THE SIMMONS STORY

Simmons drums begins with the founder, Dave Simmons, who began creating his first electronic drum products in 1970’s as he made custom electronic drum products for experimental musicians that wanted to add electronic sounds to their acoustic drum kits.

“It started with Baz Watts (who subsequently played drums for Paul Young, Q-Tips, Adam Ant and Jon Foxx). He was the drummer in our former band, and he wanted something different. Bolting together parts from an ARP odyssey into a radical arrangement of ‘trigger pads’ on a cut down piece of tubular bell, the first instrument was born.”

Dave Simmons - Simmons Drums

Dave Simmons, founder of Simmons

“It started with Baz Watts (who subsequently played drums for Paul Young, Q-Tips, Adam Ant and Jon Foxx). He was the drummer in our former band, and he wanted something different. Bolting together parts from an ARP odyssey into a radical arrangement of ‘trigger pads’ on a cut down piece of tubular bell, the first instrument was born.”

1978

While working for the company Musicaid in St. Albans, England, Dave Simmons developed a device with similar capabilities to other single-pad analog drum synthesizers, which he called the SDS3. The SDS3 featured four drum channels and a noise generator, and it was soon followed by a functionally similar two-channel version, which was named the SDS4. The drum pads were round at this stage, with wooden frames and real 8-inch drum heads.

Simmons SDS3

“The bits and pieces I’d bolted together for Baz in the band had morphed into the SDS3, a 4-channel synthesizer that we’d managed to put into short production runs in the garden shed. We’d make five, sell five, make 10, sell 10, etc.

The SDS3 although it had a drum head, it could make some particularly ‘drummy’ sounds. Unfortunately, most people used it to mimic the high-pitched ‘doooo doooo’ sound of the Syndrum — the USA-produced equivalent to the SDS3.”

With help from drummer and music producer Richard Burgess and musician Dave Lawson, Dave Simmons took the best bits from the SDS3, combining two channels to produce an electronic facsimile of the acoustic counterpart, which was punchy and powerful.

Adding pre-settable memories, making the system modular, and tweaking the modules to make the Kick Snare and Tom variants helped to complete the design. The drum kit was shown at the British Music Fair in London and was offered with three variations of pad design; Batwing, Hearts and Hexagons. The Hexagon won.

1981

The SDS5 (also known as the SDSV) was released commercially. The SDS5 was the world’s first fully electronic drum set, and it featured the famous hexagonal pads. It became an instant hit, with Simmons endorsing several drummers, and the distinctive pad shape soon became an icon of the 1980s.

Chant No. 1 by Spandau Ballet (1981)

Angel Face by Shock (1981)

The first recordings on the SDS5 were made by Richard James Burgess on Landscape’s “From The Tea-Rooms Of Mars”, “Chant No. 1” by Spandau Ballet and “Angel Face” by Shock. These were all recorded by Burgess before the SDS5 was introduced commercially.

Einstein A Go-Go by Landscape (1981)

“To promote the product, I commissioned a design for the pad from local sculptor Colman Saunders, who produced two clay models of heads, one for the kick drum and another for toms and snare.

This was the kit that was used alongside the Lyricon on Landscape’s hit single “Einstein a Go Go” in 1981. The head kit featured on their appearance on ‘Top of the Pops’, the UK’s premier music TV program at the time.”
 

“The newly formed Simmons Electronics was inundated with enquiries for electronic drums. Up until then, I had done pretty much all the product development work myself, including research and development, circuit design, PCB layout, mechanical design, front panel artwork etc. Things were about to change as the company grew and attracted some extremely talented people.”

Simmons SDSV Promotional Flexi-Disc (1981)

“The newly formed Simmons Electronics was inundated with enquiries for electronic drums. Up until then, I had done pretty much all the product development work myself, including research and development, circuit design, PCB layout, mechanical design, front panel artwork etc. Things were about to change as the company grew and attracted some extremely talented people.”

