BY PHIL HOOD
If you’ve ever heard Trick drums you know they have tremendous power and sustain. You also know they are solid aluminum, not exactly the most common metal for building drums. I was interested as to why Trick buyers choose their drums and what makes aluminum a good drum material.
Though it may be somewhat exotic for musical instruments, aluminum is not rare. It makes up 8 percent of the earth’s crust and is the third most populous element overall. It’s not often found in pure form but in ores of bauxite and other materials. Its low density — about 40 percent that of steel — makes it light. Its corrosion resistance keeps its surface shiny and intact longer than most materials. That’s why powdered aluminum is a popular ingredient in silver paints.
Aluminum is not often used for making musical instruments. There are some flutes and whistles, and also oddities such as this one-off guitar. But in terms of percussive musical abilities, aluminum has it going on. Orchestral hand bells are typically made of bell bronze (80 percent copper, 20 percent tin), but very good ones from Malmark and others are made of aluminum. The bells have a stronger fundamental, but slightly weaker overtone than bronze bells, which sounds like a good formula for drums. In the case of Trick’s kick drums, that translates into lightning quick-attack and bass for miles. And, here’s another key to the metal’s appeal to some players: conductivity. Aluminum will conduct electricity, but not like copper. It will react to heat and cold, but not like wood. As Drum! noted seven years ago in a review of Trick Drums, that makes it reliably consistent.
Trick founder and president Michael Dorfman says, “My typical buyer is a drummer who is a heavy user (of drums) and plays in a lot of crappy climates. If you take a drum out of a trailer in freezing cold the tuning can go haywire. But aluminum attracts or dissipates heat faster than other metals. In five minutes it’s back to room temperature.” Which means you’re tuned up and on the bandstand quicker.
Dorfman takes real pride that his products are American-made, and that they aren’t for every drummer. Trick focuses on making a relatively few models and products such as pedals and accessories, and making them in meticulous fashion. “I don’t introduce a whole wide variety of price-point items made in a factory that is not mine,” Dorfman says, attempting to skewer both market segmentation and offshore manufacturing in one soundbite. “I stick to what I do.”
Trick’s latest trick, introduced at NAMM, is a three-piece kit that offers many of the features found in their top-line sets. The VMT, or Vintage Metal Tone Series features 1.6mm hoops and a mountless rack tom in three colors: Cast Black, Midnight, or White. It’s the most inexpensive way to get into a Trick set ($1,799) and features the 3.1mm aluminum shell found on their more expensive offerings. “It’s got different bass hoops and an engraved badge,” Dorfman says, but otherwise, it has all the same Trick goodness as its other kits. A VMT 8-lug snare is also available.
The Readers Write Back
My musings on Slingerland’s future, once it is coughed up out of the Gibson Guitar re-organization, generated a virtual ton of email. Thanks to all those who wrote with opinions or just to share how much you still love playing your Slingerlands.
Reader Scott French wrote to say, “Bought my first Slingerland BDP 50N in 1974. Added 10 more toms and a second bass drum and snare, right after I saw Billy Cobham with The Mahavishnu Orchestra! I play vintage Slingerlands!”
Lee Kix tells us, “When my dad and I built my clear, acrylic drum set, we used all Slingerland hardware. It was fairly easy to obtain. All we had to do is drive up the street from Cicero, Illinois to the Slingerland factory.”
Shane Olson says he thinks vintage tone is coming back in drum design, and hopes that means Slingerlands are too. But, alas, he plays a 1970 Ludwig super classic 24. “Tone machine,” he says.
[If you’re interested in the whole story of how Gibson went bankrupt, there’s a good explanation at Music Trades Magazine.]
Off Topic: Dangerous Taiko Mode Ahead
My ever alert readers have notified me that Sony has launched an audio system aimed at providing sound and light for parties. The MHC-V81D puts on a light show, projects sound in all directions, and has a “Taiko mode” where you can tap the top of the cabinet in time with the music and choose bongo, conga, or Taiko samples to add your beat to the music. Might be fun for parties but the hard-hitting percussionists I know would destroy that box in about seven bars. Don’t let Karl Perazzo near that thing.