Day Three: Best Drums at Winter NAMM

Drummers listen up. I couldn’t visit each company’s booth and survive to write the tale. Instead, here’s a sampling of the best new drum gear at winter NAMM 2011.

Young Woman in the Pocket

Grooving on Ride and Hats

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. I asked but nobody knew whether that recession had just about reached a peak or had begun its descent. The drum booths at winter NAMM 2011 were busy but not as busy as in past—not unless you’re talking the DW booth, where Neil Peart’s touring kit & time machine drew drummers of all ages like moths to the light.

DW Steals Action at Winter NAMM

DW displays Neil Peart Time Machine Drumset

DW Neil Peart Time Machine

Statement of bias: I’m a Camco guy, meaning for decades I played one of three kits manufactured by the company based in Oaklawn, Illinois (then Chanute, then LA). I preferred the LA vintage, unlike most collectors. The Camco LA vintage morphed into DW, which bought the tools and dies to manufacture the round lugs (Tama purchased the name “Camco”, which they attached to a decent pedal and to a line of upscale drums that did nothing for me). Since almost Day One I’ve respected DW.

The DW booth was a madhouse—an enthusiastic, polite even, madhouse. John Good kindly took me outside 6the bounds of Hall D for refreshments. He reflected on something I hadn’t noticed, perhaps because the DW booth was so jam-packed at all hours. I don’t tape record friends talking as a rule so I can’t put words in John’s mouth. But it seems to me he was speculating as to the absence of what I’d remarked to him that I’d witnessed at other booths, namely a parade of guys sitting down and wailing on double pedals, laying the sum total of their accumulated chops on the line (my words).

John wasn’t about to pass judgement; he was simply in a pensive mood. When we parted company, I couldn’t help but wonder if the relative restraint at the DW booth was indicative of universal respect—one that commands silence rather than raucous outbursts. DW has truly come of age and it wears the mantle well.

Bruce Wittet and John Good

T Bruce joins John Good for a break

Yesterday I showed you that gorgeous DW kit with a luxurious clear coat fostering additional depth to the contrasting horizontal maple bands: the sign of the X. But yesterday I hadn’t spoken to John so I was interested in which kit he’d identify as the most significant (outside the kingly Peart kit). He steered me to the same drums I showed you: the “striped” blond on brown kit. These were John Good’s finest, the crucible of his achievements: the X Shell-Plus, featuring an even mightier low-end component melding into a thick mid range presence;  the 23” bass drum, which John described to me as exhibiting the majesty of a 24” drum combined with the tight feel and punch of a 22”. What company, he posed rhetorically to me, would dare stake its claim on a renegade diameter kick drum, a truly odd number? That’s quite a feat, challenging the status quo merely on principle, all the while knowing that the tyranny of the majority make take you down.

I don’t endorse DW or anybody (wouldn’t help them if I did). It’s great being objective because it’s easier to pick a winner and that’s what I’ve done ,this winter NAMM and my first indie report to drummers. Last year John got me worked up over his “gear shift” toggle snare adjustment lever and over his magnetic snare strainer. This year it was diffuse; there was no one item; it was all good, pardon the pun.

Sabian Re-visited

Sabian has gotten off to a good start with the introduction of the Omni, a unique cymbal that does it all and does it aggressively. If I’m around Sunday, and hope to be, God willing, I’ll visit cymbal smith, now veteran, Mark Love. I knew him when he wore short pants; he’s now rightfully earned international acclaim. We tried to connect today at the Sabian booth. He was going to guide me through the new Sabian cymbals, the fruits of his collaboration with Chad Smith, Jo Jo Mayer and other Sabian artists.

Zildjian Visit Three

Zildjian's Paul Francis shows prototype Nussbaum ride

Paul Francis and his proto Adam Nussbaum ride

Finally, Paul Francis and I locked. Paul reached down, open a drawer, and pulled out a cymbal untainted by excess ink: it was a prototype of a cymbal he’s been working on in collaboration with New York City jazz legend Adam Nussbaum. Every breath he takes Paul comes closer to colliding head on with the ancient, lumbering K train. Mind you, with the momentum he’s gathering, Paul might just knock that old sucker off the tracks. The Nussbaum prototype was fabulous, thick in the mids, with solid low-end, and a beautiful stick click—framed in an aggressive but not triumphant wash. This is a true K. I’ve spouted about Paul’s work on digging deeper to the Zildjian roots in Turkey.

