Bass Drum Pedals - The Search, the Test, the Results
Some thoughts on bass drum pedals. Nothing spiritual here, just some practical thoughts on mechanics of pedals. I've been looking them over on the web, reading as much as I can find. There's a lot of info, and at the same time not much info at all; not when searching for practical, comparative information. This article is a result of my own frustrations after reading much material and watching many manufacturers and youtube player/owner videos. I hope it can help someone in their first glance in searching for a pedal, especially younger players starting out.
First things first. It's impossible to actually cover such a subject exhaustively. There are just too many variables at play with each human and each pedal out there, as you will see. Still, some foundational principles can be mentioned.
Second, pedals can help your own physical attributes, but cannot replace your own physical attributes. A pedal may make it easier to play double, triple or quadruple strokes, etc., but no pedal can play them for you. I believe the hype in the drum industry can convince drummers pedals just about play themselves, and we even see reviews of pedals with those kind of praises. Someone buys that pedal and is greatly disappointed at how much work they have to put into using it. For those who do not even use such strokes in their playing their quest for pedals is pretty simple. For those who "think" quads, and "feel" quads, and "do" quads, yet cannot quite pull them off cleanly, forcefully and effectively as they want because of pedal response, the quest begins.
Do you "stomp?" Do you "dance?" Do you play heels down? Heels up? All of that makes a difference when selecting a pedal. Those things are rather impossible to address regarding pedal mechanics aside from integrity of construction, footboard style, and overall function. I do not stomp on my pedals or play them hard at all. I could review every pedal on earth and not tell someone whether or not they would crack a footboard with their style of use, or if such and such a pedal will respond to their own physical efforts and style.
Fact is, any competent drummist can do what needs to be done on just about any pedal out there. I have read of drummers who purposefully do not own just one pedal so they can do what they want on any pedal. Even beginner models offer excellent features and action these days. Most of them have better action than pro pedals of yesteryear. And for those of us who played on pedals of yesteryear and did all the multiple strokes, we know it can be done. But for those wanting to go beyond typical playing standards, styles and limitations, they want more to accomplish that. They want "everything." And players of any level do not want to fight their pedals to do whatever it is they do, even if they can do it with those devices they wrestle with. You can play drums with butter knives, knitting needles, combs or branches. That doesn't mean you want to. And the quest for the perfect stick, for each player, is just the top end of the physical quest. Pedals are about the bottom end.
The "king" of words about pedals? "Feel." If a pedal, regardless of engineering marvels, does not feel right to your toes, balls of feet, heels, ankles, calves, knees, thighs and all muscle groups and tendons involved, the pedal is a failure in action for you. Pedal manufacturers have spent a great deal of money in R&D trying to come up with adjustment options of their products to try and satisfy any and every player out there. None have succeeded. None ever will. But, it's nice they try. There are definitive reasons why they cannot satisfy every player regardless of endless adjustments on their products. We also come back to muscle development, and practice, practice, practice. A wonderful pedal can inspire someone to practice more and thereby play better, but it will not do the job for you.
I started out on a Speed King and played them for many years. At one point I bought the new Zalmer Twin Pedal, quite an innovation in its day, but lacking in many ways. Back to that "feel" thing again. The slave was stiff as a board, via the connecting rod, which was not a rod at all. I wish I kept it though, for history's sake. They are a definite rarity now. A true collector's item.
I played someone's Ghost pedal one day. That was interesting. The pedal is another collector's item, and employed two steel, coil-wound springs, like a clock, or its chime, in design. Quite unique and even today players swear by them. I played on a Slingerland pedal here and there. They were leather strap pedals, which most were back in the day. In 1991 I began the search for "the one." And really, my passion finding "the one" was nowhere near what it is today. We used what we had available and made them work.
The Speed King has obvious limitations compared to modern pedals. One wonders why Ludwig has not attempted to expand on those limitations. Perhaps because the pedal still sells well enough to leave it alone. An "All new and improved" SK would garner the attention of thousands of drummers who know them intimately, though. I guess Ludwig figures, "if it isn't broke, don't fix it." But it can break, at various points on the unit, and compared with modern pedals it's basically a one trick pony. But a solid one trick pony many drummers love and would not think of parting with.
My first pedal on the path of a new one was sampling a Pearl double pedal at a drum shop. I played it awhile and said "I have got to get me one of these." I was struck by the ease and fluid motion of it. It was night and day, when compared to memories of the Zalmer twin pedal, as well as my Speed Kings. But something was ... "weird." My first purchase, though, was a DW. Very interesting. Extremely smooth. A totally different animal than what I was used to. The difference between riding a horse and driving a car, literally. Both can get you there, but one a whole lot faster and easier. But something was "weird." It also had a sloppy linkage of a thin, single chain to slim footboard. It wobbled quite a bit when playing faster patterns. I sold it.
