In 1981 while in Adelaide I purchased a second hand broken set of double pedals. I was intrigued by their design, I didn’t know much about double pedals (did anybody back then?) and wanting to give double bass drum more consideration even though one of the cams had a crack in it, I thought I could just get a new cam made, fix the pedals, and save myself the hassle of needing to lug around two bass drums. So I got a cam made of steel, but of course it ended up being five times more heavy then the working cam which was made of alloy, as a result of which I had a set of broken pedals that I’d bought for almost nothing, but still broken nevertheless.
I moved back to Sydney a little while later and discovered to my surprise that the manufacturer and inventor of the pedals was Australian, a drummer who lived in Sydney, his name was Don Sleishman. I was utterly delighted and somehow tracked him down and gave him a call, telling him my story about the pedals.
Little did I know at the time, the repercussions meeting Don would have on my musical life and career. How could I anticipate the impact and consequences that starting to use these pedals would have in my drumming life. Because the truth be told it’s due to Don’s generosity, enthusiasm and sheer genius that I am the drummer I am today; and I am utterly grateful.
Playing his pedals and the symmetry they create with one’s drum kit set up was the catalyst that in part would twenty five years later propel me to study in India; having developed a whole technical approach to playing, due to how I set up my kit, which all started from playing the Sleishman twin pedals.
There are not many people in this world with the commitment, tenacity, endurance and sheer passion that Don has demonstrated over fifty years as an inventor. An outstanding commitment simply fuelled in order to share and create for his fellow drummers the best instruments possible. What he went through on this journey as an inventor was remarkable, and I was privileged to share some of that journey with him with all its ups and downs. My relationship to Don spans over thirty years now and I am still playing his pedals and drums.
The evolution of any art form and its technology are inseparable, and for the record Don Sleishman is the original inventor of double pedals on this planet. Check out the photo of him with Mr Louis Bellson and the first prototype which he showed Louis Bellson on his Australian tour in the sixties.
Conceptually Don followed the idea of the same principle you encounter when sitting on a chair your with legs apart, and how that translates when playing two bass drums. The pedals would be exactly the same on both sides at a slight angle, the snare drum would sit in the middle and therefore be right in the centre of two toms, one on each bass drum, perfect symmetry.
Well if you are going to do that with one single bass drum, you come up with the kind of designs that Don explored and the challenges he faced. Since he patented his design he could not be copied, therefore all the other manufacturers wanting to get on the double pedal band wagon were left with the universal joint option.
The design of these double pedals consisted and still does, of a single pedal which connects to the centre of the bass drum as always and connects to another pedal on the left via a universal joint. The snare stayed where it was placed when playing a single pedal and therefore so did the toms since back then all toms came mounted off bass drum fittings, racks were still a thing of the future.
Don’s pedals in whatever stage of their evolution were always perfectly even and symmetrical, his competitors unfortunately were always behind the eight ball in trying to make their pedal which connected via the universal joint on the left side, respond, feel and react like the pedal on the right side. Always slower, heavier on the left side, can’t be helped it’s a ” universal ” design :-) .
Have those drum pedal manufacturers achieved evenness now? Well you’re asking the wrong guy, I’ve had evenness and perfect symmetry for 32 years, now and then if I am in a drum shop I give those pedals a try, but to this day, for me nothing comes close.
Now if you have been playing anything other than the Sleishman twin pedal, when trying them for the first time most people will get the immediate wow factor, ”I can play a bunch of stuff faster and easier then I can on my own double pedals“. They may still feel a bit different, and take a bit of getting used to; and of course your kit set up will change, I would say for the better, but there are issues in dealing with these changes.
Part of the purpose of this post is to give you some information relative to adapting to the pedals and some tips regarding drum kit setup and using the twin pedals with heel up and heel down technique.
Because Sleishman pedals throw from a different fulcrum point then a conventional pedal and while it makes for the most sublime heel down playing experience, that sense of difference comes when playing heel up; and that’s because the throwing fulcrum point on the Sleishman pedal is not at the toe end but lower down toward the heel. So a different approach, or technique is required.
I think that for some people making the change is easy and comes natural “wow I love the way this symmetrical tom thing feels! and how fast I am playing!” For others it could be a bit more challenging, it’s like “well my kit set up is changing, my snare is not fitting quite comfortable and the pedals feel different, not getting the same power I’m use to”.
Well I’ve got thirty years experience with these pedals, so I am happy to share what I’ve learned with those who are already playing the twin pedal and anyone who may be looking into them.
Firstly the heel up or heel down issue. Regardless of what pedal you play, rule one, you need to be sitting high enough to feel properly balanced on your stool when you play heel up otherwise you will feel like your balance is out and you are falling backwards. If you are sitting too high you won’t get the right stroke in your legs and won’t have the sense of connection from which you get your power. So sitting at the right height is crucial, for me that was a bit higher then felt naturally comfortable. Off course now that feels totally normal.
When one is playing heel down the stroke is generated from the heel and foot only, by simply lifting the foot, when playing heel up the stroke is generated by the whole leg, lifting up and moving down.
If you look at a traditional single pedal the fulcrum is really right at the toe end which has either a chain or strap attached, that connects from the foot board to the pulley mechanisms that propels the beater forward to hit the bass drum. All the power is moving to that point, even though the power comes from the heel when playing such a single pedal heel down. The tendency will be to lift the heel up when increasing power or speed, to play a samba pattern for instance.
With the Sleishman pedal the fulcrum is a large part of the foot-board because the connecting arm that’s attached to the foot board at one end, and to the chain that pulls the pulley mechanism for the beater to strike the head at the other end; starts at the back and goes to a bit over a third of the foot-board. So if playing heel down one gets a lot of power easily.
