first question might be, “What the heck is Michael
Render doing writing for Not So Modern Drummer?
Isn't he that electronic drum guy? Isn't that the height of
modernity?” I can imagine the disdain in your voice. I
can also predict that visceral, gut reaction many acoustic drummers
have for electronic drums; they are not real drum, they don't
sound or play like acoustic drums., they are toys. While I am
not here to convince you to run out and start playing electronic
drums, I am going to make the case that they have played an
important part in the history of drumming and some even deserve
the designation of vintage.
I make my case I need a few working definitions. What do we
mean by electronic drums and what do we mean by vintage?
The first is easy. An electronic drum is a device that is struck
with a stick or hand and produces sound electronically. It is
meant to be played in real-time by a drummer. That means drum
machines and sequencers don't count. Although we could discuss
at great length how devices like the Roland TR-808 and the Linn
LM-1 changed the face of percussion, they are not drums. They
are drum machines. A subtle but important distinction.
Now how about vintage? There's a can of worms that I do not
want to open, metaphorically speaking. But I need a definition
that doesn't have anything to do with grape or wine analogies.
I like “an object, no longer in production, that has aesthetic
or historical significance.” It is simple and concise
and the people (and you know who you are) who collect those
crappy “vintage” Japanese drums from the 70s and
80s can't complain. I am also going to arbitrarily set a 25
year limit. That way I can't claim my first generation iPod
as vintage, regardless of what it says in my eBay listing.
The first use of electronic drums is arguably on the Moody Blues
1971 song, “Procession” from the album Every Good
Boy Deserves Favor. Graeme Edge used a very innovative and fragile
custom drum synth that he created with Sussex University Professor,
Brian Groves. It was a tangle of wires and transistors and worked
only sporadically. No commercial product ever came from it.
1973, Moog Music, Inc. released a drum controller for
the Moog modular synth. It's official designation was
the 1130, but was also called the Moog Percussion Cointroller
or simply the Moog Drum. It had two control voltage outputs,
one for volume and one for pitch.
could plug it into one of those enormous Moog systems
that had patch cables running every which way and have
it control sounds. The 1130 was meant to be an alternative
to a keyboard and not a dedicated electronic drum, so
we will not consider it for inclusion at this time.
wasn't until 1976 that Pollard Industries released the
first commercial electronic drum, the Syndrum.
It immediately attracted the attention of many famous
players like Carmen Appice (who appeared in their ads),
Terry Bozzio and, of course, Graeme Edge.
not a financial success for Pollard Industries, the
Syndrum did introduce the world to the sweeping “doooooom”
sound that was to become a classic signature of electronic
drums. That sound was soon to be heard on many recordings,
from Linda Ronstadt's “Poor Pitiful Me”
to Gerry Rafferty's “Baker Street” to The
Car's “My Best Friend's Girlfriend.”
Syndrum consisted of a sound module and one or more
external drum pads with