Lets begin with the wood: namely my DW Kit. I currently use a 1999 birch DW Collectors Series drum kit, which has a natural lacquer birds-eye maple finish, and gold fittings.
This natural look is very different to the glossy black finish that typified all previous kits of my earlier years in Ride, and so I especially like this kit for that reason. I got into DW drums in 1999, as a result of working in various recording studios, and also having a budget to get me a new kit (the band I was in then, ‘The Animalhouse’, were signed to BMG). Although I’ve played many kits over the years, I’ve had little reason recently to want to change to anything else as yet. I love the simplicity of these drums; their clear, natural resonance, their juicy colourful sound (when tuned right!). As many drummers will know, the kit is made from the same tree, and the resonant pitch of each shell is printed inside it. So below are the sizes of each drum in the kit, and I’ve put the pitches in, also. Of course these pitches are relative, the drums can be tuned as close to any note you like, it is just the inherent pitch of the shell. Here are the sizes:
- 22” Birch Natural Lacquer Bass Drum (F#)
- 13” Birch Natural Lacquer Snare Drum (Eb)*
- 13” Birch Natural Lacquer Mounted Tom (Eb)
- 14” Birch Natural Lacquer Floor Tom (B)
- 16” Birch Natural Lacquer Floor Tom (G#)
*I use the 13” snare for the timbale sound effect in Dreams Burn Down and Paralysed, and occasionally as a second (higher pitched) snare on my left (e.g. In a Different Place), with the Black Beauty as my main and centre snare.
So a little about the Black Beauty. This is a 1972 Ludwig Black Beauty snare drum (14”x5”) with the blue and olive badge, that was – so the story goes when I bought it in 1990 – hand-picked off the production line for its favourable sound. It is made from a single piece of brass which is nickel-plated, and originally came with the ‘Super Sensitive’ snare throw and was used as an orchestral snare. I liked the sound of it and began using it in my setup around 1990. My roadie from the “Going Blank Again” tour, Andy Mathews, eventually changed the mechanism to something more tour-worthy (the older fitting digs into your thighs, and doesn’t fit in a snare drum case)! So now it goes with me wherever I play travel to play a gig. Originally costing me about £400, this has actually gone up in value – probably worth around £2000 looking at current pricing. Over the years I’ve got used to playing this snare, and I seem to get more and more out of it. So rather than having lots of snares I have ‘learnt how to play’ one very good one! I recently bought a 1960’s Ludwig 14″x5″ oyster finish snare drum at the Chicago Music Exchange as a backup snare.
1972 Ludwig Black Beauty Supraphonic w. Blue & Olive nameplate
The sticks I am currently using are Vic Firth American Classic 5B and my new roadie, Paul Welton (aka Ricky) has shown me the benefits of the ‘Stick Rapp’ which wraps around the gripped part of the drumstick. Very pleasant to hold the sticks for long periods, and I’ve barely dropped a single stick since started using it. I’ve used nylon tips in the past, and have nothing against them, but now have settled with wood. One problem I had were the tips coming off the sticks. Also I think I just like the primeval instinct of wood against cymbal and drum (!).
Drum skins. Lately, and mostly thanks to an excellent guitar tech Toby O’Pray (who just happens to be a drummer and hence give me advice), I’ve been using Evans heads in the following set up:
- Bass Drum: 22″ Evans EMAD2 coated
- Snare Drum: 14″ Evans EC1 Reverse Dot clear or coated
- Toms: 13″, 16″, 18″ Evans EC2 S clear
These are really strong and working on the DW kit, and also on the Yamaha 9000 kit I use.
