Reprinted with permission of DRUM! Magazine
By Liam Mulhollan
Axis Percussion wants to catch Bigfoot. No kidding. In order to do so, the company developed the Longboard design as an option on their A, E and X lines in both single and double versions. (It’s also available for the Axis hi-hat.)
Formerly know as Engineered Percussion, the company initially offered the single A and E models in 1990. Company President Darrell Johnston implemented some concepts that were already in use on some of the most popular pedals, and took input from players like JR Robinson and Mike Baird. The result was impressive, and it quickly gained a legion of followers.
The single post design is machined from aircraft specification steel and aluminum alloy. It’s light but sturdy, and assembled predominantly with Allen-head screws. All the moving parts involved in the pedal action utilize ball bearings, which ease movement and negate friction. The Axis-A pedal and the Axis E — which is similar in basic design but allows for electronic triggering — feature the “variable drive setting.” This is a shaft coupling that slides forward and back and changes the offset position relationship between the drive shaft (the metal arm that connects the footboard to the beater axle) and the beater. Moving the setting towards the toe pushes the drive strap out in front of the beater, increasing leverage of the stroke, motion of the footboard and the beater impact. Moving the lever back towards the heel decreases the pedal depression and creates maximum rebound. The lever can be locked in position using a thumbscrew.
Features such as these made the Axis A pedal, arguably, the most popular cult pedal of the 1990’s with over 40,000 units sold, according to company figures. Approximately three years ago, Axis began to sell the X Pedal, an economy version of the A series. It was essentially the same, but without the variable drive setting. In this case, fewer machined parts enabled the company to charge a lower price.
The next phase in the development of Axis bass drum pedals began, according to Johnston, when the company began to hear from students of Joe Stronsick, a Southern California drum teacher. Stronsick had developed a technique dramatically entitled “Ballistic Bass Drums” that built upon the tradition of heel-toe pedaling brought to the forefront by players such as Joe Morello, Steve Gadd and Dennis Chambers.
Stronsick’s students were playing exercises that required a large enough pedal footboard to comfortably fit the entire foot. This was a big problem for students with a big footprint, who had trouble finding a production bass pedal that would allow them to use the technique. Out of these inquiries, the concept of Axis Longboard pedals began.
We received the Axis A for review, which had not only the extended footboard but also the Sonic Hammer — a vertical beater shaft topped with a coupling through which passes a horizontal shaft. An adjustable, swiveling, cork=faced striker makes contact with the drumhead. The horizontal shaft can be stopped at any point and clamped down in the coupling by a tension rod. This option permits the weight of the beater to be set at different places in the arc of contact. For example, putting the beater all the way forward puts all the weight of the shaft right behind the beater, emphasizing the power of the stroke at impact. Moving the beater shaft all the way back increases the speed of the rebound. It’s an interesting concept to play with.
With some cattle prod encouragement from mein Uber-editor, I got the idea to “make like Dennis Chambers” on this review. Yeah, right. Actually, it made sense that since this pedal featured an elongated footboard, it should be primarily tested with the entire foot placed squarely on it. I could see that trouble might be brewing.
My foot technique, thought hardly the measure of Mr. Chambers, could dance sixteenth-to-sixteenth with the majority of characters out there. It’s just that stylistically, my methodology falls somewhere between utilitarian and gnarly. In the past haze of my drumming continuum I taught myself to semi-rigidly play off the ball of my foot and bury the beater into the head — not pretty. My work, as the say, was cut out for me.
The first few times I used the Longboard pedal, I was tempted to duct tape my foot to the board, just to keep the sucker on there. Wisely, I realized that walking around the rehearsal facility with a pedal taped to my foot might interfere with a certain coolness factor that I attempt to portray, so I refrained.
However, the truth was that I wasn’t having a good time. The pedal responded in a smooth and sublime way when I did the old thing of using my leg as s spindly battering ram, seesawing from the hip, slamming the metatarsals, and using the calf and knee as shock absorbers. But when I played heel down, the feedback I got through my foot and my ears was pathetic, unresponsive and uncomfortable. This was in spite of the fact that the band said they had no problems hearing what was coming out of their end of the bass drum. That bit of information from my associates was enough to encourage me to press on.
Up to this point, I had played the Axis Pedal simply as it had appeared before me, straight from the box. With new resolve, I determined to take a radically more intelligent approach and tune the myriad of adjustments on the pedal to compensate for the foibles of my technique. I moved the variable drive setting and the variable stroke length beater on the Sonic Hammer to the full back position. This seemed to compensate for my foot “memory” that wanted to keep the beater pointing toward the next country directly in front of my bass drum. Small shifts in the self-centering beater angle made up for any sense of power loss. Slowly, things began to change.
There was a recent film called Pleasantville about a town of bland people living in a black and white world. As they become exposed to exciting new experiences, they slowly begin to see objects appearing in glistening color. As I became accustomed to playing heel down I began to understand what this was about. Something began to open up as I started to incorporate the power of the ankle, calf and knee into my pedaling. It felt good. I liked it.
The next epiphany occurred when I used the footboard angle adjustment kit supplied with the unit. This is an imposing name for a set of four nylon spacers and two extended screws that serve to slightly elevate the back of the footboard off the heel block. This helped to flatten the angle of the footboard and take a lot of the tension off my ankle.
So there it was! With a little practice and the built-in flexibility of an Axis Longboard pedal, I found myself comfortably playing from a heel-down position. Unbelievable! Axis had put me on the path of a revival. And I’m not done yet. Though it’s not mentioned in the instructions, Johnston suggests trying to footboard angle adjustment kit on the toe of the footboard.
Now if I can just figure out how to find Dennis Chambers. I think I can inspire him to use his foot in a meaningful way!