Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Choosing a Bass Drum Head: EMAD vs Powerstroke 3

Choosing drum heads has always been a trying issue for me. You can walk into a drum shop and play a bunch of different drums and cymbals, pick up different sticks, and put your feet on different pedals. Choosing heads is different because you can't hear how they'll sound on your drums until you pay for them and get home. Bass drum heads are no exception and you'll spend almost $50 just to try out a new one. I recently switched heads and took time to listen to the differences between 2 of today's most popular models: The Remo Powerstroke 3 and the Evans Emad. Here's what I found.
Keep in mind that these 2 heads were made to do different things and this is more than just a brand comparison. The Evans Emad has an external dampening system and the Remo PS3 has a thin second ply around the outside of the head. Evans makes a comparable head to the PS3 (the EQ4) and Remo makes a head with external dampening (the Powersonic) but these two are the real deal in my book.

I've been using the Remo PS3 for years now. As you can see in the picture, I use the big Remo Falam patch to dampen it a little. This has always been a great head but I've often wanted a little more punch and a little less slap. Recently I heard that punch come out of a few very different drums and the common variable was the Emad, so I decided to give it a try. I put it on and noticed a few things. First and foremost, I heard the punch I was looking for. It almost sounded lower than it did with the PS3 and there was that little added 'kick you in the chest' thump to it. So far so good. I played around for a little bit and it sounded great but strangely quiet. Once I put my in ears in and ran my ipod it was noticeably quieter than the PS3. It does make sense that to have a dampening system on the batter side head will make the drum sound quieter to the drummer, and this is indeed the case. I lost some of that attack that I relied on hearing straight from the drums while I play and I'm sure it's lost on the audience as well. The next step was to play out with it, which I did this past weekend. We were on a big stage with a great sound system and The Emad was at its best in this setting and really thumped through the monitors. I was thrilled.

I'm playing a little club in Nashville without the big sound system next week and I already know I'm going to miss the PS3 and the volume I could hear straight off the drum. I also play in a more mellow indie rock Radiohead/Flaming lips type of band (the Golden Sounds) where I want my kick drum to sound more open, and I don't think the Emad will do that particularly well. The extra underlay around the PS3 sounds great, leaves the drum sounding open, and mutes out the weird undertones of a 1 ply head without the ring. The Emad head is really made to have that foam ring in it and you can take it out to open the drum sound, but it just doesn't sound nearly as good as the PS3. One more positive thing about the Emad is that it can make a cheap drum sound good. It mutes quite a bit of the drums natural tone and sometimes that can be a good thing. If you're rocking a budget kit, the Emad will make it punch harder than you ever thought it could.

In conclusion, I'll say that these are both great drum heads and the deciding factor should really be what type of gear you're using, what type of gig you're playing, and what sound you're going for. If you want the attack and a warm but more open sound, the PS3 is the clear choice. If you want that thumpy low-end sub-kick sound, the Emad is waiting for you. As for me, I'm thrilled to finally have 2 great options and will be keeping both of them around for the future.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Late Night TV Drummers - Ed Shaughnessy

It is so cool to see ?uest Love joining the ranks of the late show drummers. I think back to when I was a teenager in the 70's playing drums and trying to clone guys like Buddy Rich and Louie Bellson. I had a serious love for big band drumming and the Tonight Show band was always a staple. Watching Ed Shaughnessy drive that band was always a treat. I would scan the TV Guide every Sunday to see if Carson had any guest musicians being featured. No cable guide to que up back then. If a jazz artist like Dizzy Gillespie was going to appear I would make sure to catch it. Every once in a while they would feature the band and it was always cool. It was frustrating to just hear a few seconds of the tunes they were playing in and out of commercial breaks. It wasn't until I was a working player that I realized that he had the greatest gig in the world. Playing with great players every night, backing up other famous musicians, playing the gig around 6pm and home at a decent hour and living a normal life.

When I was 14 I saved every bit of my lawn cutting $$ and attended the Ludwig Drum Symposium at East Carolina University. It was a week of immersing oneself in the drums. I attended classes taught by rock great Carmine Appice to drum corps legend Dennis Delucia. Max Roach was slated to teach but bailed out due to a gig in Europe. I remember meeting William F. Ludwig Jr. while I was there and watching him go off about Roach "blowing off the kids" for a gig. He spent the rest of the afternoon calling Max a "cockroach". Ed Shaughnessy was kind enough to fill in for the classes. He was a very gracious man and very matter of fact about how he developed his playing. Not much mystery, just a lot of listening and practicing. He was very much influenced by Gene Krupa and explained how he developed his chops by taking medium swing jazz standards and playing them in double time.

