Tools of the Trade: Bass Drums

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So much of our identity in sound as drummers begins with the bass drum. Do you like yours wide open and bellowing like John Bonham, or tight and controlled like Steve Gadd? Somewhere in the middle? There’s so much to consider about bass drums.

Let’s explore.

Sizing It Up

Dixon artist Brian Ferguson says, “Attack, punch, and tone is what I’m after. The pitch and tone, in my opinion, is determined by the diameter of the shell, not the depth. I chose traditional depths (14”) because I’m miked up almost 100 percent of the time. I believe the shallow depth gives all the information needed for an engineer to get great sounds in a large PA or recording.”

I personally own 14”x20”, 14”x22”, 16”x22”, and 14”x24” bass drums. Why doesn’t one size do it all? My choice could be determined by anything from the music I’ll be playing to what will fit on the a drum riser! (If I’m lucky to have one!) A 24” might be too much for a small acoustic trio but would absolutely work for a louder rock band where you are competing against amplified instruments. You have to pick the right tool for the job. Gregg Bissonette told us, “I started using a 24” bass drum back in 1985 when I joined the David Lee Roth Band. I just love the amount of low end and power I can get out of a 24”. But I do get requests for jazz 18’s—and if somebody really wants a 22” I will use that as well.”

One thing to consider when choosing a bass drum in building your kit is whether you can comfortably place your toms above it. A larger diameter shell would place your toms higher than a smaller shell and possibly affect your movement around the toms or even placement of cymbals. And something else to consider…will it fit in your vehicle? You don’t want to be the drummer who can’t get their gear to the gig.

Beat It

Dixon Drums | Bass Drum | Beaters | Tools of the TradeDrummers are constantly thinking about drumsticks. How much thought have you given your bass drum beater? We are lucky to be living in a time when the choices seem unlimited. We have everything from traditional felt and wood beater mallets, to hard plastic, rubber, and cork models. All of these choices give us options in sound that can open up new tones from our bass drums. A felt beater is great for “feathering” the bass on a jazz standard and giving the band a nice undertone to sit on. It’s what I played for years until trying a hard plastic beater. I found the plastic beater brought more attack to my sound, and I could hear it more clearly. I take a variety of beaters with me to sessions for these options.

Drum Head Choices

Your head choice and muffling options are almost unlimited these days. For experimentation’s sake, see what your drum sounds like with no resonant head and no muffling. How about ported with a big pillow? This also would affect how the action feels off of your pedal. Take into account the dynamics of the music you’ll be playing. Your touch, tone, and technique are what set you apart from other drummers, so go the extra distance and experiment. These extremes may inspire a new direction in sound for you, and at least teach you what your drum is capable off, and how to get the sound you are after.

I hope you found some ideas here to inspire you in your pursuit of your sound. What do you look for in a bass drum?


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