Whatever the pedal played however, to develop real speed the tendency will be to play more of a heel up technique, which is fine on a regular single pedal, but with the Sleishman pedal that doesn’t work as well because moving the striking position to the top of the foot-board moves one away from the fulcrum power point of the pedal which is lower down the foot-board. This is why the pedal feels a bit different. Of course it’s an amazing powerful pedal to play, it just requires a slightly different approach. So what I found was that the heel up technique that works for me with the Sleishman pedal, is to lift the heel and arch off the foot-board but no more than a couple of centimetres. This allows one to use the whole leg, then the pedal switches into hyper drive and not only does one get speed, but the power it generates is amazing.
So the fundamental difference is that the fulcrum points are almost reversed. In a traditional pedal it’s at the toe end which facilitates heel up playing, while the Sleishman pedal fulcrum point is more from the heel to a bit before the middle of the foot-board which makes for incredible heel down playing, and incredible heel up playing when one makes a small adjustment from the traditional approach to heel up technique.
For this reason also when wanting to play fast doubles, like a samba pattern, with a traditional single pedal the technique tends to be, to start the double stroke in a heel up position and the foot slide up the board as the heel comes down to create the second stroke, its one motion that create two strokes. With the Sleishman pedal because of the fulcrum position being more in the heel, I found that what came naturally, was for the motion that creates the second stroke to move across the foot-board from left to right rather then up the foot-board.
In earlier versions of the pedal in its process of evolution as you can see from the photo the connecting arm connected to the toe of the foot-board not the heel. Through much consideration, experimentation and development the early pedal in its Mark One, and Two models, was changed to the pedal we have now where the connecting arm connects to the heel and a third of the bottom of the foot-board. It went through two more evolution's I believe, before the pedal we have today was designed and released, because other aspect of its structure were also redesigned and upgraded.
Don paid tribute to the late Mark Riley with the Mark One and Two pedal models. One of Australia’s most remarkable drummers whose life was cut short in a tragic motor cycle accident. Recognised as a child prodigy, coming from a family of musicians, Mark’s ability was remarkable, today he would easily stand alongside Virgil Donati and Mike Mangini. He played Sleishman pedals and his double bass drum technique was incredible. His facility with his feet was on par with his hands. He is remembered for touring Europe and playing the Montreux Jazz festival with Crossfire, but I remember him playing groundbreaking Jazz Fusion with a band called YoureKiddin in a little pub in Elizabeth St Paddington on Thursday nights. A great loss to the world wide music community.
When Don was experimenting with different cams for the current model, the pedal became so fast and light, I remember him telling me he had to make adjustments to slow it down, in order to make it playable. I think that’s a position a lot of manufacturers would like to be in.
When it comes to the effect the pedal has on the drum kit set up, having the snare in the middle of the bass drum and the two toms perfectly symmetrical in relation to the snare… Well that was the beginning of a journey, that would end up informing everything about the way I play and phrase. I play open handed with the main hi-hat, on the right hand side and another on the left, in circular motions both on the left and the right, facing continually forward, never having to twist my torso from left to right and therefore because of this set up my whole tom order completely changed.
(See my blog post “Open handed and circular motion drumming”).
This was a process for me and did not happen overnight, but I am sure I would not have conceived of this if not for the Sleishman pedals.
Kit set ups inherently influence the way one phrases, and therefore have a huge impact on one’s musicality. In my case this was extreme, I have a whole book’s worth of material about poly-rhythmic patterns that I discovered just because of the set up I play, which was all set in motion with Don’s pedals.
I am not unique in this set up and approach, in 1999 I discovered Mike Mangini had a carbon copy set up, and Billy Cobham set up is very close. But in both these instances these players were lead there I believe because they play two bass drums, with lots of toms. In my case it’s because the symmetry the pedal created is the same as in a double bass kit. I have not included Simon Phillips and Terri Bozzio, though double bass drum players, their toms are set up in a traditional order descending order from left to right.
One thing that may come up using the Sleishman pedals if the toms are mounted off fittings on the bass drum, and connected therefore, is that it can be difficult to get the snare drum as close to the toms as one would like.
Firstly, because the snare stand must sit in between the pedals it has to be made skinnier at the bottom in order to fit properly, and one can still experience a disconnect in the set up because in connecting the pedal to the bass drum dictates where your feet and toms are, if the snare does not move in close enough to the toms, the whole thing can feel awkward. But fear not the simple remedy is a snare stand that has a spindle that is attached to the basket that allows the basket to move forward from the stand for perfect adjustment. (See photo) There may be more brands out there with this feature for the snare stand, but both Pearl and DW make one. I prefer the DW, it’s the 3000 series stand, its really solid. Check out all the photos of the kit and you can see how great the set up is, just smoking tight. If you use a rack system with your kit, you may not have an issue because, the bass drum not being connected to the toms may allow you to make the adjustment by moving the rack or the bass drum forward a little.
As I said before "The evolution of any art form and its technology are inseparable” that evolution in my case using Sleishman pedals has been profound. If you use these pedals already I hope you found this post informative, if you had doubts about them, I hope this post puts them to rest, if you were considering them I hope this clarifies any questions you may have had.
Lastly I would like to thank Don for his gifts and influence in my musical life and his son David for following in his footsteps and keeping the business going.
If you’re a Sleishman enthusiast stay tuned for my next Sleishman related post where I will tell the story of my process with Don over a twenty five year period relative to his drum kit design with the total free floating suspension system he invented. It all started with the conversion of my Gretch kit in 1986, executed in his garage before he started ordering Canadian maple shells and building kits from scratch in a factory. Now that’s a ripper yarn.
Peace from The Quorn.