November 2002

Johnny Rabb
RhythmSaw Techniques

“The JohnnyraBB RhythmSaw is an innovative change to the traditional drumstick. Its revolutionary design opens the spectrum of sound to entirely new rhythms and musical possibilities.” Translation: ribbed teeth built into the middle of a drumstick allow for scraping sounds.From the introductory open drum solo, it’s apparent that Johnny Rabb is onto something new. These sticks, “instruments in themselves,” achieve a great traditional cross-sticking sound, and do indeed possess some different sound possibilities. The RhythmSaw is available in 7A, 5A, 5B and 2B sizes, with your choice of four different tips: “mushroom” for jazz fusion; “ball” (great for cymbals); the standard “acorn” for rock; and “olive,” producing more spread on cymbals and increased dynamics on drums. There’s also the Brush Saw, with the same teeth in the middle but regular tips on one end and brushes on the other, or the “Kid’s Size,” which is “great for bells and hand percussion.”

During the very impressive demonstration of Rabb’s playing style and the sticks’ inherent capabilities, the combination of the techniques he’s developed for his invention with the tinny, distorted sound of his unique Meinl cymbals (including a splash mounted on his top hi-hat cymbal) and his personalized drum-set tuning, I became aware (through his own utterances) that all this is to simulate the sound of cheap drum machines, flangers, DJ turntable scratching and old Pac-Man game sounds. Although Rabb superbly illustrates how these sticks could be used in samba and bossa nova (and thus to great effect in other Afro-Cuban styles, albeit not discussed here), the emphasis is on hip-hop, house and jungle, genres that more often than not employ drum machines. Lots of human time and energy have been expended here. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m missing the point.

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