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Pearl Drums

Updated on June 27, 2013

Pearl Musical Instrument Company

Founded in 1952, the Pearl Musical Instrument Company is a multinational corporation based in Japan with a wide range of products, predominately percussion instruments. Pearl manufactures standard and custom drum kits as well as marching band and orchestra percussion.

History of Pearl Drums

Pearl was founded by Katsumi Yanagisawa, who began manufacturing music stands in Sumida, Tokyo on April 2, 1946. In 1950 Yanagisawa shifted his focus to the manufacturing of drums and named his company "Pearl Industry, Ltd."

By 1953, the company's name had been changed to "Pearl Musical Instrument Company," and manufacturing had expanded to include drum kits, marching drums, timpani, Latin percussion instruments, cymbals, stands, and accessories.

Yanagisawa's eldest son, Mitsuo, joined Pearl in 1957 and formed a division to export Pearl products worldwide. To meet increasing worldwide demand for drum kits following the advent of rock and roll music, in 1961 Pearl built a 15,000 sq ft (1,400 m2) factory in Chiba, Japan to produce inexpensive drum kits that bore the brand names of more than thirty distributors such as Maxwin, CB-700, Stewart, Werco, Ideal, Crest, Revelle, Revere, Lyra, Majestic, Whitehall, Apollo, Toreador, Roxy, and Coronet.

In 1966 Pearl introduced its first professional drum kit, the "President Series".

For a time in the early 1970s, Pearl was distributed in the U.S. by Norlin , the parent company of Gibson guitars at the time.

Today, Pearl's Taiwanese operation encompasses five factories whose output supplies nearly the entire worldwide market for Pearl products. The original Chiba factory now caters to the domestic Japanese market, producing drum kits, marching drums, timpani, and symphonic chimes.

Adams Musical Instruments are sold in the U.S. through Pearl dealers, Hughes and Kettner guitar and bass amplifiers are distributed through Pearl's main warehouse in Nashville, Tennessee and Sabian cymbals are distributed in Japan through Pearl dealers.

Pearl created several drum products, such as shells in the 70s that were made of a composite called "wood fibreglass." Additionally, Pearl combined roto-toms and these wood-fiber shells to create the Vari-Pitch line of drums. Other early innovations included shells that were slightly undersized, so that the drum head would extend over the edges, much like a gong drum. Pearl manufactured seamless, extruded acrylic shells that were different to the tabbed-and-seamed Vistalite shells used by Ludwig. Pearl also developed the hinged tube tom-arm: a design widely copied by many other drum manufacturers.

The Construction of Pearl Drums

Pearl has made shells for more than 30 companies. In the 1960s, they ceased making shells for other companies, and began manufacturing drums under their own name and used the Pearl logo for the first time.

Their construction technique is known as SST or "Superior Shell Technology." All Pearl drums feature this construction. Each ply is placed into a cylinder, and pressure is applied from both sides. While in the press, the shell is heated to bring the glue to a boil, thus forcing it through the wood grain and fusing the shells very tightly. The individual plies are scarf jointed, and all the seams are offset, resulting in a "seamless" drum (Pearl demonstrates the strength by parking a Humvee with its tire on a tom shell). This creates a drum shell of incredible strength.

Pearl's current drum kit line

Pearl's current line of drum kits range from entry level to professional grade, all of them use Pearl's heat compression SST system on the plies. In ascending order, they are:

Rhythm Traveler - A traveler's kit with shrunken drum depths made from 6 plies of "Selected Hardwoods". Rhythm Traveler drums includes cymbals, throne, hardware, mesh heads and cymbal mutes.

Target - Drums manufactured with 6 plies of basswood. Made only for the European market, it is sold as a complete set with cymbals, throne, hardware and drumsticks.

SoundCheck - Pearl's entry level kit. These drums are made from 9 plies of mahogany and are finished in a durable high-gloss covering.

Forum - Drums made with 6 plies (7.5mm) of Poplar. In January 2008, the Forum line received an upgrade to the Forum FZ - featuring upgrades like ISS tom mounts.

