Archive for the ‘Stories and Gossip’ Category

A Simmons SDSV for the National Museum of Music Research in Berlin

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

“Why on earth do you collect old electronic drums?” At some point I stopped counting how often I was asked this question. But probably the following story is a part of the answer.

May 2015. A scientific assistant of the National Museum of Music Research in Berlin contacted me. He explained that his institute is running a musical instruments museum. They were planning a special exhibition about the history of electronic musical instruments and if I would be willing to provide a Simmons exhibit. Of course I was! Presenting Simmons gear is always better than storing it until the end of days. But nothing hapened until 3 weeks ago. He contected me again and we negotiated the conditions. He was interested in an SDSV and I preferred to bring it by car (600km) rather than unromantically sending it with a carrier. Although the exhibition is from March to June, the institute needed the exhibits at the end of November in order to make the catalogue in time. Last week I jumped into my car with a blue SDSV with brain and cymbal pad plus my Suitcase Kit and headed for Berlin. Incidantally at the same time there was another SDSV for sale in Berlin. I took the opportunity to bring one kit to the museum but also to bring a new kit back home. However… I had the chance to visit the museum. It was very cool! Musical instruments representing all centuries. Musical instruments I have never heard of. Very impressing. If you happen to be in the Berlin area between March 25th and June 25th: Visit the special exhibition “Good Vibrations – A story about electronic musical instruments”

Early in the morning… Don’t make appointments at noon if you have 600km to go

At least not much traffic at that time

12:30. We are about to land soon

First stop in Berlin: Appointment with the seller of a white SDSV pad set. To be honest: A friend of mine asked me NOT to buy those pads and leave them for him. I agreed. He had been waiting for years to find a pad set for his brain. A round of allpause for my modesty, please…

There is still some time until I meet the guy from the museum. Time to discover some essential buildings

Finally! The hall of fame!

After we brought the gear inside I explained hw to set up the kit right

Inside the box on the left there’s a Mini Moog. The exhibition will include around 70 exhibits

I am invited to visit the museum. It is much much bigger than I thought. It shows classical instruments from the 17th century as well as contemporary gear. But the focus is on classical instruments. My favourite exhibit is a “Trautonium”, a predecessor of the synthsizer

This is the space for the special exhibition. In some special events some of the gear will be explained and played

The craziest musical instrument I have ever seen. The organ is only the controller of a hall full of instruments like percussion, snares, timpanies, chromatic percussion, organ pipes… all triggered by compressed air.

I counted more than 20 harpsichords. All vintage and all restored in the institutes own workshop

I really recommend this museum if you are interested in music. I will come and visit my SDSV in March or April (Will it still recognize me?) and of course I will pick it up in June.


Tuesday, November 8th, 2016

When I launched the site it was more a playground for programming while I was studying. My tutor gave me some piece of PC hardware and said “we need a webserver for our project documentations”. So I set up a webserver, installed it in our universty network and launched a pre version of the Simmons site beside several more sites of my projct group. I never thought that anybody would care about Simmons drums almost 30 years after thye bekame more or less outdated. So I programmed some games for this site: Memory and minesweeper (I called it hexsweeper). While Memory is still online , the code of hexsweeper got lost for some reason. However… hope I find it some day

Likely the first SDSV review ever…

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

Seb Shelton, former drummer of Dexy’s Midnight Runners and editor of the magazine “Sounds” kindly provided a copy of a review he made for the January 1981 issue. The picture shows the “batwing kit”  which had been exhibited at a music trade show in London in early 1981 together with a set of heart shaped pads and a set of … hexagonal shaped pads.

Bat shaped Simmons pads (late 1980)

Original review:

