Friday, October 16, 2009


I'm having problems with spacing sometimes, and I apologize for it. I'm working on it.

So as I mentioned in Part One, I fell for the whole Simmons drum thing. Part of it was, I really liked that one signature Simmons sound, the reverb-y, echo-ey thunderous tom tom sound. For effect and for occasional use, the bass drum and snare drum were good, but like many other drummers using Simmons, I tried to use an acoustic bass and snare whenever possible during live gigs, using the toms since that was the sound that most of the bands wanted anyway, just the toms. The electronic bass and snare were cool, but couldn't give the variety most drummers and indeed, most bands, want coming out of the drum section.

Dynamics was a large part of this. Although thunderous tom fills (usually when no singing is going on) are cool, the dynamic range of early e-drums like the Simmons was very limited, and not anywhere near that of an acoustic bass or snare.

I was lucky to be living in Houston then, where Simmons Rep and Clinician Tim "Texas Tim" Root worked at The Drum Shop on West Alabama. The Drum Shop was big into selling the Simmons line, and I got lots of opportunities to play around on them. I thought they were "cool", and lots of other people did too.

They were highly expensive for the time, say 1983 and 1984. Several thousand dollars for an early basic kit, the SDSV. Soon came the much more expensive SDS7.

In 1984 or so, I ran into a rockabilly drummer hit upon hard times and got the set in a trade for a Ludwig kit that I had put together with some mismatched drums. The Rockabilly drummer got a paying road gig with a band that wanted real drums and since he had to leave immediately for one of the coasts and needed a set THAT NIGHT, I traded him a mismatched (but very cool sounding) Ludwig kit in larger sizes.

The SDSV's were the most reliable set of Simmons that were made, closely followed by the SDS 1000 and the SDS 8. Although vastly different units, each feature "That Simmons Sound" program, and really, if you were playing the Simmons drums because you had to in order to get the gig (many working bands demanded them or even provided them), you just wanted mainly the main program.

The SDSV featured 4 voices, but really only the voice known as That Simmons Sound" was the good one. The others were weird and often wacky. Wacky has no place in drumming, or at least, not in my drumming.

So because the SDSV had hardwired circuits that provided and made the analog electronic sound converted from the strike of the drumstick, their memory was stable.

I later owned an SDS7 that had crashed on the original owner several times during live shows. He was a union drummer who had to put on a "pro level" show and an edrum rig crashing and failing in the middle of a gig was unacceptable. It crashed one last time and I got it broken for something like $50. I sent it off to Simmons and got it repaired but to me the flaw of the SDS7 was that it's digital memory was highly volitile. You could, if I recall correctly, use sound chips in the modules but the electronics of them never seemed to work right.

I played in one band that had bought their own SDS7 drumkit for their home studio. It failed again and again. The ones I saw at The Drum Shop always seemed to work great, and really made some good sounds. But the one I owned and the band I knew that had one had repeated crashes with them.

So after the second repair, I did another trade for an SDS 8 (entry level kit) and an SDS9. The SDS9 cost twice what the SDS8 did, but I never did like most of the voices on the SDS9. It worked flawlessly, but it didn't have "That Simmons Sound", instead it was intended to be some kind of electronic imitator of a real drum kit.

The SDS 8 was the entry level kit, yet featured a non-software based memory like the SDSV and later SDS1000. The SDS8 featured "That Simmons Sound" and one other, as I recall. Which was really all you needed. The SDS1000 came along later, with the SDS1000M model having midi.

The SDS1000M was the optimum Simmons drum kit. As I recall, you had several sounds, but all you really needed was "That Simmons Sound". And it had that. And because it was an upgrade from the SDS8, it had a fuller, richer sound. Because it had midi, you could midi it together with drum machines, samplers and keyboards to create unique drum sounds. Or use it by itself.

At about this time, in the late 1980's, samplers had largely replaced the sound modules by Simmons and a few others as the sound sources for electronic drummers. Often kits would midi together numerous sound sources to their drums, leading to elaborate mixing systems and midi mixers and the like. El Complicatedo.

Simmons went out of business sometime in the early 1990's. I kept several of the Simmons kits boxed up at the folks house in my old closet. Climate controlled. They weathered the years well. But when I started playing them again in the late 1990's, I found I needed some repair parts.

Piezo transducers were easy enough to find at Radio Shack, but other parts had to come from Simmons. Through a habit of saving old Modern Drummer magazines, I found an ad from the early 1990's from a California guy who was a former Simmons employees and who had bought the remaining stock and repair inventory from Simmons.

In any event, at about that same time, a friend of mine who owned a music store had a box of "broken" pads and stands and an SDS1000m brain that had been in his back room for 10 years or more. I got it real cheap, and quickly fixed all the wiring problems and they worked like a champ thereafter.

I have an EMU procussion unit now, and it has "That Simmons Sound" when I need it. I still think that the merger of acoustic drums and electronic drums is a very cool thing to do, and I like to do it myself.

It's nice to have options.


  1. Wow, ran into your article hear while searching for some general info on Simmons Drums. Brought back memories. I had played a Simmons kit in the mid 80's - an SDS7 that I had got from a friend that had opted to switch back to acoustics. Anyway, like you, I got a really good deal on it, but had to deal with lots of glitching. Loved the pads and eventually got hold of a Dynacord unit that I used as the brains of the kit for a long while. It was cool because I had sampled some "Simmons sounds" and also had access to realtively good acoustic drum samples in there. I also used an SDS9 for a while. I liked the stand that came with that. Anyway, well, I ended up selling most of that gear a few years ago. I regret not keeping one pad set at least. I had most recently used a Roland TD7 brain with the pads, and it worked pretty cool. But there was always something very cool about those hexagonal pads and the classic sound. I keep checking on Ebay and Craiglist, hoping to find an SDS9 set sooner or later. SIMMONS FOREVER!! Peace

  2. Thanks for the comment! I'd give my right little toe for a dynacord add-one rack for a semi-reasonable price. I have a more modern set of e-drums now, and I'd love to mount them on a dynacord rack.

    I lusted for a dynacord brain in the 80's. They had the cool program changer that was a mini-pad with two triggers, and the acoustic sounds were awesome.

    In any event, if you've got your add one rack from dynacord or come across one in your searching, give me a holler. The triangular rack that comprises the tube mounts on the dynacord was unique and despite my best efforts to fabricate one using other kinds of drum and ultimate keyboard rack clamps, I can't do it.

    In any event, you can get a good deal on used vdrums. I like them very much. I bought some programs for mine on a memory card for the TD10 and I've got "that simmons sound" from the sdsV coming from my vdrums. Pads are much cooler as well.