Thursday, May 30, 2019

the ritual: taping up new sticks, and more

It's early summer, and the beginning of the marching season for so many of us.
Whether you march with an uber-modern DCI corps or your community band, summer is the time to play outside!
And so I've been readying myself and my gear.

1.  The heads that came with my Ludwig drum were, along with the snare hardware, pretty beat. The snare-side head had a hole almost as big as my pinky finger. It wasn't too close to the edge of the shell or I would've replaced it sooner. Still, when I noticed a split forming in the batter head -- a CS black dot that was almost as old as the drum -- I decided to bite the bullet and replace both heads.

2. While I was at it, the original strainer mechanism was beginning to fall apart. The tensioning screws for each individual snare had fallen out, and a few snares were missing. The remainder were showing a little surface rust. So after pondering my options, I replaced the entire thing with something simple and more modern (Gibraltar, for all its plainness, sells excellent, serviceable parts that stand up well to daily use). After all, this was never going to be a showpiece. I bought it as a player and the random scratches in the finish never bothered me. I got some trade-in on the parts at Revival, and the new hardware went on fairly easily. I only had to drill new holes for the butt plate.

3. I finally managed to re-shape the steel leg rest I'd scored, so that it would fit my older, larger thigh. (Don't blame that on weight-gain; my quads are a lot bigger now from all that cycling then they were when I was fourteen, and the platform had to be spread a little.)

 Early 1970s Ludwig 10 x 14" marching snare, with angle bar and new heads and strainer.

 With only eight lugs, there is no point in putting a super-high-tension head on this drum. It was meant to have Mylar heads and that's what it's got. I opted for the Power Stroke, which is what my marching snare drum had my senior year of high school. A tad later than the drum, but it sounds crisp and clean.

Mylar heads are tuned lower, meaning that the player has to do a little of the rebound work themselves. But if you tune the batter head a little high than the snare head, you'll get a crisp, dark sound that those of us of a certain age still know and love.

4. Next up: Sticks. After trying several different makes and models, I finally took my friend Mary's advice and went with the Vic Firth Jeff Queen signature model. Although Jeff designed it as a "solo" stick, honestly it's a fine ensemble stick, especially for smaller hands and for use on Mylar heads. With my arthritis, it's the stick I've kept coming back to. So when I pulled out my sticks after my last band practice and saw the telltale ridge (see photos), I knew it was time to buy new sticks and wrap them in fresh tape.

The ritual used to go like this: I'd go to the music shop, spend about half an hour finding two sticks of the same model that matched in pitch (in those days I'd settle for 1/4 to 1/2-step apart if I had to); then begging the shop owner for a quantity break on 4 pairs (he almost always said no, unless he'd just smoked a bowl), and then taking them home and setting out the stuff I'd need to wrap each pair in a fresh layer of white electrical tape. In high school, this would be trimmed in thin stripes of royal blue tape at both ends to make the sticks match our school colors. (In corps we didn't bother with trim, because the snare line went through sticks too quickly on tour. I swear, sometimes they'd tape up new show sticks every two to three days.)

This is something of a tiny ritual for me, and taping up new sticks always takes me back to my teen years as a marching member, in a sweet way.

I'm mostly packed for Honk! weekend, and looking forward to a great time playing live in the streets of South Seattle this weekend. I'm playing with the Unpresidented Brass Band. If you read this blog and come to the festival, find our band and say hello.


Above: a little vid. I'm just farting around, playing whatever I feel like. Sometimes it's nice not to have a plan. Cheers!

Monday, May 27, 2019

Vintage corner: Ludwig model 337 Tenor mallets

In seventh grade, I got a timpani solo on a piece our middle school band was playing. It required the use of very hard wooden mallets. The only pair the school owned was a pair of combo tenor mallets, with a hard felt ball on one end and a long, olive-shaped wooden head on the other. They were odd-looking and I never forgot them.

Recently I came across this NOS pair of Ludwig tenor mallets from the 1970s, and in truth the only reason I bought them was that the wooden head was the exact same size and shape as my old middle school mallets.
Only these mallets were shorter -- only 13 inches long! -- and had the classic knurled Ludwig rubber-wrapped handle on the other end. (I loved the feel of that knurled rubber when I was a kid.)

