Toontrack SDX: Decades By Al Schmitt EDUCATION

A massive collection of drums recorded by a prolific audio craftsman: Al Schmitt

The Toontrack Decades SDX was recorded at Capitol Studios and comes with five drum kits, all handpicked to represent a specific sound or era in Al’s career. Expect a palette of immaculate drum sounds encapsulating not only a lifetime of experience working at the apex of the industry, but just as much a personal and reflective collection of kits that in a way represents his entire body of work.

From jazz and big band to rock, fusion, pop, funk and AOR – the Decades SDX covers all the styles that can be traced back to Al’s illustrious lifetime achievement.


  • Produced by 23-time Grammy Award-winning engineer/mixer Al Schmitt
  • Recorded at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles, CA
  • Five (5) kits (Slingerland, Pearl, Yamaha, Ludwig, Leedy)
  • 12 snares, nine (9) kicks as well as a broad collection of hi-hats and cymbals
  • Includes several iconic original instruments, like the original snare drum used by Jeff Porcaro on Toto’s “Rosanna” as well as Steve Ferrone’s personal drum kit.
  • Brushes and/or mallets available on select kits/instruments
  • Drums from the 1920s through the late 1990s
  • Recorded with an additional seven room microphones for playback in stereo up to 9.1 systems 

Al Schmitt is a recording engineer and and producer. At 88 years old, with a career spanning 7 decades, Schmitt has won 23 Grammy Awards and recorded/produced over 150 gold and platinum albums. Needless to say, he is the most successful engineer/mixer in history, despite not necessarily being a household name. His legacy has seemingly flown under the radar, despite his name almost certainly being on a record (or several) in your collection.

Schmitt was inducted into the TEC Awards Hall of Fame in 1997; in 2006, he received the Grammy Trustees Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2014, he received an honorary doctorate from Berklee College of Music. A few years back, in 2015, Schmitt received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, just outside the Capitol Records building which has been his second home since 1976. To date, he is the only recording engineer with a star, recognising his contributions to the music industry.

Al Schmitt is nothing short of a living legend and one of the most important figures in recording history... but where did it all start?

The early years... 
Schmitt grew up in New York City, shadowing his uncle, a producer, as a child. He would eventually serve in the United States Navy before working at Apex Recording Studios alongside the legendary Tom Dowd (Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, Bobby Darin) at 19 years old. Though it isn’t around today, Manhattan’s Apex Studios was a well known jazz studio of the late ’40s and ’50s. Miles Davis’s Miles Davis and Horns was partially recorded at Apex in 1951.

By the late 1950s, Schmitt made the move to Los Angeles where he began working at Radio Recorders in Hollywood. Radio Recorders owes its name to the popular radio shows it recorded throughout the ’40s and ’50s. Over the years, countless musicians are reported to have entered the facility, including Billie Holiday, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, and Frank Zappa, amongst others. 

Schmitt eventually moved to RCA in the early ’60s where he became a staff engineer. It was there where he engineered albums for Henry Mancini, Cal Tjader, Al Hirt, Rosemary Clooney, Liverpool Five, The Astronauts, and Sam Cooke. As RCA’s very first house engineer, Schmitt recalls sessions with Sam Cooke, Ike and Tina Turner, and Henry Mancini, all in the same day.  Also engineering Elvis Presley’s recording sessions at RCA for his first post-army film, G.I. Blues, in 1960.

By 1966, Schmitt had left RCA to become an independent producer. After making this move, he would go on to produce albums for Jefferson Airplane, Eddie Fisher, Glenn Yarborough, Jackson Browne, and Neil Young.  

After roughly a decade of working as an independent producer on pivotal albums in music history, Schmitt rededicated himself to engineering by the mid-’70s, making his second home at Capitol Records in 1976. He was also featured in an ad for AMS Neve’s 88R console, currently housed in Capitol Records Studio A.

Since then, his most significant collaborators have been Diana Krall (with whom he’s won three of his 23 Grammy Awards), Paul McCartney, Madonna, and Natalie Cole.

Al's recording techniques..... Having been brought up in the days of single-track mono recording, Schmitt has learned that skilled mic selection and placement is key. He’s somewhat notoriously “anti-EQ,” which is an approach he learned early on from mentor Tom Dowd, who taught him how to use microphones as equalisers. If something doesn’t sound right, try moving the mic around. If the sound is too dark, use a brighter mic. Schmitt records and mixes with no EQ. It’s almost impossible to imagine what that must be like according to today’s standards!

When recording big bands and ensembles, Schmitt isn’t concerned with microphone bleed, either. He understands that leakage can actually make things sound much bigger than they are. The only time to worry about leakage is if you’re using bad mics, because bad microphones means bad leakage. If you’re using great mics, then the leakage will be, too! Schmitt comes from the days when there weren’t headphones, so performers had to hear themselves and each other in the room together. He set’s musicians up as close together as possible and lets the leakage contribute to his sound.

