A conversation with Fredy Studer
A conversation with Mr. Fredy Studer
The Paiste wiki had the honor and privilege to correspond and interview Mr. Fredy Studer, we are eternally grateful for his vast knowledge of all things Paiste and for his time!
As many Paiste users know Fredy was a key member of sound development from 1970 to 1978, he then was freelance in sound development until 2016. Fredy was instrumental in creating and developing all of Paiste’s classic cymbals though the 70’s and into the 80’s and 90's (and even into the 2000's!) with Robert Paiste. Fredy’s swan song was engaging and facilitating Vinnie Colaiuta's switch to Paiste after they had worked together on the “Modern essentials” Formula 602’s development for two years!
Fredy was also head of Paiste's "Drummer service", he is credited for signing some of the most famous names in music history: Jack DeJohnette, John Bonham, Ed Blackwell, Paul Lovens, Carl Palmer, Tony Oxley, Al Foster, Stewart Copeland, Airto Moreira, Paul Motian, Jon Christensen, Sunny Murray, Terry Bozzio, Vinnie Colaiuta just to name a few!
Fredy’s bio and music career: “FREDY STUDER
was born on June 16, 1948, in Lucerne (Switzerland), where he also lives today. Studer began playing the drums at the age of 16, after four years of "Basel drumming". He is an autodidact with a highly diverse spectrum of music styles, encompassing march and dance music, as well as beat, folk, rock, psychedelic, blues, jazz rock, rhythm 'n blues and be-bop, free jazz, free funk and improvisation. Studer's music performances since the early seventies have been as eclectic as his freelance activities with musicians, ranging from "A", as in John Abercrombie, to "Z", as in John Zorn.
In 1972, he founded the jazz fusion quartet OM, with guitarist Christy Doran, saxophonist Urs Leimgruber, and double bassist Bobby Burri, who were all his classmates.
The group toured successfully for ten years all over Europe. Studer has also worked with Franco Ambrosetti, George Gruntz, Joe Henderson, Miroslav Vitous, Larry Schneider, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, Pierre Favre, Dom Um Romão and David Friedman. In the 1980s, he played in a trio with Rainer Brüninghaus and Markus Stockhausen; with Stephan Wittwer and Christy Doran in Red Twist & Tuned Arrow; in the group Singing Drums with Pierre Favre, Paul Motian and Nana Vasconcelos; and in the Charlie Mariano-Jasper van 't Hof group. Studer has played as an interpreter of 20th-century classical music compositions by Charles Ives, Steve Reich, John Cage, and Edgard Varese in the percussion ensemble of Robyn Schulkowsky.”
Fredy Studer has performed at festivals, has given concerts and workshops, has recorded for radio and television, as well as music for dance productions and radio plays, theatre and film music in Europe, Africa, Japan, Central and South America, the Caribbean, in Taiwan, India, Russia and in Canada and the USA. He has been honoured with numerous prizes and awards.
His current bands and projects are:
Doran-Stucky-Studer-Tacuma play the music of Jimi Hendrix - Katharina Weber - Fred Frith - Fredy Studer - OM - Urumchi - Schulkowsky-Studer-Baron - Jasper van't Hof Quartet - Der grosse Bär -
Fredy Studer Solo
Early career and starting at Paiste:
I didn't know you were originally a rock drummer, I always assumed you were a jazz guy, how did you get started?
Yes, I started as a Beat drummer first (playing tunes of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones). Later on I switched to Rock: Cream (I saw GINGER BAKER'S AIRFORCE together with Phil Seamen in 1970 at the Lyceum in London.), The Jimi Hendrix Experience (Drummer Mitch Mitchell was my first Drummer idol). Then followed the Electric Jazz period (early Weather Report, Miles with Bitches Brew, Tony Williams Lifetime). So I slowly became a Jazz drummer .......
I assume you were always a Paiste player? Was Paiste a "household name" in Switzerland at the time?
Yes and Paiste was already very well known in Switzerland at that time.
How did you know Pierre Favre and what gave you the idea to ask him for a job at Paiste?
