Vintage View - Pearl Export 2
Vintage View: Pearl `Export'' 2
£539 in 1989
At the dawn of the 1980''s, Pearl wanted to bring out a new entry level drum kit. Roy Holliday, who was boss of Pearl UK at the time, was in an early development meeting in Japan where an entirely unsuitable name for the range was suggested. To cut a long story short, the Japanese wanted to call the range this name because it was ''for export only''. Roy suggested the name ''Export'' instead, to reflect the British perception that something for export was better than something for domestic use.
''Oh, no, no, no!'' said the people at Pearl, ''Export means bad!''
Apparently, in Japan ''export quality'' goods were of a lower quality than domestic goods, so to name the kit Export would be to suggest that the kit was inferior in quality. The meeting was ajourned and everyone retired to the bar. At the meeting the following morning, it was announced that the name of the range would be... ''Export'', so in 1982 the Pearl Export kit was released on an unsuspecting world.
Leaping on in time a bit, I saw the second improved version of Export when I went to Taiwan in 1987 but of course this was not the first time I''d reviewed one of Pearl''s `affordable'' kits. However this particular model was the company''s brand new improved one which set the standard, became ubiquitous and was to be launched at the very next year''s Frankfurt Musik Messe trade show with a retail price of £539. To give you an idea of their popularity, by 1995 Pearl had sold no less than one million Export sets.
Lots of important bits and pieces had been changed on these second generation sets over the intervening years to keep them modern and ahead of the competition. It seemed that as new fixtures and fittings were designed for their professional kits, Pearl had simply moved their still serviceable original hardware down the ladder to the cheaper sets. What this meant was that `cheapo'' sets (which used to be burdened with not particular salubrious accessories) were now equipped with what had been the previous years decidedly up-market stands and pedals.
The `Export'' sets were built, just like everything else we saw from Pearl in those days, in Taiwan. The Japanese parent company have/had three factories inside the locked gates of an Economic Processing Zone in a city in the very centre of the country in Taichung (Tai means Taiwan, Chung means centre). What it meant to Pearl and ultimately to the consumer is/was that since these EPZ''s are tax free areas, the superior raw materials were able to be imported from outside Taiwan to be built into drum sets behind closed doors. These could then be immediately exported, without any local duty becoming payable until such time as the products actually landed somewhere. All that Pearl needed to do to enjoy these economic privileges was to employ something like 300 indigenous Taiwanese workers (overseen in squads by a dozen or so experienced key Japanese personnel to ensure better-than-normal ROC quality control) and that was that.
This meant that Pearl''s products were better because they weren''t forced to rely on Taiwan''s frequently inferior raw materials (they even brought springs and felts in from Japan) and also they had a great economic advantage since, inside the EPZ, there were no tariffs. What this meant to the punter was that he was getting a superior product at roughly the same price as any other manufacturer would charge for something made from less reliable Taiwanese components.
Having said all this, I saw `Export'' kits being built while I was in Taiwan and even though the majority of their parts were fabricated from raw materials produced outside of the Republic of China, in an effort to keep the costs down even further, Pearl sometimes did use some home-grown ROC stuff. For example, since in common with many other manufacturers they made their cheaper shells from `unspecified'' plywood (which used to be with birch on the outside and mahogany on the inside but as time went by was poplar or even maple) they might just as well buy what they could locally. It''s the attention to detail with a drum which makes it sound right, not just the superior quality of the materials used in its construction. To state the obvious a rock maple shell won''t `speak'' correctly if its bearing edge is badly made and the converse holds true: a good seating for the head will make even a shell built from an `unspecified'' wood resound better.
The `Export'' shells in 1987 were made from nine cross-grained plies of what they called plywood, which was ultimately sprayed inside with a cream-coloured paint, with white flecks incorporated in it, known as Acousti-coat-sealer. At one time Taiwanese manufacturers used this sort of coating to cover up a multitude of sins. But, as far as the Pearl company were concerned, having seen their shells before they were sprayed, I''m sure it wasn’t camouflage it was mainly there to impart a little extra acoustic value to the wood. It also stopped moisture from permeating the inside and outside unevenly therefore stopping the shell from warping.
