A 70’s dinosaur falls into eDrums.

By Jeffrey the Barak

Before I ever had electronic drums, I spent a couple of decades carrying around large, heavy drum sets and cymbals, which could only ever be played in rented rehearsal rooms, because they naturally made very loud sounds that would never be appropriate in a normal domestic setting.

As loud as real drums are, they invariably require amplification in a loud setting, so not only are there many huge shells and large cymbals with a great deal of heavy, metal hardware to support them, there is a second set of hardware to support the microphones.

But once a decision has been made to replace the drums and microphones with electronic drums, a new option appears. This is the option of a compact format. With real drums, as they have evolved, the standard drum set includes a bass or kick drum, which is on it’s side, on the floor and a hi-hat, which has it’s pedal directly below the pair of cymbals, and is usually therefore placed before your left foot. Typically the snare drum is between the legs with the kick and hat to either side, and then an array of toms and cymbals surround the aforementioned triangle.

But of course, with a remote pedal for the hi hat, an electronic hi hat does not have to be in the usual position. For example, a right-handed drummer does not have to cross arms to get to the hi hat on his left with his right stick. It can be at 2 o’clock of the snare, and still be opened and closed with the left foot. And since we don’t need to have large toms and large cymbals to produce the sounds of large toms and large cymbals, then it starts to make sense to abandon the format and layout of acoustic drums in favor of a small compact array, permanently connected and easily amplified with one or two cables.

In some situations, a drummer will have to mimic the layout of an acoustic kit, either because he switches back and forth from one to the other and wants to avoid adapting back and forth, or because the standard image of a conventional set is assumed to be desired by his band, or his audience.

But for me, if I can have a large ride cymbal sound or a large floor tom sound without having to have those large objects present, then I will happily have a compact layout before me and also take advantage of the ability to play quietly and precisely, and yet still produce all the sound I want. So my electronic setups have started and remained compact throughout and I have little interest in the so called normal electronic kits with their racks and spread apart format.

A legacy of Flipping: How I bought, sold, returned and flipped my way through many eDrum setups.

Towards the end of my acoustic era, I had already eliminated tom-tom shells and had an array of Roto-Toms over two bass drums and a snare. If I could have found a decent double-kick pedal back then, I would not have had two bass drums either.

Shortly thereafter, I stopped playing altogether, but at one point I went to a toy store and got a Yamaha DD-50 with it’s two little foot switches and noisy, hollow pads. That little toy was a lot of fun for a while and I even McGuyvered together a base for the kick trigger that I could strike with a bass drum pedal.

But that was not real. It took eighteen years of being a non-drummer to prepare me for a return to serious playing, and when that time came I began an odyssey of buying, trying and either returning or re-selling various devices

First was an Alesis Performance Pad. Ironically, as you will see, I almost went full circle back to this, but my Performance Pad was returned to the store due to a crackly potentiometer (volume knob). I did not love the sounds that the included drum machine provided and I found the rubber hard and tiring to play on.

Then came a Roland SPD-20, complete with throne, Roland FD8 hat pedal and KD7 kick trigger with pedal. Then came a year of swimming against the current. I got rid of the pedals and sticks and adapted to hand and finger drumming using a Roland Handsonic 10.

I developed a technique whereby I could play bare handed and have the Handsonic sound like a real drum set. I even recorded an album of self-penned compositions using my Handsonic,  and at the same time, having been impressed by the YouTube videos of David Fingers Haynes, finger drumming on a $60 Korg NanoPAD, I got pretty good at doing that also.

But I felt that I was wasting my ability to control a pair of sticks. I wanted buzz rolls and all that comes with stick drumming. So I got a Yamaha DTX Multi 12 and it took me all of a day to realize that I could never get what I wanted from it, and so that led me to the DrumKAT dk10.

The DrumKAT has been around for a couple of decades, and yet unlike a slick mass-produced product from Roland or Yamaha, it remains a specialty product, encased in tough steel, finished with a hammered enamel paint, looking tough and roadworthy, and yet with an air of laboratory roughness. To use car euphemisms, while the Roland and Yamaha all in one drum pads have a refined quality, like a new Toyota Camry, the KAT products, from a little American firm have more the feel of a hand-built British Morgan sports car, or a military vehicle.

I found the DrumKAT to be one of the most playable surfaces I’ve ever taken a stick to. As per my comments on format, unlike a conventional electronic drum set, the DrumKAT puts everything on a tea-tray, right under your sticks. It is a format conducive to flying around the drum  kit, without having to move much above your elbows, perfect for quiet, fast, precise strokes and press rolls with lightweight 7A drumsticks, which with electronic drums, can sound as big and loud as a crazy hard swing on a rock kit with the butt end of a 2B drumming bat. So I bought a full playing setup from Alternate Mode, makers of the DrumKAT. The DrumKAT dk10, with a new Yamaha Kick trigger and a Pintech Hyperhat pedal.

During my DrumKAT period, I had a succession of little problems and issues that eventually led me to finding another way to play. These included an incompatibility with Garageband,which forced me to buy EZdrummer and a Jazz EFX pack, adding to the already high price tag. Then my first dk10 had a faulty pad and it’s replacement arrived with a loose mystery object inside, and then I was okay for a while, but due a faulty pedal issue that was not discovered until later, Alternate Mode assumed that their own product, the dk10, did not provide continuous CC data for the hat, and I wanted the proper hihat control for all that money, not just open and closed, so I invested even more money to upgrade the perfectly good dk10 to the DrumKAT 3.8.  Even though I am attracted to the small format of a pad controller, I have to point out that with the 3.8 instead of the dk10, this setup was now more expensive than most big electronic drum sets from Alesis, Yamaha, and even Roland! And that includes all the pads, cymbals, cables, racks and triggers, and the sound module! But then, that’s what I don’t like about the standard e-kits. Too much stuff, too big, and not logical.

