Staccato Thunderhorn Drums

West Europe’s Version Of North Goes South

Staccato Drums

Staccato Thunderhorn drums were Britain’s answer to America’s North drums. For those of you who are too young to remember, North were the single-headed ’70s drums made of fibreglass, which featured shells with flared horns that enhanced the sound projection. But Staccato was something else again! Initially, they were the brainchild of Chris Slade, a respected drummer who started his career with Tom Jones and ended up with AC/DC. They came along two or three years after North’s debut, and employed a completely different “notched” horn shape for their open ends, which could be described as being like a manta ray.

They were said to work on something called the “kadency” principle, in which “a volume of air projected through a controlled expanding space will have a great effect on tonal resonance, distribution and power.” In drummers’ terms, what they were truthfully saying was this gave clarity with loads and loads of volume.

To make this happen, Staccato’s shells were quite thin, but were stronger than steel, being made from FRP (fibreglass reinforced polyester resin). But their real acoustic strength lay in the fact that the notched horns made them sound deep even though their heads were tight. The company claimed there was actually a difference of one octave between the head and the mouth of the drum, which was useful for recording because it offered many more miking options. The shape of this mouth was constant for all the drums, although its size wasn’t.

The bass drum was even more distinctive, with two ray-shaped mouths known to Staccato as Siamese Twins, but to the rest of the world as “elephant’s trousers.” They were designed to work like those old public-address systems you once saw at sports grounds, with two trumpets for spread, sharing a single diaphragm.

British Staccatos used metal hoops, L-shaped tom holders, and Hayman-type circular leg/spur/tom brackets and Hayman/Camco-type lug casings (though their Canadian-built counterparts, which appeared a year or two later, had early quick-release “Tune-Locks.” It’s no coincidence these lugs are now fitted to those brilliant Ayotte drums because their designer, Ray Ayotte, was responsible for Staccato’s North American operation in the early ’80s.)

The sets came in four, six, and nine pieces (all without snare drums) with head diameters ranging from 6" up to 22". They cost something like £400 here in the UK in 1980 (for five toms and a bass drum) and were significantly more everywhere else. Their most famous users were, according to well-founded rumour, John Bonham and Keith Moon.

Various reasons contributed to the demise of the brand. Staccato had all sorts of ownership problems that were exacerbated by the untimely, if not wholly unexpected, deaths of Moon and Bonham, its two principal players. Otherwise, both sets fell foul of that decade’s conservative drummers who weren’t really sure if they wanted to look that progressive! However, along with egg-shaped Artistry and parabolic Zickos, both Staccato and North drums were radical in their sideways look at what a drum could be.

A funny postscript is that Ludwig rather cleverly came up with a subtle variation on this horn-loaded theme. Their Sound Projectors were see-through plastic half-bowls whose radial dimensions equalled that of the drum. They joined with Velcro to the open ends of regular drums and simply scooped the sound forward. They actually worked but were pricey, and frankly I don’t recall seeing anyone of note (or otherwise) using them.

It’s difficult to price Staccato drums, because even though the parts were generic, finding them could be a problem. I wouldn’t expect to pay more than $750.