Then came the Tama Iron Cobra. I liked that a lot and played on it for quite some time. Quiet, felt more substantial under my feet and in its actions, had some adjustments the DW did not have, and I enjoyed it. Still, something felt "weird."
Then came Yamaha, which was my favorite. Felt incredibly solid, yet so smooth. I became sold on the lower brace bar they install between the posts below the axle. No one else had that. It does seem to add a feel a stability and soundness which allows a more robust interplay between user and pedal. Same can be said for their base plate with its rigid raised form. They used to have this tiny rubber block you placed under the chain to raise it up a little, thereby changing the action of the forward throw, much like an eccentric cam, but more options because of placing it anywhere on the cam. I questioned the merits of it, but it actually made quite a difference. Once I found the right spot for that rubber block I could do things much easier than with previous pedals, but ... something felt "weird." So ...
Shopped around again. Tried the Axis at a drum shop. So light. So easy. Too easy. Felt no force or power in the stroke. But then, I didn't adjust it either. The price tag was another negative issue. But do not dismiss the issue of force. Manufacturers try to describe their pedals in terms of ease of use, "effortless," but the fact is, it requires force to flex your foot. Your brain and body work together to do it. It's part of muscle memory. It's how your body works. Placing something totally effortless beneath your foot may feel extremely foreign, and very difficult to get used to; to retrain how your brain thinks with such a mechanism and footboard beneath it, especially if you wear heavier shoes when you play. It should be mentioned that chances are you will have to "retrain" to some extent no matter what pedal you move to. Pedals are not like jeans, and even clothing companies do not totally jive in what a size should be. If you are immensely fortunate enough to sit down at a new pedal out of the box and feel its just right you have hit the bell.
I also tried out Gibraltar's pedals, and others. Basically the same thing. Though, at the time, somewhat lesser adjustments than what today's offerings demand in a tough market place. They all felt nice, but "weird."
Then, because of all the hype, I purchased Pearl's Eliminator, strap drive. It stayed a pedal for practice pad. All those adjustments, the extra cams, and yet it was so ... stiff. Maybe it was like leather: it had to loosen up some, after a break-in period, to feel comfortable. Had to give it a chance. Never did loosen up, though. It just never had much response, for me. Sold it. I went back to a newer model of a Yamaha, but no rubber blocks, which disappointed me, yet the pedal played well after fussing with it. Affixing a 1" piece of 5/8" bar stock I cut off of a cymbal boom rod and cemented to the footboards right at the toe-stop for a little extra weight greatly improved the feel. Made all the difference in the world, and also clued me in on something. Footboard weight. It does make a difference. Do not dismiss it. I wish manufacturers stated what their footboards weigh, just like cymbal companies and stick companies. Length of footboard, too, would be helpful. Your foot may be tough, but it is very sensitive. Being able to compare footboard weight would go a long way in choosing a pedal from scratch, especially for players with experience using different pedals. You would have your own basic benchmark to use.
After playing double pedals for almost twenty years I began to notice discomfort in my ankles, knees, hips and back. From reading articles in various magazines I noticed other players had the same problems. Most players adjusted by just shifting their bass drum from a 12 o'clock to a 1 or 2 o'clock position which mimics half a double bass set-up. It looked way too odd a set-up to me, from a cosmetic and balance viewpoint, so I never went that direction and just stayed semi-twisted at the kit. Enter the OFF-SET double pedal, by Charles Fisher, which I saw mentioned on a discussion board. That pedal became my standard. Tremendous pedal for more reasons than one, but the placement of the footboards in a natural sitting position, with bass drum dead center was like dropping into bed after not sleeping for three days. All joint and body discomfort went away, and the pedal is just a great "feeling" pedal, built like a tank, with plenty of adjustments. Very comfortable to use. Comparing its price to the Sleishman and Sonor off-set pedals also made it a winner for me. Still ... something felt "weird."
All these pro pedals with all kinds of adjustments, all easy to play, all responsive, all great pedals, and all of them under constant improvement of function by their manufacturers. Then why have I never felt totally connected with them?
They are all systems which are quite different than the Speed King. Over the years I have felt as though I have not played the bass drum as much as tried to play the pedals, and even wrestled with them to do what my brain and body want to do. The OFF-SET has been the most user friendly for me in the last 20 years. But, in switching back to two bass drums my search continues. OFF-SET does not make single pedals for double bass set up. Back to the drawing board.
