Simmons (electronic drum company)
Simmons was a pioneering British manufacturer of
electronic drums that supplied electronic kits from 1980 to the early '90s. The drums' distinctive, electronic sound can be found on countless albums from the '80s.
Certain musicians of the time were avid users of the new technology, such as Howard Jones,
John Keebleof Spandau Ballet, Rick Allenof Def Leppard, Thomas Dolby, Phil Collins, Neil Peart, and Bill Bruford.
Single-pad analogue drum synthesizers, including the
Pollard Syndrumand the Synare, were introduced in the 1970s, but their unrealistic sound made them generally more suitable for use as a percussion effect than as a replacement for traditional drums. They became a popular element in disco records, especially after the release of music from " Star Wars", and can be heard on songs by the Jacksonsand Rose Royce.
Simmons was started by Dave Simmons around 1978 specifically to design and build advanced electronic drums that could compete with a traditional drum set. Their first model was the SDS-3, which featured four drum channels and a noise channel; its drum pads were round, with wooden frames and a real 8-inch drum head.
In the USA Simmons rapid success was due largely to the work of UK session drummer,
Glyn Thomas. With the agreement of Dave Simmons, Group Centre Inc. became the sole distributors of all Simmons Electronics products in the USA. After visiting and demoing the SDS5 to music stores in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago, he secured orders from them all. Manufacturing was ramped up quickly in time for the NAMM Music Expo in Chicago and after staging a series of demos featuring Bill Bruford, dozens more music store owners from all over the country signed up to this electronic revolution, and that expansion quickly established the Simmons name in the rest of the USA.
Their next model, the SDS-V (5), was introduced in 1981. The world's first fully electronic drum set, the SDS-V featured the famous hexagonal pads and distinctive "dzzshhh" sound heard in countless songs by 80s bands, including
Duran Duranand Rush. The standard configuration consisted of an expandable rack-mountable "brain," containing the various drum sounds, and pad modules for bass drum, snare, and three toms. Two spare slots were available so that cymbal or extra tom modules could be aded; many drummers, however, chose to use acoustic cymbals rather than the Simmons sounds, which were often compared to that of a trash can lid. Connections to the unit were by XLR plugs, and it could be interfaced with a drum sequencer. Its sturdiness and high sound quality have helped to keep the SDS-V a sought-after device even today.
The SDS-V's biggest disadvantage was the solid
polycarbonateheads on the pads. Simmons chose this material for its durability, but the heads' lack of "give" often resulted in wrist pain for users. Soon after, Simmons began shipping pads with soft rubber surfaces. The SDS-V became an instant hit, with Simmons endorsing several drummers, and the distinctive pad shape becoming an icon of the 1980s.
During the lifetime of the SDS-V, Simmons also produced a compact trigger unit, about the size of a briefcase, containing seven small pads. Used in conjunction with the SDS-V brain, this allowed players to add Simmons sounds to an existing acoustic kit without incorporating a set of full-size pads. This unit was used extensively by
New Orderat the time.
Also available at the same time was the SDS-6 drum sequencer, used to great effect by artists such as Howard Jones.
Following the success of the SDS-V, Simmons expanded their range in 1983, replacing the V with another modular rack-based brain called the SDS-7, which featured digital sounds on EPROM for the first time, expandable up to twelve modules, and redesigned pads, featuring a skin of rubber to make playing a little easier. The unit used 8-bit samples and a programmable memory, but often lost its settings, making it unpopular in a live context.
They also produced the cheaper analogue-only SDS-8, which featured a single, non-expandable desktop-style brain. The SDS-8 kit was supplied with four tom pads and a bass pad, using similar hardware to the earlier SDS-V, but in a more budget style, such as using jack leads instead of XLR connectors. The sounds were the same as the SDS-V, but, to the discerning ear, not up to the same quality.
Also available at the time were a number of smaller devices, such as an EPROM "blower" to write samples onto the chips, a "Digital ClapTrap" unit, which, as its name suggested, was a digital clap sound device, a sound very popular in 1980s music.
Smaller pads and kits became available, such as the SDS-1, which was a single pad with a built-in EPROM reader for playing a single sampled drum sound. The SDS-200 had only two analogue channels and two pads with a single stand, and was aimed at acoustic drummers who wanted to a couple of Simmons pads to their kit on a budget.