I went to several concerts of Pierre’s (he was already playing Free Jazz around 1968), I learned from him and we became friends, so it made sense to ask him for some work at Paiste.
Did you start off working in sound development, or did you have a different job at first? Who interviewed and hired you?
In 1970 I was in a Swiss rock-trio in Rome in Italy where we played cover versions of Cream and the Hendrix trio. My two friends were connected with a "manager", but we got nothing more than empty promises for concerts that never took place! We lived in a basement where we used to kill the rats that came up from the drain at night. Back then I got to know what hunger means, we had no money and couldn't buy any food, we had to steal.......
So one day I packed my drums and went back to Switzerland. What I'd experienced in Rome was not what I'd imagined a musicians life to be. Back in Switzerland I rang up Pierre Favre and asked him if they had any jobs for me at Paiste, the timing was very good because Pierre was about to leave Paiste, so slowly but surely, I became his successor. Robert interviewed and hired me. At the beginning I was assisting in the Drummer Service and Pierre introduced me to testing the cymbals: comparing the new cymbals which came out of the production with the master cymbal. I had an agreement with Robert that I worked only until noon and that I was allowed to step out for playing concerts and going on tour. After a few months, Robert included me as a part of the Sound Development dept. until 1978 when I stopped working full time at Paiste, after that I was a freelancer in Sound-Development until several years ago.
Did the three of you (you, Pierre and Robert) throw around ideas and come to an agreement on what a new cymbal should sound like?
When I started working in Sound Development together with Robert, Pierre had left Paiste already so either way, Robert and Pierre or Robert and myself worked together. The most difficult thing in Sound Development was communicating with words: how to describe sound and to understand what the other person was talking about. By the time Robert and myself developed a specific terminology in describing a sound, it was hard for other people to understand what we were talking about, and yes, at the end we always came to an agreement on what the new cymbal should sound like.
I’m particularly interested in how you worked with Robert on developing new cymbals. What was Robert’s “process” on making a new cymbal? Did he already have the sound in his head??
Robert most of the time had the sound we were looking for in his head, except when we were just trying out something new without looking for a specific sound or function in a cymbal.
There were four main reasons for developing new cymbals or a whole new cymbal line:
1. Robert had an idea for a new cymbal line, for instance because a new alloy was ready
2. Marketing was asking for a new cymbal line or additional cymbals in an existing line
3. An important endorser wanted a specific cymbal or had an idea for a specific cymbal
4. Sound-Development itself was experimenting with new sounds
Did he hammer and lathe the cymbals himself when he was creating a new cymbal and then have you play them?
No, at that time Robert did not hammer or lathe prototype cymbals by himself. He did this in the past, when he was pretty young, but there were cymbal "master workers" with many years of experience in hammering and lathing, Robert always gave specific advice to them on what different parameters to use for a specific stage of a prototype cymbal production.
Did you ever bring in other cymbals (Zildjians or UFIP's?) and use them as an example of the sound you wanted, or did you ever compare a new cymbal to a Zildjian to see how the sound compared or differed?
Of course, Paiste has a big archive of cymbals from almost all the other brands, but we did not use them as examples for a sound we're looking for. We used them to compare our new cymbals we were working on with other brands - always our cymbals of a specific sound-quality and price range we compared with in the same price and quality/range of the other brand.
When creating a whole new series, do you always start with a crash cymbal or a ride cymbal?
Most of the time we started with a Ride, Crash and a pair of Hi-Hats or we started just with a 20" Ride, because it was always more difficult to have it on the spot, much more than a crash.
Also, do you always start with the same size cymbal? In other words: do you always use an 18" blank to experiment with and finalize the new sound and then set the weights and sound of all the other sizes in relation to that 18"?
Mostly we started with a pair of 14" Hi-Hat, an 18" Crash and a 20" Ride, the most standard sizes.
Do you calculate the weight of a larger or smaller cymbal by percentage of the original prototype size? In other words a 16” is about 11% smaller than an 18”, so do you make the 16” 11% lighter than the 18”?
No, the right sound always came first (we had to trust our ears first), sometimes the weight was in proportion to the other sizes, sometimes not.
