I remember when I was ten years old, and my dad started showing me the music he listened to during his college years. The first album he put on was Moving Pictures by Rush, and that’s when I remember my love of drums began.
The album stars right on the crash. Boom! The kick drum right on; the drive of the hi-hat never waning; then, the snare wakes you up like a textbook being dropped on a desk! It’s him. The legend, The Human Metronome; Neil Peart. I was instantly hooked. My dad showed me pictures of Rush and I was mesmerized by the sheer size of Neil’s kit. It always looked like he had to be craned into his kit.
Pert’s complicated kit leads me to my main topic: 3 main components of any drum kit. There’s almost an endless journey to making the perfect drum kit, or coming up with new ways to tweak it over your career. With different shell woods and dimensions, to cymbals set ups, hardware placement, or even to finishes on your shells, it can seem a bit daunting.
When talking to my students about making a drum kit, I like to break it down into three categories: drum shells, cymbals, and hardware (thrones, pedals, stands, etc.). The shells are the heart of the kit, giving us our own “melody:” from low bass hits, to punchy, crisp snares, and melodic tom lines. Cymbals fill in the drive of the kit with crisp hats, washy rides, or accents from big crashes to tiny splashes. Then, of course, we cannot forget the parts that hold our drums together, the hardware. Depending on your budget, prices on kits can range vastly: seeing some beginner kits starting at $300, to incredibly specific drumkits like Neil’s estimating around $15k or more! Try and keep it reasonable, and build slowly if you need to. In each category, I’ll go over certain terms you’ll see when researching equipment, and guesstimate price points depending on the level of equipment.
One key component when shopping for drums is that the size of a kit is determined by how many drums there are (for example a 5-piece is usually a snare, three toms, and a kick drum). Cymbals and hardware do not count as pieces. When looking online for drum kits, if you want with with hardware and cymbals, they’re called complete kits, when it’s just drums, it’s shell kits.
With drums, its dimensions and wood determine the sound of each shell. The wood gives the overall sound, whereas the dimension gives each drum a “pitch” in your configuration. In general, the smaller the width and depth of a drum, the brighter and more pop a drum will have. So, the larger the width and depth gives a deeper sound with more boom.
The drum will have a particular sound to it which is determined by the type of wood. With a certain warmth to it, maple wood tends to be the most balanced of other woods. Birch gives more attack and cut, bringing up higher tones, more so than poplar; mahogany bring out lower tones, and depth. When I started researching the Pearl Reference series kits, I used their descriptions on woods and dimensions as a great starting point. For more detail check out this article from Modern Drummer.
The next big part of our kit is our cymbals. Just like shells cymbals can have very specific sounds like dry, bright, dark, washy, wet, and ping-y. Cymbals can be very affordable, like the Zildjian ZBT cymbal pack, or quite expensive if you grab the Zildjian Custom K pack. The prices of cymbals depend on the material quality and size, and sometimes the condition if you are buying used equipment. Cymbals are very unique percussion instruments, and that each cymbal has its own sound, even compared to an identical model. When looking for cymbals, I suggest you find as many videos on a particular cymbal you’ve been eying, and listen to all the different models. If you have the opportunity, try and hear them in person, and compare them to other similar models if they have the inventory. But, no matter how long you search and build, you will always be looking for great cymbals.
Last, and certainly not least, we get down to the hardware of the drum kit. Do NOT slack on this equipment, as this is the skeleton of the drums. The first thing drummers must work on is feeling comfortable behind the drums. If you’re having to over reach for cymbals, missing rimshots on the snare, or twisting too far to hit a floor tom, that’s a huge issue. When looking for hardware, start with the throne, since you’ll be sitting there the whole time. Then, go for pedals (kick pedal and hi-hat stand), and pick some depending on your feel. Just like other drum equipment, the price can vary all over the spectrum. The more expensive the gear, usually the more durable, adjustable, and responsive it will be. But in the end, your playing will determine the sound you make!
With over sixteen years of experience, I am still finding out what configurations I like. I’m always looking for cymbals, and listening to different drums. Your sound will always be evolving with your technique, and drummers must be ready for any gig. Your biggest ally in music is time. Don’t forget it! So keep working on your instrument, and remember to have fun. Who knows, maybe your next hit will start with a crash too.