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The Art and Science of Drum Setup

Since I got my DWs in 2002, I’ve been obsessed with achieving the perfect drum setup. OK, truth is, it’s been a lifelong obsession. But the fact that I now was playing on my dream kit, this obsession got much worse.

In fact, I would say that in the course of nine years, I’ve probably had at least nine distinct setups. Crazy huh? Before this kit, I had a beautiful Yamaha Tour Custom 7 pc kit (10”, 12”, 13”, 14” and 16” toms – all with depths that matched the diameters -- RAWK!). Sure there were multiple setup options, but nothing inspired me to go nuts like I have with my DWs. Now what is about this kit that lends itself to such experimentation? It comes down to three things: drum sizes, hardware, and the absence of a bass drum mount.

My current setup, yall A Tale of Four Drumsets
First, indulge me in a quick story about how the Drum gods taketh away and were kind enough to giveth back. In 2002, I had just settled into my first home studio (and mortgage) when I had a fire that destroyed 1/3 of my house, including the part with my studio and beloved Yamahas (along with my first Slingerland kit that my folks got me, and a Yamaha electronic kit). Not only did I lose my gear, I lost my band-mates gear too. Not to mention that my wife and I were kicked out of our home for five months during the reconstruction process. Brutal. Long story short: I was faced with an opportunity to replace all three kits, so I did a ton of research on all the top drum brands and embarked on building my dream kit. Enter the DWs.

I decided on the “fast-tom” sizes which were measurably shorter in depth than the former Yamaha tours. And, I got smaller rack toms too: (8”, 10”, 12”) with two stand-mounted floor toms (14”, 16”) and maple snare. The whole idea, I thought, was that with smaller sizes, I could get the three across the top without making the hi-hat and ride too far out of my ideal comfort zone. While this was true, I wasn’t prepared for the freedom that comes from not having bass-drum mounted toms (you can basically put these puppies anywhere… and that actually can be a problem).

One thing DW does that I don’t think anyone else does, is timbre match the toms so that they’re in harmony with each other. What this means is that the toms work together musically so that each tom’s resonate note (for example the 10” is an A) sounds good with other drums. This makes the drums both musical and rhythmic… what a concept. You’ve never heard a drum roll sound so good. Now back to the whole setup thing…

Setup Madness Ensues
Drumming (on a drum set) is all about balance and finding a stable center of gravity. This is a combination of seat height, pedal positioning and of course the all important placement of drums and cymbals. To me, it’s all about the groove. And for that I need to comfortably reach the hi-hat, ride cymbal and be centered over my snare. No matter how cool the setup is, it is worthless if it compromises my ability to get centered and groove. Because of this, sometimes setting up my drums feels like an architectural experiment. It’s a never ending quest to achieve the most optimal set-up that provides the most voices to express musical ideas, without jeopardizing the groove?

So, with an all-new hardware system and no bass drum mount, I began toying with the set-up options. Originally, it was all or nothing. I had seven beautiful sounding new drums, all set up in their glory. I wasn’t really used to the hardware and hadn’t fully explored the possibilities to get the best out of the gear. But this worked for about a year, until repeated gigging made me start thinking hard about simplifying. And so was the start of many adventures in DW setup experimentation. I have played them in every combination of the following: four-piece scaled back version, 5-peice with ever changing rack toms (sometimes Gary Husband style – reverse order), six-piece with the 8” and/or 10” suspended over the hi-hat.

A double pedal guy, another option I started experimenting with was angling the bass drum out as if I was playing with two bass drums. This allows for a symmetrical type of setup where you to put two rack toms dead center in front of you. Each option mentioned above included experimentation with the angled kick drum.

Dealing with the Variables
DWs hardware is solid, with memory lock options everywhere, and adjustment possibilities only limited by your own imagination. But the fact that the toms are all mounted on stands adds a whole level of variability. The three legs of the tripod must be exactly repositioned every time you set up, or else things can get wacky. Uneven stage floors can wreak further havoc, making repositioning and undoing memory locks an unwanted part of the set up process.

Honestly, there are times I miss the bass drum tom mount. And especially at first, I missed the Yamaha system tom mounts, where the mounting post sits parallel to the drumhead itself and the adjustment ball was easier to use. This seems to provide a wider range of positioning options over DW’s mounting system has a post that runs parallel to the shell. But the DW hardware has its advantages. The DogBone connectors are invaluable for cymbal configurations, especially when combined with a tom-post where you can really get some precise positioning. I currently have my ride and first crash configured this way.

Drumset Setup Nirvana
Just this summer, after almost nine years with current kit, I think I may have reached set up Nirvana. I chock it up to experience with the hardware combined with much setup trial and error. It’s a six-piece version with three across the top, 16” floor tom and the Pork Pie Big Black snare (a great metallic addition to this woody kit). No angle on the bass drum. Double pedal is just wide enough to allow the hi-hat to sit right next to the 8” rack tom. Everything is perfectly reachable and well within the center of gravity, balance test – and I freakin’ love having the toms to paint with.

It goes without saying that it also looks killer! Drumming is an intensely personal activity, and no two drummers approach the instrument exactly the same. A big reason for diversity in the drumming world is the broad range of setup styles and preferences. No two drum kits are alike. For better or for worse, drummers are partially judged on how their drums look. It’s a visual business we’re in, and for the typical audience, what the drums look like is as important as what the drummer is playing. Sad but true.

Let me know what your set up preferences are. Thanks for reading. Peace.