Still the mainstay of most bands over beat boxes and pads that trigger a synthesizer, the best ones are still made from plies of solid wood.
Remo once tried to use a molded wood material, similar to particle board, and we tried one of these out. After only a few minutes playing the hardware areas showed chaffing and flaking, indicating that the wood was falling apart, literally at the seam points.
There is also fiber glass construction for drums and this is very effective from a cost and upkeep point of view, but the sound is vastly different from wooden drums. Not bad, mind you, just different and you have to get used to working with this sound.
So we go back to wood plies, of which five to nine plies are generally used to make the shells (the drum cylinder). Even on low cost sets like those from CB you get a shell that looks remarkably like a high end shell. In our studio we had both a CB-700 set used by one drummer for practice, and a top of the line Tama set whose owner made faces when he took the rims off both the Tama and CB sets and found the shells to look identical. So identical we all felt that came from the same plant.
The difference, however, between the $400 CB-700 set and the $2,000 Tama set was in the hardware and drilling of components. Tama was meticulous in drilling their holes for the hardware, while the CB set looked like it was done by best guess. Some of the hardware was slightly crooked. Also the hardware was very low grade.
If you’re buying a set of drums you might want to closely look at the shells and how the seam sits together. As with painted guitars, a drum shell that doesn’t look right or has a small alignment problem at the seam is often covered with vinyl, while the nicer looking, perfect seam shells stay as naked wood, stained generally in blonde, maple or dark brown walnut.
Hardware, including your rims, is one area that often always needs an upgrade with drums. We used to mix and match. One drummer we knew found a place that sold metal hardware items (not just drum parts but all things metal) by the pound and they bought all sorts of Rogers Drum closeouts which were part of the stock. So, he was getting Rogers memory locks, stand shafts and connecting hardware for pennies on the dollar.
Issues Photos copyright 1980-2004 E.R. Dingman
One drummer we worked with had a very expensive Slingerland blonde maple set (pictured above), valued at over $2,000. The high toms (this set had seven total toms, two high ones on a stand, two rack toms and two low toms on another floor stand, plus a traditional floor tom) were hard to reach and when the drummer canted them for better access the balance became unstable. Our solution to this problem was a Rogers memory lock counter weight that we found in a nearby drum shop. The shaft of the Rogers fit into the shaft of the Slingerland. The addition of the memory lock help assure it would stay in place. Now we could cant the 9 and 10 inch toms that sat on basically a cymbal type stand and the counterweight on the other side kept it from waddling when struck.
Memory locks, if you can find them, can be of great benefit. Once you find the correct height settings for your drum hardware you install a memory lock at the base to keep it there. The two parts of the memory lock can only join at one spot, so your hardware goes back together exactly as you use it, each time you set-up the kit. This means if you have a roadie or drum tech they can set your drums up and the hardware will be set perfectly.
Rims and lugs are another issue. Rims have to be very straight and well cast. The connecting lugs have to be very strong, tight and quiet. We had a situation in the recording studio with a set whose lugs rattled whenever something on the kit was slammed. We thought was the snares at first, but it turned out the be the lugs. A complete install of new, large, high quality lugs with strong springs to keep them in place fixed this problem.
As you can see, owing drums can be like owning a classic car. There is a lot of work and maintenance required to get almost any kit to play and sound right!
The rack tom mount is a weak point on lower costing sets. One of the first things you should consider doing is checking out a variety of high end sets and seeing whose rack mount hardware you can use – trying not to drill too many new holes.
Slingerland made an interesting rack mount set-up, using a ball and clamp process. Hard white nylon was molded over a metal stem and this seated into a very large collar, allow the drum to position the rack toms in several directions with no steps.
Some of the Rogers hardware for toms and cymbals used to scare me, for it was molded and hollow at the connection points with molded ridges.
Tama used oversized, shaped metal bars that were about half an inch thick with ridges machined along the sides. This was very effective, but unlike the Slingerland ball and socket you had to live with “steps” for your settings and had to unlock two pivot points to move the drum into a given position.
With Slingerland you unlocked one side of the collar, moved the drum to where you want it in most any position and then locked the clamp back down. The nylon ball was a good 2 inches in size so it was quite strong we never had a problem with this rig.
Ludwig made very flimsy hardware on their low cost sets, but some of their high end hardware had potential.
From what we saw, Tama made the best cymbal stands and drum thrones, but only in the high end. They had massive, double metal, extra long feet that gave a wide stance, making it hard to rock that stand even with a boom and very large cymbal. Always get a fully adjustable counter weight when fitting a boom stand for cymbals! As previously stated the older Rogers weights were quite nice and would work on a variety of stand shafts.
Double or single heads? Double headed drums seem to be more quiet and have less of a boom to them. They are also more difficult to maintain because there are more lugs, more rims and you have to tune both the upper and lower drum. The lower head provides some overtones, while the upper head provides the main drum sound. You also have to watch for the lower head become lose and generating a rattle.
With single headed drums you can pack smaller drums inside of larger drums using a light weight cloth to protect the inside of the larger drum head. Double headed drums require a different case for each drum and that means a lot of packing!
Most rock drummers we worked with eventually took the bottom heads off their drums, so it seems that single headed drums are generally more popular with slammers. They are also easier to mic for both live and recording work.
A few decades ago a drummer by the name of North invented an interesting fiber glass drum shape, dubbed the North Drums. You can both see and hear these on the Jackson Browne live album “Running on Empty” as ace session drummer Russ Kunkle played this set for a while. We also knew a drummer who had this set for a while and he initially liked it, but eventually went back to single headed wooden drums.
Fiber glass doesn’t ring like a wood shell, nor does it have the low end. Also the North drums, because of their cone shape, required extra large cases and lots of extra cases, because the toms were often curved like a tuba or saxophone horn.
Here the choice is one of personal preference. Wood or fiber glass (as well as double or single heads), it’s up to the drummer to decide what they like to hear and use.
-- Contributing to this was Rebeca Spencer, Kevin Slater, Ron from Valley Drums, Eddie from Sound Pad Music, Charlies Garcia, Snap and Dr. D
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