Roland Users Group
What comes to mind when the word “Roland” is mentioned? Synthesizers and digital recorders are surely at the top of the list, as Roland has produced some of the world’s most cutting-edge examples of these musical tools over the years. But now another instrument category has become synonymous with the Roland brand: Electronic Percussion.
Since 1997, Roland has steadily increased its profile in the electronic drumming community — so much so, Roland can now lay claim to being the premiere hi-tech drum company in the world. Roland’s V-Drums are ubiquitous, as the V-Drum line continues to break sales records and win awards from pole to pole. From legendary masters of nuance, such as Neil Peart, Vinnie Colaiuta, and Omar Hakim, to smash-hit pounders such as Rocky Gray from Evanescence, V-Drums are in high demand in studios and stages around the world.
How did Roland rise to such heights in electronic drumming? Let’s take a magical history tour of the Roland V-Drum family tree, and see how a group of innovative engineers and musicians in Japan and the United States revolutionized the world of plugged-in percussion.
Here’s an account of three V-Drum milestones, as told by Roland’s Hiroyuki Nishi and Steve Fisher.
1997: Birth of the V-Drums®
Nishi: After Roland released the VG-8 (V-Guitar) in 1995, we had many requests to utilize our COSM® technology for drums. “Develop the V-Drums in addition to the V-Guitar!” they said. This COSM technology was mainly related to the sound module (TD-10) development, but we think the biggest turning point for V-Drums was the completion of the mesh head, which replaced the previous rubber pad, the PD-7.
In the PD-7, we used a floating structure to pull the rubber down to the edge of the pad, floating on the pad frame, which did not satisfy us.
Fisher: Plus, we felt the gum rubber pads were more like “synth” action (in keyboard terms), and we wanted to help drummers get an acoustic feel. The challenge was to get the acoustic feel without the acoustic noise. We knew that if we could provide drummers the “electronic counterpart” to their acoustic drums — like keyboard player and guitar players have had for years — we would be successful.
Nishi: In order to get a good and natural feeling, we agreed that we should use something like film or skin as head material for the pad.
One day, our Mechanical Designer, Mr. Yoshino, visited a do-it-yourself shop — a supermarket for carpentry and gardening goods — and coincidentally found a small trampoline, which used a mesh-type material for the bouncing mat. He had an inspiration: Roland could use a mesh surface for the drum pad.
Although we could not find any good subcontractors to produce the mesh head in Japan, fortunately Mr. Kakehashi, the Founder of Roland, introduced us to Mr. Remo Belli, the Founder of Remo. We asked him to produce the mesh head for us, and he agreed.
Fisher: We did extensive testing with different types of mesh, weave patterns, densities, and combinations. We discovered that a certain kind of mesh, in two layers with the weave patterns at 45-degree angles, was the best — and we were able to patent it.
While developing the mesh head, we became aware of Remo’s Acousticon material used in their drum and percussion shells. That’s when we switched from the original steel-shell idea to the Acousticon shell. The Acousticon material not only gave us the desired “acoustic” drum look, it provided us with the ability to make any shell size, depth, and thickness. Also, it’s extremely strong, and we weren’t wasting any natural wood resources.
Although the mesh head was quiet, playing rim shots weren’t. One day while playing the prototype upside-down, we discovered that the rubber pour on the bottom of the shell felt great and was quiet. We asked Remo if they could also put a rubber pour on the top counterhoop. They made custom molds, and, sure enough, it worked great! It kept the whole performance of the drum quiet, which was a key benefit of electronic drums.
Nishi: At this point, we had completed two missions: to utilize the COSM technology for the sound module, and to improve the look and feel of the pad.
Before we arrived at the current materials/structure of the V-Cymbals, we engaged in the following tests:
• Acoustic Cymbals (Metal Base) with Rubber Surface
To reduce the noise of acoustic sound, we attached the rubber on the bottom side of the acoustic cymbals, but when we hit the top cymbal (metal surface), it was too noisy. Also, when we tested rubber attached to both sides of the cymbals (upper/bottom), it was good in reducing the noise, but it was too heavy for use. And, to admit the worst, when we hit the pad too hard, it dented. This was not suitable.
• Mesh Base
With our knowledge of mesh materials from the earlier-developed V-Pad, we tested the mesh base for V-Cymbals, but we could not design it in the shape of a real cymbal, even though we stretched the mesh very tight. Also, it produced a bad feel when played, so we had to give up the mesh idea.
• Plastic Base with Rubber Surface
Since the metal- and mesh-base prototypes could not satisfy us in producing the ideal V-Cymbals, we went for a plastic base in the third revision. The plastic-based cymbal itself was not so good in terms of feel, and its sensitivity was limited when struck too far from the pickup point. Therefore, we improved the position and structure for the sensor.
Since we had to connect the V-Cymbals to the sound module via cable, we considered how to stop the cymbal from revolving while allowing it to swing freely like a natural cymbal. But we solved this, and produced a V-Cymbal that could be mounted on a regular acoustic cymbal arm/stand without over-rotating.
Fisher: Another issue we had was the vibration; which was making it difficult to trigger accurately, so we altered the shape of internal cymbal plate, which limited the vibration waves, and thus improved sensitivity and accuracy. We received a patent for this as well.
Nishi: The newest generation V-Drum kits (starting with the TD-20S) featured a new star component: the V-Hi-Hat.
Technically, there were two primary factors in the development of the V-Hi-Hat.
• To accurately send the impact signal to the sound module.
• To send the information of the open/closed condition between the top and bottom pads to the sound module.
To meet these goals, we set up the motion sensor in the center of the bottom pad, and we tried many mechanical structures, such as optical-type sensors or hall elements at the beginning. Finally we decided to use a spring to push down the sensor for sending the open/closed information to the sound module.
For the materials of the V-Hi-Hat, we used the same materials as the V-Cymbals: an internal base with rubber surface.
In order to improve hi-hat’s sensitivity consistency, we used a crescent shape part for the top pad. In order to distinguish which area of edge/bow was high, we used a special sensor for detection. Therefore, we required only two cables to be connected between the bottom pad and the sound module, while there is one link cable between the top and bottom hi-hat pads.
The V-Hi-Hat was developed and produced by a team of six R&D engineers, which included a mechanical designer, hardware designer, software programmer, and sound engineer.
Today, the V-Drum legacy of innovation continues with the new TD-12 drum module with Interval Control, the TD-12S V-Drum kit, and VH-11 floating hi-hat.