Other songs that featured the SDSV include “Visions Of China” by Japan, “Everything Counts” by Depeche Mode, “I Would Die 4 U” by Prince and “Talk Talk” by Talk Talk.

Also available this year was the SDS6 drum sequencer, which was used to great effect by artists such as Howard Jones. The SDS6 was a computer sequencer designed specifically to trigger existing Simmons modules.

1983

Following the success of the SDS5, Simmons expanded their range to the SDS7. The SDS7 was another modular rack-based brain, which featured digital sampling sounds on EPROM for the first time, expandable up to twelve modules, and redesigned pads, featuring a skin of rubber to make playing a little easier.

Simmons also produced the cheaper analog-only SDS8 in 1983, featuring a single, non-expandable desktop-style brain with one unalterable factory preset and one custom user preset for each channel.

Waiting Man by King Crimson (1982)

Simmons also produced the cheaper analog-only SDS8 in 1983, featuring a single, non-expandable desktop-style brain with one unalterable factory preset and one custom user preset for each channel.

The SDS8 kit was supplied with four tom pads and a bass pad, using similar hardware to the earlier SDS-V, but in a more budget style.

The SDS8 kit was supplied with four tom pads and a bass pad, using similar hardware to the earlier SDS-V, but in a more budget style.

Simmons SDS7

Simmons SDS7

Simmons SDS8

Simmons SDS8

1984

Simmons began to expand their product line with smaller kits and pads, including the SDS1 (a single pad with a built-in EPROM reader for playing a single drum sound sample), and the all-analog SDS 200 (2 tom system), SDS 400 (4 tom system), and SDS 800 (bass, snare, and 2 tom system). These products were aimed at acoustic drummers who wanted to add a couple of Simmons pads to their kit on a budget.

Bill Bruford demonstrates a Simmons electronic drum kit on Micro Live

Simmons SDS 800

Simmons SDS 800

1985

Simmons introduced the SDS9, a hybrid digital/analog brain with three changeable EPROM channels (kick, snare and rim) and analog-synthesized toms. It combined realistic sounds in an inexpensive, compact brain and was the first drum kit that had a built-in MIDI interface.

Another brain was introduced in 1986 called the SDS1000, which was, in effect, the same sounds as the SDS9 (without the ability to change the EPROMS) in a slim 1U, MIDI-enabled, rack mountable unit.

The snare sounds, however, were more realistic and clear than the SDS9. The SDS1000 also included a “second skin” feature, which simulated the sound of dual-headed drums.

Mystic Rhythms by Rush (1985)

1986

1986 also saw the introduction of the Simmons MTM, which was an 8-channel interface unit that basically converted audio signals into MIDI data and MIDI into trigger outputs. It gave users the opportunity to generate control triggers from any audio source, be it live or off-tape, and apply those to MIDI synthesizers and sampling units.

The MTM was followed in 1987 by the SDE, which was a six-channel, MIDI-controlled percussion synthesizer, capable of generating a huge variety of “tuned percussion” voices which could then be triggered from the pads of a MIDI-equipped kit (such as the SDS9) or through a trigger-to-MIDI converter (such as the Simmons TMI and MTM). The SDE extended the range of an electronic kit, allowing the drummer to create melody lines as well as rhythm on the drums.

The Shape of Things That Hum (Channel 4, 2000)

“The R&D team at Simmons grew and we worked on all sorts of projects such as the SDS6 step sequencer, the SDS9, which won the NAMM award for most innovative product in 1986, the SDS8, 800, 400, 200, the Clap Trap, the EPB sampler, the SDS7 Digital / analogue kit, the Silicon Mallet, the SDS1000 kit and SDE FM Synthesis expander, TMI and MTM trigger to Midi converters, the Trixer and Portakit, and finally the SDX.”
 

Invisible Touch by Genesis (1986)

Bill Bruford Electronic Drumkit Demo (1986)

1987

In 1987, Simmons launched the revolutionary SDX.