DRUM SYNTHS currently on the market provide, to my mind, interesting, expensive additions to acoustic drum kits but little else. Now for something completely different!
The SDS V Modular Drum Synthesiser is capable of producing synthesised percussion sounds and acoustic drum sounds ranging from Rototoms through to standard rack toms, timpani, bass drums and snare drums. Difficult to believe isn’t it? However, after spending two afternoons pawing the set-up, I believe that these could adequately replace standard acoustic drums for most studios and live work.
A prototype SDS V was first shown to the unsuspecting public a few months back at the British trade show and was the result of over two years’ work by Dave Simmons who had previously designed Britain’s first indiginous production drum synth. By the time you read this a six-piece production version of the SDS V will be available as well as limitless custom variations, ranging from one module (drum) upwards in any shape, size and colour.
The basic idea for the set-up is simple. Electronic modules have been specifically designed to reproduce sounds created by a single item from a standard drum kit (ie snare, bass drum etc) and are linked up to a touch-sensitive pad. The shape and size of the pads is obviously immaterial as it is the modules which are responsible for the sound. Of course, the real technology comes in incorporating the controls needed to simulate the performance of acoustic drums. Thus the SDS V has ‘hiss pitch’, ‘tone pitch’, ‘bend’, ‘decay’, ‘balance’ and ‘click balance’ features.
These terms are pretty self-explanatory so suffice it to say that with a bit of knob twiddling I got some ‘acoustic’ drum sounds which really shocked me, not to mention the normal range of typical electronic percussion hisses, pings, whoops and cracks. This was all achieved with standard controls and the aid of a battered old mixer/amp through an equally battered old bass bin and horn unit.
What is exciting about this outfit is the prospect of linking it up to a sophisticated studio or live mixing desk. In this situation each drum sound could be refined to a much greater degree, and all of the ‘effects’ which can so easily be applied to other electronic instruments — echo, flanging, phasing etc — added to your electronically produced acoustic drum sounds.
The proposed production model consists of five identical 11 inch hexagonal pads acting as hi-hat, snare drum and three rack toms, plus a 22 inch hexagonal pad for the bass drum. Each pad consists of a black or white perspex playing surface backed by about two inches of hardwood. The edge of the perspex is protected by a metal rim and each pad is connected to its respective module by Cannon connectors. The six modules are fitted together into a 19 inch rack complete with power supply. Finally the pads are mounded into a playing position via two of the excellent Pearl Variset series of floor stands. There’s little else to comment on in the hardware department other than the huge spurs on the bass ‘drum’ which make it immovable when playing.
Sensibly no bass drum pedal is supplied with the kit; the bass drum pad is of course designed to be triggered with a pedal but because it’s touch sensitive it could equally be triggered with a stick, which opens up a whole new set of playing possibilities.
For example rolls could be played on the bass drum using sticks getting the same kind of power and sound as if playing them with a pedal, but without the legwork. Alternatively a combination of stick and pedal could be used, or the bass drum module could even be plugged into the snare pad and triggered that way. Magical, huh?
The hi-hat is again a pad but this time a pedal is supplied and it works like a volume pedal. When playing with the pedal depressed the sound from the pad/module is the ‘tick-tick’ of a closed hi-hat, and with pedal ‘open’ it’s the sizzle of a part opened hi-hat. It can also be played with the foot like a normal hi-hat.
Of all the modules this was the most difficult to get a good, natural, quality sound from. In the basic playing position it lacked some of the bite of a good pair of cymbals and there was no bell sound available. However, an acceptable sound can be produced.
The rack’s control panel has, in addition to the six knee of knobs, a square of four push-buttons which control the four memories of the system. The top left hand button calls up a preset sound for each of the pads but the remaining three are free and can be programmed according to the player’s requirements. Thus at the push of a button four different sounds are available far each pad. So in effect there’s a possible 20 drums and four hi-hats in front of you when the memories are programmed. Obviously this is not quite as effective as having all those drums and cymbals physically there because you have to push buttons to ‘create’ them, but from a collection of little pads it’s not bad!
So far, so good, but a couple of obvious queries need to be cleared up. Rimshots for instance. When the outer metal rim of the pad is struck simultaneously with the pad, there is a change in tone and increase in volume as with a standard drum. But to achieve the higher-pitched type of rim shot used a lot in reggae and ballads, one needs to employ one of the memories and create that sound electronically.
Another point. At first I thought devotees of the finer drum skills such as brushwork might be at a loss with the smooth perspex pads but the answer is simple — fit a rough surface to the pads.
Undoubtedly there’ll be a few raised eyebrows and the claims made for the SDS V that it can replace acoustic drums in modern music will be disputed. Two thousand years of tradition are, after all, quite an obstacle. However, providing it stands up to the rigours of eye work, the advantages are too overwhelming to ignore. Obviously the different response of a hard playing surface is something to get used to but I find the perspex a positive advantage. On acoustic drums it’s visually impossible to apply many sticking patterns if the heads are tuned down, but this problem doesn’t exist with the SDS V.
Also as there are no conventional heads there are no worries about detuning during playing, unwanted snare buzzes or general overtones.
Consider too, apart from needing no microphones, the advantages of being able to increase drum volume via the ‘drum stack’. No doubt other advantages will become apparent with time (and perhaps drawbacks too) but all I have to add at present for the doubtful among you drummers is: remember those who thought the electric guitar would never catch on. Where are they now?

Baroque meets future

Sunday, March 25th, 2012

Today my father gave me this original James Last vinyl record from 1985: “Aren’t these the drums you are interested in, son?” “Indeed!” I put the record on the player but too bad all drums had been acoustic. So the pads had been chosen for a particular purpose: the contrast between old and modern. This record cover (which provoked a constant grin in my face) is a perfect proof that in 1985 Simmons must have been the synonym for technology and future. I wonder why they showed 3 SDSV pads on the front cover but a white SDS8 on he back?

