BY BRAD SCHLUETER
JoJo Mayer is known for having developed his hand and foot technique to an incredible level. He’s one of those few drummers who can play about as fast with one hand or foot as many intermediate drummers can with two.
Over the years, Mayer had tried most every modern pedal on the market and found they were often fast on the “throw” but slow on the “return” due to their having been designed to produce great volume and power. Since he prefers pedals that offer similar speed on each end of the stroke, he’d often chosen to use simpler vintage pedals. This led him on a quest to develop a thoroughly modern bass drum pedal with a decidedly vintage feel. After developing the basic idea, Sonor got involved to add a few more tricks to the pedal’s design but without compromising its vintage feel. The result is the Perfect Balance pedal, which we at DRUM! were both curious and eager to try out.
Perhaps to imply the pedal’s carefully engineered and understated simplicity, it arrived in a tastefully designed black shoebox. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very nice shoebox with a very smooth skin-like exterior surface – like an iPhone box – and even contained a small pouch of silica gel inside it.
Inside the box, I found some nice clear instructions (with photos), Sonor stickers, and other product literature along with the padded carrying bag (with a shoulder strap) containing the pedal. The bag is a nice touch and resembles a tiny saxophone bag. It feels more like a rubber toiletry bag rather than the more typical ballistic nylon pedal bag. The only issue I could see with this bag is that since it isn’t rigid like some boxier designs it won’t offer much protection should a heavy trap case fall on it in the back of a van. However, on the plus side, it’s very small and might fit inside your trap case unlike those bulkier cases.
After opening the bag I couldn’t help but notice this is one sexy pedal! It’s all gleaming silver with a completely smooth and mirror-like footboard. Underneath is a silver base plate; a slightly rougher silver frame assembly; and some occasional black rubber pieces used for the strap, button, and to cushion the bass drum hoop. The heel plate is laser-etched with “Perfect Balance – designed by Jojo Mayer.” Also in the bag were a Sonor drum key (square head and slotted screw driver for Sonor lugs), a self-adhesive hoop guard, and an Allen wrench.
One little thing I didn’t like was that neither the pedal nor the bag had a place to store the key and the Allen wrench. A little pocket on the exterior of the bag would have come in handy, or better still, a couple of small clips on the base plate of the pedal. I checked and there is room on the base plate should Sonor take this suggestion at some point.
An old-school felt beater completes the pedal.
If you use a sliding bass drum pedal technique to play multiple notes you’ll appreciate the completely smooth footboard. There are no bumps, engravings, logos, or other surface textures present to impede the sliding motion.
This pedal was designed with simplicity in mind but offers a few major design innovations. Cleverly and uniquely, this pedal folds flat to fit in the bag without having to remove the beater from the pedal. There’s a large black button on the side of the pedal that you depress to release the frame post that allows it to fold toward you. It’d be wise to remove the spring clip from the roller when packing up to avoid stretching out the spring, which is held in place when removed by a small magnet conveniently placed on the post.
Folding the pedal takes a little practice since you have to reach around and under the footboard to get to the button, press it while lightly pushing the pedal away from you to release the catch, then pull the pedal frame toward you lowering the frame onto the pedal’s footboard. It takes a bit of strength to depress the button and is awkward to reach under the pedal. If you have small hands it may be easier for you.
As you lower the frame like this the beater will point away from you. Again, it’s useful to release the spring from the roller first, otherwise it’ll oppose your efforts throughout the process. Note to jazz or other small bass drum owners, if you don’t extend the beater all the way you should be careful when lowering the frame since the bottom of the beater could scratch the mirror-finish footboard.
The pedal attaches to the bass drum in a similar fashion but in reverse, and it uses a novel self-clamping mechanism. Pushing the column forward when positioned on the hoop causes the pedal to self-mount and automatically grab your hoop. You’ll need to take a minute or two to set up the spacing for your particular hoop but once you do you’re good to go.
The pedal has a fairly large linear cam. Linear cams mirror your actions – what you give is what you get. This is different from many modern pedals that feature oblong cams that deliver a quick and powerful wallop followed by a somewhat lackadaisical return – exactly what Jojo was trying to avoid.
This pedal uses a strap similar to vintage pedals, but unlike the leather straps on vintage pedals this unit employs a ballistic fiber strap that should endure long after you pass the pedal onto your grandkids. If you desire a heavier feel it can be retrofitted with a chain.
The pedal has an elongated footboard so it should work well for drummers who employ heel-toe technique. I have a size 10 or 11 foot (it can’t make up its mind) and I was able to fit my foot on the footboard without rubbing against the strap. It has a normal-sized heel plate if you are a heels-down player.
The pedal felt very smooth but initially it seemed to have a very light action. I increased the spring tension and tried it out several times until it was maxed out and it still felt a bit light to me. I then adjusted the position of the bearing roller in the spring rocker, pulling it toward me until I found an action I’m more comfortable with. Then I was able to execute quick doubles and triple strokes.
I think jazz drummers will love the lighter action of this pedal while speed metal drummers used to heavy “maxed-out” springs may not be drawn to it as much.
This is certainly a high-quality, beautiful pedal with some well-thought-out features. However, I didn’t find the way it attaches to the hoop to offer an advantage over conventional pedals. The self-clamping mechanism works well, but if you play several different brands of drums, as I do, you’ll have to set up the clamp spacing for each hoop’s thickness, requiring another minute or two. Wing screw mechanisms are simpler since they automatically adjust to whatever hoop they’re on. You simply turn them until they’re tight.
Also, while the folding aspect of the pedal is ingenious, depressing the button isn’t easy if you don’t have very strong hands and fingers. I do, or thought I did until I repeatedly struggled to get my hand around the footboard and depress the button. I don’t require my pedal to fold up so that feature isn’t something I need or value. If it worked effortlessly then it might be a bonus, but since it takes a bit of effort I found it was ultimately not a major enhancement.
But nits aside, The Sonor Jojo Mayer Perfect Balance player is ideal for drummers looking for a beautiful, modern pedal with a vintage feel. The pedal offers some clever new features, is smooth to play, and it’s adjustable enough for most playing styles. Plus, with Sonor’s superb workmanship it should last several lifetimes.
Features Ballistic-fiber strap; large, linear cam; magnetic spring mount; mirror-finish footboard; includes single pedal, pedal bag, drum key, and Allen wrench.
List Price $410
Learn six ways to fine-tune the adjustments on your bass drum pedal here!