“Loud Is A Way Of Life”
— Steven Adler
NAMM is always loud and 2018 did not disappoint. So much so that the Soultone booth was closed by the sound police for an hour and a half on one day of the show. Limiting sound levels is a good idea but Soultone is far from the only offender. Being on the show floor at NAMM is like standing on a carrier flight deck under a military helicopter without protective hearing gear.
What’s It All Mean?
Each year brings tons of new gear, and when the show is over I always pull out my crystal ball and ask what it means for music making? This year’s event offered a few clues even though I missed almost half the show after catching the NAMMthrax. No amount of hand sanitizer makes you immune to all the germs floating around when 120,000 people get cozy in 1.6 million square feet of convention hall. So the list that follows is a little abbreviated: I don’t want to mention too many things I haven’t seen in person yet or have previously written about.
The Cajon Boom
Worldwide cajon sales are booming. There were dozens of new models at NAMM but the new Rhythm Tech cajon with enhanced bass response particularly caught our ear with its serious low-end. We were standing 10 feet from the cajon and I had to look around to make sure no one had not been knocked down by the blast. Check out editor Nick Grizzle’s interview.
Atempo, a Peruvian brand, displayed their cajons, all of them constructed with dovetail joints and solid staves. Their Dos Tonos model had a beautiful stacked pattern of dark and light finishes.
But my “awesome” award in percussion goes to LP’s Pedrito Martinez Signature Series line of congas, bongos, and cajons in “deep-cut mango.” Astonishing design. Special mention to Meinl for the variety of cool changes in their Artist Series.
Small, Sharp, And In Control
Paiste did not get louder but they did get sharper. Their tiny PSTX models, including 10″ over 8″ and 12″ over 10″ Splash Stacks, provide hot slices of trashy, sharp, biting blurps that sound perfect right now. Times change and music changes. A snare or hat sound that sucked in 1983 might be perfect in a new musical situation. Kudos to Paiste for having big ears.
DRUM! took a sneak peek at Yamaha’s EAD10 at PASIC in November but got the full Monty treatment at NAMM during demos that were even exciting the normally jaded journalists in attendance. EAD10 does four incredible things: captures audio recording of the kit; lets you add preset effects like reverb to the sound; adds multiple trigger inputs for hybrid setups; and provides an iOS app that enables drummers to record a track on top of their favorite music (cover) or with video for all-important YouTube sharing. It’s a drum set supercharger.
It’s A Mic. It’s A Trigger.
Down in the vast new exhibit halls for pro audio Roland was unveiling their TM6 module and new trigger, the RT-MicS. This is a great step in the evolution of hybrid drumming. It’s a trigger with built-in condenser mic and eight onboard sounds, from hand claps to alternative snares. You can use it like an extra snare, import samples, process your acoustic sound, or mix the acoustic and digital. Or just get a clean recording of your snare head. This is a product that opens many doors and gets another “awesome” award for the show.
Signs Of Growth
The years 2009 to 2015 were not kind to music product manufacturers or retailers, and that includes all those involved in making and selling drums. Sales fell, imports from China drove down prices, and the popularity of EDM helped sell virtual instruments but not physical ones. At this show I saw more signs of life than I’ve seen in a decade. For example, two companies have recently established new factories. Innovative has established a new factory in Nashville to make their sticks as well as mallets. Previously they outsourced some stick manufacturing. And Bill Ludwig of WFLIII has announced new kits and opened a factory in Kansas City to increase production.
Dark But Not So Damn Complex
The cymbal trend is sweetness and its embodiment is Zildjian’s K Sweet line. Some of the overtones are sanded off for a sound that’s a tad rounder and well… sweeter. The rides and crashes come in odd as well as even sizes, too, which was commented on by drummers we met on the floor. Other vendors are using their own language to describe these new-old sound combinations. UFIP uses words like soft and warm in relation to their new 1931 line (with a new distributor in Davitt & Hanser, UFIP should be more widely available in the US soon). Other companies like Istanbul Mehmet introduced twists on dark with their Hamer line, named for its unique hammering pattern.
