Defining Your 'Signature' Sound

by William Reeves

March/April 2002

Editor's Note: ESP is moving to a bi-monthly format to better facilitate our vision for more detailed, in-depth articles on featured topics. Eric Scot Porter is in the process of renovating his studio, so the duty of his column for the next few months is being handled by William Reeves, who is usually found moderating the forum at This column begins a series designed to help you define and create your 'signature' sound.

Defining Your 'Signature' Sound

I've noticed in recent years a LOT of drummers coming out with ‘signature’ products. While to some degree these are simply clever marketing, it has had me thinking about my own signature sound and the products I use to achieve it. Snare drums and drumsticks have been popular ‘signature items’ for quite some time. In many cases these are merely a combination of different components that mimic an artists set-up. In sticks it is often just a common size with a slightly different length or tip. Cymbals follow the same minor change rule. A little more or less lathe on all or parts of the cymbal, some unique hammering or a combination of two or more mounting on top of each other. Could many pick out Phil Collins' Signature Ride in a line-up? Probably not, as his toms are probably more unique to his sound. Is this because nobody else plays open-ended toms with lots of reverb? No. It’s because he uses these unique toms a LOT in his playing. When I think about my own signature sound, I have to admit that much like my real signature, it has changed and refined to its simplest form as time goes on.

For years I was a HUGE fan of Phil Collins’ playing and his set-up influenced my own. I strayed from Zildjian to Sabian because of Phil. I took the bottom heads off my toms because of Phil. But when I finally tried the Pro-Mark Phil Collins Series Drumsticks, I had to draw the line. They were WAY to short for me with far too aggressive of tip. I played with 5As most of my life and recently have moved to Regal Tip American Hickory Sticks in Jazz or Combo sizes for most playing, even though I don’t play any Jazz or Combo music.

Regal Tip American Hickory Drumsticks Nylon Jazz

Regal Tip American Hickory Drumsticks Nylon Jazz

Made from only the finest American Hickory. Joe Calato developed the original nylon tip drum stick over 40 years ago. Regal Tip was the first company to install their own dry kiln so that they could control the manufacturing process from the kiln drying of the wood, to the matching and pairing of sticks.

I run each brick of sticks through my own 320 grit sanding sponge to improve the grip of the finished sticks. To me, my signature is defined more by my playing, rather than what I play. The set-up has changed over the years as well. If fact, I've been through more than 10 'favorite' snare drums in as many years. I’ve loved and lost nearly as many hi-hat stands and have certainly been through my share of heads, muffling arrays, sticks and kick pedals of various types. Recently, I set out to define my own signature sound. Not so much in a desire to change it, but to separate what I’ve liked and not liked from each piece over the years in an attempt to make better informed future purchases and weed out a growing pile of under-utilized equipment. The quest to find something I would be willing to sign MY name to.

When it comes time to look at upgrades to their kit, most drummers look to add more accessory items and ignore the core elements of their kit. A new splash cymbal here, a timbale there. Are these little used items likely to become the signature for your sound? Probably not. If you were to put an odometer on most drum kits, you would likely find that your hi-hat racks up more miles than any other item on your kit, followed closely by your kick drum and snare. These three elements, more than any other make up your signature by nature of their frequency of appearance within your playing. Yet, many drum manufacturers (especially electronic) tend to ignore the hi-hat for it's deserved priority. Likewise, the electronic manufacturers often leave out the kick pedal (the second most used item in a kit), leaving you to make this important decision on your own. We like to view this industry wide ‘failing’ as an opportunity. If you do your homework, you will end up choosing pieces that will follow you through many years of drum kits. This series of articles will follow the journey of my own experiencing in finding what works for me. Within this, we hope to help you in finding what equipment configurations and method work for you.

Have you ever stopped to think about what makes a better kick pedal a better kick pedal, or define what makes a better hi-hat set-up a better hi-hat set-up? As I look back at what has made winners and losers out of each candidate, it becomes easier to define than I thought. The next few columns will follow the journey to developing your own signature sound with these three elements. We'll help you look at distinguishing features as they may relate to your specific needs and playing style. We'll look at the technology offered in each of these areas. We'll look at some of the theories behind some of the better selections. We’ll assume your 'signature sound' doesn't include squeaks, rattles and cheap overtones. We’ll also look at the recent advances in technology (including electronic drums) that can help you make better, more educated decisions in defining your own signature sound. We'll show you some of the features found in the latest modules that have made this possible. You'll also see how making the plunge into electronics may be the quickest and cheapest way to help you define your acoustic sound.

Next time, we'll discuss defining and creating your signature hi-hat sound. We'll show you what to look for in a quality set-up for your playing style and give you some inexpensive tips for getting the most out of what you already have.

LOGIZTIX™ is not responsible for any and all injuries or other claims that may arise from your use or attempted use of these instructions. Certain skills are a prerequisite for following these plans successfully. The use of manufacturers and/or other companies' names does NOT constitute an endorsement... All trademarks are property of their respective owners.

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