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An Illustrated Guide to Prog Rock Instruments (new

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HackettFan View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Quote HackettFan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: An Illustrated Guide to Prog Rock Instruments (new
    Posted: Yesterday at 09:27
Fabulous. This is a resource for the ages. I of course always knew Tony Banks used an electric piano, but knew nothing of the model, type, and characteristics until now. I liked how the ambiguity between organs and synths was discussed. This always interests me. One detail that I think is incorrect is the 1977 date for the first E-Bow. My information, which is simply from Wikipedia, is that it was invented in 1969. I believe it's heard fairly distinctly in the instrumental interlude on Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love. Again, though, this is a magnificent piece of work that I'm privileged to have access to.

Edited by HackettFan - Yesterday at 09:28
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Gerinski Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 29 2014 at 16:16
Originally posted by DaleHauskins

Hi,greetings Gerinski,

Thanks for the reply,but I am not sure you're aware the impact the wonderful clever people at Framus did on progressive rock music...

Framus make a amazing range of electric guitars and produce super high quality expensive parts,knobs,tuners, mega ahhsome bridges,and tailpieces including a small range of high-end tube amplifiers and cabinet amplifiers for professional guitarist and bassists.

Earl Slick
records,tours with a Framus signature guitar,John Lennon and George Harrison used a Framus Hootenanny in 1965;including Paul McCartney's first guitar was a Zenith by Framus.

Jet Harris,Brian Locking,Heinz Burt even played Framus basses.
Bill Wyman played a Framus Star Bass starting in 1964.

Influental jazz legends Charlie Mingus and Jim Hall were endorsed by Framus.

Myself,I've been blessed to own few Framus custom Diablo Pro guitars;and record,tour,gigs with them.
(Since using Grover Jackson's Charvel guitars;Framus has been the best for me.)

Here is a foto of me at the Framus booth last January at NAMM 2014 with longtime legendary Jamaican musicians I've worked with for years,bassist Phil Chen and rhythm guitarist Tony Chin.






Well yeah, Earl Slick would probably be the one closest to classic Prog Rock among the famous players, but as good as their instruments may have been, with all respect to everybody else and Framus itself I'd say that they were not in the same popularity range as the other guitar and bass makers mentioned in my article when it comes to Prog Rock famous musicians. At any rate it's nice that you mention them!

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Post Options Post Options   Quote Big Ears Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 29 2014 at 16:13
A great thread. I wish I had a good technical knowledge of instruments, but this thread will certainly help.

I thought the title was spot on and I had to have a little chuckle at 'Keith Emerson playing his customised ribbon controller which released fireworks'!

I particularly liked your choice of illustrations and photos.
Item equals totem: http://itemequalstotem.blogspot.com/
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Post Options Post Options   Quote DaleHauskins Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 29 2014 at 15:46
Hi,greetings Gerinski,

Thanks for the reply,but I am not sure you're aware the impact the wonderful clever people at Framus did on progressive rock music...

Framus make a amazing range of electric guitars and produce super high quality expensive parts,knobs,tuners, mega ahhsome bridges,and tailpieces including a small range of high-end tube amplifiers and cabinet amplifiers for professional guitarist and bassists.

Earl Slick
records,tours with a Framus signature guitar,John Lennon and George Harrison used a Framus Hootenanny in 1965;including Paul McCartney's first guitar was a Zenith by Framus.

Jet Harris,Brian Locking,Heinz Burt even played Framus basses.
Bill Wyman played a Framus Star Bass starting in 1964.

Influental jazz legends Charlie Mingus and Jim Hall were endorsed by Framus.

Myself,I've been blessed to own few Framus custom Diablo Pro guitars;and record,tour,gigs with them.
(Since using Grover Jackson's Charvel guitars;Framus has been the best for me.)

Here is a foto of me at the Framus booth last January at NAMM 2014 with longtime legendary Jamaican musicians I've worked with for years,bassist Phil Chen and rhythm guitarist Tony Chin.