The Speed King remains a tried and true, still well and oft-used pedal. It's place in history is established. It had/has its quirks. I broke the connecting link on more than one. Others have cracked the cam/rocker arm. Many complain of terrible squeaking, but I never had that problem. I kept the units well-lubricated. But the heel plates rattled excessively. Yet, so do the heel joints of my Yamaha, which I still use on my edrum set-up. Parts and joints wear out, no matter how hi-tech. There are even people out there buying old SKs and fixing them up for resale. I may be wrong, but I know of no other pedal that renders such a legion of respect and fans.
I'd like to look at pedal design and what they all have in common first.
1. a beater on a shaft.
2. the shaft slips into and locks into some kind of receiving hub.
3. that hub can be separate from or part of a rotating axle and cam system of some kind.
4. a footboard is connected to the axle/cam system via metal link, chain, or strap of some kind.
5. the axle is connected to one or two posts which carry the weight of the footboard and the players activity on it.
6. the base of the posts are generally part of an overall casting which sits on the floor and has some kind of mechanism to clamp the pedal to the bass drum hoop.
7. some kind of plate, or rods, or metal joining piece connects the base to the back of the footboard/heel.
8. some kind of hinge in the heel which allows the footboard to move up and down, with either a "split" or one piece footboard.
Just at this point a number of issues arise. The distance of the pedal to the drum head in its acting parts, the material, shape and weight of the beater, the height of the beater, the angle of the beater, the shaft material, the shaft weight, the axle material, the bearings used in the axle for rotation, the size and shape of the cams, the connecting links used to connect cams to footboards and the overall movement of these connectors at their connecting points, the shape and size of the footboard, the weight of the footboard, the integrity and stability of the posts, the overall movement of the heel hinge, the various screws used to tighten and connect things, and we have not even addressed bass drum head tension, impact reflex of various places on the head relative to size of the head, and depth of drum shell which effects how air is moving from batter head to resonant head and effects reflex of the batter head. A great deal goes into the physical playing of a bass drum, especially when multiple strokes and speed are involved. A pedal of simple design for yesteryear's "feathering" of a bass drum or playing simple quarter notes in the big bands is not the device or playing style of today. Of course Charly Persip can prove that wrong when listening to his speed on a Gretsch pedal from the 50's/60's during a Gretsch Night performance with Elvin and Art. It is quite astounding to hear.
At this juncture all kind of real science enters in an attempt to get this device to function in an effortless, smooth and silent way to place the beater against the head of the bass drum and return it to playable position, and it gets as varied as engineers can come up with and continues to change every decade. The variations of what is "music" today brings in new issues of impact force from players, as well as articulation and speed which companies must address to stay current and competitive. Little things matter, too. How a pedal attaches to the bass drum, and sets up, especially for players repeatedly breaking down and setting up at gigs, becomes an issue of ease or hassle. Look at every joint that has to be tightened and how it is done. One screw to tighten down the beater shaft? Will it loosen under vigorous use? My old Speed Kings could. All kinds of Allen wrenches to use in odd positions relative to sitting and bending down to adjust things? Do you have to get on the floor every time you attempt to adjust something? Personally, I truly dislike having to search through a pile of supplied Allen wrenches I have gotten with drum equipment over the years to make adjustments on things. I must have at least couple dozen of these things in my drum set tackle box. And some of these set screws are in the most out-of-the-way places at angles that are maddening to deal with.
The Speed King had a simple design that was and is still different than all other pedals until fairly recent equipment history. And, I believe, is the reason I have never felt totally comfortable or in control of pedals I have had since. They have all felt terribly smooth, fluid, effortless, quick and articulate, but still "weird."
Three basic force systems are employed to put the beater back into a playable position:
1. spring(s) which expand as the footboard is pressed down, which employ force of pulling back, and release tension when the footboard is relaxed.
2. spring(s) which compress as the footboard is pressed down, which then employ the force of pushing back when the footboard is relaxed.
3. magnets, a newer innovation, which use polarity opposition to resist the footboard being pushed down, as in compression springs, and push the footboard back when pressure is released.
The Gibraltar Catapult is a somewhat different animal, but nonetheless employs a spring for expansion force underneath the footboard.
The Pacific BOA, another spring-less model, based on a diving board kind of action, garnered high praise for adjust-ability, but went out of production for various reasons.
Each of these force systems has its own types of connections to axles, cams, posts, footboards and base plates, and various methods of adjustments for tension and position designed by manufacturers. Some can be very simple, and others quite complicated. When manufacturers state adjustments are "infinite" that is relatively true for many top-of-the-line models. But at what kind of ease of use? Makes a difference. And each force is not consistent within itself because of the nature of the beast. A spring changes tension as it is stretched or compressed, same with magnetic force. This means all movements are always somewhat compromised, especially heel/toe kind of playing where the pedal is attempting to retract its throw between the heel/toe movement. There is no mechanically perfect pedal. I suppose someone may develop a computer operated pedal someday, where the throw is controlled electronically and kept consistent, like some kind of speed control for an automobile. Such a device may be right around the corner. One will choose from a menu of various settings and the pedal will automatically adjust. Ah, technology.
