Archive for the ‘Brains’ Category

A dignified evening of life (part 3)

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Remember the rusty scrap heap a few months ago?

Probably it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get one of the seldom early Musicaid versions of SDSV with a very low serial number. In my case #78. Although the frame was in an awful condition I was quite confident to revive it. Luckily there was no serious defect. At least nothing that could not be fixed by my own unexperienced hands. And today was that day when the LEDs shined again.

The fuse socket was broken. I had to remove it anyway. In order to test the board I bridged that socket and replaced it later.


on the backside of the board a soldering point came of.


The power LED was broken and needed to be replaced


Finally everything’s there and ready to test: The unit powers up, a test modul receives the trigger voltage


the marriage: The electronics go back into the chassis.


the screws are tightened….


assembling the front panel again. all new knobs and knob caps


a final test. Everything works properly. The only issue is that due to the thick layer of antirust protection the metal cover does not fit over the chassis anymore. Probably an opoortunity to get a custom cover? Made of stainless steel? Brushed aluminium? … First I’ll find some moduls to fill the gaps 🙂

SDSV prototype

Monday, September 20th, 2010

Richard James Burgess, world famous producer of many successfull New Romantic acts in the 80s, musician, educator, writer, etc…etc… (too much to mention) was so kind to open his treasure house for Thanks for sharing!

Richard was a friend of Dave Simmons and drummer of the 80s band “Landscape“. He was involved in the very early development of SDSV and still possesses the very first development prototype.

RJB: “Here are some pics I took of the prototype SDSV that I used for Landscape’s From the Tearooms of Mars… album and for Shock’s Angel Face and R.E.R.B. tracks. After those I used one of the early production models that came out of Musicaid that I have included some pictures of. I had several of those so this is not the earliest one but we kept improving upon it as I made more records with it.

The pale blue triangle is the first pad that was made – it has the riot shield surface and, as you can see is just two pieces of particle (or chip) board screwed together. the center hole on the back was for the stand and there is a jack for the trigger out to the brain.

The following pictures come from the private collection of Richard James Burgess.

A Trigger To Midi device: Megadrum

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

Every generation of electronic drums claimed to be a final substitution for acoustic drums. That was the same in 1980 as well as today and in the future. The difference between 1980 and today: 30 years. 30 years are 1000 years in computer ages. I would have expected a breakthrough in sound but there wasn’t. There had been a handful of milestones in hardware development: Positional sensing ZI (Simmons SDX), mesh head pads.

Toontrack’s Superior, XLN’s Addictive drums, NI’s Abbey Road drum libraries, BFD etc: They all did a great job producing real sounding drum libraries. Much more realistic than any Roland or Yamaha device, even the ultra expensive TD-20 or DT XTreme. But how can I trigger these libraries without noticeable latency? Where is the link between advanced mesh pads and the software? Essential components is fast computer hardware and fast D/A converters for audio out. Last but not least: The midi interface. People who already own advanced Roland Hardware like TD-9/12/20 will be disappointed about already 4ms of only midi latency! Much less is possible…

Associated to this question I found the megadrum project. The developer Dimitri reminds me of the young Dave Simmons: Having an idea and forming this idea into a product. Megadrum is an open source hardware project. Plans and documentation are free of charge. If you cannot solder it yourself, you can buy the ready assembled device. Of course without any warranty and not in a shiny and nicely designed chassis, but fully functional. It features optionally 32 inputs (16 stereo) or up to 56 inputs. After I wasn’t happy with the latency of my Alesis Trigger I/O I assumed the risk and ordered the 32 input megadrum. It arrived a couple of days later, unfortunately with one knob broken of. Dimitri, the developper was helpful enough to take care about sending spare parts. Well, the price of open source… Finally, about 14 days later I had a working unit.

A rather old school display. the electronics built into the cheapest box (no) money can buy. Far away from being road proven. But as I sayed: It is a project and not a commercial item so I shouldn’t be that strict. All prgrammings need to be done with only two rotary encoders, controlled through a two row 16 character display. Torture…. Fortunately the operation of megadrum is well (online) documented, so it only took 2 months to programm a kit with reasonable dynamics instead of years 🙂 . But it was worth every second I spent with it. It is by far the fastest trigger to midi converter I have ever worked with. Fast in the sense of “I can’t notice any latency if I use appropriate audio hardware”. It supports nearly all features of “big” electronic drum systems such as cymbal choking, snare postional sensing, intermediate HiHat states, drum maps, several dynamic curves (for each drum), custom dynamic curves etc… . It has enough inputs even for a huge double bassdrum kit. It receives it’s power from USB. First time it is fun to play VST instruments with pads. I wouldn’t dare to put this particular megadrum device on stage, but if the electronics are embedded in a solid metal box, I would. For studio purposes it is already my first choice

Photo shooting (Part 2)

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Part 2 of the great day in the photo atelier. Please note that these snapshots as well as the ones in my former post are only taken with my cheap 70 Euro camera. The high resolution pictures, taken by the actual photographer, will follow somewhere in the future. These will be definetely even much better.

