Drummers have long lauded and attempted to duplicate certain distinct tones from records that span a variety of decades and genres. John Bonham’s powerful, booming tone with Led Zeppelin, Elvin Jones’ thunderous onrush with John Coltrane, and Stewart Copeland’s dry yet driving crack with the Police are among the slew of notable recorded drum sounds often referenced in the pages of MD and on countless online forums. So it’s no surprise that when we asked our readers and social media followers about their favorite recorded drumset tones, a slew of comments quickly piled up. Check out some of the responses.
John Mellencamp’s Scarecrow. Kenny Aronoff’s sound is crisp and clean, and that snare tone, while pleasing, cuts right through everything else in the mix. That album has great production, top to bottom.
Soundgarden’s Superunknown. The drum tones transcend real drums without bastardizing the way a kit actually sounds in a room. Each song has slightly different tonal characteristics, though the sounds from song to song are still cohesive. Bravo, Matt Cameron and [producer] Michael Beinhorn!
Heernt, Locked in a Basement. Mark Guiliana goes ham on this one, playing on pans and choked cymbals, all while maintaining such a deep hold of the time. His booming floor tom and bass drum combo really does it for me as well.
Yes’s Close to the Edge. Bill Bruford’s tightly tuned, highly resonant snare and punchy yet melodic toms were so unusual in a day when heavily muffled drums seemed to be the mainstay. The kit was a bit upfront in the mix, so it really shined. To this day, it’s one of the most engaging drumset sounds ever recorded.
Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy. The drum sound is so huge and rich. Heavy rock drummers have been trying to emulate that sound ever since. Bonham had a great sound before this record, but I think it shines through really well on Houses.
Traveling Mercies by Chris Potter, with Bill Stewart on drums. It’s got that classic Gretsch bop-kit tone in a modern jazz setting.
The Wallflowers’ Bringing Down the Horse. Matt Chamberlain’s snare is punchy, and his bass drum is nice and thick. The cymbals cut through when needed, yet are also dynamically appropriate throughout. I’m not sure how much of the tone is derived from Matt’s playing or T Bone Burnett’s production. Regardless, the combo makes for an amazing drum sound.
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers’ output on Blue Note, including A Night in Tunisia and Free for All. That nice, warm, and open sound from Rudy Van Gelder’s mix made Blakey’s drums explosive!
Danny Carey’s kit on Tool’s Ænima is my top pick. There’s a wonderful sense of dynamics, and the tuning of each voice is perfectly enhanced with just the right amount of reverb. They captured every detail of Carey’s playing with that mix, and I’d go as far as to say that the drum tone on that record is a modern equivalent of the huge sound that drummers like Bonham are known for. It perfectly balances modern punch and attitude with old-school clarity and character. It’s a masterwork of drum mixing!
Dream Theater’s Metropolis, Part 2: Scenes From a Memory. That drumset has the greatest sound I’ve ever heard—that high-pitched but powerful snare, those warm yet defined toms, and that punchy bass drum. The hi-hats also had the best stick definition without losing that rock sound, and the ride has the exact right amount of ping and balance between dryness and wash—perfect cymbal mixing. The beautiful drum sound worked well with the incredible music on that mind-blowing album.
Lenny White on Romantic Warrior by Chick Corea’s Return to Forever. The snare is fat and crisp, the toms are deep and clean with just a touch of reverb, the kick is punchy without being overwhelming, and the cymbals have the right amount of stick definition and shimmer.
Pearl Jam’s Ten, with Dave Krusen on drums. It had a huge, throaty snare sound and big, deep toms, and the drum mix is right up front but still balanced.
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