Category Archives: My Drum Blogs

The Nuts and Bolts of Drum Hardware Problems – (Part 2)

By Tim Kane

In conclusion of this two-part series on the most common top 10 drum hardware problems, I hope to guide you through potential solutions by discovering unique spot repair innovations.

6 – A shell game

One of the largest problems at a gig or practice that can be a real downer is when a piece of hardware actually tears away from your interior wooden shell and/or exterior lamination. Stress is the most common culprit such as when too much pressure is applied to a tom hoop while its mount is integrated with a shell. Another common issue involves continuously over tightening a tension rod, ultimately warping your shell’s beveled edge and causing lug screws to eventually tear through the shell. While it is easy enough to replace lug screws and tension rods, the more difficult challenge is repairing the cracked wooden shell itself. The best medicine to avoid this is to ensure you have the proper washers under all your lug screws.

As an amateur drum repair guy myself, I’ve found the easiest way to fix a cracked shell – minus just sending it back to the manufacturer or a local drum shop – is by removing all the hardware and injecting wood glue into both sides of the cracked wood and then clamping both sides together to dry. Rather than writing a 2,000-word diatribe on this complex topic here, a really well prepared article on cracked shell repair was recently featured in Drum Magazine that you should check out.


7 – Why so tense?

Mentioning tension issues, there are several other potential problem areas to consider. Using the wrong sized tension rods in their lug receptors (also called swivel nuts) causes stripping. Given you do have the right size screw or lug, unfortunately not much can be done once the stripping has occurred in the receptor chamber itself. An ounce of prevention here is certainly worth a pound of cure.

Before writing off that piece of gear, however, it would be wise to remove that tension rod from the lug’s swivel nut and see if the teeth are in fact stripped. Use a headlamp or hand held flashlight to probe for strippage inside the receptor. If detected, replace it immediately, as putting the same stripped rod back in its swivel nut will only advance the dilemma. If the swivel nut inside the lug is damaged, you will need to take your drumhead off and unscrew the lug from the shell’s interior to replace it. You can buy swivel nuts that fit most drum kits in that will spare you the expense of replacing the entire lug.

The good news is you can play a gig or practice without a tension rod or two, if need be. If your stripped swivel nut is an important top batter side element of your kit, I suggest you borrow another lug for the time being from a bottom resonant side drum until a replacement arrives.

The other problem that often occurs with lugs on older, vintage kits or even some new beginner level sets is the metal spring inserts produce excessive noise. Most drummers describe it as a “weird boinging sound.” The best way to fix this sound problem that can wreak havoc in a studio or while mic’ed up live is to literally take the lug off its shell and stuff the inner cavity with cotton or cloth so that it surrounds the spring insert, and reattach the lug to the shell. Trust me, the noise will be gone or greatly diminished.


Stripping is also common among screws used to fasten your hardware stands’ components together. Prone to grime buildup, the particular screw most impacted is your cymbal stand wing screws.

First, it’s always a good idea to carry screw and nut spares. Two problems occur when a stand’s screw becomes stripped. Your stand will either be stuck in its fully extended position, or unable to be extended to the desired height. While playing and then transporting a frozen stand is no big deal, duct tape is certainly your temporary friend for stands that can’t be adjusted.

The problem with stripped screws is the receptor hole most likely is also stripped and needs to be re-bored by a professional machinist or drum shop tech. And often times that can cost as much as simply purchasing a brand new replacement boom stand or boom arm.


We’ll keep this topic short. While most everyone knows – or at least should – not to place your cymbals directly on the metal mount without a nylon sleeve in place first, the reality is sleeves do get lost – even our black flanged base threaded varieties. I’ve used anything from gaffers tape to a plastic straw for the quick fix until I can order replacements. That’s much better than causing irreparable damage to your cymbal.


The hi-hat stand gives drummers immense pleasure and can cause a great deal of suffering as well. If you break even one component of your hi-hat stand during a performance, you basically lose the transmission drive powering your drum kit. I bring two hi-hat stands – or at minimum a second clutch – to every gig or practice just in case. The reality is not all drummers own two hi-hat stands. Before you can fix the problem, however, you need to know what it is.

