Designed in the late 1950s and introduced in the Rogers 1960 catalog, The Rogers Swiv-o-matic Bass Drum Pedal was the first identifiably modern pedal, meaning that it debuted all of the features we see on today’s pedals but in a lighter weight, bullet proof unit.
The Rogers Swiv-o-matic pedal featured perks other pedals didn’t, or couldn’t, offer. It did so without heaping structure upon structure like condo upon condo in an inner city heritage property.
There are many smooth pedals available today. Hell, the one I used at the blues gig last night was as smooth as my old Swiv-o-matics (I’ve owned many). Only thing is, my old Rogers pedal never detached from the kick drum twice during an opening set. Nor did the bass drum, thanks to sharply-pointed Swiv-o-matic spurs, creep forward and bump its front head (no hole)into an ATM25. There’s lots of good pedals today and the Swiv-o-matic still ranks with the best of ‘em. As usual with foot pedals there are positives and negatives. Pardon me repeating myself occasionally in the course of this review. It’s just that when I sum up the attributes of the Swivo, I become so excited I just can’t hide it.
When you finish reading this review, you’re going to go out and buy a Swiv-o-matic pedal. Or at least try one.
The first thing you’ll notice is that it is smooth beyond what anybody has a right to expect. I’m not allowing for the fact that your Swiv-o-matic may be 50 years old and that everything’s relative. No, the Swivo was smooth then and is smooth now, no disclaimers.
The Swiv-o-matic is smoother than one of those “personal lubricants” you see advertised on television. I dunno, I bought one such gel and rubbed it all over everything, including my pedal, and I noticed no particular augmentation. After a break, however, it sure was slippery walking to the bar.
Back to the Swiv-o-matic, you immediately be relieved that every last adjustment is achieved via an ordinary drum key. If you’re like me (bless you), you carry one of these in your pocket. Circa 9/11, they’d confiscate them but nowadays they snatch those multipurpose devices that are invariably shaped in the sign of the cross and offer Allen key and regular key action in addition to strange 8-sided tools for adjusting foot plates and linkage. God help you finding a new one.
You set everything on the Swivo and it locks tight. This includes the firm grasp on the bass drum hoop (more below). Once the pedal locks to the supplied adapter clamp, no way it’s gonna go anywhere. Could be an earthquake, could be a nuclear attack (the big worry during the Cold War years when the Swivo was conceived), or maybe just your neighbor, who has thighs like Douglas Firs, jumping on it.
Finally the feel, ahh that which I remember best. Silky smooth or, if you prefer like butter. The best way I can describe your relationship with this pedal is that it makes you feel as if you are playing with bare feet. If you are, in fact, playing with bare feet…I’m not quite sure how to say. Ballet slippers or something?
I know that there are smooth pedals out there today, lots of them, one company in particular…but I just couldn’t get used to it. John Good tells me I’d love the DW9000, given I was a Rogers then Camco guy, and in Dave’s Drum Shop it feels good but I haven’t had one home to check it out. Maybe a review?
I’m really happy with the Pearl Eliminator, thanks to Pearl authority Gene Okamoto, who suggested that I’d get that retro feel by loosening the spring somewhat, backing down the footboard, and, especially, swapping out black cam for the red one. Works a charm.
Just as the BOA startled drummers a few years back (I reviewed it for Modern Drummer) and feels uniquely smooth, the Rogers Swiv-o-matic must have stunned drummers of the Kennedy era. It looked space age, as we used to say, venturing into uncharted territory. The Swivo survived 2 decades, yielding ultimately to the beefed up Rogers Supreme, which featured similar architecture and larger footboard.
As the Rogers Swiv-o-matic began to catch on, it began taking a hit, like all American gear, from the arrival of well-made, innovative, and competitively priced Japanese drums, which initially featured pedals remarkably similar to the Swivo. I remember trying several—and example would be the Tama Hi-Beat—and appreciating the quality, if not quite the degree of comfort under foot.