The SDX introduced new features that were unheard of in other electronic drums, such as “zone intelligence” and “pad layering”, and it also included a built-in sampler.

Bill Bruford Simmons SDX

Bill Bruford with the Simmons SDX

Dave Simmons SDX

Dave Simmons with the Simmons SDX

“The company grew. In three years we went from 5 people to 60 and peaked somewhere in excess of 100. Sibi Siebert took the drums to Germany, while Glyn Thomas took them to California and introduced them to Guitar Center on Sunset Boulevard.”

“The SDX had a ‘massive’ 8 meg of memory, had an in-built 16-bit sampler and sample editor, a 20mg hard drive, a 9” CTR screen, 16 x 16 bit sample replay channels, top quality VCA and VCF audio path, multichannel real time sequencer and high resolution FSR positional pads triggering multi-layer samples.

It took 6 computers to run and it took every penny the company had to develop, but its core features are yet to be reproduced by any electronic drum kit to date. We made 250 SDX’s and they were used by some of the biggest names in the industry and appeared on many records of the day.”

Simmons SDX Demonstration

Bridge of Inhibition by Bill Bruford’s Earthworks (1987)

1987

In 1987, Simmons launched the revolutionary SDX.

The SDX introduced new features that were unheard of in other electronic drums, such as “zone intelligence” and “pad layering”, and it also included a built-in sampler.

Bill Bruford Simmons SDX

Bill Bruford with the Simmons SDX

“The SDX had a ‘massive’ 8 meg of memory, had an in-built 16-bit sampler and sample editor, a 20mg hard drive, a 9” CTR screen, 16 x 16 bit sample replay channels, top quality VCA and VCF audio path, multichannel real time sequencer and high resolution FSR positional pads triggering multi-layer samples.

It took 6 computers to run and it took every penny the company had to develop, but its core features are yet to be reproduced by any electronic drum kit to date. We made 250 SDX’s and they were used by some of the biggest names in the industry and appeared on many records of the day.”

Dave Simmons SDX

Dave Simmons with the Simmons SDX

“The company grew. In three years we went from 5 people to 60 and peaked somewhere in excess of 100. Sibi Siebert took the drums to Germany, while Glyn Thomas took them to California and introduced them to Guitar Center on Sunset Boulevard.”

Simmons SDX Demonstration

Bridge of Inhibition by Bill Bruford’s Earthworks (1987)

1988

In 1988, Simmons released a MIDI tuned percussion instrument called the Silicon Mallet.

The Silicon Mallet consisted of a three-octave set of velocity-sensitive pads laid out in the same way as bars on a vibraphone, and designed to be used with either sticks or mallets.

Attached to the pad surface was the Voice Module (brain), containing the sound generation system and the trigger-to-MIDI converter.

Simmons Silicon Mallet

Simmons Silicon Mallet

1989

As Simmons shifted focus from drum synthesis to drum triggering and MIDI control, products such as the Trixer were launched.

The Trixer was used as a drum brain, to trigger any of 4 on-board kits electronically, via MIDI or via audio trigger. It was also used as a drum mixer, to mix an acoustic kit with the on-board electronic samples.

Simmons Trixer

Simmons Trixer

1990

The Trixer was followed by the ADT (acoustic drum trigger). The ADT was able to convert any kind of signal such as drum mic, line signal or ordinary trigger pulses into clean midi signals without cross talk.

Drum Huggers were small clip-on acoustic drum pads with integrated trigger to midi conversion that were mounted on the rims of acoustic drums. With the Drum Huggers, you could adjust midi channel and midi note and the sensitivity for each pad.

Simmons ADT

Simmons ADT (Acoustic Drum Trigger)

Simmons Drum Huggers

Simmons Drum Hugger

2006

The Simmons name was relaunched by Guitar Center in 2006, which led to a new selection of Simmons electronic drum kits hitting the market over the next few years.

