Friday, January 27, 2012

Pinstripes reconsidered

Here drummer and Modern Drummer writer T. Bruce Wittet takes another look at the now-humble Remo Pinstripe. For a good part of the 70's and 80's they were the drum head of choice for  many, many players, until they went out of style in a big way in the early 90's. Their rise and fall tracks roughly from the beginning of Steve Gadd's massive popularity through the end of Dave Weckl's.

For good or ill, their long, funky tone and cushiony (taffy-like?) response shaped both my touch and musical approach to the toms for some time; when you tune them low as I did, they felt good and sounded best when you lay into them. You had to play through the head, which caused me to develop something of a funk drummer's touch. Even though, with two plies of mylar  glued at the edge, they are inherently a muffled head, the body of their tone is long. Because of that slow response, your ear would tell you to play more single notes, and less, well, dense drummer junk.

So T. Bruce's big reveal relates to his first MD piece, a 1978 interview with Jack Dejohnette. Naturally, the heads Jack was using at the time:

Clear Remo Pinstripes, oh yeah. And did he sound good! In the break between shows, we sat in figure-8 relative to my cassette recorder and I stumbled and blurted out questions I dearly needed to ask, throwing aside my script. One of these concerned the wonderful tom sound I’d just heard. Jack explained that these new heads, Pinstripes, were perfect because they muffled the circumference, and thus the weird overtones, allowing a more focused tone to emerge. He told me he preferred tuning them really tightly stating, “it’s a jazz tuning, that’s all”.

Then in conversation with Quebec drummer Gordon Wood:

So we got talking about taboo subjects, when I broached the topic of my gig this coming Saturday, wherein the artist, with whom I’d recently cut an album, wanted “loose, groaning, fat-sounding, organic drumheads”. I awkwardly mentioned to Gordon, “You know, this may sound old-school but last night I put Pinstripes on two of the toms I’m gonna use Saturday and they sounded pretty amazing”.
Gordon agreed fully and we discussed the merits of Pinstripes, unfettered by the folly of fashion and the drum police. We were simply seeking deep tone. Gordon recently had played a backline drumset, Pins top and bottom, and he told me that when he struck the floor tom and heard a robust boooom there was no arguing that this was a throaty, traditional big drum sound. When I asked him about any dearth of stick attack, no was the response. 

In his conclusion:

My Ambassador problems are long standing. Maybe it’s me—it must be due to the weight of testimony against what I’m saying—but I’m not fond of a certain boing I hear, and of a brittle feel, from a new Remo Ambassador. Maybe I oughta let them break in, ditto with Evans G1. For that matter, I’d much rather play the ultra-thin Diplomat (the thinnest batter head available from Remo) or the Evans J1 [...] than the regular mid-weight batter any day of the week. This is not fashion. I can tune any head the way it ought to sound at its optimum. So can you. Thing is, I appreciate the feel of a drumhead as much as the tone and, thus, I’m not going to submit to fashion[...] 

One thing I have never tried with Pinstripes is tuning them high (other than in drum corps, on tenors- for which they are the best head in the world)- I have to say I'm a little bit tempted...

Go read the complete piece.

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