The Drum Set – An American Icon

The Drum Set – An American Icon

The drum set. The quintessential backdrop for any rock and roll band. The axis around which the other members revolve during any onstage performance. In the movie That Thing You Do, Tom Hank’s character explains his marketing approach to his newly formed band: “We are gonna get you some new clothes. Matching suits, nice suits. Nice, because you are nice boys…except maybe for you.” And who is the “you” he’s talking to? You guessed it-the drummer. The bad boy who, by the end of the movie, gets the cool shades and the hot girl.

Yes, the drummer is an iconic figure in Americana, as recognizable in his own way as the cheerleader or the superhero. Considering the drummer’s visible social standing, it’s not surprising that the number of obtainable drum sets (or drum kits, or trap sets) verges on mind-boggling.

The most basic definition of a drum set is a collection of drums and cymbals arranged in a functional setup for a single drummer. Sets can also include other percussion instruments, such as cowbells, wood blocks, triangles, chimes, or tambourines. A complete drum set without any extras includes a bass drum, floor tom, snare drum, tom-toms, hi-hat cymbals, a ride cymbal, and a crash cymbal. The drummer uses a variety of implements to strike these items, including sticks, brushes, mallets, and of course, foot-operated pedals. Many drummers also use a variety of electronics with their kits, such as sound modules; laptop computers that activate loops, sequences, and samples; metronomes and tempo meters; recording devices; and personal sound reinforcement equipment.

There are many different drum producers, the most well-known probably being DW, Ludwig, Yamaha and Pearl. All of these companies make different models designed for various genres: rock, jazz, fusion, etc. The kind of music being played usually dictates the elements of the drum kit and the manner in which they are used. In most rock, for example, the drum beat is produced using chiefly the bass drum, hi-hat and snare drum. In jazz, however, the ride and hi-hat cymbals are the rule beat elements.

The cost of a drum set covers an complete spectrum of prices. The least expensive is usually in the range of $300-$500 and is intended as a sort of beginner’s set for those who want to analyze drumming without making a huge financial commitment. For children (who, much to their parents’ dismay, usually love the noise and energy associated with drumming), junior drum sets can be purchased for as little as $150. Then there are the mid-range sets, which are often $700-$800 and appropriate for the dedicated amateur enthusiast. Finally, a top-end complete drum set can easily run several thousand dollars, and that is without any additional accessories the drummer may chose to buy. And then there is the most expensive drum kit of all time, the 1968 set used by Keith “Moon the Loon” Loon of the rock group The Who. In 2004, this custom kit was auctioned off by Christie’s of London for a whopping $252,487.

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