These snapshots are supposed to replace some very old pictures on my site.

Virtual SDS

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Although unexpectedly many SDSV brains and pads appeared on Ebay, I am sure that not everyone who has been desperately looking for an SDSV could get his personal instance. Anyway here is a virtual substitude:

This “unit” can be purchased at as a scalable polygon file. Probably this can be combined with a virtual SDSV sound library in the near future?

Claptrap Mania

Friday, March 5th, 2010

It’s done. I have completed my collection of Claptraps. And to be honest: Until probably two years ago I did not even know that there had been more than the famous digital Claptrap from 1984. Yes! The first Claptrap was analog and it was a Musicaid device, built approximately 1979/80, likely assembled by Dave Simmons himself, followed by the analog Simmons Claptrap (technically the same as the Musicaid but with a humanizer function and a slightly different case) and completed in 1984 by the digital version: the “Simmons Digital Claptrap”, one of Simmons’ most important “bread and butter” products. In fact it was called “digital” because it carries the basic sound on an 8 bit Eprom but this sound is processed by a chain of analog Simmons filters. I am looking forward to provide some sounds of all three devices soon

For whatever reason the two analog versions found their way to Simmonsmuseum much quicker than the Digital version did. I saw dozends of Digital Claptraps passing by on Ebay but I was never willing to pay lots of money for a device in poor condition.Llast week i was lucky

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

Simmons still good enough for chart productions

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

Did the Simmons sounds become silent after the company collapsed in 1995? No, they didn’t. Ronnie Vannucci, drummer of the chart breaking US rock band The Killers just stated in an interview that the drum sound on their hit single “Human” is a result of mixing his natural drum sounds with the output of a vintage analog Simmons SDSV console.

Good choice, Ronnie! You really picked my favourite for this purpose…

Suitcase kit and Musicaid SDSV

Friday, October 9th, 2009

Yesterday I got an email by Earl Harvin, professional drummer. One of his last projects was the latest Pet Shop Boys album “Fundamental”. He sent some pictures of his suitcase kit and a very early SDSV brain given to him by Lol Creme (10CC, Godley and Creme):

Suitcase kit

Some facts and tales about the suitcase:
Dave Simmons only built around 15 suitcases, all by hand! I have seen some with Alumium edges and some in black plastic suitcases (like my one). The black suitcases are said to come from a local angler requirements store, but this is not proved. The suitcase got pretty well known by the band Saga who integrated the suitcase into a famous drum solo/drum battle between Michael Sadler (singer/suitcase) and Steve Negus (drums)

Musicaid SDSV
The first SDSV kits had been produced even before “Simmons Electronic Drums” had actually been founded. The early SDSVs do not only show the “Musicaid” logo on the back side as well as on every module, they also have red pushbuttons (instead of black ones) to switch the sounds:

Musicaid SDSV

Musicaid SDSV

The old Musicaid company got bankrupt in 1981 (although the sales showed an amazing positive tendency) but after a short production break “Simmons Electronic Drums” has been founded and the SDSV became very famous.

Just another white SDSV

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

Sometimes it is really hard to resist. For me this is the case when I am offered an SDSV at a reasonable price. This time I more or less fell over a 5-piece SDSV (standard BD, SN, 3xTT) with 4 small and one bassdrum pad in pure white. And yes, my inner voice forced me to take it. As my Simmons buddy Michael only lived 13km away from the seller I took the opportunity today to pick up the drum set and visit Michael for a cup of coffee afterwards. Michael, who is at least the best Simmons tech that I know, could not resist to take a look inside my new baby because channel four and one tom card did not work properly.
By the way he also demonstrated the next level of his SDS3 clone (sometime Michael causes me anxiety…).
Before I left, he asked me “how many white SDSV kits do you have now?”. “Three” (plus two red, one black and one blue). Still I believe the SDSV is the sexiest electronic drum system ever built. That’s why I already know that whenever I will fall over the next one for sale, I will take it.