Shop Talk

Add Some Metal!

6 Ways to Customize Your Kit Using Scraps and Old Car Parts

by Jordan Hill

Searching for new melodic tones to add to your kit? A trip to the local auto scrap yard can open up a world of sounds for any drummer. Here are some ways to introduce voices to your setup using old car parts and scrap metal.

Brake Drums

Brake drums are used on the rear wheels of many cars and trucks. They can be easily found at a used-car-parts lot. A set of three or four different sizes of brake drums will give a lot of melodic potential to your kit. You can mount them in snare stands, and they require no modifications to be played. Take a chromatic tuner with you when shopping for break drums, if you want to get exact with the individual pitches of each one.

Air-Cleaner-Cover Gongs

On many older cars and trucks, the top of the engine is covered with a round metal shield that’s held on by a wing nut. This metal disc covers the air filter, and it produces a sound much like a small gong, with each size of cover having a different pitch. Drill two small holes at the top, and suspend the cover from a cymbal stand or rack using insulated wire. Covers can be found at an auto salvage yard.

Sign Gong

Here’s an inexpensive way to add a gong to a drumkit. Find an old metal sign, and suspend it from a cymbal stand or rack. The sign can be hit with a gong mallet, or you can use one hand to shake it in order to produce a thunder- sheet effect. Be creative when looking for the sign, since it will be adding a visual component as well.


These unique hi-hats are made from two car flywheels, which are metal discs that connect an engine to a transmission. They are usually 13″ to 15″ in diameter, so they’re a perfect size for this application. Flywheels need some adjustments before they can be used as fly-hats.

The center holes of flywheels are larger than hi-hat cymbal holes, so flat washers need to be welded in place to allow the wheels to work with a hi-hat stand and clutch.

An adjustment to the lower cymbal seat must also be made. Most flywheels are flat, so the base that the lower wheel rests on needs a spacer, which can be made out of wood or several layers of cardboard.

Pulley Bells

Pulley bells offer the most melodic possibilities of all these car-parts instruments. The pulleys are used on the front of engines for the drive belts. Every pulley is a different size, and each has its own pitch. The sound is similar to that of crotales or bells. Use a tuner to identify the pitch of each pulley. They can be placed individually on a cymbal stand or mounted as a set using a small piece of wood.

Mallets and Beaters

Most of these instruments sound best when played with mallets instead of drumsticks. In keeping with the salvage theme, here are some inexpensive and easy ways to make your own implements.

The first is a tennis ball gong mallet. Poke two holes in an old tennis ball and push the ball over the end of a drumstick. (The tip of the stick helps keep the ball from sliding off.) This mallet works well for the sign gong.

The second homemade mallet uses a rubber bouncy ball and a wooden dowel rod. Drill a .25″ hole in the ball, and slide the ball over the end of the dowel. Apply some epoxy to ensure that the ball will stay on the end of the dowel. This mallet brings out great tones on brake drums and the air-cleaner-cover gongs.

This article focuses on metal parts from automobiles, but don’t stop there. Try out an empty propane tank or an old metal suitcase. There are many ways of adding metal and melody to your drumset. Get creative!