Archive for November, 2009

Vintage meets modern

Friday, November 27th, 2009

Since I deal with electronic drums, I search for the perfect electronic drum set. For sure Simmons never built the perfect drum kit, especially not from today’s point of view. But what is the perfect drum kit? First of all it should be unique and full of character. This at least fits to the look of the SDSV pads, in my opinion the sexiest pads ever designed. Unfortunately the stick impact is absolutely out of the question concerning both noise and playability. And the dynamics cannot keep up with todays high tech pads made by Roland, Hart, Yamaha etc… On the other hand today’s pads look rather boring. They try to imitate real acustic drums what I think is the wrong way. So why not take the best aspects of both worlds and join them into generation of pads which look great and don’t hide that they are electronic but with great playability and dynamics? When I planned this project I already owned enough SDSV pads to built a prototype kit at a reasonable budget. In the meantime I was asked a couple of times to report about this. So here you are:

The ingredients for one drum:

  • 10″ tom (foil, not lacquered). The cheapest you can get will do it. Mine cost 29 Euro
  • 1 transducer (Ebay: 2 Euro)
  • 6 tap boots M5 (DIY store: 2 Euro)
  • 10″ Mesh head (double layer: 20 Euro)
  • 1 self-adhesive felt pad (those you would use to keep the doorhandle from a wall. DIY store: 2 Euro)
  • 1 6.3mm mono jack
  • 1 SDSV pad


  • tuning key
  • several screwdrivers
  • fine saw
  • drill (8mm driller)
  • hammer

First I ripped all hardware and foil off the tom:

Than I cutted a 4cm ring from the top and the bottom side (as you can imagine we can convert two pads from only one tom). To estimate the right thickness I layed the drum head and rim onto the drum for line-marking.

Than we can go on dismantling the SDSV pad and place the tap boots, transducer and the jack:

Now it’s time to assemble the pad again:

Then I simply put the ring on the riot shield and fill it with rubber foam. I sticked the felt on the transducer in order to protect it against
direct hits and to dampen the trigger pulses. The transducer does not need to be fixed. This is simply done by the pressure of rubber foam, felt and mesh head

Last but not least I mounted the head and “tuned” the drum. That’s it

And the entire kit:

The dynamics are really great although the components did not cost much more than 30 Euro per pad. Of course this project can be realized with any wooden subsurface. So what about converting your desktop into a mesh pad?

And that’s the kit in action:

The sounds are from Toontrack Superior 2. Pretty close to perfect….

Simmons HiHat Controllers

Friday, November 20th, 2009

Have you ever looked inside a common HiHat controller? The technology inside is just as simple as expected: If you step onto the pedal, a curcuit is being closed and the inner resistance is immediately set from infinite to zero. So the drum brain only needs to messure the remaining current in order to decide whether an open or closed HiHat sound is supposed to be played back. Modern controllers which can even map half open states probaly provide a variable conductance between open and closed, more or less linearly depending on the angle of the plate. And Simmons? Please correct me, but I suppose the SDSV HiHat pedal was the first of its kind. So it should be justified that Dave Simmons is the inventor of it. But it was differnt. It was based on a light barrier. The source of light was permanently powerd by the brain (15V). When the pedal was closed, a metal tongue interrupted the beam of light, the sellenium cell opposite to the source could not send anymore current to the brain which triggered the “decay killer” (this expression comes from the SDS3).

By the way: Always keep in mind that if you connect a HiHat controller other than the original to an SDSV brain: You might damage your pedal!

But Dave Simmons not only invented the open/close Hihat pedal. One of the trailblazing innovations of the SDX was that the first time an electronic HiHat provided more than open/closed/closing but also half open. This was realized by pessure. The pedal had the same FSR foil built in as the pads did have. Depending on how strong you kicked the pedal down the inner resistance could be modulated.

Rock School

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

On my endless odyssey through the internet once more I tumbled over an episode of Rock School, and once more I wondered about the cheesy sounds that had been so hot in the 80s.

Today it makes me smile but of course every era of pop music requires it’s predecessors. For example dance and electronic music would not sound the same if the technical development would have taken another way. The 80s had created highlights as well as catastrophes concerning sound (this may appear to style and clothes as well…). I wonder what my kids will think about a Roland TD20 in 15 years (to be honest: I already think they are antiquated and a deception of high technology, but this should be discussed in other blogs)

In any case: Have fun watching this nice peace of TV history!

