As a bona fide metal junkie, I became intrigued when I heard about a notable collection of far-out bronze instruments unveiled at PASIC 2006. The line is called Hammerax Hybrids and it’s the brainchild of John Stannard of Om Percussion and J.W. Stannard fame. Renowned for his pure-tone Energy Chimes, Stannard spent time in Bali in the ’90s expanding his metalworking craft by learning the art of forging bronze. His experiments with various alloys and metalworking methods eventually led him to these latest innovations of bizarrely bombastic bronze brilliance.
The “Hybrid” moniker is the result of a crafting method that incorporates various techniques of cymbal, gong, and bell making to create unique instruments that offer complex harmonics and extraordinary percussive intensity for any number of applications: at the drum set, or as part of any percussion rig. There are a variety of models in the Hammerax line with names such as Boomywang, Meanie, Glass, DustBowl, Lash, and HellBell, and each has its own voice, from vibrato to sustained tone to airy highs to rumbly lows to white noise with a quick decay.
You can play the instruments with standard sticks, various mallets, bows, and hands, but there’s no stopping you from pinching and punching and waggling and whatever else elicits sound from these things. Each method draws out a particular emphasis of the spectrum of sounds these instruments are capable of producing.
The Hybrids can be used for esoteric percussion scenarios or as a drum set accent, complementing standard splashes, crashes, and China-type cymbals. I tried the instruments in both settings during the test period and was quite pleased with their versatility and the way their sounds blended with other elements of the kit. I also liked the way they provided me with a wider range of accents in my percussion rig. Plus, the sassy shapes and sounds piqued a lot of onlooker interest.
OUT OF THE BOX
For this review, I received four sizes of the Glass model (10", 12", 14", and 16"), a 12" DustBowl, an 18" paper-thin Meanie, and an 18" paper-thin Lash. Other models offered are the Boomywang in sizes between 10" and 36" and the Culebra (30"), both of which are vibrato-type instruments, and HellBells (loud cymbal/bell combinations) between 7" and 17", the 36" Slice, and the multi-cymbal Splashvine (a string of oddly shaped splashes of various size).
All of the instruments I received were fitted with Spectra cords. Per pound, Spectra is reputedly stronger than piano wire. According to Hammerax, the smaller instruments are rated at 160 lb. test and the larger ones up to 640 lb. test. The strong cord allows the instruments to be suspended, free swinging, from boom stands, and its low mass lets the highs shine uninhibited. The Glass, Meanie, and Lash instruments are tied to a crossbar of polished wood that is drilled with a center hole for mounting on traditional cymbal boom stands.
The DustBowl doesn’t have the wooden top piece, but simply gets suspended from its string like a gong. This allows you to quickly lift it from its moorings when desired and place it on top of a cymbal or hi-hat (or, if you want to go out on a limb, even a tom-tom) for a dramatic crasher effect.
After hauling tons of gear around (an unfortunate side effect of being a metal junkie), I found the Hammerax Hybrids to be a breeze to transport. The smaller versions I was reviewing were lightweight and fit easily into a cymbal bag. I had to schlep extra hardware to be able to hang all of the instruments, but it was worth it.
The special shapes of the Hammerax instruments allow a great depth of sonic possibilities. The sound each instrument produces is significantly affected by the playing approach. The hybrids are hardy enough to be struck with sticks, and subtle enough to produce a broad spectrum of tones when played with various yarn, felt, and rubber mallets, or knitting needles, egg whisks, hands, and bows. I found them to be particularly exciting for bowing, as they offered a plethora of different notes depending on how and where I bowed them.
These Hybrids inspire exploration, and they were great used alone as accenting effects, or played in conjunction with cymbals and drums to create complex statements. Some sounds are quite pleasant and soothing, while others are quite brash and industrial. They were great to use in conjunction with electronics as radical percussive effects.
The hybrid known as Glass looks suspiciously gong-like, aside from the wavy-edged hole cut through its center. Also, the lower section of the doughnut in the middle of the eighth notch has been cleaved completely through so that the two edges vibrate freely when struck. The alloy is super flexible, and the bottom half really wobbles. Each of the four sizes of the Glass model I received had similar characteristics sonically, but naturally had different overall pitches.
