S.S. Professor - Just the facts

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Page Updated 11/04/2017 09:55:06 PM

During the clinic, Bob Morgan, Chris Stankee, and Lorne Wheaton talked about working with Neil Peart, the development of Paragon cymbals, and the development of the Drum Workshop S.S. Professor drum kit. Lorne took questions for about 45-60 minutes. After the clinic, they held a drawing.


Bob Morgan (Sabian Sales Manager) Chris Stankee (Sabian Artist Rep) Lorne Wheaton (Neil Peart's drum tech)
Background and how he started in the music business and with Neil Tuning Equipment and maintenance Monitors Larry Allen Neil and Rush's upcoming projects Interesting Q&A The Raffle
AndyO's observations


Where the clinic was held: Guitar Center, 7425 Sunset Blvd, Hollywood, parking lot (in the back of the building)

How many people attended: Approximately 100

Miscellaneous Notes:

  • Rained the night before and during the morning of the clinic.
  • Drums were on a covered stage in the parking lot.
  • A 2-person camera crew filmed the event.
  • A man rode up on a BMW motorcycle about an hour before the clinic began. He was dressed in black with a "Rush Crew" shirt. I confirmed later that he was Neil's riding partner Michael. He picked up a drum and a cane that were lying on the stage earlier, and then drove off again. He returned later and hung out with the clinicians and crew.

Bob Morgan (Sabian Sales Manager)

  • Bob talked about how they brought Neil's 30th Anniversary kit to the NAMM show, and it "caused quite a stir." So many people were stopping by to look at it, they had to shut down Sabian's booth .
  • When they approached Neil with the idea of bringing the 30th Anniversary kit on tour, Neil didn't understand why. Bob convinced Neil by asking if he'd go see Valentino Rossi's motorcycle (a famous motorcycle racer).
  • He asked Neil why he doesn't like logos on his cymbals, and Neil said, "Would you put paint on your jewelry?" He said he sees his cymbals as fine pieces of jewelry.
  • The Paragons have a gold ink that has a "flip flop" effect. You can see the logo at one angle, but not at another.
  • How Neil started playing Sabians:
    • Bob got Neil his first Sabians through Cathy Rich (daughter of famed drummer Buddy Rich). Cathy told Bob that her son Nicky wasn't happy with the Zildjians he was playing, so Bob said he'd send out a set of Sabians for Nicky to try. Cathy asked him to send two sets, since Neil was coming in two weeks, and he and Nicky would be playing drums together.
    • While Neil was in Las Vegas, he went to the Bellagio and saw Jamie Borden, who was also playing Sabian. Neil "heard something in Jamie's playing and sound that got his attention." (Note: Jamie Borden later put out a DVD called A step-by-step breakdown of Neil Peart's grooves and fills.)
    • While rehearsing with Rush for the SARS concert in 2003, he used Sabians the entire time. But when he went on stage, he used his Zildjians. ("That's the kind of guy Neil is.")
  • Neil signed 10 cymbals for the tour to raise money for Hurricane Katrina relief.
  • When Bob was walking around on stage, he almost stepped on the autographed cymbal! The crowd started yelling at him to watch out.

Chris Stankee (Sabian Artist Rep)

  • Chris talked about spending the day with Neil at the Meductic, New Brunswick, Sabian factory.
  • He talked about how Neil's favorite response is, "Hmmmmmm."
  • They started with the bell of the ride cymbal, which was a different place for Chris and the cymbalsmiths to begin. He said that Neil wanted to "have the bell of the cymbal resonate—or open up—the whole cymbal."
  • Chris talked about how hard Neil hits the drums: "You have no idea how hard he hits until you're right next to him."
  • Chris got into some interesting technical discussions about how cymbals work. He said you're basically directing the vibration through metal and across the surface of metal. For Neil's cymbals, on the top, "pinpoint tonal grooves" (the circles on the metal) let the vibration glide across the surface. On the bottom, they have the "wide" traditional, deeper grooves. Sound vibrations crawl over the grooves, so it's withholding the sound. The tradeoff is you lose high end with the pinpoint grooves and lose response with the traditional deeper groove. They hand-hammer the bells of the cymbals to lower the fundamental pitch.
  • When Chris played the two 16" crashes, they had two slightly different tones. Chris said this was because they're handmade.
  • The China cymbals are unique. The 20" has a wide lathe on top and bottom. It has more hi-end and piercing mid-range. The 19" China is the "crown jewel" of the Paragons. Chris talked about how Neil used to play a 19" Wuhan China. He could never get another cymbal company to match it. For this particular cymbal, they used the HHX hammering (over- hammering a thinner cymbal gives it that trashy sound). Chris said they got lucky with this cymbal. When Neil came over to the Burbank office, he had Chris clamp down four felt pads. Chris was worried, because he hadn't noticed that before. But the cymbalsmith got it right, and Neil was happy.