These included the SD5K, SD7K, SD7PK and SD9K.

Simmons SD9K

Simmons SD9K

2012

Simmons SD1000

Simmons SD1000

Simmons’ innovation with best-in-class sounds and even more advanced feature sets continued as new kits including the SD1000KIT were introduced.

Cutting-edge V.A.R. technology combining more internal memory, custom hi-res sounds, intelligent sample triggering and multi-position hi-hat control for increased natural dynamics.

Simmons also launched electronic drum monitors such as the DA50 and DA200S.

2014

The SD1500KIT continued Simmons’ innovation and became the latest breakthrough model featuring new sounds in an expansive, hi-res sample bank, and an amazingly robust hex rack.

Simmons SD1500

Simmons SD1500

2017

Simmons SD2000

Simmons SD2000

With Dave Simmons back in the fold, Simmons brought back the iconic hexagonal look with the SD2000 Mesh Head Electronic Drum Kit.

The SD2000 featured tension-able mesh pads with variable attack response technology for expressive performance and nuanced playability, providing unprecedented creative control. The SD350 and SD550 followed soon after.

The Simmons Signature Sound Library was introduced, featuring sought-after acoustic drums, world percussion, and vintage Simmons sounds taken directly from Dave Simmons’ personal library.

2019

The SD600 was the first Simmons kit to feature wireless Bluetooth MIDI connectivity to computer and iOS devices.

With other new products scheduled for 2019, there are some interesting things to look forward to this year.

Simmons SD600

Simmons SD600

Simmons drums begins with the founder, Dave Simmons, who began creating his first electronic drum products in 1970’s as he made custom electronic drum products for experimental musicians that wanted to add electronic sounds to their acoustic drum kits.

Dave Simmons - Simmons Drums

“It started with Baz Watts (who subsequently played drums for Paul Young, Q-Tips, Adam Ant and Jon Foxx). He was the drummer in our former band, and he wanted something different. Bolting together parts from an ARP odyssey into a radical arrangement of ‘trigger pads’ on a cut down piece of tubular bell, the first instrument was born.”

1978

While working for the company Musicaid in St. Albans, England, Dave Simmons developed a device with similar capabilities to other single-pad analog drum synthesizers, which he called the SDS3. The SDS3 featured four drum channels and a noise generator, and it was soon followed by a functionally similar two-channel version, which was named the SDS4. The drum pads were round at this stage, with wooden frames and real 8-inch drum heads.

“The bits and pieces I’d bolted together for Baz in the band had morphed into the SDS3, a 4-channel synthesizer that we’d managed to put into short production runs in the garden shed. We’d make five, sell five, make 10, sell 10, etc.

The SDS3 although it had a drum head, it could make some particularly ‘drummy’ sounds. Unfortunately, most people used it to mimic the high-pitched ‘doooo doooo’ sound of the Syndrum — the USA-produced equivalent to the SDS3.”

With help from drummer and music producer Richard Burgess and musician Dave Lawson, Dave Simmons took the best bits from the SDS3, combining two channels to produce an electronic facsimile of the acoustic counterpart, which was punchy and powerful.

Adding pre-settable memories, making the system modular, and tweaking the modules to make the Kick Snare and Tom variants helped to complete the design. The drum kit was shown at the British Music Fair in London and was offered with three variations of pad design; Batwing, Hearts and Hexagons. The Hexagon won.

1981

The SDS5 (also known as the SDSV) was released commercially. The SDS5 was the world’s first fully electronic drum set, and it featured the famous hexagonal pads. It became an instant hit, with Simmons endorsing several drummers, and the distinctive pad shape soon became an icon of the 1980s.

“The first recordings on the SDS5 were made by Richard James Burgess on Landscape’s “From The Tea-Rooms Of Mars”, “Chant No. 1” by Spandau Ballet and “Angel Face” by Shock. These were all recorded by Burgess before the SDS5 was introduced commercially.”

