Monday, May 24, 2010

Part Two: The Ins-and-Outs

Well, one of the first steps to becoming a professional drumtech usually starts with sort of knowing how to play the drums. You don't have to be a great drummer, just a bit of knowledge of how to maneuver around a drumset does come in handy, mainly for serious sound checks. Knowing the workings of all the drums and all the gear involved.

The next thing that you really, really need to know is how to tune the drums. In my experience, it is not memorizing this note or that, but getting them very close to the sound that fits the drummer you may be working for at the time. Most drummers, even the elite, top pro's will still come out before sound check to do their final tweeking. Your main job at that point is to get them dialed-in to a certain sound and then working VERY close, and very quickly to get things perfect.

Here is one example and sort of a funny story pertaining to the subject; recently (for the last few years) I've been working for Mr. Jeff Kathan, current drummer for The Paul Rodgers Band. I would always have his kit set perfect (heights, spaces, and lengths) all set to within a micro hair. And I "ALWAYS" have my written notes! Notes are very good for reference points. And, during the middle of the 2008 tour, there were a few times that the kit progressively seemed to be out of wack; when jeff came out to the stage for his tweeking one particular show he sat down and said that something did not feel right, "did you check the measurements?'' so I went over everything again, and on went another great show once he was satisfied. But, this kept happening over the course of the next few gigs and it took me a little while to figure what the heck was going on? It seemed at the time jeff was on this ''getting healthy kick" and was trimming his weight down tremendously, well, it may sound funny, but every time he would shed 5 pounds or so, the whole kit would have to come down like a quarter of a inch or so - might not seem like a lot, but to a drummer it makes all the difference for comfort, and kick-ass playing.

And that leads to the next words of advice, which is get to know your drummer. I don't mean move in their house, but knowing what is going on and always being alert to what is going on around you, will always make the gig go better. Your main job is the gear, but all the other things like towels, drinks, etc, are equally as important too.

Then there is the work of checking all the gear, so let's back up a little bit. It is always a good idea to check, re-check, and check again. Making sure every wing nut, fastener and screw are set and locked into place. I always go over the full kit right after sound check, tightening everything one last time before the curtain goes up. So when everything is set, then comes the taping down of all pieces that can move. Taping is very important so that the kit does not move during the show, but makes for a neat, professional job. Nothing lying anywhere, causing a clutter on the riser is definitely a big no-no!

And one final word is to learn PATIENCE. To a lot of folks, they think it is always hurry, hurry, balls to the wall kind of thing [which it is], but there will be a lot of down time from set-up to sound check. That is when you can use all of that time to network, learn, pick up more knowledge, meet new people, or just go to the bus for a nappy because this is show 9 of a twelve show run. I usually use my down time to do anything that will make an particular show go smoother, get a jump on the tear down and load out, so you can be ready for the next day, and so on.

Ok ladies and gentleman, thank you for letting me share these little examples of experience for you and there will be more to come. Feel free to contact us with your own thoughts and experiences, and good luck to you on your adventures out there in one of the coolest fields in the world


Friday, December 11, 2009


A Drummer's Guide To Acrylic Shells

by Tom Meadows

This article was written to help the novice drummer and/or drum collector to be able to identify the different types of drum shell construction used in the making of various manufacturer's acrylic (plastic) drum shells. With so many drum builders, both well known major manufacturers as well as the small, custom drum shop enthusiasts, putting out their own unique versions of acrylic drums, it is easy to get confused with what is a vintage drum or a reissue of a famous drummer's kit or just what... Hopefully this will provide some basic information that will help prevent anyone from being taken by buying a "Vintage Drum" that was thrown together just last week or just simply buying something that you're not going to be satisfied in the long run.

Before I get too far along, let me just state for the record: I am not an expert on Vintage Drums by any means. I am simply a drummer who has enjoyed playing and collecting Ludwig Drums for well over 35 years and enjoy talking about drums with anyone who shares those same feelings. While there have been other major drum manufacturers, such as the Zickos Drums and Fibes Drum Co., who have put out quality acrylic drums over the years - I am only familiar with the Ludwig Vistalite Line of acrylic drums that many players - such as my personal hero, John Bonham (Led Zeppelin), Robby Bauchman (Bauchman-Turner Overdrive), Karen Carpenter (The Carpenters) and Johnny Jackson (Jackson 5) - have helped to make famous since Ludwig first introduced the Vistalite line in 1972.

Also... For a more in-depth look into the history of acrylic drums, one site that stands as the best source for information on all drums acrylic in my opinion is "VISTALITES.COM" and can be found at

This article is just going to touch on the basics: who makes what and how, seams and mounts, known issues and how to tell them apart with about 90% accuracy at just a glance.

