New meets old

Thursday, 20 December 2018 10:10 am

The growth of hybrid drumming (the parallel use of electronic and acoustic elements) means that acoustic drummers continue to search for quick, cheap and easy ways of adding electronic triggering capability to their kits.

One of the landmark products in the hybrid wave was the Roland TM-2 ‘trigger module’, a four-input (dual stereo) miniature drum brain with onboard sounds and the ability to load user samples.

The module, launched in 2014, was designed to be paired with triggers like Roland’s RT-series acoustic drum triggers, the BT-1 bar trigger pad and KT-10 kick trigger pedal, for example.

Of course, all of those triggers work perfectly with the module, and there’s no real reason to look further for a hybrid solution. But some of us can’t help wondering if there’s a “better way”. What if you could trigger all four TM-2 inputs with a single device? That would mean finding a four-zone trigger pad.

And, as it turns out, you have to look no further than Roland’s vaults to find just such a thing.

Going back to the future in this case involves the PD-31 trigger pad, a product which dates back to 1987 and gets its name from its “three-plus-one” design. Yes, it’s a four-zone pad and it’s not much bigger than a PD-128. Better still, its triangular shape makes it uber-retro and tres chic.

For those not familiar with 1980s Roland gear, the PD-31 has a rubber head zone surrounded on three sides by separate plastic rim zones, each of which operates independently. There are four mono jacks on the pad and a clever design routes the rim signals to a single output if there are empty jacks. That means you get four sounds if you plug in four cables, but if you only plug in two outputs, all the rims will be routed to the one that is plugged in.

Applying the PD-31 to the 21st century

The PD-31 is more than 30 years old, so how does it work with the latest modules? Luckily, the basics of electronic drumming remain unchanged, and the PD-31 is still pretty much plug and play with contemporary modules.

The design ensures a nice clean head sound and three totally separate rim sounds – with no crosstalk in stock settings on most modules.

I connected the pad to the TM-2 using cables I had on hand: a dual-mono to stereo cable and stereo to dual mono splitter with two regular instrument cables.

On the TM-2, I selected the PADX2 input configurations for both inputs 1 and 2. I chose PD-8 trigger settings as these are the closest to the pad’s construction type. I found that the inputs all needed a touch of sensitivity boost and threshold lowering for accurate triggering.

A perfect illustration of the potential use of this set-up is the stock Electric Tom kit which has four differently pitched ‘80s toms (one each on the head and rim of the two stereo inputs). These worked just perfectly and would be ideal for a tom fill on an ‘80s song while still keeping the acoustic toms for other uses.

While this is a great solution, it’s not quite perfect. In the ‘80s, Roland hadn’t yet discovered a way to make quiet rims, so the hard plastic surface of the PD-31 rims gives you a definite ‘clack’ sound which would certainly be heard on a mic’ed drum kit. This, however, is not insurmountable, and one could attach a piece of neoprene or some other silencer to reduce the impact noise. And there was still plenty of headroom in the trigger settings, so it should be easy to increase threshold to overcome the effect of the dampening.

The other challenge is that PD-31s are pretty rare – and will be even more sought-after when this review starts getting around! When I looked, there were none on eBay or Reverb, but they certainly do come up for sale every now and again – anywhere between $50 and $125.