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Okay we've got guitars, basses, amps, mikes, and something to plug those mikes into. The band is nearly outfitted. Only a little more to go on this gear stuff. But it's fun, because it's the loudest part. Here come the drumroll please DRUMS!

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Chapter 6. Drums

Drums are the backbone of rock. The beat, the life, the blood. People say, "You're only as good as your drummer ," and it's true. Drums are the primal element in rock and roll. Basically, modern drums are imitating a hollowed out log with some animal skin stretched over it, and "hit with wooden clubs" (I forget who said that). Drums were, historically, probably the first instrument.

The rock drum kit, sometimes called a drum set (and even a trap set, though this term is used less and less) is basically a one-man band . It's a combination of several instruments that are played by several different people in a symphony or marching band: bass drum, snare drum, crash cymbals, and tom toms.

The most basic kit has at least this: a snare drum, a bass drum (also called a kick drum), high-hat cymbals, and a floor tom. That's called a three-piece kit. (You only count the drums, not the cymbals.)

Most companies don't sell a three-piece kit. If you want one and can't find one, you might pay less to special order the components than to buy a four-piece kit and not use it all. Do the math.

Figure 6.1. Four-piece drum kit.


Most kits also have at least a ride cymbal, one crash cymbal, and one or two tom toms (also called rack toms).

Some kits have all this and then add a bunch more rack toms, too many crash cymbals, a cowbell, timpani, timbales, and even a gong. This attitude was popular in the 70s, but most drummers today are more stripped down with their kit. I kinda like the stripped-down approach. Some of my favorite drummers use very little more than a three- or four-piece kit. I sometimes wonder about people with huge kits. They make me think of guys who spend a lot of money on their car. Like maybe they're making up for some elsewhere, perhaps something anatomical .

Figure 6.2. Crash cymbal.


Drummers who use big kits: Neil Pert of Rush, Chad Sexton of 311, the guy from Dave Matthews Band, and Damon Che from Don Caballero. Primus, both Brain Mantia and Tim Alexander.

My ex-drummer, Reuben Chandler, says, "Half-assed drummers such as Keith Moon operated under the assumption that if there was a space fill it. That way, in your undisciplined thrashing you'd at least sound really fast."

Figure 6.3. Chimes.


Some of my favorite drummers use tiny kits. Like Mick Harvey of Birthday Party and also of The Bad Seeds. Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Meg White of the White Stripes, Tre Cool of Green Day. Dave Grohl in his Nirvana days. The guy from the Liars and Tony Fag from Bomb. Tony developed his signature "boogadigga" beat out of adversity. He didn't have money for a double-bass kit, so he alternated a double-bass beat between his single bass drum and his floor tom. And he didn't have a high-hat clutch until the Warner Brother's record. He lost his clutch when he was a teenager and never had money to replace it. So he just used his high-hat to keep the beat with his foot . But you couldn't really hear it, which made the drumming he was playing sound more primal and stripped down and thus more powerful.

Drums, like guitars, have gotten cheaper for good new stuff, due to technological advances in the manufacturing process. (And due to globalization, and sending work to countries where labor is insanely cheapbut that's another book entirely.) As you would when purchasing a guitar, it's probably a good idea to take someone who knows what he's doing with you when buying your first drum set. You will find drums, like all musical instruments, at the same places you'll find guitars: music stores, eBay, want ads, pawn shops , mail order, and through the grapevine .

Avoid the cheapest of the cheap crappy rock drum kitsstuff that's made for little kids that will fall apartyou know, the kits that are like $199 retail new. You'll have to probably pay 500 bucks or more for a good solid four-piece kit that's going to last long enough to actually play some gigs with it. And cymbals and hardware are several hundred bucks extra.

Reuben sez "Tell kids not to pay more than 50 percent of retail for drum equipment." Reuben helped me out with this chapter, because I know less about drums than any other instrumentI sing and play bass very well, play guitar okay, am passable on keyboards, but when I get behind the drum kit, it sounds like a drunk guy falling down the stairs.

I asked Reuben how to not pay more than 50 percent of retail, and he said, "It's true for any musical purchase. Go in and look at the price and offer them 30 to 40 percent. You should be able to settle on 50. Go at the end of the day just before closing. They've either made money that day or want to. If they've made it, then with you they'll make a little extra. If not, then they've made some. If they don't want to deal, walk out."

Good advice. And I thought that only worked in pawn shops.

Drums involve a lot of hardware. It's a lot of work to set them up, it's a lot of work to play them, and it's a lot of work to break them down. Often the drummer doesn't get to be very involved in the writing process and, as a result, doesn't make as much money as the other guys in the band, and does more physical labor. And he's the brunt of most of the meanest jokes:


"What do you call a guy who follows a bunch of musicians around and goes to all their gigs?


The drummer.


What's the difference between a rock drummer and an extra large pizza with anchovies?


The pizza can feed a family of four.


What's the last thing the drummer said before he got kicked out of the band?


"Hey guys! Let's do one of my songs!"

So fewer people want to play drums than any other instrument in the band. Everyone wants to be the singer or the guitarist. They get all the chicks (or all the guys). The bass player gets to be up front on the edge of the stage. Even the keyboard player usually has more input in the songwriting process.

So great drummers are hunted to extinction . If you find one, treat her with little baby kittyfeet and be extra nice to her because great drummers are so damn hard to find and hard to keep. If your drummer is great, after every gig there's gonna be a few people circling like chummy sharks to steal him from you. Good drummers who aren't insane and are easy to deal with are usually being paid like a grand a week (or a grand a night) to tour with someone else. (Drummers often are insane. Drumming attracts lunatics. After all, what kind of person wants to hit things all night?)

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