Who Made This Shell?
Even though most of Ludwig Drums were produced at the main Ludwig factory in Chicago, Illinois, the early Vistalite shells were actually produced by "Cadillac Motors Plastics Division" from the very beginning back in 1972. The same holds true with the new line of Vistalite Drums except that now they are made by a company called "Gold-N-Times Drums" instead.

There are basically two companies that make acrylic drum shells today and no matter what the badge says on it - you can bet money it was built by either Gold-N-Times Drums ( or RCI Starlite ( and the easiest way to tell the difference between their shells and the Vintage Ludwig shells made by Cadillac Motors is to look at how the seam is put together.

* * Note * * - News flash which I just learned moments ago:
Gold-N-Times is no longer in business due to the death of Ray Ducoat (11/20/09). However, their website will remain online through January 2010.

I hate to say this, but Ludwig's quality control back in the 1970 - 1980's was pretty bad... Their seam process left much to be desired! It was joined together with a "V" type groove being filled (partially at best!) with the same acrylic as the shell... I have never seen a single Vintage Ludwig seam that was completely filled to match the shell thickness. Never! Here are examples of typical Vintage Ludwig seams:

Notice two things about these Vintage Ludwig seams:

1. The "V" groove is not filled completely. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to guess where the weak part of the shell is even if the seam were filled 100%. Early Vistalites - especially Single Headed Concert Toms with no bottom head/hoop to add support and reduce vibration fatigue - were notorious for splitting at the seam. The smaller the diameter, the greater number of ruined shells due to splitting.

2. The location of the "Sturdi-Lok Clip Tom Mounting Bracket". Ludwig always straddled the seam with their four bolt mounting plate to add strength to the seam and help reduce splitting. I have yet to find a tom on which Ludwig installed the mounting bracket that it was not placed directly over the seam.

Another common problem that I have found with Vintage Ludwig Drums with regards to their seam is how well they matched up on their bearing edges. I have sent Vistalite toms out to have new bearing edges done on several occasions due to as much as 3/16" variation at the seam! Trust me on this - you can tune, re-tune, tape, muffle, curse until you are blue in the face or any other personal remedy you may have... Without quality bearing edges your drum it will never tune right and it will buzz and cause you much aggravation!!

Briefly - the bearing edge is not the bevel on the edge, it is the surface which the head sits on when mounted on the drum. That surface must be perfectly flat so that 100% of the head will rest on the shell. Any spots that do not sit flat will vibrate and cause a buzzing sound. You can muffle the buzz away until the drum sounds like hitting an old log, but if the bearing edges are not in good condition, your drum will always sound like sh*t! Ludwig apparently wasn't aware of that back in the '70s!

(But in all honesty - I have often wondered if Ludwig's Development And Research Team was working hand in hand with Timothy Leary during the 1970s because they are not know for their consistency on parts nor for their records keeping skills during that era! Just my own personal observation...??)

Here are examples of Gold-N-Times typical seam construction:

You can easily see how they have added a thin back-up strip on the inside of the drum over the seam to add strength to the seam. It may help with the shell's strength, but takes away from it's appearance (in my opinion) as well as affecting the resonance with the protrusion rather than being a smooth surface as is the overall optimum design for drum shell construction.

Due to the uneven surface, mounting hardware location has also had to be relocated from it's original position.

Here are photo's of RCI Starlite seams:

It is my firm belief, based on personally owning drums made by all three acrylic drum shell manufacturers, that RCI Starlite shells are the absolute best quality beyond comparison. Each seam is filled 100% without any flaws such as bubbles or pinholes as in the Vintage Ludwigs, their shells are always perfectly round and they have the cleanest, best quality bearing edges of all of the acrylic drums that I own.

I recently put together a large kit that was identical to a Ludwig Octa-Plus Outfit, but was assembled using half Vintage Ludwig shells and half RCI Starlite shells. At a quick glance, you can't really tell who made what in that kit:

Even side by side at a closer look it's often hard to tell. The bass drum on the left is made by RCI Starlite and the bass drum on the right is a Vintage 1970s Ludwig Drum. With a closer look you can easily spot the Vintage Ludwig shell by it's seam!

I hope this bit of information will help prevent someone from being fooled by the many schiesters and con-artists out there who will stop at nothing to sell their fellow drummers a genuine, gold plated turd claiming that it is a "Vintage, Rare, One Of A Kind" (which is probably the only truth in the description - one of a kind). Usually, unless you are at a really, really large social function, you never see more than just one turd in a punch bowl so they have not lied to you - technically! But if you look close enough...

Take this "Vintage 1970s Ludwig Amber Vistalite 10" x 14" Concert Tom" that was recently listed on eBay. Given the small bit of information that I have shown you in this article, take a look and see if you can spot anything fishy in this listing:

Who do you think this drum was made by? Ludwig Drum Company as the seller would like you to believe... [The answers are above... Scroll up if you are still confused!!]

