Renovated, Late 1970’s Premier “Elite” Drum Kit – “Natural” Finish. Muting for practice

The “Elite” kit is a punchy so and so. A good satisfying bass thump, with a very musical resonance from the toms. There’s a vintage “woody” character to the, relatively open, sound, which complements the dry, scratchiness of the gut wires on the snare too. The die-cast Premier hoops, matched with the Remo CS batter heads, provide plenty of power, and the B20 Istanbul and Alchemy Agop cymbals certainly project, with everything from light pings to thunderous crashes possible. As a starter kit, and for practice – it’s more than adequate. As one who believes that a good sounding instrument, of any kind, will always provide positive feedback to encourage effective learning – I can already reproduce the kind of quality of sound I want, by learning to hit the various surfaces at the right spot, in the right way, and at the right time. That’s learning – that’s progress. However – there’s still a certain amount of self-conciousness which tempers all that. inevitable mistakes – when played loud – become hugely amplified, and clearly audible to everyone within earshot. Sometimes, a quick shout of “bollocks!” and a restart is enough – but if you’re attempting something particularly tricky, (and you should always strive, in learning, to practice the things you can’t already do), a fluff can come over so clearly and audibly, that it can make you cringe with embarrassment. getting over that self-conciousness is a big thing. I’m sort of used to it with electric guitars – besides you can always play acoustically, with headphones, or even with some kind of flattering effect – to ease things on the ear, whilst you work on your technique. With a drum kit however – that sort of thing really isn’t going to help. The kit is entirely acoustic in nature, and it’s already “self-amplified” – its’ purpose to “cut through” and project. Every mistake is immediately “out there”.

And, inevitably, there are neighbours to think about. Since the vast majority of my practice arrangements are domestically based these days – I’ve already sought to limit my audible “intrusiveness”, by setting up in the workshop. That removes me from the immediate living environment – but I’m going to have to make at least a token effort to reduce the volume further. These are the sort of neighbours who complain about falling leaves from trees, messing up their lawn. Welcome to curtain-twitching suburbia. Hard to believe that Ginger Baker lived only a mile or so down the road…

Evans SoundOff Bass Drum mute. – “Broken”… but fixable?

Most of the drums have in-built dampener mechanisms – but they only stop off a small amount of reverberation from the batter heads. They won’t stop the reso heads from doing what they do. I could stick the traditional pillow in the bass drum – that might soften the thud a little, but to get the reduction in volume I really require – I think I’m going to have to look at muting the kit with rubber practice pads. These – I know – work well with the toms, but the bass drum and cymbals can be difficult to restrain. Quite simply – they’re designed to project. How can you limit their effect, without entirely choking them? – and can you mute an entire kit equally, so that it still provides a reasonably cohesive range of acoustic sounds. I’ll still need to be able to hear, or feel, some convincing feedback from them.

Various manufacturers nowadays sell entire kits for the purpose – but these often comprise of particular-sized rubber pads which, more often than not, don’t exactly correspond to the actual combination you might require. My setup isn’t either “Rock” or “Fusion” – so rather than buy a (cheaper) kit with redundant bits I’ll never need – I may as well try to individually mute each drum in my setup, using what I think might be the most effective method. This might allow me to combine different products from different manufacturers. Of course, this “custom” approach can also, often, turn out to be the most expensive method – since savings are more likely to be found when purchasing “job lots”. I’ll need to start by looking at what’s available for the different sort of components of my kit. Bass drum – cymbals – drums.

After a fair bit of research – I was intrigued by the Evans “SoundOff” bass drum mute, (SOBASS). The mute is designed to clamp onto the batter head ring of the bass drum, and is supposed to “significantly” reduce the volume, by providing a sponge-cushioned pad, for the kick pedal to strike. Both heads of my bass are already dampened with felt strips – so much of the natural, resonant “ring” of the bass has already been slightly reduced. The effect of the mute seems to be to act further, by actually softening the blow of the beater against the head and then, leaving the dampening pad to stifle vibration. Simple physics. Does it work?…