Rogers was an exception to the shoddy American-made drums that were increasingly evident by the mid-1970s. The Swiv-o-matic pedal, along with the revered Dyna-sonic, was the flagship for Rogers. Unlike the Dyna-sonic snare drum, wood or metal, however, the Swiv-o-matic pedal lived up to its advertised claims, whereas the Dyna-sonic failed miserably on its alleged “pinpoint definition, choke-free sound, perfect feel, full power, and the sound of music…” To me, the Swiv-o-matic was a masterpiece, the Dyna-sonic a turd to be avoided on the path forward. I believe that those collectors who scour the Internet for a wood shell Dyna-sonic and pay $3,000 US willingly are one brick short of a load.
But a few bucks for a used Swivo? You can’t go wrong. That’s how I felt when I used one on my first pro gig, late 1960s, at what I remember as The Carp World’s Fair. At the time, Carp was a hamlet in the valley (not the LA valley), population approaching 1,500. They sure went ape over Dixieland, which is what I played, first on the back of a red pickup truck (that’s the way it’s done, as per the “tailgate” business) and then at the stadium, which boasted bleachers and enough space to contain a herd of cattle. The Rogers drums looked good, sounded good, felt good.
The biggest selling feature of the Rogers Swiv-o-matic pedal was one we take for granted in 2012 but unheard of in 1960: you could adjust the “beater travel” in infinite increments, meaning the position of the beater at rest relative to the batter head. This was unheard of in an age when, to change the angle of the beater, you had to detach the spring and re-seat the top “triangle” into 1 of 2 or 3 holes, a procedure difficult if you were in a rush. With the Rogers, you’d simply take your foot off the pedal board, place the beater where you thought it should sit at rest, and tighten with a key. Give it a hit or two, maybe adjust it again, and Bob is your uncle.
Not only was the angle adjustable, the entire footboard could be raised or lowered, with that same drum key, without disturbing the beater angle.
Unfortunately, with the supplied beater,either marshmallow felt or double-sided (plastic/felt, known as the Blackjack, another Rogers innovation),at its tallest, it couldn’t quite reach the sweet spot on the batter head of, say, a 24” bass drum. That’s how I felt then but nowadays I’ve experienced the reverse problem with 16” bass drums; have taken them off their stilts and set them on the floor, causing the beater to strike far north of center, and the sound is excellent!
Mounting to the bass drum was a cinch, provided you didn’t lose a key part. There was no typical wing screw. Instead, Rogers packaged Swivo pedals with a hoop clamp with slender “jaws” that grabbed the hoop and were locked into place and remained with the drum in transit. The chromed clamp protected the hoop from scarring and, more significantly, it locked the pedal down. Once you slipped the pedal into place and secured it with the long wing nut, which protruded proud of the pedal at a 30-degree angle (or so), the pedal stayed put. Incidentally, since this wing screw stayed out of the way, you didn’t have cases of drummers depressing the footboard onto a hoop mount and gouging the underside of the board: what is Camco, what is Gretsch Floating Action?
In theory, you could also set the foot board at an angle. I say “in theory” because you were somewhat limited, in my experience, by the fragility of the the receiver to which the connecting rod attached(heel plate to front end, today replaced by solid plates). Although you could angle the post to assist in the act, I preferred a degree or two off center but nothing radical less the rod detach from that slender receiver; it may be personal as were my pigeon toes.
Blessed spurs that ended bass drum creep
One looming consideration for me was the adjustable spurs that came with Swiv-o-matic pedals. We take this for granted today but back in the day, pedal spurs were novel. Prior to the Rogers pedal, I’d grown accustomed to hammering nails into stages to prevent bass drum creep or the time-honored method of attaching twine to the throne and to the lower bass drum T-rods. This was a little haphazard.
