200 Greatest Moments: Gear & Technology
Metal Snare Drums
Snare drums date back to the 1300s, when drummers played a double-headed drum with a single snare strand, known as a tabor. For centuries, most snares had wood shells. In the mid-1800s, manufacturers began making snares with brass shells. These metal shell alternatives were capable of producing the crisp, higher-pitched sound drummers still crave today.
Modern Bass Drum Pedal
At one time, drummers used their feet mainly for walking to the gig. By 1888, crude bass drum pedals began to appear, but with no spring to retract the beater, rhythmic options were limited. (Thomas Lang would have been very frustrated.) In 1909, Theobald and William F. Ludwig changed drumming forever by introducing a pedal with a spring.
It seems shocking today, but snares did not always have throw-offs. Julius A. Meyer created a snare throw-off mechanism in 1913 so he could quickly switch between tom and snare sounds for a particular orchestral piece. By the 1920s, throw-offs were an industry standard on most snare drums.
As an alternative to solid planks of wood, Gretsch began manufacturing drums in 1920 from shells that built up separate wood plies with seams and grains that did not line up. Into the 1960s, other companies like Ludwig used a different process of bending already finished plywood to make shells. Today, many drum manufacturers, including Ludwig, make their own staggered-ply shells.
One of the great drum innovators and inventors was George Way. Among his many inventions, the Swivel Nut allowed easier alignment of tension rods from hoop to lugs. Beginning in 1923, Mr. Way’s employer at the time, Leedy, offered a production-model drum with “self adjusting rods” based on these swivel nuts.
Modern Hi-Hat Stand
The 1920s saw the evolution of pedal-based stands that clasped two cymbals together from the low boy (height 12"), to the sock cymbal (height 20"). In 1924, drummer Skip Retherford sent his idea of extending the low-boy to Zildjian but got no response. Papa Jo Jones is sometimes credited with its invention, while others cite Massachusetts–based drum hardware manufacturer Walberg & Auge, whose owner Barney Walberg fabricated a prototype in 1926.
Ludwig Black Beauty
Ludwig manufactured a black nickel-plated brass snare called the “Deluxe” in the 1920s. Ludwig rival Slingerland was actually the first company to market a similar looking drum called a “Black Beauty.” By 1931, Ludwig began calling its Deluxe-style snare a “Black Beauty.” Ludwig still makes versions of this iconic snare today.
Standardization of Modern Drum Set
The drum set evolved into its modern standard when swing was king in the 1930s. Legendary drummer Gene Krupa joined Benny Goodman’s band in 1934. During that time, he helped fix the arrangement of the modern drum set with sizes still used today: a 24" or 26" bass drum, 14" snare drum, 13" x 9" tom and 16" floor tom.
Invention of Modern Tuning Systems
While we’re on the subject of Gene Krupa, Slingerland introduced toms in 1934 with tunable top heads, but non-tunable tacked-on bottom heads. By 1936, Krupa became Slingerland’s first and most famous endorser. With Krupa’s encouragement, Slingerland introduced toms with fully tunable top and bottom heads.
Modern Bearing Edges
The modern synthetic drumhead encouraged an evolution toward modern, sharper bearing edges that enhanced the new drumheads’ sustain and attack. In the 1950s, Gretsch was among the first companies to offer drums with beveled edges. Today, the majority of mass-produced drums come with 45 degree edges, but not all. Gretsch’s Renown series drums, for example, have 30 degree edges.
Nylon Tip Drum Sticks
If you’ve ever suffered the frustration of throwing away an otherwise perfectly good stick because of a damaged wood tip, you can imagine the impetus for Joe Calato’s 1958 invention of the nylon-tip stick. Calato’s use of nylon tips created sticks that lasted longer and produced a brighter cymbal sound than wood tips.
Ludwig Supra-Phonic 400 Series Snare
For decades now, drummers have considered the Ludwig 400 series Supra-Phonic snares a standard go-to drum for most styles. Something about the sound of these snares is just “right.” The initial 400 series models offered in 1959 had chrome-over-brass shells with “top quality matched plastic heads.” From 1962 onward, the 400 series came with Ludalloy shells — i.e., chrome over aluminum.
