Part 2 of the critically and commercially acclaimed series on “The Drum Kit“, wherein I shall discuss sticks and setups. We’ve already seen the 5 piece, now let’s have a look at some more interesting ideas.
5 Piece (1 up, 2 down)
A nice, simple setup
Wait what? So given the flexible range of toms available it is possible to configure drum kits in different ways while maintaining the same amount of drums. The 5 piece in part 1 is what we’d call a “two up, one down” setup. This is easy enough to grasp, two toms up on the kit, one tom down on the floor. The problem with this setup is that you end up having to position your ride in awkward positions, either far to the right or higher than is comfortable (It’s entirely subjective some people might like this but for me it doesn’t sit right). If you remove the second hi-tom and replace it with a second floor tom then you free up space for the ride to sit nice and low. This type of setup is one of my favourite smaller configurations as it allows a lot of freedom with movement and also looks badass.
4 Piece (1 up, 1 down)
Even smaller, still badass
A minimalist kit for smaller venues and practice space, the 4 piece takes away a tom completely, leaving only two. Now usually you’ll have 1 up, 1 down although some drummers are know to have two down. This is a slightly more abstract setup though so I won’t go into too much detail. The 4 piece usually works as either a practice kit or for functions, where hundreds of drums aren’t needed and time is a factor for setting up.
6 Piece (2 up, 2 down)
My own kit, versatile
A larger kit for bigger performances. A 6 piece has four toms and allows for much more dynamic control within songs. It also means that you can tighten the first tom to a sharper crack for a more percussive sound without compromising the classic sounds of the rest of your toms. I currently use a six piece Tama Superstar Hyperdrive and find it immensely powerful as an instrument. Firstly you can pick and choose what you want on at any given time, meaning that a wider range of setups are immediately available to you from the start. Depending on the size of your gig or rehearsal, you can choose how big or how small you want to go.
7 Piece (3 up, 2 down)
Power Infinite and Small
A monster kit, three toms across the top and two on the ground. This type of kit is reserved for the showmen, the theatrical playing style where the kit is as much a part of the stage design as it is a tool. This is probably the largest kit thats worth owning, anything larger becomes somewhat unnecessary.
Realistically if you have anything bigger than a 7 piece, you are either an established, world class player or someone with more money than sense. Mostly. Obviously there will be exceptions but on a general rule 7 is the maximum before you fall into overkill territory. And keep in mind that I’m only mentioning the drums here, cymbals are a factor too and take up space. You can make a 5 piece look huge just through adding a bunch of cymbals, which are more justifiable as they create a larger dynamic impact. I’d say that a first kit should always be a five piece but if you’re looking to upgrade, buy a 6 piece. Then you can play around with loads of setups until you find what works best for your style.
Pro Mark are one of the best
You know, those things you beat the life out of the kit with. There’s actually a lot of importance on what sticks you choose, more than you’d expect.
Different wood creates a different sound. Harder, more brittle woods like Oak with be louder while softer Maple sticks will lend to more gentle, jazz-like sounds. You also need to consider longevity, it’s a pain in the arse to be buying new sticks every week after spending £10 on one pair. Synthetic sticks like the ones made by Ahead are getting closer to the feel of wooden sticks and never lose their “new stick feel”. They’re also very tough to break so it might be worth the investment.
Never consider metal
The only tips worth considering are wood and nylon. Vic Firth do metal tips on one range but that’s a stupid idea, imagine how quickly you’d destroy your cymbals, or drums! Wooden tipped sticks sound better with more dynamically critical genres, jazz, folk etc. Nylon stands out brighter and sharper which works nicely with faster cymbals and poppier tunes. To be honest a lot of it is preference, I choose wood but I know a lot of drummers who love nylon. Whatever your choice, never buy metal. Stupid idea…
Just a few of the brands around
There are hundreds of brands for drum sticks, some are good…some aren’t and with this gap comes one in price as well. Vic Firth and Pro Mark are arguably the best you can get, I’d give the edge to Pro Mark but that’s simply a personal preference. Most manufacturers of drum hardware turn their hand to stick production as a side thought and these are the sticks to avoid, Stagg, Zildjian etc. Despite Zildjian being among the best for cymbals, they suck at making sticks. However, Pro Mark and Vic Firth don’t come cheap and like all drum sticks, they will break. So how do you avoid taking out a mortgage to afford sticks? Well you can buy in bulk online, buy 50 pairs all at once. I’d say always have two or three pairs of your best sticks and then practice with un-branded factory rejects, you can pick up a 20 pairs of £10. That way you’ll keep your good, performance sticks for recording or gigging and still have sticks to practice with without any fear of wrecking your good ones.
The four most common sizes
Sticks are measured in a similar way to pencils. You need to take into account the diameter and length. The average, good for all size is a 5A, medium sized and good for most playing styles. I prefer smaller sticks, opting for Pro Mark 7As but thats just me. In fact choosing sticks is all based on you, what you want to play and how comfortable you find the sticks. Most retailers allow you to try them before buying so I’d suggest playing with a bunch of different makes and sizes to find what suits your individual style.
Next week: Exotic Cymbals and Pedals
Thanks for reading!