~Tom "Bonzo" Meadows

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Pop encompasses styles ranging from melodic - or groove-based to all-out power driven. Like the music, cymbal sounds and weights can vary dramatically. Bright Sounds (AA, AAX) offer more presence, darker tones (HH, HHX) add musical darkness. Also consider APX or Vault V models for even brighter, more cutting sounds. Thin to medium crashes, medium to heavy rides, and medium to rock weight hats are most popular.

AA Medium Hats(14'')

AAX Fusion Hats(14'')

APX Hats(14'')

APX Solid Hats(13'',14'',15'')

Vault V-Hats(14'')

Paragon Hats(13,14'')

AAX X-Plosion Crash


AAX X-Plosion Fast Crash


APX Crash (16,18,20'')

HHX X-Plosion Crash


Vault V-Crash


Paragon Crash (16,18,20'')

AA Raw Bell Dry Ride (21'')

AA Rock Ride (22,21'')

AAX Stage Ride (20'')

AAX Raw Bell Dry Ride (21'')

APX Ride (20,22,24'')

HHX Groove Ride(21'')

HHX Raw Bell Dry Ride(21'')

Paragon Ride (22''}

AAX Splash (8,10,12'')

AAX O-Zone Splash (10,12'')

AAX X-Plosion Splash (11')

HHX Evolution Splash (10,12'')

Paragon Splash 910,12'')

AA Chinese (18'')

AAX Chinese (18'')

APX Chinese (18,20'')

Paragon Diamondback Chinese (20'')

Paragon Chinese (19'')

Brain Frasier-Moore (Madonna), Dave Langguth (Nelly Furtado), Phil Collins, John Roberts (Musiq), Keith Harris (Black Eyed Peas), Rodney Howard (Anvil Lavigne), Jerohn Garrett (Mariah Carey), Jon Ferris (INXS), Tuesday (Outcast), Mark Schulman (PINK0, and many more

Monday, November 16, 2009


There are SABIAN cymbals for every musical genre, from Rock to Jazz to Blues, Funk, Metal, and beyond. This is a guide put out by SABIAN to suggest specific models suitable for these and other styles of music. Simply identify your genre and use this info to choose the right cymbal.


In any style of Rock - hard,progressive, driving pedal to the metal- your playing will be harder, heavier, and louder. So your cymbals deliver three things; Volume, Cut, and Durability. For volume, go with bigger, heavier models. For cut, play brighter sounding series {AA, AAX, APX, Paragon}, or darker sounding models designed to project {HHX, HH, HH Rock}, or other models that meet the Cut, Volume, Durability, criteria.


AA Rock Hats {14''} AA Rock Crash {16'', 18''} AA Metal-X Splash {10''}

AA Metal-X Hats {14''} AA Meat-X Crash {16'', 18'', 20''} AA Rock Splash {12''}

AAX Metal Hats {14''} AAX Stage Crash {16'', 18''} AAX X-Plosion Splash{11}

AAX X-Celerator Hats AAX X-plosion Crash APX Splash {12''}

{13'',14'',15''] {16', 17'', 18'',19'',20''}

APX Solid Hats AAX X-plosion Fast Crash

{13'', 14'', 15''} {14'', 15'', 16'', 17'', 18'',19''}

APX O-Zone Crash {16'', 18''}

HHX Power Crash {16'', 18''}

HHX Legacy Crash {17'', 18''}

Paragon Crash {16'', 18''}


AA Rock Ride {20'', 22''} AA Metal-X Chinese {19'', 20''}

AA Metal-X Ride {20'', 22''} AAX Chinese {18''}

AAX Stage Ride {20'', 21''} AAX X-Treme Chinese {17'', 19''}

AAX Raw Bell Dry Ride {21''} Vault Devastation Chinese {19''}

HH Rock Ride {20'', 22''} Paragon Chinese {19'', 20''}

HH Power Bell Ride {22''}

HHX Power Ride {20''}

HHX Raw Bell Dry Ride {21''}

HHX Legacy Heavy Ride {22''}

Paragon Ride {22''}

Saturday, September 26, 2009

DRUM TECHING 101: A three part “Drum Dungeon Series”

Part One: How to Get the Gig

This is being written so we can share a few of our own personal views on “drum teching”, and illuminate some helpful hints on how to become a working-professional drumtech. Having been asked the same questions so often; ''How do you become a drumtech'' or ''How did you get this gig'', we felt it was time to write up a tight little series on our experiences and our observations along the way. And remember friends; this is not a total “How To”, but just some words of wisdom that we would like to share, from people that have been doing this for most of their lives in one form or another.

