No Trashed Drumsets, Please!

A couple of months ago, our band ventured forth to a popular Pennsylvania nightspot en masse to sit in and more or less audition for the owner. We never do auditions, but did so only on the condition of using the other band’s gear. This detail was worked out ahead of time, and the host band had no problem with the arrangement.

Prior to taking the stage, I introduced myself to the drummer and thanked him in advance for letting me play his kit, a good public relations move, and just plain common courtesy. He was a nice guy, but warned me, “Don’t hit the floor tom too hard, it’s propped up with my gig bag.”

Wonderful. Another broken-down, trashed-to-hell drumset!

Upon taking the stage, I took a good look and was immediately appalled. The drums were in such poor shape, I wanted to leave then and there. It was a Pearl Export with two toms, snare and kick. The heads on the toms didn’t match, one looked original (that is, several years old!!!), and both resembled the pockmarked side of the moon, a place no drummer should dare visit. Both toms were taped up beyond reason and sounded positively awful, and the bottom heads were missing. I’d wager the kit hadn’t been tuned in a year or more. And yes, the floor tom had only one leg and was leaning against a gym bag. Very precarious. The snare head was a shadow of its former self, and the bass drum (with the front head off-I hate that sound) was likewise propped up on one side due to a missing spur. The so-called ride cymbal was an 18″ crash of indeterminate origin, and the 16″ crash and hi-hats were low budget items that sounded as one might expect. The drums were also very dusty and dirty. Had they belonged to me, I would have doused them with gasoline and torched them at the end of a very good outdoor gig, a la Jimi Hendrix at Monterey Pop. And as you may have guessed by now, I had an extremely hard time playing this drumset-from-Hades, this piece of trash.

OK, OK, I know what you’re thinking. I’m a quality snob who looks down his nose at drummers who can’t afford better equipment. Not so. A Pearl Export set (or any other starter kit for that matter) can be made to sound acceptably good, with the right heads, proper tuning and common sense care.

A drumset needs to be maintained just like any other musical instrument, perhaps more so, due to the sheer amount of physical wear and tear it receives. Here’s some basics.

Start with heads. When do you change them? How about when they start getting pitted or overly scarred. It depends on how often you play, how hard you hit, and the overall quality and type of head you use. If you’re a power hitter, double ply heads will hold up best, of course. All the major drumhead manufacturers offer a large selection of quality heads at reasonable prices. Don’t start giving me that “I don’t have the money” nonsense. Drumheads aren’t THAT expensive, and some music stores even feature “slightly used” heads for sale, most of which are perfectly usable items, at a reduced price. One good paying gig should buy you a whole new set of heads, unless you have a drumset the size of Terry Bozzio.

Change your heads when they respond like a bowl of rice pudding, look like swiss cheese, and make your drums sound lousy! Simple, huh?

Make sure to always use the same brand and style of head on all your toms. Very important in achieving a uniform, consistent sound.

As far as broken hardware, when something falls apart, get it fixed immediately. All drum manufacturers offer replacement parts, although if you play a vintage set, you may have to contact a specialized dealer or supplier of old parts to find an exact replacement. You can find them in Modern Drummer magazine or online at this website. And don’t bitch and moan to me about the cost. This is your instrument, invest the money to keep it working properly. Have pride in your drums. Have pride as a drummer.

I’ve made friends with a fellow who owns a local machine shop. He’s also a drummer, and has been very helpful in fixing a couple of pieces of broken hardware for me.

With cymbals, purchase the best your money can buy at all times. You might do better upgrading those mediocre, low-priced trash can lids by looking for high quality used cymbals from the major manufacturers. You know who their names. There are always plenty of used cymbals on the market. Check your local music stores, the ‘net, and the classified ads for bargains. It is possible to buy an older, used 20″ A. Zildjian medium ride for under $100-and that’s just one example. The deals are out there. Make sure there are no cracks or excessively large keyholes (although a slight keyhole shouldn’t stop you from buying a GREAT sounding cymbal), take it home, clean it up (the old fashioned, non-abrasive cleanser Bon Ami works very nicely, or any standard cymbal polish will do on many brands) and you’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll sound. A representative at Paiste recently advised me to take my 20″ Signature ride into the shower with me to clean it! I kid you not. I’ll stick with their polish, thank you.

And keep your drums clean. Wipe off dust, dirt, fingerprints, smoke, soot, salt air residue, beer, soda and food stains regularly, and any other schmutz that may accumulate, with a clean cloth and warm water. I’ve used a light coating of furniture polish for years, especially on my wood finish Tama set. After all, they’re made of wood, right? And do the same with your hardware. Keep it shining. If the drums need a heavy cleaning, you might want to take them to a drum repair person for professional attention.

Take care of your drums and maintain them properly, or else you might read about YOUR piece-o-crap drumset in an article like this!