Chant No. 1 by Spandau Ballet (1981)

“To promote the product, I commissioned a design for the pad from local sculptor Colman Saunders, who produced two clay models of heads, one for the kick drum and another for toms and snare.

This was the kit that was used alongside the Lyricon on Landscape’s hit single “Einstien a Go Go” in 1981. The head kit featured on their appearance on ‘Top of the Pops’, the UK’s premier music TV program at the time.”

Einstein A Go-Go by Landscape (1981)

“The newly formed Simmons Electronics was inundated with enquiries for electronic drums. Up until then, I had done pretty much all the product development work myself, including research and development, circuit design, PCB layout, mechanical design, front panel artwork etc. Things were about to change as the company grew and attracted some extremely talented people.”

Also available this year was the SDS6 drum sequencer, which was used to great effect by artists such as Howard Jones. The SDS6 was a computer sequencer designed specifically to trigger existing Simmons modules.

1983

Following the success of the SDS5, Simmons expanded their range to the SDS7. The SDS7 was another modular rack-based brain, which featured digital sampling sounds on EPROM for the first time, expandable up to twelve modules, and redesigned pads, featuring a skin of rubber to make playing a little easier.

Simmons SDS7

Simmons SDS7

Simmons also produced the cheaper analog-only SDS8 in 1983, featuring a single, non-expandable desktop-style brain with one unalterable factory preset and one custom user preset for each channel.

The SDS8 kit was supplied with four tom pads and a bass pad, using similar hardware to the earlier SDS-V, but in a more budget style.

Simmons SDS8

Simmons SDS8

1984

Simmons began to expand their product line with smaller kits and pads, including the SDS1 (a single pad with a built-in EPROM reader for playing a single drum sound sample), and the all-analog SDS200 (2 tom system), SDS400 (4 tom system), and SDS800 (bass, snare, and 2 tom system). These products were aimed at acoustic drummers who wanted to add a couple of Simmons pads to their kit on a budget.

Simmons SDS 800

Simmons SDS 800

1985

Simmons introduced the SDS9, a hybrid digital/analog brain with three changeable EPROM channels (kick, snare and rim) and analog-synthesized toms. It combined realistic sounds in an inexpensive, compact brain and was the first drum kit that had a built-in MIDI interface.

Mystic Rhythms by Rush (1985)

1986

1986 also saw the introduction of the Simmons MTM, which was an 8-channel interface unit that basically converted audio signals into MIDI data and MIDI into trigger outputs. It gave users the opportunity to generate control triggers from any audio source, be it live or off-tape, and apply those to MIDI synthesizers and sampling units.

The MTM was followed in 1987 by the SDE, which was a six-channel, MIDI-controlled percussion synthesizer, capable of generating a huge variety of “tuned percussion” voices which could then be triggered from the pads of a MIDI-equipped kit (such as the SDS9) or through a trigger-to-MIDI converter (such as the Simmons TMI and MTM). The SDE extended the range of an electronic kit, allowing the drummer to create melody lines as well as rhythm on the drums.

The Shape of Things That Hum (Channel 4, 2000)

“The R&D team at Simmons grew and we worked on all sorts of projects such as the SDS6 step sequencer, the SDS9, which won the NAMM award for most innovative product in 1986, the SDS8, 800, 400, 200, the Clap Trap, the EPB sampler, the SDS7 Digital / analogue kit, the Silicon Mallet, the SDS1000 kit and SDE FM Synthesis expander, TMI and MTM trigger to Midi converters, the Trixer and Portakit, and finally the SDX.”
 

Invisible Touch by Genesis (1986)

1987

In 1987, Simmons launched the revolutionary SDX.

The SDX introduced new features that were unheard of in other electronic drums, such as “zone intelligence” and “pad layering”, and it also included a built-in sampler.

