Mean Mean Stride: The Drums Of Neil Peart
Better known as Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, the two jammed with young Peart and offered him the drum throne — Rush’s self-titled debut album had been nabbed by Mercury, and an American tour was beckoning.
Armed with a record-label advance, the excited drummer headed to a Toronto music store. It was there he bought his first touring kit, chrome-finished Slingerlands, which included two 22" x 14" kick drums, two 13" x 9" rack toms, a 14" x 10" rack tom, and a 16" x 16" floor tom. “I don’t remember being particularly fixed on getting Slingerlands,” he admits. “I think I just saw them on the music-store floor and fell in love with them.” He also stocked up on some Zildjian cymbals, including 13" New Beat hi-hats, 16", 18", and 20" crashes, and what would be his right hand’s best friend for the next few decades — a 22" Ping Ride.
Speaking of best friends, a certain 14" x 5.5" snare drum — the snare drum, the one that has been heard on countless live dates and albums from Rush’s fabled catalog — was purchased around this time.
“The copper-finish snare drum,” Peart says, “metal-over-wood — not the top-line model, but their second-echelon; I forget the model name right now, ’Artist’ maybe? — was bought later in ’74 or ’75, second-hand, from an American drum store. That’s the one I used for so many years as ’Old Number One,’ repainting that copper ’wrap’ to match subsequent sets of Tamas and Ludwigs.
“A previous owner had filed the snare bed lower in the shell, and that seemed to improve its responsiveness and sensitivity at all volume levels, making it extremely versatile. Even back then I often used other snare drums in the studio, but that was always the best for live performance — until I discovered the DW Solid Shell (outdoors) and Edge (indoors).”
For the Caress Of Steel tour, the kit took a more familiar look, as Peart added single-headed concert toms to the arsenal, measuring 6" x 5.5", 8" x 5.5", 10" x 6.5", and 12" x 8".
When asked where he got the idea for the additional voices, he replies, “I think Kevin Ellman, then with Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, was the inspiration for wanting to add concert toms. He was so powerful and melodic with them. Nick Mason with Pink Floyd was also very effective with them on Dark Side Of The Moon.”
He also added another 16" crash (6" and 8" splashes snuck in here at some point as well), which begs the obvious question: With all of this new stuff, how many people does it take to help move a drum kit? “At that time we had a three-man road crew, with the front-of-house engineer doubling as drum tech, or in the less-hip terminology of the day, ’sound man’ and ’drum roadie.’”
Peart scaled down to one kick for Roll The Bones
La Villa Strangiato
As the ’70s rolled on, the band took lengthier trips into the multi-instrumental arena, which were captured on 1976’s 2112, A Farewell To Kings, and Hemispheres. It was around this period that Peart started incorporating an array of percussion instruments (temple blocks, tubular bells, brass timbales, wind chimes, bell tree, triangles, and glockenspiel) around a new black chrome—finish Slingerland set. The village not only boasted new accoutrements, including an 18" Pang cymbal (with rivets, yet), but bigger houses. The kick drums got more big-boned at 24" x 14", the first rack tom switched to a 12" x 8", the third rack tom became a 15" x 12", 6" and 8" splashes became 8” and 10”, and the floor tom bloated to 18" x 16".
Peart explains the changes, “The percussion stuff came more or less naturally, with the style of music we were making in that A Farewell To Kings and Hemispheres period — extended arrangements combining atmospheric and acoustic passages. All those tuned percussion instruments make such pretty sounds and look so good too!
“As for the bass drum size, I had noticed when I listened to other drummers from out front that 24" bass drums seemed to ’reproduce’ the best, so I switched to that size for a while. Tom sizes were refined as I developed stronger tastes on how I wanted them to sound, separately and together.”
These new Slingerlands were also “Vibrafibed,” a process of putting a fiberglass coating on the inside of the drum shells, which was theoretically supposed to enhance resonance and attack (Peart did this with his next couple of kits as well). But did it help, really? “I’m not sure it was any big improvement, but it didn’t seem to hurt!” For the Hemispheres tour, the kitchen-sink mentality continued with the addition of Zildjian crotales, an 18" Wuhan China, 20" Zildjian China, a gong, and a 28" tympanum. When asked why, he quips, “I think I was curious about the sound of anything you could hit with a stick.”