I watched the aforementioned important bearing edges being cut very accurately by a machine which first of all ensured the edge was set at 90 degrees to the side of the shell, then cut a shallow rebate into it so that only a minuscule part of the top of the shell came into contact with the head. The outside of the shell is ultimately slightly chamfered too to sharpen the bearing edge even more. There was a school of thought at that time which recommended that the bearing edge should be on the outside of the shell, and cut at 45 degrees to it, to move it away from the collar of the head. However Export didn’t do that.
`Export''s'' spurs in the second version looked very much like the sort they fitted to their more expensive drums. Basically they consisted of a cast block, which was joined to the bass shell, and which had a series of splined teeth formed into its outside with a threaded hole in its very centre. A further casting had splines too on its inside and these two pieces were screwed securely together with a spring between them by a `T-screw'' which vaguely matched the bass drum tensioners. The spur itself was joined to this outside block and telescopically adjustable in length (locked by a drum key operated screw) and the sharp end could be covered with a lockable rubber block if you didn’t want to ruin the carpet at your gig. The spurs were very heavy and a great improvement on some of the older ones. Of course there was the usual double tom holder block which I was told in Taiwan had been updated and fixed comfortably close to the front of the drum with an air hole close behind it.
Most manufacturers were supplying `Power'' depth toms with their cheaper sets then and Pearl were no exception. Theirs were called `Deep-Force'' and the bass drum mounted pair measured 12 x 10 and 13 x 11 but, again in common with the other makers, their floor tom still measured the usual 16 x 16. These drums also had shells built from nine thicknesses of plywood with a total of twelve nutboxes for the smallest toms and sixteen for the largest. As usual these drums had square-headed tension screws and reasonably thick triple flange hoops. I discovered whilst I was in Taiwan that Pearl didn''t actually make their own hoops. It seems they were made by an outside firm for a great many manufacturers.
As you''d expect, the floor tom had three legs to stand on made from reasonably thin steel rod and double-bent with a knurled, non-slip pattern where they penetrated their holder blocks and a large cone shaped rubber tip where they touched the floor. These holder blocks were cast with a large `T-screw'' tapped directly into them.
The smaller toms had a holder block fixed to them to locate them onto the tubular tom arms. These blocks were cast and matched the pair fixed to the holder unit mounted on the bass drum. They had three bolts to hold them securely and the clamp itself worked like a shaped, spring-closable hinge which had a nylon wear-resisting insert. Pearl drilled their air holes directly below these receiver blocks and none of the toms were fitted with any dampers.
This set had a collection of Pearl''s own heads which were made in Taiwan although I''m pretty sure they still made some in Japan too at the time. All these heads had metal flesh hoops, with double-ply Pinstripe-type heads called RE and fitted to all the batter sides. The snare drum was the only exception to this rule; it had a white coated head to give its sound more of a crack and was called WA. All the resonating heads were made from see-through plastic except for the bass drum front head which was black with the Pearl logo stenciled on it and an 8" hole cut out to dissipate the air and flatten the sound. I didn''t have any information at all about the plastic film Pearl used for their heads but on first sight (and touch) they seemed to be pretty resilient, so, I suspected it was of a reasonable quality.
All the accessories supplied with these new `Export'' kits had been promoted from the originals. They were no longer known as 800 series, they were now 850. The difference was pretty imperceptible to the casual glance, but, as far as I could see, the main difference was in the actual shape of the cast hinged holding blocks which arrested the height of the tubes. They now seemed to be more streamlined and pretty much the same as those tom holder tube receiver blocks mounted to the bass drum and toms. They had flat steel, single-braced legs and when they were first introduced a lot of studio players took to using them because they were lighter in weight and yet stable enough to get the job done. They were the usual tripod-based jobs with large wedge-shaped rubber feet, which used large `T-screws'' to lock the nylon sheathed jaws of the clamps and regular sized tubing. I saw them being built to pretty exacting standards in Taiwan from steel which was definitely imported from Japan.