Mission SDS4

Monday, March 19th, 2012

Since I’ve been started my collection in 2003 I have missed half a dozen opportunities to get an SDS4. They were too expensive, too far away or both. When I recently noticed a pick-up only auction ending on an early Friday afternoon I scented my chance. I checked my war chest, prepared for a one-day ride to Hastings, south England. I calculated the travel costs and set my limit. And I was lucky! I think it was a real bargain if you know how much had been paid for this particular unit before and that this is one of about 100 units ever built by Dave Simmons himself. And the SDS4 closed the last gap in my Musicaid product portfolio.


still dark in Germany
still dark in Germany

must be the right way
must be the right way

Eurotunnel terminal
Eurotunnel terminal


after 400km
after 400km

it's dark inside the tunnel
it’s dark inside the tunnel


God save the Queen!
God save the Queen!

11am GET - arrival in Hastings
11am GET – arrival in Hastings

right before the big moment
right before the big moment

here we are....
here we are

And the winner is….

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Thanks to David Levine for providing those two rare Grammy ads from Simmons Group Centre:

Dave Levine worked for Simmons Group Centre for several years as the Advertising / Promotional Director. He was responsible for many of the Ads they produced themselves for Modern Drummer Magazine, Musician Magazine, et al. I am looking forward to (hopefully) meet him at this year’s booth in Frankfurt


Monday, October 24th, 2011

There are some events to celebrate: 30 years ago, at the beginning of 1981, Dave Simmons built (Musicaid) SDSV #1. Later, at the end of 1981, Simmons Electronic Drums Ltd. was founded. My way to say “Happy Birthday, Simmons”:

Next step would be a chromatic “Simmophone”?

Pilgrim’s journey to England

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

If I’d say I have never been interested in meeting Dave Simmons, I would have lied. I didn’t take much effort contacting him though. However I did not refuse to contact him last year in association with the production of AD Reelmachines. Finally, after 8 years of collecting, we met personally at his house in England for an interview which is supposed to be published in a German drum magazine soon. I thought he felt quite blandished that there are still a couple of freaks who keep his gear at the surface of awareness. Furthermore he is still (or again) following the e-drum development with much interest.

It wasn’t very hard to convince my wife of this trip: “Darling. you wanna go shopping in London?” So I organized a nice 3 day trip:

  • Thursday: Travelling to Kings Lynn/Norfolk
  • Friday: Shopping in Kings Lynn, in the evening seeing Howard Jones performing on the Market Place, between soundcheck and concert: interview with Jonathan Atkinson, his drummer (Jonathan is actually the guy who’s taking two of my SDS9 pads on tour with Howard)
  • Saturday: Trip to London. Shopping, shopping, shopping, dropping wife at the Airport at the early evening
  • Sunday: Trip to Dave Simmons’ house

As usual the weather in England is perfect whenever I go there. A Howard Jones fan asked me to move there. The 800km are done in short 12 hours drive. In the early evening we arrived as Ramada Kings Lynn, a nice and very British hotel with great (and heavy) english breakfast. The next morning we went shopping downtown and I was abused as a living hallstand. I had to carry up to 25 pieces peak and I was glad when my wife asked me to bring her back to the hotel. Then I went back to the Market place where Jonathan was already setting up his eletronic drum kit: Today he used his own DDrum4 as a midi frontend (on tour he often uses a borrowed TD-20, but only for midi) triggering an ESX24 software sampler in his Mac Book. The samples are the original percussion sounds taken from Howard’s 2 inch tapes from the 80s. Funny enough that the original sequences are now played by a live drummer! Jonathan invited me to a local pub and we did a nice interview which will also be published later this year.
After the soundcheck I picked up my wife, we had lunch and enjoyed another concert by synthesizer legend Howard Jones afterwards.

Saturday. Again english breakfast. All diet efforts of the last 5 years for nothing. We are leaving for London. To my wife’s fret Oxford Street is devided by the currently running anual CSD parade 😛 It takes endless 30 minutes to “cross the street” through the underground and cross the street.

Again my destiny is to play the living hallstand… I can still feel the muscular soreness from yesterday. After this hard shopping day I bring my happy wife to the airport. For the last night I will stay on my own in a picturesque B&B near Stansted.

The next morning the sheep on the neighbouring meadow woke me up … at 4:45am. I use that time and start writing down the recording of Jonathan’s interview until breakfast is ready. Another cloudless sunny day.

At 8am I am leaving for Dave Simmons 300 year old farm. What a nice place! Master Dave is already waiting at the car park smiling (no, I wasn’t late). Beside the main house the farm features several barns which are partly developed. First I get a guided tour. Dave shows me the original workbenches where the last products of “Simmons Digital Music” had been manufactured until 1999.