Well, to start with, there are many different ways, and many different avenues to take that could eventually lead you to the drum tech position. From contacting as many band sites and management agencies, promoters, etc. with your resume – online, on the phone and in-person - to the simplest way; already knowing some peeps in the industry that can help give you a leg up and get you your first gigs.

But aside from that, assuredly most of us, no matter how we ultimately get there or plan on getting there, had our start or will need to start, by humping OUR OWN gear to develop the skill set needed to KNOW HOW to properly set-up, tune, secure, then tear-down and properly pack-up a drum kit with all of it’s accessories.

Now some might just tag along with there friends band being their ''Roadie'', which probably includes driving the van, unloading the gear, setting up the drums, and everything in between and after. Where others had or will have their own bands and schlep their own gear for at least a few years (both scenarios, even together, are highly recommended). Ah, the good old days!

Surprisingly, some of the drummers out there were once the drumtech for the very band they are now playing in. But most, including myself, have come to be a professional drumtech by the same means that most do, by just staying in the field and networking. I was lucky enough to make some great contacts and got thrown right into it, my first gig working for Chris Slade [AC/DC, The Firm, Asia, etc], through my industry friend, Don “Dodger” Dodge. And, that first tour was after many years of doing the same old grind of setting up my own kit and teching for other local bands [usually for free drinks if I was lucky], and all the while networking my ass off!

Networking, that is THE biggest, number one thing you can do. Get out there, meet the people, all the bands, at all the venues – leave your cards, help out for free, you almost always will be more than welcome, as the extra hands are usually needed [before and after the show], and now you get a chance to learn the ropes from pro crews. Now not just drum teching, but learning to, and becoming a solid overall roadie [or road technician]. The more valuable you can make yourself the better – a well rounded guy might not get a steady teching gig right away, but if you start out humping road cases, you will most likely be there when a new opening comes up for a specific slot – and if you’re a reliable hand, AND you happen to know drums, chances are if a drumtech slot opens you will be their man. Also, moving to the areas that have the most shows on a steady basis [big cities, etc.] also can help immensely; if that is something you are able to do.

Stay Tuned for Part Two: The Ins-and Outs

Sunday, August 2, 2009


Max Lee is the brilliant 18 year old drummer for the musical duo ‘LA ROCKS’, along with his younger brother Dillon Scott (just 14) on guitar. They are intent on making their mark in the music scene with a fresh style and unique sound. One of the most interesting and unique aspects of the fledgling artists is that are just a two-piece band; drums and guitar (a la White stripes).

Max started drumming when he was eight years old, while growing up in Hollywood, California. His musical journey has quickly spanned from family jams in the living room, to playing gigs at the historical ‘Whiskey-a-Go Go’, and other venues on the LA strip. Max and his brother have also been knocking out larger audiences, being the opening act for their father, also an excellent drummer, and one of the funniest guys out there; Mr. Andrew Dice Clay.

Max tells the Drum Dungeon "What initially made me want to play drums was always seeing my dad behind his kit. So when I asked him to teach me one day it was initially just a little kid seeing his dad do something, and wanting to emulate him. For the first couple of years, it was just about playing for fun and enjoyment. Then, as I got a little older and started to really develop some skill, I began taking my drumming more seriously".

Other than grabbing some chops from dear old dad, Max has had a few other teachers of note. Legendary drummer Carmine Appice is one in particular that Max credits with impacting his technical ability and playing style tremendously. “I gotta be honest; Carmine really helped me with my drum reading. We went over how to read and feel different time signatures. We went through the Ted Reed book ‘Progressive Steps to Syncopation for the Modern Drummer’ and applied it to both our feet and hands. Carmine also taught me some straight up cool rhythms that he made up and also showed me the difference between simply hitting a drum and really cracking it (and by that I mean giving the drum a rim shot).”

Max has had many influences that have attributed to his love of drumming. Some of his classic favorites are Ginger Baker, John Bonham, and Keith Moon. Max says “I really think of Steve Adler as one of my more contemporary influences, since the sixth grade I have been listening to Guns n Roses, Led Zeppelin, and everybody rocking hard in between. I just love the energy and excitement."

The Dungeon asked Max what his thoughts are on his own style of drumming, and drums and percussion in general:

“The only thing that matters, other than keeping the song tight, is keeping up the level of energy and excitement. I'm not a fan of ‘perfect drumming’, I mean in that case, you might as well listen to a drum machine, nobody remembers or gets excited by text-book drummers. John Bonham and Keith Moon are two classic examples of what I mean; they were raw, gritty players, which is why to this day people are still talking about them. They created the excitement! And that’s what I strive to do, create excitement. I'm a rock and roll drummer, and not by simple choice. It's just who I am."

