Archive for May, 2010

Genesis Live At Wembley 1987

Friday, May 21st, 2010

I am definetely not the biggest Genesis/Phil Collins fan. Still I cannot deny that they have regularly reached leading chart positions over the decades. Generally in order to get one of the rare Simmons video documents I got my hands on their DVD “Live At Wembley 1987”

While Phil Collins mainly uses SDSV pads and brain (apart from his Gretsch and a little SDS7 gear), Chester Thompson plays a Pearl kit which triggers an MTM plus some SDS7 pads. The MTM is connected to some Roland and EMU machines via midi. Specially within the song “The Brazilian” you get a close up view of Phil’s and Chester’s Simmons work.

This 5 people band really made a bombastic sound. Recommended…

SDSV in the "Deutsches Museum" in Munich

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

The “Deutsches Museum” in Munich/Germany is for sure Germany’s most important museum for technical innovations (followed by Simmonsmuseum… :-)). When I was a child, I remember several visits where I was fascinated by exhibits like aircrafts, moon vehicals, etc… . I cannot deny that recently I was pretty astonished to hear that even the SDSV made it there.

The board right in front of the SDSV says:
In 1979, Dave Simmons invented the first drum synthesizer. Series production of this synthesiser began in 1980. This instrument was played like an acoustic drum, but offered much bigger volume and differentiation.

Thanks to its outstanding sound quality, this instrument was very high in demand. The small company rapidly grew to become the most important manufacturer of electric drums in the world.

Sounds were produced by various generators and passed through an adjustable, voltage-controlled filter. Depending on how hard the drum was hit, an amplifier controlled the output signal and intensity.

5 channel drum synthesiser
bass, snare and 3 tom modules
could be expanded to 7 modules

The picture is taken from Wikimedia Commons

Living in a box

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

It’s about time for a nearly senseless post: The boxes….
Normally I keep boxes only if the cats or the kids want to keep them for playing or handicrafts. Only if the boxes say “Simmons” or “Musicaid” I don’t have the heart to give them away:

This topic even got a passage in the Complete Simmons Drum Book by Bob Henrit:
“… They had a problem too when it came to packing them for shipment. None of the work force of two or three had much idea about packing musical instruments! The first set they ever sent to Germany was delayed because they didn’t possess anything to send it. The early Simmons days were fraught with all sorts of these setbacks, but fortunately SDS3 was still selling very, very well. …”

You may look forward to the next post. It will be at least as senseless 🙂

The evolution of the SDSV pads

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

The idea of hexagonal shaped pads was probably the vital key why electronic drums could be established on the market and the media … until today and in the future. Particularly the mother of all subsequent Simmons pads, the SDSV pads had passed several evolution stages. What some might not know: The very first hex pads ever built, in a quantity of about 20 kits, had been made of wood. I was lucky to get one of these mammoths:

That’s what the Complete Simmons Drum Book says:

… In the beginning these pads were cut out of two pieces of Rockboard (a very dense chipboard), and sandwiched together with a loudspeaker in between … The speakers they used as pickups proved themselves to be unreliable, so after a while were replaced by Piezo buzzers … From the embrionic stage, the pads advanced very rapidly…

These wooden pads are the ones that you can see in the original SDSV catalogue:


Another particular feature is that Simmons used high professional pearl tom mounts made of casting metal (instead of the later one-piece plastic mounts fitting on the poor “King” stands).

The step to acrylic shells

The change to acrylic plastic shells is not documented in the drum book (or I haven’t found it so far…), but I assume that for weight and effort (=money) reasons the Rockboard variant changed to acryl. Acryl is pretty easy to form (at least into this hexagonal shape) if you have a stove which is large enough for the raw sheets (I know that because I already experimented with the original material, but I’m afraid my stove is too small). Another advantage of acryl is that it is clear and transparent. And it could be easily laquered on the inside. As far as I am told the first shells had been manufactured separately by hand. My Musicaid SDSV pads seem to prove this thesis:

The edges of the shells are not as sharp as the ones later produced at Abbey Mill, and the surface is not as smooth. But you need to come very close to see the difference.

