Native Instruments have been lucky enough to record many drum libraries within these hallowed halls with some of the top engineers. The six Abbey Road drum collections are targeted squarely at specific periods of production, from pre 1950s all the way through to the modern day. Each library features samples recorded with rare microphones and pre-amps from the Abbey Road vaults. Combined with authentic analog mixing desks, tape machines and processing, these signal chains are the real deal and as authentic as they can possibly be. Abbey Road Studios Two and Three have been styled for each era, even going so far as to change the material of the flooring and walls for genuine acoustic reflections.
The full range of Native Instruments Abbey Road drum libraries has recently been refreshed and enhanced with new scripting and NKS functionality, so now’s the perfect moment for a little time travel; examining the kit, players and techniques of 20th century drumming and of course, the iconic studio where it all came together:
Where it all began: Vintage Drums
At the very earliest time of drum recording, engineers employed relatively simple techniques to capture the sounds of typically smaller kits with no toms and a limited range of cymbals. It wasn’t common practice to use a specific microphone for drums, with the sound of the kit allowed to bleed through the mics of other instrument sections. Listen to recordings from the era and it’s often difficult to hear the drums above the rest of the band. Ribbon mics and valve pre-amps were widely used for the mainly mono recording process although Abbey Road was already experimenting with stereo recording in the 1930s. At this time, jazz drummer Gene Krupa worked with manufacturer Slingerland to introduce toms with tuning capabilities and by the time big band music was becoming popular in the 1940s, more varied kits with a wider range of cymbals and floor toms were the norm.
This period also saw the manufacture of distinguished snares such as the Ludwig DeLuxe Black Beauty and Slingerland Radio King with their wooden construction and calf head skins. Native’s Abbey Road Vintage Drummer features both of these iconic snares, alongside two full kits from the 1930s and 40s and plenty of supplemental samples of tambourines, blocks, shakers, and cowbell – all typical percussion instruments used for big band music. Brush playing was common for jazz and bebop so you’ll also find a wide selection of brush articulations within Vintage Drums.
Rock and Roll Star : 1950s Drummer
The 1950s is when studio recording really starts to get serious with artists such as Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Elvis leading the way. Abbey Road was at the heart of it all and Studio Two became affectionately known as The Rock ‘n’ Roll Room. The engineers here helped to develop drum recording techniques that are still used today. One popular configuration, a combination of one mono overhead mic and a single kick drum mic , has been recreated for Abbey Road 50s Drummer. Several different valve Neumann mics, new models at the time, have also been included.
Stereo analog tape machines and recording desks with EQ controls arrived during this decade. At Abbey Road, the all-valve REDD .17 mixing console is still used for special sessions and NI made sure to utilise it for the recording of the Gretsch and WFL kits. Cymbals come courtesy of Zildjian. In fact, they are some of the last hand hammered models, resulting in a unique sound. During the 60s the company moved to machine production to keep up with the demand of pop music production.
Pop Evolution : 1960s Drummer
Many of the actual drums used in the 1950s continued well into the 60s where bands like The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys explored the sound shaping limits of these still relatively basic drum kits. For example, John Densmore (The Doors) preferred to remove the resonant head of his kick drum for a sound with a tighter attack. The introduction of plastic drum heads gave snare parts more snap and toms became larger and louder to compete with guitar amplification. During the 60s, Gretsch and Ludwig continued their domination and NI have sampled many different variations for 1960s Drummer. This includes the famous Ludwig chrome Supra-phonic 400 which is probably the most recorded snare drum in the history of music and is still in production today.
The decade was also a time for experimentation in drum playing. Abbey Road’s most famous sons, The Beatles, took this to another level with their work during the 60s and the MIDI grooves onboard 1960s Drummer emulate some of those riffs, with influences from luminaries such as Al Jackson Jr (Booker T and the MG’s).
Split Personality – 1970s Drummer
The 1970s is really a decade of two distinct sounds; the tight control of the 60s became even more precise and evolved into country and disco music, whilst at the same time rock music opened up the soundstage with wide and spacious recordings. NI’s 70s Drummer showcases both of these types of recording methods with a vintage Premier kit recorded in Studio Two with screens and carpeted floors to achieve a punchy dry sound typical of bands like Abba and the Bee Gees.
By this point most drum kits started to resemble the standard setup that we see today. The return of the Ludwig Black Beauty snare, single head toms and shallow kick drums were elements all very typical of 1970s kits.
Engineer Glyn Johns (The Who, and Led Zeppelin) pioneered a microphone placement method which became a popular configuration; using two overheads, one snare and one kick mic. Stereo recording methods and home playback became widespread in the 70s with Dolby Noise Reduction now commonplace for studio tape recordings. These unique mic and recording elements are available within 70s Drummer.
Big hair. Big Sound – 1980s Drummer
The era of stadium rock witnessed drum kits growing bigger. More cymbals and toms were added to add visual presence to live shows and the sound was often unapologetically brash. A more compact room than the other Abbey Road’s spaces, Studio Three was completely redesigned in the 1980s and featured an entirely mirrored drum room . The reflections are utilised to achieve a bright sound with the Yamaha 9000 kit for Abbey Road 1980s Drummer. For a more mellow timbre the Slingerland Magnum kit has been recorded in Studio Two.
Various techniques were heavily used in the 80s to switch up the sound of the snare. Mixing processes such as heavy compression and gated reverb are ubiquitous to the decade. Physical tricks were used too, such as placing an additional snare skin upside down on the drum to deaden the sound.. All samples feature the famous “Ball and Biscuit” microphone via the SSL E series talkback compressor recording chain, also included are Octoban toms (melodically-tuned tubular toms) and a number of snare variations, all of which can be found within the 1980s Drummer sample sets.
Keeping it contemporary – Modern Drummer
Bringing things right up to date, much like every other aspect of music production, drum recording can now be a completely digital affair with unlimited channels and processing options. However, there are still plenty of cases when the warmth and character of certain vintage hardware just sounds that much better. In fact, Abbey Road Modern Drummer has up to 18 mic positions per drum and uses the signal chain of both classic REDD. 47 pre-amps and a Solid State Logic 9000 mixing console. Modern drum kits are now manufactured with exacting standards of precision reproduction and the two kits chosen for the Modern library are great examples of this; Pearl Reference and Drum Workshop Collector’s Series.
Various new and inventive ways of capturing drums from the decade have been recreated, including a Yamaha NS10 monitor rewired and used as a mic on the kick drum to capture sub-bass frequencies and snare recorded with a splash cymbal lying on top of the skin for a unique fizzy sound, great for drum and bass, pop and R&B. Also included are exotic cymbals effects such as a full set of Sabian Choppers and the Zildjian Spiral Trash.
The Beat Goes On
Of course, it’s not all about skins, mics and mixing. The sound of an era is defined by the playing style as much as the instruments themselves. Even though Native Instrument’s six different drum libraries can recreate the timbre of any era, you may need some help with the actual performance. This is where the Groove Library comes in. Each of the different drum libraries comes loaded with hundreds of unique MIDI patterns played by some of the best drum performers in the business. Browse the grooves and drag them into your DAW, stitching them together to create anything from authentic jazz brush bebop to stadium rock thrashing.
It’s this amalgamation of Abbey Road’s superb recording spaces and equipment, combined with Native Instrument’s flexible engines that makes these genre-defining drum libraries so easy to work with. Grab a part of Abbey Road’s history now at Native Instruments.