The Drum Dungeon thanks Max Lee and LA Rocks and wishes them all the best in their musical careers. You can keep up with this high energy rock band by visiting

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Book Review: "FLEETWOOD: My Life and Adventures in Fleetwood Mac"

This is the first in a series of book reviews for the "Drum Dungeon", a series we plan on utilizing to reveal some great and enlightening "Diamonds in the Literary Rough" for our fans. Our first review is on a book originally published in 1991 by Avon Books; the eponymously-titled psuedo biography of long time drummer, and off-the-wall namesake of the supergroup "Fleetwood Mac" -- Mick Fleetwood.

This book is a fabulous "must read" for all drummers and non-drummers alike. Even if you are not a huge fan of the band [Fleetwood Mac] or for that matter even Mick Fleetwood himself; this is one of those books that once you open it and start reading, you simply cannot put it down. It sheds a whole new light on the life of one of rock and roll's most talented [and tallest] drummers.

It starts with his humble beginnings playing music in the early 60's; doing his first gig at a church youth club under the name 'The Senders'', then on to playing in his next band titled ''Cheynes'' with Peter Green [The Green God] and really details their relationship [as it does many others]. It will blow your mind to read of all the things that Mick encountered in his tenure with the band he, Green, and John McVie started back in 1967, way before he joined forces with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. There is a lot of pain in this story - there is alot of joy, and there are just so many interesting facts through out the whole book. I know it will lead the reader into a whole new perspective on the life, and respect for this man, who simply-started out... ''WITH TWO STICKS AND A DRUM''

I totally recommend this book to all, and also want to thank Mr. Fleetwood for all the years of great drumming and music. "Fleetwood: My Life and Adventures In Fleetwood Mac" is written by Mick Fleetwood [with Stephen Davis] and republished by William Morrow + Company, Inc. NY., NY.

Click the photo at the top of this article to shop for your own copy of this book.

~The Central Scrutinizer

Friday, June 19, 2009


I have been using various types of pedals since 1975. This was when I first put my foot onto a kick drums foot pedal and hence my signature moment as I embarked on the long, varied journey to learn and understand drums/percussion. I think it was just some no named brand pedal held together with miss-matched nuts & bolts. That is until the day came that I had saved my pennies long enough to go out and buy my first real professional pedal; a "Ludwig speed king". This is the pedal I still have to this day and use on all my various kit set-ups. And now, some 30 plus years later, I have now found the pedal that I feel will suit me even more. "The Pearl Eliminator Demon Drive".

Remember drum-dungeoneers, we are all different, with different likes and dislikes, and when it comes to the world of drumming and the major manufacturers, there are really no good or bad choices on what you use, or what is even percieved as "better". Just personal taste for what fits us personally as a drummer.

I had heard of this DEMON pedal before, but had never kicked one, so I went to my local music store to see what all the hype was. They had one there, it was the double and still in the box. They also were playing a promotional DVD on it, hosted by Todd Sucherman of Styx -- he was explaining all the great feature's of this pedal that was not seen on any others. One of the first features I really noticed, was the ZERO LATENCY U-JOINTS, which allows for great flexability, and allows you to play just as quickly and accurately with your second pedal as your primary. Another fabulous thing that sets this pedal apart from others, is the NINJA BEARINGS, that were originally designed by skateboard engineers, and gives this pedal killer speed. So at this point I was very excited by the whole thing, and wanted to do the ultimate test... kick the hell out of it myself!! When dude broke it out and set it up the first thing I noticed was...WOW it sure looked cool [for what that's worth]. But of course playing it was the real test and honestly, that turned out to be an even more positive experience. It just flowed so smoothly, and the response was out of this world. It took a while to check out all the other features that make this a phenomenal pedal:

  • the DIRECT LINK ADJUSTMENT, which has 2 positions for a light or heavy feel.
  • a DUO-DECK LONGBOARD that gives you the option to convert your pedal from short board to long board for your comfort.

There are many other features for the "Demon Drive" that make it a really great pedal in my opinion, and I know that some of you out there will find it to be awesome as well, although of course some may not. As I was there trying it, another fellow gave it the go around, but thought it was to smooth for his type of playing. So I recommend that you go out , and try it for yourself to see if this is the pedal for you!

Till next time all you Drum-Dungeoneers!