Lorne Wheaton (Neil Peart's drum tech)

Background and how he started in the music business and with Neil

  • Lorne grew up in Toronto, Canada. He went to the Coffee House to see bands like Rush.
  • Lorne was a drum tech for Alex Van Halen (Van Halen), Steve Smith (Journey, Vital Information), and Keith Carlock (Steely Dan, Sting) before he worked with Peart. He also worked with the Max Webster band in the 80s, with whom Rush toured during Moving Pictures tour.
  • Lorne was a carpenter on the Test for Echo tour.
  • Neil keeps Lorne busy even when Rush isn't touring.
  • Lorne and Neil are close friends now.
  • In October 2000, Liam Burt called Lorne and asked if he wanted to be the drum tech. He showed up and looked at the cases and the drum board. He didn't know where to start. He said he had no idea they would ask him to be a drum tech someday, so he hadn't been paying attention before. The first time he put the kit together, it took him all day. He brought Neil in and felt proud that he'd been able to put it together. Neil sat down and said, "I dunno."


  • Neil tunes his own drums after Lorne sets them up. He starts with the bottom 3, and then goes up.
  • The bass drum resonant head (front) is tuned higher than the batter head (back). This gives the sound a "point" and helps the front of house engineer..
  • For the toms, Lorne said that DW drums have the note of the drum printed on the inside shell. He just makes sure he has the drums tuned to this note, and then Neil tunes them from there. He said the drums are made so well, you pretty much know when you hit the right note.
  • The top three toms are tuned very high. You can barely turn the lugs. Neil is going for a more resonant concert tom sound. 
  • Neil doesn't use much EQ on his drums. No reverb. The drums have the sound Neil wants to hear.
  • The heads they use include: Remo Ambassador Coated (snare), and DW crimped heads (made by Remo) on the toms. You can't buy these heads in a store, as they're custom-made for DW by Remo. Lorne said that crimped heads are more like a "marching drum head." The bass drum has a Remo Power Stroke 3 head, with a double Falam patch (for more attack). The resonant bass drum head is tuned higher to give a "point to the bass drum." This tuning helps the front of house engineer.

Equipment and maintenance

  • Lorne rarely changes Neil's drum heads (except for snare and toms he uses a lot). Many of the same heads were on the kit that were on it all tour.
  • Neil plays hard but with a lot of finesse. He doesn't break a lot of heads.
  • Lorne talked about the bass drum pedal breaking in Phoenix during the 30th Anniversary tour. He said the 24-karat gold plating had actually weakened the pedal.
  • Lorne got Neil to switch to Roland electronics. Before that, he used ddrum and Simmons pads.
  • Lorne polishes the cymbals, cleans the drums, and checks the drums before and after soundcheck. He said the cymbals are more brilliant than what you see off the shelf because he polishes them so much. ("Neil likes them shiny.")
  • Lorne said because of Neil's unique 360-degree setup, it's really hard to change drums during a song. He said that when he's done this with other drummers, they hit him with their sticks, but Neil is a gentleman and easy to work with.
  • Neil doesn't break a lot of hardware or cymbals. He's very happy with his DW drums and the new Paragon cymbals.
  • Lorne has to get the cowbells welded back together sometimes because "Neil beats the crap out of them."
  • The drum kit sits on four drum boards with flanges. It fits into 9 cases.
  • The drum deck (or boards) is made of 3/4" Baltic Birch. This sits on aluminum.
  • The drum hardware is DW 9000 24-karat gold, except for the hi-hat, which is the DW 5000 series (Neil likes the feel of the 5000 series better).
  • The stands thread into the drum deck like screws.
  • The kit is based on Keith Moon's "Pictures of Lily" drum kit. For Neil's kit, there are five Rush albums represented: Grace Under Pressure, Man in Star (standing in for 2112 and some of the older albums), Counterparts, and Test for Echo).
  • Two men at DW named Javiar and Louis painted the kit.
  • The drum kit took eight weeks to build.
  • If you put a price tag on it, the kit would cost $60,000 - $70,000 (including electronics)
  • The drums have an "Enhanced Sound Edge," which basically means they have a 20-degree cut in them to allow the resonant head to ring more.
  • The drums are 7-ply maple above, and 8-ply for 13 x 9 and lower.
  • For the 15 x 13 floor tom (to Neil's left), the drum has Vertical Low Timbre (VLT). This means the drum is cross laminated. On the outside of the drum, the wood grain is spun vertically. This takes the stress off the shell and also gives the drum a lot more bottom end. The bass drum and some of the other floor toms use VLT as well.
  • The snare drum is the a DW Edge with the S.S. Professor design. Lorne said they used to use the Edge only for outdoor, but by the end of the tour they were using it for both.
  • Lorne said that Neil sometimes refers to the malletKat as the "MIDI marimba."
  • The most-asked about piece of equipment on Neil's kit are the fans that keep Neil's hands dry.


