Essential Equipment - or - Santa, please pay me an impromptu visit with your VISA and Cheque Book

This is where I will be showcasing all of my fave gear from the history of music. Any band that uses any or all of these has to be worth a quick listen!

Essential Item 1 - Paiste Coloursound Cymbals

Just why this idea never took off is a mystery to me! These made an appearance round about 1984 (I seem to recall they got a slightly luke warm review in Rhythm Magazine that month! Shame on you, Rhythm!). These were regular Paiste 505 cymbals that had colour added during their manufacture - Blue, Green, Black - I think. If anyone knows any better then please let me know!

I seem to remember Nicko McBrain used many of these (he was a Paiste endorsee so obviously they were quite anxious for him to take some out on tour with him - in fact the picture of him above from inside Live After Death 1984 is one of the only pics I could find of the said items). Later on, he got Paiste to make him a pair of White 20" Chinas (you can see these on his kit for Seventh Son of a Seventh Son Tour). Sheila E (Prince) used some pink cymbals with her percussion set up (you can see her on the You Got the Look video if memory serves - she wellies the Timbali near the front of the stage) and Elton John's Percussionist used some custom made purple ones.

My own connection with the product is my own purchase of a 20" Black Ride Cymbal - I got this 2nd hand from Dawson's in Warrington (back when they had loads of really good stuff on display). My mum had to go and pick it up as I was at school that day!

You can also see cymbals like this made by Vader, but either way you will be very lucky to lay your mits on them (let me know if you do!).

Essential Item 2 - A Bloody Big Gong

In the 1970's you simply had to mount a gong behind your kit in order to be taken seriously; Roger Taylor of Queen had one (his was so big that he actually used a Tam tam - which is the correct name for a massive gong, folks!), you can see Roger Waters beat the hell out of one during the Live at Pompeii Video (my sister is a big Floyd fan and even she does not like that video), Carl Palmer (as you would expect) had one - and so on!

On record, the best place to hear a gong is at the end of Bohemian Rhapsody, a small section of Hemispheres by Rush, the opening of Fanfare for the Common Man by ELP and Rime of the Aincent Mariner by Iron Maiden (the Live Version!).

My own connection with gongs is a bit abstract; if I want to hear a gong nowadays I just program one in to a pad, detune it for maximum nastiness and beat it with my stick! (I said stick).

Essential Item 3 - Ludwig Vistalite Drums

These first started to appear in the late 60's early 1970's Ludwig Catalogue, and they are just about the best item ever made by Ludwig (apart from the Black Beauty Snare Drum perhaps). Basically they are just replacements for wooden drums using coloured perspex. They came in Green, Red, Blue, Clear etc (there are even Stars and Stripes versions out there somewhere). The one you see here is an Orange Vistalite as used by a certain John Bonham of Led Zep on tour in 1973.

I am not aware of many drummers using this stuff - Bonzo used a succession of them and Billy Cobham had a massive twin bass set up made of the stuff. I think this is because the drums are very loud (and thus a real pain to use in the studio), and I always found my snare a little hard to tune to the sound I wanted (I had a 14" clear vistalite snare).

You will be surprised to learn how common these kits are - they turn up now and again in second hand collections and I am aware of drummers in the US building enormous collections of Vistalite stuff (my own theory for this is that they did not catch on too readily when first released and have ended up spread about the world!). If you are not too keen on hunting the ends of the earth for a kit then you could always get a set from Ricochet Drums (they are British so good luck to them) - they make such kits to request, in any colour or size - check out my links page for a look....

Essential Item 4 - Analogue Synths

There are so many synths that I love that I have decided to group them together in one big bunch. Analogue basically means that the synths do not rely on digital technology and thus sound much better (instead of using samples - these synths sound like no other instrument). However, before switching one on you might want to phone your local electricity supplier and ask them to put a few more rods into the reactor - they are a bit thirsty. The one you see here is a Roland Jupiter 4 - as used by Goffy!

Usable synths, i.e ones that did not require their own scientist to put together, first emerged onto the music scene in the early 1970's - this was the first time that the synth became practical enough to tour with (prior to this it was OK as long as you had use of an entire wing of UMIST and about twenty techies on hand). This was mainly the Mini Moog and the VCS3. All of a sudden no band was complete without a keyboard player (apart from Motorhead - but we will grant them an exception in this case!).

My fave music is full of these things, most notably;

Obviously I have never owned a Synth but Goffy worshipped these lovely old things. Your best bet is to check out a music shop that specialises in this sort of gear - Dougie's Music in Northwich is now but a distant memory but I am sure there are many places that could help you. The bad news is that many bands have rediscovered these synths - 808 State and Prodigy - so values are most certainly holding up quite well. I suppose you could just buy one of the copies that have come onto the market - Korg now manufacture a synth designed to emulate an analogue synth, so there is no doubting their appeal (Jean Michelle Jarre once compared the Mini Moog to the Stradivarius so he must be quite impressed). Check out my links page for more synth stuff.

