Rob Brens

Musician : Educator : Writer

Still cheating: More words on drum triggers

Quite a bit of time has passed since I posted my first article on triggering and with time comes more gigs, experiences and technologies. It’s a piece that’s gotten a lot of attention so I feel compelled to add what I’ve learned since. This one goes into a lot of minutia that I’ve been trying to parse out so if you’re new to triggering, I suggest reading the first article here.  

I am still running triggers for Hadal Maw and I also use them for I Built the Sky with the same Axis Longboard/E-kit with TM-2 combination. When I signed with Pearl and ordered my new kit, I ordered two kick drums, which was a real gamble. Ordering a second kick for better triggering without knowing confidently that it was going to make a significant difference. I felt like I was playing with fire, but worst-case scenario, I’d look bad ass on stage.

 
Hadal two kick setup photo ( Hadal Maw European Tour Circa Feb 2019 )

Hadal two kick setup photo (Hadal Maw European Tour Circa Feb 2019)

 

I will say though, it more or less paid off. First rehearsal with two kicks I could safely say that the consistency was bordering on 100%. However, with I Built the Sky, I still only use one kick, so I have to continually revert back to the "double pedal" configuration. This was predominantly for convenience, but also the motivation for using triggers in the first place was more a sonic choice than a technical one. Given the I Built the Sky albums have programmed drums, I wanted to replicate that mechanical sound on the kicks, barring that, there’s only a couple of quick passages that warrant triggering. I would get to experience the difference in setups regularly when I'd alternate between the two bands and yes, it absolutely makes a difference. 

Biggest issue with drum triggers and the double pedal

The biggest issue with the double pedal comes back to my habit of resting the beaters on the bass drum skin. This presents the biggest problem in the left pedal where hits on the right foot can send vibrations down the axis/drive shaft (the part that connects the right pedal to the left) and trigger the e-kit because the hammer (also called a detonator) is already contacting with the trigger box.

 
I Built the Sky single kick set up

I Built the Sky single kick set up

 

If you’re someone who lets the beater bounce off the head, you can pretty much ignore this issue! I still think there’s a sizable difference in feel between a double pedal and two kicks which negates this point, though I understand it comes down to how you feel about organising and transporting two bass drums around.

Troubleshooting triggers

Here are some extra notes to build on some of the issues I mentioned in my first instalment.

Replacing the bass drum skin has not been a factor since I first reported on it. I wouldn’t rule it out, but it could simply be a fact that when I replaced the head, the new tension was more responsive. Tension wise I still go for a quarter turn or so above finger tight. Even still, this remains an issue of feel and only sometimes affects triggering.

Dampening still plays a major part, but the key is ensuring that your dampening is contacting both the resonant and batter heads. On a similar note, I’ve used kits that don’t have a hole in the front skin and good lord what an absolute nightmare that is. You can feel the air inside the kick fighting back against the batter head so I’ve avoided that at all costs ever since.

e kit hammer diagram

e kit hammer diagram

On my most recent tours I’ve noticed two significant factors that have impacted my playing with triggers (this is assuming I’ve exhausted the factors I mentioned in previous articles). One is the actual E kit hammer. When I get the most inexplicable double fires and misfires (yes both) and I can’t work out what’s gone wrong, replacing the hammer with a fresh one has completely fixed the problem on multiple occasions. I also remember hearing second hand that Jesse Beahler (Thy Art is Murder/Black Crown Initiate) had a similar experience.

The second is simply down to the playing. It’s hard to ignore the correlation between more accurate triggering when my practice is more consistent. In terms of approaches that one can employ immediately, is the actual kicking technique. Over time I tend to dig in more so I have more control and conviction in my playing, however in tempos at 190 and above you start getting diminishing returns.

On the previous two tours I found that instead of focusing on pure power and generating more from the leg, I tried focusing more on generating from the ankle, but with a wider range of motion. This still requires power but in a more technical way, I found it was better for endurance and the clarity on rolls etc was much much higher. Hitting that 220bpm range with confidence was right there from the get go.

The ‘footblaster” style

The footblaster

The footblaster

Outside of this, the latest addition to the discussion is the “footblaster” style of triggering. This is a device that attaches to the pedal’s base plate and is triggered directly by contact from the footboard. By all accounts, the reviews appear to be mixed. Some people have reported the most flawless triggering they’ve ever experienced, while others have experienced breakages. The biggest advantage being is that it’s not exclusive to any pedal, so you can fit it on anything, which is huge. The key thing I’ve gleaned from the product is it heavily favours players who don’t rest on the pedals, keeping the beater away from the head, so that’s a no from me.

And believe it or not, I’ve actually heard of bands who put their kicks in the backing track. This isn’t even triggering strictly speaking but it still blows my mind to this day that that’s even a thing. Whatever pays the bills I guess.

The lesson here continues to be, always develop your technique on the feet and keep workshopping with your equipment so that the equipment works for you, not the other way around. Happy triggering.