Deviant Drum Kits

If I earned more money, I’m pretty sure that in addition to my hoards collections of books and CDs, I’d likely accumulate drum sets as well. But while a collector of, say, guitars can find a wide variety of body styles — from Flying V to Fender Mustang to a particular fave of mine — from a visual standpoint, drums are chiefly distinguished by finish, as they almost always fall under the heading of closed cylinders (or semi-closed, in the case of concert toms, which lack bottom rims/heads.)

But that almost” leaves room for some interesting stuff, and as I browse sites like reverb.com and Ebay, I make a habit of looking for some oddball stuff. For example, in the 1960s, German drummakers Trixon (sold in the US under the Vox brand) were known for some… quirky designs. Presenting the Speedfire set:

Trixon aqua sparkle speedfire

The most obvious weirdness is the “egg-shaped” bass drum, which was meant to replace a double-bass configuration. A dividing board inside the shell allowed for different pitches from the left and right halves of the drum, which were struck with double pedals. But other aspects that draw my interest are the legs of the floor tom (which seem to double as part of the tuning apparatus for the lower head) and the configuration of the mounted toms. These days, it’s pretty common to use rack-mounted rigs for tom placement, but it’s a separate rack, whereas this thing is clearly integral to the kit. Also of note here is the fact that the drums appear to be set up for a left-handed player, with the pitches/tones descending as the drummer turns from right to left. In fact, all the Speedfire kits I’ve seen are configured that way, which makes me wonder if they can be set up in a traditional right-handed arrangement.

On that particular note, it occurs to me that the “left=lower tone” configuration is also that of a keyboard instrument — and how most timpanists arrange their drums. (When I played timps in college, I set them up “backwards” — because I’m used to playing set and turning right to get lower tones. The connection here? My percussion instructor told me that my “backwards” timp set-up was actually common in… Germany. And…. scene.)

Trixon was also known for its “Telstar” line of kits, where the individual drums had top and bottom heads (“batter” and “resonant” heads, if you’re persnickety) that differed in diameter. Here’s one such kit, in a finish known as “blue croc.”

trixon telstars

Two other unusual brands of drums from the 70s and 80s were the North and Staccato drum companies. Both firms developed synthetic shells and worked from the same principle — the drums were designed to project sound directly into the audience (or the vocalist, who likely deserved it). The North kits (designed by Roger North, who played for the Holy Modal Rounders, among others) were unusual looking:

North kit

but they were downright tame compared to the Staccato design, which headed into science-fiction (or Salvador Dali) territory:

Staccato kit

When I was a teen, there was a music store (now a pawn shop, which strikes me as a pretty natural progression) in Covington, KY that had a set of Staccatos in its window. My dad told me several times how much he wished he could afford to get them for me. Eventually, I bought my own pro-level kit, the one I still use with the Berries. Other than being oversized (as of course am I), they’re pretty conventional drums. But one thing I remember thinking is that if you play a kit like the ones I’ve discussed today, you’d best be able to play well, because you’re gonna get noticed.

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About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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