Were there any prototypes that you thought would sound really good but failed miserably?
Not really, there were prototypes which failed but not miserably, they just did not fulfill our expectations.
Was Toomas ever involved in the creation of new sounds or did he stick to the business, sales and marketing side?
Toomas was definitely the businessman, however since he was also involved in marketing, he did sometimes ask sound development to develop a specific cymbal line or an additional cymbal type of an existing cymbal line for the market.
The 2002, B8 and other developments:
How involved were you with the development of 2002? Were you able to work with Robert on it?
Robert had already started developing the 2002 cymbal line before I joined Sound-Development but towards the end of the development, I was also involved. The general idea was to make a synthesis of the Giant Beat and the Formula 602: having the subtle sound quality of the Formula 602 and the power of the Giant Beat. It was the time when some Jazz became electric (Miles Davis with Bitches Brew, Tony Williams Lifetime with Emergency and the early Weather Report with their first two albums, drummers like Jack DeJohnette, Lenny White, Alphonse Mouzon, Eric Gravatt, Tony Williams). Since I was playing in the so called Electric Jazz genre myself I could give Robert my input and practical advice.
I get the feeling you started when Paiste was in the middle of developing them, if that’s the case, was there overlap between you and Pierre when you may have both worked on the 2002?
Yeah, that's correct and I guess there was an overlap between Pierre and myself. On the other hand, there was a gap between when Pierre left and when I started working in Sound Development, so for a while Robert worked on the 2002 line without assistance.
I have several Stambul 65’s and 2002’s, there is a significant difference in the way those two types of cymbals sound, the 2002 has that beautiful high pitched ring (I call it the “telephone bell" ring) that neither the Stambul 65 or Giant beats have, do you know what was done to the 2002 to make it sound that way?
We did not do any specific construction changes to get that telephone bell ring you're talking about, at least I can't remember.
Did Paiste ever experiment with making a B20 version of a 2002 to see what it would sound like?
No, there was no need to do so.
Many drummers think the black label 2002’s sound better and are ”mellower” than 80's red labels or brand new 2002’s, I believe it’s down to aging, metal fatigue and wear & tear that affects the sound of an old cymbal (and dirt), what are your thoughts on this (you heard all these cymbals when they were brand new!)?
Yes, all the factors you listed count in this case, plus don't forget it can be caused by just the alloy itself: if there’s a difference in the temperature of the weather (warm or cold) or if the air is wet or dry during the process of melting and rolling.
My understanding is that the “Stambul 65” was supposed to replace the nickel silver Stambul in 1965, why did Paiste continue to produce both the Stambul 65 and the B8 Stambul side by side through 1974?
They were two different sound qualities: The Stambul 65 was one level higher in quality than the Stambul, this was because of the two different alloys. Also, the construction parameters (hammering, lathing) were not exactly the same.
Why were the sizes so limited in the original Giant beat line? Specifically, no 16" or 22"?
We tried out a 16" crash, but it did not have enough power to complete this cymbal line, we also tried a 22" but it did not really fit between the existing 20" and the 24". We did not want to change the sound of either the 20" or the 24" so that the 22" would fit in between, so we just let it be as it was for production (except for a couple of endorsers which were asking for it).
Do you know why Paiste stopped producing Giant beats (I assume they didn't want them to compete with the 2002)?
At the very beginning I think Paiste Marketing stopped the Giant Beat because the 2002 line took over. Many rock drummer endorsers (including John Bonham) switched from Giant Beat to 2002. Fortunately, today Paiste is producing Giant Beat cymbals again.
Do you know the reason for changing the lower lines from nickel silver to B8? Was the change of the lower lines to B8 slow and gradual over a few years or did it happen all at once?
Yes, it was to lift the sound quality and I think that happened gradually.
Did you have to redesign how the cymbals were made to accommodate the new alloy or did they use the same techniques they used with the old alloy?
I think we did some construction adjustments because the different alloy has a different sound potential and reacts in a different way.
You were involved in the development of the 404 and 505, my understanding is they were released in 1978, when did development start?