Dale Hauskins
L.A.Californian guitarist
http://www.musicianspage.com/musicians/DaleHauskins
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Gerinski Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 29 2014 at 14:15
^ Hi Dale, well of course it's not possible to list every instrument ever used by Prog musicians, I concentrated on instruments which were widely used in the classic period or which have been for some reason particularly special. Framus guitars were not prominent in classic Prog as far as I know, Devin Townsend uses them but he belongs to the modern era and Slade are not included in PA meaning most people consider them as Glam and not as Prog (including myself).
At any rate it made me think that perhaps Warwick (who owns the Framus brand now) would deserve a mention, they belong already to the 80's but have been the choice of important Prog bassists such as Pete Trewavas.



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Post Options Post Options   Quote DaleHauskins Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 28 2014 at 01:46
Real shame there is no photos on tour of my old legendary Swiss progressive rock band I was in called Flame Dream.Also,no photos of Framus guitars.
Flame Dream's keyboardist,songwriter great player Roland "Roli" Ruckstuhl
played for the Roland Company,used two Mellotrons,endorsed by Sequential Circuits,with SCI's Prophet-5 & 10,ARP,Oberheim;using Yamaha's CP80,and Patrick Moraz's Model 290 Imperial Bösendorfer piano.
We had it all and more from A to Z .





Edited by DaleHauskins - August 28 2014 at 15:39
Dale Hauskins
L.A.Californian guitarist
http://www.musicianspage.com/musicians/DaleHauskins
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Gerinski Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 24 2014 at 09:50
In the polysynths entry I have added Geddy Lee's late 1970's custom keyboard combining an Oberheim 8-voice synth and a Minimoog.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Gerinski Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 22 2014 at 09:37
Originally posted by The Dark Elf



P.S. Might I suggest an addition under the acoustic guitar category? Ian Anderson's use of a Martin 0-16NY and other small bodied "parlour" guitars of the Martin New Yorker series. An iconic look and sound in the 70s.
Anderson's Martin and his even smaller recent parlour added in the entry for acoustic guitars.

BTW, even having re-posted this long article splitting it in separate multiple posts, this thread is again suffering the strange problem that for some reason it does not shift to page 2, every new post gets added to page 1, I hope this does not cause loading problems for some people's browsers.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote PrognosticMind Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 12 2014 at 06:23
Holy HELL...

...This just might be my favorite thread EVER.

While I don't own an actual mellotron, moog synth, or anything to that degree - I DID invest in a Roland GR-55 and GK3 pickup for my Ibanez RG Premium, and I haven't looked back! Also, Parker guitars are absolutely INSANE to play.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Gerinski Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 11 2014 at 12:40
Originally posted by The Dark Elf


P.S. Might I suggest an addition under the acoustic guitar category? Ian Anderson's use of a Martin 0-16NY and other small bodied "parlour" guitars of the Martin New Yorker series. An iconic look and sound in the 70s.
Thanks and good suggestion, taken! I will see for an update asap!
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Post Options Post Options   Quote The Dark Elf Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 10 2014 at 22:24
Excellent archival document, Gerinski. Fascinating. And the title makes perfect sense for a prog-rock site; except, of course, for insufferable pr*cks with a bizarre axe to grind.

P.S. Might I suggest an addition under the acoustic guitar category? Ian Anderson's use of a Martin 0-16NY and other small bodied "parlour" guitars of the Martin New Yorker series. An iconic look and sound in the 70s.

Edited by The Dark Elf - August 10 2014 at 22:28
Please pay a visit to my blog...The Dark Elf File...a slighty skewed journal of music reviews, literary comment, fan-fiction and interminable essays.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote moshkito Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 10 2014 at 11:14
Originally posted by Gerinski

...
Re-quote of the introduction:

"For sure a more precise title for this article should be something like “An illustrated guide to some of the instruments frequently used in classic Prog Rock”, since the list does not intend to be comprehensive and all these instruments were of course not “Prog Rock instruments”, they were simply instruments of their period, used in Prog as well as in many other genres during that period, but the title is intended as a practical shortcut."

Confused

 
Whatever ... perfect for the magazine Rolling Stone, for the no-read nothing folks that only like pictures of stars.
 
In your case the instruments and pictures are the stars, because the content is mis-leading via the title!
... none of the hits, none of the time ... you might actually find your own art, or self, and forego lousy heroes or Guru's!

www.pedrosena.com
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Gerinski Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 09 2014 at 12:13
Originally posted by moshkito

Originally posted by Gerinski

 
They were just instruments from that period, used in Prog as well as in many other genres at the time.
 
