Miscellaneous Rumbles

I know nothing about drums, so I have a question


I was watching the Jeff Beck Les Paul movie and noticed the drummer was playing Pearl drums. That got me to thinking. Drums always sound like drums to me. I know the difference between snare drums, tom toms, bass drums, etc... However is there a difference between brands? Do Gretsch drums sound or play differently than Pearl or Ludwig? Do different materials make a difference? I'm sure some people ask that about guitars and we will angrily tell them they're wrong (despite little empiric evidence it's true.) Drummers use the same kit during concerts for all songs and seemingly often for years.

Please enlighten me.


Size matters.

Width and depth.

As does drum head material sticks used, wood or metal construction, beater, design and padding. Not sure if poly or lacquer make a difference.


Drums are weird. I saw a video a while ago, a guy from DW explaining how they "tune" the drum shells as they manufacture them, one at a time, so each drum in the kit is in tune. I imagine you can do that.

I've had a lot of different drums, but none sound as good as the set I have now. An old Ludwig kit from the 70's. It was a used kit in a music store. I was mucking around on them and my wife heard me from across the store, came over and said "those drums sound amazing". She could hear the difference.

Like so many things, sometimes everything just resonates perfectly. I've tried adding drums to the kit, but they never sound like the rest of the drums. I am kinda nutty about using only Evans hydraulic heads and Promark 747 sticks. I've also replaced my cymbals with Zildjian Armands. HUGE difference when it comes to cymbals.


Sorry. How about a more direct answer.

If you had similar drum kits from Gretsch, Pearl, Ludwig and DW set up in a room side by side, all other things being equal (same heads, drum sizes, and hardware) and the same drummer playing each set one after another, would or could you hear a difference? I would say yes. I would also suggest that if you put similar kits from the SAME manufacturer but each from a different price/quality level side by side you would also hear a difference.

Just like any guitar maker, drum makers have different levels of quality and also price. Take DW for example. Their top of the line drums shells are made in the USA from laminated maple. Very hard wood. Their entry level drums called PDP are imported and made of lesser quality wood and use cheaper hardware. The sonic difference is pretty obvious.

Now, if you blindfolded someone and seated them in the room with the four drum kits and had your drummer randomly chose one of the kits to play on, would the blindfolded gent be able to say "oh, that's the Pearl drums"? Pretty doubtful. There are some classic snare drums that have a distinct signature sound, but drums really don't have a "twang" or "quack" like Gretsches or Strats do.

I'm not a pro drummer, but these are my observations having played drums for 45 years or so. Take it for what its worth.


like guitars...a great setup can make an average player sound better

but a great player will sound amazing even on the shittiest gear setup

I use digital drums at home, just now learning how to use midi patches and samples to make them sound better. Very tedious process and I'm struggling.


Most definitely yes, different materials and different brands sound completely different from each other. Like guitars, you have to search and find the drums that create a sound that speaks to your soul. I've played and owned many major brands including Ludwig, Slingerland, Rogers, Tama, Yamaha, Mapex, Gretsch, DW and Pearl drums and the drums that speak most to me are Ludwigs made from 1968-1973, Yamaha, Pearl Maple, Pearl Birch and Gretsch. For me I noticed I gravitate towards maple and birch for woods. I had a mahogany kit when I was younger and it just didn't do it for me. For snare drums I use a Ludwig Acrolite which is made from aluminum and a Ludwig Hammered Bronze. I use them both equally but choose the aluminum snare for small bar gigs and the hammered bronze snare for anything bigger than a small bar.

My main drum set currently is a Ludwig kit from the early 1970s made with 3 plys of maple, poplar and maple with reinforcement rings and it is perfect for the small and medium sized rooms and even the outdoor summer gigs I play. I also own a Gretsch Renown 57 that I have set up in a friend's studio. I would use this kit more if I played bigger rooms. It sounds fantastic.


It seems that material/thickness matters, like 3 thin ply maple + reinforcement rings vs thick 5 ply... but then how comes it makes no difference to wrap it in some thick plastic (rhodoid)?


Also, apart from the type of construction/wood, each brand also has a signature edge shape that's supposed to influence tone.


