Love/Hate and Good Wood Mods

I play too much Rock Band. My music game affliction started back with the original Guitar Hero on the PS/2. I was doing the mega-geek rounds around Fry’s one day and saw it on the demo stand. I played a single song and knew this was something I wanted at home. Mitch had the PS/2 already, so I went for it. We played for hours and he quickly started kicking my ass. But, damn, it was fun to get awarded points and stars for being good at not actually playing music.

Fast forward a couple of years, an update to an Xbox 360, and a few finger strains battling through “Rein in Blood”, and I was still having fun. I’m not great at it (I’m really not even a full-fledged “Hard” player with the guitar), but who cares? I get better here and there, and keep enjoying myself. I picked up Rock Band and drooled over the DLC, still content playing the guitar. But, oh, the temptation. I’d tried the drums elsewhere. I wanted them…

Eventually I gave in and bought the Rock Band drum kit and started wailing away trying to teach myself a new skill. Even though it had never really waned, my interest was renewed. Bit by bit I got my hands and foot to do the right things in the right order. Granted, having moved into an apartment, I had to get my drum fix when the downstairs neighbor was out. I was like a fiend, sneaking a hit whenever I could.

Sadly, my enthusiasm took a toll on the drum kit (as many people have found). After seeing them used by YouTube drum stud azuritereaction, I chose and ordered a set of Good Wood Mods (their first, extremely home-made variant).

In April (after a long wait) they arrived. I giggled at the simple packing material. I installed them. I played them. I loved them! Immediately I realized why several of the best players use Good Wood Mods: they’re insanely fast. Compared to the plastic-backed gum rubber pads, they’re a dream to play and take far less effort. If you stay relaxed, you can play entire songs on “Expert” while barely moving your wrists. The bounce you feel in the sticks is much less jarring and closer to that of a real drum head. There’s none of that dead thud at all. And, most importantly, they’re quiet. Very quiet.

Since I work at a place that also loves Rock Band (and houses a 360), I couldn’t wait to show the guys. Only two days into owning the kit, I brought it into work. As we gathered in our game room at the end of the day, several guys lined up to give them a whirl. They got rave reviews. Rave, I say! Everyone agreed with me that they are a huge leap forward over the stock heads.

Then it all came unraveled. One of the people who loves playing the game but still plays stiffly (and hits hard) sat down. Part way through his first song, bang, the blue pad tanked. It became intermittent and only registered some of the strikes. Damnit! I took the set home to test it a little more and, bang, the yellow pad suffered the same fate. Damnit again! Fortunately, I’m a geek (as are the makers, which is awesome). I broke out the soldering iron, exchanged some emails with the guys who make them, dismantled the heads, and fixed the broken connections (just solder welds on the piezo sensors).

Sadly, this hasn’t been an isolated issue. I trust my repairs, but I’ve had to do or re-do this same sort of fix on all but one of the heads. There is something fundamentally flawed in the way their design works. I suspect it’s the combination of foam inserts and floating piezo mounts that result in friction at the edge of the wire’s jacket, creating a tugging movement that strains the braided wire. I fully expect to do this repair again, though I’m trying various applications of glue as protective covering at the edge of the weld.

Now, the big question… would I recommend these to other people? In three words: Yes and No. I absolutely love playing these over the standard pads. However, their initial build quality was questionable and I continue to have to make repairs (usually with a couple of months of playing in between). However, the guys that make them have scaled up and found a manufacturing partner. Apparently, gone is the questionable-but-endearing use of plywood, varied screws, and slices of PVC pipe. If you buy a set now, I suspect you’ll get a fundamentally similar but massively revised product built to higher standards. If you play a lot and have a few spare dollars, go for it. I’m even eying a second set.

If you’re curious, I also took few pictures of my Good Woods Mod install and repairs.