By Phil Hood
Two things caught my eye when I first read about the new Simmons SD2000 mesh head kit earlier this year. First was the news the company was working again with Dave Simmons, the legendary and builder whose eponymous drums defined electronic percussion in the ’80s. And the second thing was that they had a new sound library with vintage kits recorded using period gear. Both were connected, it turns out.
Jim Norman, who directed product development says that working with Dave was crucial. “It gave us a chance to go beyond being a replicant,” he says. Replicant? What he means is that that some sound libraries do a great job of re-creating acoustic drum kits, but that he wanted to go well beyond that. He cites the example of synthesizers. “With synths the first patch is always a piano. But as you scroll through the different banks of sounds you have a larger palette, with more timbres and sounds.” Dave pushed the team to include electronic sound capabilities that an acoustic kit could never create, and other sounds, too. The result is a sound library that includes acoustic drums, electronics, world percussion, and also samples of some off-the wall never-heard-before sounds using found objects.
Still the heart of a decent drum brain is classic kits. Among the people they called upon to help create those sounds was engineer and drummer Matthew Baker at Moment Music. His job was to engineer the sounds of classic drummers such as Bonham and Grohl.
To that end Matt spent more than two weeks just recording drums at a studio in Salt Lake City, then another week and half to record cymbals. “It’s not just the drum that creates the sound,” he says. “It’s the hardware, the room, the mikes, the sticks, and the context in which they originally were recorded together.”
What are his secrets for capturing classic sounds? First is ambient mikes. “Every single sound we recorded was with ambient microphones running as well different patterns miking the kits. We would take a Ludwig 4-piece oyster shell kit and record it clean and transparent for simple country or Sixties music. Then we’d use tea towels to tune it out in several different ways. We also used gels on the head when needed, like when we tweaked a DW five-piece configuration to be urban sounding.”
Capturing Dave Grohl’s classic Nirvana sounds was another challenge. It required going back to how it was done with producer Butch Vig. “We re-created the kick tunnel they used on the sessions for Nirvana’s In Utero,” Matt says. “We extended Grohl’s 24″ kick with two more 22″ shells in front and put a packing blanket in there. Then we miked it normally and added a pair of mics at the end of the tunnel.”
For Led Zep’s later sound the team employed an acrylic kit (natch) with a 26″ x 16″ bass and big toms, of 13″, 14″, 16″, and 18″ diameters. “We used the [legendary producer] Glyn Johns mike technique with one over the right shoulder from the drummer’s perspective and another on the left side down for a mid-side pickup,” Matt explains.
Then to get a later 1970s studio sound the team put together a Yamaha Recording Custom (birch shells) with Remo Pinstripe heads on it and muted the snare to keep to deaden the sound. Steely Dan would be proud.
And what about classic jazz? Matt says they didn’t have the right kit when they started but they found one from a local collector. It was a ’53 Gretsch roundback. He says when he first saw it, the kit was a mess, covered in dust, skin particles, and what looked like blood. “But when I started tapping on it sounded correct. Of all of those we recorded that is my favorite. We used old ribbon mikes and vintage condensers to get the sound — two overheads and one mike for the kick.”
What’s Matt’s biggest revelation from the experience? That’s easy: it’s the tea towels. “There was so much muting going on those recordings,” he says, “we used them on everything. You can have the same gear but if everything is not just right the sound won’t be the same. We had to try lots of wacky experiments but I’m happy how it all worked out.”
You can check out some of big electronic sounds and other aspects of the Simmons SD2000 sound library.
Starr? Porcaro? Jordan? Grohl? Barker?
Next week I’ll announce my October K-Brakes winners. This week, email me (or post below) about your favorite classic drum sound. Name the drummer and the tune. I’ll share your pick and determine a winner to receive a Slug Percussion Triad Pad to focus your sound, or other prizes.
Hope to see you at PASIC.