Starting at the top, you should first check to see if the upper and lower clamps of your clutch are separated. If those are ok, your next step should be to see if the upper pull rod that essentially lifts your hi-hat cymbals up and down has separated from its bottom pull rod counterpart. You will need to take the stand’s upper shaft off to access the rods. If they are screwed together fine, your next process of elimination involves inspecting the hi-hat’s chain or strip that connects to your foot pedal. Check. Continuing down your stand, the hi-hat foot pedal is the final element to review. If your pedal is swaying from side-to-side, you have probably disconnected or broken the heel plate’s Y-shaped radius rod away from the frame.

While there are no easy answers when hi-hat parts break, duct tape can get you through, including taping your top hi-hat cymbal directly to the pull rod for the time being. Doesn’t look pretty, but neither does a drummer playing without a hit-hat.

10 – Ground control to Major Tom…

Finally, my top 10 drum hardware problems conclude with a salute to errant tom-tom support. The so-called tom-tom sway is really a thing of the past. Still, stuff breaks. I own an extra tom-holder for my kit just in case. Nothing looks worse than a tom-tom falling off your kit or suddenly taking a dive mid-song. I’ve found some product models’ tom mounts employ small wingnuts to secure the mount tilter. Replacing that nut with a rack system T handle definitely tightens things up and avoids potential stripping and weak connections.

If the tom clamp is beginning to lose its grip, a proven get-me-by is to cut two 1-inch squares from a plastic coke bottle and put them in the jaws of the clamp that grip the rotation ball. And if all else fails, use the top basket portion of a back-up snare drum stand attached to either a boom stand base or universal grabber clamp to hold your tom-tom up for the time being.

Tim Kane is a freelance drummer, instructor and writer living in Massachusetts.



The nuts and bolts of drum set hardware problems – Part 1

By Tim Kane

I once used a credit card as a makeshift screwdriver when my kick pedal decided to take 5 during a gig. I’m sure all of you have been there as well. When things go wrong with your drum hardware, we’re often left without easy alternatives and quick solutions.

As a general rule of thumb, I never play a gig or practice without a spare hi-hat stand and second kick drum pedal at the ready. You lose either component live and you’re cooked. Stuff does breakdown from time to time, so I have compiled these top 10 drum hardware problems as a way to help the working and practicing drummer become better prepared.


Most drummers sit while playing so the stool or throne they own is an essential component and natural extension of the drum kit itself. What can go bump in the night with drum seats is support failure. First, it is very important that you own a seat that is comfortable and provides maximum support for your body. Otherwise, get ready for back pain and possible future spinal injuries. Spend the extra money on a good quality throne.

Most often the chief problem with seats is they become wobbly. Another common symptom with gas lift thrones is they could eventually leak and lose height-positioning finesse. And anther common issue involves the leg support bar becoming separated from its center support pole.

If beyond warranty coverage, check first with our parts department or your local office furniture manufacturer or retailer to see if they can repair your gas lift system. You’d also be amazed with what your car repair guy can fix with all of his neat gadgets and know-how.

As for annoying wobbles, the most likely culprit is because you purchased a chair with a threaded shaft, requiring you to tighten the wing nut holding the seat into its height. Those holes can become stripped over time, but the larger problem is that the thread itself – not the wing nut – is damaged. One of the best recommendations I can offer is to invest in a universal back rest. Most wobbles begin to occur because drummers are shifting around on the chair too much changing posture positions. Drummers should remain in a relatively straight position while playing and a backrest helps that effort as does buying the right seat.

When a rivet holding your leg’s horizontal support bar to the center pole falls out or snaps, you do have a few options to exercise. Beside pulling a MacGyver and putting a nut and bolt of similar size in the open hole, you may want to avoid that happenstance entirely by investing in one of our double braced throne bases. The extra strength engineered into the supports prevents rivet erosion for occurring in most cases.


