“The elusive nature of love ... it can be such a fleeting thing. You see it there and it’s just fluttering and it’s gone.”
I’ll admit it. I fell head over heels for the new Gibraltar Catapult Linear Motion bass drum pedal. As soon as I pulled it out of the box I was already working up excuses for the wife as to why I had to buy one. The physical design of the pedal is stunning, resembling an Art Deco sculpture as much as a bass drum pedal. Its light weight combined with its sturdy frame pushed all of my buttons at once. And, let’s face it: We drummers are probably more conscious than other instrumentalists about the way our gear looks. When putting together a kit, a lot of drummers are one part musician, one part American Chopper mechanic. And this little piece of exquisite hardware oozes personality. But looks are fleeting. It’s what’s under the hood that really matters when the chips are down. After all, when you’re in front of a real, live audience, do you want to be pretty… or do you want to make heads bob?A BETTER MOUSETRAP
The Catapult is a whole new take on the bass drum pedal. I looked through several books in my library of drum literature, trying to find its historic match. Other than a cool little weirdo from 1934, the Slingerland Frisco pedal, every model I found works pretty much on the same premise as today’s pedals. You can fiddle with the cam, add chains to the mechanism, adjust the foot plate, but the essential action hasn’t changed for decades: A foot plate of some sort attaches to a yoke, from which swings a beater. Some spring-like tension device pulls the beater back to its original position. It ain’t rocket science.
So why, you might ask, would Gibraltar take such a radical approach? The reason is in your foot. According to Gibraltar, the pedal is designed to “permit the extensor and flexor muscles to function naturally, allowing the ankle and corresponding muscles to utilize a full range of movement.” In other words, it strives to make the pedal a more ergonomic extension of your foot and eliminate the pain that may accompany a night of blastbeats. So how does Gibraltar go about it?PUSH VS. PULL
The Catapult takes the traditional foot pedal design and tosses it. Instead of a yoke, there is a hinged, central metal bar in the shape of a boomerang (if you cut off a third of it). The foot plate, instead of pulling down on a strap or chain, abuts the bar and rolls down it to produce the forward motion of the beater. A spring, located directly under the foot plate, pulls back on the central bar, thus pulling the beater back to its original position, readying it to strike again. A rubber strip runs up and down the central metal bar at the point where the roller from the foot plate meets it. This allows smooth, quiet action. Mechanically, the pedal is as smooth as Sinatra in silk.
The base of the pedal is longer than your average bear, to allow for its unique forward motion. This means you have to sit back a bit further than usual. The entire construction, though, is lighter in weight than most pedals I’ve encountered – a pleasant feature. The bit that attaches to the rim of the bass drum is slightly concave, to allow a nice fit, and lined with rubber. The bolt that tightens the base to the rim has a central, round, serrated design, allowing the user to finger-tighten the mechanism. The idea of not having to dig up a key is a great feature, but the round bolt is a bit hard to really batten down. A more traditional wing nut shape might make for a more secure connection.
The beater connects to the pedal through a hole in the central metal shaft, and is tightened down by a wing nut. Once again, better than having to use a key, but this design has a serious drawback: The first night I tested the pedal, I used my old tried-and-true Slingerland kit. The bass drum has wooden rims that are 1.5" deep. As I pushed down on the pedal, at first I didn’t notice that the wing nut holding the beater in place was hitting the head as well. This had two serious implications: 1) The metal wing nut could punch a hole in my bass drum head. 2) When the wing nut hit the head, it loosened, causing the beater to fall out. I was so disappointed. How could this beauty, this new love in my life, betray me like this?RUBBER: MEET ROAD
Well, the experiment only lasted two songs, before I had to tell my bandleader that I needed a second to swap out pedals. Not a great start. But I know Gibraltar makes quality gear, and that they would not put something out on the market that doesn’t work. I reached for the red phone – the direct link to the inner sanctum at DRUM! – and got Andy Doerschuk on the other end.
“Andy, I need more time!” I pleaded. “I know this thing’s got more in it. You gotta hear me, Andy. I … NEED … MORE … TIME!!!”
“Sure,” answered the steely editor, no doubt thinking I’d gone off my meds. It didn’t matter. All I wanted was a few more precious days with my beloved to see if we could work out our differences.BE STILL MY HEART
I took the heartbreaker to a local practice space and got down to business. I attached the pedal to a Yamaha kit and, lo and behold, no problem with the beater wing nut. What gives? I thought. I pulled out my trusty ruler and there was my answer: Modernity, my friend, that’s what gives. The rim on the Yamaha kit was 1.625" deep. Oh what a difference an extra 1/8" makes (insert obvious joke here). The pedal was now functioning as it was meant to.
The beater provided with the pedal is interesting. It is a felt-fronted beater that has a large diameter – about 2.75" across – and is flat. It is a little lighter than I am used to, so I added the included beater weight to its shaft. I also switched it out and used another, heavier beater as well. It felt a bit better with the extra weight.
As I had noted right away, the pedal’s action is smooth, with no extraneous squeaks or clicks. This thing works like a charm. The spring allowed me to ratchet up the tension and pull some nice doubles out of it. The only drawback – the one that truly broke my fluttering heart – is the pedal’s lack of power. The center-shaft design does not allow enough of a backwards motion to get the power I want. No matter how much I tightened the spring, even to its maximum, I couldn’t get the punch out of it I desired. I put the Catapult side-by-side with two traditionally designed pedals – one a high-end model and the other a student/entry-level model. Both of the other pedals got a more satisfying pop out of the bass drum. The physics of pushing the beater into the head, as apposed to pulling it downward, seemed, regrettably, to be a power kill.VERDICT
Beauty is truly skin deep. The Catapult truly is one of the best-looking pieces of gear I’ve laid my eyes on in some time. Its action is incredibly smooth, but a bit too weak for my tastes. It may be a nice addition to your collection for certain gigs, but it wouldn’t assist you in waking the neighbors. I’m also not sure I felt any relief in my ankle or other foot muscles. Overall, in that sense, it felt no different than playing a standard bass drum pedal. The backpack-style pedal bag that comes with it is quite nice, but in the end I realized that, alas, love is fleeting.DETAILS