I was astounded to find that the smallest of the set produced the lowest overtone when lightly struck with a yarn mallet. All four had beautiful shimmering highs when played with both sticks and mallets. I found that striking each section of the surface with various implements elicited different pitches and washes.
The subtleties were fantastic, and when miked for recording, the nuances really shone. The phased wobbling of the split section created a truly wild modulating tone. The central hole with its smooth notches allowed for some creative bowing with a cello bow – and varied notes could be coaxed from each notch for a disturbingly melodic effect.
Played as an accent at the drum set, the Glass sounded much like a rich China-type cymbal with a smoother crash. And dragging a stick around the edge of the central hole produces a swelling wash. The instrument has a quicker decay than a gong. Simply pressing a stick down at the bottom edge of the hole effectively chokes the sound.
The DustBowl also has a gong-like appearance, with a broad central hole and a splashy cymbal-like tone. It’s a little thicker and definitely less flexible than the wobbly Glass, and doesn’t feature a built-in crossbar, which makes it particularly well suited for quick-change applications. When hanging freely, it sustains longer than the Glass model and has frothing highs and mids that really cut. And like the Glass, it’s excellent for bowing, as it can emit amazingly varied bright tones.
You can easily lift the DustBowl from whatever it’s hanging off of and place it atop a set of hi-hats or a cymbal for industrial-type white noise accents. The arch of the profile leaves airspace between the Hybrid and the cymbal, and the hole leaves the bell exposed. If the crash or ride cymbal is not resting at a fairly horizontal position, however, the DustBowl tends to slide right down the bell and hang on the clamp at the top of the stand.
I also used the DustBowl on toms, both concavely positioned for a delightful combination of metal and drum warbling crashes, and convexly for a drier effect to facilitate controlled rhythmic accents. This instrument proved very versatile and its aggressive tone blended especially well with electronics.
The Meanie Hybrid is aptly named given its elongated visage, similar to one of the Blue Meanies of Yellow Submarine fame. With its raised central nose, its polished eyeholes (for the cord), and its set of three smiling tonal slots, which look like a mouth and chins, the Meanie actually appears quite cheery.
Hitting the nose with a drumstick let’s you achieve a dry ride sound, and striking off center results in a brash, fast crash with a sizzling high-frequency content. Softer mallets still elicit a distinct attack, but more muted, with a rounded froth coming up from underneath. Plucking the “chin” area at the lower edge sets the slotted area vibrating, which coaxes a rumbly low end out of this model. Pinging with bamboo dowels and knitting needles around the outside edges creates airy little accents of varying pitch.
I did a double take when I caught a gander of the Lash Hybrid. It looks, well, like eyelashes. It has a rounded rectangular shape, with its lower section separated in six dynamic tentacles that wobble at different rates when you so much as touch the thing. It has a gentle wash with a quick decay and is not quite as loud as the other Hybrids in this review.
The fringe vibrating in response to the attack lingers a bit after the subsiding of the frothy crash, offering a subtle warbling rumble. This modulating rumble can be brought out by simply plucking at one of the lashes and allowing the Hybrid to sing freely. There is a gentle swell of lows with an airy gust of high-end wash.
Sticks have a more defined affect on the surface, whereas yarn mallets have a mellower voice. Certain sonic aspects of the Lash are understated in louder settings, but its subtle nuances can be picked up with a well-placed microphone.
Stannard and his pioneering shop of metalsmiths certainly have created something to buzz about. Each hand-hammered work of art has something unique to say, and is adaptable to both traditional and esoteric musical settings for drummers and percussionists. These bronze effects offer excellent controllability, both subtle and aggressive sounds, and quick decay without unruly sustain in the low-mid frequencies. A few Hammerax Hybrids in your arsenal of percussion items will certainly expand your sonic possibilities, as well as enhance the aesthetics of your setup.
MODELS AND SIZES PRICES
Glass (Wavy Center):
2140-C Range Road
Clearwater, FL 33765