Drum Heads: It Ain’t How Big It Is . . .

When recording kick drums for your album, you should consider what the desired effect is based on the record you’re making. For example, if you want a powerful impact and attack, you may want to rethink the whole “size” issue, as a big kick drum may not get you there. Massive bass drums are certainly impressive visually, but the bigger the drum’s circumference, the greater the boom, and the lesser the definition. As far as depth is concerned, the shallower a drum, the less that note will sustain.

The majority of kick drums on the market today are 22" in diameter, therefore making them the mostrecorded bass drums. But if you want your kicks to have more definition and punch, think about going smaller, like 20" or even 18". Yes—even for your rock and roll project. You might think that 18" kicks are a jazz thing only, but it isn’t so. Many successful pop/punk albums are made with these smaller kicks precisely because they deliver clear, punchy notes in the studio. Hey, you can still go on stage with your big 22s, and no one will know!

Remember that so much of what makes a bass drum sound like a bass drum is more than its size. It also has a lot to do with what you’re hitting it with. After all, a beater has far more surface area, physical mass, and density than a drumstick, and it strikes with greater velocity—all of which translates into a boomier sound. I mention this fact so that you won’t worry if you’re using an 18" kick and an 18" floor tom in the same session. The impact of the beater will ensure that the two drums don’t produce similar sounds. Hit an 18" or 16" tom with a kick-drum beater, and you’ll hear how much difference there is. And if you find a floor tom that sounds great as a “bass drum,” keep in mind that any floor tom can be easily converted to a kick drum via a number of “lifts” that are available on the market.

After albums of going the standard route of using more commonly-sized kicks, I recently recorded a project using 18" kick drums made by Trick Drum. The kick had to punch through four tracks of distorted guitars, a bass, and multiple tracks of vocals and keyboards, and the uniform construction of the Trick Drum’s aluminum shells provided consistent tone and greater low end than wood bass drums of the same size. It also cut through the mix exceedingly well—both in live and studio situations. While these proved to be the right kicks for the track, I must admit that they also delivered the right sound for my style, as I like my kick drums tuned tight for better attack. For heads, I used Remo Coated Powersonics with the external dampener snapped fully in place. The resonant head was left on the kick, and I cut a five-inch hole in the middle of the head.

To mic the drums, we used a handy device called a Kelly Shu—a horseshoe-shaped, shock-mounted mic holder that sets up inside any bass drum with lugs. Although the device made in difficult to use internal dampening—such as a feather pillow—the result was what I had hoped for. We got a tone that had a great deal of piercing attack and definition, while still retaining the oomph and thud that makes a kick drum really drive a groove. The sound was anything but wimpy. Give it a try!