Following customer feedback, Simmons produced a new series of drum pads in 1985, using "floating" drum heads and changeable shells. The snare drum had an extra trigger for the rim. Again, this improved the playability of the kit. The new brain was called the SDS-9, and was, in effect a non-expandable version of the SDS-7, using that unit's EPROM features, but only on three channels. This kit was yet another well received product for Simmons, as it combined realistic sounds in an inexpensive, compact brain.
Another brain was introduced in 1986 called the SDS-1000, and was, in effect, the same sounds as an SDS-9 (without the ability to change the EPROMS) in a slim 1U, MIDI-enabled, rack mountable unit.
In 1987, after the SDS-9, Simmons decided to enter into the high-end professional market, and created the revolutionary but unsuccessful SDX. It introduced new features that were unheard of in other electronic drums, such as zone intelligence and pad layering. Some of these ideas were not revisited until nearly 15 years after the SDX. Zone Intelligence allowed for three samples to be put on a pad, for a more realistic sound. With pad layering, different sounds could be triggered via different strike velocities. The SDX was the first Simmons kit since the SDS-V to include cymbal sounds, with pads called "Symbals" which simulated the swaying motion of real cymbals with a swivel rod. The SDX also included a built-in sampler with a
floppy diskdrive as it's method of storage. The SDX also introduced a new way of modifying sounds. Rather than knobs and switches, it featured a 9" monochrome screen with a GUI, similar to the early Mac OS. SDX OS allowed users to fully modify sounds with an easy-to-use interface. Sales of the SDX were limited due to its high price, costing around $10,154. Only about 280 kits were made, of which few remain.
The Demise of Simmons
By the time of the launch of the SDX, the company had seen a dramatic fall in their sales as drummers abandoned electronics to return to their acoustic kits. Additionally, due to expensive
R&Dand manufacturing costs of the SDX, Simmons was losing money. Their final kit was released in 1990, called the SDS-2000, featuring sounds from the SDX library, digital effects, further refined pads, and a new last-ditch company logo. This system failed to catch on, as competitors such as Rolandand Yamahawere creating better, less expensive kits. The music scene of the early '90s was different from the late '80s, and the Simmons' sounds, often associated with pop, synth-driven tunes, couldn't find a serious market response in the simplified, more acoustic drumming trends of the grunge and rock styles of the time. Simmons attempted to enter new markets with the Silicon Mallet and Drum Huggers, but these were failures, and Simmons was losing momentum. Simmons officially closed its doors in 1994.
The Simmons Name
Guitar Centeracquired the rights to the Simmons trademark (not according to Dave Simmons who has sought legal advice about this matter) and began marketing entry-level electronic drumkits under the Simmons name and retro logo. These kits have no relationship to the original company.
Nick Masonwith Pink Floyd
Jeff Phillipswith Howard Jones and Chris de Burgh
Peter van Hookeof Mike and the Mechanics
Bobby Rivkinwith Prince
Danny Careywith Tool
*Jon King of Gang of Four
Bryn Burrowsof Freur
Herwig Mittereggerof Spliff
Ali Scoreof A Flock of Seagulls
Danny Simcicof Real Life
Darren Costinof Wang Chung
*Lee Harris of
Steve Negusof Saga
Bill Brufordof King Crimson
Mike Leeof SKYY bandand Grover Washington
Chris Vrennawith Nine Inch Nails
Josh Freesewith Nine Inch Nails
Phil Collinsof Genesis
Peter Hookof New Orderplayed a Simmons Briefcase which can be seen on the video for "The Perfect Kiss"
Warren Cannof Ultravox
Chris Kavanaghand Ray Mayhewof Sigue Sigue Sputnik
* Simmons made a special kit for
Def Lepparddrummer Rick Allen following Allen's loss of his left arm in a car accident. Allen and Simmons spent over a year developing a kit that used foot pedals to compensate for the missing arm.
*citation |first=Bob |last=Henrit |title=The Complete Simmons Drum Book |publisher=Wise |place=London |year=1987 |isbn=978-0711909335 .
* [http://www.simmonsmuseum.com The Virtual Simmons Museum]
* [http://www.simmonsdrums.t83.net A Simmons drums fan site]
* [http://www.simmons.synth.net Another Simmons Drums Site]
* [http://www.simmonsdrums.com A Simmons Drums fan forum]
* [http://www.simmonsdrums.net The new unofficial "Simmons Drums" site, from Guitar Centre]
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