Bob Gatzen Interview

Learning From the Greatest


Bob Gatzen has carved out an amazing career as a drummer, educator and inventor. He is the creator of the Drum Frame, the B.O.A pedal and numerous other products for DW, Zildjian, Evans and now Puresound Snares. Bob has also worked on several DvD projects for Warner Brothers with the likes of Dennis Chambers, Tony Royster, Jr. and Will Kennedy.

I caught up with the “Renaissance Man” recently to find out exactly how he gets his ideas and how we can get started in the product development field:

You’re an incredible innovator and drumming pioneer, where do you get all your ideas? Do you have a process or is it intuitive?
Thank you very much Chris…you’re too kind. It’s a combination of both… a team effort between the two mediums. The intuitive side of it is the surprise of the idea and from that point on it’s about looking at it scientifically. It’s a balancing act between Art and Science…Intuition and Intention.

Intuition is that lighting bolt going off where suddenly an event happens that relates to something you’ve been thinking about. Have you ever opened up a page of a book and a sentence in there is talking directly to you? That happens to me all the time… to the point where it scares me that I can actually rely on it.

Much of my work is deadline oriented so I can’t be waiting around for that magical…Ahha…to appear. Overtime I’ve learned to rely on “pockets”… environments that encourage insight and perception…hard to explain. This is where skill and experience is crucial. Once that impulse materializes, I go into a very rigid process of discovery to fully understand exactly how and why a product behaves. Once I get there, it’s very easy for me to develop an original design. However, original design doesn’t necessarily mean success. There are other factors that come into play …timing, price point, effectiveness, promotion… it’s a long list!

So, I’d say it’s really not one or the other. It’s a ping-pong effect between Intuition and Intention.

What cool stuff have you been working on lately?
Oh, I can’t tell you that! (…laughs). I always have two or three projects that I’m working on simultaneously and of course, they’re all at different stages. It’s very difficult because you can’t share your ideas prematurely yet it’s important to get opinions, point of view from others. I’ve come to rely on people I can trust. Building relationships like this are crucial. Almost every one of the product designs that I develop for a company are patented so I have to be really discreet about what I talk about.

This I can tell you…I’m working on something for Zildjian, I’m working on a product for DW, and I have other products with DW like the B.O.A. pedal that are in the market place. However, most of my work comes from Evans who recently acquired “Puresound Snares” so currently I’m working on – which I can tell you about because we’re just about to release it – is a new snare wire design that I believe is ground-breaking. It’s very simple, it’s very original and I’m very excited, can you tell? It covers a lot of bases…extended dynamic range, clarity & definition, reduction in sympathetic snare buzz and finally, a Quick-Change function where you can replace snare-wires in less than a minute! View The Fact Sheet.

The challenge with all these designs is to get them into a price range that’s affordable. It’s easy to come up with something that’s expensive. It’s not easy to come up with a great idea, keeping the costs low, quality high and effectiveness that draw customers to it. You know, you can’t have a killer set of snares that cost $99. That’s the challenge and that’s the fun in it. It’s difficult to come up with something simple and effective so my motto for today anyway is… “Think simple”! I pair down everything to the single most important component and work up from there.

You’ve worked with the likes of Evans, DW, Zidljian, Warner Bros. and many more. How do you get people on board and excited about taking your products to market?
I’m constantly examining and looking at products to try to find ways to improve them or to change them. We re-invent way more than inventing a first of it’s kind. In my research process I think about the companies that I work for as well. These are long time relationships and there’s politics involved. If I come up with an idea for a cymbal I certainly can’t approach Sabian. It’s important to recognize the boundary lines drawn in the sand. Building long time, strong relationships with manufacturers, believe it or not, encourages inspiration for ideas.

I’ve been working for Evans 20 years now. I think a lot about drum heads, related accessories. So I propose lots of designs for them to consider. It all begins with a rough prototype leading to a big meeting where we throw the idea around. Ya throw it in the bowl and either the dog’s eat the dog food or they don’t. That’s the way it goes…totally unpredictable!

However, these meetings can be deceptive. Every time an idea comes to you…”it’s the bomb”. Through experience I’ve learned not to rush into an idea because it’s human nature that ideas always right and good…at first! So I have a rule for this phenomenon…the rule of “3-times”. I don’t consider or take an idea seriously until it comes back to me three times. Ideas always feel good when you get them, and likewise they feel good to the people you are selling them to! They say ‘OK, the bomb… we gotta do this! Then once the dust settles…it’s like… ‘What was that idea we were talking about, last time?’ Very frustrating! So, I’m very careful about exposing an idea until it comes back to me at least three times.

Do you have any tips for drummers who would like to work in the product development field?
Number one, be willing to diversify. We’re in an era of diversity so just being able to play the drums is not enough these days…if you want to make a living that is. I get tons of letters on YT on getting endorsements. My advice is to develop your skills to a point where you become a value resource. The best way to approach a company is too say to yourself, “What can I do for this company versus what can this company do for me?”. If you go in with that mentality you are on the right path from the word go. All of the companies really appreciate this kind of thinking.

The second thing is attitude. Learn to be a team player by developing your people skills. One thing that has helped me in a big way is to never say “no” unless you “know”.

The third thing would be to master the art of listening. It builds an image of respect from fellow workers. Also, it’s just being polite to people. You know, listening to them and paying attention to them, that’s very important. It builds strong, long-lasting relationships

These three characteristics would get you in the door.

Your DvD, Drum Tuning, Sound and Design has been a huge hit with drummers, techs and sound engineers alike. Can you give us an overview of your approach to tuning and how to get a great sounding set of drums?
I think drummers should learn to play a secondary instrument. If you don’t play a secondary instrument then sing. It’s hard to tune drums if you don’t understand or have a sense of tonality. Tonality is as important as rhythm. It strengthens your connection to the drums even more. Consider playing guitar or piano. When I graduated Hartt College of Music, I quit drums for 10 years…cold turkey, to play vibes and marimba. I studied with the best…Gary Burton. All I can say it was one of the most important musical decisions I’ve made in my life. It’s back to diversity huh?

Drums are not very good at delivering clear pitches so actually you have to be better than someone who sits at the piano and plays an A440 with one finger! With drums you’ve got like six pitches ringing… your job is to find the pitch that dominates over the others. Here’s what we drummers are up against! If shells were perfectly round, rims and heads perfectly flat we’d be able to tune drums like there’s no tomorrow. The problem is shells are not perfectly round, rims and heads not flat. Hearing and getting a single pitch from a drum is very difficult. So learn to hear and identify pitches. Sing, Sing, SING!

There’s the physics of it as well, you know, tuning evenly around the head. It all come back to “ears”. I don’t think there is anything more important than developing your ears. Developing your personal drum sound is a lot like a love affair. Do you love your drums? The next thing ya know is your writing tunes… “original” tunes…so now we’ve gone full circle back to originality through diversity. These are the Russ Miller’s, Marco Minnemann’s and Steve Jordan’s, drummers writing tunes, producing and recording music and oh yeah…still playing drums like never before!

How can people connect with you and keep up to date with Bob’s world?
I’m on YouTube, Facebook, Drummerworld and I’m on the Evans site. Those are ways to see what I’m working on and to contact me. Most of my stuff is on YouTube so don’t be afraid to go there. I know a lot of people think it’s just an entertainment channel, but for me it’s also educational – it’s edutainment!

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