Archives for the month of: January, 2013

I’ve promised these and so fresh for 2013 here they are!  Extensive photos of the inner life and workings of a Simmons SDS-V with the MFB SEQ-01 sequencer built in.

But first, a little background.

Simmons electronic drums were developed by Richard James Burgess and Dave Simmons.  Burgess’ idea was to make a fully electronic drumset that could be played  by a real drummer or a sequencer.  He pioneered this idea while working on the first Landscape album From the Tea-Rooms of Mars… To the Hell-Holes of Uranus ( a great soundtrack styled listen BTW ).  In 1981 he produced the Spandau Ballet hit, “Chant No. 1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On)”.  It was the first breakthrough hit with a real drummer playing the now famous hexagonal pads and the first production Simmons SDS-V brain.

They offered a Kick drum, Snare drum, Toms, and even High Hats and Cymbal modules although the Cymbal and HH ones are super rare.  Seven of any combination could be housed in one brain and triggered via octagonal pad, sequencer, and even acoustic triggers attached to drums.  There was even an open/closed HH pedal input to trigger 2 different variations from the HH module.  You could program your own sounds via the front panel of each module with full controls for 3 presets on the front and one ‘factory’ set inside that are all adjustable.  The Brain did double duty of allowing trigger inputs while offering basic mixing of the internal sounds via a stereo and mono output ( with individual out as well ).  These brains quickly became cult like in their status and were used in everything from jazz bands by Bill Bruford to rock groups like Def Leppard ( by the one armed Rick Allen ) and of course funk and dance groups like Prince.

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And i never get bored of this song:

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I had picked up an SDS-V brain with a Kick, Snare, and 3 Tom modules.  But there was those two empty slots at the end… hmmmm… Then it occurred to me, What if i turn this Brain into a full DRUM MACHINE!!! Lo an behold, a few Googles later yielded my plan of attack.  I could fit a modern modular sequencer into this old brain and make an instrument of the future past! There’s some technical hurdles to surmount in adding a sequencer to the SDS-V brain.

1, The MFB SEQ-01 is designed to work in a modular synth case.  the SDS-V case is of equivalent hight but the mounting holes are not lined up. So, more accurately, the MFB fits vertically and horizontally but the mounting holes don’t line up.  To avoid damaging the original mounting setup i opted to temporarily put  washers over the adjacent screws to hold the sequencer in.

2, The MFB SEQ-01 needs to be routed to the trigger or sequencer inputs on the SDS-V cards. I had a few options here.  One was to connect the sequencer outs to the Simmons’ native sequencer inputs.  The other was to hook it up to the trigger or pad inputs.  I opted to use the trigger inputs ( counter intuitive, i know! ) because this gave me a gain adjustment on the face plate of the brain for each trigger from the sequencer to the drum module.  The SDS-V drum modules are very dynamic and it’s useful to be able to hit them with sequencer trigger more or less to taste.

3, Lastly, The MFB SEQ-01 needs to be powered and it runs at a different voltage than the SDS-V. I had MFB modify the Seq-01 to run on 15 volts in the SDS.  Then i connected the power from the +/-15 volt rail in the Brain to the power input on the MFB edge connector.  Pretty straight forward!

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Photos by J-poo.

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Future plans for the SDS-V:

1, So, there’s one quirk in the Simmons SDS-V design i’d like to point out.  The audio outs are wired pin 3 hot.  This is the XLR wiring convention used by many old British companies and it’s the opposite of the US convention of pin 2 hot.  Reversing this would be great to more easily interface with other equipment.

2, I’d eventually like to disconnect the back panel sequencer jacks from the SDS-V modules and instead wire them to the MFB SEQ-01 outputs.  This way the sequencer outs  could be used to drive more than just the Simmons modules.  there’s actually 12 sequencer slots and the Simmons SDSV can only hold 5 cards with the sequencer installed. Maybe someday!

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References:

Simmons SDSV with MFB SEQ-01

Simmons SDSV – Wikipedia

Simmons Synth

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Every end of year we try to allot a few days to do tech work at the studio.  This includes basic cleaning but also wiring changes, gear upgrades, and basic maintenance on gear that gets used all year long.  This year there was only one piece of gear that needed immediate attention.  It was a pair of Pultec equalizers made by Amtec.  Pultec is a shortened version of Pulse Techniques, the company that made all those classy old eq’s with the big bakelite knobs.

More than that though, Pultec came to represent a style of equalizer design that is classic and still in demand today.  The basic idea is that each channel of eq would have a few basic filters placed at musical points in the audio spectrum.  For instance the pair we use has a low shelf that can be set at 100, 60, 30, 20hz coupled with a high pass filter, a mid frequency bell that has a range of frequencies between 1000 and 20000hz, and a low pass filter with settings at 5, 10, 20, and 40khz.  This allows us to add thickness to a mix or instrument focussed around the bass guitar, kick drum, or even lower while adding a focussed point or wide push in the mids or highs while potentially mellowing the super high frequencies.

It seems limited in features when compared to a fully parametric or digital equalizer, but where this design shines is in the sound it achieves.

Pultec eqs, were originally designed and used to add life and musicality to a recording that needed help. They offer exceptionally natural equalization for highest and lowest frequencies and a unique sound.  They achieve this by the use of multiple audio transformers in the signal path and passive methods of filtering or eqing.  Passive equalization is achieved by using inductors ( coils ), resistors, and capacitors to affect the sound to avoid active amplifiers that tend to add more distortion to the signal.  Furthermore the output amplifier is based on two classic amplifier tubes which adds back gain that is lost in the passive equalizer stage and also adds level of harmonic richness to the output.

All this gives a very smooth, almost velvety sound. This is the perfect device for processing individual instruments and the whole mix  or even master!

In the gallery you can see the old schematic for a Pultec style eq.  Clearly noted in the upper left is the passive equalizer section.  This is shown as a block because at the time they were using proprietary designs so they ‘potted’ them.  This means that they seal an important part of a circuit in a casing so no one can see what is inside.  Below the eq section on the left is the power supply.  This is to power the make up gain section of the eq that is on the upper right with the tube amplifiers.  Lastly there is an output transformer ( also see one at the input ).  Part of the great sound of these boxes is the sheer amount of iron used in each channel, that in combination with the passive eq design and simple tube amplifier add up to a big deep sound that is full of life.

On to the work,  I noticed the mid frequency bell bandwidth potentiometer on one of our Amtec’s was crunchy feeling.  The knobs are big but the pots are somewhat delicate.  Luckily the company is very nice and sent me a new matched pair of these at no charge!

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Well, there’s a reason for all the stereotypes in audio and music.  Which reminds me it is time for a haircut!!!!

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ONION-NAMM

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carry on my ponytailed sons!

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For some reason this reminds me of these ridiculous videos:

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This is a promotional post for a new video from Sex Party of New Orleans LA.

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Abe and i did the basic track together over last winter break.

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Featuring Arp-2600, Oberheim DMX, Simmons SDS-V, Jupiter-6, Oberheim OB-8…

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sex…

…party

sex…

…party

google that 3 times fast!

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