Overtones Be Gone
Sabian didn’t invent holes but they made the concept go big with Holey China. Now they’ve introduced even more holes. The FRX Crashes are extra-thin pies with micro holes near the bell to tamp down overtones without affecting volume and range. Great for church, pit orchestras and close miking. They also have introduced their version of quiet cymbals with Quiet Tone. These are pitched for practice and lessons, though they might fit into a low-volume coffee house gig.
Shhh! We’re Practicing Quietly
Vater took quiet one step further with the cheapest possible low-noise practice option: Practice Tips. Designed to slip over any drum stick, you can use them without a pad and also use them to achieve a lower volume sound on acoustic and electronic kits.
Science. Rocket Optional.
Bebop Sensors, a company that makes everything from automotive seat sensors to VR gloves using an extremely sensitive hi-tech fabric, has unveiled the BopPad, a four-zone pad that allows the most natural playing of an electronic surface to date: hands, fingers, sticks, and mallets. BopPad provides accurate hit detection, velocity, continuous radius and pressure at a speed of 2.4 milliseconds with four independently programmable zones and outputs MIDI data. I note that the genius behind BopPad is Keith McMillen, who also had a hand in designing Pearl’s beautiful Malletstation.
Interestingly, DW dipped their toes into electronics at the show. They’ve put together a software plug-in with Audified, the DW Audio Enhancer that helps you dial in a drum sound quickly with compression, EQ, a noise gate and other options to add warmth, presence and depth to recording. Though not a big revenue area for instrument companies, software does a great job at spreading name and recognition of a company’s leadership in the market.
Ex-ot-i-ca: Objects considered strange or interesting because they are out of the ordinary, especially because they originated in a distant foreign country
Exotic drums are another health indicator. When exotics are selling, people must be spending. Doc Sweeney showed a “Snakebite” kit made of spalted sycamore. This reptile is completely harmless unless played by the right hands and feet. DW captured its usual big slice of publicity with Tasmanian Timber kits. These feature a blackwood shell veneered in black sassafras. All the woods are from down under, chosen by wood whisperer John Good… Rhett Hendrix showed off his new Perfect Ply models with bubinga and other woods. Similar to his stave kits but at much more affordable prices… And, based on the success of the SLP snare, Tama unleashed SLP kits in bubinga, maple, kapur, and, wait for it… spruce. Spruce may not be exotic but it is rarely used for drums. As one reviewer at gear4music said its appearance has “a stunning aesthetic, with its natural wood grain clearly evident.” Definitely worth further investigation. Equally appealing were Mapex’s new olive-veneered Armory drums in desert dune and black dawn. These are part of the Armory series with birch-maple-birch shells.
Pearl had no exotics to push but the new Studio Session Selects (birch-mahogany) shells impressed by just being beautiful. The wraps and paints were exquisite. They also expanded the number of options available with the Music City Custom line. You order and get a kit within 14 days, assembled to your specs in the Nashville plant-full artist treatment. I’ve got equally nice things to say about wraps such as black metallic and abalone on the new Brooklyn models at Gretsch.
Welcome To The Dial-A-Sound Era
So what’s it all add up to? I think we’re moving into the era of deep ease of use and fine-grained control of sound. There’s new electronics that make playing and learning faster and more enjoyable. And, on the acoustic side there’s more instruments, including cajons, percussion instruments, and quieter cymbals, that allow you to control volume and tone for your application and situation. And if those don’t work, you can just easily add effects in either the physical (hardware) or virtual (software) worlds. It means the electronic world of software is overlaying a virtual world of capability on top of the acoustic sounds we love.
Best Artist Showing
A high point of the show was when Jeff Hamilton took Russ Miller and the crowd to brushes school
at the Mapex booth. A couple of hours later the show’s greatest autograph moment came when Danny Carey and other Sonor artists joined Jeff and Russ at the booth.
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