Bill Bruford Simmons SDX

Bill Bruford with the Simmons SDX

“The SDX had a ‘massive’ 8 meg of memory, had an in-built 16-bit sampler and sample editor, a 20mg hard drive, a 9” CTR screen, 16 x 16 bit sample replay channels, top quality VCA and VCF audio path, multichannel real time sequencer and high resolution FSR positional pads triggering multi-layer samples.

It took 6 computers to run and it took every penny the company had to develop, but its core features are yet to be reproduced by any electronic drum kit to date. We made 250 SDX’s and they were used by some of the biggest names in the industry and appeared on many records of the day.”

Dave Simmons SDX

Dave Simmons with the Simmons SDX

“The company grew. In three years we went from 5 people to 60 and peaked somewhere in excess of 100. Sibi Siebert took the drums to Germany, while Glyn Thomas took them to California and introduced them to Guitar Center on Sunset Boulevard.”

Simmons SDX Demonstration

Bill Bruford Drum Improvisation on “Bridge of Inhibition”

1988

In 1988, Simmons released a MIDI tuned percussion instrument called the Silicon Mallet.

The Silicon Mallet consisted of a three-octave set of velocity-sensitive pads laid out in the same way as bars on a vibraphone, and designed to be used with either sticks or mallets.

Attached to the pad surface was the Voice Module (brain), containing the sound generation system and the trigger-to-MIDI converter.

Simmons Silicon Mallet

Simmons Silicon Mallet

1989

As Simmons shifted focus from drum synthesis to drum triggering and MIDI control, products such as the Trixer were launched.

The Trixer was used as a drum brain, to trigger any of 4 on-board kits electronically, via MIDI or via audio trigger. It was also used as a drum mixer, to mix an acoustic kit with the on-board electronic samples.

Simmons Trixer

Simmons Trixer

1990

The Trixer was followed by the ADT (acoustic drum trigger). The ADT was able to convert any kind of signal such as drum mic, line signal or ordinary trigger pulses into clean midi signals without cross talk.

Drum Huggers were small clip-on acoustic drum pads with integrated trigger to midi conversion that were mounted on the rims of acoustic drums. With the Drum Huggers, you could adjust midi channel and midi note and the sensitivity for each pad.

Simmons ADT

Simmons ADT (Acoustic Drum Trigger)

Simmons Drum Huggers

Simmons Drum Hugger

2006

The Simmons name was relaunched by Guitar Center in 2006, which led to a new selection of Simmons electronic drum kits hitting the market over the next few years.

These included the SD5K, SD7K, SD7PK and SD9K.

Simmons SD9K

Simmons SD9K

2012

Simmons’ innovation with best-in-class sounds and even more advanced feature sets continued as new kits including the SD1000KIT were introduced.

Cutting-edge V.A.R. technology combining more internal memory, custom hi-res sounds, intelligent sample triggering and multi-position hi-hat control for increased natural dynamics.

Simmons also launched electronic drum monitors such as the DA50 and DA200S.

Simmons SD1000

Simmons SD1000

2014

The SD1500KIT continued Simmons’ innovation and became the latest breakthrough model featuring new sounds in an expansive, hi-res sample bank, and an amazingly robust hex rack.

Simmons SD1500

Simmons SD1500

2017

With Dave Simmons back in the fold, Simmons brought back the iconic hexagonal look with the SD2000 Mesh Head Electronic Drum Kit.

The SD2000 featured tension-able mesh pads with variable attack response technology for expressive performance and nuanced playability, providing unprecedented creative control. The SD350 and SD550 followed soon after.

The Simmons Signature Sound Library was introduced, featuring sought-after acoustic drums, world percussion, and vintage Simmons sounds taken directly from Dave Simmons’ personal library.

Simmons SD2000

Simmons SD2000

2019

The SD600 was the first Simmons kit to feature wireless Bluetooth MIDI connectivity to computer and iOS devices.

With other new products scheduled for 2019, there are some interesting things to look forward to this year.

Simmons SD600

Simmons SD600