To say that the "feel" is different in each of these deliveries and returns is an understatement which can cause tremendous elation or frustration for a drummer. It isn't just force systems, either. Expansion systems can feel different from each other because of other variables, such as weight of footboards, cam designs, axle rotation, spring carriers and clamps and the actual size and tension characteristics of springs themselves. Personally, I have never broken or stretched out a spring on any expansion system I have owned. I have changed them and gotten more satisfactory results on a couple pedals. I wondered about stretching or breaking upon purchasing that first DW, but never experienced it. Others have, though. It is possible, and the last thing you want is something like that happening on a gig. You have to turn into Trilok Gurtu right quick.
People have said do the pull test. Pull the beater back and count how many times the beater moves forward and back by itself. That this is the measure of a great pedal. Well, my DW went through its motion 18-20 times before it stopped. More than any others I owned. So what? My foot goes up and down once unless I move it twice. What does multiple rotation have to do with the pedal becoming an extension of your foot the way sticks become extensions of your arms and hands? Sure, a pedal which rotates a large number of times shows its motion system is pretty fluid. Isn't that the whole point? No. That fluid motion can be so fluid as to feel non-existent under your foot, something players mention quite a lot about certain pedals they have played. Some players want light as air, others want to feel something under their foot, especially when it comes to what kind of footwear they have on, or no footwear.
Most players will tell you you have to just try a pedal out to see if you like it. Reviews of pedals use words to praise or pan a pedal. What you do not find is much written information which helps the consumer get a realistic grip on the subject when shopping for a pedal, based on mechanics. It's as though people either feel words cannot be used to describe mechanics, or readers don't really care. I do.
If you are used to a compression force (as in the Speed King), switching to an expanding force will feel different, and vice-versa. Everybody's physical muscles are different, as well as playing style, and the height at which they sit. Those are givens. But the difference in feel in just the action of that spring(s) must be anticipated. If you are used to pushing down and feeling the force of something pushing back, feeling something pulling back can be huge to your brain and muscles. With the spring-less magnet system, compression force is employed, repulsion is pushing back, and some linkages and connection points are eliminated in some functions. Friction is reduced even further. Synergy may be improved. Smoothness becomes totally logical. Your resistance action is taking place underneath the footboard, though, not toward the front of the pedal where the spring assemblies are. Makes a difference in overall feel. Magic carpet ride? On the other hand pushing down your footboard and feeling something pushing it back up to varying degrees as the magnets get closer together, right underneath your foot, has to be considered. That will feel different than spring force at the front of the pedal. It really does become incumbent upon the player to try things out up close and personal. But just stop and think about this for a moment. Three different forces employed to return the beater from its throw towards the drum head. Everyone discusses forward motion in a pedal, and it is very important. Nonetheless the whole action of the pedal to return the beater is just as important, especially when it comes to playing fast singles and multiple strokes. This is the reason why I have felt all the pedals I have owned have been a slight wrestling match of some kind to lesser or greater degrees. The system is pulling the footboard back into place. The Speed King pushes it.
When I was a kid I remember speaking to the conductor of the Mt. Washington Railway train, in New Hampshire. I asked him why the engine was behind the train pushing it up rather than in front, pulling it up the mountain. Though I was just eight years old I still remember his basic answer - it is easier on the engine to push up than pull up. Does the same thing apply to the miniscule strength necessary to move a bass drum beater? Moving it for high speeds and/or multiple strokes over long periods of time? You be the judge.
DW changed pedals forever with an eccentric, off-center cam. It throws the beater at varying speeds and force as it rotates forward, moving the beater into the head and returning it ball-off-the-bat speed with Ted Williams, rotation-of-the-hips action. Still, many drummers would rather feel a consistent, round throw. Pearl dealt with that by introducing a pedal that came with four interchangeable cams. Pearl also introduced a positionable footboard, which effects player's thrust force, and even addresses fatigue issues in muscles. Another spoon thrown into the soup of all this, because fatigue can be a major issue, especially if you feel you are wrestling your pedal every day.
Axis changed pedals by using hi-tech, light metals, leaving the "chain" revolution behind and using a solid connecting link between cam and footboard. Today these links are called 'direct drive systems.' Ludwig had it from the start. Trick has taken that same route and gone back to compression for force. Drumnetics is using those materials and employs magnets for resistance force.
