Drum Primer For Newbie Please


Almost all the drum stuff today is built for "Rock" drummers who beat the crap out of their drums. If you're looking for a pre-1990 sound, you can't use anything they carry at Guitar Center. Use Aristocrat heads on top, and Diplomats on the bottom. Thick heads kill the tone, and they're only for keeping people from beating holes in their heads when they play too hard. Keep the front head on the kick, and DON'T cut a hole in it. The front head is where the tone comes from. You need a texture on the snare head if you use brushes. Don't use multi-ply or reinforced heads on anything. Use skinny sticks. They didn't make fat sticks in the old days. Using calfskin heads is overkill unless you really love tuning constantly. Note that Jerry Allison played paradiddles all through Peggy Sue. Real drummers bounced the stick off the head rather than beating the drum head with the stick.
Tip #1: Never pay attention to anything a soundman tells you.
Tip #2: You can't go wrong with a Supra-phonic snare.
Tip #3: Bigger will not equate to bigger sound.


Ludwig Supraphonic snare drums are awesome!

Whether or not you cut a hole in the front head of the bass drum is a personal tone preference but it is true that doing so is a recent development. It's a comparable debate to the flatwound, roundwound debate for strings. There is no right or wrong when searching for your tone as long as you like what you hear.


Billy, thank you for the information and tips on getting that original '50s sounds on drums. I have never had real drum lessons except for my friend showing me the basics and another class that was a community college where it was an introduction to drumming. No drums just practice pads. Eventually I'll get drums. All your tips will get me to where I am aiming for.


I assumed he wasn't playing Disco music. The reason for taking off the front head or cutting a hole in it was so you could point the mic straight at the beater to get that Disco "click" kick sound. The click comes from the beater hitting the back head, but the Bass Drum tone comes from the front head. The sound morons don't usually understand this, so they'll tell him he has to take his head off, and then they'll add tons of 80hz artifically to make it sound fat again. It's much better to just make the drum sound good to begin with.
BTW, did you ever notice DJ Fontana's Kick head? It was calfskin, with most of the calf still on it.
That's not paint, it's cow fur.


I love the sound of a nice big bass drum with little or no muffling and a full head on the front. The problem with going to a gig like this today is just like you said, the sound man will probably make you take it off or stuff it. Another obstacle I have run into when I've tried this is my fellow band members didn't like it! I've only had one singer in my life who preferred an organic, boomy bass drum. Both of us were shut down by the other band members and by sound men live and by producers and engineers in the studio.


Billy, that's a great photo of Elvis on DJ Fontana's drum kit. Always been a fan of both DJ Fontana and Elvis and Scotty Moore as far as that goes and James Burton. I've seen the photo of DJ Fontana's cowhide kick head but never with Elvis behind the kit.

As far as I go when I eventually get drums I certainly am not gonna cut a hole anywhere in my kit. No way, no how!


Every once in awhile I'll go to Guitar Center in Hollywood just to look around. I go in there to admire the vintage guitar room. Well I was there yesterday and if any of you have been to GC in Hollywood you know they have the rock walk where musicians put their hand print in the ground in recognition to great work. Well they also have on display famous musicians equipment. I have not been there in awhile so this time I noticed they had something on display new. They had the Van Halen equipment. They had the famous EVH red with stipes guitar. They had his Music Man or is it Ernie Ball guitar. They had a bass which must have been Michael Anthony's. They also had Alex Van Halen's drum kit. It's monstrous. He has four bass drums. Two of them are connected with a tube. I suppose he kicks one and the force travels thru the tube to the other kick drum. Don't know how effective that is but to Van Halen fans it must seem cool.

What I noticed also is he didn't have the front heads on the drums. I thought this was weird. I did read Billy Zoom's post about how some people remove them and this is the first time I noticed this. If I had not read that Billy said that some people remove their front heads on their kicks I would have thought it was a mistake, that they took it off just to show the inside of the large kick drums he had. But after reading what Billy wrote I realize some people do this on purpose.

