dozen crashes including the Zildjian A Custom and Rezo Crashes, Paiste Twenty Crash, and the Sabian Vault and AAX Dark Crashes before picking this one out. It just sang so beautifully when I crashed it the first time. I always thought the A Customs were the brightest and most cutting cymbals I had experienced, but the Paiste Signature Full Crash blew them away! The initial crash is extremely bright and it cuts through the band with ease. The wash after the crash is still bright, but it decays slowly with a full spectrum of sound. Best of all, it feels like I barely have to hit it to get a great sound out of the cymbal.

Summary Conclusion: I wouldn’t recommend this cymbal for a jazz setting or anywhere you would want a warmer darker timbre. But if your looking for something to cut through a bunch of guitars and amplification, this one’s got to be towards the top of your list.

Sabian AA 22″ Medium Ride

I haven’t made up my mind on this one yet. I tried every ride at Midwest Drum & Percussion here in Wichita that wasn’t obviously too dry – Sabian Vault Crossover, Zildjian K Custom Hybrid, Paiste Twenty, and so on. This was the cymbal I picked out.  It’s got good stick definition and a great bell. What I’m not sold on yet is the crash. I’m not sure if it’s the weight of the cymbal or it’s size – 22 inches is the biggest ride I’ve
used – but I’m not sure I’m getting enough crash out of this cymbal when I’m trying to propel the band through a big chorus. I’ll have to play this one some more and listen to the streams from the website before I come to any valuable conclusion.

Update: My said she really like this ride from her listening point in the auditorium. She said it gave a nice range of sounds and played nicely in the mix with the other instruments.

Summary conclusion: Pending

Free Drum Lessons | Custom Snare Sounds . . . Without a Drum Key! Part II

So, by now you’ve had fun trying the different strokes and ways to play your snare drum that we talked about in Part I, right? It’s fun, isn’t it? Now that you have a bit of an understanding of how to customize your snare sound on the fly in the middle of your gigs let’s focus on some things you can do to the drum itself, to customize your sound.

But before we proceed, I need to back us up a bit. For the best results and to get the broadest spectrum of sound from the techniques in Part I or II of this mini-series, you need to have a drum tuned close the middle of it’s range with moderately loose snares (not jangly, just loose enough to give a good “wet” sound). That’s our starting point, now we’re ready to start tinkering with the drum. And don’t forget, leave your drum key in your pocket.

Let’s start with an easy concept: muting. If you’ve tuned the drum like I said, you’ve probably got a good bit of high-pitched ringing. That’s a great sound for funky or poppy songs. I even use it as my default “broadway” sound. But let’s say you’ve got a big 80′s power ballad coming up in the set list. Try adding a few pieces of duct or electrical tape around the edge of the batter head, or even on the bottom head. Just experiment with different placements to get the sound you’re looking for. Or you can employ some o-rings to dry up the sound. I like using rings, personally, because I can take them on or off on the fly. A strategically placed wallet can also serve as a good way to mute your snare drum. Or for the fattest sound, try putting a towel over your snare. Rumor is that’s how AC/DC got their drum sound on the Back in Black album. Just try different things. And don’t forget to keep in mind whether you need to change your sound back or not and how temporary your changes need to be.

Okay, that was easy. Now lets talk about your snares. You need a little broader, fatter sound? Just loosen your snares a bit. Need a dryer, more articulate sound? Go the other way and tighten your snares. Or if you want a really dry, old-school field snare sound, you can even place one or two strips of electrical tape across the snares. Don’t forget to experiment with the snares themselves. There are a lot of great products out there for new snares. Just do a quick Internet search and you’ll find tons of stuff.

In the first part of this article, we talked about how you hit the drum. So, to wrap up this mini-series, let’s talk about what you hit the drums with. Do not overlook your sticks when considering your snare drum sound. In fact, don’t even get stuck on sticks. Rods, mallets, and brushes should all be staples of your stick bag. I also keep at least two sizes of sticks (for me, I grab Vater Recording sticks as my go to wood and Power 5As if I need something heavier). When picking your sticks for your gig (in terms of your snare sound), think about the weight and bead of the stick. If you want a sharp, articulate sound try smaller sticks with smaller beads. Broader, deeper sounds come from beefier sticks with fatter tips.  Also, in times when you need quick changes inside of a song, never neglect your ability to flip your sticks over and use the butt end to get a bigger sound. (Sticks make a biggest difference in your snare sound when you’re playing in the center of your drum with no rim shot). Rods give you that great “unplugged” sound, especially when you play rim shots. (Please, do not use rods as a tool for controlling your volume. Rods create a completely different sound than sticks and are not a good substitute. Instead, be a musician and control your dynamics with whatever tool you have in your hand at that moment). If you need that electronic drum loop kind of sound, try brushes on your snare. It’s almost like turning on the distortion pedal.

Okay, that’s it! More methods than you could ever want for customizing your snare sound without ever touching a drum key. Employ these methods at your next gig and see the new sounds you’ll discover and new ability you’ll have to blend into any song you’re playing.

Happy drumming!