Two cymbal stands were supplied with `Export'' which were almost identical except for the fact that one had a boom attachment. However, to form the boom, they simply replaced the top stage of the straight stand (the part with the tilter) with a fourth receiver section and re-inserted the top stage. The tilters had a metal washer and a pair of really thick felts, as well as the usual cast wing bolt to ensure the cymbal stayed where you wanted it. Pearl put a small rebate at the top of the thread and this, believe it or not, stopped the wing nut from spinning off on to the floor when you were unscrewing it to remove the cymbal.
The bass drum pedal had not had 50 added to its number. It was still called 800 as it had been for something like five years. I''d enthused about this old 800 foot pedal before which now had the latest Pearl two-piece footplate, complete with toe stop, to match the hi hat''s. It was actually a pretty basic model with a cast, inverted `U-shaped'' frame with a pair of sprung threaded spurs tapped into it in a brave effort to arrest the forward movement of the bass drum it was attached to. This particular manoeuvre was accomplished via a no-nonsense jaw which was hinged to the bottom of the framework and locked to the bass drum hoop with a `T-screw''. 800 had the usual felt beater held in place on the axle with a drum key operated screw. Uniquely the pedal had a large cast `drum'' attached to the axle to which a man-made fibre strap was screwed; the other end joined to the underside of the footplate having first run all the way round the `drum''. This system was known to its friends as `Wheel Drive Action'' and served to gear the stroke of the pedal so that it had a slightly lower geared movement than if it had the usual smaller strap-boss. As usual the pedal had a cam action to move the beater backwards and forwards from and to the head swiftly, which was attached to the adjustable expansion spring. Pearl made it so that the lower position of the spring was adjustable too. A curved piece of steel was attached to the post on the right hand side with a slot cut into it to facilitate finer spring positioning independently of the beater''s position relative to the bass drum head.
I had always been impressed with Pearl''s `Export'' sets. Their appearance was very professional and, from a distance it was only the scarcity of nut boxes and tension screws on the bass drum which belied its origin and price. The interiors were clean and burr-free with strengthening plates behind all the important fittings. I saw one in John Shearer''s `Talking Drums'' which was unique in that I’m pretty sure it was covered in sheets of stainless steel. Of course they made plastic coverings too in Jet black, Smoky Chrome, Pure White, Wine Red, Yellow and my favourite: Ferrari Red. The stainless steel finish was interesting because (I feel) being ever so slightly heavier than plastic gave a little more weight to the drum and to its sound.
The second series of `Export'' drums had had the latest Pearl rectangular badge for at least a couple of years now and I must say that even this small feature contributes greatly to the overall professional appearance of the set. The sounds were good too; clear and drummy yet with that necessary thickness to the bass drum. The snare drum was very modern sounding with lots of snap and breath, and, for my money I felt it would record very well. I''m sure even these sounds could eventually be improved upon when Pearl''s `Made in Taiwan'' heads wore out and were replaced by more expensive ones.
I was in two minds at the time about the fact that Pearl no longer fitted dampers to these drums. On the one hand I''d been saying for years that it was pointless to fit internal dampers to `Power'' toms. But, on the other, I wasn''t sure that a bass drum should be supplied without a felt strip damper, nor that what was ostensibly an `entry level'' snare drum should be damperless. Often it was the damper which makes cheap snare drums sound better by taking out some of their more unacceptable overtones. Of course I''ve already intimated how good this particular ‘budget’ snare drum was already, but I still felt a damper would help although the best bet would have been to have bought one of Pearl''s external dampers.
Whatever your feelings are towards the Pearl Export, there is one thing that is certain – many of us drummers would not be where we are today without one, and for that, it should be applauded.
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