I think Gretsch drums sound amazing (Yeah, I know I'm biased) and they get this distinct sound via their construction and features. They claim the first shells constructed without reinforcement hoops glued inside, giving them a thinner bearing surface for tighter drumhead contact. Gretsch used 6-ply stagger laminated maple for their shells. When you pick up a Gretsch tom tom, it is quite heavy. Without heads or hoops however, Gretsch's shells are surprisingly light. The weight comes from their use of die-cast hoops, which give the light, resonant shells more heft and solidity. My early '80s Grand Prix setup (24" bass, 18" floor tom, 13" and 14" tom toms, all standard depth) projects so well that we seldom mic the kit. Quite a few drummers have remarked to me that compared with playing their personal drum sets, playing my Gretsches was like sitting behind the wheel of a Cadillac. (My friend and drummer Brad sitting in on my 1980s Gretsch Grand Prix set.)


My brothers and I have like 7 vintage Gretsch and Ludwig kits between us so I have had a decent swathe of stuff to test.

Gretsch kits tend to be respected most in the kick drum and toms but not so much the snares. I tend to agree on the snares--they seem to sound a bit boxy. Consistent with this, Charlie Watts has always used a vintage Gretsch kit but never the snare as far as I know live.

Ludwig is my preference. I have a Downbeat set 1964 which I would force drummers to play as I think it's the best set ever. ALL of the drummers wanted to buy it AND my 1960 Gretsch kit, which is also fantastic sounding except the snare.

Nowadays it's the same thing with drums as guitars: You can get really nice stuff from Asia for very little. It just lacks the character of vintage (to me).

A couple more things about vintage Gretsch: The round badge ones (up to circa 1970) cost more, but the company used the same woodmaker, Jasper of Indiana, for the shells into the early 80s, maybe longer. Thus Stop Sign Badge Gretsch can be good value and couple it with a Ludwig snare--I like them all, but prefer the wood ones like Jazz Festival, which Ringo used.

Vintage Gretsch is also known for having a touch larger diameter and so heads can be a problem. I haven't experienced this personally --my kit took the best head there is, Remo Ambassador, right away. But if the Gretsch kit needs the larger heads there is a company that makes Gretsch sized heads--Aquarian-but they sound like crap.

Finally Fun Fact: About 4 or 5 years ago I noticed that the person who collects and knows the most about vintage Gretsch guitars and who knows and collects the most about vintage Gretsch drums' serial numbers (they got destroyed in the fire too!) lived in the same city so I kind of set up an introduction.


I've got two Gretsch snare drums, a 6"X14" nickel-plated brass snare, a 5 1/2"X14" maple snare as well as a Ludwig Supraphonic 400 (chrome-plated Ludalloy shell) 5 1/2"X14" and the three have a character all their own. I experimented with a 40-strand snare on the brass Gretsch and it sounded like a 105mm Howitzer. The 40 ended up on the maple drum and it sounds warm and jazzy. With it's original 20 strand snare, the brass Gretsch is crisp and loud. The Ludwig I traded for out of nostalgia (it's a '67 dated keystone badge with a P-83 strainer) exactly like the one I got with my 1966 Ludwig Hollywoods. What else can you say about the Supraphonic 400? It's loud, tight, bright. No wonder it was the most popular snare drum ever.


Knavel, the only problem I've ever encountered with head size on Gretsch drums was with the wrapped shells. The Asahi Compo heads I tried years ago would barely fit on my black nitron wrapped shells (actually had to dremel the insides of the head's hoops on a couple of them). The shoulders of the head's hoops also didn't seat well on the Gretsch die-cast hoops either. 10-4 on the Remo Ambassador-weight heads. I also experimented with the heavier Emperor heads on my antique maple kit as sound control. They seemed to work out well.


I've played drums since 1964 and I've had Kent, Ludwig, Pearl, Tama, Sonor, DWs, Yamaha, Slingerland, Rodgers and some other brands and they all sounded fine to me. My ears might not be so good after years behind a loud kit but I don't hear anywhere near the difference that other drummers talk about hearing. I hear more difference going from one stage to another stage than going from one kit to another. Good hardware, the right sticks and pedals make a big difference.