~Central Scrutinizer

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Paul Hurd is a Los Angeles based drum tech who has worked for years with Drum Paradise, one of LA’s top of the line drum providers for session musicians and recording artists in the area. Hurd shared with some of his tricks of the trade he’s learned from being a drum tech and working in the music industry.
Say a drummer is setting out to get a new kit. Do you have any advice for them to get the perfect matching kit?
I would say the most important thing for a beginning drummer would be to get a drum kit that is well balanced. If you are getting a small drum kit, you want to match it with an equally balanced kick drum. SO the rack toms and cymbals can be placed at a level that ergonomics come into play. Being physically comfortable behind your drum set is the first thing you should think about when getting your kit. Be aware of your size and your musical needs. It’s very important to get into the headspace of what’s going to be comfortable for you while you’re drumming.
What’s the difference between buying a kit for live performance and recording?
It’s important to find a kit that’s versatile and can be used for both recording and playing live. The first thing is absolute experimentation with recording. There’s so many different styles and configurations that can be applied to recording. Drums come in so many different sizes, shell configurations, that you would want to experiment with your sounds and use your ears. I’ve found experimenting and finding what most comfortable works is best.
As a drum tech, you’ve set up drums for many artists in the Los Angeles recording studios including Henson, The Village, The Record Plant; What’s would you consider to be #1 thing you have to keep in mind when setting up drums for recording artists?
In setting up for other artists has a lot to being aware of their set up and every angle of the tom and cymbals. One thing I’ve had to let go of was setting up as if it were for myself. There’s no rules to where things go. I’ve had to learn and get used to the drummers needs to get the feel for their perfect set up. Each setup I’ve done for drummers has been different from my own.
I basically try to get a really nice tone out of the drums and to kind of leave it for the drummer to fine tune their kit after I’ve setup. I go over every detail, use photos, and am not afraid to call the drummer and double check on certain cymbal set ups they might want. I always leave extra heads for the drummer in the studio. It’s always best to be prepared for things going wrong. I’ve found this to be such an individual process, the more practice setting up each different artist, the more you’ll learn the subtleties of their individual kits and playing styles.
Do you have any advice for tuning your drums?
Basically, tuning for the room is the most important thing for tuning your drum set. One of the most important things I’ve learned is that a drum that sounds great at a certain tuning in one room might not sound as good in another room. Trial and error and practice is the best way to fine tune your drum heads. My set up at my band’s rehearsal studio sounds entirely different when I set up at a club to play live without changing any of the tuning. Each room has its own reflections and dynamics. Re-tuning your drum set every time you set up in a new room is very important if you’re going for a good drum tone. A drum set reacts very differently in each room. It’s important to always make sure you have fresh ears and build up from the start when you’re setting up your kit in a new place.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

THROWN INTO THE FIRE - by Brett Drumtech

Hello out there all my fellow drum-techs, drummers and drum fans. I am telling this particular story that I know some/or most of you must have experienced at one time or another – an experience that was either moderately problematic, or one that was a total "car-crash" on top of a "train-wreck". This is one story that started out a nerve wracking clusterf***, but…combining my theory of ''grace under pressure'', with some seasoned experience, the help of fellow crew members, and some very good in-house guys (it is always a good idea to be cool with these guys and an example of why follows).
TO BE THROWN INTO THE FIRE is a term I use meaning that you get a totally new gig without any warning, or very little time to prepare (this also happened to me before the 2005 Asia tour drumteching for the legendary drummer Chris Slade).
Well this story is about the very first time I teched for Jason Bonham during the FOREINGER tour in McAllen, TX in 2005. This was not my first time ever being involved with the group /or working with the other guys on the tour. I used to just show up and hang out with the guys many times before; helping Tyler, the stage manager/drumtech/key tech at the time for FOREINGER (who has since went on to the Steve Miller band), and brother Dodger [Don Dodge] who was the FOH [front of house] man. Dodger and I had just worked the Asia tour earlier that year. So anyhow this is how the gig went down.......
The weekend prior, the guys [foreigner] were playing Niagara Falls and I just happened to be in town visiting my folks, so I went and spent the day assisting Tyler and Dodger as usual when I was around for a gig. But later that day, Tyler informed me that he needed me to fly to Texas that Friday to do Jason's drums while he had to take care of some personal business elsewhere. Also, an additional thing about doing the drums for this gig was that you also had to be in charge of Jeff Jacobs keyboards!! Well at the time I really hadn’t much experience in that area (but had a basic idea of what to do), and had a brief block of instructions from Tyler (and of course took some pics and scribbled some notes as I helped Tyler set and tear down the kit).
So with all that in hand, let’s jump to that following Friday; I got on the plane, arrived safe and sound, had little bit of sleep (even with the nerves grinding away), and maybe a bit of a hang-over from trying to calm myself down with some suds earlier that night (which I do not recommend over-doing as it just adds to the grief). So with my head as clear as I could get it, I headed out to the venue early in the morning; this is when the flood gates of disaster begin to methodically open.
After walking into the venue, which was reasonably large, I met the in-house guys, and then went right to the task at hand. I needed to get the kit set-up and the keyboards all set, the best that I could from my notes, all before sound check which was coming in about 4 hours or so. Of course this being a fly tour, I knew I was going to be dealing with a rental kit, which means that it could be the best or the worst gear to deal with sent from “whatever town your ins” local rental company. Well I already knew that Jason was and is very particular about everything involving the kit he is playing; he demands all new heads (top and bottom), and all the other good stuff like that (which in my opinion is how it should always be anyway). So there in the corner was the gear... flight cases of tons of different drum and keyboard stuff, and I mean it was the right stuff, but almost enough to make two whole kits. Then for some reason the over-abundance of gear sent my mind into a flurry of panic, which then led to confusion – then, to add even further to my fears, there was not enough new heads to cover the drums Jason needed setup. So now I have to chase down the venues stage manager to have more heads sent, and of course this being a Saturday in a small town with only one music store, getting all new heads in the sizes I needed was beginning to sound like it wasn't going to happen. So I just manned-up and began setting up Jason's kit the way I thought I knew it had to go, but even with my notes and photos, I was drawing a mental blank. The clock was ticking mercilessly. So I did what I could and got the kit to where I thought it needed to be; Dodger miked the drums all up, as I was tuning the new heads – I only had enough new heads for the tops, but wanted to tune them close enough so that Jason only had to come out and do a few tweaks. I was sweating bullets with the clock getting very close to band sound-check time - I would deal with those bottom heads when they got there, which I knew would put a whole new spin on the sound of the tops - and to make it worse the remaining new heads were not even there yet. So on to the keyboards I went and bam, even bigger mental melt down. But, at least this was a little better gear to work with as they travel with the same keyboards and are used all the time. Well I had just learned the system; the system of plugging in the right chords to the right this, and the right that, on top of the 4 pedals that had to go to this or that input, only days before by briefly watching Tyler TAKE THEM APART once (I should have taken better notes).
Here is where it’s great to stay very cool with the in-house guys – one of the venues in-house guys knows keyboards real well, and is also super cool (that helps a lot) comes over and saves the day. I met John [never got the last name], explained my situation (he was blown away that I had so much to do with minimal hands-on). And using my little notes, he and I had them up and running within an hour. Now back over to Jason's kit I went!

