Vintage View - Headset
Vintage View - Purecussion Headset
Traps wasn’t the first portable drum set, neither was Flats, Remo’s Legero, Flatjacks, Melanie Fantoms, or at a pinch Pearl’s Traveller. Probably Flatjacks were the first in production although the world-wide-web has patent listings for various other portables before and after them; albeit they were ‘Russian-Doll’ type sets. Whether all of these were ever seriously taken to market is a matter for conjecture, but certainly Asba, Sonor, Giannini, and various others have had a bash at portable drums over the past half century.
Headset fits into the middle of this time line having come out in the mid-eighties. They were the brainchild of a guy called Gary Gauger (pronounced Gog-ger not Gay-jer) who, having been responsible for the RIMS system in 1979, went on to invent the shallowest set yet seen, but one which depended almost completely on a product a rival company had built for their own use - the Remo PTS head.
Remo had introduced their Pre-Tuned-Series heads in 1981 and Gary Gauger had fully utilised their inherent properties. These ready-tuned system heads did away with the need for tensioning lugs because the Mylar film was stretched (or ''pre-shrunk'') before being inserted into the special double-decker ‘U-shaped’ channel which created a counter-hoop and held it taut. Headset lasted from 1988 to ''96.
Gary Gauger was actually a proper jazz drummer who having graduated from University with a music degree joined first the US Air Force, and then its band ‘The Airmen of Note’, before moving on to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. It was he who recognised that drum mounting systems were choking the sound of drums and resolved to do something about it. He succeeded beyond drummers wildest dreams with his ‘Resonance Isolation Mounting System’ (or RIMS) which was introduced in 1980 and, with the help of Russ Kunkel and Jeff Porcaro, has become highly significant in modern drum hardware history.
So, Remo’s PTS idea offered much to Purecussion’s Headset project because it could be jammed on top of any tube, clamped or stuck into place and you’d have a basic drum. Remo used it initially for their kids drums on Acousticon shells and this resulted in a very affordable instrument. Of course you couldn’t tune it but Remo had got around that with their own PTS sets using different tensioned heads: Bright, Mellow, Dark and Super Dark which were produced by ‘baking’ them. A longer time in the oven stretched the head more and gave a bright higher-pitched sound and vice versa - less heating stressed the plastic film less resulting in a lower pitch – QED. Incidentally, to give you an idea about how useful these PTS heads were, I kept a 15” PTS head in my snare drum case for many years. If I broke a snare head, I just quickly dropped it over the whole ripped top head and rim of a 14” snare drum, so I could carry on without having to remove and replace the torn head.
So Headset was a unique product which Gary G. thought could be adapted to work rather well with his recent brainwave - the RIMS mount. Obviously the set produced had no weight to it but that wasn’t necessarily the selling point - he was trying to achieve an extremely portable drum set which took up no space. This made it ideal for the orchestra pit and when it came out sold quite a few sets to drummers beavering away in confined spaces in the pits of London’s West End theatres. I had one which I used for casual gigs and rehearsals at the time.
Having produced the set and got it to market I’m guessing Gary G. reacted to feedback which said it wasn’t really usable in a professional situation if you couldn’t change the pitch, even just a little bit to suit the environment. So he came up with something which had gone before and fitted a series of small two-piece inverted ‘G-shaped’ blocks to the rim of the head.
By using a drum key operated screw tapped into part of each clamp, which when tensioned pushed against a circular frame which rested against against the underside of the head, it was possible to use the Super Dark versions of the PTS heads and actually tune them up a bit. This was the Mark 2 version of the Headset.
There were actually three different versions – the Mark 3 or ''NE'' version was so named because if took anybody’s heads. NE – Any? Geddit? And, as Michael Caine evidently never ever said: “Not a lot of people know that”.
But I’m getting ahead of myself - the inability to change pitch wasn’t the Mark 1 set’s only problem. The bottom-end sound wasn’t at all convincing. Eventually (on the Mark 2) there was a sort of two piece bass drum with an extra reso head situated just in front of the batter.
As far as their tone was concerned they were certainly more ballsy than Rototoms but, because of their mass (or rather the lack of it) they weren’t as convincing as Flats or Traps. That said, Neil Peart had a set he used in the dressing room to warm-up on so it can’t have been that bad.
The sets were only available in 10, 12, 14 and 20 diameters (although in the dark recesses of my mind I think I remember a 13” too and a single headed snare drum with a fan snare pressing underneath it. A RIMS-like hoop held each of the heads with a Pearl-type ratchet tom bracket and receiver block which attached the smallest tom to the top of the four legged bass drum and the other two toms to the back leg on the right. A pair of two stage cymbal arms with ratchet tilters as usual at the top, but also 5” or so from the bottom, were joined to the left and right front legs. Gary invented some unique and possibly fool-proof figure-of-eight clamps to attach everything to those bass drum legs.
Unfortunately, while it seemed like an elegant solution to the problem of supporting everything, it erred on the side of being too lightweight to do the task that was being asked of it. It made every drum maker who came afterwards aware that any support system for lightweight drums needed to be much more substantial than Gary Gauger’s to really get the job done.
Everybody I know used their own snare drum with Headset although I have a line drawing which shows one on a tripod stand.
You can still get replacement parts for the original drums and otherwise Gary Gauger’s still going strong and innovating important stuff for us drummers in Minnetonka, Minnesota. He now produces Sticpod which attaches to the drum and holds a pair of sticks, brushes or beaters alongside it; Lockerz which arrest tension screws, FlexFrame which thoughtfully attaches to the bottom of your snare (or smaller tom) firstly to isolate it from the snare stand and otherwise stop the basket from squashing the counterhoop and detuning the drum.
Other than that they’ve improved the original RIMS product by making it from aluminium but we have a lot to thank Gary for as we drummers are now all aware of vibration isolation and mounting systems.
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