I like some of the early VH music but by no means am I gonna set out to play that stuff. No interest. I'm interested in playing the stuff I mentioned earlier. You know the '50s rockabilly stuff and the early '60s surf. By no means am I claiming I'll be great at this, it's just for fun and when friends come over who play guitar and bass maybe we can try to play whole songs.

Check out AVH drums without the front heads on -


I was at Guitar Center in Hollywood yesterday too! I bought a guitar strap and some strings.


BuddyHollywood wrote:

I was at Guitar Center in Hollywood yesterday too! I bought a guitar strap and some strings.

What time were you there? Curious if our path's crossed unknowingly?

Did you see the VH display in the window?


Uh, I have to take that back. I was at the Sherman Oaks Guitar Center last night. Boy do I feel silly now! :|

I have seen the drums at the Hollywood store though. They also have an Alex Van Halen kit at the Guitar Center in West LA.


Buddy, no problem. Go out to the Hollywood store and check out the VH display. Pretty cool.

At the Sherman Oaks store a couple of years ago I'm checking out guitars and who walks in but the one and only Joe Walsh. Not a fan of The Eagles but still interesting to see Joe Walsh walk in. Like I always say, these famous musicians seem bigger than life on TV, in concert and in magazines then you see them in person and they are just regular guys in person. I figure he has every guitar he ever wanted but he still was browsing around GC. Interesting.


A lot of good and correct stuff said so far, I'll try to add some more info.

As reference, I own three vintage drum sets, and also significant, vintage cymbals and stands to go with them.

My kits:

1) Early 1964 Ludwig Downbeat. The Downbeat is simply a configuration reference, 12 ride tom, 14 floor tom and 20 bass. FWIW, Ringo used this configuration for the first two Beatles records or so, until he got a Super Classic configuration (22/13/16) in 1965. Of my sets this is my best sounding.

2) 1965 Ludwig Club Date. Almost always these are 12/14/20, the same size as the Downbeat. The difference is that these were Ludwig's "budget" line: They only had ONE set of lugs in the middle and long tension rods to hold the hoops/rims in place to tune the drum. There are also some other slight hardware differences to the Downbeat, but significantly, they are the SAME Ludwig shells as used in the Downbeat.

An earlier post mentioned a 15" floor tom on a Club Date set. To slightly correct that information, the 15" was the FT size for this configuration until about 1961 when it went to 14".

=> Every major drum company offered a single lug budget set, e.g, Rogers "Tower". But Ludwig, because of the Ringo association sold scores more than anyone else. The Gretsch "Playboy" single lug set up is the rarest to me.

3) Approx 1960 Gretsch "Name Band" set, 13/16/22. The great era of Gretsch are referred to as "Round Badge". A lot of people think Gretsch make the best drums but not snares. I disagree but whatever. One thing that is true is that Gretsch made their drums about 1/16'' larger than anyone and quite often it's difficult to get heads onto them. There is a company that makes heads for Gretsch (Aquarian American Vintage (made in Mexico of course)) but the reception to them is mixed.

Here are some points:

a) By the 60s virtually everyone rock was playing 13/16/22. But as mentioned Ringo used 12/14/20 and John Densmore of the Doors used the Downbeat set for the entire band's career.

b) Ludwig are by far the most common and along with Slingerland (also respected) the cheapest on the vintage market. Especially Club dates. There tend to be two camps as to the "best" era of Ludwig. First, the "pre-serial number keystone badges", basically late 50s to about just before the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan. The arguments here are the better quality control before all the orders came in after Sullivan and also, by early 1965, Ludwig switched to steel rims from brass. I have both steel and brass and much prefer brass, if for no other reason than they don't get easily bent. You can tell one from the other by using a magnet.