All kinds of varying large and small innovations have taken place over the decades. So, you are shopping for a pedal. What do you do? Well, if you live near a large drum shop go try some out. Oh, that shop does not carry all the pedals out there, or in some cases doesn't have certain ones set up to try. So you go to discussion boards, read web reviews, go to manufacturers sites and read, read, read, and then hit youtube for any demo vids. And you come away asking some simple questions that appear over and over and over again on discussion boards - "How does this pedal compare to that one?" What is this telling me? It tells me many manufacturers are not addressing basic issues of mechanical function drummers want information on in a comparative format. Players opinions and experiences certainly can help, and we all want them, but they are all personal experiences. They can only go so far, and basic language of mechanical function and education can do as much or more to help the consumer purchasing blindly.
Here's my bottom line. (1) My physical body, (2) my positioning of my physical body on a seat in relation to the drum and pedal, (3) the pedals force system, (4) the pedals adjustment systems, (5) cost.
(1) I'm getting older. Energy expense becomes an issue. Muscle tone is more difficult to keep up. (2) I began to sit higher at the set and found that my foot speed increased with greater ease the higher I sat, as well as control, but sitting too high and I lose control of the pedal. Sitting in modified office chairs increased my comfort and drumming abilities exponentially compared to drum thrones. No major thigh work, much less energy loss and fatigue. (3) I am leaning back towards a compression system for force because of my own past history (brain and muscle memory) and current observations and experience with expansion systems. (4) Adjustments? As many as is necessary. I require beater head angle (which is a component part and replaceable in most pedals), shaft angle, footboard height/angle, pedal distance (depending on a pedals moving parts, beater shafts and cams can actually scrape the drum head), rigid stable base plate in harmony with hoop clamp, and easy tension system (fussing with typical expansion springs is a real pain in the neck most of the time). After that things are options. (5) $$$? You save and spend what you must to accomplish your mission. Pedals are becoming used car category in prices. It's crazy. But hi-tech materials and machining carry expensive price tags for manufacturers. For the most part you do get what you pay for.
As I said, you can buy a very inexpensive pedal and get better action and response than pedals of yesteryear. I have. My practice pedal is a $99 model off ebay. Works great for practice at the pad set. Road worthy? No. It stays put.
Finding the OFF-SET was splendid. It not only works great as an expansion-spring-system pedal, but being off-set you sit naturally at the kit, bass drum centered, your hips, knees and ankles experience no fatigue from odd twisting over long periods of time and there is no slave pedal. Both function exactly the same by design. But even there, as wonderful as that pedal system feels and plays, I still find myself wrestling with it at times, not being able to do what I my brain says and my body tries to respond with, all doable things. I know my physical limitations after 45 years of playing. I know the difference between trying to do something I am not yet capable of, physically, and not being able to do something because the pedal is not responsive to my brain and body.
I know this much. I want compression force. I want to feel a heftier footboard being pushed back, not pulled back, into position. I also want the pedal to be part of my foot, meaning, my foot moves up and down with constant, consistent motion. I do not need eccentric motion from cams to do what I want to do. That fights my natural movements. For some it feels an enhancement. So be it. For me it is a wrestling match. This must also be considered for fast, multiple patterns. The actual, full rotation of any pedal is rarely employed when playing fast. That means if you use an eccentric cam the actual force of that stroke is cut way down when you play fast patterns. The beater never returns to its full position, so the cam never actually provides that greater thrust in the end of the throw. You are staying at the end of the throw when playing faster patterns, even single strokes. Don't dismiss that. This means playing fast with a forceful impact can be impaired for some players, like me, using the eccentric cam movements on some pedals.
I also want solid link connection between cam and footboard. No chains or belts. No kinks in motion. Chains flex upon forced return when tension is relaxing and your foot is off the board readying for the next stroke. One might say it is too minute to notice. Nay. Depends on the pedal and it's chain, and the player. Experience and observation has shown me that. When playing fast, chains can actually rise up from the cam on return movement of the footboard. Slack when playing fast patterns is a nightmare for control. Chains were adopted for strength, not action. It is logical to me that companies are going back to solid linkage. Up, down, one consistent motion, no lag, no kinks.
Consider this. I have read the brain thinks upwards of the speed of light, possibly faster. Your brain sends electrical action currents to your organs and limbs for response at well over 200 mph. Your ears can detect the difference in sound coming at them with a .0003" change in height. In other words, stand on the floor, then stand on four sheets of paper. Your ears can detect the difference in sound wave direction. Some people cannot feel the weight of a hair falling on their skin. Or the presence of a "noseeum" about to bite. But if you are "aware" most people can detect these things. Minute actions are most assuredly felt by your body and nerve system. When someone tells me that you cannot tell the difference between chains and solid links I must reject that, by science - experiment and observation. Logically, when players state how very small changes in adjustments make big differences in feel of a pedal they are stating the body can, indeed, pick up the difference between a chain with many links, and one solid metal connector of some kind.
