Simmons (electronic drum company)

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The SDS 5 Electronic Drum Kit, ca.1981.
Simmons SDS 5 front view

Simmons was a pioneering British manufacturer of electronic drums. Founded in 1978 by Dave Simmons,[1] it supplied electronic kits from 1980 to 1994. The drums' distinctive, electronic sound can be found on countless albums from the 1980s. The company closed in 1999 and the Simmons name is currently owned by Guitar Center.

The "SDS 5" (or SDSV; notated as SDS-5) as shown on the right was developed in conjunction with Richard James Burgess of Landscape and released in 1981.[1] The first recordings of the instrument were made by Burgess, on From the Tea-rooms of Mars ...., "Chant No. 1" by Spandau Ballet, and "Angel Face" by Shock. After Burgess and Spandau Ballet appeared on Top of the Pops with the instrument, many other musicians began to use the new technology, including the following: Howard Jones, Jez Strode of Kajagoogoo, John Keeble of Spandau Ballet, Roger Taylor of Duran Duran, Darren Costin of Wang Chung, Rick Allen of Def Leppard, Thomas Dolby, Phil Collins, Neil Peart, Bill Bruford, Talk Talk's album The Party's Over, Cameo, Jonzun Crew, Depeche Mode, and Vangelis.

History[edit]

Single-pad analogue drum synthesizers, including the Pollard Syndrum and the Synare, were introduced in the 1970s, but their unrealistic sound made them generally more suitable for use as a percussion effect than as a replacement for traditional drums. They became a popular element in disco records, especially after the release of music from Star Wars, and can be heard on songs by The Jacksons and Rose Royce.

Around 1978 while working for the company Musicaid in St. Albans, Dave Simmons developed a device with similar capabilities to the Syndrum and Synare, which he called the SDS-3. The SDS-3 featured four drum channels and a noise generator;[2][3] the SDS-4 was a functionally similar two-channel version.[3] At this juncture, the drum pads were round, with wooden frames and real 8-inch drum heads.[4] Musicaid was also the distributor for the Lyricon wind synthesizer as played by John L. Walters of Landscape. Walters introduced Richard James Burgess to Simmons and Burgess began using the SDS-3s and SDS-4s live, on stage, with his band Landscape. Recognizing the potential for a fully electronic drum set that could replace the traditional acoustic set rather than supplement it, Burgess began collaborating with Dave Simmons. They mocked up the sounds and flowchart using an ARP 2600 synthesizer. Since Burgess was using the instrument in a live setting, they developed the four customizable preset buttons. The distinctive hexagonal shape came about after triangles and bat-wing mock-ups had been tried. Burgess finally decided that a honeycomb shape would fit together ergonomically and be simple yet distinctive in appearance. A limited edition of what Simmons referred to as the Mount Rushmore Head sets were also built. Burgess has two of these sets. The basic descending tom-tom sound was modeled after the way Burgess tuned his Pearl single-headed concert tom kit on which he would loosen one tension rod, causing a wrinkle in the head and creating a descending pitch after the tom was hit.

Burgess had recorded extensively with the prototype of the SDS-5 on the Landscape album, with Shock and Spandau Ballet before the SDS-V (5), was introduced commercially in 1981. The world's first fully electronic drum set, the SDS-V[5] featured the famous hexagonal pads[6] and distinctive "dzzshhh" sound heard in countless songs by 1980s bands, including Duran Duran and Rush. The standard configuration consisted of an expandable rack-mountable "brain", containing the various drum sounds, and pad modules for bass drum, snare, and three toms. Two spare slots were available so that cymbal or extra tom modules could be added; many drummers, however, chose to use acoustic cymbals rather than the Simmons sounds, which were often compared[by whom?] to that of a trash can lid. Connections to the unit were by XLR plugs, and it could be interfaced with a drum sequencer. Its sturdiness and high sound quality have helped to keep the SDS-V a sought-after device even today.[citation needed]

The SDS-V's biggest disadvantage was the solid polycarbonate heads on the pads. Simmons chose this material for its durability, but the heads' lack of "give" often resulted in wrist pain for users. Soon after, Simmons began shipping pads with soft rubber surfaces. The SDS-V became an instant hit, with Simmons endorsing several drummers, and the distinctive pad shape becoming an icon of the 1980s.[citation needed]

In the USA, Simmons rapid success was due largely to the work of UK session drummer Glyn Thomas. With the agreement of Dave Simmons, Group Centre Inc. became the sole distributors of all Simmons Electronics products in the USA. After visiting and demoing the SDS-V to music stores in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago, he secured orders from them all. Manufacturing was ramped up quickly in time for the NAMM Music Expo in Chicago and after staging a series of demos featuring Bill Bruford, dozens more music store owners from all over the country signed up to this electronic revolution, and that expansion quickly established the Simmons name in the rest of the USA.[citation needed]

More models[edit]

Simmons models:
  • MTM: 8 ch MIDI-Trigger Converter
  • SDS 7: Modular sample player
         with analog filters
  • unknown: (bottom left)
  • SDS 800: 4 ch analog drum synthesizer

During the lifetime of the SDS-V, Simmons also produced a compact trigger unit about the size of a suitcase, containing seven small pads.[7] Used in conjunction with the SDS-V brain, this allowed players to add Simmons sounds to an existing acoustic kit without incorporating a set of full-size pads. This unit was used extensively by New Order at the time.

