Used by permission of Modern Drummer Publications, Inc.
By Chap Ostrander
For years I’ve watched the Olympics, and I’ve always been fascinated by how the athletes’ performances improve time after time. At one time the four-minute mile seemed an insurmountable barrier: nowadays it’s a prerequisite to entering. World records become whirled records as they are constantly being updated. There are always fine improvements being made, and people are driven to keep moving ahead.
Back around 1990, Engineered Percussion hit the scene with the Axis A pedal, and immediately jumped to the head of the line in pedal technology. Since that time Axis pedals have maintained their standard of quality and performance. Each pedal is produced from machined steel and structural-grade aircraft aluminum. There are no cast metal parts to snap at an inopportune moment. Ball bearing throughout the pedals ensure that the action will be as smooth as glass. Removable thread lockers are used at all setting points so that nothing rattles loose while you play or move your equipment. The patented variable-drive lever gives the pedal infinite adjustability so that a player can fine-tune its feel from heavy to light as a feather.
When the double version of the Axis pedal was introduced, the main feature that set it apart was the “zero backlash” ball-bearing design of the universal joints. This means that there is no play in these joints at all. When you push the slave pedal with your foot, every millimeter of motion is transferred to the beater. (Grab the ends of some universal-joint setups out there and twist them — you’ll see that this is rarely the case.)
The length of the Axis pedal’s drive shaft is set by allen screws. Since most players only make this adjustment once, it’s not a problem. But if you’re like me and occasionally change the length to fit the requirements of a given gig, this could be a hassle. If you choose, though, Axis will provide you with drum key screws.
Needless to say, the Axis A is an impressive setup, whether in single or double format. But its manufacturer (now know as Axis percussion) is well known for not sitting on their engineering laurels. So they’ve rocked the pedal world again with the introductions of Longboards and the Sonic Hammer.
The idea behind the Longboards is that the pivot point for the heel portion of the pedal is moved back 2”, effectively lengthening the footboard. This gives your foot more real estate to stomp on. A Longboard A Series double pedal (A_L2) was sent for review. I’m historically a split-footboard player, so naturally I was a little skeptical when I first approached it. Well, let’s; put it this way: History can be changed. The pedal felt like an extension of my foot. Little effort was needed to move the beaters.
I got a feeling of control and power, with equal ability to use my foot (heel down) or my whole let. If you’re a player who uses heel and toe technique on your pedal, this is definitely worth a look. As you move your foot forward, your heel is ahead of the pivot point. All current versions of Axis pedals can be purchased in Longboard form, or you can buy and upgrade kit to retrofit any existing Axis pedal (including their hi-hats). The upgrade kit also includes spacers at the heel and toe connections to custom-fit the angle of the new footboard. You get nylon spacers for the back and an aluminum block for the front should you want to raise either end.
Put The Hammer Down
Part of the Longboards’ excellent feel is the result of a fairly radical new style of beater called the Sonic Hammer. Its head is mounted on an adjustable rod that comes off the “traditional” beater shaft at a 90º angle. Drum key screws set the shaft height from the pedal and the length of the beater head from the shaft. By moving the head back and forth, you change the height of the pedal at the point when the beater hits the drumhead. By lengthening it to full extension, the beater strikes the drumhead while the pedal is relatively high. Shorten the distance, and the pedal position moves down. You can thus tailor the impact point to exactly where you get the most power from the pedal.
In a nutshell, the Sonic Hammer was created to make the most of the physics of the Axis A pedal (with the variable drive lever and all its flexibility). The “beater forward” design, as they call it, cuts the shaft weight (meaning the mass of the beater) behind the mallet head. This increases the power of an Axis A without making it feel heavier.
You can also purchase the Hammer to fit other pedals. It’s like an instant pedal height adjustment. The Delrin beater head is mounted on a nylon ball with a setscrew built in. This allows the head to pivot in order to find the proper angle for greatest contact with the bass drum head. Once you have that, you tighten the screw and you’re done. The Hammer also comes with two peel-and-stick faces, so you can either have the plain Delrin surface, or add a cork or felt facing to it. You can also experiment with other materials available in home and hobby stores, like moleskin, thicker felt, rubber, etc. The flat face of the Hammer gives you an inch and a half of solid contact, producing a full, deep sound. You can also change the height of the beater to alter the sound of the bass drum, tailoring the feel of the pedal to account for the different beater length.
Axis A (and the less expensive Axis X) pedals — in single and double configurations — are all available in Longboard form. Sonic Hammers are standard equipment on Longboard models. A Longboard hi-hat is offered as well. On Axis’s Web site, they say “you don’t need to learn new steps; just get on a bigger dance floor.” You owe it to yourself to take a spin on an Axis Longboards.