There’s only one way to find out – and that’s to try one. But at anything between £50 and £70 a pop – that could prove to be an expensive experiment. Much better to buy a used one, if I can. Eventually, I come across a clean, new-looking, second-hand version, at a reasonable price. Unfortunately – I discover that the owner seems to have installed it without looking at the instructions. If you don’t mount the device correctly – the beater can strike the area where the metal cross bar abuts the dampening foam. This is all hidden behind a neoprene strike pad – but once the batter has hit the same point repeatedly – the neoprene pad splits along the join below. That’s what’s happened here. By the look of the rest of the device – it’s all happened fairly quickly, and there isn’t another mark anywhere on it. Just the torn strike pad…

I reckon I can fix that, and still have a bargain to try out…

“Broken” Evans SoundOff Bass Drum mute, with replacement neoprene strike pad

The mute arrives – still in its’ original box. The strike pad is ripped and torn, with a short, one inch split, corresponding exactly to the troublesome area between the foam and the metal crossbar. Setting the device so that the beater struck a couple of inches higher, and I doubt there would have been a problem at all, (although the strike pad itself does seem to be mounted rather low from the factory – offering a very narrow, “safe” strike zone. As it is – the pad is still only lightly attached to the foam, and is a bit ripped, where it has been glued to the metal bar. I think the previous owner has already “had a look” at the problem, and has detatched the pad slightly. Although the pad is still firmly attached to the metal cross bar – there are a couple of glue marks evident, where the pad was obviously once attached to the foam pad. Otherwise – everything else is in perfect condition. It’d be a waste to chuck the whole thing for the want of a slight tear.

Replacing the strike pad, seems the only sensible option. Since it’s already useless with the split in it – I can tear the whole thing off easily, without damaging anything else. A bit of the backing foam remains adhered to the metal cross piece – but that scrapes off with a sharp blade. It’s obvious that the crossbar itself, used to be glued and attached to the foam dampening pad – but that bond has been broken, and a couple more bits of dried glue indicate where the piece has to be reglued. I use a strong, solvent-based, contact adhesive, (suitable for use with neoprene foam), and reproduce the previous joins on both the metal, and foam pieces. The metal crossbar sits in a sort of trench across the foam pad. Once the adhesive has dried slightly on both the pad and the crossbar – the two are brought together, with the bar properly centred. I then leave everything for 24 hours – for the glue to properly go off.

You can’t buy actual replacement strike pads for the SOBASS from Evans, but they do make similar practice pads for a surprisingly large range of drum diameters – all the way down to 6″ in size. The original pad was square, and about 4 1/2 inches across. A 6″ circular pad will do just as good a job, and since I’m already buying a few other pads for the snare and toms – another 6″ pad on the order, won’t break the bank. Once the pads arrive, the 6″ pad is stuck down in place – the centre of the pad exactly where I want the beater to strike, which is just about in the centre of the semi-circular area of foam above the crossbar. Both sides of the join are coated with contact adhesive, which is allowed to dry-off for the allotted time. The two sides are then brought together, and pressed together under a light pressure from a suitable offcut of sheet plywood. It takes 24 hours for the solvent-based glue to fully “go off” – so the light pressure is maintained overnight.

Evans SoundOff Bass Drum mute – Attachment to beater hoop, and proper placement

Getting the mute to sit right, on this type of setup, isn’t difficult at all. The metal crossbar has extension inserts, which terminate with padded G-clamps. These tighten onto the beater hoop, although once in the correct place – the vertical positioning tends to be maintained almost by gravity alone. The extension arms and G-clamps themselves, are held even more securely in place, by tightening adjustment nuts. These are conveniently square-headed, and are adjustable using a regular drum key. The most important part of the positioning, is that the point of contact for the beater needs to be the centre of that strike pad – somewhat above the join with the crossbar. The beater has already been adjusted so that it strikes in the centre of the drum head. The strike point for the mute is positioned directly in front of that.

The effect is quite marked. The volume of the drum is definitely reduced, and the strike sound now has a slightly “boxy” character to the initial “thump”. It’s certainly useful in keeping the volume down to “acceptable” levels, but I’d reallly like to hear it in combination with the other muted elements of the kit. Since only the beater head is actually muted – I may be able to change the character of the muted sound slightly, by removing the dampening felt strip on the reso head, or by changing the tensioning.

