The Truth About Gear

really like gear…

I already have some piles of it, and if money were no object, I’d surely have an awful lot more.

Every cymbal has its own personality, every snare drum plays just a little bit different… The brands, the finishes, the hammer marks… There’s an infinite amount of beauty in these percussive instruments while they’re just sitting still – and at the hands of a player, they come to life!

It’s a universe of its own, with history and nuance and drama. There are loyalists and eccentrics, innovators and traditionalists and downright hoarders.

To be an instrumentalist of any kind is to have some kind of relationship with the instruments themselves. There’s no wonder we place such value on these devices, that the objects of our music making become (to us, at least) more than mere tools. They become extensions of who we are, and identifiers of our heroes.

There’s a reason we know what a “Bonham kit” is… That Jimi played Strats and Jimmy played Les Pauls…

We know the names of iconic instruments we don’t even know how to play, and underneath it all, is the desire to accumulate these things – to get to know as many of them as we can.

There are hobbyists and collectors and historians, and worse – those misguided folks who think great gear is a substitute for skill or ideas… And that, friends, is where we get to the topic at hand.

Gear is fantastic and fascinating. There IS something to be said for using the best available tools… But the moment you put the equipment above the player, you’ve gone right off the rails.

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My Rough Approach to Gear Review (so far…)

I’m not an expert, but I’m working on it.

The business and blogging gurus of the world might tell me not to mention that, to present what I know with confidence, and avoid acknowledging gaps by way of intentional omission… But I’m not going to do that.

The entire point of this blog is exploration. I aim to chronicle the things I learn while I’m learning them, to share experiences and ideas and insights in whatever forms they come, however imperfect they might be – and by doing so, encourage you to do the same. Not for the sake of reputation, clout, or anything of the sort – but rather for the noble pursuit of knowledge, and owning the roughshod, meandering path that such pursuit includes.

As I wander my way into doing more “gear review” type posts, I’m met with a fair amount of imposter syndrome. I don’t run a studio. I don’t work for a drum company. I’ve had a relatively cool collection over my life, but there’s a TON I don’t know… But this is my place to explore and share, right?

With that in mind, I wanted to address the how and why of these “reviews,” partly to explain myself, but mostly to answer my own question: “why write reviews when I feel underqualified?”

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Gear Review: DW Collector’s Nickel Over Brass Snare – 14×6.5

Lovingly nicknamed “MVP,” this is something like DW’s take on a Black Beauty (kind of?) – at least in that it’s nickel-plated, thinly rolled brass.

This beast of a drum has some serious output. It projects like crazy, and is mostly manageable in the overtone department (I tend to like a deader, snappier snare sound). For a long time, this was my go-to drum for most applications – it’s sensitive enough for quiet ghost notes, and has a gnarly crack on the rim shots. It also seems to go WAY high in the tuning range without sounding choked out.

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Gear Review: Zildjian 20″ K Custom Dark Ride

My baby… The first “good” ride I ever bought, and the one that taught me all about what ride cymbals could be.

Somewhere between a dry ride and a big crash, the 20″ K Custom Dark Ride has crisp stick definition on top, and a big, washy sound if you get it moving from the edge.

It sounds ridiculous, but for the longest time, I barely played a ride cymbal…

My first kit, several owners deep, came with a Z Custom Heavy Power Ride – a behemoth of a pie that was more like a Spartan shield than a musical instrument. Don’t get me wrong, cymbals of that, uh, “persuasion” have their place, but for a young drummer, it had way too much bite. It sat dormant on the far right of my kit, more for looks than anything, I suppose.

It wasn’t until I got this wonderful K that I began to understand how many sounds a ride cymbal could produce.

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PSA: Fight Back Against Gear Theft

This PSA is brought to you by all of the people who’ve ever lost an important piece of gear.

Thieviery of any kind sucks, no bones about it – but instruments are something else, another level of treachery. Plenty of stealable objects have monetary value… Plenty of others have sentimental value… Instruments tend to have both, and something else too…

They’re part of our life blood.

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A Gig, A Broken Pedal, and A Few Good Lessons

I recently got slapped by a few realizations…

About my own ego, the role drummers play (from an audience’s perspective), self-control, and being in charge of your own mood…

All stemming from some catastrophic gear failure.

First, a little background:

I played a Sunday gig the other night, a benefit for a the food pantry Flexadecibel‘s trombonist works for, and at the outset, everything seemed like it was going to be a great night…

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Gear Review: Low Boy Custom Beaters

Ohhhh man! I don’t think I ever considered just how crucial the beater is to the overall sound of a kick drum. It makes sense, of course – just as mallets and HotRods and brushes all have different tone and attack on a head, how even nylon tips make a difference in cymbal sound – that a beater would have such an impact (pun intended).

I’ve always been pretty heavy footed. For a long time (and still, kinda), much of my playing revolved around syncopated kicks over straight hat/snare backbeats… I’m a beater burier… I like a lot of thud and not a lot of sustain…

All of that adds up to not paying much attention to the beater – as long as it pounds, it works.

I’ve only ever really played Pearl pedals, first the old strap drive/hard felt beater affair, then an Eliminator/Powershifter with the 4-way beater (after quickly flattening the rounded felt side, I stuck with the plastic), and finally my current pedal of choice, a direct drive Demon-Drive. For basically no reason, I swapped out the “flying saucer” beater for the one from the old Eliminator… and didn’t think about it after.

Enter into my awareness: Low Boy Beaters, a custom beater maker from Colorado, with snazzy all-maple, two-sided beaters that, well, look kind of weird…

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Simplify To Expand

A little while back, I recounted the slightly silly story of some jams that happened a while back. It wasn’t very “drum specific,” just something that we all may face at one point or another.

I wanted to come back to it from a drummer’s angle, though, and talk about the other (more personal) side of the “challenge” at hand.

When I play with Short Hair Domestics, I go for a very intentionally minimal setup: kick, snare, hats, and a crash – that’s it. It’s a perfect setup for that particular band, and helps me keep the parts simple to fit the straightforward theme of the songs.

For a jam session though, that means no B section on the ride, no tom fills, not even two different crash cymbal sounds to play with… but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

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