Drum Heads: Putting Together a House Drum Kit

Trumpet players have it easy. They can waltz in five minutes to downbeat, open up their cases, and start blowing. Drummers, on the other hand, have to schlep, and setting up a kit and getting tones is a lot of work. The ordeal becomes even more of a nightmare if the drummer brings in a cheap or poorly tuned kit. However, lengthy and occasionally grueling setups can be downsized with the addition of a house kit—especially if the kit is already miked and tuned to the room. But before you ink any checks or swipe some plastic for some house drums, here are some features to look for in a sparkling monstrosity of wood, chrome, and brass.

Pick Up the Pieces

A standard 5-piece kit is an adequate selection, but a 7-piece will add the versatility needed for various styles. Additional toms (assuming one extra high tom, and one extra floor tom) allow for busy Peart-esque fills, but, more importantly, they let you craft different-sounding kits. For example, if the tom sizes are 8", 10", 12", 14", and 16", building a 4-piece kit with just the 10" rack and the 14" floor offers a very clear, yet powerful sound. Swap them with the 12" and 16", and the kit will sound drastically larger and heavier. A third option is to convert the 16" floor tom to a kick drum that will overhaul the sonic gestalt of the set into a “jungle” kit.

Let Freedom Resonate

Having a plethora of toms to play with is fun, but it’s the resonant qualities of the toms that matters most. Mounting brackets play a crucial role in tom resonance. Up until the last eight or nine years, most toms just had sturdy brackets bolted to them. While they certainly serve their purpose well, they also choke the tone, and require additional holes in the drum shell. Thankfully, most of today’s higher-end kits have brackets that allow the drum to move around and resonate freely while also preserving the shell. For the vintage kit, a cheap upgrade with the RIMS mounting system can be a sonorous reawakening well worth the money.

The Snarehouse

Investing in a small collection of snare drums is a wise method to diversify a drum mix. Having three to five snares ready to go—as well as tuned for timbral variety—bring different sonic characters to the table, save a lot of session headaches, and inspire musical ideas. A comprehensive library would include a standard 5" x 14" snare, one of greater depth (6" to 7"), a heavy brass snare (Ludwig’s Black Beauty is the typical warhorse), a piccolo snare, and maybe a few specialty boutique snares. Keep in mind that while no two snare models will sound identical, most snares have the tuning range to cover everything from heavy rock to ska.


Drum heads are the cheapest link in the drummer’s signal chain, and yet they account for a majority of a drum’s tone. There are two basic kinds—thick and thin. Remo Pinstripes and Evans EC2s are the ideal choices for heavier players, as their thickness allows for great attack and tone at high and medium volumes. For lighter, more acoustic settings, Remo’s coated Ambassador heads have been the choice for ages, and they’re also a great way to achieve a vintage tone. Bass drum heads come with a variety of dampening options, but a few that always sound good are the Remo Powerstroke and various models by Evans.

The Genius of Familiarity

If the engineer knows the room, the mics, and the drum kit, dialing in a good sound can take far less time than a typical day of getting tones. The additional options of suggesting different snares, tom configurations, or heads might create the variety needed to bring the rhythm section to a new level. Purchase wisely, eliminate those headache-inducing bad-tone sessions, and start saving money on that unneeded aspirin.