Most drummers tell me that they rely on the giant,forward-pointing legs that have been standard on drumsets since the late 1970s—earlier for some companies such as Pearl, Yamaha, and Tama. Back then, most companies, Rogers included, supplied bass drum legs/spurs that were substantial enough to keep the bass drum from toppling over under the weight of toms. The day I discovered the Rogers Swiv-o-matic and those spurs, which dug into the carpet directly under my foot, was the day pedal creep vanished. Obviously,you’re not going to choose a modern pedal based on the criterion of spurs…although, to give one example that’s timely, I’d rather buy a Tama Iron Cobra than one of those re-released Tama Camcos, which has great action but no spurs. When I play heavy, on many stages the bass drum is off to the races. Last Saturday, I did a club gig and didn’t bring a good rug since the club stage, I’d noticed when doing reconnaissance, was carpeted. The carpet, however, was all tamped down and shallow and my kick began its northerly journey. I felt like Bill Stewart, who is constantly yanking his hi-hat stand back into place, when during pauses I’d be reaching to bring my kick back home. When the leader took an opportunity to introduce a freshly-written tune, I unclamped by Pearl Eliminator and put down the spurs. Mission accomplished.
The Swiv-o-matic was/is great…so I dumped it
Over the years, I’ve 6 or maybe 8 of them. If they’re so freaking great, you’re asking, why did you abandon them?
Because I didn’t get it. I mistook the taller goalposts of the later pedals as signs that they were more powerful. Funny that a guy like me, who has written 2 Modern Drummer cover story tributes to John Bonham, can conveniently forget that the man used a modest Speed King, a Ludwig pedal no taller than the Rogers, and generated a sound that was so loud that we can still hear it.
Don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that spring…
Today we see slews of “faster” and springier pedals—ones that can literally take your beat and run with it. The Rogers pedal wasn’t addressed to pedal speed but, rather, player speed. It was designed to carry your stroke unfettered to the bass drum batter, intact as played and without enhancement, augmentation, or acceleration. What’s more, the Swiv-o-matic melded with the flat of your foot, or toe, for a silky smooth ride to the batter. You could bury the beater or let it bounce.
Leverage & rolling stones…used in pyramids…
My father-in-law once told me that he’d solved the age old mystery of how the Egyptians were able to roll those massive stones hundreds of miles across the desert and form them into pyramids. Nowadays we have bulldozers and cranes. Back then there were no such conveniences. No trucks, planes, trains or automobiles. When it got dark, they worked by the light of the moon because there was no electricity and even if there were, nobody had invented the light bulb. Consequently, they’d have a hot dinner but it’d be in the dark.
My father-in-law knew exactly how the ancient Egyptians were able to roll the boulders.
Garlic. Lots of garlic.
My father-in-law knew all about garlic and its power. He drove a city bus for 35 years. We’d go fishing on a quiet stream and he’d bring some food stuff pungent with garlic, which he’d wash down with grain whiskey from a fruit jar.
Garlic may be one of The Mysteries but more important, in my opinion, is the notion of leverage. The Egyptians must have levered those huge stones, one by one, the distance from quarry to pyramids. You think you have a tough job? At any rate, I find that my research is aided by take out shwarmas and donairs.
When I play a bass drum, I need the pedal to feather effortlessly and I need it to kick mercilessly. For the latter, substantial leverage is critical. That’s an oversimplified description of facilitating events. Somewhere Bob Gatzen is laughing.
Smooth, yes. Springy, no
There was a deeper reason, and one I’m loathe to admit, for me walking away from the Swivo last time around. I thought that, judged by contemporary criteria, the Swiv-o-matic was flawed. I’d enter my local drum shop and try out a Japanese pedal, place it right there on the counter and pull the beater way back (think arrow and bow). Then I’d release the beater ball and it would bob back and forth, so many times that I began counting. One of the early Pearl pedals made the trip 23 times.
My Swiv-o-matic, fully lubricated and on a good day, would manage 6 trips then sputter to a dead stop. That ain’t right, I thought, in light of my experience with newer, better pedals (many of which have bitten the dust in the interim, while Swiv-o-matic pedals keep on ticking).
I began to equate springiness with everything desirable in a bass drum foot pedal. If it would wobble past the threshold, meaning 20 trips to and fro, then it was a damn site better than my under achieving Swivo. The modern drummer, I reasoned, deserves the backing of modern technology. Never once did I entertain the notion that the Swiv-o-matic had already reached contemporary benchmarks with half of the weight and half of the nicknacks.
