Gearhead: Danny Gottlieb’s Hot Sticks

Whether playing acoustic or electronic drums, one piece of gear is always in his hands

Danny Gottlieb
Danny Gottlieb (photo: courtesy of the artist)

When your résumé includes recording and touring with the likes of the Pat Metheny Group, John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra, the Manhattan Transfer, and many others, it’s a given that you’ll be equipped to nail the sound for each setting. But over a career spanning five decades, percussionist and author Danny Gottlieb can cite thousands of times where he’s had to travel light—which means carrying only his most important tools. “Almost every gig [outside the big names]—which is probably somewhere in the 5,000 range—has been on a rented or provided drum set,” he said during a break from some Nashville session work.

So if you’re going to sit behind a kit someone else has chosen, what do you need to make it your own? “It’s really two things,” says Gottlieb, who recently co-authored Harold Jones: Interpretation of Big Band Swing Drumming, exploring Jones’ iconic work with the Count Basie Orchestra. “If the music allows for my personal creative stamp, then I must have a flat ride cymbal. It’s a touch I developed in the Pat Metheny Group through the influences of Bob Moses and Airto Moreira, and it’s become something of a signature sound. I have a variety of sizes, custom-made by Zildjian.” 

That said, flat rides aren’t always in Gottlieb’s luggage; he leaves them at home for pop and rock gigs where more generic cymbals work well. “The one thing I need for every gig are the drumsticks I use!” he says. “The technique I’ve been developing for many years is based on my studies with Joe Morello; the front and back of the stick are balanced in weight with the hand in the center of the stick … the way Buddy Rich can be seen holding his sticks. In the ’80s, I discovered a stick with a perfect balance for this method—the 2B nylon-tip stick made by Hot Sticks Manufacturing. And I’ve used them on every single gig I’ve played since.” 

Gottlieb was among the first prominent drummers to use electronic pads—an early example being Mahavishnu’s Adventures in Radioland (1987)—and continues to integrate them into his kit. “The potential, especially for a jazz drummer, is unlimited,” he says. “All types of hand percussion, textures, bells, gongs, timpani, synth pads, and loops can be added to any performance situation.”

His latest platform is the Alternate Mode TrapKAT, which he typically uses alongside his acoustic kit. “It features 24 pads, which you can program with any sound imaginable,” he says. “I mainly use it as a percussion effects set—I can get to multiple bongos or timbales, or congas or djembe samples without having to change anything.”

While some drummers have trouble getting into their comfort zone on pads, Gottlieb credits his Hot Sticks and the Morello technique for making it easy: “I can fly around the pads with no tension or issue. But again, the balance of those sticks is essential to my performance, and I always have them with me.” 

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Behringer Crave
Behringer Crave

Craving In

The Behringer Crave analog synth generated plenty of buzz (yes, that was intentional) at winter NAMM with its low price and semi-modular design. As we go to press post-summer NAMM, we’re seeing reports that it’s finally in production. Unlike some other Behringer synths, it’s not directly emulating any specific analog classic, but it uses the same chip as the company’s new Prophet-inspired Pro-1. Classic fusion, anyone?

$199 MSRP  behringer.com

Emile Menasché

Musician, journalist, and author Emile Menasché has composed soundtracks for Oscar- and Emmy-nominated documentaries. He is jealous that his dog Hudson gets more attention from passersby whenever they’re seen in public together.