It was now down to the wire and still no bottom heads, which meant I would deal with that after sound check (hopefully). So there I was up on the drum stool and feeling semi confident of the configuration, as we began sound-check with brother Dodger up front (he had walked by the kit earlier and said ''looks good so far'' - [well that didn't last long]). As I remember, I was just about on the first floor tom, with all the other cans sounding good, when I caught Jason Bonham and the rest of the band coming up the ramp... and here is when things just went back to shit all over again .
Jason didn't get more than ten feet from the kit and just starting going ''no, no, no! What is bloody going on, where is Tyler? What are you doing here mate?'' Come to find out that no one had informed Jason that I was filling in for Tyler. I think he was not that happy with all this sudden change in continuity all at once. And of course at this point I was really starting to panic for reasons that you all can imagine. Jason knew who I was, as we have met before, plus he also knew that I was Chris Slade's tech, so thankfully he seemed to try and take it easy on me (compared to how I have heard he can go on). Jason simply said with disgust ''just tear the whole thing apart and start from scratch”, and most of you know out there what a bad situation that is to be in during full-band sound check. Needless to say Mick Jones was not too awful happy with the delay either.
So with a bit of a tremble I just dove in and pulled everything apart. I also told Jason about not having the bottom heads, which led into a full-blown discussion between us on the importance of new tuned bottom heads. So the rush was on and actually things got a bit calmer as soon as, at the last minute, the bottom heads finally showed up. Well, got a little bit calmer anyway, every one else in the band was not happy at all with this major delay. But with straight thinking and fast work there I stood working side-by-side with Jason; me frantically putting on bottom heads, tuning them, and all the while assisting Mr. Bonham while he set the kit exactly the way it should have been. My biggest problem with the initial setup was that I had the snare stand in front of the double bass bar, which led to all of it being a bit out of whack. I was pretty much spot on with the toms, etc. But what makes this mess all not feel quite so bad, is that Jason was eventually so super cool about the whole mishap, and I thank him for that, and we chit chatted about this and that while I hurried to get the kit squared away. And also many, many thanks to the in house crew that all pitched in to help me out beyond their call of duty (I made sure and spent all my per diem money buying them beers at the pub after the gig).
So finally, after what seemed a life time, actually 30 minutes or so, things were right, and all miked up AGAIN. Also a special thanks to the understanding of brother Dodger [FOH] for helping keep it all together; the sound check went well even though a bit behind schedule, but all well and done anyway.
After sound check was over, I calmed myself down and began to focus on taking care of Jason’s needs during the show itself. I got his cooler ready with his Gatorade, had plenty of new sticks close at hand, tightened up the kit one final time, and was ready and waiting for him to sit on the stool and kick some ass on the drums like he does so well. I made sure that I was right behind him and didn't take my eyes off him for one micro-second, just in case anything should flop, pop, crash or flat out fall apart. I think I only had to run over to back line 2 or 3 times when Jason would yell out for adjustments to his monitors, like more bass from Pilson [Jeff Pilson], or a touch more snare…etc.
But, to end my personal little story of being thrown into the fire with a surprisingly happy ending; the show went great, Jason played fabulous like always, his kit sounded great, and to my surprise after the encore, Jason jumped off his stool, got maybe 8-10 feet around the side to go out and take a bow, he suddenly looked back at me, turned around and came back to shake my hand and yelled in my ear ''GREAT JOB MATE''!!! That made my night and to this day, and is truly one of the highlights of my career. I have the whole gang to thank for that.
So what have we learned here boys and girls? All I can say is that to be prepared for these kinds of situations; use grace under pressure, ALWAYS be a professional, don’t let your emotions get in the way, and carry a spare pair of underwear, because you’ll never know when YOU are being “Thrown into the