Then the title is WRONG!
 
It shold use "Popular Music", be it progressive, prog, jazz or anything else, it would fit your descriptions and magnus opus a lot better.
 
I, personally, find it offensive, that we think so little of everything else, and consider "prog rock" above and beyond many things because of an instrument, that was also used in every other category out there.
 
Your fascination with "prog rock" is bringing down the quality of your work.
 
This is maginificent work and study, and it would be even better if it showed how it IMPROVED ALL MUSIC ... instead of just "prog rock". Your entry and introduction is lacking because it is not about the title, either.

Re-quote of the introduction:

"For sure a more precise title for this article should be something like “An illustrated guide to some of the instruments frequently used in classic Prog Rock”, since the list does not intend to be comprehensive and all these instruments were of course not “Prog Rock instruments”, they were simply instruments of their period, used in Prog as well as in many other genres during that period, but the title is intended as a practical shortcut."

Confused

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Post Options Post Options   Quote moshkito Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 09 2014 at 10:35
Originally posted by Gerinski

 
They were just instruments from that period, used in Prog as well as in many other genres at the time.
 
Then the title is WRONG!
 
It shold use "Popular Music", be it progressive, prog, jazz or anything else, it would fit your descriptions and magnus opus a lot better.
 
I, personally, find it offensive, that we think so little of everything else, and consider "prog rock" above and beyond many things because of an instrument, that was also used in every other category out there.
 
Your fascination with "prog rock" is bringing down the quality of your work.
 
This is maginificent work and study, and it would be even better if it showed how it IMPROVED ALL MUSIC ... instead of just "prog rock". Your entry and introduction is lacking because it is not about the title, either.
... none of the hits, none of the time ... you might actually find your own art, or self, and forego lousy heroes or Guru's!

www.pedrosena.com
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Gerinski Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 30 2014 at 12:58
Originally posted by floflo79

What a great work ! Impressionant !

Merci mon ami Tongue
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Gerinski Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 30 2014 at 12:23
Originally posted by moshkito

Hi,
 
It is a very nice and impressive work, and I have not read a whole lot of it yet, but promise that I will.
 
I only have one concern here ... it's like saying that no one else EVER used any of these instruments and it's not true at all. Progressive music, or anything else, is not the only mode that is experimenting with instruments. In fact, most of them we can't even handle when we first hear it.
 
So s synth by this and that person is important, but by Carlos or Tomita it is not. I still think that this fits way better as the development of instrumentation in modern/rock/jazz music!
 
Does not fit as "progressive".
Hi Pedro,

I'm not quite sure what you are meaning. Obviously this article does not mean that all these instruments were only used in Prog! (please read the introduction). They were just instruments from that period, used in Prog as well as in many other genres at the time.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote moshkito Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 30 2014 at 09:25
Hi,
 
It is a very nice and impressive work, and I have not read a whole lot of it yet, but promise that I will.
 
I only have one concern here ... it's like saying that no one else EVER used any of these instruments and it's not true at all. Progressive music, or anything else, is not the only mode that is experimenting with instruments. In fact, most of them we can't even handle when we first hear it.
 
So s synth by this and that person is important, but by Carlos or Tomita it is not. I still think that this fits way better as the development of instrumentation in modern/rock/jazz music!
 
Does not fit as "progressive".
... none of the hits, none of the time ... you might actually find your own art, or self, and forego lousy heroes or Guru's!

www.pedrosena.com
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Post Options Post Options   Quote floflo79 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 30 2014 at 05:56
What a great work ! Impressionant !

To not listen to prog rock, you have to be thick as a brick...
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Gerinski Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 29 2014 at 22:11

THE TUBULAR BELLS

 

Despite the iconic cover of Mike Oldfield’s debut album, tubular bells are straight vertical tuned pipes mounted on a rack and played with wooden hammers. The idea behind Mike Oldfield’s album artwork was a destroyed tubular bell.

 

Tubular Bells



THE HARP

 

Personally I would have liked the harp to be more prominent in Prog Rock since I love its timbre, but its appearances were limited. The best known use is perhaps by Yes Jon Anderson, who while not being a harp virtuoso produced some nice accompaniments for example in the middle section of Awaken. A more thorough use of the arp was done by the Swiss Andreas Vollenweider.