Still they feature the loudspeakers for the trigger pulse:

There is a round tray countersunk into the wooden board to fit the speaker into it:

The Pearl tom mount seems to be adjusted with accessories provided by heating fitters 🙂 However: It works

Serial production at Abbey Mill

After all these experiments the experiences led to the final version of SDSV pads: Mark I. Although visually similar, the pads were now different in almost every detail. The only features kept from the early versions were the aluminium edging and the Polycarbonate surfaces:

Until the end of SDSV’s life cycle, the tom mounts had been made from a single piece of plastic, adjusted with 4 screws. The solder joints on the XLR socket and on the Piezo buzzer had been drowned by hot-glue to avoid the wiring falling off by vibrations while playing.

Still the SDSV pads are (from my point of view) the sexiest pads ever designed and built. I foreseeably won’t change my mind

A day in the life of a vintage gear fetishist

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

You may think about Ebay whatever you want. But I assume that everyone of you has seen “this very special item” there which you have been searching for half of your life time. Well, in my case I found a set of Musicaid (!) SDSV pads, all obviously assembled by hand, the predecessors of the serial Simmons SDSV pads. In addition to this, a prototype made of solid wood and likely one of the legendary models which had been assembled for the catalogue pictures. Unfortunately the auction was pick-up-only in London, no shipping, but I was prepared to take this long trip but to combine it with a fast visit in St. Albans which was only 30 km north of my pick-up destination. But I had to win the auction first (no doubt about that….). During the endless 10 days till the auction end I sold my Roland PD-80 pads (who needs Roland…) in order to arm myself with some budget. 10 days later I really won that auction! Not really a bargain, but for a rarity like this it’s worth the money.

At once I started to organize the journey: How far is London? 700km? One way 9-10 hours, ferry included. No problem, deep inside I feel like a trucker 🙂

I made an appointment with the seller MJQ, a company trading with used studio gear in the north of London. The children needed a baby-sitter. My brother-in-law was kind enough to take them overnight. Thereafter I booked the ferry Dunkerque/Dover and back. And of course I needed 1 1/2 days off from work for my 24 hour trip. OK…waiting another 10 days…

*another 10 endless days later*

Today’s the day. My first target is Dunkerque/France. Take off is 6am in the morning. The ferry is about to leave at 12:00.

6 am. Ready to go. To be honest, this is a fake: I have positioned the apples because the snickers bars had already been eaten at that time…

12 am: waiting for the ferry Dunkerque-Dover

Best weather

3:30 pm: London. Travelling from Dover to the target street in London/Neasden took 1 1/2 hour, it took another 1 1 1/2 hour finding the exact place of the company in the same street. Thanks to the traffic jam! But finally after the seller directed me by the mobile phone, I arrived. Tired and desperately needing a rest room… In the main this day’s take found it’s way into my trunk.
I have to hurry up. The ferry won’t wait and I don’t know if I will get stuck in the traffic again on the way to St. Albans.

5 pm: St. Albans cathedral

Abbey Mill – production facility for the SDS5 and SDS6 from 1982-1984 (thumbnail is taken from “Complete Simmons Drum Book“)

“Ye Olde Fighting Cocks” – The pub where the staff had the after work beer (thumbnail is taken from “Complete Simmons Drum Book“)

Abbey Mill Lane street sign

6 pm: Hatfield Road 176 – Home of most Musicaid gear such as SDS3/4, early SDSV and the analog Clap Traps (thumbnail is taken from “Complete Simmons Drum Book“)

6:30 pm: The Alban Park production facility – SDS7/8/9/1000 and following had been produced right here. It is currently inhabited by a company calles “Best Import ltd.”

9 pm: waiting for the ferry in Dover

5:30 am: back home again with an SDSV prototype pad

…and a hex-shaped box with Musicaid logo. Good night…

PS: I already had the opportunity to open up one of these Musicaid pads, and they are totally different from any other SDSV pad. But this will definetely fill another post. Stay tuned!