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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 July, 2005, 09:58 GMT 10:58 UK
Nanotech gives drumkits a makeover
By Dr Marina Murphy

Drum barrel
The new pickup lines the inside of the drum
A new plastic material will change the way drummers mike up their kits.

The material has been used to make a pickup - a device that acts as a detector and captures mechanical vibrations - which can be permanently installed on drums allowing drummers to plug in and play just like guitar players.

The pickups, the first on the market for drums, will be launched in the UK this summer by Finnish company B-Band.

Pickups detect mechanical vibrations and convert them into an electronic signal that can be amplified and recorded. Traditional pickups, which are made of sensitive crystals, are not suitable for drums.

They sound great and they're a real time saver
Janne Vuori, sound engineer
Miking up a drum kit is complicated and time consuming, as each drum must be miked separately.

The microphones must be positioned so that each picks up the sound from the drum to which it is assigned, with the minimum possible bleed from adjacent drums, and where they are not likely to be hit by a stray drumstick.

Easy set-up

The new pickups are permanently attached to the drums. After one installation, there is no further set-up required, no stands to set up and no microphones to position. And they only pick up the sound of the drum to which they are attached.

"Microphones take the sound from the air," says Heikki Raisanen, CEO of B-band. "The pickups take the sound directly from the body of the drum, solving the problem of leakage from the other drums.

"The sound is more natural than that obtained using microphones."

Pickups detect mechanical vibration
The secret is in the elastic polymer film with tiny gas bubbles trapped inside
The pickups are based on a very thin, elastic polymer film with tiny gas bubbles trapped inside.

The film is made of polypropylene, a plastic used in everything from chairs to plastic cups. The polypropylene is treated with a high-pressure gas to introduce the microscopic lens-type bubbles.

The film is charged and covered in electrodes and any change in the thickness of the film creates an electrical charge that can be measured. Hitting the drum produces vibrations that compress the tiny air bubbles, generating a current.

"Because it only picks up the sound of the drum it is on, it's simple to dial in a great sound quickly," according to Janne Vuori, a sound engineer for the heavy metal band 69 Eyes, who is testing the pickups.

"From one show to another, they are ready to go. They sound great and they're a real time saver," he said.

But Rory Horan, a sound engineer based in London said: "I would be concerned that the pickups may not be able to faithfully reproduce the sound of the metal wires on the snare drums. Conventional mics may still be the best option for those."


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