Queen’s Brian May is credited with playing the harp in some Queen songs but reportedly he could not really play it, he recorded each chord one at a time and then they were put together in the studio.

 

Yes Jon Anderson playing the harp



Andreas Vollenweider



THE VIOLIN

 

Bowed string instruments have also had their place in classic Prog Rock with bands like Gentle Giant using Violas, Cellos etc, the violin being probably the most prominently used, either amplified or in fully electric form. Key users of violin were Kansas Robby Steinhardt (later substituted by David Ragsdale), Eddie Jobson from UK and Jethro Tull, King Crimson's David Cross and Jean-Luc Ponty.

 

Eddie Jobson with his famous transparent violin



Gentle Giant live in 1975, with Ray Shulman playing a violin and Kerry Minnear playing a cello



THE FLUTE AND RECORDER

 

The archetypal flute player in Prog Rock is Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, but also Peter Gabriel made great use of it in early Genesis, as well as Focus Thijs Van Leer. Gentle Giant used also both flutes and recorders.

 

Peter Gabriel playing the flute



Camel's Mel Collins and Andy Latimer in a flute duet performing The Snow Goose in 1977



THE SAXOPHONE

 

The Sax was most widely used as a main instrument in Jazz-Rock / Fusion than in standard Prog Rock but it surely deserves a mention. David Jackson from Van Der Graaf Generator is perhaps the most notable classic Prog musician dedicated to Sax, but Sax has also played an important role as soloing instrument, Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’ being a classical example. Ian McDonald and Mel Collins were also remarkable classic Prog sax players.

 

David Jackson with his famous two saxes



THE BAGPIPE

 

The Bagpipe, or its variants such as the bowel-blown Irish Uilleann Pipe, has had some presence in Prog since the days of early Mike Oldfield (or even earlier with bands like East Of Eden), and it has also been used by other Celtic-influenced bands like Iona, Mostly Autumn or the Prog-Folk of Alan Stivell.

 

Iona's Troy Donockley playing the Uilleann Pipe



THE TALK BOX

 

The Talk Box, sometimes called  ‘the talking guitar’ was not very used in Prog but it has been occasionally used by David Gilmour (in ‘Pigs’ for example), Steve Morse and others.

While there were older similar devices the modern Talk Box was created by Bob Heil in 1973 and made popular mostly by Joe Walsh and Peter Frampton. In a Talk Box the sound signal from the guitar (or other instrument) amp is sent to the box which contains a small speaker driver connected to a plastic tube which goes up into the mouth of the performer, who has a microphone in front of him. The sound of the guitar enters the mouth where it is altered by the mouth’s shape and is then picked up by the microphone. By changing the mouth’s shape and tongue position the performer can alter the frequency spectrum and harmonics of the sound in different ways, and if he mouths words the resulting sound seems as if the guitar is talking.

 

A Talk Box 



David Gilmour playing with a Talk Box



THE VOCODER

 

The Vocoder produces a sort of robotic voice. The basic concept was originally developed in the 1930’s for encoding voice telecommunications but it eventually got also into the music world, with Robert Moog once again being one of its first developers for music in the late 1960’s.

The system’s input consists of a microphone (called the ‘modulator signal') and a ‘carrier signal' (usually a synthesizer producing any sound). The performer talks or sings into the microphone at the same time as he plays the synth, the spectral characteristics of the voice are analysed and mapped into the synth source sound, producing a hybrid signal between both, with the synth sound adopting some of the vocal qualities, and depending on the synth sound used sounding more or less as a talking synth.

Kraftwerk used it frequently for example in the ‘Autobahn’ album, other users have been Alan Parsons in ‘I Robot’, Pink Floyd (the barking dog in ‘Dogs’) or Mike Oldfield (for example in ‘Five Miles Out’).

Several manufacturers produced Vocoders including Moog, Korg, EMS or Roland.

 

A Korg Vocoder



SOUND EFFECTS

 

Soon after the electrification of instruments, musicians and engineers learnt that the sound could be altered in different ways, sometimes unwantedly such as when an electric guitar sounded distorted if the signal gain was too high, sometimes by electromechanical means such as producing reverberation by inserting a spring between a transducer and a pickup in a spring reverb effect, or by purely electronic means, and gradually started to use these techniques in their favour in order to deliberately manipulate the sound.

