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Vintage View - Maxim

Maxim were not your regular electronic drums by any means. They were produced in 1984 and since they were pretty much the first to attempt to go head-to-head with Simmons, which were taking the world by storm, they went out of their way to look and sound like their competitors. Francis, Day and Hunter (or FD&H as they were better known) were old time ‘Tin Pan Alley’ music publishers and somewhat surprisingly Maxim’s English distributors, or perhaps I should say they were planning to be. They had just one sample set and it was to them I went to test the drums. I had first seen them at the Frankfurt Messe and they looked like what they were: a blatant rip-off of Simmons’ SDS5. I wasn’t able to test them at the time in Germany but noticed the ‘brain’ though was slightly more hi-tech looking than the one it was copied from. 

The Maxim pads looked to be made from the same polycarbonate as Simmons’ ie Riot-Shield plastic, so it’s fair to assume they were. But, in an attempt to stop their company from being ordered to ‘cease and desist’ because they were ‘Trading Off’ (or ripping-off to be less legal), Maxim''s pads were not hexagonal, but five sided which makes them pentagonal. Just removing a side didn’t make that much difference though because, at a cursory glance, Maxim drums still looked like they had been produced in a factory next to a pub called the ‘Fighting Cocks’ in St Albans, in deepest Hertfordshire! 

But they weren’t. The Maxims were actually produced in Japan by Maxim Creative Sounds and as time has passed they’ve been pronounced by experts as having better analogue sounds and better build-quality than the earliest Simmons products. 

As I intimated, the MDS 1000 (Maxim Drum Set 1000?) when it came out was undeniably and blatantly designed to do battle with the set which started the whole thing, the SDS5. But unfortunately by this time the ''5'' had been replaced by SDS8 which was a completely different animal. 

While I was researching this I looked back over what I’d written about plagiarism in ‘The Complete Simmons Drum Book’ in 1987 and discovered the following: 

“Simmons didn’t want what happened to Gibson and Fender to happen to them and took positive steps to suppress the copies of their products. There is a funny story about one particular Simmons copy which came out at roughly the same time that SDS5 was being discontinued and final touches were being made to SDS7. One Japanese company brought out an EDK which was so much like Simmons that it even reproduced the mistakes! They pinched the riot shield playing surfaces, the nylon receiver block, the spurs, the buried pick-up, and something much less obvious. I’ve already mentioned that the aluminium coping [edging] around the top of the original Simmons pads was shaped by hand, and because the wooden versions were frequently asymmetrical, it was difficult to fit these accurately each time. In extreme cases there would be a reasonably large gap at the final join. The Japanese painstakingly reproduced this gap exactly on their pads!”

No prizes for guessing what that particular product was that I was referring to!

BTW reproducing this gave me the first chance I’d ever had to put quotation marks before and after something I had actually written. (I’m not sure that many writers get that opportunity!)

My article in IM&RW from June 1984 (which was coincidentally exactly when I threw my lot in with The Kinks) show that the price was £TBA and I don’t think a price was ever formulated, but while I’m on the subject I’ve recently seen MDS1000 ‘brains’ for sale on their own for just $200. 

There was then (and therefore still is) a scarcity of the units because a very short time after I wrote about them for ‘International Musician’ magazine, Simmons protested loudly and clearly and Maxim obediently stopped production. There are some sound clips of the product on the internet which make very interesting listening. They convincingly produce all the usual ‘Drums of Doom’ and ‘Diddleydooo’ sounds as used on Carly Simon’s ‘Nobody Does It Better’ and Rose Royce’s  ‘Love Don’t Live Here Anymore’, sounds which perhaps ad-nauseum became very fashionable in recording studios. 

Maxim did seize the moment though to make their pads considerably more user-friendly by gluing a 6” diameter circle of rubber to their centre. Early Simmons were criticised for the ‘feel’ of their original pads and the fact they were unforgiving and gave rise to a condition called (by detractors) ‘Simmons Elbow’. Simmons Elbow, which is in effect ''Tennis Elbow'' was/is said to be muscle and joint strain and pain from hitting an unforgiving surface repeatedly. To be honest if you didn’t attack the pads this didn’t happen but because new users naturally played them like a regular acoustic set, this put strain on the players’ arm and finger joints. BTW a great Nashville drummer named Larry Londin was actually the first to fit rubber playing-surfaces to his Simmons pads although I don’t know if Maxim copied him, or vice-versa. This rubber reduced the impact although it consequently cut-down the sensitivity a little.

The Maxim brain was ostensibly a black-painted metal box with steel right-angled brackets at each end to enable it to be mounted into a rack and with schematics stencilled onto the top – something which at the time it was suspected would have gone way over most drummers’ heads! It had four channels of available sounds including one factory pre-set, two which were tweakable with a tiny screwdriver, and another which could be quickly changed with horizontal sliders. There were six of these relating variously to: Noise, Tone, Bend, Decay, and two Balance sliders. The first controlled Noise against Tone and the other for Click against Drum. Below all these was the Effect jack socket and the pad sensitivity potentiometer. So we had controls in vertical rows for bass, snare, hi tom, low tom and bass tom and next to these were a couple of blank panels to take extra modules. The catalogue only showed drum sounds and to be honest I don’t think cymbals ever arrived. 

To the rear of the brain there was a trigger input (for a sequencer), a stereo headphone socket, effect ‘send and return’ via a pair of jack sockets, pads ‘in’ via XLR sockets with locking pins and channels ‘out’ with XLRs and jack sockets. Otherwise there were a couple of mix outputs, a fuse holder and a ‘ground’ terminal. 

The playing surfaces and the bodies of the pads were made from polycarbonate with plywood inside the sandwich to mount the piezo trigger, and the smaller versions measured a couple of inches deep and 12” from point to opposite side. The bass pad was 18” from point to side and unlike the others was three inches deep and stood on its flat side with a piece of angle-iron fixed there to locate the bass drum pedal. Each smaller pad had a plastic (?) holder block to fix it to the tubular tom holder and the bass pad had two to join it to the equally tubular spurs with very sharp tips. All these blocks were fitted with key slots for the supplied memory-locks. The Maxim 1000 pads were available in any colour you liked so long as it was black, white, blue or red.   

The set I saw was supplied with what seemed to be two Yamaha 5000 stands to locate Maxwin-type tom holders and a foot pedal complete with plastic strap and twin expansion springs. There were no hi hat or cymbal modules although there were provision for them in the brain. 

As far as Maxim’s sound was concerned I wrote in 1984 it was very easy to operate. “Channel four is really quite simple. Each slider has six vertical lines; thus five spaces and the brochure gives you very good examples of sounds you can set up using the lines as guides. This it must be said makes the unit ‘drummer friendly’. Obviously one would set up the three user changeable sounds and simply switch between the four channels available.” Channel one had factory input sounds which I felt had too much white noise on them making all the drums seem like snare drums of differing pitches. But there are some sounds on the web which someone has painstakingly put together which you might want to check out. 

There were several electronic drum sets which were produced to compete with Simmons viz Axe, Cactus, Casco, Cheetah, DigiDrum, Dr Bohm, Dynacord, Heriba, Impulse One, Impakt, Kay, Kat, Klone, MPC (an English company, not to be confused with Akai''s MPC sampling drum machines), MXR, Oberheim, Paragon, Seabro, Syndrum, Synare and Tubby Drum to name but a few.

But history shows other than Roland, Yamaha and ddrum, none of those others made it.   

Bob Henrit

April 2016


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