You are here

NI Abbey Road 60s Drums

Sample Library By Paul White
Published April 2010

Native Instruments bring you the classic drum sounds of Abbey Road, lovingly sampled at the studio itself.

NI Abbey Road 60s Drums

In creating the specialist drum sample library at the heart of Abbey Road 60s Drums, Native Instruments collaborated with Abbey Road Studios in London to record two classic vintage kits (Gretsch 'Round Badge' and Ludwig Hollywood drums teamed with Zildjian cymbals) in Studio Two, where countless legendary tracks were recorded. The Ludwig sample set includes the infamous 'tea towel on the head' (the drum, not the player!) variant that was employed by Ringo during some of the Beatles sessions. Though the drum sounds have been recorded as faithfully as possible, using vintage analogue gear where practical, there's scope to modify the sounds within the player engine to cover both vintage and modern palettes. The result is a musically satisfying virtual drum instrument that provides something a little different to the usual offerings.


The Options page gives you control over key range, velocity, snare-mic bleed and transpose settings, as well as a series of randomisation options.The Options page gives you control over key range, velocity, snare-mic bleed and transpose settings, as well as a series of randomisation options.

The Gretsch Round badge, White Marine Pearl kit dates from the early 1960s and features a big 24‑inch kick and just two toms, one 13‑inch and one 16‑inch. This was recorded using a tube console, to really nail that vintage early-'60s sound.

The Ludwig kit is a 1967 Hollywood with a 22‑inch kick and 12‑, 13‑ and 16‑inch toms. Snare drums used on the sessions comprised a Ludwig chrome Supra‑Phonic 400, a Ludwig wooden Jazz Festival, a Ludwig Mahogany and a Slingerland Radio King, all dating from the mid‑'60s or earlier. A selection of vintage Zildjian cymbals were used, including a riveted cymbal, something that was quite popular at the time to add sizzle to the ride sound. The Ludwig kit was recorded through a later solid‑state EMI console.

All the samples in Abbey Road 60s Drums were recorded by Abbey Road engineer Mirek Stiles and produced by Peter Cobbin. Mirek's work includes the Beatles Anthology 5.1 remix, the Beatles Love album and work on material by Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney and John Lennon. Abbey Road Studio Two is over 60 feet long, 38 feet wide and 24 feet high, which, in conjunction with its 1.2 second reverb time, gives it its distinctive sound.

The list of microphones used on the sessions includes AKG D19s and 20s, Neumann KM56s and U47s, STC 4038s and Sony C38As, and the recordings were made using a Studer J37 four‑track, one‑inch tape machine or a Studer A80 one‑inch eight‑track. Even the mixing desks were period‑correct, with both an EMI TG MkII and a REDD.1, accompanied by Siemens V72 valve amplifiers, used on the sessions. Digitisation was via Prism ADA8 A-D converters.

Under the hood is a collection of more than 29000 24‑bit samples, making up a library equivalent to 14 gigabytes of uncompressed audio, though a lossless compression system reduces the required disc space to a little under half of this. The reason why so many samples are needed for just two kits is that, in addition to up to 30 velocity layers, there are also up to six alternative versions of each same‑velocity drum hit, to impart some natural variation, and each kit has a choice of two snare drums. Many of the drums and hi‑hats are also sampled with both left-hand and right‑hand hits, plus there are separate samples for the close mics and the overhead/room mics. Additionally, there are samples of bleed from the other drums that can be mixed in, plus extra percussion in the form of tambourine, stick hits and real hand-claps.


The Mixer page is where you can balance the drums and mix in the room and overhead mics.The Mixer page is where you can balance the drums and mix in the room and overhead mics.

In order to offer maximum flexibility without making things too complicated, the instrument controls are set out over just three pages: Drums, Mixer and Options. In this respect there are parallels with drum programs from companies such as Toontracks and FXpansion.

At the top right of the Drum page, which is dominated by a graphic of the selected kit, is an area that allows the overall kit tuning and panning to be set. The controls to the right of the kit graphics enable individual kit elements to be tuned and to have their volume envelopes tweaked for longer or shorter decay times — a bit like virtual gaffer tape. You can also adjust the levels of the overhead and room microphone mixes for each drum. Interestingly, the 'per drum' attack, hold and release times act after any room or overhead sound has been added, so you can really shorten the decay for that 'cardboard box' sound in a very controllable way.

The kick drum is miked using one mic inside the shell and one outside, with the ability to balance the contributions from these. The snare has the usual top and bottom mics, again with an option to balance them. Clicking on the picture of a drum causes it to sound. If you click the check box for the second snare option, you have to wait until its samples to load up, which takes another half minute or so, but once they're loaded it takes rather less time to switch between them.

A further panel at the right of the screen accesses the various articulations for the selected drum — head position, rimshot, flam and so forth. Each of these articulations has an adjustable volume envelope, with control over attack, hold and decay parameters. Each articulation can be assigned to its own MIDI note to allow for comprehensive kit mapping, but the default is pretty sensibly planned and isn't too far away from the GM standard.

