Re: NPD: Trick Dominator - Initial impressions, to be followed by periodic review
Trick Dominator Double Pedal with SB-1 Laser Triggers - Review
Paying $599 for a drum pedal doesn't appeal to many drummers and for a good reason too. There's always been a variety of models available at lower price points, but professional reputations, such as the Pearl Powershifter Eliminators and Tama Iron Cobras.
But as times have changed, so have pedal designs. How many of us knew what a longboard or a direct drive design was capable of before icons like Derek Roddy and George Kollias burst on to the scene, playing faster and more rhythmically than we've ever seen in the last decade. And if you look at established players like Mike Mangini or Mike Portnoy, even these professionals have shifted to longboard designs like the Pearl Demon Drive and Tama Speed Cobra. The advent of pedals like the Axis AL2s meant that the bpm barrier could now be smashed on a daily basis.
This is my one-year review of another one of those $599 pedals, the Trick Dominators, which fit into the same price bracket as the Axis AL2s and the Pearl Demon Drive and are also direct drive pedals. I apologise if this review seems like it's geared toward speed demons. The points I discuss can be applied to a single pedal as well.
What you pay for
The Trick Dominator double pedal is essentially two separate single pedals that can be combined into a drive-shaft driven double bass set. Pedal construction is rugged, having been fabricated from aerospace grade aluminium. The engineering lines were smooth and I was hard-pressed to find any flaws in the manufacturing process. It's a solid mass and while I haven't dropped it, I don't think it could be destroyed unless there was excessive force.
A couple of aspects of the pedals need to be mentioned. Firstly, it's a compression spring driven pedal, as opposed to the expression spring that you see in almost all mass-produced pedals today, including the AL2s and Demon Drives. This means, when you push down the board, a spring is compressed inward and as you take weight off, it expand outward, pushing the board back into place.
One thing I noticed over the one year I had the pedals was that sometimes when I got back behind the kit after a day's rest, it seemed like the pedals were working against me. After a lot of antagonising over this quirk of fate, I came across a workaround: just loosen the compression spring a little, then tighten it back to the same position. The only logic I could put together to explain why this might work was that when a spring is held in a compressed position for a longer period of time, perhaps the energy build up is stored in its coils. Weird, but it worked for me.
Another striking feature about the pedal is the stock beaters, which are made out of aluminium and have a reassuring weight about them. While these beaters were extremely interesting and gave a comforting thwack when they bounced off a head, I eventually replaced them with Iron Cobra rubber beaters when I realised that the metal was damaging my bass drum heads. Perhaps some sort of patch would help, but when I made the shift to different beaters, I was looking at a bit more weight so I believe I made the right choice in switching. Nothing wrong with the stock beaters if you're playing on a house kit!
Thirdly, the latticed base board of the pedals is really interesting. The pedals are quite heavy, I'd say easily 3-4 kg each. The base plate is latticed, which takes off some of the weight. Neither the master, nor slave pedal has spikes; instead, the pedals come with velcro to keep them in place. I found the velcro sent by the manufacturer was insufficient, but it was easy enough to use some of my stock to rectify the situation.
Chasing the voodoo down
I find it most comfortable to set up my pedals with the spring tension maxed out and my drum stool elevated to a point where my feet rest firmly on the pedal, but do not constrict the return motion after I play a note. I devoted the bulk of my time learning heel-toe on this pedal, once I realised it was an energy-efficient way of playing at higher speeds. In this respect, the compression spring suits the style well. This is mainly due to the predicability of the way the footboard will return to zero position after you play a stroke.
I play heel-toe as RT LT RH LH. With a direct drive, your foot motions are translated almost instantaneously into pedal movement. So when I play, I'm able to predict the way in which the board is returning after I hit a stroke and after hitting another stroke with the other beater, a simple flick at the heel catapults the beater back into the drum head. It's not even an exaggerated heel-toe movement, more like playing heel down with a double pumping motion that comes from rocking back and forth on the ball of your foot. At slower tempos, I might even "swivel" on the base of my toes to keep rhythm.
The pedals have a reassuring weight. They won't depress unless you tell them too. I found this a limitation of the Pearl Eliminators I had, not due to any fault of theirs. My poor technique has left me with a lead foot.
Do take a look at the video I posted above. It should give you a good idea of how I've been able to acclimatise to these pedals in a relatively short period and I think it has helped me move into a different zone in terms of my drumming and what I believe I am capable of in a musical context.
The Trick Dominators are clearly capable of blistering speeds. I've been able to lock into speeds of at least 280 bpm, which I wasn't able to do with conventional techniques or conventional pedals. To be fair, I never tried. But the thing about the Dominators' longboard design is that it makes sense to use the additional foot space.
I will Trick you
Being a self-taught drummer, there were no rules to follow when I sat down to learn heel-toe. I saw a few videos on youtube and that was it. Since I don't endorse piracy, I didn't even watch the instructional videos put together by heel-toe stalwarts like Tim Waterson, though I know the name.
One thing I have been working on, based on my learnings, is that the technique lends itself to more than just straight forward double bass. Think about it: you have two feet effectively playing doubles. Suppose you stop playing doubles with one foot and play singles (watch that videos), while continuing to heel-toe the other. Now suppose you reverse the foot playing doubles and the foot playing singles, i.e. have them play the other pattern. Now play singles with both feet.
This opens up a variety of patterns for experimentation. And if you open your mind, more aggressive and intuitive playing could throw up better results. What is more, due to the nature of the heel-toe method, it is less energy-intensive as well, enabling bass pedal work to be sustained for longer durations of time.
Laser beaming hard
Just prior to my one-year anniversary with the Dominators, I ordered a pair of SB1 laser triggers from Trick for the princely sum of, surprise, another $500. When I finally received them and installed them on my pedals, a couple of things struck me.
First, there have been a few complaints about play in the drive shaft of the Dominators, This is primarily due to the space that is left on either side of the direct drive shaft where it connects to the footboard. But what I found is that this is intended by design, to facilitate shifting of the drive linkage further to the right once the laser trigger assembly is installed.
Second, the laser triggers are super cool and super quiet too. I initially tried them on my e-drum kit and was surprised at how responsive they were. Unfortunately, I also found that one of the triggers was more sensitive than the other, perhaps due to the cable I was using or some other external factor. Switching cables around had the expected result.
The biggest impact the laser triggers had for me, however, was the improved triggering. When I was using e-drum bass pads for triggering, I could never play heel up, because the minute I hit the pad, it would register double hits, buzz rolls, etc. At the same time, the sensitivity had to be set so that my heel-toe hits were not rejected. Finding a compromise was frustrating.
With the laser triggers, the problem was solved instantly. Since the trigger is only activated once when the beater stops, there no longer was a problem of double triggering or mishits. I later tried triggering on an acoustic drumkit and the results were even better. It justified the cost of the triggers for me and has allowed me to work on my heel up technique as well, interspersing it with heel-toe.
The bottom line
Trick Drums' Dominator pedals and the SB1 laser trigger accessory might seem like a frighteningly expensive investment in just a pair of drum pedals. But if you're looking at a top-of-the-shelf piece of equipment (this is actually Trick's mid-range pedal, with the top-of-the-line Pro-1V and Bigfoot costing $849) that meets professional requirements, you should consider giving them a whirl.
"... As war machine, crushes their balls, God have mercy..."