At the moment I own 3 drum kits but I’m only using 1, actively, which is my new DW collector’s series kit in Black Velvet finish that I bought on impulse during my recent visit to New York. I bought it as a 7-piece kit (10,12 & 13” toms, 14 & 16” floor toms, 14×7” snare and 22×18” Bass Drum.
I tend to use a 6-piece on most occasions, leaving out the 13” tom (the reason I will explain later). One of the kits I have is a 7-piece black Pearl Export that I bought in 1987 (my first ‘new’ kit). It consists of 10, 12, 13 & 14” toms (power sizes), 16” floor tom, 14×6.5” metal snare and 22×16” bass drum.
This kit has been a great servant to me through all my years of playing and was used in every band I have played in, including my recording work with original band AMOEBA RED and LOVEFIST on GTA Vice City up to my present rock cover band ‘PIE SHOP’, who are gigging weekly.
I have set it up in many different ways & combinations and also used it with a rack (to give some independence between the bass drum and the toms). It’s last outing was when I used it in ‘The Darkest’ our tribute to ‘The Darkness’ because it was black and still has a great Rock sound from it’s Mahogany Shells.
The kit still sounds great but with all the years of constant gigging, the hardware and cymbals started to feel the strain, so the time came for a change in early 2003.
I spent months trying to find the right kit, (after using the same kit for 16 years I figured this was going to be my last purchase so I wanted to get it right and go for real quality………….plus shops don’t tend to stock many ‘top-of-the-range’ kits so this makes testing very difficult.
I eventually went for a 6-piece Mapex Orion kit in Antique Ivory (10, 12, 14 & 16” toms, 22×18” Bass Drum and 14×5.5” Snare Drum. I loved the bass drum (this was a drum that could be played without dampening and still hit you in the chest, worth every penny I think) and Black Panther snare (powerful with class……those of you who have used one will know what I mean, if you haven’t then ‘what are you waiting for?’). The hardware was solid and had great memory locks, which is always a great time saver when you have to set it up and take it down on a very regular basis.
What a difference I found in the quality of sound. Not the same kind of depth and power as from the export kit but still enough to do the job in a rock band, but with extra warmth and tonality thrown in.
So I was using the Mapex for PIE SHOP but still giving the Pearl Export an outing with The Darkest and see how great it still looks). When the Darkness began to grow in stature, Ed Graham (drummer) decided to do a deal with DW (Drum Workshop) to supply his drums.
I had been contemplating an upgrade for The Darkest too but was holding off to see if Ed would set up a deal with someone before taking the plunge. I was gutted when I found out he had plumped for DW. Don’t get me wrong, I have heard and seen many a DW kit and was well impressed and they have always had the reputation of being the ‘Rolls-Royce’ of drums but I always thought they were vastly over-priced, especially when you see the quality on offer in the rest of the market at a much lower price. For this reason, I decided not to follow suit and stick with the export………that was until a recent visit to the states in May of 2005, where I was in New York and remembered a music shop I had visited the year previously that specialised in DW kits, so I decided to check it out and price one the same as Ed’s.
I ended up being pleasantly surprised with the deal I was offered and went ahead and bought a 7-piece Collector’s series kit in a Black Velvet finish. At the time I bought it, The Darkness had not been seen or heard for a whole year and had just parted company with their bass player so, as you can imagine, I was a bit wary about the future of both bands but a new album was on the horizon so anything could happen.
The reason I bought a 7-piece goes back to the 13” tom thing I mentioned earlier. After playing the export for so many years, I found the tuning between the 12, 13 & 14” toms too close so I tended to leave it out but Ed Graham had a 13” tom in his set up with the Darkness so I bought it to keep the authenticity within ‘the Darkest’ line-up but with the thought that if ‘the Darkness’ were to fold then I would still have great flexibility to use the kit with other bands.
When the kit eventually arrived in October ‘The Darkest’ had decided to call it a day so, eager to test out my new buy, I used it for a few gigs with PIE SHOP. I have used it ever since and love it. The reason why I use it more than the Mapex is purely down to the floor toms. On my last trip to the Rhythm course in Bath, Pete Riley (one of the teachers on the course and also one hell of a drummer) pointed out during a tuning session that larger toms tend to lose a degree of ‘depth’ when suspended as opposed to floor toms……..man was he right!! Thanks Pete.