Also available at the same time was the SDS-6 drum sequencer,[8] used to great effect by artists such as Howard Jones.

Following the success of the SDS-V, Simmons expanded their range in 1983, replacing the V with another modular rack-based brain called the SDS-7,[9] which featured digital sampling sounds on EPROM for the first time, expandable up to twelve modules, and redesigned pads, featuring a skin of rubber to make playing a little easier.[10] The unit used 8-bit samples and a programmable memory, but was prone to malfunctioning and loss of memory, making it unpopular in a live context.

The same year, they also produced the cheaper analogue-only SDS-8,[11] which featured a single, non-expandable desktop-style brain with one unalterable factory preset and one custom user preset for each channel. The SDS-8 kit was supplied with four tom pads and a bass pad, using similar hardware to the earlier SDS-V, but in a more budget style, such as using jack leads instead of XLR connectors.[12] The sounds were similar to the SDS-V, but, to the discerning ear, not up to the same quality. However, the kit has remained a popular alternative to the SDS-V for those seeking analogue Simmons sounds.

Also available at the time were a number of smaller devices, such as an SDS-EPB E-PROM Blower[11] to write samples onto the chips, a "Digital ClapTrap" unit,[13] which, as its name suggested, was a digital clap sound device, a sound very popular in 1980s music.

Simmons began to expand their product line with smaller kits and pads, including the SDS-1,[14] which was a single pad with a built-in EPROM reader for playing a single drum sound sample, and the all-analogue SDS-200 (2 tom system),[15] SDS-400 (4 tom system), and SDS-800 (bass, snare, and 2 tom system).[16] These products were aimed at acoustic drummers who wanted to add a couple of Simmons pads to their kit on a budget. Some of these products also featured the "run generator", which allowed drummers to play a descending drum roll with a single pad hit.

In 1985, Simmons introduced the SDS-9,[17] a hybrid digital/analog brain with three changeable EEPROM channels (kick, snare, and rim) and analogue-synthesized toms. It also featured 40 presets (20 factory and 20 user-programmable) and a built-in digital delay. This kit was yet another well received product for Simmons as it combined realistic sounds in an inexpensive, compact brain. Following customer feedback, Simmons also produced a new series of drum pads using "floating" drum heads and changeable shells.[18] The snare drum had an extra trigger for the rim. Again, this improved the playability of the kit.

Another brain was introduced in 1986 called the SDS-1000,[19] and was, in effect, the same sounds as the SDS-9 (without the ability to change the EPROMS) in a slim 1U, MIDI-enabled, rack mountable unit. The snare sounds, however, were more realistic and clear than the SDS-9. The SDS-1000 also included a "second skin" feature, which emulated the sound of dual-headed drums.

The SDX[edit]

In 1987, after the SDS-9, Simmons decided to enter into the high-end professional market and created the revolutionary SDX.[20][21] It introduced new features that were unheard of in other electronic drums such as "zone intelligence" and "pad layering". Some of these ideas were not revisited by other companies until nearly 15 years after the SDX.

Zone Intelligence allowed for up to three samples to be assigned to different positional locations on a pad for a more realistic sound.[22] With pad layering, up to nine different samples could be triggered via different strike velocities and positions, selecting samples from a 3 by 3 matrix. The samples could also be further manipulated by applying positive or negative values on a matrix (routed to both position and dynamic), simultaneously affecting the following aspects of the sound: volume, pitch, brightness, panning, noise element, and sample start point. All or any of these aspects of the sound, were both programmable and continuously variable dependent upon strike position and strike velocity and were user programmable in the extreme.The SDX was the first Simmons kit since the SDS-7 to support cymbal sounds, using pads called "Symbals" which simulated the swaying motion of real cymbals with a swivel rod.[22] The SDX included a built-in sampler with a floppy disk drive, internal SCSI hard disk drive and optional external SCSI ZIP or Syquest drives as the methods of data storage. The SDX introduced a new way of modifying sounds. Rather than knobs and switches, it featured a 9" monochrome CRT screen with a GUI controlled by a trackball, similar to the early Mac OS. SDX OS allowed users to fully modify sounds with an easy-to-use interface. It also featured a full 64-track real-time sequencer with the ability to non-destructively quantize recordings and sync them to MIDI.