Drummers who love infinite angles can thank, among others, Rogers Drums. In 1960, the famed drum company introduced the Swiv-O-Matic tom holder, which used hexagonal rods and a key-tightened ball-and-socket joint. Slingerland introduced its own ball-and-socket variant in 1968 — the Set-O-Matic tom holder. Many modern manufactures now offer their own variants.
First Cymbals Made From Sheet Bronze
When Paiste introduced its Giant Beat series in 1965, they were made from discs cut from sheets of B8 bronze (92 percent copper/8 percent tin). This contrasted with other traditional processes of making cymbals from individually cast ingots of B20 bronze (80 percent copper 20 percent tin) and paved the way for other affordable professional B8 series like Paiste’s 2002 line. Today, Paiste’s website argues “there can be no non-cast alloys,” so “the distinction between cast and sheet alloys is plain nonsense.”
Acrylic Drum Shells
Known as the inventor of acrylic drum shells, Bill Zickos received a U.S. patent for the concept in 1970. That same year Keith Moon bought a kit from Zickos. By 1972, Ludwig introduced its acrylic shell Vistalite series as a clear alternative to wood shell drums.
Electronic Drum Pad
Pollard Industries released the first electronic drum pad, the Syndrum, in 1976. Famous players like Carmine Appice took notice and began using this odd-sounding electronic drum. The Syndrum should not be confused with the Synare, a different electronic drumpad introduced by Star Instruments in 1977.
In the early 1970s, Australian drummer/inventor Don Sleishman 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 Ron Tutt) into a more streamlined configuration. Officially launched in 1978, Sleishman’s “Twin Pedal” set the groundwork for a new generation of players.
Suspended Tom Mount
In an effort to improve the sound quality of toms for recording, Gary Gauger created RIMS (Resonance Isolation Mounting System) in 1979. The RIMS mount suspended the tom without penetrating the shell and avoided the choking effect other tom mounts often imposed on otherwise lovely toms. Today, almost every manufacturer employs some sort of non-penetrating tom suspension mount.
First Digital Sample Drum Machine
Roger Linn designed the LM-1 Drum Computer as a programmable drum machine that used digital samples of acoustic drums. With a list price of $4,995, the LM-1 was not cheap. Nor was its successor, the LINN Drum, which listed for $2,995 in 1982. When these machines came out, many drummers lamented the prospect of being replaced by machines — an unfortunately accurate prophecy.
Chain-Drive Bass Drum Pedal
In the early ’80s, Tama acquired both the rights to Camco’s famous bass pedal and the patent for a modification to Camco’s pedal design made by Frank Ippolito and Albert Duffy of NYC’s Professional Percussion Center. This modification replaced the leather strap drive with a chain and sprocket, increasing the pedal’s power and durability immensely.
As of press time, the precise date of the invention of the multiclamp is unknown. With that said, starting in the early 1980s, heavy-duty hardware became a trend — thus making the mounting of multiple cymbals or toms from one tripod much more feasible. Tama began promoting a “Multi-Holder” clamp system in its 1981 catalog. Today, almost every major manufacturer offers multiclamps.
For its PTS (PreTuned Series) drums, Remo began using a proprietary wood-based shell technology dubbed Acousticon that lacked plies, was light in weight, and was musical sounding. PTS drums have long since disappeared, but Remo has continued to use improved versions of Acousticon for myriad drum set and hand percussion instruments. These modern takes on traditional instruments are a mainstay at drum circles and helped attract a whole new breed of weekend-warrior percussion consumers.
Invention of Falams Drumhead
Remo was busy in 1981. On marching snare drums, high batter-head tension and giant marching sticks can quickly wear out a traditional Mylar head. Remo came to the rescue with Falams heads that fused Mylar with Kevlar — a highly durable FAbric LAminate (hence, Falams) — that is virtually indestructible.
Ddrum Acoustic Drum Triggers
Ddrum has been around since 1983. For drummers who desired electronic sounds but still wanted the playability and feel of acoustic drums, Ddrum’s introduction of Acoustic Drum Triggers allowed a best-of-both-worlds option. With triggers, an acoustic set can become electronic.