Effects were mostly used on electric guitars although they gradually became commonly used with keyboards, basses and any other instruments.

Nowadays there is a huge range of effects available, Boss alone which is one the classic manufacturers has 56 different stompboxes in their line-up, and digital sound technology has pushed the boundaries of sound manipulation to the point where there are no limits anymore, so here I will mention only the most common single effects used in the 1970’s and 1980’s (which in any case remain the main ingredients of most modern complex effects).

Effects processors come in different formats, stompboxes are the classic single-effect pedals which can be connected in series and they were the most commonly used in the 1970’s, their main advantage being flexibility, you can combine them from different manufacturers and connect them in different sequences. Later on floor multi-FX pedalboards became popular because among other things they allowed storing multi-FX combinations as user presets which could be called at a press of a pedal switch. Rack-mounted effects can offer more sophisticated technology without the size limitation of floor units. Finally effects can also be built-in in the instruments themselves or amps.

 

Boss Stompbox Effects Pedals



The main classic effects can be classified by the kind of sound alteration they produce:

a) Distortion / Overdrive / Fuzz: all these work by increasing gain and clipping the ends of the wave amplitude making it more ‘square-wave’ and modifying the harmonics. Overdrive is a kind of mild Distortion which appears at higher volumes but sounds cleaner at low volumes. Fuzz is no so much based on adding gain but mainly on clipping the wave shape, producing that typical late 1960’s sound which while distorted, it does not sound ‘Heavy Metal’.

b) Reverb / Delay: These add echoes to the original sound. Reverb reproduces the natural echo of a spatial location where the sound waves are reflected by the walls and ceiling and gradually fade out. Delay is a more artificial echo where the sound is simply repeated after a time interval, once or multiple times. A Loop effect would be another modern effect in this category.

c) Modulation effects: these would include Chorus, Flanger, Tremolo, Vibrato and Phase Shifters. These effects typically split the sound and to some of the signals alter slightly the timbre, pitch, phase or amplitude, and then recombine them all together, resulting in a richer, more ‘rippling’ sound.

d) EQ / Wah-Wah: these alter the equalization across the frequency spectrum. The Wah-Wah does so dynamically in real time at the musicians will using a potentiometer pedal. The Talk-Box could be included in this category as well.

e) Pitch-Shift: these would include Octavers, Pitch-Shifters and Harmonizers.

f) Volume-related: these would include Volume pedals, Compressors (which dampen the attack and amplify the sustain, smoothening the sound) and Noise Gates (which eliminate sounds below a certain volume threshold to reduce hiss and noise).


by Gerard Bassols



Edited by Gerinski - August 29 2014 at 13:53
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Gerinski Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 29 2014 at 21:58

THE CHAPMAN STICK

 

The Chapman Stick was first launched in 1974. It consists of a long and wide fretboard where the musician taps with both hands. Several models have been produced with 8, 10 or 12 strings. A particularity of the Chapman Stick is that unlike in a guitar the lowest pitch string is located in the center of the fretboard.

Tony Levin was the pioneer in incorporating it to Prog Rock. Trey Gunn is another notable player.

 

Tony Levin playing the Chapman Stick



THE WARR GUITAR

 

The Warr Guitar is a hybrid of a guitar and a Chapman Stick. It allows playing it like a Chapman tapping with both hands but it also allows other common guitar techniques such as strumming, picking with a plectrum or slapping. Different version exist with different number of strings, typically 8, 10 or 12. Most players use a string setup like in the Chapman with the lowest pitch string in the center of the fretboard although some choose for a standard guitar setup with the lowest pitch string at the top.

Trey Gunn is the most notable Prog Rock player.

 

Trey Gunn playing the Warr Guitar



PAT METHENY’s PIKASSO GUITAR

 

Another unique and curious string instrument is the Pikasso guitar made by luthier Linda Manzer for Pat Metheny. It has 42 strings. The main 6-string neck is used to play the background chords by tapping (it can control his Synclavier to produce keyboard-like or other sounds) and the melodies are played by plucking other strings as in a harp.