Evans EC1 Reverse Dot on snare; Evans EC2 S on toms
For cymbals, I’ve recently tweaked my appropriated Zildjian cymbal set up into the following:
- 13” A Custom Hi-Hats
- 16” A Custom Crash
- 18” A Custom Crash
- 20” K Crash/Ride
- 20” A Custom Projection Ride
The hats I’ve been using for many years, and again I think I’ve just got used to getting the most out of them. Initially, the hi-hats were the only A-Custom element to my cymbal set up. I used to use a 16” thin crash, which was often a producer/engineer’s favourite and stayed in the set up for a long time. I also used a 20” mini-cup ride for a long time, specifically because it had a small bell and a rich smoky wash; but as I began playing for example the classic on or off-beat ride patterns it became less about texture and more about being able to define rhythms and to have a sound that cuts through, which is where I am now. It maybe because my ears are going, but I like to be able to rely on the brightness of the A-Customs for this Art Pop music we play! My A-Custom crash just ‘works’ for the bigger moments. Introducing an element which may take over more I have a K-Custom as a crash/ride for noise section in Drive Blind. But also some of the new (old) songs we are putting in the set so you’ll see it get used more often.
13″ Custom Hats; 16″ A Custom Crash; 18″ A Custom Crash; 20″ Crash Ride
Hardware: I use DW hardware stands for cymbals and snare. The floor toms mount onto my right hand DW cymbal stand hardware: so both toms, right hand crash, and crash/ride all build out of the one stand on my right.
My bass drum pedal is a Yamaha Longboard which I use with Low Boy beater. I recently picked up the beater at the Chicago Music Exchange.
Electronics and Triggers – My History
I began using pads with the Jesus and Mary Chain just because I had an 80’s Roland SPD 8 (with a whopping 39 sounds!) and I thought it would be cool to use some sounds from it live. I used its in-built sounds: namely the 808 bass drum which I used to good effect in the song Reverence. But using the more recent (2014) SPDsx and some Roland triggers live opens a whole new ball game. My introduction to this unit came out of necessity when working with Gaz Coombes, as we literally built outwards from the sounds on his album ‘Here Come The Bombs’, to try to recreate it live. We initially worked with samples direct from the album, rather than drums – so at first I was in Gaz’s basement playing 3-4 electronic drum pads. We were always trying to make the set up as simple as possible. We had to bring in acoustic drums for certain songs e.g. bass drum snare and hi hat, but kept the electronic bass drum and pedals for use in others. The SPD can also launch whole samples – for example to be used as intros – but it comes into its own when you use triggers on the traditional drums. So I have a trigger on the bass drum and snare drum. This means I can swap a patch during the gig and change the sound of the drum kit – something I would have dreamt about years ago!
SPDsx in Ride
In Ride, we use the SPD for a few essential and choice backing tracks, for example: Leave Them All Behind, Vapour Trail, OX4, and for a cue start for Like A Daydream. All of these have elements we can’t play live as a four-piece. I also use the SPD to launch single vocal samples (e.g. from the film Withnail & I) during or at the start of: Cool Your Boots; and crowd riot samples in Paralysed. I have the Roland RT-10 triggers linked up to my floor and snare drum, so that for example I can put a 909 kick sound on the floor tom for Dreams Burn Down, potentially change it for Vapour Trail, and use a snare sample for the middle section of Polar Bear.
In addition to the above I have two footswitch/pedals to give me better live control over the SPD. The two BOSS FS-5U foot pedals are labelled A and B and I use A to trigger the backing track samples (with predetermined and set click), and B to start the internal SPD click for certain songs. Using the internal click for songs without backing allows me more flexibility to change tempo if I want or need to – for example in rehearsals or soundchecks. With both approaches, what it means is that I program the set list before the show (or Ricky does) and then page through the songs that have anything extra. I can do this by hitting a designated pad on the SPD with my stick to page up or down the setlist. The rest I can do with the pedals on the floor: start stop etc… To beef things up the middle section while I’m mashing the cymbals, I trigger a sample of noise in Drive Blind, which is based on a piece of work I did in 2010, you can hear it here: https://soundcloud.com/lcolbert/machine-genesis-mix-1-master
Thanks to Ricky for his help being my drum roadie and for helping with this article. Thanks to everyone who asked the questions that gave me a framework to answer them!