When I want to play quads or quintuple strokes, I do not want to play the pedal, I want to play the drum head. I want the pedal to be part of my foot, as stated. I don't want to have to think about the pedal's actions. In what I have read about and experienced with pedal mechanics - compression, solid link, larger footboard (I also happen to have size 13EEE feet), beater angle, cam form and action, and pedal distance adjustment relative to the drum head will afford me the best playing motions. Hoop clamp adjustment, because I do tilt my bass drum back some, is also important, because the pedal must sit soundly and flat on the floor to really have oneness of feel between board and foot. Yamaha dealt with that nicely by having their raised section on the base plate. Provides real rigidity. But their hoop clamp is a standard 'grab it' design. This can raise the back of the pedal as you tighten the front to the hoop. Others are now providing alterations to clamping systems to address that issue, especially with varying widths of hoops in use. But a pedal cannot bounce as you play it and truly be one with your foot. Watch videos and see pedals bouncing in action. I wonder if these players realize what is happening and what could happen if the pedal were totally stabilized.
The issue of impact angle is another point to consider. I tilt my bass drum back. Some players do, some don't. The thing is every pedal I have ever played feels very sluggish at the end of a fully extended stroke, meaning, if the bass drum is flat on the floor and the beater shaft is past 90 degrees upon impact I have felt terrible lag in pedal response. Springs are stretched out, fighting to pull back, or fully compressed trying to push back against you. Tilting the bass drum back and decreasing stroke length and having impact at 80-90 degrees makes playing fast patterns much easier for me. BUT, will any parts of the pedal rub on the head with this set up? Something to consider with all the various cam shapes, arms and wings and parts modern pedals employ.
Again, bottom line for me is the return force system. Pull or push. All other qualities and adjustment capabilities of "pro" pedals coming close to equal, that action is the final arbiter of pedal mechanics for a consistent throw. Now, if you want the opposite of what appeals to me, then eccentric cam, expansion force is your best bet, and you have the greater options in pedals today. That has to be admitted. Ninety-nine percent of pedals employ expansion springs. Two that I know of, Speed King, and Trick (2 models), employ compression. Drumnetics employ magnet compression. That's four pedals to choose from. But, only one needs to work for me.
If the BOA were still around I would add that to my list.
To be honest I tend to wonder if using a compression system again, after using expansion systems for the past 20 years, will really mess with my muscle memory and leave me in some X-Files fog bank. We'll see.
And being a diehard DIYer I have addressed beater variations by taking Iron Cobra/Yamaha beaters and affixing wooden drawer knobs to them with Goop, and a leather dot on the knob face for sound preference. There is a difference in feel in just the distance between the beater shaft and beater face. On some beaters that distance is 3/8". On others it is 1". Even more with Axis hammers. Think of this. Shaft weights, weighing a few grams, make a difference in what a drummer feels in that throw towards the drum head. So, everything can be taken into consideration. I have used all kinds of beaters. There are enormous differences between them all in weight and feel dynamics on the drum head. Your pedal action can feel unworthy, but then you slide the beater shaft down just a 1/2" and the pedal plays completely different for you. It can be a real headache, but taking the time to make the multiple adjustments can pay off.
Did I get technical enough here, for practical purposes? Probably not. Some manufacturers remarks and reviews of pedals cover a lot of this. But hopefully this will get you started on some basic things to consider in shopping blindly for your next pedal in a fairly expanded, competitive, and expensive market.
UPDATE: So, what has all the above panned out as? Sound ideas, for the most part. I set up a test. Eight pedals; two I had, six others, new and used. Ebay. Can't beat it for great deals. Yamaha 880 dble., Off-SET dble., Ludwig Speed King, Trick Pro 1-V, Drumnetics Nucleus 3, Tama Speed Cobra, Pacific BOA (some are still out there), and the Pearl D Drive. Other pedals could have been included, but operating on the same basic expansion spring systems, however good they may feel, I know the ultimate potential and problems. Each of these pedals has it's own distinct qualities and designs.
No bass drums, just a wide, horizontal board with 1/2" neoprene pads for impact. Each pedal was stabilized with Velcro I added or each pedal came with. Different beaters were chosen for weight, etc. Five of the pedals are expansion systems. Three are compression systems (2-springs, 1-magnet repulsion). Five are direct drive solid links, three are chain driven, one, the BOA, a unique "diving board" design. Each pedal was set as identical as possible for beater angle, beater height, foot board angle and height, and resistance force. A repeating pattern of single, double, triple, and quadruple strokes was played on each pedal, over and over as minor adjustments were made. Each pedal definitely has its own feel because of their respective design and mechanisms. For me, one pedal emerged as the one which had three distinct attributes which it spoke for itself against the others - The Drumnetics Nucleus 3. http://www.drumnetics.com/index.html
1. Immediacy. 2. Organic. 3. Energy Transfer. The Nucleus has an immediacy to its thrust. Bam! Quite a wallop within the foot action I placed on each pedal. I will not say the Nucleus is faster, nor is it slower, but the impact felt harder using the same motion on each device. That feeling of immediacy stayed constant day after day. The Nucleus has a consistent, circular cam action.