 

Pat Metheny’s Pikasso guitar



PAT METHENY's ORCHESTRION

 

Always an experimenter, Metheny's most ambitious project to date is probably the Orchestrion. His fascination for mechanical instruments started as a kid with his grandfather's player piano, and the Orchestrion is the culmination of this fascination. It consists of a huge array of instruments which play mechanically driven by solenoids triggered by Metheny's playing on the guitar and loops / sequencers. So it's a one-man orchestra with which Metheny alone can play complete multi-intrument musical pieces in real time.

It includes piano, marimba, vibraphone, bass, drums, cymbals and various percussion instruments, blown bottles... He recorded the Orchestrion album with it in 2010 and more impressively he dared to tour live with it, with great success.

 

Pat Metheny with his Orchestrion



ACOUSTIC DRUMS AND PERCUSSIONS

 

There’s not much to say about traditional acoustic drum kits and percussions except that in 1970’s Prog, size did matter. Again the ‘more is better’ philosophy seemed to call for a race for which drummer would have the biggest and most spectacular drum kit. As usual in Prog though, the great thing is that drummers did really take their skills to the limit to use effectively all those elements (unlike other music styles where sometimes a huge drum kit was present but hardly taken advantage of).

Double bass drums, more than one snare for different nuances, lots of toms, floor toms and cymbals were the norm. Drummers frequently complemented their drum kits with assorted percusssions, chimes, tubular bells, cowbells, gongs, bells, xylophones or glockenspiels…

Up to the present many manufacturers have made good drums but in the 1970’s the most appreciated brands were probably Ludwig, Tama, Pearl and Premier.

Regarding cymbals Paiste, Zildjian and Sabian were the most common.

 

One of Terry Bozzio’s drum kits (notice the bass drum pedals)



Mike Portnoy with one of his kits



Neil Peart with one of his kits



CARL PALMER’s STAINLESS STEEL DRUM KIT

 

It’s not the purpose here to go into any detail about particular drum kits, but if one deserves mention is Carl Palmer’s 1973 rotating custom drum kit made of stainless steel (its construction was sponsored by British Steel). The drum shells were of half-inch thick steel sheet and he asked jeweler Paul Raven to manually carve drawings on them using a dentist drill. It featured also the bell on its top which he famously played by pulling the rope with his teeth. The whole thing weighted 2.5 tons and several stages had to be reinforced to hold its weight and in some cases gigs had to be cancelled altogether. Although it was an acoustic kit it included a synthesizer processing the sound from the microphones (the famous effects in the Toccata solo), effectively making it the first electronic drum kit. He didn’t use it for long.

 

Carl Palmer’s stainless steel drum kit



THE ROTOTOMS

 

Rototoms (also spelled Roto Toms) are toms consisting only of a drum head held by a circular frame, without shell. Modern Rototoms were first marketed by Remo although the idea is derived from mechanisms applied to bongos and symphonic drums since as early as the 1920’s. The characteristic idea behind Rototoms is quick and precise tuning for melodic percussion. Normal tom heads need tuning by adjusting several tuning bolts in the perimeter of the frame (the number of bolts depending on the tom brand and diameter but typically around 6) and this makes precise melodic / chromatic tuning cumbersome and time-consuming. Rototoms on the other hand are mounted on a threaded central bolt and tuning is adjusted by simply turning the tom frame clockwise or anti-clockwise. This allows very easy and fast precise tuning. The sound of the Rototoms is not deep but rather trebble and percussive, ideal for starting a long fill and then switching to normal lower-pitch toms.

Bill Bruford was an early embracer but many other drummers have used them.

 

Rototoms in Bill Bruford’s kit



THE TAMA OCTOBAN TOMS

 

Tama released the Octoban toms in 1978 and although the name is Tama trademark the term Octoban has become generically used for this kind of toms, although they are also sometimes called tube-toms, quarter toms or Rata Toms which is the trademark from another manufacturer DW Drums.

They are deep shell, single-headed toms where the pitch variation comes from change in shell length instead of from change in shell diameter. The diameter is fixed and small (150 mm in the original Tama model).

The term Octoban makes reference to ‘eight’ and ‘octave’ since the original Tama Octobans range consist of a set of 8 different shell lenghts ranging from 280 to 600 mm tuned melodically covering one octave range (frequently drummers installed only 2 or 4 of them in their kits).