Second are those who prefer the Ludwig era from about 68 - 72 when the insides were clear coated. Ringo's Let It Be era set was of this type.

c) The Ludwig acrolite and supraphonic snares are in their body, one and the same. To distinguish them, Ludwig put 10 lugs on the supra as well as chrome. BUT chrome and aluminum don't hold--and consequently almost ALL supras from the vintage era are pitting, some badly. Also, the acrolite has only 8 lugs, which it easier to tune. My brother's 66 acro sounds as good if not better than my 64 supra. Ringo used the same wood "Jazz Festival" snare (8 lugs) for the entire Beatles career. I personally prefer wood snares.

d) For any snares, wood or otherwise, whether the snare has 6 or 8 lugs makes a big difference in price. The pure drum guys prefer 8 lug although many say 6 is fine. I gig with a guy who uses a 6 lug Ludwig Pioneer and it sounds excellent. If you want vintage on a budget 6 lugs is a great way to go.

e) When buying vintage drums the main factors to consider are (i) originality of the wrap, (ii) any extra holes? (iii) was the set "born together"--serial numbers are close, etc; (iv) is the inside finish original? (v) bearing edges--prefer original and un-chewed up (vi) faded wrap => one VERY important thing is that unlike road warrier vintage player guitars, vintage drummers insist upon very clean drums for top $$$.

f) The other thing that affects price is the color of the wrap. Champagne, Burgundy, (tangerine--gretsch only) and Green sparkle do well. Red, silver and blue not as well, and then there are the pearl wraps like white marine, sky blue, black diamond, etc. Green is the rarest, but is massively prone to fade. Late 60s Ludwig pearls like Psycholdelic, Mod Orange and Citrus Mod carry a premium. And of course Oyster, Black, Pearl because of Ringo. But at the end of the day get what you like.

A guy named Bill who runs a vintage drum service has a good website for reference, and he is a really good guy. See the stuff in the sold section and you'll get a feel for drum wraps. www.classicvintagedrums.com

g) To me, there is basically only one head that anyone who likes vintage should use, the Remo Ambassador. Avoid calf for reasons stated. The side of the drum you hit is called the "batter" and the other side the "reso" head. As mentioned, in the 70s everyone thought it was cool to take off the reso head. As a result you see a lot of drums today with missing reso heads. That's fine but you have parts to buy and be careful that the reso side bearing edges aren't all chewed up from being exposed.

h) Use no more than 16 or 20 strand snare wires.

i) Vintage hardware is important for that look and ease of movement. The Ludwig 1400 flat base cymbal stand (or the Slingerland version of same) is my preferred choice. The bass drum mounted cymbal stand is very cool as well. Watch for sets for sale with original hardware.

j) For modern the guys on the Drumforum do like the Gretsch Catalina series and because they are Asian made are very cheap, especially used. And I mean the jazz guys. I'm sure in that zone, there are preferred variations, but I don't follow modern stuff.


knavel, thanks for the information and the link to the vintage drum site. The info you give is very helpful. Yeah those new Gretsch Catalina Jazz bebops are very nice. They look vintage and all but from what I read so far here they are not built like vintage.

What kind of music do you play? Do you play, jazz or rockabilly? Surf maybe?


For a number of years I was the lead guitarist for a group that did I suppose something like the British Invasion groups of the 60s. But for the various covers would pull out from time to time we did things like Dick Dale and Eddie Cochran. Rockabilly and surf figured heavily into our sound as well as the style even though we weren't per se a group that did those styles.

I only got into drums relatively recently in 2009 and what I wrote above is some of what I've learned in 2 years of deep study.

I wouldn't expect Catalina drums to be built like vintage--it's amazing that you can get them new for what? $500? Heck a Gretsch set in the 60s cost a good chunk of $500 1960s dollars!


I'm not really a fan of vintage hardware. It looks nice but doesn't always work so well in my experience.


Can I tag along here and ask for a similarly quick primer on tuning drums? Again, from a guitarist's standpoint, not that of a trained drummer. TIA


Great thread, con't believe I missed it! I really don't have anything to add for OP, but I'll find a link to a quick head tuning guide for JeffH...


Here you go Jeff H, a short video on changing heads and tuning a snare. covers good basics applicable to tuning all drums. Of course, preference and experiance will change your habits over time...

My personal fave is a 26 actually, because it sounds like somebody beating a whale with a Cadillac. -- tubwompus

That's hilarious.:D


Thanks Sean!

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