Beyond your seat, one of the top things that can wrong on your drum kit is with kick drum pedals. Before a gig or crucial practice, check the condition of your pedal’s springs, beater nut, beater and tension rods to avoid losing use your bass drum in the middle of a song. Re-tighten and check everything. But what happens when one of these critical ingredients of your pedal system goes down? The first sign of trouble is your bass beater doesn’t spring back like it once did. The most common problem is the nut attached to your spring is too loose or has just fallen off. I carry around spare nut and pedal spring assemblies on my key ring for that very reason. As for squeaks, a non-lubricated pedal chain or spring can sound like someone dragging their fingernails down a chalkboard over mics. Best option is to carry lubricant with you to gigs and practices.


The best way to deal with a wing nut that will not screw back on securely is to not further tighten it. Often times, drummers will purchase or place the wrong sized wing nut atop their cymbal tilter, thus eventually stripping its threads. Routinely lubing your tilters with oil or WD40 will help extend their lives, too. But if a wing nut breaks or flies off in the middle of a show, your best medicine is to have some wire at the ready. When unable to properly attach a wing nut, you can temporarily lock it to the tilter’s screw by winding wire around the threads extending beyond the nut. That will get you through until you can replace the nut or purchase a new tilter.


There is nothing worse than too much buzz emanating from your snare strands. This is often evident in the interaction between your drum and bassist’s amp and monitors. It’s an annoyance that can be fixed for the most part. As is the resounding theme of this blog, a bit of pre-gig maintenance can solve a whole lot of worries later. For a full check, take your snares completely off your resonant head. Lay them on a flat surface such as your batter side floor drum head. If all the wires are evenly spaced with no slight bends, they are OK. If some (or even one) is slightly bent, they need replacing.

Another tuning method to consider for reduced buzz involves how the wires interact with the head. I usually tune the lugs closest to the wires either looser for thicker tone or tighter for more sensitivity.

Those are the easy fixes for snare related issues. But what happens when you have tightened your snare-tensioning knob beyond what is reasonable and still lack a proper buzz? I always bring a back-up snare drum to gigs, but not everyone owns one. In most cases, your strainer’s tape or string that attaches to the wires’ butt plate has issues. If you forgot to bring Gibraltar spares, I have cut a makeshift strap from a drum head in the past. Another option is to buy a few extra nylon strips. And if all else fails, use shoelaces or old guitar strings for strainer cords that break.

If the wires or strainer connections are not the issue, then there is a problem with your tension knob control itself. On the fly, apply a drumstick between the bottom of the snare throw off and your hoop to tighten things down. If all else fails, duct tape your snares to the bottom head. After the gig, you should assess the working value of your strainer system, which we carry plenty of models on, and see if your shell bearing edges are worn.


For drum kit rack system owners, we could write an entire blog on how to resolve challenges. In our minds, the worst possible thing that can happen to a heavily used rack system – beyond the components mentioned elsewhere here – is your bar connection points failing. Patch-it methods won’t last long. Owning a few extras or reinvesting in rack clamps will resolve many of your challenges.

Like anything, drum hardware does vibrate and excessive noise does not bode well for miced musicians. I have heard of drummers with rack systems actually stuffing their tubes with packing popcorn, insulation or foam to dampen them and hopefully reduce crosstalk issues. The reality is that is not normally needed. One simpler method to try is to replace your bars’ stock plastic end-caps with rubber stoppers as a dampening method.

Tim Kane is an independent drummer, instructor and writer living in Massachusetts.



