Monday, 8 September 2014

Review: Drumlites

Drumlites - lighting for the inside of your drums!

I've been looking for lights for the kit area of the stage for yonks now.  I'm not (necessarily) talking big gigs where things like PA, foldback and lights are generally taken care of by people who know what they're doing - I'm talking more about the small/medium sized gigs where you're typically left to your own devices!

Regular Shlogg readers will know that I partially fixed this problem a few months back.  I got hold of a KAM Party Bar with floor mount that I have back behind the drum kit.  This is an inexpensive item and one that's fast and easy to set-up.  As well as providing 'some light' (I'm sure somewhere there is a graph that matches quality light against money spent?) it has basic DMX connectivity so can be controlled by something else, or even control something else to a limited degree.

That's all well and good for lighting the centre part of the stage (assuming that's where the kit is) from the back.  I know we all want supertroopers hanging from the ceiling directly over the kit, but away from large theatres and stadiums this just isn't going to happen.  So I've kept looking and that's when I found Drumlite.

These are basically LED strips that fit inside your drum shells.
Now I know what you're thinking, "I can go to Maplins and buy some LED strips and stick those inside my drums", and you can - but these guys have gone ahead and fixed most of the problems you will encounter doing it the DIY way.

  • They fit the drum

Yup, you give them your drum dimensions, and this will actually fit correctly.

  • You don't have to drill your shells

With clever use of 'pigtail' connectors, you'll not be making any holes in your shells.

  • They supply a wiring loom.  

Drummers have a lot of gear to set up, we are first in, last out at most gigs.  The last thing we want to to add just as much electronics to our set-up as the guitarist or lighting guy has!  The wiring look is also cut to length, so you will have the minimum cable mess and the fastest set-up possible.

  • They have a range of matched controllers available.

From wireless remotes, to sound activated, and simple or complex DMX systems - the guys have it sorted!

  • They will support you

This is two guys with some great ideas who genuinely want to make you, and their company, a success!

And I can tell you this from my own practical experience!

I ordered a set of Drumlites to fit my ten-year old DW collectors kit.  I gave them the sizes, but no more detail (perhaps I should have, as you will see later!).  I opted for the simple DMX controller (so I can hook it up to the stage lights) .  My package duly arrived a few weeks later.  As they are in the US and I'm in the UK, I actually received a Customs bill through my mailbox but this was as expected.  Ok I didn't expect the UK customs office to sit on my package for a fortnight in total - but that's a different issue!

I unpacked and checked the contents and everything was funky.  I won't go into detailed instructions here, but I will say read the instructions carefully, and rehearse the installation before you actually do it.  I found it difficult to feed the cable connectors through the drum air holes, it was do-able, but quite tricky and very frustrating.  When I later contacted the guys I found out that DW have smaller than usual air holes.  If I had told them I had a DW kit they would have supplied the 'slimline version' - doh! Still, I did get the kit installed and trundled-off to a gig that night to try them out!
I found it kinda hard to marry the plugs up with the sockets on the drums at a gig scenario.  In poor light, working against the clock it's not the easiest job, but I did manage it and the drums looking truly stunning.

A couple of weeks later, I decided to get the kit out in the drum room and see if I could make plugging-in the cables less of a chore.  This is where I found a second problem.
Either as a result of my ham-fisted cable plugging, or from trundling back and forth to half a dozen rehearsals in the mean time, the copper pins on the sockets were badly bent.  After hours of fiddling, I only managed to plug one of five drums in.  This was a serious problem.

Being late evening UK time, I detailed the issues as best I could in an email and shot it off to the guys across the pond.  Within an hour I had a response, apologizing for the bother, offering to send me a replacement set of (slimline!) cables free of charge, and promising that a 'heavy duty' solution was already in the pipeline.

Now that is what I call Customer Service!

This is two guys who've found a solution to a gap in the market and are working their butts off to fill it with satisfied customers.  For that reason alone they deserve to do well, but I'm not joking to say that this is a great product from a great company who are making great improvements to it all the time.

If you want your drums to look as good as they sound, I can't recommend Drumlite highly enough!

Review: Sabian Paragon Cymbals

Produced by Sabian for Neil Peart of Rush fame ...

In 2003, after a lifetime playing Zildjian cymbals, Neil Peart starting working with Sabian on a new range of cymbals that were to become the Paragon line.