During the 1980s metal scene, drummers had an increasing desire for an alternative to blaring wedge monitors and bad mixes. Companies like Future Sonics and Garwood pioneered in-ear monitor systems that gave musicians better mixes, and in some cases, decreased the decibels to preserve their hearing. Today’s IEM systems often include custom-molded earpieces.
First Internal Miking System
Randall May created an internal mounting system that allowed placement of various brands of microphones inside a drum to isolate that drum’s sound. After he received a patent for the idea in 1986, it caught on. Pearl began promoting the May system in its brochures published in 1992. Other companies have since followed suit, including DW, who for years has offered May miking systems as a standard option.
Invention of Hot Rods
Sticks too loud? Brushes too soft? Pro-Mark’s introduction in 1987 of multidoweled Hot Rods bridged the volume (and feel) gap for drummers. In the process, Hot Rods also allowed drummers to experiment with an entirely new and different sound palette.
Launch of Pro Tools
Pro Tools first appeared in 1991 with a hefty $6,000 price tag for four-track digital recording software. The technology quickly became more affordable and accessible. As a result, nowadays, even non-famous musicians can operate recording studios from their home and make records without record deals. Present day entry-level versions of Pro Tools start at $249 and allow up to 48-track recording.
Items like duct tape, tissue, and felt may work for muffling drums and cymbals, but they don’t look very pretty. The clear blue semi-sticky Moongel damper strips RTOM, introduced in 1992, look much cooler. Moongel also does a phenomenal job of removing pesky unwanted overtones and ringing from snares, toms, and cymbals.
Playing a rubber electronic drum pad might provide an appealing sonic experience, but it often has an unfulfilling feel when compared to acoustic drums. By outfitting its new V-Drum line with mesh-heads in 1997, Roland created an electronic drum set with a forgiving and bouncy feel (and quieter response) that was much closer to that of acoustic drums.
Standard-Size Drum Keys And Tension Rods
Manufacturers have gradually evolved toward standard-sized square-hole drum keys and standard thread count tension rods that can be interchanged from one brand to another. For example, Sonor, who for years used slotted-head rods, now offers square-head rods on many of its drums. But there are still outliers. For example, DW’s tension rods have higher thread counts than other brands.
First Official Drum Brushes
In 1895, a patent was granted for a “fly killer” fanned wire brush that was meant to kill bugs without leaving messy fly carnage behind. Drummers started finding uses for these fly killers beyond just insect murder. By 1913, Louis Allis & Adolph R. Wiens patented a drum brush. According to Remembering Bix, a biography of 1920s jazz leader Bix Beiderbecke, his drummer, Vic Berton, is the first to use wire brushes. However, Baby Dodds was one of the first drummers to record brushes on tracks played with pianist Jelly Roll Morton in 1927.
Numerous Internet sources attribute the invention of the hi-hat drop-clutch to “ragtime drummer Graig Cortelyou.” But ragtime enjoyed its heyday before the hi-hat was invented or Louie Bellson ever played double bass drum, so we question the accuracy of the “ragtime drummer” claim. Regardless, the drop-clutch is a great little invention that allows drummers to keep their hi-hat closed while switching to double bass.
Evans claims Chick Evans first invented the synthetic drumhead out of a plastic/polyester film in 1956. Remo claims Remo Belli created a drumhead from Dupont Mylar (a polyester film) in 1957. Regardless of who was first, both men accomplished something previously impossible with calfskin heads: the ability to tune and play drumheads that were unaffected by changes in temperature or humidity.
First Professional Japanese Drum Sets
There was a time when American drum companies like Ludwig, Gretsch, and Slingerland ruled the world. Beginning in the 1960s, Japanese manufacturers began to emerge and offer less expensive professional alternatives. Pearl made its first professional kit in 1966. Yamaha followed suit in 1967. Also during the 1960s, Hoshino Gakki (now Tama) began manufacturing professional-level “Star Drums.”
First Electronic Drum Set
Dave Simmons founded the Simmons company in 1978 specifically for the purpose of creating an electronic drum set. By 1981, Simmons released an electronic drum set with hexagonal pads, the SDS-V. Subsequently, Simmons kits were played on recordings by notable bands like Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, and Rush.