They're very light in weight, and their short length means they're not going to give you a ton of volume. But they were designed for old-fashioned single tenor drums, where the volume came from the low tuning as much as how you played them.

They're also very, very short. Below is a photo of one of the mallets alongside one of my modern snare drum sticks (Vic Firth Jeff Queen signature model, for anyone who's curious).

Holding them is a revelation. I probably haven't used a stick or mallet this short since, well, middle school. My hands were smaller back then.

Just for fun, I tried them out on a few different pads. Right off the bat, let me say that these are useless on a rubber pad. The bounce just isn't there, owing to the length and weight (or lack thereof).

But play them on an old-fashioned Remo tuneable pad, and they respond a lot closer to the way you'd expect them to on, well, a regular drum head. Here's a sample.

I think it would be fun to try these out on my band-mate's little tenor trio, a kid-sized set he bought to save weight on his back during our community performances. Though if I'm not careful, he might make me an offer for them...

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Unpresidented Brass Band: we play pretty for the people

Video treat: UBB plays in downtown Portland.
Sellwood Middle School students playing hooky decide to start swing dancing right in front of us.
So much awesomeness right here.


We're gonna play more through the summer. Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

vintage sticks: Hinger Touch-Tone, medium

When I was in college in the early 1980s, I came across a large lot of used drum and percussion parts, sticks and accessories at the downtown location of Captain Whizeagles, the music store where I'd bought my drumsticks since 6th grade. Whizeagles was closing its downtown location and moving out to somewhere in Clackamas, Oregon, far beyond the reach of public transit at the time. So I rushed to the shop to see if there would be any blowouts before it closed.

I found a pair of Hinger Touch-Tone snare drum sticks, size large for marching and rudimental use.
Made of hollow aluminum shafts, each stick also had small rubber sleeves which could be moved up and down along the sticks to change the balance and sound. I remember paying very little for the sticks -- they were useless for rock and roll playing -- and showed them to my drum instructor back on campus. He offered me many times what I'd paid for them, and since I was a broke college student who needed the money, I sold them.

Later on, of course, I wished I hadn't sold them. They were different and very cool.

So when I found another pair in the medium (concert) size at Revival Drum Shop, I had to have them. Fortunately, I had some trade on account and used that to purchase these.

The sticks themselves are nothing special to look at, other than the material. They're basically hollow aluminum rods with holes at each end, about the same length as a regular wooden drumstick.

These sticks did not have any rubber on them; I'd seen them with and without rubber weights, and I've even seen a pair with rubber handles at one end. (Fred Hinger, the designer of the sticks, meant for them to be played with matched grip.)

If I really want to experiment, I suppose I could find some super-skinny bicycle inner tubes and cut a few small sections off to approximate the same function.

Still, with or without weights, these things play an orchestral buzz roll that is so clean and beautiful it sounds like tissue paper being gently torn.

A bit about Fred Hinger the innovator, and his son Bill who took over the business and made further innovations, borrowed from the Olympic Drums web site:


Through his entire career Fred Hinger was never satisfied with commercially produced percussion products and spent much time creating his own drumsticks and tympani mallets while he was in the Philadelphia Orchestra. He found that tympani handles made of bamboo produced a much larger sound than the traditional wood handles found on virtually all commercially produced tympani mallets. People started asking him to make the same mallets for them, and as time went on he started selling these hand sewn tympani mallets to students and other professionals.
In the early 1960’s, he began to experiment with other handle materials and found that an aluminum tubular handle would produce the same sound characteristics of the bamboo, but were much more consistent and could be duplicated much more easily.
As business picked up in the early 1960’s he registered the trademarks Hinger and Touch-Tone, which eventually became the company name.
When Bill Hinger  (Fred's son) joined the United States Army Band in Washington, D.C. in 1967, all tympani mallet production was moved to Alexandria, Virginia.  Bill became responsible for production of tympani mallets for the next three years. Fred focused on designing and building a concert snare drum from a solid metal shell that sounded incredibly crisp and clean. [Note: I had the pleasure of playing some college band concerts on my instructor's Hinger snare drum. It was a thing of beauty and one of the most incredible instruments I'd ever played.]
In 1969 Bill Hinger broached the idea of starting a company to make sticks, snare drums and tympani. In May 1970, Bill left the Army Band and moved back to New Jersey.
From that point forward, Bill was responsible for the design and production of all innovations and ideas generated by himself and his dad. 