Al Schmitt is widely recognised as the most successful engineer of all time, with countless Grammy Awards, gold and platinum certifications, and acknowledgements. He is one of the most respected engineers ever, and his contributions to the music industry are simply unparalleled.

THE DRUMS (download the PDF on the right for a full instrument overview)

The rise of jazz and swing in the early 20th century wasn’t only a milestone for music on a whole, it was also epoch-making in terms of drums. This is the era when we went from an often random collection of percussive instruments to standardizing what we still refer to as a classic ‘drum kit’ setup. These original drums from the 1930s and 1940s were selected as a homage to the very beginning of Al’s career and his work with the pioneering artists that defined the genre. Problem getting the drums to cut through the horn section in your mix? This kit’s got you covered.

This genuine 1930s kit combines two legendary drum brands and serves as our tribute to Al’s work with immortal crooners like Frank Sinatra and many others. The original calfskins on all instruments produce that uniquely warm and time-accurate tone. Great for any jazz context – ideal for big band arrangements.


Al’s more recent work with award-winning vocal and small ensemble jazz artists like Diana Krall, Natalie Cole and others is represented by this kit. If there is a “studio standard” for drums, this is it. These drums have an almost eerie way of combining balance, nuance and detail.

There probably are no better suited drums than these to pay tribute to Al’s work on seminal albums by the likes of Al Jarreau, George Benson, Steely Dan and the Yellowjackets. Looking for that unmistakable 1970s dry, deep, round and in-your-face type of tone? This is it – complete with some of Al’s signature dampening, often a “must” during this very era.

The same set but recorded with thin towels covering all drums. The result? A tight, snappy and muffled tone with loads of transient punch while still maintaining that heartwarmingly thick resonance. This excessively muffled way of deadening the tone was used a lot during the 1970s. Listen to Al Jarreau and Steely Dan (to name a few) and you’ll hear it.

This unique prototype set was picked as a reference to Al’s work with some of the biggest AOR and melodic rock acts of the 1980s. Looking for the “million dollar” drum tone? This is it – punchy yet silky smooth.


To inspire and enable you to make music immediately, the Decades SDX includes a total of 42 mix-ready presets showcasing an amazing width and scope of use.

The first set of presets were crafted by Al Schmitt himself in Studio C at Capitol Studios. Al’s approach to mixing begins at the very start of a recording where he applies his unparalleled knowledge of microphones to achieve his signature drum sounds from the outset. A diverse palette of warm, organic presets were created in Superior Drummer 3 by careful balancing of microphone levels, blending of different reverbs and subtle use of the Comp 670 compressor in Superior Drummer 3. The results are the familiar drum sounds that document the iconic recordings of Al’s
illustrious career.

These presets were created by Toontrack’s own Head of Sound Design, Mattias Eklund, and provide the perfect contrast to those created by Al Schmitt. Using Al’s pristine recordings as a starting point, Mattias has unleashed his trademark creativity, sculpting a variety of tones that range
from classically vintage to edgy and modern.

In addition to the mix presets, there are a total of 11 kit presets that enable you to quickly access and audition all the different kits and configurations included in the Decades SDX.

The making of the Decades SDX

Walkthrough with Al...

Norman on te Modern Jazz Kit

The Ballroom Swing Kit:

The 1930s Broadway Kit:

The 1980s Rock & Fusion Kit:

The Modern Jazz Kit: 

The 1970s Soul & Tight Pop Kits:

The Mixer: 

The Presets: 


The Articulations: 

The MIDI: 

The Ballroom Swing Kit:


Getting that big '80s reverb 

The perfect snare stack

The ultimate fat drum mix

Make the brushes fat!

Make hybrid kits

Managing the Macros

Getting creative with reverb

Did you say pre-delay?

Please click on the link below to view the download and install guide for this product.

Customer Reviews


Press Quotes

"for Toontrack's massive [95GB] new Superior Drummer 3 expansion, American production legend Al Schmitt has put together five custom kits drawing on his long and richly varied recording history and multi-sampled them at the equally legendary Capitol Studios. Spanning from a 1930s Leedy/Ludwig up to a 1990s Yamaha Maple Custom, via a 40s Slingerland, a 70s Ludwig (open and - yes! - towelled) and Steve Ferrone's prototype Pearl MLX (80s), and throwing in a ton of extra snares and kicks, it's a tour de force of diverse drumming delights." - 9/10 COMPUTER MUSIC

Tech Specs

Product Type:


Product Specs:

  • Toontrack Superior Drummer 3 is required to use this expansion
  • 64-bit Windows 7 or newer
  • 8 GB RAM (16 GB RAM or more recommended)
  • Mac OS X 10.6 or higher 64-bit Intel-based Mac with 8 GB RAM (16 GB RAM or more recommended).