There’s always that moment when your drummer can’t show up for rehearsal. She’s got some other commitment. He’s got another gig. Her boyfriend needs her to take him to the hospital.
It happens. When it does, you can do what I’ve always done – pound your foot against the floor and try to muddle on through – or you can use a drum machine. The problem with standard drum machines is that they’re made to be used by hands or, in some cases, drum sticks. I’m not a drummer (no sticks) and I need my hands to play my guitar. What I really need is a drum machine I can play from the floor, guitar-pedal style.
That’s what caught my eye about the BeatBuddy – this is a guitar-pedal-style device that lets you use your foot to play back drum beats in a variety of styles, fills and different parts included. This is my new best friend when the drummer can’t make it to practice, and it may become my new stage pal if I take my act solo.
There are fills, transitions, and varying song parts, all built in to one easy to use foot pedal that looks right at home on your pedalboard.
First, though, it’s good to note that BeatBuddy is not a drum machine. It’s a drum part playback pedal. All the files stored on the included SD card are put together into MIDI projects. If you want to edit the built-in drum parts, or create you’re own, you’ll need to do so with a MIDI-capable music creation app like Garage Band or ProTools, then import the project to BeatBuddy using the BeatBuddy Manager Software (PC-only for now).
How does it sound, though? Amazing. The sounds are sampled from high-quality sources – there are no crappy drum sounds from a 1980s Casio keyboard here. In fact, when we put the BeatBuddy through our PA system during rehearsal, it sounded even better than our crummy rehearsal drum kit, for the most part. This is a great sounding drum machine. There are over 10 different drum kits included, and over 200 different beats using them.
Beats are set up with one to three different parts, which let you switch from verse to chorus to bridge with a simple tap and hold. You tap on the pedal’s rugged foot plate to start whatever song you’ve chosen using the pedal’s dials and buttons, then tap once to insert one of three fills per song part. If you hold down the foot plate, you’ll get a drum fill transition that will take you to the next song part as soon as you release it. When you’re done playing, you simply double tap the foot plate to end the song with an outro fill (if the song project has one).
You can navigate through the various genre and styles included using the directional arrow buttons on the upper right side of the pedal unit. You can change to different drum sounds via the knob in the middle, turn the output volume up and down with the dial to the left, and set the tempo with the dial to the right.
You can set the tempo via the knobs and onscreen menus, or you can hold the foot plate down when no song is playing and tap out the tempo you need. There’s an additional external foot switch you can get, too, which adds an accent hit foot button and a second one to pause or start a beat, or navigate to the next song.
The screen on the unit itself is a visual treat, letting you know where you are in the beat using color and other visual cues. A big gray bar slides across the screen in time with your beat; if you’re playing a 5/4 beat, you’ll see 5 bars flash across the screen, as opposed to the more typical 4 bars of a 4/4 tune. The screen turns red during the intro and outro, green while it’s in the main part of the song, yellow when you trigger a fill, and white when you’re in a transition.
It’s all very intuitive, and easy to manage while playing and singing.
And that’s what makes the BeatBuddy so fantastic – it’s a customizable way to playback drum parts without having to program a drum machine. There are fills, transitions, different song parts, all built in to one easy to use foot pedal that looks right at home on your pedalboard. That’s all worth the $349 right there.
The BeatBuddy ships October 28, 2014, for a suggested retail price of $349. Even at this price, it’s a hot item: they’ve sold over 4900 of 5000 production units for this run, with more to come in November.
The good: The best way to “play” drums when you don’t have a drummer available; intuitive, easy to use, sounds fantastic.
The bad: No Mac software
The verdict: This is a must have for any musician who needs a variable drum beat for live jamming and playing.
Buy from Singular Sound