I have heard drummers say, “You don’t need a big kit. If you play on a smaller kit, you will be more creative and more musical.” Several famous drummers have been quoted as saying, “I can do everything I need to do on a basic setup. Anything more than four or five drums just gets in the way.”
A friend of mine auditioned for a rock group recently. After the audition everyone in the group was very complimentary about his playing. However, everyone started to pack up without saying whether or not my friend had the job. He finally asked, “What do you think? Am I in or not?” The spokesman for the group said, “When did you clean your cymbals last? You know, to be in a group like ours you need a really good looking drumset. Your stuff doesn’t look that impressive.”
My friend responded, “Look, I just came off a six-week tour. Cleaning up my set is something that I do fairly often. Are there any other problems?” The spokesman said, “To be honest, your drumset is too small. We want a drummer who has a new double bass outfit with lots of toms and the cymbals way up in the air. We want someone with a flashy looking kit on stage.” My friend did not get the job.
Deciding on how much equipment you really need can be a problem. In fact, it can be a very expensive problem. Drums and cymbals cost a great deal today. I’ll admit that drum equipment overall has never been better, but the cost of much of it is quite high. I have heard great drummers play beautifully on no more than a bass drum, snare, hi-hat and one cymbal. I have also heard great drummers play a huge set with power, authority and great musical ideas. To me this means that the person playing is more important than how many drums are in the kit. This does not mean that there is anything wrong with a large kit. This decision is up to the artist.
My personal view is that the music should come first. Decide what you need in terms of equipment to play the way you feel. If you hear a lot of melodic ideas in your head, you may need a rack full of toms to express these ideas fully. If you are a time player who doesn’t go in for soloing or frills, you might feel more comfortable on a more basic kit. A number of top popular drummers today have returned to simpler setups. Your own individual style and feelings about the role your instrument plays in a group must be taken into account.
The second thing to consider is the job at hand. A good example of this approach is Ed Shaughnessy’s setup on the Tonight Show. Ed may be required to play rock, country, jazz, sambas, pop, ballads and fusion all in a single show. Obviously Ed needs a drumkit that will allow him to be versatile enough to cover all the styles involved. It’s difficult to imagine someone playing all of this on an extremely small setup. So, Ed’s setup reflects the job and the requirements involved, as well as his own personal preferences. If you are in a Las Vegas Show type of band with flashy costumes for each show, an old, beat-up drumset is going to look really out of place. If your group is quite visual, then you will need an attractive drumset. Its size is up to you. However, it must fit the style of the group to some degree in order for the entire visual presentation to be effective. Naturally, playing your best is a requirement for any and all types of bands and groups.
The drummer faces a lot of choices when deciding on a drumkit. Drummers really buy components and adjust them to their needs. Although the drumkit is played as one instrument, it is, in fact, a collection of instruments and no two collections are identical. There is much room for individuality.
Some younger players have the attitude that “This drummer must not be very good, because the kit is too small. A really good drummer would have more drums.” This is an unfortunate point of view, because a decision has been made without hearing the drummer play. There is an old saying which goes, “It’s not what you do that counts. It’s how you do it.” In real life it’s what you do and how you do it. It all counts. So don’t be intimidated by the people who insist that only a small kit is good, and don’t be intimidated by people who say that only a large kit is good. Make your own decision based upon what you feel your needs are.
- If you are on a tight budget, buy a top-quality basic drumset made by a top manufacturer. Then add to the kit as you go along and as your finances allow. Don’t buy a cheap set. If you are working or trying to get into a working band, purchase good equipment.
- Purchase the type of setup that will satisfy the needs of the music you will be playing. Take into consideration the style of the band. A double bass set looks pretty funny in a jazz trio. A three-piece set looks pretty funny on a big stage with a rock group. Both of these options are really up to you. However, when you are competing for work, try to take every aspect of the particular situation into account. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed.
- If you are an all-around drummer playing many kinds of music, you may need two sets: a big one and a small one. Studio drummers usually have two or three sets for different musical situations. If you take care of your equipment, it can be purchased a little at a time over several years. Used equipment in good condition is a great option for a second set.
- If you can afford to do so, don’t sell or trade in drums or cymbals that are in good condition. Collect instruments over a period of time. This is especially true of exotic instruments. A special old snare drum, a certain cymbal or a special gong are all good examples. You never know when you might need something with a very special sound.
Last but not least, put the music first. All other considerations will then fall into line regardless of the size of your kit. Play musically and you can’t go wrong.