But to a certain extent, I was correct in my assumptions. Modern pedals are, in fact, more powerful, efficacious, and quick. It all depends, as I’m slowly realizing (say 25 years give or take), on the sort of power and speed I require and, in addition, whether my basic leg/foot technique was adequate enough to draw conclusions about a pedal that stands today (and folds up) as a fine design and model of efficiency.
As for the relationship, springiness vs speed, there is some merit to my suspicion that it’s easier to do Bonham triplets with my current Pearl Eliminator (and BOA and Flying Dragon and DW 5000); and there is more volume available with less effort.
Failure in Fullerton?
Late in the 1970s, Rogers moved from the original Cleveland factory and Dayton warehouse to Fullerton, California. A few years ago, I drove on stroke of midnight to East Valencia Ave (street?) in Fullerton, California, which is just on the other side of Hwy 5 from winter NAMM, and pulled up alongside what I reckoned was the Rogers building. I didn’t get any rush and I moved forward for a better view. You want to watch it, especially in this instance. Right around the corner there’s a strip club and the police might conclude you were cruising and not simply contemplating a factory that closed down decades ago.
Where were we? I felt that later Fullerton Swivo pedals weren’t feeling as good as the earlier Cleveland/Dayton variety. It was moot, however, and I forgot about it…until one night at NAMM I sat with Louie Bellson, a long time Rogers endorser, who claimed, and I paraphrase, “During the period you’re talking about, Rogers was cutting costs. They ruined the Swiv-o-matic pedal by exchanging the original bearings with cheap nylon ones, which destroyed the action.”
These new Swivos were in the minority and it’s unlikely you’ll stumble across a latter day pedal. All of the ones I’ve seen were Cleveland/Dayton or early Fullerton models. And, damn, if the power and throw aren’t just what I’m looking for; hindsight is 20/20. I might put money down for a couplDaves Drum Shope of old Swiv-o-matics I’ve spotted lurking in the shadows of
No Regrets Buying A Swiv-o-matic
Absolutely you will not regret purchasing this little bit of drum history. If you’ve acquired enough foot technique to play reasonably consistently and you’re having second thoughts about your current pedal, especially if it’s a budget item on its last legs, if you buy a Rogers Swiv-o-matic bass drum pedal in good shape for $75 US, you’ve already beaten the odds. You won’t believe the smooth action and, believe it, any attribute lost for lack of springiness will be compensated by that yearning for a pedal you can customize for your foot such that you don’t feel as if you’re wearing work boots every time you sit down at the drumset.
Don’t worry if there’s no black plate beneath the pedal, onto which everything is bolted (exceptions incl. Flying Dragon, which disassembles). The Swiv-o-matic pedal doesn’t need one and this is a blessing at the end of the evening when you simply detach a center rod and fold it up. Again, remember to leave the chromed clamp on the bass drum hoop.
And don’t buy a used Swiv-o-matic pedal if it doesn’t come with a bass drum hoop plate, onto which the pedal attaches, unless you know where to get one cheap. On eBay, that clamp may cost up to $20, whereas Dave’s Drum Shop will sell you pedal and clamp for a package deal.
The strap may not appeal to you. In this industrial age, leather looks tatty and worn. That may be so but I guarantee you’ll grow to like the distinctive feel it enhances; if not, hie thee to the family cobbler and purchase a new, blond leather scrap and cut it to size; or find a Kevlar or composite strap. The Swivo accepts most substitutes sight unseen.
The special spring with the loop end
If the gods favor you, you may find a Rogers spring in some drawer somewhere. Snap it up. Although you can make do with a hardware store spring, the Rogers is possibly the only unique spring on the market, owing to its “built in” end connector. You’ll make do with another standard spring, however; don’t sweat it.
I’ve realized the truth about the Rogers Swiv-o-matic bass drum pedal. The Swiv-o-matic assists you and responds in kind. It doesn’t impose its own agenda, no springy logic, no special placement of toe or heel nor bounce to its step. You play the pedal, not the converse. Tbw