The Funny Faces of Drumming

The Funny Faces of Drumming


How many of us weekend and weeknight warriors work our behinds off playing the skins, only to have some fan tell us after a gig, “I loved your facial expressions”?
Hearing this one too many times myself, I decided to research the anomaly further by examining 30 celebrity drummers I admire the most.
What’s so strange and equally refreshing about the live performance facial images I compiled as a photo collage linked here from online postings at and various artists’ personal websites is they all share similar traits.
The extreme concentration exposed in these images is amazing.
But can we draw meaning from facial expressions as they relate to a solo or phrase drummers are playing?
According to a recent American Psychological Association (APA) web posting, Joseph Campos, PhD, of the University of California at Berkeley says, “there is profound agreement that the face, along with the voice, body posture and hand gestures, forecast to outside observers what people will do next.”
Does that same theory apply to drummers, who change facial expressions on a whim at that difficult phrase juncture in a solo, or when the arms and legs begin to burn from lack of oxygen?
Ever consider trying to look more presentable during a sneeze, or keeping a smiling face when lifting a very heavy object? Same applies to drumming, which is a very physical workout – like trying to play four-way independence at a 120-metronome tempo.
APA says, “the point of contention remains in whether the face also says something about a person’s internal state.”
The strange, deranged, obsessed, comical, intense, and peaceful faces of drumming all come back to one term in my mind: Joy, even if you blew that 32nd note fill you had been practicing for weeks. It’s still pure joy to sit behind a set of drums and play the best you can for minutes or hours on end. The truth is some parts of the brain are more focally recruited while we play drums.
I’d rather see squinty eyes, chaotic mouths, drools, sneering teeth, and back tonsils any day. The alternative is rather opaque to contemplate: Poker face, no smile, no raised eyebrows, no snarts, no emotion, no nothing. How very bland the drumming world would be without our theatrical expressions.
The more comfortable you are behind a drum kit, the more compelling and creative your playing will be. In my mind, facial expressions can enhance the experience for the listener and certainly reflect the concentration and emotion of the performer.

– TIM KANE is a professional writer and drummer of 30-plus years residing in Massachusetts.

Drummers are musicians, too

By Tim Kane

“Drummer discrimination”, as I like to call it, is on my mind this week, and not because I am the subject of it with the fellow “musicians” I now play with.

They all respect my ability and musicianship and likewise. I just see it around and hear about it from time to time and thought the topic would make an interesting discussion in the larger drumming community here.

Are drummers true musicians? Of course we are. But not every guitarist, bassist, horn player, or keyboardist feels the same. Why? Because some musicians falsely believe drums do not provide linear note values offering true melodic phrases and chords integral to the formation of songs.

Oh really? Look at what Mick Fleetwood did for song composition on the drums. They named the band after him. I have hacked around on guitar, trombone, and piano enough to know all instruments offer distinct voices in any given tune. Ever see a guitarist sit behind a set of drums and try to play a 4/4 rock beat in time with fills? Most can’t swing it. The same can be said for most drummers who try to strum guitar chords in a regular, clean pattern or play single note solos on the keys. Most can’t. My point is drummers are as much musicians as any instrument being played by someone.

Without drummers, there’s no structure to a song; no groove; no tempo; no accents; and no direction. Schooled drummers can sight read and understand note values. Those who can’t read, use their ears. I know a good many guitarists who have no idea what all the scales are, yet they play better than many who can run a Dorian minor in their sleep. Yes, drummers are musicians.

So what types of drummer discrimination do I see and hear about out there. I have bulleted some examples below, but I am sure there are plenty more to rant about:

• Sets up and breaks down his or her drum gear with no offer of help from other musicians; yet drummers are first to help hauling heavy amps and monitors.

• not treated with equal say in song and set selection.

• not listened to on stage when the band debates changing up the set and what tune to insert.

• Not paid the same.

• Not allowed to count off the tempo for songs

• Not given any respect when song composition is deliberated. “Hey, I have a cool idea for a bridge.” Then, you get two heads looking at you.

• Not spoken to during set breaks.

• Told you “banged” well tonight after the gig.

• Not applauded after a great solo.

I have so many more examples. If anyone in the drumming community is reading this, please offer your own pet peeves.

Drummers are musicians.


– Tim Kane is a professional writer, editor and drummer for more than 30 years.

Applying more ‘Rubato’ (vs. ‘Mr. Roboto’) to the drum set  

By Tim Kane

STURBRIDGE, MA- Drummers are first and foremost timekeepers, plain and simple. That is our core mission. But we are also the gateway to a band’s inner time machine. Like the planet we live on, time fluctuates.

 When playing live with other musicians, there is an unwritten ebb and flow of tempo to keep in mind. It’s called “feel.” Play with your ears, first, and then your eyes. That’s what my drum teacher always taught me. But how do you know when to play looser interpretations of time and when to be a metronome (which was first used by Beethoven, by the way)? Not an easy question to answer. Time tends to advance and retract from the initial beats per minute you lay down during certain segments of a song – unless that tune actually calls for tempo changes.