One problem remains. Periodically – the dampening effect of the foam pad persists, but almost seems to vibrate off and on after each strike – resulting in a kind of low frequency buzz. (Perhaps “fart” is a better word for it). This only happens when the beater is allowed to rebound. If you “bury” the beater – there’s no “fart” at all. I don’t have any instructions with the thing, and tracking a copy down online is virtually impossible. However – I eventually discover that the kit ships with small felt pads – provided to space the mute foam slightly away from the beater head – specifically to prevent bounceback, and “buzz”. Seems like something was missing from the set after all. I have a few of those self-adhesive felt pads you use for sticking under furniture legs on hardwood floors. I always wondered what to do with the really small ones. I attach four to the back of the foam pad, in positions around the edge of the foam pad, and which keep the foam effectively spaced from the head. After re-attaching the device and testing – the buzz/fart has now completely gone.

Vic Firth cymbal mutes

Evans manufacture a range of cymbal mutes too – but their method of employ seems to be to wrap over the edges of the cymbals – almost like fitted, elastic sleeves. Consequently, they need to be properly sized. Unfortunately, they only seem to be available for a few different sizes of cymbal – and my 15″ hi-hats don’t seem to be covered. An alternative design of mute, by Vic Firth, uses keyhole shaped, neoprene rubber pads – exactly the same sort of stuff as normally used as practice pads on standard drum heads – to dampen portions of the cymbal. The pads hang against the body of the cymbals, where they prevent vibration from persisting, and also act as direct cushions for strikes to the cymbal, and to the bell.

The Vic Firth method is much more straightforward and simple. The pads seem to be pretty much “one size fits all” – (although a slightly wider variation is available – apparently for use with hi-hats). The main sound reduction comes from dampening off the “ring” and “crash” from any cymbal. A stick strike on the pad is reduced to a slightly pitched “tok”, with no reverberation. A strike to the metal of the cymbal, off the pad, results in a more metallic sound as you’d expect, however all reverberation and “ring” is dampened off again. The pads’ position on my 20″ ride allows for a normal strike on the metallic edge, and the volume of this is still quite loud – although the sound does not persist at all. It’s good for keeping time technically – but the “character” of the ride cymbal is somewhat lost. With the smaller, 17″ crash – the pad sits much closer to the edge. Again – the pad does its’ job of keeping the volume down. However, with no vibration – there really isn’t any characteristic “crash” or “sizzle”. There’s just the same options to make the resultant “tok” either “metallic-sounding”, with strikes off the pad, or “softer”, (and somewhat lacking in any real character at all), on the pad.

In reducing the volume of the cymbals – there’s a real trade-off here, but I suppose that’s inevitable. The only sure-fire way of cutting down a cymbals’ sound, is by reducing the vibration of the metal. Any dampening pad is bound to choke the life out of a cymbal, and the sound produced, literally can’t be anything else. As volume-reduction devices – the Vic Firth pads work just fine – although I doubt I’ll be able to investigate all of the subtlties of cymbal control, with them installed. Fortunately, they un-install just as quickly as they install. They’re a straightforward, on / off option. The other advantage of pads like these are that they’re relatively cheap. I purchased a “second-hand” “unboxed” set online, and saved myself a bit more cash. Four pads in the set: three “narrower” keyholes for regular cymbals, with one wider – apparently for the hi-hats.

Vic Firth cymbal mutes – Muting the hi-hats

Muting the hi-hats doesn’t work out as intuitively as the simple keyhole design might imply. I presume the pad is supposed to be hung above the top cymbal – just as with the ride and crash. But what about the bottom hat? The “universal” Vic Firth cymbal mute attaches to the top hat, by incorporating it within the clutch mechanism so that it drapes over the top. This dampens any percussive stick strikes – although the pad can also, again, be positioned so that the player has a choice of either hitting the rubber pad, or the metal of the cymbal. This allows a bit more “chack” for percussive “counting” strokes, but without the volume of any reverberation. So far – so similar to the pads on the crash and ride.