But my problems only grew from here. The control interface of the 3.8 is too difficult for a humble jazz-drummer like me. Even the very comprehensive video help desk movies on Alternate Mode’s website are way beyond any engineering course I would ever sign up for. It transpired that I could not even set up the DrumKAT with Alternate Mode’s Mario on the phone, because my hat pedal was faulty. But then after many hours of attempting to familiarize myself with the interface operation procedures required for using the DrumKAT 3.8, I gave up, and decided to return all to Alternate Mode and make a fresh start. And then a week later, Mario from Alternate Mode called to explain that the dk10 did indeed have a fully controllable hi hat, not just open and closed, and it was only the Pintech Hyperhat pedal that triggered this entire mess.

And the imagined failure of the DrumKAT brought me almost full-circle to the Alesis Control Pad. Yes it is harder and louder like my original Performance Pad of two years prior, and it sure does not feel a quarter as nice as the KAT, and for some reason I cannot yet play a super closed buzz press roll on it, but I could buy a pile of Control Pads for the price of one KAT, so I will somehow adapt to it and make the best of it as the compact playing surface of choice… for now!

I would ideally have the simple interface of the Control Pad with the playability of the DrumKAT. Perhaps a new surface material will…surface.

Jeffrey the Barak is the publisher of the-vu and back in the Nineteen-Seventies, he used to be Jeffrey the Barak.

7 Comments

  1. Great article. I’m currently in your position of moving back to an electronic kit. I’ve had 3 back surgeries and 1 neck surgery. I can still play, but moving my Premier 5 piece kit and especially the hardware is a real pita. I once had a DrumKat 3.5 and I traded it for the premier. that was before the back went south. I still have the Premier and now an Alesis DM5 Pro Kit. It is still in the box because I want mesh heads, not the little rubber pads. But reading your blog I do miss my Kat. It was so easy to really fly around the kit with ease. I have a degree in electronics and I’m pretty computer literate, but I agree programming the Ver 3.5 was a challenge. I’d get it where I wanted it and then I’d somehow lose my setup. But it sure was compact. The other problem I had with the Kat is I’d go on an audition and they’d laugh at it. Tell me come back with a real kit and you got the gig. So that’s when I traded it for the Premier set. I did play for awhile on the Roland version of your Alesis pads. But I longed for real heads and a real drum type setup. I found the arrangement of squares to leave me wanting the semi circle of the KAT. Do you find this with the Alesis? Thanks for the article. BTW I’m 49 and really screwed myself when I traded a classic set of Red Ludwig Vistilites for the Drumkat ;( Dave

  2. Hi Dave.
    Yes the DrumKAT is far better than the Alesis, but that interface defeated me. You can reassign the Alesis pads to make a more sensible layout, and also stick labels on them, but it won’t stop that stupid band from poking fun at you, unless you blow them away with what you can do on the pad. That would be sweet. And mesh heads, yes they are quieter, bouncier and better, but if we can adapt from drums to tea-trays, we can also adapt to very low impact strokes on the harder rubber, or the DM5’s mylar, which brings up the speed and accuracy and cuts the noise. And you can set up your DM5 with everything very close together and level. Again, it may sometimes look like we are just sitting there, but we can play better than someone almost making it around a big drum set. With eyes closed, compact wins. Hope your back recovers.

  3. I hear you. I’m waiting for the big set that folds and unfolds and remembers where it was, and has no cables (Bluetooth?). Everything is too darn complicated (Except my cajon).

  4. As a pro acoustic/electronic drummer of over 35 years, my problem is that I am perfectly happy with my new Roland TD-20SX kit with 100 drum kits ,(I’ve been playing various e drums since the Octopad of the mid 80’s) but whenever and wherever I play it..it never fails to have the other band members tell ME what THEY think the bass drum, toms, etc. SHOULD sound like. ie: “I like those toms on that certain kit but the bass drum is weak” or “you really need to find a more cracky sounding snare”…WHAT?? I have 100 snare drums to choose from, and YOU Mr.Bass player with no effects pedals and 1 amp are telling ME that YOU don’t like MY drum sounds?? How come your bass doesn’t sound like a Ricky or a Fretless?? Are you happy stuck with just one ugly bass thuddy sound all night? Wow!” I finally lost it at church , of all places, playing the church’s Td-20 kit,and that the lead guitar player vocally made a point to me in front of all the band members- that HE didn’t like the snare sound that the PA guy already had me dial in. After switching to about 4 -5 different GREAT sounding snares, the guitar player, says “no, none of those are any good”. I immeadiatly told him, “excuse me , I just played you 5 different drum kits…how many F-ing guitars did YOU bring to church today??Just ONE?? (I wanted to say “By the way-that Strat sounds like sh*t-play a Les Paul, and oh!! make sure you have dual coil humbuckers on it or I won’t be happy either!!) Sadly, I will be jumping around from band to band until I find professional enough musicians that won’t tell me how I should “sound” on my instrument. Wouldn’t it be funny to tell a keyboard player-“Look, I know you have 50 different keyboard sounds on that thing, but just play the clavinet patch all night, I don’t really want to hear the piano, the Rhodes, organ or any other sound on that machine”…yeah-right.

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