Essential Item 5 - Simmons Drums

Responsible for that classic Sheep-Exploding-Next-to-your-Ear sound from the 1980's. This shows just what can happen when a British Company decides to have a go at an idea that everyone else ignored. Simmons released their drums in the early 80's and it was a long time before anyone else dared to take them on (and then only Roland would have a go).

On record you can best appreciate these when played by Phil Collins (mainly on his Genesis stuff). They also turn up on the Van Halen album 5150 (they actually sound terrible in this context!) but mainly came into their own on Top of the Pops where they were used in house for drummers to mime behind (they did not require dampening). You can see this on performances by Spandau Ballet or Kajagoogoo where they were reduced to the status of stage decoration! I suppose the problem is that they sound just so obtrusive - probably why they did not turn up in many lounge jazz trios! Any attempt at being subtle just ends up sounding like some exploding sheep being dropkicked down the main staircase at the Blackpool Winter Gardens.

I always wanted a set of these - only coming close when a set turned up in Frailers Guitar Shop as a part exchange! I think they fell out of favour as the more complex drums from Roland and Yamaha came out - many using real drum samples for the sound - now the exploding sheep sound is considered so classic that you can find them as samples on the Roland Kits!

Getting hold of these is going to be a real struggle but I am sure they are out there somewhere (many drummers remained sceptical about their sound and application). I would quite like a set myself - mainly for the historical value you understand.

Essential Item 6 - The Moog Taurus Bass Pedals

Musicians - want the sound of a Buffalo Fart Bass Drone on your recordings? Then why not try the Moog Taurus Bass Pedal? Yes - these items were made for progressive rock - big fat bass sounds to lay under your tracks - especially when you had your hands full! Jeddy Lee of Rush used these to replace his bass when he was otherwise employed on the keyboards (Alex Lifeson also used a set to help him out!). They have also been used for keyboard chord sounds in the same context (when Jeddy was playing the bass guitar and needed a keyboard sound).

The best place to hear these massive sounds is on the recordings of Rush - especially Spirit of Radio and Natural Science. Clocks by Steve Hackett (x Genesis Guitarist) is full of them too. Peter Terawas of Marillion used a set on Garden Party.

I have no idea where or how you will locate these bloody things - though I know that they still exist because there are several Rush tribute bands that boast a set. Perhaps you could ask them where they got them from.

Essential Item 7 - Gold Top Les Paul

The Les Paul is the definitive rock guitar. Long ago, Metal Guitarists found out that the twin humbucker pickups, designed to give a nice warm sound, also coped well with overdriven Marshall stacks. The best model of the lot is the Gold Top Les Paul - as illustrated above (although this is a triple pickup custom model).

You can hear this guitar on just about every Led Zep track (you can also see it on the video of the Song Remains the Same) - so go there for a listen. Just about every metal guitarist worth his salt has at least one in his collection (Alex Lifeson has a white custom model with gold hardware). The film Spinal Tap also contains a glowing report;

"just listen to that!"

"I'm not hearing anything."

"Well you would if it was plugged in cos it's famous for its sustain".

Getting hold of a Les Paul, be it a copy or an original, should be as easy as taking a leak (a piece of piss). The only problem for you, should you decide you want a Gibson Les paul and not a cheap Japanese copy is initially going to be locating the second mortgage and then explaining it to your better half.

Essential Item 8 - Marshall Stack

Look, Vim; It's a Marshall. Yes - these are the means by wich you should be amplifying your guitars and bass! They are the immortal icon of British Rock music .... and the firm are British as well. They have a particularly harsh sound (why do you think Jimi Hendrix and his band smashed up their original amps by dropping them down stairs? Cos they knew that the record company were planning to replace them with Marshalls) and are made with Metal in mind.

You can hear these just about anywhere. Most notably, Deep Purple had a whole ruck of them - even the Keyboard player, Jon Lord, had a set to distort his Hammond sound (that's where the massive sound on Smoke on the Water comes from!). Aerosmith, Iron Maiden, ACDC all used these. Spinal Tap also had something to say about these; "These go to 11".

Getting hold of a Marshall of any type is most easy - they are even quite affordable.

Essential Item 9 - Mellotron

Back when sampling and digital technology was but decades away, the only way you could get believable strings into a track was to either hire them from the nearest orchestra, or get hold of a Mellotron. The big M used reels of tape to store the sounds (this meant that your chords could only be so long before the bloody tape ran out!) and pressing the keys played the tape - simple. Well, it would have been but the Mellotron is renowned for poor build and just about electrical component in them was designed for another purpose (such as hoover motors).

You can here the pretty wonderful sound of the Mellotron on quite a few recordings. The most famous is the intro to Strawberry Fields by the Beatles- those flutes that puff into the intro and then dive down the octave were played by Paul McCartney on the big old Tron (which must have been a new invention back then). Stairway to Heaven - those flutes at the start were played on the Tron. Led Zep also used the Tron again on Rain Song (although the Tron on the live version sound like it has been bashed about a bit on tour!). More recently you can hear the Tron on the Manic Street Preachers track If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next (just where they got a working one from is beyond me).

Getting hold of one of these should be pretty nigh impossible - serious collectors with serious money need only apply. You could always just sample one I suppose!