Sales of the SDX were limited due to its high price, costing around $10,154. The factory sounds included with the SDX did not match the quality expected for a system of such advanced technology, so many drummers chose to sample their own sounds. In 1988, the SDX software was updated to make SDX suitable for use with MIDI keyboards, thus offering a sound source rivaling the Fairlight CMI for a fraction of the price. Approximately 250 SDX Consoles were sold, of which less working models remain.

Primary users of SDX included Bill Bruford with ABWH and King Crimson and also Danny Carey with Tool. The SDX also featured on Pip Greasley's 'The 5k Pursuit Opera' C4TV [1991] where it was played by Bruce Mason.

The demise of Simmons[edit]

By the time of the launch of the SDX, the company had seen a dramatic fall in their sales as drummers abandoned electronics to return to their acoustic kits. Additionally, due to expensive R&D and manufacturing costs of the SDX, Simmons was losing money. Their final kit was released in 1989, called the SDS-2000,[23] featuring sounds from the SDX library, digital effects, further refined pads,[24] and a new company logo. Along with the SDS-2000, Simmons manufactured pads with real drumheads called "Hexaheads",[25] along with "Minihexes", smaller-sized pads sometimes used as cymbal pads.[26] This system failed to catch on, as competitors such as Roland and Yamaha were creating less expensive kits with better sounds. The music scene of the early '90s was different from the late '80s, and the Simmons sounds, often associated with pop, synth-driven tunes, couldn't find a serious market response in the simplified, more acoustic drumming trends of the grunge and rock styles of the time. During the 90's, Simmons shifted their focus from drum synthesis to drum triggering and MIDI control, with products like the ADT[27] (acoustic drum trigger) and Trixter[28] (triggered electric drums (digital samples) from acoustic drum mics), Drum Huggers (small clip-on acoustic drum triggers/pads), and the Silicon Mallet (a xylophone-style MIDI controller). One of Simmons' last products, the Turtle Trap,[26] was a MIDI controller made from the shell of a bass drum pad, with the pads being the surfaces of Minihexes. However, all of these products sold poorly compared to the company's peak period, and Simmons was quickly losing momentum. In 1999, the company officially closed.

The new Simmons[edit]

In 2005, Guitar Center acquired the rights to the Simmons trademark and began marketing affordable Chinese-manufactured electronic drums (commercialised under other names in the world) under the Simmons name and original logo. These kits have no relationship to the original company. However, some of the kits' designs feature traces of the familiar hexagon shape, similar model numbers, and built-in samples of the classic Simmons sounds. Dave Simmons publicly opposes Guitar Center's acquisition of the name and is reportedly seeking legal action.

Notable users[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Bibliography
Other
  1. ^ a b Dean, Matt (2011). The Drum: A History. Scarecrow Press. pp. 370+. ISBN 0810881705. 
  2. ^ SDS 3  (manufactured by Musicad)
  3. ^ a b Musicad Simmons SDS-3, SDS-4(IV) (photo & ad.), simmons.synth.net 
  4. ^ SDS 3 pads (ca. 1979)  (Mark 1 pads) rounded pads with real drum heads by Premier.
  5. ^ SDS 5  (manufactured by Simmons, St. Albans. The rear logo seems "SDSV")
  6. ^ SDS 5 pads (ca. 1981), "(Mark 2 pads) the beginning of hexagonal pads" 
  7. ^ Suitcase Kit (ca. 1981), "a portable SDS-V" 
  8. ^ SDS 6, "drum sequencer"  (The front logo seems "SDS6")
  9. ^ SDS 7 Digital-Analog Drum System  (The front logo seems "SDS7", however, rear seems "SDS 7")
  10. ^ SDS 7 pads (ca. 1984), "(Mark 3 pads) introducing the rubber surface" 
  11. ^ a b SDS 8 Electronic Drum 
  12. ^ SDS 8 pads (ca. 1984), "SDS 7 light" 
  13. ^ Digital Claptrap 
  14. ^ SDS 1 (ca. 1984), "pad and sound generation in one" 
  15. ^ SDS 200 Electronic Drums 
  16. ^ SDS 800 Electronic Drums 
  17. ^ SDS9 Electronic Drums  (The front logo seems "SDS9")
  18. ^ SDS 9 pads (ca. 1985), "(Mark 4 pads) swimming surface, changeable shells" 
  19. ^ SDS 1000 
  20. ^ Simmons SDX 
  21. ^ Simmons XRack, simmons.synth.net, "The X-Rack is basically an SDX in a rack" 
  22. ^ a b Simmons SDX pads (ca. 1987), "Zone Intelligence pads, ... Symbal pad ..." 
  23. ^ SDS 2000 Digital Drums 
  24. ^ SDS 2000 pads (ca. 1988), "(Mark 5 pads) screwed rubber surface, new logo" 
  25. ^ Hexahead pad (ca. 1992), "the return to real drum heads (by Evans)" 
  26. ^ a b Minihex pad (ca. 1990) 
  27. ^ Acoustic Drum Driger 
  28. ^ Simmons advertisements, SimmonsMuseum.com 

External links[edit]