Billy Blast Ballistech II Mesh Drum Head
By Team HC |
...a cost-effective solution to the electronic mesh drum head conundrum
by Carmine Strollo
I’ve been an acoustic drummer for over 52 years and for almost 21 years, played full-time 5-6 nights a week—performing with floor show bands, in night clubs, and spent 15 years as a true road soldier touring the USA and Canada. However although I’ve been playing acoustic drums for many years, three years ago I made the crossover leap into the electronic drum paradox. I say “paradox” because I never thought I’d be a complete e-kit VDrum electronic drummer. Sure, I’d played Simmons in the 80s, along with Syndrums and Synares…but they sounded more like drum effects from Star Wars than true acoustic drum sound emulation. I’m using a Roland TD-12 both live and in the studio now, and have been sampling sounds these many years…always in search of the perfect waveform.
They say necessity is the mother of invention. Well, in the mesh drum head arena for electronics market, there’s a gaping hole in the “best bang for the buck” model for replacement heads. Roland makes fantastic products, but you pay $45 - $55 retail per mesh replacement head. I realize these are 2-ply woven heads that are supposed to last forever, but they do not last forever; I just went through a 12” on my PD125 and an 8” on my PD85. Sure, there are warnings about checking your sticks’ tips for sharp edges or dents and chunks—but my tips are solid round plastic beads, yet those heads still ripped (and my days of heavy hitting have long gone by the wayside).
After that, you have a slew of what I consider also-ran competitors that really can’t take the formidable pounding that happens in the live environment. Fortunately, though, after spending hours scouring the blogs and reading more info than I care to about what viable mesh head requirements need to have, I came across the Billy Blast Ballistech II 3-ply mesh head…a welcome island in a sea of mediocrity. The 3-ply concept was right up my alley, as I’m a big believer in the “goes to 11” philosophy that if 2-ply is good, 3-ply must be great! It’s the exponential way of thinking. But I was concerned with sensitivity…3 ply…3 layers…articulation issues? I later found my concerns were unfounded.
First, you’ll notice the look of these heads is completely different than most mesh heads. Roland uses smooth and tightly stacked layers, while the Billy Blast layers are woven into a distinctive pattern, sporting a mesh grid resembling most traditional clothing fabrics. While these both play effectively, there’s a little undocumented feature about the Billy Blast Ballistech II that was brought to light out of my traditional acoustic roots.
Consider the inherent, albeit slight, playing difference between acoustic clear heads and coated heads. Excluding rebound, and assuming durability is a given, uncoated plastic heads have a slickness (due to the lack of coating) that makes the stick feel more like a glancing blow being performed. Wood tip or plastic, once the stick contacts that head, its rebound is off like a flash—giving you a light quick stroke, even if you’re a heavy hitter. But for those of us who still use a coated snare head (Ambassador, Emperor, Focus X, etc.), the head’s coating tends to “bite” and hold on to a stick a little better, providing a more relaxed playing feel. I think it’s a byproduct of friction as opposed to a polar opposite impact from an uncoated head.
With the Roland’s smooth playing surface feeling like an uncoated head, and the woven grid textured head of the Pearl feeling like a trampoline, I found the surface of the Billy Blast head to be very closely related to the feel of my coated Aquarian Focus-X or Remo Emperor. It let my stick rebound straight back from the direction from whence it came, without the feeling of having to maintain a decisive grip or focused direction with the stroke. I welcome any advantage I can achieve from today’s modern advancements in head technology.
The rounded counter hoop technologies were all about the same. I had no problem mounting the Billy Bast on my Roland PD-125. It seated quickly and evenly, with no discernible difference between this and my normal Roland VDrum heads. Ah, but the big question is still knocking at your back door, isn’t it? With the look feeling stronger and the feel being more palatable, how well did it perform? Were there sensitivity issues? How many settings did you have to change to accommodate this stranger in a strange land?
It’s kinda hard to say…I didn’t have to change a darn thing in the module at all! I started playing, and it immediately felt the same—if not better! I played the center, played the midway, played close to the rim, rim shots…the works. It played accurately, and more consistently but with a lot less effort. Rim shots were unbelievably repeatable. Every stroke sounded the same, and I was actually able to play lighter with less tension and less force in my hands.
Best of all, my 12” Billy Blast Ballistech II cost about half the price of the standard Roland VDrum head, which brings it right in line with the traditional heads I buy for my acoustic setup. Talk about a cost-effective solution to the electronic mesh drum head conundrum…and what’s even more precious in this day and age, Billy truly knows the meaning of customer service: Great communication, a superior product at a reasonable price, and an appreciated “port in the storm” for the real world, “in-the-trench” modern electronic drummer.
My only potential concern is the product’s longevity, because I haven’t given it enough punishment for a definitive answer. However, after three weeks of daily playing, two to three hours a day, seven days a week, there’s not a mark on the head—not too shabby, as far as I’m concerned. My only problem now is how to explain to my wife how I want to outfit the kit with all new heads when they’re not broken in the first place. I’m afraid that’s gonna be a tougher sell…
Carmine Strollo has been a staple in the Harmony Central Drum Forum as Carminemw since 2007. He is a founding member of the Geezer Guild and lives and gigs in Delaware. You can visit his web page here.