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Vintage View - Peavey Radial Pro

Vintage View - Peavey Radial Pro Drums

Peavey drums literally burst onto the scene around 1994 with a drum design which turned the drum world on its head. It wasn''t as radical as the North and Staccato drums had been almost twenty years before, but like the Fender electric guitar before it, whilst it used brave new concepts it was still recognisable as a drum. On the whole, revolutionary-looking drums have never fared well amongst conservative drummers who don''t take well to change.

The Peavey company has long been famous for guitars, amplifiers and the like and they did have an aborted attempt to produce a more normal range of drums in the eighties. These drums though are completely different since they work on a principle known as the ''Radial Bridge System''. This was invented by a guy called Steven Volpp who took it to Peavey. The drums lasted until 2002.

The premise was that since an acoustic guitar was made in a certain way with strings, sound board and bridge to give optimum resonance, why couldn''t a drum be the same. Therefore they thinned the 3-ply maple shell down to an eighth of that of any competitor''s (to make it like an acoustic guitar’s soundboard) did away with nut boxes and airholes and fitted an L-sectioned ''bridge''; simply a broad, turned maple plywood hoop (like Saturn''s rings) with stainless steel swivel nuts set into it to accept the tension screws and remove the strain of tuning from the shell. Rising at right-angles  from this bridge was the bearing edge over which the head was mounted and held in place with a triple-flange hoop.

The rings were glued to the wooden cylinder and the whole thing worked – because it was so thin the Peavey shell resonated more freely than any other and the bridge took the strain. Once they''d gone to all that bother, they couldn''t possibly attach anything to the shell so they used Gary Gauger’s RIMS to isolate the drum completely.

Tommy 'Muggs' Cain with his hair and his 1000

The snare drum was a completely different kettle of fish. It was machined out of a solid coopered wooden block with a 1.75" wall in the middle (to take the tension screws) with a much thinner bearing edge section and weighed 10 lbs. This much thicker than usual shell consequently gave a sharper sound and allowed more accurate bearing edges and snare beds.
 
The idea behind the three-piece Radial Bridge System shell was not in hindsight over-ambitious: it was to create head tension without weighing down the shell with lugs and bolts that interfere with its resonance. The head tension was taken care of by the heavy wooden hoops that supported the heads,  without mounting hardware attached to the shells. This was designed to allow the shells to output a more sustained sound, which happened to be louder too.

Peavey’s Radial Pro 1000 toms were made from maple with thin three-ply 2.5 mm shells. They came in 10, 12, 14 and 16 diameters with shell depths which were two inches shallower that their diameters.

The bass drums used five ply shells which were 18” deep and 22” in diameter. The snare drums were 14” in diameter and 6’5 or 7” deep (depending which website you’re on) made with those heavy 1.75 inch thick shells to bring out the high overtones in the snare sound and keep up with the powerful sound of the rest of the kit.

Radial Pro 751

Radial Bridge System drums eventually came in three versions: the flagship 1000 set with maple shells and bridges (which began life as RBS-1), the 751, which was made from four plies of cross-grained maple although its bridges were machined from a more affordable composite material and 501, which had six-ply ‘hardwood’ shells. 1000 and 751 were lacquered while 501 were wrapped in pvc.  

Radial Pro 501 and 751 series drums featured round and flat bearing edges and used the same principal as the more expensive models. Seven inch deep wood snare drums, eighteen inch deep bass drums (10 lugs per head) and pro style even-sized toms were all standard features. The Radial Bridges on the cheaper sets were produced from a composite material chosen we were told: “because it had maple-like resonant properties to help keep the tone of the drums consistent throughout the range”.

The original RBS-1 was offered in a rubbed oil finish of Transparent Black, Red, Blue and White. By 1996 they added Clear White, Clear Violet, and Light Maple as well as Gloss Yellow, Gloss Pearl White, Clear Purple Gloss, Tangerine, Charcoal Violet, Cashmere, Amber, Tangerine, and Natural Oil.

The uncluttered drum shells lent themselves to artwork and Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad had a set custom painted in a Holo-Flake finish while Bobby Rock had his set (with a pair of decidedly non-standard 26” bass drums) painted in what he called the Sistine Chapel.

One of the original Patent forms

The 501 series drums were wrapped in black, white, or metallic wine red PVC. And the hardware was double-braced and came with a couple of boom cymbal stands, snare stand, hi hat stand with rotating legs and a chain-driven footpedal.

As I said the 751 series tom shells were made from four plies of maple, but the snare and bass drum’s comprised six plies. They were available in high gloss ruby red, sapphire blue, emerald green and black onyx lacquer.

While the drums were very much an acquired taste the fixtures and fittings evidently weren’t. They were generic and not considered, by many, to be good enough for the superior quality of the drums they were attached to. Yet another reason for not buying them I suppose. It seemed to me at the time they were using what was readily available instead of going to the costly extreme of designing, making and testing their own. The snare was unique for a production drum in that it had two throw-offs which I have always felt was a great idea because both sides could tighten the snare and the wires could be dropped off at each side.

The sets can be dated by their badges. On the first sets they were black and bolted on and stated ‘patent applied for’, mid-period drums had glued- on badges with a us patent number, while the very last generation of kits produced were glued on with and showed both a US and an Australian number. 

My conclusion of the set in the early nineties was:

“Only time will tell whether or not Peavey''s vision of the future is right but I certainly think the ''Radial Bridge System'', which is so simple it could easily have been invented at the turn of the century, is going to be around for a long time.”

Well, time has told us Peavey’s vision was unfortunately incorrect about the longevity of the project, although the internet tells me there have been talks between Steven Volpp and at least one shell company to do it all again. We shall see.

That said, Peavey, like Arbiter’s Autotune and AT drums suffered from their looks. People listened and will continue to listen, with their eyes!

Bob Henrit 2011

Hello, We as Professional Drummers need to have someone out there to remake these drums if Peavey won't because these drums were and still are "AMAZING DRUMS". No other drums I've ever played sounded as good as these do "PERIOD
RAYMOND, 25 August 2011

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