I don't remember exactly, but it could have been 1978, this was an update of the B8 Stambul and Stambul 65, I guess the development started about half a year before that.
Was there a difference in construction, design and sound between the B8 Stambul and 505, the B8 Dixie and the 404?
Yes, there was a difference in construction between Stambul and 505 and also between Dixie and 404.
I recently read a mid 80's Modern drummer interview with Robert, he made a comment about the casting and rolling process for the 505's and 404's compared to the 2002, to quote him: "the more we have done to it, the more it costs us". Does that mean that the lower line B8 cymbals were made with a less expensive version of B8?
The more expensive a cymbal is, the better sound-quality you have, which means the more extensive is the hammering and lathing and other parameters.
Was less rolling involved in creating the 505 and 404 blanks compared to the 2002? Same with the Stambuls and Dixies?
This I don't know, rolling did not happen at PAISTE and Sound-Development in general had nothing to do with it, Robert was involved with the rolling process, he was in touch with the metal foundry.
When creating the Signature line, did you and Robert experiment with several different alloys (B12, B14, B18)? Or did Robert (or you) know very early on that B15 was the alloy the two of you wanted to work with?
Robert came up with the idea to use B15 for cymbals, which nobody had done so far. This alloy existed already, but nobody thought of using it for cymbals. Robert was in touch with the chief metallurgist of the foundry. This man played the organ (Bach) and was very musical, because of this circumstance, he had a great understanding for cymbal sounds. He came down to the PAISTE factory many times, because the B15 had to be a very "special" B15 version to make the cymbals sound as good as possible. This development process took about two years before we built our first B15 cymbal.
The Sound creation series:
What is your favorite Sound creation model?
The 22" Dark Ride.
Were there any cymbals you created that were strictly your idea and Robert let you completely develop the cymbal by yourself?
Yes, there were several cymbals which were my idea. Sometimes I had to convince Robert concerning my idea and sometimes he was convinced right from the beginning. But from then on we did the development together, I never did it on my own. One of my ideas was the 22" Dark Ride which later lead into the Sound Creation cymbal line. To create this cymbal was a big challenge even for Robert, because it was absolutely a new step in creating a new cymbal sound for Paiste.
My understanding is that Jack DeJohnette was heavily involved with the development of the original 602 dark ride. Can you recall how Jack got involved, when did you develop the cymbal (what year) and who else was involved?
You’re right, Jack was heavily involved in the developing of the Dark Ride. After I signed up Jack DeJohnette I asked him to be part of developing the 22" Dark Ride. He was in my opinion, the right man to do so. There was nobody else really involved in Sound Development and I don't remember the exact year.
Who had the idea and or made the decision to create a whole series (Sound creation) around the dark ride?
Robert and myself.
Sound creations were such a departure from Paiste’s bright clean sound, Zildjian would take almost another decade after they bought the rights of the Zildjian “K” from Gretsch and start producing them, why was the Sound creation series so far ahead of its time?
I told Robert since the first half of the seventies that Paiste needs a darker sound which would hopefully turn on Jazz drummers. So far they were not attracted to Paiste because the sound was too bright and too clean for them. To be honest, I came up with the idea for the 22" Dark ride because I wanted to have a cymbal like that for myself!
I bought many different records for Robert and the two of us were spending nights (including beer and good red wine) listening to many Jazz players and their cymbal sound (like Tony Williams, Steve Gadd, Al Foster, who became a Paiste endorser later on, Elvin Jones and many more). This helped Robert to understand what sound I was talking about.
What is your impression of the new 602 modern essentials series? Do you think they have some of the Sound creation DNA in them?
Yes kind of, in fact, this is the last cymbal line I was involved in developing. Since Sound-Development was working on an update of the classic Formula 602, we were working on a crossover between the Formula 602 and the Twenty line (today the Masters Collection). I contacted Vinnie Colaiuta two years before that during the NAMM show in Los Angeles, I showed him some Twenty Prototypes, he was very impressed. It took us two years from then to develop the MODERN ESSENTIALS together with Vinnie (he was in Nottwil three times: at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of this development). By then Vinnie was ready to join Paiste (2012), this was my last coup for Paiste!