This was a big deal in the drumming world.  Neil had changed drum manufacturers a few times over the years (currently with DW) but his cymbals had always been a constant.  As probably the World's best and most respected drummer, this was going to get people's attention.

It's always been known that Neil is a perfectionist, and understandably the opportunity to work with one of the best manufacturers on his 'perfect' cymbal sound wasn't something he could pass up.  The result of all the hard work isn't just a signature ride or a sub-genre like the HHX 'Evolution', but an entirely new range which is the cymbals that Neil himself plays every day with Rush.

Enough with the background, you can find much more from the Sabian site or Neil's site, what you're interested in is what they sound like and how they perform.

I've worked through almost all the cymbals in the range.  13" and 13" hats, 16", 18" & 20" crashes, 8" and 10" splashes, 22" ride and 19" china.  There is more to the range, but not much ;-)

I expected a traditional sound, something like AA's but with a modern take, and I certainly wasn't disappointing.  I won't go into the metal mix or the complex hammering processes, but to my ears these sound like AA's with AAX hammering.  The original castings were all in natural finish, but after people saw the highly polished look of Neil's touring set-up (hand-buffed by Neil's drum tech) they wanted the same look - so they are now available in brilliant finish as well.  Unlike some of the HHX range, I couldn't tell a difference in the sound between natural and brilliant.

The 14" hats have a slightly wetter and rockier sound than the 13" hats, which have a bit more of a faster 'fusion' sound to them.  I understand that Neil used to play the 13" hats as his mains with some 14" Vault hats as his auxiliary pair.  For Clockwork Angels, neil used the 14" Paragons as his main (not sure if he changed his aux hats).  Personally I preferred the 14" as main hats, and the 13" as my closed auxiliary pair.  Even half open, both pairs resisted the 'clanging' noise that AAX's tend to give, but weren't quite as washy as say, HHX Groove Hats.

The 16" crash is probably your main 'go-to' cymbal.  Certainly that's how I found it and had two of them - one either side.  Even from the same batch they had a sufficient tonal difference that it didn't just sound like I was hitting the same cymbal twice.  The 18" crash I tended to reserve for big impact and to be quite honest, the 20" was too much of a beast for me.  I did try it as a light ride for a while, but with anything other than light jazz your sticking would vanish under a tidal wave of ride wash.  Not really surprising - it's not supposed to be a ride cymbal!

As far as ride's go, the 22" is peachy.  A highly defined 'ping' that becomes more prominent the further up the cymbal you play.  It is predictable, but not in a dull way.  It does exactly what you expect it to, which included not being the slightest bit crashable!  Now, I'm not Neil and have to buy/carry, set-up and store my own gear.  This means that as far as cymbals go, I ideally want a cymbal to do at least one thing perfectly, preferably two!  This means that I like a ride cymbal to be crashable and this definitely isn't in my opinion.  Not really a fault, just worth bearing in mind.  The ride is currently available in a gorgeous 'Steampunk' finish which is the same as Neil's touring set on Clockwork Angels.  Snag one of those if you possible can!

The splash cymbals were very easy to sort.  The 10" is a nice, focussed splash that cut almost as well as a regular crash (although much quieter of course).  The 8" seemed utterly pointless to me.  I know it's only a size down from the 10", but that seems to make a world of difference.  Barely audible at any volumes, all of the 8" splashes should be fashioned into attractive ashtrays in my humble opinion :-)

Opinions on the china cymbals seem to be pretty divided.  Most reviews I read, and people I spoke to, maintained that the 19" is the best china ever made so I got that one.  And you know what, I think it is.  I'm one of those people who love the idea of a china, and favour playing them for rapid accents.  The only issue I had with it was the same as I had with the ride, it's the perfect china, which means it can't really disguise itself as anything else, like an occasional crash.  Nope, it's a china - live with it!

In summary, I would describe the Paragon like as a traditional cymbal brought up-to-date.  Whether you favour Zildjian's A's, Paiste 2002's, Sabian AA's, or whatever your 'classic' range of choice happens to be, I think you will enjoy the Paragon's and that fact that they will move you gently into the 21st century.  The whole set is available as a limited edition in a replica flight case - very nice.

Personally, having lived with them for over a year, I think I've come to the conclusion that although I love their medium-to-heavyweight rock credentials - I tend to favour cymbals that are a tad more flexible (no pun intended!) ... ;-)