Mean Mean Stride: The Drums Of Neil Peart

The Vapor Trails kit incorporated a full V-Drum setup

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The tour to support 1987’s Hold Your Fire saw another changing of the guard, kit wise. Sparing no expense, Peart lined up several different drum sets side by side and test-drove them all. Eventually he chose a Ludwig Super Classic set finished in an opalescent white, with some sparkles “and just a little pink mixed in.” The company made some concert toms, including adorable 6" x 5.5" and 8" x 5.5" sizes, but Peart opted for double-headed drums all the way around when push came to shove. The sizes: 6" x 9", 8" x 9", 10" x 9", 12" x 8", 13" x 9", and 15" x 12" rack toms, with an 18" x 16" floor tom.

When asked about the switching to deeper small-diameter and double-headed toms, Peart replies, “Everything is a trade-off, of course, and though the open toms had powerful attack and definition, I always preferred the nuance and throatiness of closed toms — just more expressive, it seemed to me. Plus, instead of combining the open concert toms with all the other toms being closed, I decided I wanted to have the timbres of the whole set more alike.”

Other notable changes included the addition of the MalletKAT electronic marimba (“a wonderfully useful instrument”), which took the place of his woodblocks, crotales, and glockenspiel, and Akai S900 samplers, which Peart played through Yamaha trigger-to-MIDI converters.

“I eventually amassed a huge library of sounds,” he admits, “including all my old percussion sounds, previous drum sets I had used (like the Tama Artstars, which I often used as samples), lots of ’found sounds,’ and a whole spectrum of ethnic percussion samples. All of those were on floppy disks and could be used in the Akai samplers.” Little changed for the Presto sessions and tour, save for painting the white drums in a purple metallic finish, and switching from Simmons to ddrum pads.

The why is simple. “Can you say ’repetitive stress syndrome?’” Peart rhetorically asks. “Seriously, that wasn’t a problem with the minimal amount I played the pads, but I know session drummers were having that problem. Mainly the ddrums were just nicer to hit than those Simmons tabletops.”

Lots of stuff changed for the 30th Anniversary kit

You Bet Your Life

Peart stayed with Ludwig for Roll The Bones (1991), with a new kit that featured a blue stain finish. Logistically, there were a few left turns: the two 24" kick drums turned into one 22" x 16" with a double pedal, and the 18" floor tom was moved to the left side of the setup, which effectively made the 15" tom the right floor tom.

“In the ceaseless quest for new approaches,” he surmises, “and my horror of repeating myself, it was great to have a floor tom under my left hand — an unusual place to begin a fill, or to construct the kind of syncopated African-style rhythms I was much influenced by. Freeing up that space by eliminating the second bass drum seemed worthwhile, and the linked pedals had improved to the point of being reasonably efficient and reliable.”

The higher-pitched toms slimmed down depth-wise — 6" x 5.5", 8" x 6", and 10" x 7" — and the timbale was replaced with a Remo Legato snare drum sporting a Kevlar head. “It was Mickey Hart who introduced me to that drum,” he says, “and apart from solo accents, I think the only song it was used on was ’Stick it Out,’ on Counterparts.”

Of course, much happened between 1993’s Counterparts and 1996’s Test For Echo, perhaps most notably the Burning For Buddy projects, which saw Peart rub elbows with the likes of Matt Sorum, Steve Gadd, Max Roach, and Steve Smith. It was Journey veteran and fusion stalwart Smith who introduced Peart to master teacher Freddie Gruber. The subsequent technical transformation from matched to traditional grip has been well documented in the video A Work In Progress (Warner Brothers).

Resisting Everything But Temptation

This technical evolution caused an equipment evolution as well. To accommodate for all of the “adjustments,” drum sizes reported in at 8" x 7", 10" x 7", 12" x 8", and 13" x 9" for the toms, 15" x 12", 16" x 16", and 15" x 13" (on left) for floor toms, and an 18" x 16" floor tom suspended over and behind the 16" x 16". Peart stresses, “It took more than a year of daily practice to make those ’adjustments.’” The first version of this new kit — a DW — was finished in a custom Blood Red Sparkle, a nostalgic nod towards those $150 Stewarts.

Why the switch to DW? “Once again,” he explains, “I did a side-by-side ’taste test’ during the songwriting period, trying about six different brands in a really thorough comparison — because I had the time to give each one a proper test, and in the studio, where I could hear the results recorded on real songs.” Echo also marked the retiring of the “Old Number One” Slingerland snare, resulting in some significant experimentation. Among the favored touring drums during this period were a 14" x 6" DW Craviotto (now called Solid Shell) for Echo, and an Edge model for the 2002 Vapor Trails tour. Peart has stuck with DW ever since, up to his Black Mirra 30th Anniversary kit, which features assorted band logos and album artwork, patterned after Keith Moon’s Pictures Of Lily set.

“It was a tribute to that because these are my dream drums,” he says. “I always try to keep in touch with my inner 16-year-old. That’s the first concert I ever went to, he was playing those, the famous [set] that was painted in the panels around it on a piano black background.”

Electronics-wise, the Vapor Trails period saw the back-end kit change from acoustics and ddrums to a full set of Roland V-Drums, and Peart even started using the electronic cymbals. “It was nice to finally dare to use electronic cymbals, snare, and bass drums, enhancing the contrast between the front and back kits.”

His acoustic cymbals? Perhaps the biggest change of all. Make no mistake, Neil Peart spent the lion’s share of his career bashing Zildjians. He created quite a stir when he migrated to Sabian and developed what would become the Paragon line.

“It was one of those purely organic things that just came along,” he comments. “I started hearing people playing Sabians and kind of got interested. And when I was rehearsing for the big Concert For Toronto with the Stones and all that, I just thought about trying out some Sabians. So I used them for the first three days of rehearsal or so, and then I said, ’Okay, take them down and put the Zildjians back up.’ Frankly they blew them away. Even just their stock ones. So, hmmm [holds chin].” The curious Peart took a motorcycle ride to Sabian’s factory and spent some quality time with master product specialist Mark Love, who “just seemed to get in tune right away with what I liked.” The rest is history.

What the future holds for Peart’s percussive equipment, nobody really knows — except that he will move forward with open ears for anything equally “irresistibly useful.”

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