More cowbell

Tuesday, 18 December 2018 4:33 pm

According to popular drumming thinking, you can never have enough cowbell. To help achieve that, Ryan Cheney shares his e-cowbell build.

Converting an acoustic cowbell to electric is one of the easier A-to-E conversions you can do. Even if you don't already own a cowbell, one can be had at little cost, especially since its acoustic sound quality is not important. It can be an inexpensive, compact and easy way to add another triggering option to your e-kit and, once you've seen the process shown here, you might want to try it yourself.

It begins by drilling a 10mm (3/8”) hole for the TRS jack. Either the underside of the cowbell or the back, next to the mounting bracket, are good places. If using the latter location, make sure there is enough space for the washer that comes with the TRS jack. To keep the bit from wandering, a tap of a centre punch or nail set will help keep the bit centred. A few drops of oil now and again will help things along and improve the longevity of your drill bit.

Next thing to do is to add a sound damping strike surface to the top of the cowbell. A 2-3mm thick piece of neoprene rubber found in the plumbing department of a good hardware store works well. Cut it to match the shape of the strike zone and glue it into place with an adhesive that works well on both plastic and rubber. In my case, Gorilla Glue Clear Grip was used and seems to hold up well. Be sure to clean both surfaces with rubbing or denatured alcohol before applying adhesive so that dirt and grease don't interfere with the bond. Once the underside of the rubber has an even distribution of glue, apply it with finger pressure and tape down all the edges with blue painter's tape. Leave the tape in place for 24 hours so the glue has time to cure.

Attaching the piezo leads to the TRS jack is a simple matter of soldering. If your module is a Roland, attach the ceramic lead to the sleeve contact on the TRS jack, and the other lead to the tip contact of the jack. Yamaha and Alesis modules are the opposite way around. That said, it's always a good idea to test by pressing the leads to the corresponding parts of a TRS plug attached to the module and giving the piezo a tap of the finger before committing to soldering the leads in place.

Once soldered, drop the TRS jack into the hole and tighten it in place. Then adhere the piezo underneath the centre of the strike zone and secure the lead wires out of harm’s way with tape.

The rest of the process is dedicated to the further damping of acoustic noise. If you have a large piece of adhesive-backed neoprene, felt or rubber, it helps to apply that to the inside of the cowbell opposite the piezo.

The last piece of the puzzle is cutting up some dense foam roughly to the shape of the inside of the cowbell - but slightly larger. A compression fit damps sound better and is less likely to work loose during use. If it has a tendency to work loose while playing, double-sided tape is a good option for securing it better (don’t use glue as many types of foam will actually melt when certain glues are applied). You also may need to replace a faulty or worn out piezo some day, in which case, it helps if the foam is removable. Be sure to cut a notch in the foam where the TRS jack will be and stuff it home.

The nice thing about an A-to-E converted cowbell is how easy it is to mount. If you don't already have one, cowbell mounting options for drum sets have been around for decades and should be easy to find. Mount it up, plug it in, and enjoy a new triggering option for your kit.

  • You can see the basic construction in this video.