6 Tips for a More Manageable Drum Set

Compared to singers, guitarists and keyboardists, we drummers have it rough. We’re rarely treated like musical equals, we set up at the back of the stage and suffer the indignity of facing the other musicians’ backsides all night. Worse still, we have the most equipment to schlep and much of it is bulky and heavy.

I can’t offer much to alleviate the other common complaints, but there are a few things you can do to lighten your load and help your set-ups go faster.

Consider a Minimalist Drum Kit

Ludwig Club Date

Ludwig Club Date

I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for a cool drum set. Whenever I split a bill with another band or attend a show, I have to check out the other drummer’s set. Invariably, their kit is cooler than mine. Their kits are always more impressive, with more drums, cymbals and accessories.

My humble set is designed for function, ease of moving and setting up. As a result, I’ve had several bands tell me I can tear down and load out faster than any other drummer they’ve ever played with. It wasn’t always this way, but as I started playing more shows with several bands, I realized that if I minimized my load-in and set up time, I could have more time to hang out with friends after the show.

Some genres traditionally have used big drum sets. Metal and progressive rock come immediately to mind. Older drummers like Neil Peart, Terry Bozzio and Mike Mangini have ridiculously elaborate drum sets. By comparison, younger drummers in those same genres, like Matt Garstka, Travis Orbin and Matt Halpern, all play far more minimalistic sets, yet clearly aren’t musically limited by them.

If your band doesn’t have roadies and your back complains the day after a gig, it might be time to think about making things a little easier on yourself.


How to Determine What Drums You Really Use

One of the best things you can do is figure out what things you really need vs. those you simply want. I have a kit with seven drums and at least as many cymbals that I play in my studio. It offers lots of sounds and colors for recording. However, I gig with a four-piece kit (at most) and just a few cymbals. Why? I don’t really need more than two toms and a minimal cymbal set up for most of my gigs. While I prefer the melodic and timbral possibilities of more toms and cymbals, I don’t really need them.

Fewer drums and cymbals means less hardware, too. For years, I carried a china cymbal and stand that I thought I needed for a few songs. One night, as a test, I played a crash cymbal in those spots and no one noticed the difference. After a few gigs, I asked my guitar player if he noticed the change and he had no idea I’d been doing anything different. That night, two items were removed from my cases.

If you look closely at your kit, you might find an item or two that doesn’t see enough usage to justify hauling it to every gig. One empirical test to see if you’re lugging any drums around you don’t need is to look at the heads. Does one of your drums have far fewer stick marks and require less frequent head changes than the others? Is that second floor tom really just being used to hold a towel and a bottle of water? If so, leave it at home.

Rethink Your Hardware

Hardware is heavy. Even if you don’t want to leave any drums or cymbals at home, rethinking your hardware is another place you can make things easier on yourself. Racks can be a blessing for elaborate kits but don’t work as well at the typical gig since they are bulky to move and set up, and have a large footprint. Tripod-based stands are more flexible than racks, but each stand can weigh a lot. Each tripod base you remove from your kit will save five pounds or more from your case. Couldn’t you remove at least one tripod from your hardware bag and replace it with a clamp and a boom arm?

Consider a Hybrid Setup

You can make better use of the tripod stands you do need by attaching short rack bars to them. I did this with my hi-hat stand and attached a short horizontal bar to it and mounted an electronic pad, a splash, and a percussion bar that could hold a cowbell and tambourine. I’ve even managed to attach an 8” tom to it for a few gigs. That kit had a suspended floor tom, so I attached another rack bar there and replaced the two tripod stands holding my crash and ride.

DW Frequent Flyer

DW Frequent Flyer

With this approach, you’ll not only reduce weight, but you’ll also gain scarce floor space on smaller stages.

I prefer toms mounted on my bass drum because I can get rid of another tripod and use the tom post to attach a dog bone clamp and a boom arm to hold a crash. I won’t attach a rack bar to it primarily because I don’t want to put too much weight and put stress on my bass drum’s shell.

Choosing lighter gauge hardware is another easy way to lighten up. I own some very sturdy and expensive heavy-gauge double-braced hardware. I don’t use it anymore. Instead, I’ve replaced it with medium weight double braced and single braced hardware. The weight savings are significant. By using memory locks in strategic places, nothing sags and all my cymbals and toms stay in place. Do you really need that double braced snare stand?

Customize Your Kit

If you play with different bands or in vastly different situations, don’t hesitate to customize your kit for the gig. A few years ago, I had to play in a tiny area on the bow of a yacht as it toured the Chicago River before venturing into the more turbulent waters of Lake Michigan. The space designated for the entire band was about the size of a bathroom, so I left my throne and floor tom in my car and sat on one of the boat’s padded seats that doubles as a storage box. Instead of using a cymbal stand that would have tipped over with the boat’s motion, I clamped my ride to the tom post coming out of my bass drum. It got pretty rough, but nothing tipped over.

I’ve done low-volume gigs with as little as a snare and hi-hat while sitting on a cajón that did double duty as my bass drum.


Put it on Wheels

Having a cart to carry your stuff obviously will help you get in and out of your gigs quicker while taking a lot of stress off your back and arms. However, even if you have a cart, don’t overlook choosing a hardware bag that has wheels. Sometimes I have to bring things up stairs where a cart would be useless. Yes, I have to carry my case up the stairs, but once there, wheels make the rest of the trip easier. Some cymbal and bass drum cases have wheels and extendable handles too.

Lastly, I use a mixture of bags and hard cases. Once set up, I can put some the soft bags inside the hard cases and nest them all together like Russian matryoshka dolls.

Hopefully this has given you an idea or two to make things easier for you. If you have some setup tips for us, share them in the comment section below.

Drums & Percussion Shop Now
comments powered by Disqus

Reverb Gives

Your purchases help youth music programs get the gear they need to make music.

Carbon-Offset Shipping

Your purchases also help protect forests, including trees traditionally used to make instruments.

Oops, looks like you forgot something. Please check the fields highlighted in red.