BlackBird Custom E-drumset – Explanation

This post is written by Matthias, the owner of one of the most impressive e-drum kits on the internet. He explains all details about his monster e-drum kit in this post. Enjoy!

Servus and Hello,

My name is Matthias, I’m 38 years old and live in Munich(Germany) with my wonderful wife and three children since 1999. Back in 2000, I founded a little web development studio named – gameworker.de – and work mostly as a programmer to make a living. My passion for drumming started at age 7- with an old, black drum set with no labels on it for about 50 bucks. This baby sounded like a rusty pot under water and the sound of my two cats steal food from the garbage can. But it was black… after all.

My second drum set was a white “New Sound” kit, my uncle gave me as a gift. He thought he would make me the greatest joy ever and I would cut his lawn for years from now on. None of this happened. You will understand that I spent much more time sticking things onto my drum heads (handkerchiefs, carpet pieces, felt and all kinds of tape) than actually playing the drums. Unfortunately, there was no “real internet” at this time so I was missing all those “how to make your cheap drum set sound great” videos.

I did not take this thing with me when I moved to Munich in 1999. Instead, I bought my first very own drum set and since I lived on the third floor of a multi-apartment building a went for my first e-drum set – the Roland TD-6KV.

I liked this piece of rubber and plastic a lot – it was absolutely fun to play! But again I spent most of the time to get it sound a bit “awesome-ish” and not so much practising and playing. But somehow I fell in love with e-drums back in those days. In 2000 I’ve set up my small programming company called gameworker, together with a friend. So I lent the TD-6 to a couple of friends. End of 2015 one of those friends came to me saying: “I want to buy your old e-drum set, go and buy yourself a new one!” And I said: “OK”.

After doing some research, I drove 250 kilometres to one of the biggest e-drum-stores in Europe named “drum-tec”, with a budget of about 1500 Euros. I tested a lot of drum kits there and left the store with a Roland TD-25KV for about 2500 Euros (do not visit drum-tec with a big car). I liked the TD-25 a lot but it had a few downsides. Remember that I obviously have fun tweaking the drums until they sound great? And what is the one thing you can not really do with a TD-25 Sound Module? Right: tweaking the sounds …!

If you want to go crazy there is unfortunately only one Sound Module you really want to buy in 2016: The Roland TD-30. So I exchanged the TD-25 Sound Module and got a TD-30. I do not like any of those built-in drum kits of any Roland Module – they are 99% pure crap… but the TD-30 has so much potential and if you really dig deep you can make this thing sound amazing.

  • tweaked the TD-30 – liked it a lot
  • got sad because of the looks not fitting the good sound anymore
  • went back to the drum-tec website and checked their Diabolo series
  • got sad because it is really expensive
  • researched the whole internet for DIY tutorials
  • studied trigger solutions
  • ordered test drum and test trigger
  • went nuts as everything worked out great
  • sold the Roland hardware (except for the cymbals)
  • started hitting the “Add to Cart”-button a lot

And this is what it looks like after 6 months of fun:

I will list a tonne of facts in a moment but I have a less boring way to go into detail …

I made a little video while the kit was set up in my online agency:

The Technical Stuff

To all over-motivated readers who made it this far, here are some thoughts and details about the different areas of my custom e-drum conversion project.

Rack

My brother is a metal worker. After a long and unsatisfying research for black rack tubes in different sizes, I asked him for help. He ordered 3 x 236 inches (6 meters) aluminium tubes and cut them accordingly. He then bent the horizontal tubes by himself and painted everything matt black.

The size of the rack components are quite standard like:

  • 120 cm both front
  • 110 cm right
  • 100 cm left
  • 90 cm gong tom tube
  • 80 cm stands front
  • 60 cm stands back
  • 60 cm and 40 cm for the legs
  • and 60 cm / 40 cm tubes for the Dauz Pads

The clou are those 6 x 2.5 cm holes – two in each curved tube. This easy solution (my brother came up with) enables me to put cables exactly where I want them – nice! Why the hell, is no major manufacturer doing the same? Boy, I need a patent!

One of the most expensive parts of the whole project are the clamps and mounts. At first, it might seem that you only need a few of them, but as you move on you’ll need a little clamp there and a tiny mounting here….  and BAM you are broke!!! I needed about 40 clamps and a few mounts.

Cables

To make sure that a monster like this is working out in the end, you have to create a plan (and probably a plan B and C…). I came up with this:

This is the basic wiring plan for the two modules that will be used and for measuring the lengths of the cables. I installed over 2700 inch (about 70 meters) of cable. Even the cables for the two satellite speakers of the monitoring system and four additional Aux Inputs are routed through the rack tubes.Installing the cables was … well… let’s just say I do not want to do this ever again 🙂

Shells and Triggers

The most exciting and fun part of converting an acoustic drum set is buying the actual shell set. No – wait, I have to be precise here: Buying the drum set and not give a shit about the sound – instead of buying a drum set only for the looks! Man – this is similar to women who buy a snowboard which fits the colour of their boots … this is soo much fun! So I went for the Mapex Mars in a colour called “Nightwood”. All shells got a clean Billy Blast Drums 3ply Mesh Heads with no logo on it … except for the 2 snares – they both got Jobeky 3ply Mesh Heads without a logo.

