As a founding member of thrash-metal architects, Anthrax, Charlie Benante has been a force to be reckoned with and one of the most respected names in hard rock drumming since the early 1980s. Though the group has undergone a handful of lineup changes throughout the years (and almost succumbed to pressure that they change their name, during the post-9/11 anthrax letter scare) they’re still out there, offering up some of the most brutally fast and heavy music within the genre – and now with essentially (minus original guitarist, Dan Spitz) the band’s “classic” personnel lineup.
After a string of hugely successful appearances as part of “The Big Four” tours – Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax – in the past few years, Charlie and his bandmates are back out on the road supporting their recent release, Worship Music (Megaforce), an album widely praised as being amongst the strongest in Anthrax’s entire catalog. Benante recently took the time for a brief chat with MMR about what components make up his current rig, and why…
Q: Let’s dive right in and start talking gear. You’re a TAMA guy – how long have you been playing TAMA kits and what attracts you to them?
A: I’ve only played three brands of drums in my life. When I was younger I played Ludwig and Gretsch – both of which make some fantastic drums. But then TAMA came into the picture in the mid-‘80s; it seemed like all of my favorite drummers at the time were using TAMA, so I decided to go for a kit and really loved it. I especially love the hardware. It’s also a really versatile kit, but one that really suits my style of playing and our style of music. We’ve had a relationship ever since the ‘80s.
Q: There’s a Benante signature TAMA snare now, too.
A: That’s been in the making for quite a while. Playing hard rock or metal, I always wanted something that was really loud that the band could always hear, even over everything else. They don’t want to lose the snare drum because that’s the beat, really. And I’ve always loved metal snare drums. John Bonham always used metal snares and he had the greatest snare tone, ever. We just fooled around with the specs, and came up with a metal snare that has a black coating on the inside which controls some of the high-end sound and really brings the drum to life.
Q: You’ve also been a longtime Paiste endorser.
A: Yeah, I’ve been a Paiste endorser as long as I’ve been a TAMA endorser, I think. For me, Paiste is the Cadillac of cymbals. I find nothing in the other cymbals out there that I prefer. There are other good cymbals out there – don’t get me wrong – but a Paiste cymbal just goes well with me, with my playing. Their RUDE cymbal is, to me, beautiful. Again, cutting through the rest of the band, having that volume, is important for me, in particular. Listen to those Zeppelin records and you’ll hear Paiste cymbals all over everything.
Q: On to drumsticks. You’ve got a signature Vic Firth stick.
A: They came out with that at Winter NAMM a few years ago. This was a long time coming, as well. I had been looking for a stick that did the things that I really wanted a stick to do. I do a lot of riding on the crash cymbal and my sticks would just shred away and – boom! – I’d break them. With this one, I can play hard on the crash all night, onliterally one set of sticks without breaking any. It’s thicker towards the top, whereas most sticks
taper much earlier, and we also made it a little longer than usual. And Vic has that great grip stuff, [Vic Grip – Ed.] so you don’t have to use tape to keep a grip and that’s fantastic for me.
Q: What made you switch to Evans drumheads?
A: It’s a pretty good story: We were in the studio, up in upstate New York and we had just gotten a new kit brought in, and we put my typical heads that I used to play on, and we just could not get this kit to sing. It just didn’t sound good at ALL. We moved positions, we changed the heads, we changed the mics, we did everything. After we tried for, seriously, about four hours, we gave up and took a break for lunch. While on break, we stopped by the Long Island Drum Center – I knew some of the guys in there. I started telling them how we’d spent the morning and one of the guys gave me a bunch of Evans heads and said, “Take these, I guarantee you: you will hear a complete difference.” I was like, “What?!? It’s not going to be that easy.” Well, we put on those heads and suddenly the drums came to life. It was like night and day. From that moment on, I’ve been an Evans guy.
Q: We’re plowing right through all this stuff – just a few more questions. You use an LP cowbell, right?
A: I love them. I’ve always used Latin Percussion. I love they way they sound, they sound so f____g good. Everything about them was what I was looking for in a cowbell, y’know? And they last, which is important with me. I like to hit things hard and these cowbells take a beating.
Q: Your kick pedal arrangement is a little unusual. You use Iron Cobra pedals – nothing particularly outlandish about that – but you swap out the standard beater for Danmar Red Ball wooden beaters. Why’s that?
A: Well, Iron Cobra’s are really smooth and have nice reaction, so that’s why I go with them. As for the beater, I just prefer the weight of it, I like the
actual feeling of pushing something and hitting something. The only thing I don’t like is the blood coming out of my leg from the beater hitting them on the rebound. [laughs] That’s why I wear really high socks these days.
Q: Ouch! Okay, final question: You use a ddrum SE 4 trigger system. Why and when did you start with that?
A: I’ve been using those since the early ‘90s. I used to spend way too long on my monitors during sound-check and it just got out of hand. Someone
said, “You know – if you triggered your kick drums, you wouldn’t have to spend hours and hours on sound-check.” Ddrum made me a system with my own signature sounds and I’ve been using those ever since.
Q: Charlie, thanks for your time and best of luck out on tour.
A: My pleasure, man. See you out there!
TAMA (partial listing) – 5”x12” Mike Portnoy Signature Snare Drum, 6.5”x14” Charlie Benante Snare Drum, 18”x22” Bass Drum, four toms, two floor toms.
Evans - 12” onyx for side snare; 14” G14 for main snare; Hazy 300’s for all snare sides; G2 clears on all toms batters;
Black Resonants for all tom resonant heads; EQ3’s for kick batter heads.
Paiste (partial listing) – 16” RUDE Crash/Ride, 19” RUDE Crash/Ride, 18” Mega Bell Ride custom, Signature Dark Crisp Hi-Hat, multiple splashes, crashes, Nova Chinas, and additional hi-hats.
Vic Firth Charlie Benante Signature model (16 5/8”x.625”).
LP Cowbells; ddrum SE 4 Trigger
System; Speed Cobra Kick Pedal;
Danmar Bright Red Wood Beater.
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