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Drum Tech gives some Respect to the Craft - by David Burke

Don’t call Jeff Ocheltree a roadie.
His job as a drum technician in recording studios and at concerts is far more than that.
“All we were called was roadies” decades ago, he said. “We’d drive the truck, load the truck, set up the P.A. (public address system), set up the whole damned band. Our days were never done. We never had a fancy hotel to go to.
“It was hard work, but we were so passionate about it because every time we set up to do a show we knew the energy coming back to us was going to be magnificent.”
Ocheltree, who lived in Davenport as an infant and for several years during high school, has returned to the Quad-City area to conduct a master class at the Redstone Room in the River Music Experience, downtown Davenport.
The workshop is for both drummers and aspiring drum techs, teaching them that a percussionist needs to do more than just set up the drums.
“I’m probably one of the first drum techs ever,” Ocheltree, 61, said. “I learned not only how to tune drums and set them up, but I learned how to mike drums, how to work in the studio.”
His first job as a drum tech was with the 1970s jazz-rock group Mahavishnu Orchestra, working with producer Ken Scott at London’s famed Abbey Road Studios.
“It was a beautiful time in music because everything was wide open,” he said. “There was none of this technology.”
Ocheltree has put out an instructional DVD for drummers and drum techs called “Trust Your Ears.”
That’s especially important today, he said.
“There’s a whole different world — it’s digital, it’s contrived, it’s computerized,” he said. “The crafting of songs, the crafting of music in live performances is not supposed to be gathered together and pieced together.”
Despite their tough exterior, drums are fragile instruments and not enough people recognize that, he said.
“Drums weren’t made to go on the road. They were made to sit in one place and be played,” he said. “If you take them in and out of cases and on trucks, buses and airplanes, they’re going to fall apart.”
Ocheltree has been on the road as a drum tech for Led Zeppelin, Supertramp, Journey, Chicago and Chick Corea, among others. He takes a break this week from being on the road with singer Boz Skaggs. He’s designed two drum sets for the heavy metal band Tool.
He will be conducting the workshop tonight with Terry Hanson, a longtime Quad-City area drummer and drum teacher.
“It’s got nothing to do with us. It’s us telling folks what’s going on in the world of drumming and teching,” Hanson said, “what you have to do and what we still do after 35-plus years.”
Ocheltree said setting up drums for a concert can take as little as 90 minutes or as long as an entire day.
“You make it sound perfect, so when the drummer comes up for the sound check, he’s ready to go. You don’t have to change a thing,” he said.
He also works at getting the microphones on the drums at just the right angle for the best sound. Sometimes, he said, that means ticking off the sound engineers.
“I tell the engineer to stay up there and leave me alone,” Ocheltree said.
“You don’t get the respect you deserve. It’s the old drummer syndrome: ‘Oh, you’re just a drummer,’ ” Hanson said.
Ocheltree and Hanson will tell drummers and drum techs about the need to work together.
“With drummers and drum techs, there’s a camaraderie that’s unparalleled to any other instrument,” Ocheltree said. “The drumming community has always pulled together to help each other.”
Ocheltree, who just moved to San Francisco after living for years in Ashland, Ore., said drummers need to learn about collaboration with their techs.
“All these players are constantly evolving and working together,” he said. “And I get to work with them, so we all evolve together.”
David Burke can be contacted at (563) 383-2400 or Comment on this story at

Welcome to "Talk To The Tech"

Throughtout the month we will be bringing you tips, tricks, stories from the road, and anything else of interest from drum techs working (and who have worked) around the planet -- with every band from indie artists to the classic artists of every genre. So Stay Tuned!