A drum consists of a shell, a vent, a badge, lugs, tension rods, hoops, drum heads and mounting hardware. Most all drums have these items. Some drums also have legs. Snare drums also have snares, a butt plate and a throw off. Got all that?
Everything that comes into contact with the drum head will affect how a drum sounds. That means that there are potentially thousands of variables when it comes to how a drum sounds. Understanding how to properly tune drums also helps a great deal. But because of all this, one should be able to get even a POS drum kit to sound good. Cymbals are another matter, but more on that one at a later date.
Drum shells come in different standard sizes. Tom-tom sizes are 6, 8, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 18 inch diameters. Snare drums are typically 13 or 14 inch diameters. Bass drums are typically 20, 22, 24 or 26 inch diameters. There is no standard for the depths of shells.
Drum shells are the round cylinders that make up the majority of a drum. Shells can be wood, metal or plastic / composite, each with its own unique sound. Wood shells can be maple, birch, mahogany, cherry, walnut, oak, beech, cheery, ash, poplar and bubinga. Metal shells can be steel, aluminum, brass, bronze, copper and titanium. Plastic / composite shells can be acrylic, fiberglass or carbon fiber.
The manner of construction for the drum shell will also vary the sound. Wood drum shells can be plywood (the vast majority of drums), staves, solid wood, segmented wood and steam-bent. Wood shells can sometimes utilize multiple types of woods. Metal shells are either cast or spun. The drum shell thickness will also affect the sound.
A badge is a tag, usually affixed to the vent hole, that has the manufacturer’s label. The vent hole is a hole that allows air to exit the drum when it is struck. Sometimes a drum maker puts that drums serial number onto a badge.
The lugs, tension rods and hoops puts tension on the drum heads to allow them to make noise. The lugs are what is attached to the shells, the tension rods thread into the lugs, clamping down the hoop onto the shell. Some tension rods have finer threads to allow for a finer tuning. The hoops are usually metal, either die-cast or flanged, or they can be wood. Sometimes both wood and metal. The hoops will affect the drum sound..
Attached to aerial tom shells is any mounting hardware necessary, that is the hardware that attaches the drums to the bass drum, a stand or a rack. Some toms, especially when in a 4 piece set up, sit on a snare stand so do not need any mounting hardware. This mounting hardware can also be mounted on the hoops.
Floor toms have three legs mounted on them. Sometimes, drum kits will have the floor toms mounted on stands or a rack. But then my question becomes, are they still floor toms?
Bass drums, because of how they are played and physics, tend to move around. Thus, bass drums have spurs mounted on them. Spurs is the name for the legs that are found on the front sides, and these spurs usually have a spike that will dig into a drum rug to stop this movement.
Bass drums will also sometimes have a tom mount and sometimes will not. When a bass drum does not have any tom mounting hardware installed, it is referred to as “virgin”. An older drum kit from the 50s or 60s may have a cymbal mount for a ride cymbal. Sometimes a modern kit will have that cymbal mount added.
Snare drums are different. A snare drum is a drummer’s main voice. THAT subject could be an entire FB page, and is actually. What makes a snare drum a snare drum is the snares. Snares are curly, stiff wires, that press against the drum head and vibrate when the snare drum is struck with a stick or such. The wire material is usually steel but can be brass. There can be a 14 strand snare or a 20 strand or even a 42 strand snare, to name a few.
The snare is mounted on the bottom of the drum. The hardware involved is the butt plate and the throw-off. A strip of plastic, nylon cords, or flexible Kevlar holds the snares onto the butt plate and throw-off. The throw-off allows the snare to either contact the drum head, or not, hence ‘throw off’. When the snare is “thrown-off”, it will sound like a tom, with no vibrating snares. The throw-off also allows for the adjustment of the snare tension against the head.
A drum head fits over the circumference of the drum shell, sitting on what is known as a drum bearing edge. This bearing edge is basically a reinforcement for the stress of a tight drum head on the shell and it provides a uniform straight edge for the drum head to sit against to allow for a uniform sound.
Which bring us to the drum head. Originally made from the skins or such from an animal, modern drum heads are plastic. Well, one can still purchase calf skin heads, but those are typically symphony orchestras. Real old school. Originally tom-toms were not tunable and the drum head was tacked down onto the drum. That is, until Gene Krupa and Slingerland drums developed tunable toms, in the late 30s.
Drum heads vary, like everything else on a drum, with every different type of head, each producing a unique sound. There are single ply heads and double ply heads. There are clear heads and there are coated heads. There are 2 ply heads with an oil between the two, known as oils or hydraulics. There are clear heads with a black or silver dot in the center. There are heads that look like old, vintage drum heads. There are chrome and gold heads as well as drum heads with other colors.
There are three main types of drum heads. There is a batter head, a resonant head and a snare-side head. A batter head is the one that gets struck. A resonant, or reso, head is the one that is mounted opposite the batter head, i.e. the bottom head. The snare-side head is the one that is on the bottom of the snare drum, with the snares resting against it.
The bass drum batter head will usually have what I call a pre-muffled head. It will have a foam ring mounted to the head on the inside, that acts a muffle to the bass drum head when the pedal beater strikes it. And a bass drum reso head will sometimes have a hole in it. This is usually for a microphone, but not always. Not to mention the bass reso head will sometimes have graphics on it.
There are hundreds of different variables involved when it comes to how a drum will sound. It can be overwhelming, but understanding how materials and construction affects the sounds greatly reduces this anxiety.