A Strange Tale Of An Odd Drum Set

Vox Speedfire Drum Set

Near the end of WWII in Germany a G.I. named Bob was on a patrol with a U.S. infantry squad. The squad entered a building and found several men seated, dressed in civilian clothes. They offered no resistance and declared that they were not with the German army. The sergeant of the squad immediately noticed that although the men were dressed as civilians, they were all wearing regulation German Army hobnail boots.

The sergeant determined that if the captured men did not have a plausible reason for wearing German Army boots, under regulation they could be shot as spies. G.I. Bob apparently knew enough German, and one of the prisoners knew enough English, to conclude that although the men had been attached to the German Army, they were musicians, not soldiers. The sergeant noticed an accordion in the room and he told Bob to tell the men that if they were musicians, somebody better know how to play it. Bob and the English-speaking German conveyed the message to the others.

One of the Germans picked up the accordion and began to play “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” Perhaps the sergeant was a Texan, for this gesture convinced him to spare the prisoners. Some years later, G.I. Bob and one of the Germans recognized each other at a banquet in Frankfurt, Germany. G.I. Bob is Robert Zildjian, the founder of the Sabian Cymbal Co., and the German was Karl Heinz Weimer, founder of the Trixon Drum Co.

Fortunately, Karl had survived the war and began his company in 1948. Beginning from the early ’50s, the company offered snare drums, toms and bass drums in many size and color options. Furthermore, it manufactured its own complete line of hardware, stands and ethnic and mallet percussion instruments. Trixon drum shells were made from six-ply beech with no reinforcement rings. The quality of the product was reasonably good, considering what the shortages of raw materials in post-war Germany must have been like. However, what Trixon is most remembered for is the company’s innovative designs.

Perhaps the best known (if not the weirdest looking) is the Speedfire set (pictured above) with the elliptical bass drum. Introduced around 1955, the Speedfire originally came supplied with no fewer than five concert toms mounted on a chrome railing wrapped in a semi circle across the bass drum. Even the snare drum was attached to the bass drum by an arm. The only stand-alone pieces were the 20" floor tom and the hardware.

The theory of the lopsided bass drum was explained by the internal insertion of a vertical sound board that divided the drum into two chambers of unequal proportions. One then utilized these two spaces by playing them with doppel fussmaschinen (double-bass pedals). In Trixon catalogs from this period, some English-translated text is provided. It appears to be a very literal translation from the German copy which, in retrospect, makes for a bit of unintentional humor. For the company’s English speaking customers, a ’50s catalog states:

“The set of five small toms ... Also the snare drum - you may give it what angle you want - is mounted on the bass drum. All instruments are inclined that way, that they form a concentrated, near-range, well-bordered, different tuned ’head-table’ which enables every drummer to increase the rapidity of his beating technic to not yet known fastness. The new TRIXON-SPEEDFIRE SET ... is the nearest and easiest way to become a star-drummer and to get highest paid jobs. Use this chance for your personal improvement in skill and scope.” Ah, if it were only so simple!

Trixon excelled in the design and construction of unique hardware fixtures such as mounts, pedals and stands that had a distinct 1950-early 60’s “futuristic” look about them. A single pull shaft double hi-hat existed briefly. Hard angles and the appearance of joints and seams (initially) was verboten. The hardware was light, functioned well, and, upon close inspection, was very distinctive.

About 1958, Trixon introduced the Telstar kit, presumably named after the Telstar satellite, then recently launched into space by the U.S. Telstar drums were conical in shape, meaning, for example, that the bass drum would be 20" on one end of the drum and would gradually taper down to a 16" diameter on the other. In the beginning the drums flanged out from top to bottom, but later the design was changed so the drums would flange up from bottom to top and from front to back. Even snare drums were designed like this. Of course, the company also sold sets in standard configurations. The most popular of these was the Luxus kit, which was a 20", 13", and 16", with a matching 5" x 14" snare. Originally, the tension casings had a fluted teardrop design very similar to ’50s-’60s Sonor lugs (to this day a debate rages on about how involved Sonor was in Trixon’s manufacture; so many features are similar), but around 1960 the casing was changed to a more conventional box design.

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According to modern drum mythology, a young lad named Ringo walked into Drum City in London, with a pocketful of money, fully intending to buy a drum kit – probably a Trixon. He had recently returned from Hamburg, where he had been playing with his new band, the Beatles. However, he had been to Hamburg before with other bands and he was well acquainted with Trixon drums. He had been playing a set of Premier (just like most of the other blokes back home) and he fancied something different.

Ivor Arbiter, the owner of Drum City, was the exclusive agent and importer for Trixon drums in the U.K. However, Arbiter had just recently acquired the sole U.K. distributorship for Ludwig Drums from America. The Trixon line was already selling pretty well, and Arbiter had gotten Freddy Marsden, the drummer from the popular band Gerry And The Pacemakers, to purchase a set. But Arbiter had just received his first display kit of Ludwig (in Oyster Black Pearl) and he felt like he really needed to give his newly-acquired line a push. In a masterful bit of salesmanship, Arbiter convinced Ringo to buy a kit of Ludwigs, based on their comparative rarity in England and the supposed superiority of American manufacturing. So swayed was young Ringo by the salesman’s pitch, that he special-ordered a front bass drumhead with a Ludwig logo that was larger than what was typically offered. But that is another story.

How different would our lives be if Ringo had appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” behind a Trixon Speedfire kit?

In the first few years of the Beatles’ worldwide popularity, they were well known for using Vox amplifiers and occasionally Vox guitars. St. Louis Music Supply Co., the licensed importer of Trixon drums for the U.S., presumably hoped to cash in on this by leasing the Vox name from the Thomas Organ Co. and, by agreement with Trixon, renamed a majority of their Trixon imports “Vox.” The plan was not a success, and Trixon/Vox did not achieve much popularity in the U.S. as a result. The kits were too bizarre, cheap looking, and not hip enough, and there was just too much competition from all of the U.S. drum makers operating at the time. By the late 60’s, Trixon/Vox had lost most of its appeal, both here and abroad, even though the drums were briefly endorsed by Buddy Rich. A story circulates that St. Louis Music Supply Co., during the “Back To The Land” wood-hued 1970’s, was literally throwing unused Trixon/Vox kits into the dumpster because nobody – not even the stores – wanted them.

The Trixon company ceased drum set production and somehow managed to linger on until its demise in 1977, specializing in children’s mallet and percussion instruments. But there is one final Trixon story. Herr Weimer, the company’s founder, became rather eccentric in his old age. During his lifetime, he had amassed an extensive personal collection of his own products, including drum sets. When he died several years ago, under direction of his will, heavy earth-moving equipment was called in to drive over and crush his collection of Trixon sets and memorabilia. It was then all buried in a landfill outside of Hamburg.

What will archaeologists make of that site in several thousand years?