Unlike other late show drummers, Shaughnessy was defined by his gig. Unlike greats like Steve Jordan, Anton Figg, or Max Weinberg who had their own identity outside the show, Shaughnessy was the "Tonight Show Drummer". Kind of like an actor who gets pigeon holed into a certain genre by a part he played in one movie. You never really saw him on recording dates like other players that made their mark before taking a late night chair. Though I am sure he had other work, I don't recall seeing him in the credits of any album I owned.
All of that aside, Ed Shaughnessy is a great player and I always got the vibe that he knew how special it was that he had that gig. I bet he never took it for granted for a second.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Josh Freese: Drummer gone mad

Josh Freese must be one of the most prolific studio and live rock drummers around today. He's toured with NIN for the past 3 years (but recently resigned) and is a member of The Vandals, Devo, Ween, and A Perfect Circle. I saw him play with APC several years back and he was recovering from a broken right ankle. He played many of his bass drum parts with his left foot and I honestly couldn't hear the difference. If that didn't get you excited, he's also toured with Guns N' Roses and Sting. His studio work is too vast to get into, but he's played on everything from Kelly Clarkson to Rob Zombie records. Suffice to say, the man gets work.

Somehow he has managed to find time to record a second solo record (Titled "Since 1972") and his promotion techniques are quite a ways out of the box. $7 gets you a digital download and a few bonus videos and $15 will fetch a cd/dvd double disc digital download set. No big deal so far, but this is where it gets interesting. $50 adds a T shirt and a 5 minute phone call from Josh and $250 adds a signed drumhead or sticks and a lunch date with him (limited edition of 25...naturally). Things just get crazier from there all the way up to a $75,000 (limited edition of 1) package that includes Freese writing and releasing a 5 song EP about your life story, you taking home one of his drum sets of your choosing, Josh joining your band for a month, something crazy about Tijuana that I probably don't want to have anything to do with, and a flying trapeze lesson. I did the math on this thing and he's selling off 61 dinner or lunch dates. I guess he's taking a bit of a break from all the touring and recording to get this thing out there.

The record comes out March 24th and you can get a free download of one of the tracks from his site right now. I grabbed it and took a listen. It's definitely nowhere near as experimental as his marketing scheme, but it sounds good none the less and he's always a solid player. We'll get right back to our Late Night Drummers series and more importantly, some more practical posts on playing drums (which is really the point), but I couldn't pass up a post about this.

Check out the full 'Price Menu' at
Josh Freese, phenomenal a player as he is, is truly a drummer gone mad!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Know your Late Show Drummers: ?uestlove

Late show bands have always struck me as being the best gig a musician (an old musician?) could possibly have. Think through the gig with me; Steady and presumably great pay, no travel, no set up/tear down, learning a wide variety of musical styles, playing with some of the very best musicians out there, and the nightly TV exposure couldn't be bad for business as far as getting studio work is concerned. Am I missing anything? It's no small wonder that the late show stage is graced by some of the best drummers alive right now, and we get to see and hear them every night (albeit for all of 15 seconds at a time). These guys are worth paying attention to and with the Conan/Leno/Jimmy Fallon switch-up, there is a new drummer on the late night scene that is no exception. It is with no farther ado that I introduce the Music City Drummers' first blog series: Know your Late Show Drummers!

I'll get the series started off with the newest addition, and one that I'm very much excited about : Amhir '?uestlove' Thompson. That's right, The legendary Roots crew is the new house band for late night with Jimmy Fallon. I've been a fan of The Roots since I was in High School when the song 'You Got Me' came out and blew me away. There are very few bands that I've followed as long as I've followed The Roots and few drummers that play like ?uesto. If you have any interest in hip hop he's the one name that you have to know, however fans of The Roots may be surprised to know of the the breadth of his playing ability. I have a good friend that used to tell me that ?uestlove's playing on D'angelo's record 'Voodoo' changed his life. The soulful feel on that record strays a bit from the Roots studio record drum machine feel and the drumming is so right! Jay-Z's 'MTV Unplugged' is required listening for anyone who is even remotely interested in soul-hip hop drumming. The John Mayer track 'Clarity' is a fun rock/soul version of ?uest, but for a slice of pure inspiration, go to itunes and download 'Not About Love' by Fiona Apple! Any of The Roots albums will do the trick, but there's nothing quite like hearing them live and 'The Roots Come Alive' is probably my top pick for hearing him play. I've seen The Roots live no fewer than 4 times, and the night they played City Hall in Nashville still stands out in my mind as one of the best displays of drumming I've ever seen. They did a tune where every 8 bars or so the whole band slowed to a stop, and then BAM nailed the next downbeat with the crack of the snare and were right back on it. It sounds odd but it was one of the most musical things I believe I've ever heard. I've never been able to find a recording of that tune. ?uestlove combines power, groove, speed, and an unbelievable feel for rhythm that is uncomprably funky. He truly is the band leader for The Roots and is a prolific DJ and producer just to top it off.

Tonight marks The Roots debut as a late night band. Longtime Roots fans, have no fear; they are working on another album and planning to tour when the show is not recording. Tune in tonight and catch them at the start, and if you miss it just tune in the night after, or the next....

Our Deep Roots v2.0

Just a couple pictures of Centurio and I and a few of his other students from the week. Check out the full story in the last blog post if you missed it. We'll be back with something new shortly!