Vision - The successor to the Export and Session series drums. Vision drums originally came in 2 varieties: the VLX Lacquer finish drums, and the VSX wrapped drums. Over time, the VBX (Vision Birch), VMX (Vision Maple), and VX series drums were added to the line, with the VLX being the only discontinued line. These drums are made in China, and features new lugs and the new 900 series hardware as standard equipment.

Masters Custom (MCX) - Drums made from 6 plies of maple. These drums replace the entire Session line, with the only difference being that they feature die-cast hoops, Masters-series lugs, and Remo drum heads. They are the same configuration as the Masters Premium MRP kits, but they only come in 5 finishes with bright chrome being the only hardware option. As a result, the drums are not made up as a "custom" stock. Since they are warehoused in large quantities, time between order and delivery are much shorter.

Reference - Pearl's professional drum line made from blended wood types (maple, birch and African mahogany). They are the highest quality that Pearl offers that are not custom-made. The drums come in a wide array of finishes with chrome, black or gold-plated hardware.

Masterworks - Pearl's flagship drum line. Everything, including the plies of wood (such as mahogany, maple, birch, and carbon fiber/maple), style and finish of hardware (chrome, 24k gold, black), and finish can be selected by the customer. Masterworks drums can be ordered with an exotic wood outer ply (such as tamo or bubinga) for an added cost, which enhances the finish. All of the drums are hand-made, and because of this, delivery times can take up to six months.

ePro Live - Pearl's first electronic kit that includes real drums made from poplar shells. The drum pads can be replaced with traditional drum heads and can be played as an acoustic drum kit. They are available in two finishes, Jet Black and Pearl's new Artisan II finish, Quilted Maple Fade. Pearl's "EPC2" plastic cymbals or real brass E-Classic electronic cymbals (designed by Smartrigger Electronic Cymbals http://www.smartrigger.com) are available. The kit's drum module, Pearl's R.E.D.(Real Electronic Drums) box, includes acoustic and vintage drums, electronics from beat machines to modern digital, and a variety of orchestral, concert and world percussion instruments.

Discontinued lines of Pearl drum kits

Masters Premium – The successor to the Masters Series drums, available in either birch or maple. All series offer the choice of either chrome, black-chrome, or brass hardware. They were replaced by the Masters MCX series

Export (EX, ELX, EXR, and ECX) - Pearl's most popular series of drum kits, and the most popular set ever sold (the one millionth Export kit was produced in 1995). The latest generation of Export drums were made with 6 plies (7.5mm) of Poplar, with the ECX series being made from maple, and come standard with Pearl's ISS tom mounting system. They were discontinued and replaced by the Vision series.

Session - Drums made from 100% Maple or Birch shells. Session drums came standard with the Optimount suspension system and 2.3mm Superhoops. The series was discontinued in January 2008. These drums are extremely popular, but expensive.

Masters - The forerunner to the Masters Premium, with shells made from either Maple (MMX, MRX, MSX), Birch (MBX, BRX) or Mahogany (MHX). Most of their finishes are now available on their Masters Premium and Reference series drums.

MX, MLX & BLX - The predecessor of the original Masters series, with the MX being a wrapped 6ply maple kit, and the MLX and BLX being lacquered 6ply Maple and Birch Kits respectively. Included 2.3mm Superhoops, through-shell mounting and often came with a free-floating snare.

DX & DLX - The original Session series made from birch and mahogany. DX drums were available in a wrapped finish, with the DLX drums available in a lacquered finish.

World Series (WLX/WX) - Drum kits placed between the Export, MLX, and BLX kits. They had various shell compositions over time, and came in both wrapped (WX) and lacquered (WLX) models.

Custom Z (CZX) - Drums made from maple, with natural, champagne, and curly maple the only finishes available. The drums were so large, heavy and expensive, that very few were ever sold.

Limited Edition Pearl drums

Over the years, Pearl has released a number of limited edition kits, normally special versions of existing lines:

Redline - Reference kits available in either solid black or solid white with matching lugs and hoops. True to its name, the rubber gaskets on the lugs and bass drum claws were dyed red. The kits came in different size shellpacks in rock-styled configurations. The Redline series were released in the US in 2008 and in Europe (as a Masters Premium kit) at the Musikmesse later that year.

