Vic Berton (1896-1951) is credited by many as the innovator of the “lo-boy,” a precursor of the hi-hat, with its cymbals mounted horizontally, albeit only a foot or so above the pedal. According to Bill Crow in Jazz Anecdotes, the drummer’s brother remembered, “Someone who had the brains to hire a real patent lawyer instantly got around Vickie’s pathetic two-bit patent by ‘inventing’ [an] improvement…the only money Vic ever made out of it was the wages he earned while using it.” Berton’s brother also recalled Berton’s role in another milestone, the modern cymbal holder. Previously, cymbals were suspended from above by “a rawhide thong hanging from a hook atop the bass drum. Clean fast licks couldn’t be played on a cymbal bouncing wildly around at the end of a thong. Vic made an improvement: a vertical rod on which the cymbal would fit, snug enough for control yet loose enough to ring freely. Soon every drummer had cymbals sitting on those vertical rods. I assume somebody somewhere took out a patent and made a bundle, but it wasn’t Vickie.”
This bit of history is mentioned in order to introduce modern-day Renaissance man Michael Downing, on a mission to custom-build the best-sounding drums, ever. His Mymi (pronounced “my-my”) Drums patent was approved a few months ago (after he studied patent law for three years), not for a “mechanism” as would normally be the case, but for a “principle of physics,” to avoid the possibility of others making minor modifications and acquiring similar patents. My drum-addled brain fries at Downing’s mercifully simplified explanations of the physics and hydraulics involved, but suffice it to say that the concept came to him about six years ago, while he was playing with the Westchester County (NY) Symphony Orchestra. Experiments with junkyard tire hoops evolved into his breakthrough visionary design.
The 5-, 6-, 8- or 10-ply maple shells are slightly undersized so that the drumhead hoops do not contact the shells, or even the aluminum, powder-coated “intermediate rims.” Next, machined to exacting specifications, a sliver of outside shell is shaved (compensated for by a corresponding reinforcing hoop on the inside top of the toms, the batter side of the bass drum and the bottom side of the snare) to create a ledge for a thin steel collar (that does not touch the shell), over which fits the “intermediate rim.” This is then fitted with nylon washers to align the tension rods into solid brass tube lugs, with stainless steel strip-proof threads. Since all mounting hardware is connected only to the “intermediate rim,” absolutely nothing is attached to the resulting free-floating shell, which becomes, in Downing’s words, “a true resonant chamber, not something to bolt hardware to,” which is an improvement over other suspension systems.
The lugs and available exotic woods combine to produce drums that are simultaneously retro and futuristic in appearance. The review set consisted of 8-, 10-, 12-, 14- and 16-inch toms, a 14-inch snare and 18-inch bass drum, all with 5-ply maple shells, finished with lacquer over a gorgeous Hawaiian koa and outfitted with Aquarian Satin Finish heads. The bass drum featured Precision Drum Co. claws. Bolts on each side of a cutout on the hoop bottom, connected to a curved section of bass drum hoop below, create a very organic riser, a unique solution to the pedal beater position dilemma. Heavy-duty Gibraltar brackets attached to the hoop on the audience side clamp floor-tom legs for stability and offset the stylized Mymi logo on the front head, resembling two seagulls in flight. A 12-inch x 4 1/2-inch snare was provided as an example of Padauk, a beautiful finish from India. Although a great deal of attention has obviously been paid to cosmetics, during our conversations I was under the distinct impression Downing is primarily concerned with acoustics. So, how do these drums sound?
Simply put, they’re the best-sounding drums ever. Michael Downing has achieved the 4-D dream he’s had since he was eight, that of a “new dimension in sound.” For me, tuning was a dream come true as well. Preferring a clear, pure fundamental, it was a pleasure to crank up the top heads while the bottoms rose proportionately (although unequal degrees of rigidity are also easily achieved).
Perfection is pricey: a set wax-finished in natural maple with 10-, 12- and 14-inch toms, a 14-inch snare and 16-inch bass goes for $4,895. But two facts should convince anyone reading this to check out www.mymidrums.com: Keeping true to his goal, Downing plans to replace even the minimal metal Mymi nameplates and eyelets with a signature as part of the finish, and at a loss, he keeps the wood finishes for 15 years, so that should you order an add-on, the grain will match exactly.
This man is serious.
Jim Miller is a Philadelphia-based drummer and runs the Dreambox Media record label.