Essential Item 10 - Hammond Organ

Where would we be without the Hammond Organ? This has been a pretty omnipresent instrument throughout the history of modern music, turning up in just about every musical form. It's swirly sound is caused by the rotating fan in the cabinet (called a Leslie) - this was once used by The Beatles who did the backing vocals for Paperback Writer through the cabinet of a Hammond to give them their spooky quality (though Jon Lord of Deep Purple decided to bypass the cabinet and play through a guitar amp instead). This cabinet was also well employed alongside the Fender Rhodes Electric Piano.

As I said, you have no doubt heard a Hammond without knowing it! Most prolific amongst the many users was Keith Emerson of ELP - he was famous for throwing knives into the speaker cabinets (seldom a good idea when they contain a rotating fan) and jamming further knives into the keyboard in order to achieve pretty reliable sustain (I would think twice before buying a second hand one from him if I was you). Jon Lord of Deep Purple owned a brace of them (just play any DP track at random and you will see what I mean), John Paul Jones of Led Zep used one (check out Thank You from Led Zep II) and just about every Progressive Rock band used one. Rush, curiously, did not.

Getting hold of a Hammond should be pretty plain sailing - just don't buy one from Keith Emerson and you will be home dry!

Essential Item 11 - Rickenbacker 4001 Bass

The sound behind many a progressive rock band. This classic bass offered players the option of playing the standard sound or using a second output to hear your playing in stereo (believe it or not this seemed revolutionary at the time). The semi acoustic body also gave the Ricky a strange 'dirty' sound - later much beloved by heavy metal players.

You can hear a Ricky most noticeably as played (and overdriven to hell) by Lemmy of Motorhead (actually, Lemmy preferred to strum his like it was a guitar - this gave a rough sound that was rather like being smacked about the head by suspension struts off a Foden whilst trying to blow a raspberry). Cliff Burton of Metallica had a preference for a Ricky (the rest of the band tried to get him to stop wearing bell bottoms and using the Ricky but they soon realised they were wasting their time) - check out the Pulling Teeth Bass Solo off the first album - it sounds like a bulldog being fed through a twin cam engine. Geddy Lee of Rush used a Ricky for nearly all of the early Rush tracks - you can best hear it on the track Cygnus X1. Chris Squire of Yes used a Ricky right through the development of the band (apart from 90125 where he used a variety of custom built bass guitars that made some sort of massive buffalo farting sound).

Getting hold of a Ricky should be no problem as Rickenbacker still make them - look out for the Chris Squire signature model. If you have not the time to re-mortgage your house in order to get a real Ricky, there are numerous cheap copies around - nobody need ever know you are not being entirely honest!

Essential Item 12 - Roland Guitar Synth

This little beasty (affectionately named the Dalek's Handbag) was designed as the guitar synth of choice for truly inventive (and rich) guitarists in the 1980's. You could get yourself the tasteful version pictured above or disguise it as a real guitar. The guitar came with a massive pedal board that was loaded with a vast array of sounds. Most players talk about how difficult the instrument was to play - no odd tones or duff notes were allowed - which explains the huge bar above the neck to try and cut these down. The guitar synth was also available as a bass guitar as well.

You might be surprised at how often you may have heard one of these guitars. Most notoriously they were used by Sigue Sigue Sputnick who obviously liked their shape - God knows they did not actually need a real instrument - popular legend has it that they wrote the name of the note that corresponded to each track on the fretboard. Ultravox front man Midge Ure used one and you can best hear this on Dancing with Tears in my Eyes - but he famously hated to use it live as it was so demanding to play! Iron Maiden discovered the synth at the time of Somewhere in Time (1986) (but you should listen to Seventh Son of a Seventh Son from the album of the same name to truly appreciate it) and used it to get a real sci-fi feel to the album and to beef up their more atmospheric stuff when playing live. Mike Rutherford of Genesis used one (but like most he preferred the conventional guitar shape) and most guitarists have flirted with this thing at least once.

Getting hold of one of these is going to be a real struggle. If you really require a synth guitar then Roland manufacture a pick-up based system that allows you to use synth sounds on your own guitar.

Essential Item 13 - Rude Crash Ride

I first fell in love with RUDE Paiste Cymbals when I saw one in John Rose Drums of Altrincham - which I bought straight away. They were designed for use mainly by Heavy Metal Players (but Stewart Copeland of the Police famously employed a complete set of them when he played live) and turned up in the set of many a PAISTE endorsee in the mid to late eighties - Micko McBrain can be seen using them in the video to Aces High and Two Minutes to Midnight and Rick Allen used them as well before he switched to electronics. Nowadays, Joey Jordinson of Slipknot has a complete set.

The build of these cymbals was superb - with a rough looking finish - but the volume was the main attraction - they were just awesome. I loved them because they seemed tailor made for me - someone once said that they needed the "Chair Leg" treatment to get the best out of them - which I had no problem getting around. I used it a few times on recordings (well - a cassette in the corner) and whenever I hit the RUDE it overloaded the mic - so a bit impractical for anything other than playing live! Mine was an 18" Crash Ride - and I think about her every day!


If you are at all miffed that I have missed anything please let me know!

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