Organic. Each of these pedals (and I will even include the venerable old Speed King to some degree) are engineered well, machined well, and are truly great bass drum pedals. Placing the Speed King on its own base plate (DIY) stabilized its throw nicely. Yet, some are engineered so well every note seemed rather monolithic and stroked with the same velocity. I was able to play emphatic notes sequences with more accuracy and distinction/articulation on the Nucleus. And that held consistent day after day. To me the pedal just has a more natural, organic feel to it because the beater travels forward and back once, just like your foot. It marries to my foot in a way the others did not. Brain/foot/play action is a simple matter on this pedal. The magnet repulsion is really something. It is quite sensitive, too. The upper magnet is movable by one inch and it definitely makes a difference in feel by increments.
Energy Transfer. This ties in with immediacy. Your foot goes down and back up. However a person uses whatever muscles for that action on a pedal a certain amount of energy is expelled to create one note, several, or many. The design of the Nucleus, simple in its overall mechanism compared to some of the others I tested, has a wonderful energy transfer from your foot to footboard to impact. It just seems to throw more force towards impact with less energy. Now, mark this. These are all world-class pedals. They all play very fast, extremely smooth, are very accurate, and quiet* (some more than others, *SK excluded) So, for me I am talking nuances here. But I can feel the differences and just kept coming back to the Nucleus and enjoying what it does under my foot. After awhile I could definitely feel the difference between centered systems (Nucleus, SK, BOA) and off-centered systems where the springs are to one side, the beaters are to one side, etc. And that annoying distinction of expansion springs fighting my movements, regardless of pedal mechanism, is noticeable on some more than others, but they all have it. The Pearl and Tama had the least.
I will also add the Nucleus is totally silent. Seeing it has fewer moving parts, that is logical. As "silent" as the others were, a few had minute sounds associated with its mechanisms. To be honest, the Nucleus has a pad on its cam which keeps metal to metal contact from happening with its link upon return of the beater. You can hear that pad being touched, although it is more a feeling at times, than a sound.
The Nucleus also has a slim profile. The distance between its posts is less than the other pedals. Whether that smaller axle distance plays into its performance I could not say, but I do know I have felt the solidity of the Yamaha and OFF-SET stabilizer bars beneath their axles. Does the distance of the posts and the length of the axle come into play? I believe so. In the case of the Nucleus the posts are closer, the axle shorter, and the action is great. I have read complaints of the closeness of the Mapex Falcon's posts. My large feet have no problems on the Nucleus footboard, other than sliding upward, which a toe stop will deal with nicely.
This is a world-class device, which works terrific, looks cool, is simple in design with enough adjustment qualities to satisfy me, a die-hard tinkerer. And Mike Van Dyk, the inventor and merchant of the pedal offers a ten day trial period which you can check out on his site. American made with personal care and pride, by a regular guy with a fantastic idea, the Drumnetics Nucleus 3 deserves a place next to any pedal on the planet. Is it perfect? Well, no pedal is, regardless of what any manufacturer states (including Pearl who puts "world's best pedal" right on the box). Human beings vary too much to create such an object. Hype, hype, and more hype. The drum industry is saturated with it.
I believe I'd like the Nucleus even better with a longer footboard, aka "longboard." Hopefully that angle will be researched in the near future. It would benefit from having its own toe stop, and I wish the beater-shaft lock screw was behind the beater rather than in front of it so the beater wheel could rotate forward a little more. I was sent a pedal with a positional connecting link. Current pedals come with a solid link. I do like the option of changing the foot board height via the three-position link.
Check one out. Below is the link to the epilogue of my pedal test.
April 16, 2012
It's been a few months. Thought I'd add something to this. I decided to get a double pedal for use on my edrum set-up. Mike brought one up and first I set it all on the kitchen counter and he went over some things with me. No real differences, other than he has designed a new, longer base plate which offers more options for bass drum tilt and keeping the tear drop cam from rubbing the bass drum head. The extra 1" of length also creates feel options because of where the posts end up in relation to the throw.
The link is solid, basically rendering a footboard position in the center of the three-hole link I have on the single pedals. All the new pedals being made have solid links now.
