After finally getting the Ion Drum Rocker, and drumming for a while on it, I realized that the included pedal, while not bad, isn’t quite… right.
Most drum kits have two pedals standard: the hi-hat cymbal pedal, and the kick drum pedal.
All standard plastic Rock Band pedals, and even the fancy metal Roadie pedal included with the Ion drums, are more like hi-hat pedals than actual kick drum pedals. On a real kick drum pedal, there’s a chain pulling a beater which strikes the bass drum.
Drumming is very much about striking surfaces and having a kick drum pedal that actually strikes a surface is every bit as essential as having drum pads that you hit with a drumstick instead of pressing a button on a controller (or keyboard, for that matter). I was never into drum pedal fetishism, but after reading a bit more about it, and spending more time playing on the Ion drums, this important difference finally began to make sense to me. The Ion drums are otherwise quite authentic as a basic entry level electronic drum kit, with the notable exception of the pedal.
So I decided to order the following Ion drum “real” kick pedal upgrade kit from rockbandparts.com for $149:
The Roadie VTI Trigger Box isn’t strictly necessary, depending on your configuration, but it does ensure that whatever drum and pedal combo you eventually use, it’ll work. It offers polarity, sensitivity, and duration tweaks that make most piezo drum trigger pads work with either the Ion drums (¼” connector) or the stock Rock Band 2/3 drums (⅛” connector). And all the necessary cables are included, too.
One thing I didn’t like about the Roadie box is that it adds quite a bit of complexity to the already-complex Ion drum configuration, seeing as how it needs its own power and has two adjustable trims. However, there is a solution — the KickWire.
The KickWire is a bit expensive at $27 plus shipping, but personally it was worth it to me for the much simpler configuration of just a basic wire (presumably with some kind of inline resistor) to connect the kick tower to the Ion drum brain.
The Yamaha KP65 was my choice because it’s quiet — about as loud as striking the Ion pads — inexpensive, reliable, and has a nifty built in sensitivity adjustment to boot. There’s a nice comparison video of the Roland KD-8 and the Yamaha KP65 here, if you want to hear and see it in action.
The KP65 and the pedal can be “mated” together via a clamp on the front of the pedal itself, so they form one semi-solid unit. Here’s a picture of mine:
Having a pedal with a chain driving a beater, striking a kick drum surface, completely changes the feel of the pedal… for the better! For one thing, you can now hear and feel a solid “thwack” when you kick, and actually get a rhythm going on the kick by ear! Compare that with the stock Rock Band or Roadie Ion pedal, where at best you get the sterile click of an electronic switch being pressed down by your foot. It’s a very, very different experience, with a nice organic rebound based on the mass of the beater and the chain pull. Is it slightly noisier? Of course, but at least with the KP65 it is only roughly as noisy as a stick hitting an Ion pad, which is about as good as it gets.
The only downside of the real pedal configuration is the price — considering the Ion drum kit is $300 with the extra cymbal, adding a pedal ($50) and the electronic kick drum ($60) and the wire to connect them ($30) is almost half the price of the entire drum kit!
If you’re enthused about drumming enough to go for the Ion Drum Rocker, then I can definitely recommend a real pedal upgrade. However, it ain’t cheap by any means — you’ll have to decide if spending $450 versus $300 is worth it to you for that final essential bit of authentic entry-level electronic drumming.