October 2003

Pearl Rhythm Traveler Drums

Like certain elected government officials voting for every new weapons system ever hatched, I’ve never encountered a drum set I didn’t like. And so it was with Pearl’s Rhythm Traveler, “the perfect kit for both silent practice and compact live performance,” as the company proclaims. While I did have some caveats, there was an unexpected, pleasant surprise as well.

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Pearl Rhythm Traveller Drums

The Taiwanese-made Rhythm Traveler consists of a double-headed 8 x 20-inch bass drum, single-head 10-, 12- and 14-inch toms and a 13-inch wood snare drum, all with 5-inch shell depths. The shells are 6-ply, 7.5 mm mahogany, covered in a jetblack finish. The snare drum is thoughtfully equipped with a coated batter head, the toms and bass with clear heads; the bass drum also sports a black audience-side head with a large white Pearl logo. All the drums, even the bass and snare, have only six tuning lugs per head. Although Pearl’s literature mentions plastic “silent cymbals,” apparently these have been changed in favor of Pearl CX300 series 14-inch hi-hats and a 16-inch crash/ride. These cymbals are the cheapest components of the Rhythm Traveler, although they are perfectly serviceable as practice cymbals when covered with the three included cymbal mufflers: a 14-inch round one that is placed on top of the bottom hi-hat cymbal, and two wedge-shaped units with holes marked 14 inches and 16 inches for placement in the hi-hat clutch or over the cymbal-stand tilter, respectively. With such muffling in effect, the cymbals sounded almost bearable but then again, so would pie plates or old hubcaps.

Included hardware consists of three tom holders (two for the bass-drum mount) with memory locks, a multiclamp (for attachment of the third tom holder to the aforementioned cymbal stand), a bass-drum pedal, a hi-hat stand and a snare-drum stand. All stands are double-braced and feature rubber gaskets in the tubing at adjustment points. Two Rhythm Traveler bags are available as an extra option, one holding the snare and nested toms and the other for the bass drum. With the name Rhythm Traveler, one would expect that these drums are designed for easy transport, and indeed, I could fit all five drums inside a single 20- inch fiber bass-drum case. With the 10-inch tom telescoped inside the 14-inch tom, and the 12-inch tom upside down, fitting around the 10-inch shell, the three toms together make a 9 1/2-inch deep package. The 13-inch snare can be safely placed on top of the 14-inch tom, and this configuration fits on top the bass drum with room to spare for the tom arms and bass drum legs, allowing for a two-trip setup or pack up, albeit heavy as lead—a true “lazy man’s load,” as my grandmother used to say.

Notice I said bass drum legs and not spurs, referring to the only design flaw. Although the pedal spurs help a bit, the dreaded bass-drum creep was a serious problem in every playing situation. The leg holders are outfitted with two sets of holes: a vertical set for mounting the merely slightly flared legs in playing position, and a horizontal set for holding them securely parallel to the shell when packing up. The reversible rubber/metal tips so ubiquitous today are conspicuously absent, and the combination of the 8 inch bass-drum shell depth (with the toms in comfortable playing position) and the rubber-tipped bass drum legs makes for a stability issue. If Pearl wished to address this, it could improve its odd design by simply forward-angling the legs more, adding a spiked tip on the opposite end of each leg as an alternative choice to the rubber tip. But an even better solution would be common, everyday collapsible or telescoping bass drum spurs.

The real strength of this set is for silent practice. The mesh batter heads (also included) feature a mesh so fine that I had to examine the heads very closely to discover they weren’t regular black-plastic heads, and they passed the “wife and daughter sleeping test” with flying colors, sounding quieter than typical practice pads or unplugged electronic drums, while responsively feeling like the real drums that they are.

The bonus about the Rhythm Traveler is that it’s also a fine recording set. When the composer-producer of a project didn’t think the wide-open jazz ring of my kit was suitable for the fusion/New Age/world music sound he had in mind, I brought the Pearls, and he loved them. An engineer’s dream, the single-head toms were easy to mike, and the 20-inch bass drum supplied the required bottom.

Looking for the perfect practice kit, an ideal extra set for “hit and run” gigs or even an inexpensive recording kit, easy to tune for versatile musical styles? You’ll find all three in Pearl’s Rhythm Traveler.

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