I installed high-quality RTB Trigger Systems made by R-DRUMS inside the 12” and 14” toms and the auxiliary snare and a Wronka Drums Ziptrigger inside the gong tom on the right side. All these trigger systems have centred trigger cones that enable positional sensing. The 2 smaller toms (8 and 10”) got the Triggera Intrigg’s.

The bass drum and the main snare got both a professional R-DRUMS RTS mid-trigger system. A snare drum with such a high-end trigger system in combination with a good mesh head is a real game changer.

I ordered the cheapest black 1ply mesh heads that I could find as resonant heads and drilled a hole in the mesh with a wood drill to route the cables out of the shells. The resonant head of the bass drum is the original one from Mapex basically because it’s … black.

This gong tom mounting style was born out of space problems in my basement where the kit is set up normally. This tom is mounted at the highest point of the curved tube so all forces are well balanced – it is super steady and there is not too much weight force on the shell.

Modules

I tried a few options to expand the TD-30 Sound Module with a slave module. The Roland TMC-6 (which is no longer in production), a Roland TD-4 Sound Module, a Roland TM-2 and finally the DDrum DDTi Trigger Interface. This device seems to be identical to the Alesis Trigger IO. It has ten trigger inputs – two of them are split with a splitter cable. One cool feature is that it can be powered via USB directly from the TD-30 – so the TD-30 starts both modules and provides the energy for the DDTi … nice 🙂 I am even using a special USB splitter cable to get power from the TD-30 for both, the DDTi and the iPad Mini.

Cymbals & Pads

Unfortunately, there is nothing in the market as good as the (overpriced) Roland cymbals, at least for the moment – that’s for sure! This is why most of the cymbals are Roland ones.

  • VH-11 Hi-Hat
  • CY-15R Ride
  • 3 x CY-14 Crash
  • CY-12H Aux Hi Hat
  • CY-5 Splash

My Triggera cymbals (two splash D11 and one china D14) are quite loud and rattly but they are cheap, they look really good and they trigger quite well considering that they are mono cymbals.

The Pintech PC 14” dual-zone Cymbal – well, let’s say – it triggers…

Another Pintech component is the eWedge Trigger Pad, which is a simply cowbell-like percussion pad. This thing is clearly overpriced! It is VERY loud – in fact, it was by far the loudest pad on the entire kit. The reason is the hard plastic playing surface, which is strange, because Pintech uses foam rubber for most of their pads and cymbals but not on this thing for whatever reason. So I glued a thick 6 mm foam rubber plate on top of the hard plastic. Now it is pleasant quiet and even the dynamics has improved.

The Roland BT-1 is a well-known trigger bar. But this rubber banana passes so much kinetic energy to the rest of the kit that i was forced to mount it old school on the hoop of the bass drum.

The Jobeky Electronic Cowbell is the newest member of the family. It is a real beauty and works just perfect.

The 4 Octobanish Pads on the left are DAUZ Pads. Those rubber things trigger really bad and feel way not as good as DAUZ tries to tell you, but they look great and – let’s be honest – who uses Octobans that much (except for Simon)?

A few more impressions of the kit:

Hardware and Accessories

For monitoring, I use an HK Audio Lucas Nano 300 which I can absolutely recommend. It has a built-in mixer which is cool for spontaneous jamming with one or two friends 🙂 I have installed an iPad Mini for Video Lessons and play along songs (mount manufactured by VonHaus).

I use the following Mapex hardware components:

…because – you guessed it –  it’s black and it is really good and durable stuff, too! The Throne is a Gibraltar 9608MB. Choosing a drum throne can be tricky… I recommend to visit a re-seller and let your ass decide!

And for those who want to know really every intimate detail of my drumming:

Yes – I use Drumsticks (PRO-MARK – TX707W Simon Phillips Sticks American Hickory to be precise)!

My Two Cents:

It took me about half a year to build this dream of an electronic drum kit. Was is worth it? Definitely! Was it too expensive? Hmmm… not really! If you want to go for a High-End E-Drum Kit and you are willing to spend about 7000$ (which was about 6500€ in the beginning of 2016) and you have two kits to choose from:

The Roland TD-30KV (it was Roland’s High-End Kit in early 2016) or The Blackbird Custom E-Drumset … both for around 7000 bucks – which one would you choose? The one with 10 things to hit or the one with 26 things to hit, way better play-ability and of course much better looks?

The only downside is that it is now as portable as any acoustic drum set and has lost the “e-drum advantage” of mobility. But this is not a big deal for me since it was built home practising. So yes – it was definitely a load of money to spend and tonnes of work but it is so cool, so much fun to play and such a professional electronic instrument that in my opinion, is worth every penny and every hour. I learned so many things and I had so much fun planning, buying and building this black beauty, that I would go the same way again if I could turn back time. Every single day since finishing this project, I have that big smile on my face when I open the door to my drum room and can not wait to grab my sticks and hit it with Rock ‘N Roll!

All the best,

Maze

 

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