  • Lorne got Neil to try in-ear monitors, and he loved them immediately. Geddy and Alex got them, too.
  • Neil's in-ear monitor mix is low guitar, low vocals; high bass and high sequencers. Lorne said Neil can hear the guitar and vocals just fine coming out of the PA.
  • Lorne listens to the same in-ear monitors and mix as Neil.
  • Lorne said the person who does the house mix has the hardest job. He said Geddy is particularly demanding (but not in a bad way). He just wants the sound to be the best it can be for him and for the audience.

Larry Allen

  • Larry Allen gave away the Ludwig Super Classic Counterparts kit to his family and friends.
  • When the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame wanted one of Neil's drum kits, Lorne had to call everyone who had pieces of it. Eventually, he got everything back and put it together. This drum kit is off in Quebec now—not in the Hall of Fame.
  • Larry Allen, Neil's drum tech for the first 22 years, was "blowing Neil's head off" every night with the monitors. "It was brutal."

Neil and Rush's upcoming projects

  • Confirmed R30 DVD coming out in October.
  • Anatomy of a Drum Solo DVD in November. Lorne was with Neil when they filmed the new DVD. It covers in detail his last three drum solos.
  • Lorne said the new book is called Roadworks (later renamed Roadshow) and is due out in early 2006. It's in the final stages of editing now. 
  • Rush is expected to go into the studio for a new studio album after Christmas. (Ed. note: This became Snakes & Arrows.)

Interesting Q&A

  • Q: How were the Rio shows?
    A: “The Rio shows were hell. But the crowd made up for it.”
  • One person said he didn't like the high tom sounds now, compared to the concert toms of old. "It didn't sound good to my ears." Lorne didn't have any comment for him.
  • Q: Will Neil ever return to acoustic percussion?
    A: (emphatically) "No! Triggering is much easier." (Ed. note: Neil returned to some acoustic percussion for the R40 Live tour.)
  • Q: What's with all the gold hardware?
    A: "It's a bling-bling thing."
  • Q: Why did Neil switch back to matched grip (from traditional grip)?
    A: He was losing some power, especially with the upper toms. But Neil switches back and forth all night between the two grips.

The Raffle

The raffle was raising money for Katrina relief. They'd raised over $4000 so far. Some of the raffle items included:

  • An entire set of heads that they never used on Neil's kit (both sides).
  • A Pro-Mark gift certificate to create a signature series stick.
  • A DW 9000 single bass drum pedal.
  • A signed Paragon cymbal by Neil Peart (he signed 9 of these).

They also sold DW and Sabian posters ($2) showing Neil with the drums, and gave away Neil Peart postcards.

One guy won about 7 sets of prizes, including Neil's signed cymbal, the DW 9000-series pedal, and the entire set of heads. People were jealous. When Bill asked how much he spent in raffle tickets, he said $400.  

AndyO's observations

  • There were rumors flying around almost until the very end about Neil showing up for this clinic. A mystery motorcycle man added to these rumors (Ed. note: Confirmed later he was Michael Mosbach).
  • The kit doesn't seem as large as it appears in pictures or on stage. The placement of the toms is ergonomic and tight.
  • The drums don't looked banged up at all. Some of the hardware is chipped, but it still looked good.
  • A Magic 8 Ball sat on one of the floor toms.
  • The drum stool is not attached to the floor.
  • A drum case and cane were lying on the stage prior to the clinic. A mystery man who rode a BMW motorcycle took both items and drove off. I'm guessing he was Neil's riding partner Michael. (Ed. note: Confirmed later he was Michael Mosbach.)
  • People were able to take pictures on the steps in front of the drums, and later on the stage. After the clinic, one person was able to sit behind the drums—escorted by the mystery motorcycle man.
  • Only Lorne consistently pronounced "Peart" correctly.