Fred Hinger sold the mallet side of his business and closed down the snare drum production side completely in the late 1980s. He died in 2001. Hinger snare drums remain highly sought after both as incredible instruments and as vintage collectibles.

Malletech now distributes Hinger products, including timpani and marimba mallets and the concert sized aluminum and maple snare drum sticks. They also offer a slider kit that may fit my concert sticks, but more research is needed before I buy a set.

Hinger sticks by Malletech are available from a few outlets, including Steve Weiss and Mostly Marimba.

Here's the maple version of the Hinger snare drum stick, available from Steve Weiss; maybe down the road I'll spring for a pair. though it's basically the same shape as the aluminum version, being made of wood you could get away with an errant rim shot here or there. Even so, these are not sticks I'd want to use for anything other than concert playing.

I'm going to hang out with these on my concert snare drum over the next few weeks and see whether or not I want to bother with making or buying sliders.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Vintage sticks: Promark 3S Japanese oak

Back when I marched in my high school band, the stick of choice for the snares was a traditional, heavy 3S stick with a medium taper and an acorn-shaped tip. Fat as my father's thumb, and seventeen inches long. Usually pretty heavy -- too heavy for my still-growing hands, which is why I used 2B's until my senior year.

Promark came out with sticks made in either American hickory or Japanese oak. The hickory sticks were predictably comfortable -- they had a "spring" and "flex" to them, and absorbed the shock of accented notes so your hands wouldn't have to take the full impact. Hickory remains the first choice for drummers today for that reason.
Oak was another matter. Oak sticks were noticeably heavier, and harder. They were harder to break unless you played like Sesame Street's Animal. My section leader, a handsome boy who came from one of the wealthiest families in town, could buy any sticks he wanted, and he did, trying out various brands and models to find the sticks that worked for him. He tried the Promark 3S in both oak and hickory, ultimately opting for the hickory for its ease on the hands. The hickory also cost less than the oak model, so you could buy many more pairs and always have spares on hand.

Today, a pair of Promark 3S sticks in oak arrived, from a fellow vintage drum enthusiast who didn't need them and offered them to me. (He knows I try to find stuff from my early years of drumming, mid to late 1970s.)
I cleaned off the masking tape with some nail polish remover, and tried them out on my rubber pad.
They felt lighter than I remembered, perhaps because my hands are full-size now (and far stronger than when I was fifteen). They felt well-balanced and surprisingly not all that heavy. A longer session with them might prove me wrong later on.

They're beautiful sticks. The oak grain is luminous and almost shines in places. The gold stripe at the ends is accompanied by the numeral "79" (year of manufacture, perhaps?) and the words "Hand-made in Japan" -- and they don't appear to have been used all that much.

These will enjoy a slot in the stick display, and I may play with them from time to time (on a pad only, though).   What old sticks do you like to play with now and then, for nostalgia's sake or just for a change of pace?

Xymox Pad: addendum

The morning after I took delivery on the new pad, I decided to try and see what was going on with the snare mechanism; one of the nuts wouldn't tighten down all the way.
Upon closer examination, I discovered that it was not the alloy nut, but the steel bolt that had stripped threads. I took some photos and sent them to Xymox.
The reply cam quickly. They wanted to "recall" my pad and do an in-house repair. They said turnaround would take 1-2 days once they got the pad, and they offered to pay for shipping both ways.
I emailed back asking how they would reimburse me for shipping. I asked for a call tag.
I haven't heard back.
I asked folks on a marching percussion group I'm part of.
The overwhelming majority of respondents advised me to keep the pad because returning it might mean not having a pad for months; their response to such things is inconsistent-to-awful.
I'm waiting for a response to my questions about shipping. If I don't hear back within the week, then I'll skip it and apply a little blue Loctite to the threads so the nut won't fall off. The snare mechanism seems to do its job, I got the pad on a half-price sale weekend, and I'm fine with all of it.
What I'm really waiting for is the mini-pad I ordered two months later, meaning I should see it by July. I hope.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

my newest pad: Xymox Reserve snare pad, 12"

Last year I began collecting various incarnations and generations of Xymox drum pads.
The collection now includes a pocket pad, a couple different versions of a rubber-topped snare pad (complete with cheesy fake snare sound), and a first-generation reserve pad with the snare sound built in.

