Purposeful Haze: Re-Create ‘60s Drum Sounds

Dynamic microphones were not as developed as they would be in later years. From a bass drum perspective the AKG D 12 was the go-to mike. In addition to tolerating high sound-pressure levels, the D 12 had a special “Bass Chamber” inside its case. The Bass Chamber physically emphasizes the lower frequencies in the 60–120Hz range. (I’ll bet most of your full-time recording engineer buddies don’t know that one). It also picked up low frequencies down to 40Hz. Most other dynamic mikes were whatever the studio had on hand or were preferred by the engineers. Electro-Voice 635 and AKG D19c were used often, as well.

Philosophy Of The Player

With so much discussion of drum equipment, recording technology, and engineering styles, it’s easy to overlook a very important contributor to 1960s drum sounds. I’m talking about the philosophy of the individual drummer. Having played many shows without the benefit of a P.A. sound system, a 1960s drummer could not play as loud as he pleased. Aside from keeping time, most drummers focused on self-mixing their kit volume versus the rest of the band.

Musicians were expected to know the songs inside and out and be able to perform flawlessly. Sometimes, studio musicians were brought in with little notice and no sheet music. They learned the song by playing it once or twice, and that was it. A similar analogy would be someone auditioning for a Broadway dance troupe. People who quickly learn and execute the program usually get the job. Headphone monitor systems were uncommon or rarely used. People played live in the room together.

Drum Equipment

Understanding the equipment of the era can help explain why some recordings turned out the way they did. From a gear-lust perspective, the ’60s was a relatively boring decade. Since most players were reserved by today’s hitting standards, there was little demand for enhanced hardware stability. The flat three-on-the-floor-leg stand was the norm.

Most drummers played wood-tip sticks, but synthetic nylon tips had been on the market since 1958. Different inventors had tried alternate tips, but most shattered or failed to stay attached. Joe Calato Sr., of the Regal Tip Company got it right, creating a nylon tip that was durable, shatter resistant, and produced a pleasing sound.

Cymbals in the ’60s were essentially Zildjian in the U.S. In Europe, Swiss-made Paiste competed with Zildjian. Special cymbals such as splashes and ride cymbals with rivets were also available.

If you do not have access to vintage cymbals, suitable offerings can be found from contemporary manufacturers. For example, Zildjian A, Paiste 2002, Sabian AA, or Bosphorus Traditional series would be acceptable candidates. As with any era, some drummers refused to clean their cymbals. Dirt, grime, and grease from handling builds up on the surface, altering the resonance. For that kind of sound consider Bosphorus Master Vintage, Bosphorus Antique, or Zildjian K’s.

Most drummers played single-ply or coated white drumheads. Believe it or not, there were some actual calfskin heads still floating around. Like multitrack recorders, synthetic heads had only been available since the mid-1950s. Chick Evans perfected his namesake company’s first synthetic drumhead in 1956. Around the same time Remo had been experimenting with Mylar, a polyester film made by DuPont. Used during World War II as a heat-resistant film for reconnaissance flights, Mylar interested Remo Belli. He experimented with the material until the Weatherking heads were ready for consumption. To this day, both companies claim to be the first inventor the synthetic head. As far as getting ’60s sounds you can’t go wrong with Remo Coated Ambassadors, Remo Vintage A’s or Evans G1 Coated heads all around.

When it came to the actual drums, famous brands included Ludwig, Slingerland, and Gretsch. In 1966, Pearl introduced its first professional drum kit under the Pearl name, the Pearl President, making it the first Japanese drum company to gain market share in the West. But Ludwig probably had the biggest surge, thanks to a young drummer from Liverpool, England. The Beatles’ February 1964 performance on The Ed Sullivan Show raised awareness about pop music, drumming, and Ludwig, in particular. According to most sources, orders came in so fast and furious that Ludwig was straining to ship 2,500 sets per month. That was a big deal. Most of the kits were the classic 3-piece, featuring a bass drum, floor tom, and one rack tom. A snare, typically chrome, was often included.

Other than the metal snare, drums were made of wood. Note, I didn’t say what kind of wood. This was not a time when drummers were as material-obsessed as we are today. In fact, the insides of many ’60s shells were coated in white sealer paint, making it difficult for any visual identification of species. A colleague suggested, “If you want a ’60s drum sound get any piece-of-crap drum, the cheaper the better. Make sure it’s round and has a good bearing edge, though. Tune it as best you can, and you’ll be in the ballpark of 90 percent of the recordings on the radio.” Another engineer put it more succinctly: “People just didn’t care. As long as the drum had a nice tone people didn’t obsess about those things.”

PART 2: Recording Setups

British Invasion

The term “British Invasion” was coined by music journalists to refer to the large number of rock and pop performers from the United Kingdom who became popular in the United States during ’60s. No discussion of the British Invasion would be complete without Ringo Starr. Fortunately, The Beatles’ work at Abbey Road Studios was very well documented. If you have the interest, I recommend Recording The Beatles by Kevin Ryan and Brian Kehew (Curvebender Publishing). A 540-page tome (weighing more than 10 lbs.), the book covers gear, applications, and locations with more than 500 photos and illustrations. There are two kinds of Ringo setups I want to cover: early decade and later.

Drum Sounds Of The 60s

Fig. 2 The RS127 Box is the authorized reproduction of the EMI/Abbey Road modular EQ. Like plugins in DAWs, these modules plugged in to the EMI REDD desk when EQ was required.

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