Somewhere in the garden there’s a freight container with all remaining documents and parts from the Simmons era: circuit diagrams, endorsee correspondance and stuff like that. All on the way to rot…

Dave is showing me his small airplane which he built himself. “Where did you get all that knowledge from to built an airplane?”. He responds “I got myself a book” with a self-confident smile. What a guy…

We are doing the interview in the garden. We are talking about the beginning, Musicaid, how it was like to develop electronics at that time. What happened to the early prototypes; We are talking about endorsee policy, the rise and fall of Simmons Eletronic drums, the SDX and it’s huge number of innovations which have not been adopted in today’s electronic drum systems for whatever reason. We talk about Guitarcenter and Dave’s visions and plans.

Time runs much too fast… At the end I think we were both happy that we met. Dave Simmons is a very friendly, open minded gentleman genius. A short but intensive trip to England has ended much too early. I feel assured that my strange hobby is the best soeone can have 🙂

To be continued…

Musicaid SDSV

Monday, June 6th, 2011

Last week a guitar player told me about the unique opportunity to buy a Fender Stratocaster from the Pre-CBS area for a “tip amount” of only €3000-5000. That reminded me of the fact that the Simmons history was devided into the Musicaid- and the Simmons Electronics epoch. OK, probably this comparison is misleading, but still there are parallel aspects. I got my first (complete and mint) SDSV produced as Musicaid. There are some obvious differences (I have not opened it yet so there will be likely some more inside, specially concerning the modules):

  • The outer cover is made of imitation leather instead of bended sheet metal
  • The inner frame is not yet zinc-coated. That might lead to major rust occurence depending on the storage environment
  • The frame is slightly bigger so a sheet metal cover from a later device would not fit over a Musicaid SDSV frame
  • The knobs used for the modules and mixer section are a bit bigger and different to later SDSV devices
  • no rubber feat on the bottom for desktop use
  • the panels show “Musicaid EP” instead of “Simmons”
  • The pushbuttons are red instead of black

From the Complete Simmons Drum Book by Bob Henrit: “… At roughly the same time that Simmons products were becoming a force to be reckoned with, disaster struck. In November 1981 the Musicaid company collapsed. They were desperate for some development money so that SDS.5 could be produced in significant quantity, but were unable to raise the necessary funds from an associate investment company who already had a financial interest. The company was burdened with unwasted general music stock and eventually went into voluntary liquidation. Musicaid could have been saved for as little as £20.000 – a minute sum to secure the future of such a world-beating product, however at that time it was impossible to raise. They still had faith and hope, but precious little charity!
Dave Simmons understandably looks upon this time as being the most traumatic of his life. His workforce were on the dole and had a very lean Christmas at the end of 1981, and he not only had to deal with irate creditors, he had to try to sort out the future too. He was certain that SDS.5 was a world-beating product, but in the light of Musicaid’s demise, he not surprisingly found it extremely difficult to persuade people to invest in it. His only hope was his personal bank. Ultimately it was his wife Kirsty who was able to persuade the bankers to part with the £10.000 necessary to start a completely new comapny and go ahead with production. A company called ‘Clipfinch’ was bought ‘of the shelf’ for £100, and once things began to tick over nicely its name was duly changed to Simmons Electronics. …

Particularly this device was a guest of my museum in 2010 when the former owner asked me for an expertise. It had been originally delivered with the wooden pads I wrote about last year. At that time I changed a set of pure white and mint SDSV pads for these wooden collectibles. He wanted to keep the brain (or sell it for more money I was willing to give…) and recently sold it for no less than €1500. The buyer was desperately looking for an SDSV for years. He tried it with Roland mesh head pads but soon found out that the brain demands sharp trigger pulses from rock hard SDSV pads in order to avoid destorted sounds. So we made the deal that he gets one of my newer Simmons SDSV, 5 module standard version, with a higher serial number (#502), complete with pads, sands and cables and I get the Musicaid SDSV in mint condition. A good deal for both parties as far as I can estimate. What do we learn? Finally Simmons gear end up in my house…

When worlds collide

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

It was back in September 1987. Johnny Cash played a show in Rotterdam/Netherlands and I had the pleasure to be part of the audience. After the show we met the band at a local hotel and I handed one of my white SDS9 pads to John’s drummer D.S. Holland for an autograph. Normally he played a Rogers which appeared as old as he was, so he asked me what that was? I explained that this was an electronic drum pad which would be used in many contemporary music productions. He turned up his nose at this strange kind of gear but of course I got my autograph and I got a smile from the band. Unfortunately I don’t have this pad anymore. If I would have known that I would collect “these strange drums” one day, of course I would have kept it. However a nice memory and Johnny Cash was one of the most impressive performers ever.