 Understanding basic classical music terminology governing time signatures and tempo is helpful – even in rock genres. In any original or cover song composition, there are several main tempo ingredients we knowingly and unknowingly follow, including: Allegro (fast), Adagio (slow), Ritardando (slowing of tempo), and Accelerando (quickening of tempo). There are all sorts of variations within these broad terms, but you get the point.

 The most important tempo term – and the one most appropriate for contemporary live music – is “Rubato,” or the free adjustment of tempo for expressive purposes.

 Most of us live within this expressive shaping of music that is a part of phrasing, which is further defined by the spaces between each note we play  – otherwise known as subdivisions. Where drummers tend to experience time fluctuations in a song can be both apparent and elusive. Solos and section transitions tend to inherently lend themselves to tempo rate changes.  That does not mean the song’s time signature actually changes, though. While guitar and piano melodies can be flexible with tempo, accompaniment by drums and bass never radically departs from the original meter. The rhythm section must keep the regular pulse (yet not rigidly in mechanical fashion) and adjust to pace changes.

 Regardless of incidental time changes as they relate to the nuances of playing live, the song must return to its original rate at some point.  And the onus squarely falls upon drummers to reel everything back in.

 There are a few tricks of the trade to re-set a tempo during a song, if the need arises. Cracking your snare hard on the first beat of a measure is one good way to send a message. Closing the hi-hat on downbeats is also a great tool in keeping solid time, so get solid with your footwork on it. If your other three limbs are playing more “feel” during a particular point in a song, the musicians around you tend to key in on the security of the hi-hat. Brief stops can provide that brief non-musical interlude that makes everyone think about coming back in together. And if all else fails, simplify your drum parts to the point of awkwardness and count aloud.

 The best way for you to experiment with time and apply more Rubato to the drum set is by practicing along to a metronome or online click track, particularly at slower tempos that are more challenging to control. Work fills into your beats and have fun with the fluctuations.


– Tim Kane is a professional writer and drummer of 30-plus years.




Building endurance on the drum set

By Tim Kane

STURBRIDGE, MA – If you asked 10 drum set players how they warm-up before a practice or live gig, you would probably get 12 different answers.

Some musicians don’t perform any warm-up exercises and still look relaxed behind the drum kit. They allow the sound check tunes or even early songs on a set list to massage their chops. Other drummers are nearly obsessed with warm-up exercises. I used to be the skinner who never warmed up with the exception of actual gear lugging and set-up time, which can be a cardio workout in its own right. Then, I bought a practice pad and discovered that by playing various rudiments daily, it did have an immediate effect upon my playing stamina. What quickly became apparent was not so much how long and skillfully I played those drumming essentials, but how I was actually playing them as applied to motion, stick bounce and dynamics.

Drummer fatigue runs rampant in our little corner of the musical woods. The problem is if we push the limits of endurance without proper warm-ups, injuries can and do result. Too much tension while playing the drums can cause inflammation that is passed along to your tendons and ligaments, which then become swollen resulting in pain and possible damage such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis.

Some drummers use weight training to build endurance, but I didn’t recommend that. Learning how to properly breathe – like running a 5K road race – can also certainly add more strength to your muscle behind the kit. Understanding proper arm, wrist and finger techniques are key as well. As the famous Gladstone and Moeller technique books and videos all profess, we all need less tension in order to play at top speeds with maximum power, endurance and precision. But drum set warm-up exercises aren’t so much about just getting your arms, fingers, wrists, feet and toes well oiled for that particular day. We’ll never be totally tension free on drums.

Building endurance via warm-up exercises is all about teaching your brain through repetition to execute proper hand and foot technique. Through memorization of patterns meets technique, you learn to conserve more drum set energy and thus create more endurance.

Those who don’t warm up before playing are really fooling (and cheating) themselves. The good news is you are never too old to learn new tricks on the drum set.

– Tim Kane is a professional writer, editor, and drummer of 30-plus years.


Who are your favorite drummer inspirations?  

By Tim Kane

STURBRIDGE, MA – Buddy Rich once said that there were 10,000 drummers trying to play exactly like their heroes. Little did Buddy know it was more like millions trying to play just like him. I can’t claim that Buddy was an early influence of mine as I am a product of the ‘80s and ‘90s. But it turns out Buddy was an early influence for the drummers I most admire.