Along with sound development, I understand you also helped a lot of drummers attain endorsements, how did that work?
Either way when they were visiting the factory or at concerts and festivals (Montreux and at the Berlin Jazz Festivals), we had always our own room next to the stage with a lot of stands with cymbals on them (just our top-class cymbals). Robert and I were listening to the sound-checks of the different bands, after that we asked the drummers if they would like to check out our cymbals in our "cymbal room". The drummers could test them and also compare them with their own cymbals, they also could put a cymbal-set together and try the cymbals at the live-gig if they felt like it.
Did you or artist relations actively look for new talent and or did drummers contact you and then artist relations decided whom to sign?
It happened both ways, but PAISTE did not just look for new talent, when Robert and I went to concerts or festivals we contacted very well-known drummers and big names which played other cymbal brands. And we tried to convince them about the PAISTE sound, most of the time that worked, and a lot of drummers were very impressed to meet Robert in person! It does not mean that I signed everybody by myself, very often Robert and I did it together.
Who are some of your endorsers that you are most proud of signing?
Jack DeJohnette, John Bonham, Ed Blackwell, Paul Lovens, Carl Palmer, Tony Oxley, Al Foster, Stewart Copeland, Airto Moreira, Paul Motian, Jon Christensen, Sunny Murray, Terry Bozzio, Vinnie Colaiuta (Erik Paiste did sign up Vinnie, but I made it possible that this could happen).
Any good stories?
Sunny Murray was driving with his car from Paris to Nottwil to check out some cymbals. Robert offered him to sleep in his house next to the factory, since the arriving of Sunny was expected around midnight, Robert was waiting and waiting... no Sunny Murray! Five o'clock in the morning the phone started ringing: Sunny's car had broken down just a few miles after he passed the Swiss border, so Robert had to jump in his car and drive to Geneva and pick him up!
How did you sign up John Bonham?
In July of 1971, when he was visiting the factory in Nottwil.
Was Paiste contacted by the band's management or did Bonham contact Paiste directly asking for an endorsement?
Before John did visit the factory, there was a longtime communication happening between the management of Led Zeppelin and Paiste. But I was not involved in that process.
Did Carmine Appice have any influence on Bonham getting an endorsement (like he did with Ludwig)?
This I don't know. John did not mention the name of Carmine concerning this subject, at least not with me.
When Bonham got his endorsement did he come to the factory and pick out the cymbals himself and did he come to the factory often throughout the 70’s?
Yes, but just the one time early on. We did visit him when he was playing in Montreux however.
Did you ever get a chance to show him some Sound creations or China types cymbals? If so, what did he think?
No, John was not interested in China Type Cymbals or Sound creations.
Did Bonham have any special requests or ideas for a custom cymbal like the 602's that were made for Joe Morello?
No, he was happy with the Giant Beat and later with the 2002 cymbals, they had to be loud first!
We have a lot of live pictures showing Bonham was still playing Giant beats (and 602 hi hats!) all the way into the spring of 1973 and continued to use his Giant beat ride through the '75 tour. Do you know why it took him so long to switch to 2002s (my understanding is he really liked Giant beats and didn't want to stop using them)?
John liked the Giant Beat cymbals because they were rougher and louder than the 2002 and that's what he needed.
Do you have some interesting stories working with Paiste drummers/endorsers (particularly from the 70’s)?
Yeah, there are many interesting stories. A very good one is in the late 70's when I hung out two nights in a row with John Bonham in the musicians' bar at the Montreux Jazz Festival. We talked about the drummers Earl Palmer, Al Jackson Jr, James Gadson and Zigaboo Modeliste from the Meters. John was also very enthusiastic about the music of the labels Tamla Motown and Stax records. We both got pretty drunk and had a great time!
In 2016, Fredy Studer’s active membership in Sound Development ended. He will continue his association with Paiste as an endorser of international status and as an advisor and mentor to the current Sound Development team.
We are eternally grateful that he took the time to answer our questions!