One thing I don’t think we talk about enough, as drummers is our gear. I especially don’t think we always see the importance in addressing the versatility of our gear. IT IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT (excuse the aggression). But, it really is extremely important, especially if you don’t have tons of money to blow. This being said, it’s probably true that this doesn’t necessarily apply to all drummers. If you’re playing the same gig day after day then you’ve probably pretty much already narrowed down the gear it takes for you to produce for that gig every time. However, if you play multiple gigs that range over a wide scope of genres, then you probably know how important it is that you have versatile gear that can fit multiple styles.
Without versatility we lock ourselves into a box. We unintentionally categorize ourselves and our sound, and our sound ultimately comes from our gear. So it’s simple: Versatile gear gives you a versatile sound. For me, it’s very important that I experiment with different sounds, different gear. There are weeks/months that I play with an array of different people and each artist, engineer, listener tends to look for something different. There are also weeks/months where I play the same gig over and over and my gear needs to have the consistency to accommodate those as well. While I feel confident enough to say I have my own sound, my own style, I still tend to experiment with different sounds in order to cater to the artist or situation I’m playing for. What’s most important to me is having gear that is applicable to multiple situations, that can produce multiple sounds, and gear that allows me to explore different sounds and options. IMPORTANT: this does not mean having lots and lots of gear. It doesn’t take tons of gear to have versatility. What it does take is having quality gear and having a good knowledge of what your gear can do.
Some gear that I’ve found helpful:
I try to keep a few snare drums around me at all times (It’s not necessary to have 3+ snares. You can work with just one). These will probably be the most expensive parts of your arsenal, but they don’t really have to be. At the moment I’m playing a Gretsch Club Rock, a DW Collectors Series, and a Ludwig Acrolite. Each one of these gives me different option (really, each has a different range of options) tonally. For example if I’m playing some big punchy rocky stuff I’ll probably use the Gretsch. It’s 14″ x 6.5″ which gives you tons of body without rounding out that nice CRACK that we all know and love from Rock. What’s important to remember here is that really everything about a snare (and all drums for this matter) benefits or detriments your drum: the wood, the heads, the hardware, everything. So, my suggestion is to start by choosing one high quality (not necessarily expensive) durable snare that you like a lot and go from there. What you’ll find with most snares is that you can sub things in and out that make them sound different. Changing heads, snare wires, adding or taking away dampening, all this can change up what you hear from your snare, so EXPERIMENTING IS KEY.
Zildjian 22″ K Light Ride:
One great piece of gear I’ve just recently tapped into is this Zildjian 22″ K Light Ride. It’s a great cymbal all-around. While its obvious application is as a ride, it also has a great responsiveness and wash that makes it a very nice crash (warm tones, subtle overtones). It’s big and washy and loud which makes it great for straight-forward rock and worship music, but it also has great stick articulation and enough ping to make it a wonderful ride for jazz and the softer side of things. What I really like is that I can use it as a ride and crash simultaneously, which means one less cymbal, one less cymbal stand, one less piece of hardware going from gig to gig. A huge advantage to having this cymbal, or one like it, in your lineup comes at the church/worship music level. I’ve found this cymbal extremely useful as a warm crash/ride, but I’ve fallen in love with it because it gives me the ability to go from playing it wide open as a crash/ride to using it with an acoustic set up and playing it with a brush, mallet, or even my hand.
“Add-ons & Accessories:
One thing you’ll notice (In the second picture above) is an add on that I LOVE…the Pro-Mark S22 Cymbal Sizzler, Which brings me to another key point: Add-ons; Small, cheap options that open up tons of opportunities for different sounds. Some that I use a whole lot are cymbal sizzlers, drum dampening products (Moon-Gel, Gaff Tape is great too) and basically anything else that I can find that has chimes, tambourines, so on and so forth. I’ll sometimes even us a small towel or t-shirt for a super dampened, pop sound, which can also work a whole lot in an acoustic setting. There’s one product that really stands out lately for me: Big Fat Snare Drum is a company that’s making some great stuff for drummers. Of course their product is mainly a better way of dampening a snare drum, but they also make a product call the “Snare-bourine” which allows a drummer to dampen the snare AND add a tambourine to each snare hit (no samples, software, electronics necessary).
Honorable Mention: (“Honorable Mention” ≠ “sub-par”)
Though this has been an option that has opened up tons of doors for me as far as sampled sounds, it’s not necessarily a functional or viable option for everyone. Nevertheless, products like Roland’s SPD-x are amazing! Tons of 808 and other sounds that are available to really change things up. I also love to use drum triggers to sample bigger or weirder sounds and mix them with the actual sound of the drum or kit. Doing all this takes a little more knowledge of software and electronics (a post on this soon to come)
So. This has covered some of the basics of what I do to keep myself and my gear versatile if anyone is actually reading this you’ve found it helpful! I will end with one thing: Above all this it is vital to remember that versatility comes out of experiment! Keep on keeping on and keep on finding new, different, crazy ways to make noise!