The Tama “Catalyst”: a tale of practical functionality & creative fulfillment

The Tama “Catalyst”

Many years ago, my beautiful 1974 Slingerland kit (similar to this) disappeared from storage. I replaced it with a poorly made Ludwig Rocker II Power-Plus 9-piece kit (1986). I wanted a large kit, and at the time, that was an affordable option. After years of abuse, it began falling apart (couldn’t afford the big kit AND cases…lesson learned) and I gave most of it away to a friend for his daughter to play.

I took a break from the kit to study various world percussion instruments which lasted over fifteen years and turned into a career. After awhile, I began to miss having a kit to play. I visited a friend at a local music store one day and found this cheap, used Tama Swingstar kit and bought it for $600 (cymbals & hardware were included). Since I wasn’t sure how much I would be playing or what application it would serve (aside from sporadic practice in the basement), this was a very practical and functional purchase at a price that I could easily justify without making a major investment.

I salvaged the 8″ tom (cracked wrap, missing tension rods, rust, mangled heads) from the destroyed remains of the old Ludwig kit and held on to my 1980 Slingerland Magnum snare (with the annoying and expensive to replace slapshot L-shaped strainer) to assemble a Frankenkit. I also added a few cymbals and a very nice Roc-n-Soc throne. I didn’t play it much as I was still on the road quite a bit (playing percussion).

Not long after that, I became frustrated with bands/travel, was very tired and suffering from burnout, and had already begun to start a family, so I retired from the road. My daughter likes to play the kit once in awhile and now I have a son on the way. :)

I have always been fascinated with recording studios and used to do session work a long time ago. I really enjoyed it (and the pay was good). After buying a house, I decided to start buying gear to set up a simple/small home studio in the basement. I already had been gifted an old AudioMedia III sound card and a copy of Pro Tools (v5.x, I believe) that came with it. Over time I assembled enough bits and pieces to begin the learning process.  In my “top-notch” studio, I had home-made mic stands (broken camera tripods, pvc, etc.), a collection of 30+ year-old microphones pulled out of storage (a few SM58s and some really terrible junk), mics draped over plumbing, plenty of duct & hockey tape, no studio monitors, no room treatment, and only two inputs with a cheap/broken Samson mixer to work with. It didn’t deter me in the least and home-recording and writing music became my obsession.

I began working with a handful of friends on songs (albeit not all living in the same cities or countries) as well as my own solo material. There have been equipment upgrades made along the way – new mics, recording hardware, various drum heads, a drum dial, a Pearl snare, DW double-kick pedal, piles of drum sticks/brushes/mallets, two sets of monitors, hundreds of instructional videos and books absorbed, some room treatment, and now I am using Pro Tools 10.3.9. In that time, only one cymbal has broken. Sticks? Well, quite a few more than that… Was I inspired? Over the course of the last four years I have worked on easily over 700 songs, created thousands of mixes, and had to vacuum many piles of wood chips from the carpet around the kit. So, the answer is YES!

All of that time in the woodshed has been the most rewarding creative experience in my almost 40 years of playing music. I have released various projects (thanks, Bandcamp!), made some new friends, made a few music fans, written well over 100 songs of my own, learned quite a bit (with so much more to learn) about audio engineering, mixing, mastering, songwriting, and I have never been happier as a musician in my life.

…and thanks to this cheap, used, dusty old Tama drum kit I call “The Catalyst” that helped start it all.

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