Buddy was trying to say that drummers should strive to make their own mark in creating music instead of copying someone else’s body of work. I could not agree more, but actually also believe that playing along to and studying a favorite drummer’s music is a great way to both develop your chops and intuitive ears.

Last week I looked back at some vintage videos of my early drummer inspirations while learning to play. Suffice to say, it was an interesting exercise with surprising new discoveries.

When I think of the drummers who truly inspired me early on with the essence of drum set dynamics, fills and polyrhythms, I conjure up three: Neil Peart, Alex Van Halen and Steve Gadd (hear Gadd at the 5:40 time mark for his solo).

When I was a kid sitting in a tiny bedroom with that white sparkle vintage kit I stole from my sister, Alex was the man who taught me how to play hard rock drums and double pedal kick action. Neil, the ProgRock professor of the drum kit – who by coincidence took drum lessons just a few years back to improve (like he needs to) – jumped into my scene with the “Moving Pictures” album. I saw Neil play with RUSH this past summer in Boston, and they played that entire record. It was awesome and inspirational.

To hear “Tom Sawyer” or “Red Barchetta” back then, and try to play along with headphones, was virtually impossible but also quite enlightening with regard to better understanding the complexities of odd time signatures and triplet/flam fills.

Then came along Steve Gadd. He had been around for years, but I did not really discover him until Buddy died and I read about what other drummers had to say.

When I purchased his Gadd Gang album and gave “Way Back Home” a listen, it opened up another facet of my playing style. Steve’s keen ability to just groove in the pocket or heavily synchronize notes between hi-hat, snare and kick with these fantastic buzz-like rolls blew my mind. So I learned the solo in that funk song to the best of my ability. And it turned me on to this greater concept of being a funk/fusion drummer, which is how I would define my style today.

I have come to realize that my own style has early roots in Alex, Neil and Steve’s style – and the styles of the drummers they admired most, and the ones before them.

The point is we should never stop emulating inspirational drummers, for they help us to refine our own skills, style and creativity. I still strap on those headphones from time to time and give “Hot For Teacher” a whirl.

– Tim Kane is a professional writer and drummer of 30-plus years.

Drum lessons in Brookfield, MA

What should you look for when buying lacquer or wrapped drum shells?


By Tim Kane

STURBRIDGE, MA – What happens when your sound guy misses the tom clip and drops a mic right atop your nicely lacquered kick drum shell? How about when you leave your wrapped drums in a 100-plus degree car for several days?

It usually means bad things for both types of drum shell finishes.

Lacquer and satin finishes on outer drum shells certainly look great, especially if they accentuate the inner wood grain well, but can get chipped and damaged more easily than plastic drum wrap. Wraps, on the other hand, are more durable, but purists argue they conceal the true inner sound of a shell.

Some dings on a lacquer/satin oil kit can damage not only the finish but also the actual drum, making the argument that if you are an active gigging drummer, a wrap kit will better protect the drum and last longer.

My opinion is so long as you take care of your drum set equipment, it takes care of you. Like a guitar, use cases and care when handling and moving drums. Any drum set can get dinged and scratched whether sitting in your practice spot or on stage. Yes, a lacquer finish is more fragile and easier to dent, but wraps scratch and are more prone to temperature swings affecting the plastic’s glue bond with wooden shell.

A recent IIRC study states that wraps reduce resonance by 4.7 percent. Perhaps that is what you want for sound and in exchange for the nice visual textures, you are willing to sacrifice that percentage. I tend to disagree, as wrap by its very essence, if glued properly, adds another ply layer of thickness to your overall drum shell. The thicker your shell ply, the bigger the sound.

So what should you look for when buying lacquer or wrapped shells?

On lacquer shells, the overall appearance of wood is first and foremost. Does the lacquer show off the outer shell’s knots, curvatures, and grain textures enough, or are you going for a smoky look? Does there appear to be enough clear sealant coat atop the lacquer finish for added protection? How does the finish appear under bright lights versus dark corners? Will they blend well with your other drums?