Simmons and the plagiarisms II

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

A couple of posts ago I reported about polish copies of Mark III pads. This time I “found” a pair of russian copies made by a company called LELL:

The playing surface is very much like Mark III type

The surface of the backside has an imitation leather stamping

the tom mount is not Pearl compatible but is similar to the first generation of Dynacord Percuter Pads. The connection is a midi socket

It’s funny to imagine how Simmons fought against those copies coming from western countries while beyond the iron fence the eastern countries unobservedly copied everything. But as I know from my Simmons buddy from eastern Germany: During the cold war a Simmons was a Simmons and everything else was a copy.

SDSV cymbal goes SDS7

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

The sadest aspect of the Simmons company’s collapse is the end of research and great and innovative ideas in Electronic drums, mainly provided by Dave Simmons himself. Really the bitter end? No… My Simmons buddy Michael Buchner (not to forget a handful of other neirds on our planet) still studies, extends and develops this vintage gear in order to make or keep it contemporary and also working in today’s environments. So I am proud that he asked me to share his latest development results with you through my blog. So here is his report:

The digital modules of the SDSV have no triangular oscillator, but a digital sound source. There is an EPROM containing a metallic waveform, a part of a recorded real cymbal.

If this would be played one shot as usual, only a rather short sound would be heard. So Simmons looped the sound, but not one way: It is a real forward/backward loop.
The loop is played all the time inside the SDSVs digital modules; it is not started or stopped by envelopes, only gated out by VCF and VCA. So long decay settings are possible.

This is the original schematic:

The 555 is working as a clock, the 4516 are the counters and the 4013 is changing the readout direction. Because there was no space on the regular PCB, Simmons made an extension called the auxillary or “piggyback” PCB (PCB = printed circuit board).
To be true, the metallic waveform has nothing to do with a real cymbal sound, you can hear its looping, everything is very raw, but:
This is a CULT sound! If you play this with bending up or down while toying around with noise and filter, you get these famous cymbal sweeps!
So here is a description to get this sound into another machine, the SDS7. You can convert any card for the V- Cymbal and the sound is very close to the original!
This is how it was done:
First I had to get the original data bit-by-bit. To read out the original wave data, a simple adaptor was necessary to get the 2732 EPROM into my 2764 reader, because the 2764 has four more legs and the supply voltage has to be connected to another pin of the 2732:

After the readout I had the sample twice in a row. I REVERSED the second half to have the forward/backward effect like in the original. Now I had the data to burn a 2764 EPROM.
I also made a file where this data was doubled by copying it another time for use in 27128 EPROMS.
One real important change has to be made on the SDS7 module (card): The decay kill diode has to be removed. Now the counter loops the EPROM all the time and decay times up to 5 seconds as on the SDSV are possible! Here the position of the diode to desolder or to cut off:

After all this, some cosmetics…

It sounds great! Finally: I have to check out some modifications to get a higher pitch setting (higher than the original) SDSV and a ultra long decay!

And here is the (mp3 encoded) raw wave form, extracted by Michael from the original 8 bit eprom sitting on the SDSV HiHat card: click to listen

The legendary Simmons head kit

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

When Simmons started producing the SDSV, a sculptor named Coleman Saunders, friend of Dave Simmons, built a handfull of custom shaped drum pads compatible with the SDSV. Basically it was intended to attract the crowd for the whole Simmons product line. It was never intended to become a mass product like the SDSV. A picture of this headkit was printed on the backside of the one and only SDSV catalogue:

This headkit was recently made a subject of a discussion in the Simmons newsgroup. Reason enough for me to sum up the scanty documentation about these kits. Bob Henrit wrote in the Complete Simmons Drum Book:

“…The shapes which epitomise the possibilities of Simmons customising, have to be the ones which resembled ‘human heads’. (They were actually made as a publicity stunt, to sell more than one regular sets.) They were modelled in fibreglass, by an artist friend of Dave’s named Coleman Saunders, and were evidently inspirde by the Presidents heads at Mount Rushmore. Two clay ‘masters’ were made from which a pair of rubber moulds were fashioned which ultimately went on to produce something like ten sets. They were available in red, blue and yellow upon which Dave simmons did a great deal of airbrush work and fitted with cut-glass eyes. Evidently they all turned out to be slightly different. The top of the cranium was sliced through to fit the wood and ‘riot shield’ playing surfaces. These of course needed to be fitted as usual with aluminium edging strip which was no mean feat. (The shape of human head is not particularly regular as I’m sure you’re aware!)…”

At least two music videos are known to feature a Simmons head kit. First is Landscapes ‘Einstein A Gogo’:

Second is Felony’s ‘The Fanatic’ (although the drum sound definetely comes from acoustic drums ;-)):

Finally a small anecdote that Baz Watts, former keyman of Simmons Electronic Drums, told me: When they took the photo of the head kit for the SDSV flyer, they did not have a working fog machine. On the spot they set the paper bin on fire. So what you see in the picture is no fog but real smoke coming from a burning paper bin…