We’ve all stayed up way past midnight and saw those awful infomercials on TV and thought to ourselves, “Why is this necessary?” Who would have thought slicing vegetables could be so difficult we’d need a robot slicer? Does anyone really ever need a dedicated hot dog toaster? Then there are those products we can’t seem to live
without. Various Apple i-products come to mind. And though at first glance it would seem drums haven’t changed that much since the days of Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, innovation has kept us chugging steadily along to the present. And while some ideas have stuck and others didn’t, the ones that have really mean something.
Sometimes it’s important to look back and appreciate the little things that have made our lives so much easier. So, we cleaned out the storage unit, dusted off the old tub collection, and came up with a list of our top ten drum innovations that make you want to shout, “Why didn’t somebody think of this sooner?!”
Early kick drum pedals made their appearance in 1888 and included a striker that could hit a cymbal attached to the kick drum hoop. This new invention allowed the drummer to be more versatile and play more drums, which bandleaders in tight orchestra pits embraced. However, the pedals had no spring mechanism returning the beater to a resting position, which forced the drummer to manually depress and then recoil the beater. Due to the exhaustive repetitive motion, the drummers often could not play for long periods of time.
In 1909, Theobald and William F. Ludwig added a spring, which allowed the drummer to play longer and faster. Some models included a way to turn the cymbal striker off with their foot. For the first time, a single drummer could play a wide arrangement of drums, cymbals, and percussion using their hands and feet. Eventually the cymbal striker fell out of favor and we were left with the modern kick drum pedal.
If snare drums are the centerpiece of any drummer’s kit, surely hi-hats would be the cymbal equivalent. Hats of the roaring ’20s featured a pedal mechanism similar to kick drum pedals with cymbals attached that would clang together. It was similar to a modern hi-hat except it was kept very low to the ground, never intended to be hit with sticks — hence the name “low boy.”
After a chance stick drop, drummer and drum builder Barney Walberg noticed that now-famous gasping sound as the stick hit right at the opening action of the cymbals. After months of experimenting, Walberg’s company extended the inner rod and outer tube of his low hat stand to about waist high so he could play the cymbals with his hands as well as his feet. And so, in 1926, the modern hi-hat stand was born. Walberg was so confident that he named the new piece “Perfection Hats,” and they quickly flew off the shelves of every major drum company. Walberg may have been right about the name — in 86 years, very little has changed about the hi-hat stand. His company, Walberg And Auge, continued to make hardware for all the major drum companies, but remain to this day one of the most unsung leaders in drum innovation.
The very first widely recognized predecessor to metal’s little helper didn’t come on the scene until the early ’70s, after Australian drummer/inventor Don Sleishman met handicapped drummer Evan Biddle. Biddle’s left arm had not fully developed, and so he compensated by having two kick drums to fill out those missing beats. Sleishman took note of this and struck on the novel idea of adapting a double bass drum setup (already popularized by drummers such as Louie Bellson, Ginger Baker, Keith Moon, and Ronnie Tut) into something more manageable for a handicapped musician. Sleishman built a double pedal prototype for Biddle and made it privately for friends for years before launching publicly in 1978. Since this innovation, almost every drum company offers a descendant of Don Sleishman’s “Twin Pedal.”