The biggest problem with the sounds of drums is the drummer's lack of knowledge of set-up and tuning. So many of the drummers I've heard sound like they're playing Tupperware. They usually over-mute the heads, don't bother with proper tensioning, then rely on brute force to try to get a sound. Besides lousy tone, all they end up with are broken sticks, batted-through heads and cracked cymbals.


Dr., you know we have a Drum section on the GDP right? Check it out.

I was recently given a vintage Japanese stencil kit and I have become, as a coworker calls it, "drum drunk"!


I've had a lot of different drums, but none sound as good as the set I have now. An old Ludwig kit from the 70's. It was a used kit in a music store. I was mucking around on them and my wife heard me from across the store, came over and said "those drums sound amazing". She could hear the difference. -- Powdog

Ahem. Does she have a sister?


I've had a lot of different drums, but none sound as good as the set I have now. An old Ludwig kit from the 70's. It was a used kit in a music store. I was mucking around on them and my wife heard me from across the store, came over and said "those drums sound amazing". She could hear the difference. -- Powdog

Ahem. Does she have a sister?

– Ric12string

The GDP is a matchmaker!


Two, but she's the gem.

Dang Bob! I'm gonna be at the Convention Center the weekend after NAMM. Big Volleyball invitational going on. Wish I could do both.

Have fun. NAMM is a blast. If you have time, burger and beer at Slide Bar. I always have fun there. Bumped into Steve Vai last time.


Another big factor in a drumkit's sound, regarding rack toms anyway, and especially with all-original vintage kits, is how the toms are mounted.

For example, for about 25 years or so, Ludwig used a mount with an L-shaped arm going into a bracket bolted to the tom. This worked quite well to give the tom more tone and resonance than anybody else's mounting system at the time.....until.....

Kits with 2 rack toms became relatively standard. Ludwig dutifully came up with a nice, viable, durable double holder, ending up with L-arms on either end of a bone-shaped casting which, in turn, was atop a 1" tube that went into the bass drum's receiver plate. (I always thought they put that plate too far to the rear).

Anyway, vibration transfer became an issue. I've had 10 or 11 Ludwig kits in 48 years and on every one of them that had two rack toms on the bass drum, 1 just sang and the other just thudded rather lifelessly, inspite of the fact that the tuning ratios between top and bottom heads was very consistent. Take one tom off and the other sang out like a big fat boidy. Gretsch's mount starting in the '80's was similar in concept and had the same issue. Same with Tama.

I've had one Pearl kit. Only one because the big ol' tubes that poked way into the toms interrupted the air column and sucked all of the vitamins out of the tone. Great on paper. Otherwise, not so much. Nothing wrong at all with the drums, themselves. Just the mounts.

Enter isolation mounts, starting with R.I.M.S. Once the patent ran out, every body at least tried to come up with a knockoff of those, some better than others. R.I.M.S. changed the world for myself and many, many other drummers. Because of them, now rack toms sounded the way they should have all along.

Lots of other factors that, other than snare drums, don't have a HYOOJ bearing on things in a mic'ed situation. If the shell is round, has consistent bearing edges, and is of reasonable construction, you'll be able to make it sound pretty damn good if you know what you're doing.

I, like most drummers, have my own preferences but it's more or less splitting hairs on some levels (except to other drummers where it's actually quite a big deal a lot of times).


Tub, are you talking about the spade bracket setup like this Rail consolette?

 photo CEECC017-149A-4183-ADAC-989497E1B8BA_zpsyvguw1lz.jpg


Setzer, your mount's design predates the Ludwig one I mentioned above. That spoon-slot setup was pretty much the first one to show up after the clamp-to-bass drum hoop setup, soon after the war. Just about every major company was using it for a time. More durable and flexible than its predecessor but it did affect the tone. Picture the sound of the high tom on the Motown records. Around the mid-50's, everybody started to get away from that and came up with their respective next steps in their mounts' evolution. Some stayed with the rail and improved the top half, like Ludwig did. Others went in a totally different direction, like Rogers with their Swivomatic.

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