The Mixer Page behaves like the drum section of the studio console, allowing you to balance and pan the various mic feeds from the kit and to mix the close mics with the overhead/room mics. Familiar Solo and Mute buttons are provided, while buttons labelled Drums and Percussion flip the mixer controls between the standard kit drums and any additional percussion, such as tambourine, claps and drum-stick hits. I have to say that the hand claps are some of the best I've heard. All the kits have mono overhead mic faders and all but the earliest kits also have stereo overhead mic faders. When you bring up the room-mic fader, you can really hear that Studio Two 'school gym' vibe creeping in.

The third page deals with Options, and it's here that you can tweak the drum sounds by adjusting the amount of mic spill or by modifying the MIDI velocity behaviour of the instruments. Furthermore, you can opt to humanise the sound by adding a degree of randomness to volume, velocity, time, pitch and even EQ. An 'Exclude Direct Mics' option allows the samples of the close drum mics to be excluded from the randomisation parameters, to keep the effect more subtle. The random effects work really well, as long as you don't overdo the amounts.

In Use

Native Instruments have really gone to town on Abbey Road 60s Drums, with the full gamut of vintage drums, cymbals and mics all set up in the world-famous Studio 2.Native Instruments have really gone to town on Abbey Road 60s Drums, with the full gamut of vintage drums, cymbals and mics all set up in the world-famous Studio 2.

Installation was straightforward for me, but note that if you have the full version of Kontakt 4 already installed, running the first disc triggers a message to inform you that Kontakt Player can't be installed. This isn't a problem; just move onto the second disc and install that, so Kontakt 4 can take over as your play engine. Authorisation is via the NI Service Centre, as it is for their other plug‑ins. If you have the full version of Kontakt 4, you can use its extra editing features to further modify the drum sounds, but to be honest the controls you get with Abbey Road Drums are more than adequate.

The two basic kit sounds are very much of the period, with nicely rounded toms and kicks and a generally less splashy, less aggressive high-end than we're used to today. The use of a ribbon mic on the kick drum is a contributory factor, as is the customary choice of felt or rubber beater. As you'd expect, the external mic is deep and roomy, while the internal mic is tighter and more focused, and there's a very large tonal variation as you move the fader from internal mic to external. The tube console adds to the vintage vibe of the Gretsch kit, but if asked to describe the character, I'd say that the main difference is that it is closer to the sound of a nice kit played in a good room rather than the close‑miked, more processed‑sounding kits that we heard in the final quarter of the last century.

The kits have been set up so that Gretsch provides the early‑'60s character while the Ludwig kit is used for the late‑'60s sounds. Both kits come in Full, Lite and Vintage flavours. The same kit is used to create the Vintage sound set in both cases, and the overall result seems a little more spongy and more likely to melt into a mix than stand out above it, which is how drums were used back then. The heads have more of a vellum than a plastic character (though they're almost certainly plastic), resulting in a rich, plummy tone. Of course, the kit can be adjusted from tight and punchy to live and roomy, using the individual drum envelope controls, and as such is well‑suited to many '60s pop and blues styles, including a very passable Rolling Stones or early Fleetwood Mac impression. The second snare option is a little higher and crisper‑sounding, but both are great examples — you just have to pick the one that works best in the track. At longer envelope settings you can really hear the influence of the room, but if you want 'close and tight', pulling back the Hold and Decay times will do it.

Switching to the Ludwig kit produces a sound with more authority, something to drive the music along, but still without today's overblown top end. Again, the Vintage variant is a little softer and roomier, but it doesn't take much imagination to hear this kit driving along some of the Beatles classics or even some early Floyd art-school extravaganza. According to the recording notes, this kit benefited from the tea‑towel head‑damping treatment used on many sessions of the time — including, of course, the Beatles. However, the drums still have adequate ring to them, so if you want a more obviously damped sound you'll need to adjust the drum envelopes. Compared with the almost clinical precision of today's recorded drums, these kits are big on warmth and a little less presumptuous in the attack department; they exude so much character you can almost smell the dust.


I can't fault the recording quality or period authenticity of this library, and the amount of control you get allows plenty of customisation without bogging you down in excessively tweaky detail, but because of the size of these kits, they do take a minute or two to load. Light versions are included, which miss out the alternate hits, while retaining the velocity layers, and for pop music, where we're more used to tonal consistency, these sounded perfectly fine to me.

Vintage‑sounding drum kits are not to everyone's taste, but if you're after that period sound, it doesn't come any more authentic than having access to these great kits recorded in the very studio where so much pop music history was made.   


EZ Drummer's Vintage kit expander pack is one obvious alternative that offers only slightly less control over the sound, while having a similar user interface. FXpansion also offer vintage kits for BFD.


  • Wonderfully authentic '60s sound — but without the pedal squeaks.
  • Easy to use, with just the right degree of control provided.


  • The large kit-sample sets mean a loading time of a minute or two.


This instrument really nails the sound of the best‑recorded drum kits of the '60s. Wonderful.


99 Euros.

Native Instruments +49 30 61 10 35 1300.



Native Instruments US +1 866 556 6487.


Test Spec

  • Apple Mac Pro with 2 x 2.8GHz quad‑core Intel Xeon CPU and 10GB RAM, running Mac OS 10.5.7.