That’s why I was surprised to find many of jazz preconceptions vanish, specifically upon visiting and revisiting the B12 collection. I really dug Paul’s B12 hi-hats, featuring a medium-heavy top over a Mastersound (rippled-edge) bottom in 15” diameter, if you please. Place those two suckers so that they’re barely kissing and the sizzle goes on for days. B12 may be cheap as dirt but the dirt is gold dust: this is high-end gear, to my ears. The same goes for the new Z3 Ultra Hammered Chinas, the design of which Paul attributes to a colleague whom he is tutoring and whose name escapes me. These Chinas are billed as “volcanic (due to the oddly shaped, cratered bell) and explosive” but, seriously, they’d fit in perfectly on an out-chorus of “New York, New York”, maybe even better than the exciting new A Zildjian Swish Knockers, copied from Mel Lewis’s Monday Night at the Vanguard Swish.

Incidentally, the Gen-X series of perforated, silver-plated B8 alloy cymbals, which sound excellent as practice cymbals or for small-room recordings really come into their own when miked by a unique (transducer-based?) system that begins with a cluster that sits immediately under the cymbal cup. Honest, I put on headphones and listened while an excellent drummer grooved/rode/crashed and these do it all: they are unprecedented. That’s not NAMM marketing-speak: try them.

Perforated Gen-X Electronic cymbals at winter NAMM

Zildjian Gen-X Electronic Cymbals

Paiste Brings Back the 602

Isn’t it wonderful that only yesterday, relatively speaking and “relatively” meaning forty years ago, we had a big cymbal and a little cymbal, as Bill Bruford put it; today we are faced with an embarrassment of choices—all good ones. The Paiste booth is actual proof. That company, to my thinking, led the wave innovation that transformed the world of the medium ride and medium-thin crash and left us with a dazzling array of choices, beginning with the Sound Edge hi-hats, Formula 602 Dark Ride, and the Joe Morello Sound Set. Then came the 2002, the 3000, the Paiste Alloy and each of these lines included choices unavailable elsewhere.

A couple of years ago, Freddie Studer warned me that Paiste was revisiting the smoky jazz rides of the 1950s/1960s, this time in the Twenty line. Well, they are here and Freddie’s portent was spot-on. The new Twenty ride is like a Traditional series ride on steroids: lush and complex, overflowing with any attribute you might associate with “the old Turkish K”.

Now let me add a disclaimer. I liked the 602s when they first arrived in my hometown. And the new 602 come as close as is humanly possible. And that’s close enough, in my opinion.

To be honest, I’d be just as happy if the 602 stayed buried in the pages of history books. I daresay I can hear the voice of William F Ludwig, who distributed Paiste when it hit American shores and who had to honor warranties on a zillion cracked cymbals, echoing mine in agreement.

Out of respect to the many of you who lament their disappearance, I can confirm they’ve returned and in more than just spirit. Paiste’s done a great job of resurrecting the line. If you’re not happy with them, then you don’t really know Paiste 602s, submit. What I mean is that the feel is identical, as is the responde.

The original 602 was blessed (I say cursed) with a dB limitation or certain muted quality, which some describe as warm, due to the inherent absence of shrill highs. Back in the day, drummers were unmiked and had to hit hard to be heard. Sheet metal B20 bronze couldn’t stand up to persistent high-impact striking and crumbled, sometimes on the cymbal stand. The last 602s I owned were 19” Concert and a pair of 14” Sound Edged Hats. The 19” went down in a club fire, so it doesn’t count, but the hats, while beautifully sensitive were goners, given the top developed a 1” crack from the edge inwards. I gave Ian Froman the bottom, which he combined with some other top and that was the end of it; other drummers fared worse than me. Anybody who lived through the first wave of Paiste 602s will vouch for me. Accordingly, I’m wary of the new 602s but I trust Paiste so I’d probably buy a re-issue…but harbour suspicions. If you’ve never lived with the original 602s, here’s a photo note: Be careful what you wish for. But they do sound pretty! I’ll take another look.

Sakae Drums on Second Thought…

I visited my friend Eizo at Sakae again. He was showing the wear of trying to market an unknown brand, albeit supremely high quality, in a country in which he is unknown. He is patient, a good thing because, all things equal, you are about to hear an announcement within the next six months or so that two major, major players will be playing Sakae Drums. Wonder who?

Sakae Drums: the next contender?

Sakae Drums: a second look

More on that later.