As for plastic drum wrap, there are nearly endless varieties of colors including solid, swirl, sparkle and pearl patterns to choose from. If you visit a music store, don’t just go with the available floor models. Ask what’s available for textures online or from their distributors.

Remember, a lacquer or satin finish produces a more “open” sounding drum allowing the shell to resonate more freely than is possible with a plastic wrapped finish. However, a wrapped finish can be more durable as well as less expensive.

Everyone has his or her own opinion about what looks and sounds good for shell finishes. Some say my bright green pearl wrap Rodgers kit should only be played at Christmas parties, and that my cherry red lacquer finish Gretsch kit should be in a Marlboro cigarette commercial.

But I sure like the look – and sound – of both, and that is all that matters.

– Tim Kane is a professional writer and drummer of 30-plus years living in Massachusetts.


What’s the right cymbal set up for you?  – drum lessons in Brookfield, MA

By Tim Kane

STURBRIDGE, MA – I have been experimenting with the location, angles and heights of my cymbals lately, so it naturally got me thinking about the larger drumming community’s approach.

And there are some interesting trends developing (or re-emerging) out there. I am seeing more splashes positioned together in a row on single boom stands; inverted cymbals atop large diameter sisters; dual hi-hats with the auxiliary positioned next to the right-hand ride; left-hand rides above standard-use left hi-hats; growing use of double Chinas; greater emphasis on bells; and yes, the sizzle cymbal is back – and not only for jazz this time.

Quick tip: Try using a long chain of metal beads wrapped around your bell pads with one side hanging down on the ride for instant sizzle effect – without any need for a specialty model or rivets.

As for predicting cymbal sounds and mastering their relationship to one another, I’ve found a cool exercise. If you have the time, go to any major cymbal dealer’s website and test drive your ideal set up using its online digital cymbal simulators. If you are in the market for additional metal, take your existing primary hi-hats and ride to the local music store’s cymbal room to ensure the used models jive with the new ones you considering.

Before positioning a cymbal on the boom stand, think about relationship to the drum closest to it. Do you want your splash(es) just off the edge of your snare? Is your 18-inch crash best-positioned right of your ride or above your second tom-tom? Is that china best suited far left or far right for accents? What feels most comfortable?

General industry agreement on cymbal arrangement centers on placing higher pitched cymbals to the left of center and darker or lower pitched cymbals exit stage right. The middle area is much more personalized.

My own cymbal arrangement, which employs Zildjian, Sabian and Paiste gear, recently underwent a set-up metamorphosis of its own.

I’ll take my giant 24-inch ride first. Yes, 24 inches of sheer Paiste, Alex Van Halen-endorsed, glory (not pictured below). The mega-ride used to rest over my floor tom, but I often found it difficult to “ride” the ride without feeling a bit strained.

I previously had two rack toms above the kick, so I took my second drum off the kick mount and clamped it to a heavy stand as a second floor tom. Those adjustments essentially freed up the former right tom kick area for my big ride.

In changing around the ride cymbal position, I also noted that my various crashes – including a splash, two Chinas, and 16- and 18-inch crashes – had no distinct order to them or placement hierarchy. They were just kind of sticking out wherever I could fit them in my space challenged shed-turned-drum studio.

After considerable studio thought in comparison to live gig stage parameters, I decided to group and layer my splash and crashes just above the kick drum – pretty much at a flat horizontal angle. The decision had an immediate impact on my approach and skill development. Center kit cymbal placement occupies the heaviest “strike zone” area of your kit, typically comprising a tom, snare, kick, and first floor tom. So why not have your primary crashes and ride out in front?

Beyond ease in finding and playing each cymbal with a tighter drum set grouping, it has created a welcomed side effect with rediscovery of crash bells and the nuances each cymbal offers when played against each other.

If you play out or move drums around a lot, it is best to work from a file photo of cymbal arrangement and use electric tape or markers to indicate where your boom stand maximum height settings should be. And if you employ a lot of hardware, you may want to mark upper and lower parts so you know what goes with each piece.

With so many different approaches to drum kit cymbal set up, I’m curious what fellow drummers out there are doing with their kits? Share your photos and thoughts here.

TIM KANE is a professional writer and drummer of 30-plus years residing in Massachusetts.