How to sound like Horacio 'El Negro' Hernandez

Legendary Cuban drummer reveals his set-up

Horacio 'El Negro' Hernandez is a renowned drummer and percussionist from Cuba. He first gained international recognition as sticksman for pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba and his group Proyecto and has gone on to lend beats to several Grammy-winning albums.

"My kit is like a kid's playground," smiles Hernandez after a well-received clinic. "It really has a huge range, from very high sounds to very low, especially with all of the percussion instruments in there too."

"My goal is to make music on the drumset, not just to play beats - I want to build musical stories when I play," El Negro

"Musical stories"

My goal is to make music on the drumset, not just to play beats, and having all the bells, a smaller snare drum and so on helps me to do that. I want to build musical stories when I play solo, and this kit is like playing a piano."

More cowbell

Far from being an add-on afterthought, Horacio's signature Pearl cowbells are an integral part of his kit. And he uses all five from the range around his set-up. "The idea behind the bells was to come up with a new kind of instrument," he explains. "I wanted them to sound great, of course, but also to hold straight for the duration of a gig, and to offer two playing surfaces.

"The note intervals between the five bells are also really important to me. It took a long time to get things right, but I'm very happy with the results."

Next page: Horacio Hernandez drum set-up detail

horacio hernandez

Pearl Reference Series

A) 22"x18" bass drum
B) 10" rack tom
C) 12" rack tom
D) 14" floor tom
E) 16" floor tom
F) 14"x6 1/2" snare
G) 10" secondary snare

Zildjian cymbals

1) 13" K hi-hats
2) 15" K Dark Thin crash
3) 8" K splash
4) 18" K Dark Medium Thin crash
5) 22" K ride
6) 10" Special Recording hi-hats
7) 17" Dark Thin crash
8) 14" Oriental China trash

Plus…

Two Pearl clave blocks, five Pearl Horacio Hernandez cowbells (including one on pedal), tambourine, Pearl hardware including double pedal, Evans Genera drum heads, Zildjian drum sticks

Next page: El Negro talks tuning, cymbal selection and flexibility

Horacio hernandez

While he's keenly aware of what he likes and what he doesn't when it comes to his equipment, El Negro is far from a gear anorak. Ask him about tuning his Pearl Reference Series drums or his favoured cymbal set-up and he shrugs. "The sound of these drums is amazing," he says.

"I can pull almost anything out from my collection and it will sound amazing," El Negro

"I don't worry too much about the tuning, I just put the heads on and the sound is there. I'm not really tied to the sound of any cymbals in particular, I've spent so long playing with all different kinds of bands that I'm used to choosing cymbals that suit each different situation."

"The quality of the Zildjian cymbals I use is so good that I can pull almost anything out from my collection and it will sound amazing, it's just a case of me picking a set for the band I'm playing with."

Jam night

And as complex as his 'regular' kit set-up is, El Negro is pragmatic when it comes to loaner sets, or jam night house kits. "Drum sets feel so different to each other, but you have to be flexible. You have to be able to adapt to what's there. Little things like the stool not going low enough – you have to be able to work around things."

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