50th Anniversary - Masters Series drums made from birch with reinforcement hoops and 24-karat gold-plated lugs. 30 kits-10 in Wine Red, 10 in Black Mist, and 10 in Emerald Mist-were made and were not sold in the US except for the Anniversary style snares, though they differ from the snare drums that came with the Anniversary kits (The single snares were single-ply with vintage lugs and hoops).

Chad Smith & Joey Jordison limited edition - Released as an Export shell pack, the Joey Jordison kits consisted of a double bass setup and comes with a Joey Jordison signature snare, while the Chad Smith kits are made in a rock setup and comes with a Chad Smith signature snare. These kits were later rereleased in 2008 as a Forum drum kit.

Mahogany - Drums constructed from African Mahogany.[5]

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Pearl Snare Drums

As well as drum kits, Pearl is a renowned producer of snare drums. Lower end kits (Vision series and lower) come standard with snare drums, and higher end series have snares which must be bought separately. Individual snares, as well as artists' signature snares, are also available.

Series snare drums:

Forum - comes with matching 14"x5.5" snare as standard.

Export - comes with matching 14"x5.5" snare as standard. (Discontinued along with whole Export Line)

Vision - VX, VSX, VLX and VBX lines come with a steel SensiTone snare, while the VMX line comes with a matching maple snare.

Masters - Available in all Masters lines and finishes. Ordered separately from kits.

Reference - 20-ply wood snares are available in 14x5, 14x6.5 and 13x6.5 sizes. They utilise the same mixed wood technology as other Reference drums, with 6 inner plies of birch and 14 outer plies of maple with a 45 degree bearing edge. Metal Reference snares are also available, with shells made from either steel and brass. Both metal snares are available in 14x5 and 14x6.5 sizes.

Masterworks - Masterworks snares can be custom-ordered with a kit, or as a separate item. They are available in a wide range of materials, sizes and finishes.

Individual snare drums:

SensiTone Elite - Snares produced from five metals: steel, stainless steel, brass, phosphor bronze and aluminium. All are available in 14x5 and 14x 6.5 sizes.

Ultracast - Drums made from 3mm cast aluminium. Available in 14x5 and 14x6.5 sizes.

Free-Floating - Pearl's Free-Floating snares removes all hardware from the shell, allowing the player to change the shell as easily as a head. The throw-off, lugs and other hardware are part of the special edge ring which holds the drum and heads together. Available in copper, brass, steel and maple with shell depths of 3.5", 5", 6.5" and 8".

Symphonic - Made from 6 ply, 7.5mm thick maple, for concert-quality snare drums. The throw-off features three separate strainers for thin cables, heavy cables and snare wires, allowing a variety of sounds.

Firecracker - Snares made from 8 ply Poplar or steel shells and available in 10x5 and 12x6 sizes.

Effects - Effects snares includes the 10x10" Maple Popcorn snare as well as piccolo snares. All are designed to create sounds not found in standard snare drum sizes.

Signature snares - Various Pearl artists have their own signature snares, which are widely available. Artists include: Dennis Chambers, Jimmy DeGrasso, Virgil Donati, Omar Hakim, Joey Jordison, Mike Mangini, Ian Paice, Vinnie Paul, Morgan Rose, Eric Singer, Chad Smith, Tico Torres, Timothy Walter, Edson Rodriguez.

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Marching Percussion

Pearl Percussion has long been involved with marching percussion instruments. Their first appearance in the world of drum corps was in 1981 with the Cavaliers Drum & Bugle Corps who marched with a complete battery set of Pearl marching drums that year. Pearl's "FFX" free-floating marching snare, and Championship Series deep cut tenor drums feature distinctive volume and clarity that became one the most frequently featured marching drums utilized by drum and bugle corps and related marching-arts ensembles.

The legendary Concord Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps battery percussion section becomes the newest addition to Pearl's long history of featured artists. The 13-time DCI World Champion corps to be equipped with marching percussion for DCI's 2010 season.