I spent a lot of the 90s listening to my brother John beat on the drums. He would blast Rush tunes like Tom Sawyer and Red Barchetta and was so good at keeping up with the likes of Neill Peart that I was regularly awestruck. I spent enough time just sitting in the room listening to his music to damage my ears. John helped me try to figure out the rudiments once upon a time, but I was so frustrated by making my legs and arms do what I wanted to at the same time that I never really went far with it. I’d still sneak in from time to time and drum along to—I kid you not—F-Zero’s “Big Blue” and “Death Wind,” tracks I’d recorded onto cassette tapes.
I’ve always been a big video game nut, so when some arcade games like MTV’s Drumscape and Konami’s DrumMania happened I was thrilled, but it wasn’t until Rock Band that I was really able to get into a drum game. Sure, Rock Band was more than a drum game, but it was the drum portion of the game that elevated it beyond “great, another Guitar Hero” for me. It also taught me the limb independence I just couldn’t figure out back when I was an impatient little kid. The game’s drums had some hard rubber surfaces that weren’t great to hit, and despite the second iteration improving on these materials considerably, I still sought out some aftermarket alternatives.
There was a pretty big aftermarket for Rock Band hardware thanks to the positively shoddy first run of instruments and the moderately improved second run. One of those aftermarket suppliers was GoodWoodMods, who originally made high-quality mesh drum head replacements with wooden frames. They replaced the wooden frame with a molded plastic frame to simplify replacing mesh as it wore out, and that’s the set I installed on my Rock Band 2 drum kit.
The best thing about this aftermarket option was that mesh heads are incredibly quiet compared to the original drum surfaces. Sure, they have much more rebound, making playing the drums much more natural and fun, but the silence is why they were branded “Stealth Drum Kits” in the first place. Of course, they’re only silent when you’re well-practiced and can avoid hitting the hard plastic frame surrounding that wonderfully bouncy mesh. Otherwise, the resounding clack of hitting off the mark is even louder than the original drum heads.
Solving the Problem
A while back, I picked up some 8″ squares of thick natural felt, thinking that I should be able to cut some covers for those offensively loud plastic frames. It wasn’t until this week that I got around to trying this out! GWM’s new ABS plastic was precisely machined, and thanks to some clever transforms in Illustrator, the twelve screw holes were easily made equidistant. So the design was no trouble at all, but the material certainly gave me a headache. The initial test cut fit great on the drum heads, but the felt itself didn’t do as much to dull the thud as I’d hoped. Furthermore, laser-cut natural felt stinks like burning hair, and it lingers. This is a solvable problem, but since I wanted to pick out some better colors to better match the original drums’ design, I decided to pick up some new synthetic felt to avoid the problem altogether. While I was out shopping, Jennifer found some interesting foam that might improve the felt’s noise-dampening qualities.
Some multi-purpose spray adhesive was used to bond the four new felt strips to the foam back, and after a short drying period, I did some tests to confirm new, much lighter laser settings. It seems that synthetic felt cuts more quickly than natural felt; it also smells a lot less like hair mishaps. The four finished pieces were cleaned of all of their tiny cut-out bits (look at all of those screw-hole cut-outs!) and attached to the drum heads. The natural felt was a decent thickness that didn’t stand too far above the mesh surface of the drum, but the synthetic felt/foam combination does sit just a little taller and has me worried that I’ll be prone to hitting the sides more often as a result. This shouldn’t be an issue at all, though, because the foam did its job: hitting these are much quieter than the natural felt was! Even when the drum stick impact centers right over one of the screws (which are exposed to keep mesh replacement simple) it’s fairly dulled by the surrounding felt. Mission successful!
I had some trouble deciding whether to use a temporary or permanent adhesive for attaching these fabric covers to the plastic drum frames at first. For now, I’m using some glue dots, but I’ve found that they just don’t hold as strongly as I’d like; I figure I’ll be trying some new adhesives in the future.