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Sunday, December 11, 2005

All right, that's it...

I've been tossing the idea of building an electronic drumset around for a few years. I have all of the hardware and know-how to generate the actual waveforms, and I know how to build the triggers. I built one (trigger) at a cost of ~$20, and it works fairly well. Then I set the project aside.

But today, I took Andrew Christmas shopping. After a mind-numbing few hours looking for things that make girls happy, we decided to take a break and do something fun. He had been talking about a desire to play drums, so I took him to Guitar Center to let him have a look around at the drumsets they have there.

[A little history is probably in order: For his 5th birthday (about 4 years ago), I presented Andrew with a small/cheap drumset, having seen some potential in the way he drummed on everything in sight. His eyes lit up, and he sat down at the drumset and started hitting it tentatively and randomly like any kid would. I said "here, try this", and played a simple beat on it. He said "okay...", and sat down and reproduced what I had done, almost perfectly, on the first try. He started to expand on it from there, and within a few weeks, he was a miniature Keith Moon. I've got some good video of him at about 5 years old, drumming like a maniac and singing about "biology", "technology" and other words ending in "ology". Funny stuff...

Eventually, he beat the drumset into sawdust. Then he seemed to lose interest in drums, having discovered video games and skateboarding.]

He hadn't played drums in a couple of years, so I wasn't sure how he would do sitting down at a set in a store in front of drumset salesmen. He sat down at a fully loaded Gretsch set, kind of looked around, and just tore into it like he'd been practicing every day. The salesmen were like, "hey, cool!" and started coming over and talking to him. They were showing him fills and beats, and he was eating it up. It's rare that I see him that excited about things.

Watching this, I decided that I'd been screwing around long enough and that I would build the electronic set I'd been thinking of.

I say "electronic" instead of "acoustic" for purely practical reasons: An electronic set is slightly more compact, which I need in a small space. It's acoustically quiet, which Andrew's mother will require if she is to remain a sane woman. Electronic drums are more amenable to recording, since the process of micing up a drumset for recording involves about $5k worth of mics and years of experience. An electronic kit is recorded direct. No mics, no setup, no fuss. An electronic set is more flexible: I can use the triggers to play any sound that can be recorded, including samples of professionally-recorded drums. I can record a performance, separate from the sound, and edit both independently. An electronic set playing samples of a properly-recorded acoustic set, actually sounds better than the acoustic set itself in a room.

I say "build" instead of "buy" because: A single Roland V-Drum costs about $250. That's one drum. It consists of a plastic shell, a mesh head, and a piezo-based trigger under a foam cone. A pretty ingenious design, but pretty simple too. I can buy the materials to make my own drum for about $35 from other sources. As I mentioned, I built a reliable, velocity-sensing trigger out of a Remo practice pad and a RadioShack piezo buzzer. It took about 20 minutes, and plays just like a Remo practice pad (aka "a drum"). That makes more sense to me than spending ~$5k for a full-blown Roland V-Drum set. Those are really cool drumsets, but that's just too darn much money.

So anyway, I'm going to take pictures of the process of building the set, and put them up here. Somethin' to do, I reckon...

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