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A Strange Tale Of An Odd Drum Set

Vox Speedfire Drum Set

Near the end of WWII in Germany a G.I. named Bob was on a patrol with a U.S. infantry squad. The squad entered a building and found several men seated, dressed in civilian clothes. They offered no resistance and declared that they were not with the German army. The sergeant of the squad immediately noticed that although the men were dressed as civilians, they were all wearing regulation German Army hobnail boots.

The sergeant determined that if the captured men did not have a plausible reason for wearing German Army boots, under regulation they could be shot as spies. G.I. Bob apparently knew enough German, and one of the prisoners knew enough English, to conclude that although the men had been attached to the German Army, they were musicians, not soldiers. The sergeant noticed an accordion in the room and he told Bob to tell the men that if they were musicians, somebody better know how to play it. Bob and the English-speaking German conveyed the message to the others.

One of the Germans picked up the accordion and began to play “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” Perhaps the sergeant was a Texan, for this gesture convinced him to spare the prisoners. Some years later, G.I. Bob and one of the Germans recognized each other at a banquet in Frankfurt, Germany. G.I. Bob is Robert Zildjian, the founder of the Sabian Cymbal Co., and the German was Karl Heinz Weimer, founder of the Trixon Drum Co.

Fortunately, Karl had survived the war and began his company in 1948. Beginning from the early ’50s, the company offered snare drums, toms and bass drums in many size and color options. Furthermore, it manufactured its own complete line of hardware, stands and ethnic and mallet percussion instruments. Trixon drum shells were made from six-ply beech with no reinforcement rings. The quality of the product was reasonably good, considering what the shortages of raw materials in post-war Germany must have been like. However, what Trixon is most remembered for is the company’s innovative designs.

Perhaps the best known (if not the weirdest looking) is the Speedfire set (pictured above) with the elliptical bass drum. Introduced around 1955, the Speedfire originally came supplied with no fewer than five concert toms mounted on a chrome railing wrapped in a semi circle across the bass drum. Even the snare drum was attached to the bass drum by an arm. The only stand-alone pieces were the 20" floor tom and the hardware.

The theory of the lopsided bass drum was explained by the internal insertion of a vertical sound board that divided the drum into two chambers of unequal proportions. One then utilized these two spaces by playing them with doppel fussmaschinen (double-bass pedals). In Trixon catalogs from this period, some English-translated text is provided. It appears to be a very literal translation from the German copy which, in retrospect, makes for a bit of unintentional humor. For the company’s English speaking customers, a ’50s catalog states:

“The set of five small toms ... Also the snare drum - you may give it what angle you want - is mounted on the bass drum. All instruments are inclined that way, that they form a concentrated, near-range, well-bordered, different tuned ’head-table’ which enables every drummer to increase the rapidity of his beating technic to not yet known fastness. The new TRIXON-SPEEDFIRE SET ... is the nearest and easiest way to become a star-drummer and to get highest paid jobs. Use this chance for your personal improvement in skill and scope.” Ah, if it were only so simple!

Trixon excelled in the design and construction of unique hardware fixtures such as mounts, pedals and stands that had a distinct 1950-early 60’s “futuristic” look about them. A single pull shaft double hi-hat existed briefly. Hard angles and the appearance of joints and seams (initially) was verboten. The hardware was light, functioned well, and, upon close inspection, was very distinctive.

About 1958, Trixon introduced the Telstar kit, presumably named after the Telstar satellite, then recently launched into space by the U.S. Telstar drums were conical in shape, meaning, for example, that the bass drum would be 20" on one end of the drum and would gradually taper down to a 16" diameter on the other. In the beginning the drums flanged out from top to bottom, but later the design was changed so the drums would flange up from bottom to top and from front to back. Even snare drums were designed like this. Of course, the company also sold sets in standard configurations. The most popular of these was the Luxus kit, which was a 20", 13", and 16", with a matching 5" x 14" snare. Originally, the tension casings had a fluted teardrop design very similar to ’50s-’60s Sonor lugs (to this day a debate rages on about how involved Sonor was in Trixon’s manufacture; so many features are similar), but around 1960 the casing was changed to a more conventional box design.

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