Vic Firth cymbal mutes – Muting the hi-hats

However – the usual “splash” of the top hat hitting the bottom, and any “flare” vibration between the two, is left to ring out undimmed, whenever the foot pedal is even slightly lifted. Additionally, the weight of the pad on the top hat drags the cymbal down, and affects it’s angular relationship with the bottom hat – so the angle adjustment screw, and the clutch position, need to be carefully adjusted, until the function “sort of” works the way it’s supposed to. Even then – it’s still not really completely functional. Only the top hat is muted. The usual “counting” strikes are certainly muffled – but once the muted top hat is lifted even slightly – the unmuted lower hat sounds out, and is completely out of balance with the rest of the kit. The only way I can get the hi-hats to sound consistent, and perform something like they’re supposed to – is to install the spare cymbal pad on the lower hat, between the two, and then fit the muted top hat, over the top. It takes a bit of experimentation to position the botttom pad so that there’s still a bit of a muted “splash” with the pedal – but eventually – it sort of works. It’s not great, but again – it’ll do a job for practice. The only main downside with the arrangement like this – is that the mutes take longer to take off the hi-hats, and the whole positioning and balance of the cymbals will need to be re-established, whenever I want to “un-mute” the kit. With the hi-hats, it’s not a straightforward on / off.

Evans “SoundOff” drum mutes

With the idiosyncratic and, somewhat problematic bass drum and hi-hats somewhat taken care of – all I now have to do, is drape correctly-sized drum mutes over the drum heads. I’m using a set of Evans “SoundOff” mutes. VicFirth do make similar pads, as do some other, lesser well-known brands – but I obtained these when I got the replacement 6″ pad for the bass mute repair – so Evans it is, here. An Evans “standard” mute pack includes pads for 10″ 12″, 14″ and 16″ drums, and although I’ll have redundant 10″ and 12″ pads initially – I’ll have them to hand if I ever decide to expand the kit that way. All I need for the moment, is an additional 14″ for the snare. (I could use a traditional, wood-backed snare practice pad over the top – but it makes more sense to replicate what I’m doing with the other drums). Buying specific kits is probably slightly cheaper than buying individual mutes – so I suppose, after buying these online, and combining a kit with a few, loose items – it probably works out that I’ve essentially got the 10″ and 12″ (and the additional 6″), pads “free”.

The pads are made out of a sturdy neoprene, and Evans pads are supposedly free from a characteristic “solvent” smell from the rubber – sometimes noted with some other manufacturer’s product lines. The pads are each about 5mm thick, and they’re exactly sized so that they just fit inside the hoops. There’s still just enough rim of each hoop exposed to play rimshots – but you have to work a bit harder to find the right angle. With that as the only proviso – the pads offer a simple, yet effective reduction in volume. Evans say it’s about 95%. It may well be – although it’s difficult to tell exactly. Stick rebound is slowed a bit, and altogether – the drums perhaps feel a little “mushy” – but you quickly get used to it. There’s still enough spring from the heads below to help you judge your rolls properly, and eventually the whole experience feels quite “elastic”.

Since the drums still all have un-damped reso heads – there remains a distinct sound from each drum, and the character of each tom is preserved to some extent. The snare batter is dampened, but the crunch from the gut snares on the un-muted reso, comes through quite clearly. Throw the snares off, and the snare becomes another, quite acceptable, 14″ tom – although the actual 14″ rack tom, with it’s greater depth and more “tuned” reso head, sounds much sweeter and typically “tom” like. The 16″ sounds great. Much of the volume and projection from the strike is dampened – but some of the ringing character is still preserved, (the missing 5% perhaps from the “95%” reduction), although not so, much of the physical “rumble”. (That said – I really love the “sackier” sound of this floor tom, in “practice” mode. I’d even consider miking it up, and artificially amplifying it for recording, if I could get other drums to easily match with it). The pitched “notes” from both toms still project quite well – so altogether, with bass drum and cymbals dealt with slightly more specifically – the different components of the kit do seem to offer a limited but reasonably cohesive range of sounds, which approximates the natural sound of the kit. Altogether – it’s certainly something I can work with for now, although it might be wise to still arrange at least some practice with the mutes off. It’s only that way that I’m likely to attune to the real character of the kit.

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