Simon Phillips, Bill Bruford or Stewart Copeland have used them frequently.

 

The complete set of 8 Octobans



Octobans in Stewart Copeland's kit



ELECTRONIC DRUMS

 

Although some purists may despise electronic drums, they offered a path for innovation in the 1980’s and several great Prog drummers have made excellent use of them including Neil Peart, Bill Bruford, Nick Mason or Phil Collins.

The first commercial electronic drum kit was the Simmons SDS-5 released in 1980, famous for the hexagonal shape of its drums which allowed positioning them in a honeycomb pattern, and Simmons continued releasing upgraded versions until its demise in the late 1990’s when mostly Roland (and to a much lesser extent Yamaha) took over the electronic drums market. A main problem of Simmons drums was that the response of the heads to the drummer’s sticks did not feel natural compared to acoustic drumheads, causing many drummers to not feel entirely comfortable and getting fatigue.

Roland released its first electronic drums called ‘Compact Drum System’ in 1992 and although technically superior to the Simmons in many respects, they still suffered from uncomfortable feedback from the heads to the drummer’s hands. Roland understood that this was the main problem for real success and set out to cooperate with Remo, the top manufacturer of acoustic drum heads, to find a solution. Together they developed a new head material they called ‘mesh drumhead’ which among other properties could be tensioned in the way traditional acoustic heads are tuned but without affecting the pitch, just in order to adjust the feedback to the drummer’s preference. This plus further innovations in the electronics culminated in the V-Drums of 1997. Since then Roland V-Drums have become the most popular electronic drums.

Originally the electronic cymbal sounds were rather poor and even today many professional drummers still use acoustic cymbals even when playing electronic drums, but the sound quality of electronic cymbals has improved a lot and is now fairly realistic.

Drummers who have tastefully integrated acoustic and electronic drums include Bill Bruford, Neil Peart or Nick Mason, sometimes having rotating kits which depending on the orientation are mostly an acoustic kit or mostly an electronic kit.

 

Simmons Drums in Bill Bruford’s kit



Neil Peart’s kit in the Hold Your Fire period, combining Ludwig acoustic and Simmons electronic drums



OTHER DRUMS

 

Perhaps worth a short mention is Led Zeppelin John Bonham’s Ludwig ‘Vistalite’ amber translucent kit, one of the first with the shells made of translucent plastic rather than wood or metal (or opaque fiberglass such as the Fibes). The Vistalites were released in 1972 (Fibes would also release their translucent or transparent version ‘Crystalite’ in 1977). Jethro Tull’s Barriemore Barlow had also a Ludwig Vistalite kit, in his case a blue one.

John Bonham’s Ludwig amber ‘Vistalite’ kit



Barriemore Barlow and his blue Vistalite kit



A quirky percussion element were the North drums first released in 1972, with the tom shells made of fiberglass and fitted with a single head. The toms and floor toms had a horn shape with the mouth directed to the front, the idea was to focus the sound projection towards the audience, and indeed these drums sounded very loud to the audience in front of the stage. However this characteristic was probably not too important in the professional world where drum kits were amplified anyway, and on the negative side their sound was not to everyone’s taste (someone described them as sounding like ‘banging on a big Tupperware’) and they were not easy for the sound techs to mic and mix.

Billy Cobham and Yes Alan White used them shortly but North drums never achieved much success, although a similar concept carried on in the Staccato drums released in 1977 and still in production, albeit also with little commercial success.

 

Yes Alan White’s kit in the 1978 Tormato tour, featuring two red North toms



Billy Cobham pictured with some North toms



A Staccato drum kit



Another very special drum kit was the one played by Utopia’s Willie Wilcox around 1980 and nicknamed ‘Trapparatus’. It was a sort of ‘drumming capsule’ mounted on a frame and with Willie sitting in a car-style seat with his feet leaning forward. The bass drum and toms were very small and triggered electronic drum sounds. In some version he added a sort of exhaust pipes resulting in the whole kit resembling a custom motorbike.


Willie Wilcox and his ‘Trapparatus’ drum kit





Edited by Gerinski - August 11 2014 at 12:29
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