Mike Portnoy's 2012 drum setup in pictures
For Mike Portnoy, 2010 was a tumultuous year. Besides taking on a gruelling touring schedule with different groups, the drumming community was shocked when Mike announced that he was leaving Dream Theater, the band he had co-founded and led since the ’80s. Feeling a need for a break to recharge his creative batteries, Mike left when a compromise could not be reached.
Then, after recording and completing a tour with Avenged Sevenfold (filling in for the band’s deceased drummer The Rev), Avenged thanked him for his services and sought a permanent replacement for their drum seat. Mike came off the road and spent some much-needed time at home with his family while pondering what his next musical move would be.
His notorious work ethic did not slow down or change though, and he spent the better part of 2011 recording and performing with a variety of different projects that were stylistically very different from each other. Flying Colors is a more pop-orientated project, but with members like guitarist Steve Morse (Dixie Dregs, Deep Purple) and bassist Dave LaRue (Steve Morse Band, Dixie Dregs), it promises its share of shredding.
Then there’s Adrenaline Mob, Mike’s powerhouse project with singer Russell Allen (Symphony X) and guitarist Mike Orlando (Sonic Stomp) which is a four-on-the-floor, straight-up metal ride.
There was also Mike’s performance at the Guitar Center Drum Off in Los Angeles with Tony MacAlpine (solo artist, Steve Vai, Planet X), Billy Sheehan (David Lee Roth, Mr Big) and Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater, Planet X). Although touted as a one-off performance, the group played again at the NAMM convention for Sabian’s after-show party. Drum Channel will be releasing a DVD of their collaboration. Mike also slyly teases us that there’s more in store if he can only find the time.
Rhythm caught up with Portnoy earlier this year to chat about this myriad of projects, plus his plans for the future. Here we bring you pictures and details of his current drum setup, plus extracts from that interview, which you can read in full in Rhythm 201. Or you can subscribe to Rhythm Magazine to read interviews with the world’s top drummers each month.
Next: The kit...
Tama Starclassic Performer birch/bubinga kit in Diamond Dust finish: 8, 10 & 12-inch toms; 14 & 16-inch floor toms; 12-inch Melody Maker snare; 14-inch Melody Maker snare (both steel shell); Gong drum; 22-inch bass drum; low-pitch set of Octabans
Mike Portnoy: “What you’re seeing on this kit and this set-up is a lot of experimenting for me. I’m loving and digging the stuff here. With all these new chapters and projects going on in my life I think I’m going to incorporate a lot of new set-ups to go with it. Not just cymbals but drums as well.
“This particular kit that you’re seeing is the kit that I’m using with Billy, Tony and Derek. For instance, this configuration, it’s a little different. I’ve never stacked Octabans like that. Normally, I have four going across.
“I like to mix up the set-ups for different things that I’m doing. The toms are 8, 10, and 12-inch with 14 and 16-inch floor toms and a Gong drum. This exact drumset, though, is something that Tama keeps here in LA and I’ve utilised this drumset in so many different places.
“Not only am I doing the DVD and shows with Tony, Derek and Billy on it, but that’s also the kit that I recorded Avenged Sevenfold’s Nightmare album on. I also used it with Transatlantic, Neal Morse and Liquid Tension Experiment live, here in California, so I have a deep history with this specific drumset.”
Sabian - 18-inch AAX Ozone crash, 14-inch Vault hi-hats, 18-inch HHXplosion crash, 18-inch HHX china, 7 & 9-inch Max splash, 10-inch Max Stax mid with 7-inch Radia cup chime on top, 18-inch prototype crash, 21-inch Vault Custom Shop ride, 10-inch Chopper, 12-inch Max Stax low, 18-inch Paragon china, 20-inch Vault crash
Portnoy: “It’s a completely different cymbal set-up than anything I’ve ever used. I actually asked Chris Stankee at Sabian to just send me a whole bunch of new stuff. Let’s forget about all the stuff that I always use, because all these years I’ve been sticking to the same kind of cymbals with Sabian, just different variations.
“When this project [MacAlpine, Sherinian, Sheehan] came along, I said, ‘Just send me a whole bunch of new stuff and let’s just throw them up and see what we like.’”
Tama Iron Cobra Powerglide double pedal, Iron Cobra hi-hat stand; Pro-Mark Mike Portnoy 420 Signature drum sticks; Heads - Remo Emperor on tom tops, Ambassador on tom bottoms. Ambassador CS Reverse Dot on snare batters, Powerstroke 3 with Falam patch on bass batter, Ebony resonant head
Portnoy: “With Adrenaline Mob, what I take on the tour with me, we’ll have to figure that out. But I’ll probably go big with it – definitely two bass drums, that’s for sure.
“Tama also has three new Melody Master snares coming out this year. There’s the 12"x5" steel shell which I’ve always offered, but now it’s got a new emblem on it with my ambigram.
“We’re also doing a 14x51⁄2-inch steel shell which is exactly like the 12-inch but it’s just a bigger drum and then we’re also doing a 14-inch bubinga shell with a custom Mike Portnoy ambigram finish. So, those three are being introduced this year.”
On getting the balance right
Did you set out to be different in your drum sound with these projects?
“I think it’s all still me. I think the most important thing for me when I do an album, no matter who it’s with, any kind of band, I want it to sound like Mike Portnoy.
“I think it’s important for drummers to have personality in their playing and that’s a very important thing for me. So whether I’m playing in a metal, prog or pop band, I still want to retain my identity.
“Of course, I always play what’s called for in the song. When I’m playing with Flying Colors, I’m trying to be more subtle, song-oriented and straight-ahead. In Adrenaline Mob, I’m trying to be more aggressive and have that balance to the grooves.”
Now check out Rhythm’s current Issue 202 for an in-depth tribute to the incredible Buddy Rich. Or subscribe to Rhythm here for a monthly dose of new gear reviews, kit buying guides, pro drum lessons and all-star interviews.
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