Mike port­noy

The ever-busy prog-master shows us around his mega setup

Rhythm - - CONTENTS - Words: Stuart Wil­liams pho­tos: Adam Gas­son

Mike Port­noy has long been known for his love of big kits. From his hulk­ing acrylic ‘Mi­rage Mon­ster’ to the equally huge ‘Si­amese Mon­ster’, Port­noy has al­ways sur­rounded him­self with an ar­ray of toms, ef­fects cym­bals, per­cus­sion and more. His lat­est – armed for prog-metal su­per­group Sons Of Apollo – is no dif­fer­ent. “Ev­ery­thing in my kit gets used.” Mike tells us. “It’s not just there to look cool, ev­ery­thing has a use or a pur­pose at some point in the songs.”

A long-term en­dorsee of the brands he plays, Mike’s set­ups are ever-evolv­ing around a core setup, so we took the chance to take a look around dur­ing SOA ’s re­cent Euro­pean tour. If you’ve ever thought your load-in was tough, set your flight cases to stunned.


“I’ve been play­ing Tama for 35 years now. I bought my first Tama kit when I was a teenager in high school. I guess most peo­ple choose their brands based on their favourite drum­mers, and back then my favourite drum­mers were Neil Peart who was play­ing Tama at the time, Bill Bru­ford, Si­mon Phillips and Ste­wart Copeland, so I wanted to play Tama. So, yeah, I’ve been with them for 35 years with the ex­cep­tion of a cou­ple of years in the early 90s when I played an­other brand. Other than that I’ve been with them pretty faith­fully all this time, I even have their logo tat­tooed on my arm, I’m a lifer!

“I stay with them for two rea­sons. First of all the prod­ucts them­selves. I’ve al­ways loved their drums and hard­ware, the dura­bil­ity. I’ve been play­ing them my whole life, and I’m just so ac­cus­tomed to the feel and look of ev­ery­thing that they make. But the other thing is the re­la­tion­ship. Ever since I signed on as an en­dorser in the mid-90s, they have treated me with so much re­spect. They get me what­ever I need, when­ever and wher­ever I need it. That kind of sup­port is re­ally im­por­tant in the re­la­tion­ship be­tween an artist and their com­pany, so I value that.”


“I’ve played Sabian since 1993, it’s been 25 years for me. Once again, their prod­uct speaks for them­selves. They’re con­stantly try­ing new things with their cym­bals. And it’s the same as with Tama, it’s a fam­ily. I don’t think I’d ever look any­where else. I have the Sabian logo tat­tooed on me as well! I’m a ded­i­cated artist, I’m not one of those guys who jumps around from brand to brand. If I find a com­pany I like and re­spect and the feel­ings are mu­tual, then I’m very loyal.”

Sons Of Apollo Kit – Tama Star­class ic Bub­inga

“I call it ei­ther the Apol­lo­nian Mon­ster or The Kit of Apollo, I haven’t de­cided on the name

for it. This is ba­si­cally my Sons Of Apollo kit. It’s a Bub­inga kit with a mir­rored fin­ish. It has been through sev­eral dif­fer­ent in­car­na­tions. The first time I used it was with Adren­a­line Mob back in about 2012. Since then I’ve used it with Twisted Sis­ter, and last year on the Shat­tered Fortress tour. This is the most up-to-date ver­sion. We’ve changed a few things here and there, but for the most part it’s been pretty con­sis­tent. The gong drum on the right, the Oc­to­bans on the left, three rack toms, three floor toms, it’s a pretty con­sis­tent big kit.

“For me, Bub­inga strikes me as a very warm sound, which I like. But to be hon­est, I’m not one of those peo­ple who’s very anal about dif­fer­ent woods and dif­fer­ent types. I’m very open to try­ing dif­fer­ent things, and be­ing that I play in so many dif­fer­ent bands with dif­fer­ent con­fig­u­ra­tions in dif­fer­ent coun­tries, there have been times where I’ve had to use a sup­plied kit. So I’m very open to try­ing dif­fer­ent things – birch/bub­inga, maple, or what­ever else.”


“I’ve been us­ing Remo’s new Color­tone [Em­peror] heads, which I re­ally dig. First of all they look re­ally cool, but they’re very warm. They’re not overly ringy, and they have a lot of con­trol to them. The ones that are on this kit are the Ebony Em­per­ors. An­other re­ally cool fea­ture that my drum tech thought of was putting mir­rored [Starfire] chrome heads on the bot­tom.

“With the Color­tones I’ve found that [muf­fling] is not needed. Some­times, if

I’m play­ing a reg­u­lar Em­peror I’ve found that I’ll need to put some duct tape or some Moon­gels on there, but the Color­tones are pretty dark and not very ringy so I don’t re­ally need it.”


“I tune them by ear, and I just know what my ear likes. I pre­fer it when the oc­to­bans aren’t tuned too high. You don’t want them to sound like tim­bales, I like them to sound like co­conuts with a lit­tle bit of a lower tun­ing, even though they’re go­ing to be nat­u­rally a lit­tle higher to be­gin with. I also have an LP tim­bal­ito all the way over on the left side. It’s re­ally hard to reach! I use that in ‘Signs Of The Time’ and ‘Lines In The Sand’.”