A word about beaters. Drumnetics have employed a few different beaters on its pedals with varied results. I found one of the first Drumnetics single pedals on ebay. It has the rubber beater which is quite a powerhouse. I like the old model pedal as much as the new. A very large felt beater has been used for awhile, which I have not tried. The new beater is pretty cool. Mike has taken a large, 2 1/2" round white felt beater, cut in half, and the half is affixed to the shaft with two sliding nuts tightened by hex keys. Thus, the beater slides up and down the shaft for height positioning (which had brought some negative comments from reviewers due to the nature of the centered pedal mechanics and only allowing around 3/4" height adjustment), and it also places a couple small 'beater weights' on the shaft for you, something I have found makes quite a difference in the feel of the throw of any pedal. The beaters work great on the edrum pad. One felt ball, cut in half, was used for the beaters on the double pedal. Simple, yet very effective use of materials.
The connecting rod has interesting "u-joints." They are not u-joints at all, but they are like miniature, aluminum "Slinky's" for those of you who remember having one of those coiled-wire toys back in the day. Perhaps they are still sold. These Helical joints are quite interesting and have a "oneness" to them in relation to the rod connecting them to each pedal and how the overall action feels. In a word "flawless." Simply the absolute coolest, fastest double pedal I have ever played. So fast in operation I could not physically control how fast I was playing at first. It was like my feet were going faster than my brain was thinking. Never had such a thing happen before with any other pedal. Once I got in gear that effortless feel you want in playing a pedal kicked right in and off and away I went.
Playing a small, harder Digitech bass drum trigger (which I modified with four layers of mouse pads rather than the rubber surface it came with) is obviously not the same as playing a 22" or 24" acoustic drum with a flexing head. I tend to be able to play faster on edrum kick triggers anyway, but the overall ability this pedal afforded me was so noticeable at the outset I had to stop and look at Mike and say, "Oh, man. Are you kidding me?"
So, this rig is truly a device like no other double pedal I have tried. To be fair and accurate, I have not tried the double versions of the single pedals I used in my test, but all things being equal I'd logically conclude the Nucleus 3 would have the same action I liked better than the other test pedals, single or double.
This double pedal is a machine which makes playing drums a real pleasure.
While Mike was playing my drums I set up the test pedals against a carpeted wall. Once again it was apparent I can play patterns with greater articulation and less effort using the Nucleus than any of the other pedals.
Suffice to say Mike Van Dyk is driven to come up with devices which continually challenge the market for scaling the height of the quest to build the optimal bass drum pedal.
UPDATE, August 16, 2012
If you go to Mike's Drumnetics Facebook page you will see the newest model of the pedal, the Drumnetics 3XF.
Let me say this point blank. Using this pedal with the upper axle magnets in conjunction with the footboard and base plate magnets LITERALLY produces a pedal action that almost plays itself. I thought the pedal was great as is, but the new model makes everything so smooth and effortless I LITERALLY am able to play what my brain sends down to my feet to do. This pedal has created a standing challenge to every single pedal and manufacturer on the planet. Spring-based pedals can be good, can be great, as pedals go, but nothing I have placed my feet on in 5 decades can compare to the action found on the Drumnetics 3XF. Nothing. No thing. This is the velvet rocket to Mars.
Pearl, Tama, DW, Axis, Trick, Mapex, et al, tremble. If this device gets an open door and shot at the drumming public your units shall be sent, of simple necessity, back to the dark ages. I kid you not.
Magnet power. Springs cannot do it. Perhaps, like Tama with their rather pointless and useless spring under the footboard of the Speed Cobra (which is a nice feeling pedal), companies will now start placing multiple springs all over the place, to push, to pull ... good luck with that one. True, some players are so used to spring driven devices they will just stay with them, playing the strokes they always have. I want to play the strokes I have not, that my brain says Do, but my feet do not cooperate. No more. If I was 100% behind this product before, I am 1000% behind it now.
Like any small business it can be a rough go, especially in this current economy. Drumnetics is in that place right now. I hope with all sincerity and honesty Mike Van Dyk can pull things together so this tremendous device can be placed before drummers all over the world so they can feel magnet power for themselves. For me there can be NO turning back.
Update - December, 2013 - After much discussion with trusted people, a mountain of considerations, and extra expense, Mike has decided to make the pedal himself. He's got his CNC set up and beginning to get things down to make parts. Things look good. This shall offer Mike total control over quality, control with timing issues, and better customer service for players, too.
Mike, I hope you sell a million of them.
I'll let you know when the new pedals are ready to go. Contact Mike if you are interested in pre-sales orders.
UPDATE, March 12, 2014
Beginning this week Mike has begun producing his first production pedals. All sold, I should add. So, if you are interested now's the time to get in touch and get something in the works. I have a hunch this gig is going to explode for him. My 8 pedal test vid, on youtube, is around 28k now, and Mike has said every week someone gets in touch with him and mentions the video. Between summer NAMM and other things happening, looks like players are catching some buzz and want to check the pedal out. Great news.