Everything else between both kits was just as good as each other but all the Mapex toms are suspended and the DW floor toms give me just that little bit of extra depth I was looking for within a rock environment. I’m sure I will come across other ventures in the future where it will be the Mapex kit that gives me the sound I need.
After many years of playing the same kit, it wasn’t only the drums that needed an upgrade in 2003, the cymbals needed some attention too.
After starting out with whatever cymbals I could lay my hands on, I bought my first real ‘quality’ set of cymbals in 1987 along with my Pearl Export kit. I chose a set of Sabian Rock cymbals with Zildjian new-beat hi-hats. These cymbals served me very well (It took til 2003 for one to break), along with the kit but gig after gig I found myself crying out for more sounds and effects to add to the music I was playing and I only had a set up of 1 ride and 3 crashes. Lack of funds was always a stumbling block too. Building up a set of ‘quality’ effect cymbals is not a cheap operation.
I looked around many shops, listening to what they had in stock (after all, there are millions of cymbals in the world but you can only try out the ones that are on display at the time). I wasn’t interested so much in the name but more so the sound.
I eventually decided mainly on the UFIP range. Not a well known cymbal like your Sabians and Zildjians but a hand-made cymbal with varying qualities from gutsy to refined. The big thing that swayed it for me was the effect cymbals, especially the splashes which are WOW! They have different ranges of cymbals to chose from (just like most manufacturers) and I chose a mix of their ‘bionic’ (gutsy) and ‘Class’ (refined) series along with a Sabian Evolution O-Zone (a signature cymbal from Dave Weckl) which is basically a crash cymbal with a number of holes cut out of it (which gives it a great mix between crash and china sounds) and a 12” Stagg china splash ( this is a cymbal I just hit in the shop and thought ‘WOW! I have to have it…..a great buy for £20, proving that not all great sounding cymbals need to cost the earth).
I think Hardware is one of the most important things to consider when buying a new kit, after all it’s what holds all the kit together. I am using the Mapex 950 Hardware cymbal stands with all 3 kits, all double braced stands, very strong and durable although the downside is that the hardware case weighs a ton but if you can get a guitarist to help you carry it in and out of gigs then Great. The exercise will do them good too. All cymbal arms come with memory locks, great if you have plenty of cymbals, like me. I also like the rubber bearers that hold the cymbal instead of the felt, they allow the cymbal to move freely with minimum contact. I do use the felt on top of the cymbal though, the rubber tends to counteract the bottom one and restrict the movement of the cymbal. I use DW 5000 series double bass pedal and 2-legged hi-hat stand…very smooth.
I have experimented with all different kinds of heads and found that the same head doesn’t always sound the same on different kits, as I’m sure many other drummers have found. I usually do stick to Remo or Evans heads and I have tried single and double ply heads (clear and coated). Even though I like single ply heads top and bottom to give me a truer sound of the drum, I tend to go for double ply on the top (Remo Emperors or Evans G2) with single ply (Remo Ambassadors or Evans G1) on the bottom to give me more control on the tuning, especially on the larger toms. I use Remo Powerstroke or Evans EQ3 on the bass drum and always use coated heads on the snare drum, ones with plenty of focus and attack like ones with power-dots or dry ones with tiny holes round the edge (which saves me using moon-gel).
When I first started playing I used 2B sticks (don’t ask why, I think it was because they were classed as a rock stick and felt ok too. It didn’t take long to change onto a 5B stick though and I’ve been using 5B for about 20 years or so now. I have also tried different wood types and manufacturers but I tend to prefer Vater sticks now and have been using them for about 10 years. They just feel right in the hand, which is the most important thing and they seem to take a little longer to get chopped up by the cymbals (which happens a lot).
As you can see, choosing the right gear can take many years with lots of fun and experimenting with it, as long as your wallet can stand the hammering too, but choosing the right kit for the style of music you play can only be a personal thing (just like tuning) and only you will know which one sounds right for you (as well as looking cool too of course!!) The other things I have learned are that although you prepare yourself to expect to spend more money to get that extra quality, at the same time it could just come down to being in the right place at the right time and you find something that sounds, looks and feels great but doesn’t cost the earth. Of course, other factors to consider are good kit maintenance, putting decent heads on and changing them regularly and hitting the drum in the right way. All this makes for a great sounding kit!!
HERE’S TO MORE FUN AHEAD!!