Wanting to complete my set, as it were, I decided to bite the bullet and order a new Xymox reserve pad, which came with my choice of colors, laminates and size. I opted for the 12" size, single-sided reserve. (There was a two-sided option with a thick rubber underside but that was well beyond my budget.)

And then I waited.
And waited.
And waited some more.
Over time, I stopped worrying about it.
Xymox is known for their very long wait-times; and they have been ever since they went to a semi-custom operation, with the warehouse in southern California and their factory overseas (presumably in China). I had heard horror stories of people who got tired of waiting, or people who'd been told to expect a six-week wait and a year later still had not gotten their order. I'd heard about awful interactions between customers and the owner of the company where the owner lashed out at the irate customer. It all sounded bad.
So when I ordered my pad, I decided ahead of time to be good. To behave the way my mother (z'l) raised me. To mind my manners.
And you know what?
I still had an eight-month wait for my pad. But when I had questions, I could email Melissa in the California office, and I was always cheerful and polite and appreciative (especially when I learned that she was basically handling the entire office operation and all the ordering herself). So every time I had a question, and I ended it with a thank-you and a have-a-good-week, I always got a nice reply explaining where my pad might be in the queue.
And so a few days ago, I got a nice email with a tracking number, telling me my pad had been shipped.
It arrived yesterday.
After hanging out with it awhile, here's my initial report.

a. the nuts that keep the snare mechanism in place on the underside are made of aluminum alloy, and one came already stripped out and unable to tighten securely. Hmm.
Since the pad took 8 months to arrive, I'm not sure how long I'd have to wait for such a small replacement part. I'll contact Xymox to find out.
b. The carbon head has a fairly thick laminate that gives the pad a feel somewhere between horribly over-tightened mylar and 1st generation woven kevlar. It's still a harder feel as pads go, but less intense than the 1st generation Xymox pads with non-adjustable bead boxes.
c. "Tuning" bolts on top seem designed to only go tight enough to keep the laminate and rim securely in place, not to change the feel or sound of the head of the pad. I hesitate to tighten farther than "merely secure" in case I strip them out. This might be a case of over-design for the sake of aesthetics here.
4. The colors are vibrant and rich. The silver carbon head gleams under the laminate, and the electric indigo is brilliant against the pearl white paint.
5. The non-skid rubber underneath has been reduced to four silver dollar-sized dots of black rubber, rather than a larger rubber base.
For some reason, this pad weighs less than the 1st generation version, I'd guess because less metal is used in the snare mechanism design. Or because more aluminum is being used.
6. Curiously, there was NO instruction booklet or paperwork of any kind included, a strange choice on Xymox's part. I'll ask about that when I email the company. Maybe there's something online but I couldn't find anything current.

UPDATE: Xymox responded on two points: a. They don't provide any paperwork with their pads, and no instructions ("everything you need is online, either at our web site or on someone's Youtube video," I was told.
b. I was asked to take and send cloe-up photos of the offending nut, only to discover that it's a stripped BOLT that's preventing me from tightening down that nut. I sent photos and they will hopefully let me know what, if anything, they can do. The pads do not come with a warranty (they told me that as well), and even though this happened at the factory there may be nothing I can do about it.
Happily, I remain satisfied enough with the overall feel of playing this pad that I'll keep it regardless. If Xymox cannot offer a solution, I'll choose between leaving the snare mechanism as it is, or removing the ball bearings entirely -- and then applying blue loctite to the threads of the offending bolt. Either way, it's not fatal.

Here's a short video of me playing something on the new pad. Nothing fancy -- the arthritis has been rough this week -- but I decided it was cool enough to keep, and last night I put the 1st-generation Xymox pad up for sale. It sold this morning, and I just sent it off. I think I'm going to like this one better, even if I can't play it every day.