Tama Mike Port­noy Melody Master snare

“[The throwoff] was some­thing I came up with about 20 years ago when the snare came out. That was one of the unique fea­tures – hav­ing the three-way throwoff. So in­stead of be­ing just on or off you can switch it be­tween a tight or loose or off set­ting. So you can switch it from song to song or within the same song. It’s al­most like hav­ing two snares in one. The one that’s on my kit now is one of the Bub­inga ones with the Mike Port­noy am­bi­gram. The older ones had the Dream Theater sym­bol, but once I left we changed it to my name.

“I usu­ally keep it on the loose snare set­ting for the most part, and I like the top head to be tight.”

Ped­als – Tama Speed Co­bra

“I pretty much play the Speed Co­bra, but once again, I’m in six dif­fer­ent bands at the mo­ment with dif­fer­ent set­ups, so if there’s an Iron Co­bra sup­plied some­times, then that’s fine too. I’m re­ally not picky about that. But the ones that stay on my kits are the Speed Co­bras. I keep the beater kind of half­way be­tween my leg and the head so it’s kind of float­ing. But I play my kick drums re­ally strangely. I’m al­ways heels-up, and my toe is usu­ally around half­way up the ped­al­board. So my foot is barely on the pedal and I’m kind of just press­ing down on the pedal with my toes. I have to ad­mit, it’s a lit­tle un­ortho­dox.”


“I al­ways have a mid and a low Max stack with ev­ery band that I play with, and I usu­ally have all three Max Splashes: the 7", 9" and 11". They’re pretty much sta­ples with ev­ery one of my set­ups. I like them su­per-tight. In fact, I usu­ally keep all my cym­bals tight, there’s not much swing to them. I think I might have been the first [to re­lease a sig­na­ture stack]. I think Terry Bozzio’s came out af­ter mine, but I kind of mod­elled it on Terry’s. Be­fore he had his own Ra­dius se­ries with Sabian, he was stack­ing cym­bals with his pre­vi­ous com­pany, and I was try­ing to get that by stack­ing a bunch of

Sabi­ans. Even­tu­ally, I de­cided to make my own Max Stax. Now there’s a lot of dif­fer­ent ones, but I al­ways did it be­cause I loved that quick trashy sound. My son Max needs to come out with his own sig­na­ture line named af­ter me!”

Cym­bal place­ment

“If you look at the crashes and chi­nas they’re al­most com­pletely sym­met­ri­cal. I’ve al­ways had the two big ones up front and 18" and 19", then I have the two chi­nas. On the right I have an ad­di­tional 20" crash, then we have the O-Zones and the ‘Lamp­shades’ on both sides. Those aren’t even avail­able, they’re pro­to­types that Chris at Sabian showed me and I ab­so­lutely loved the sound of them. They ac­tu­ally sound a bit like fire­crack­ers. I used them on the Sons Of Apollo al­bum and they’ve pretty much stayed there ever since. They pop al­most like a gun­shot, and they cer­tainly sound dif­fer­ent to any­thing else I have.

“So it’s pretty sym­met­ri­cal, it’s not iden­ti­cal on both sides, but it’s pretty close. My body is al­ways twist­ing and turn­ing, so ev­ery­thing is al­ways getting hit!”

Cym­bal choice

“I try all dif­fer­ent ones. I have some that are old faith­fuls for me, like the sig­na­ture Max stuff, and there’s al­ways cer­tain AAX and HHX ones that I like. But I’ve been us­ing a lot of the Ar­ti­sans lately, they’re re­ally nice. Sabian has so many dif­fer­ent awe­some cym­bals, I just say to Chris, ‘Just send me what­ever and I’ll put them on the kit!’”


“I al­ways like su­per-small splashes, and ob­vi­ously most cym­bal com­pa­nies just do the 8", 10" and 12"s, so I wanted to go with the odd sizes; 7", 9" 11" just to of­fer some­thing dif­fer­ent. But I have the abil­ity to have three dif­fer­ent sounds, and the ones on the right are X-hats, there are no ped­als at­tached to them.”


“I’m us­ing my sig­na­ture Pro Mark 420X sticks. They have the Ac­tive Grip and the black fin­ish – what­ever band I’m tour­ing with I have the cus­tom band lo­gos on them.I was just say­ing to my tech yesterday, it’s in­cred­i­ble how durable the splashes are. Al­ready on this tour, I’ve bro­ken some big crashes and chi­nas, yet these lit­tle 7" and 9" splashes are hold­ing up through the whole tour. I joke that I prob­a­bly should have made them a lit­tle more frag­ile so peo­ple would have to buy more!”


“I’ve got three sets of hi-hats on the kit. There’s a tra­di­tional set of 14"s on the left, then over on the right there’s a set of 12"s that I keep closed all the time, then a set of 13"s that I keep open all the time. I hold my left stick with the butt-end out and my right stick with the tip out. It makes my tech crazy hav­ing to wrap half the sticks one way and half the other!”

Above: Mike at his Tama Star­clas­sic Bub­inga ‘Apol­lo­nian Mon­ster’ kit Top right: The Sons Of Apollo kit, from the driv­ing seat Mid­dle right: Mike’s Max Stax sig­na­ture cym­bals were one of the first stacks on the mar­ket Bot­tom right: The lat­est ver­sion of Tama’s Mike Port­noy Melody Master snare drum

Far left As well as 14”, 16” and 18” floor toms, Mike uses a gong drum Above There are three sets of hi-hats in the kit for a range of open/ closed sounds Bot­tom left Tama Oc­to­bans: “I ike them to sound like co­conuts” Far left Mike has been a fan of the Tama Speed Co­bra since it launched

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