As I explained in my introductory blog, I’m a career drummer. That being said, I certainly will not be writing exclusively about drumming-related topics in the pieces that appear here. However, since a fair number of Beato’s Blog readers are, in fact, drummers, I will occasionally present blogs that offer suggestions and advice to those readers, based on my own experience. This, then, is the first of those blogs.
Over the years I’ve heard from many drummers who “play out” frequently—all describing the same problem: Constantly setting up and breaking down their kit is bad enough, but trying to get it set up comfortably each time is even worse. Even veteran drummers have complained that they just can’t seem to recreate their optimum setup consistently. As a result, their own kit often feels foreign to them.
Fortunately, the solution to this problem is neither difficult nor expensive. All it takes is a one-time exercise in placing, playing, adjusting, and marking. Once you’ve completed that exercise, your kit will never feel foreign to you again.
Get Ready…Get Set…
Start by getting your kit set up exactly the way you want it. It’s best to do this when you can take the time to adjust things, play for a while, and adjust things again. (By the way, you should do this on top of your drum rug. If you don’t have a drum rug, get one. I’ll tell you why a bit later.)
Your goal is to get all the drums positioned at the right spacing and angle; all the stands at the proper height; and all tripods and legs arranged without tangling. The result should be your ultimate setup in terms of playing comfort and efficiency. Now, how do you keep that setup so that you can recreate it on all your future gigs?
It’s All About The Memories
Obviously you have to mark the positions of your drums and stands. All of today’s major drum and hardware companies incorporate some form of “memory” collar on their stands. These collars interlock with the stand fitting below to hold the position of the drum or cymbal at the proper height and angle. If you have this type of hardware then 75% of your work is already done.
If your hardware is simpler (or perhaps older) and doesn’t include memory collars, you can easily create your own using automotive hose clamps. These inexpensive adjustable clamps are available at any auto parts store, in a variety of sizes. Just place a clamp at the proper point on each stand segment, and they’ll secure the height adjustment for you. Install them so that their adjustment screw lines up with the wing bolt of the section below, and they’ll also give you the exact horizontal position of each segment. That will keep your cymbals and drums pointing where they should point.
Even if your equipment has memory collars now, there are a few places where you might be able to use additional “home-made” ones. For example, they’re great for setting the height of floor tom legs, which often don’t come with any sort of memory devices at all. I’ve also used them on the inside ends of old-fashioned “disappearing” bass drum spurs. All I have to do is run the spurs out till the clamps stop them, and they’re at exactly the right length.
Alternative Plan “T”
Of course, the cheapest and quickest method of marking stands is the use of tape. Once your drums are set up the way you want, simply place a loop of tape around each stand above where it fits into the next section. This will give you the point at which the sections meet so you can put them up that way next time. A simple ink mark on the tape corresponding to the tightening bolt below will give you the exact horizontal adjustment as well. Some folks like to use a different color of tape for each stand, so that the parts never get mixed up. Personally, I prefer white tape, which can be more easily marked on and is a little less conspicuous. I just give each stand a number and label the segments accordingly.
I also put small strips of tape across the tilters of cymbal stands, boom arms, and tom holders. This memorizes their angles if I have to fold them down for pack-up. Some drummers simply use a line drawn with magic marker. Whichever way appeals to you is fine.
Tape has pros and cons. It won’t secure your stands against slipping, the way a memory collar will. And it will get worn off eventually from wear and tear in your gear bag. But it’s easy to install and replace—which makes it especially good for marking experimental position changes that you might ultimately decide not to keep.
By the way, if you do choose to use tape, don’t use hardware-store duct tape. It wears poorly and creates a sticky mess when you want to remove it. Use genuine theatrical gaffer’s tape. It’s a cloth-based tape that stagehands use for all sorts of purposes. I get mine from Rose Brand (rosebrand.com), which is a big theatrical supply company.
No Penalty For Spiking
Okay…now let’s assume that you’ve achieved your ultimate setup, and you’ve secured the heights and angles of all your components. You still have to put all the stands and drums together to assemble the total kit. Now you’re faced with trying to re-create the arrangement of legs and tripods that worked perfectly the last time.
The way to do this is to employ a technique called spiking. It comes from the placement of scenery on theater stages, and has been adopted by stagehands placing equipment on rock concert stages.
Remember how I told you earlier that you should set up on a drum rug? Whether it’s a professionally made gig rug, or simply a carpet remnant that you picked up, that rug is now your “canvas” for marking the positions of your stands, pedals, and legs. Using small strips of gaffer’s tape, create little “U”s where the feet of each stand touch the rug. The open end of the “U” should point back along the angle of the stand leg. If you have lots of stands, you may want to label the spike marks with the number of each stand in order to avoid confusion. (There are some commercially available devices marketed for spiking drum gear, but I’ve honestly never seen the need to spend the money for them.)
Spiking achieves the double benefit of putting everything where you want it for playing, while re-creating an untangled stand arrangement each time. I also mark around the bases of all my pedals, and I create little squares where my floor tom legs touch down. Because my spiked rug travels with my kit, I always have the means of re-creating my perfect setup, no matter what stage I’m playing on.
Easy And Accurate Every Time
The benefits of having your own personal stage layout to carry with you are enormous. If you’ve ever spent the first few songs of a gig adjusting stands and drums by fractions of inches, you know what I mean.
Memory setting allow you to assemble your drumkit quickly. Spiking the positions of drums, pedal, and stands allows for rapid and identical positioning from gig to gig. This, in turn, allows you to concentrate on playing, rather than spending time and effort making those frustrating adjustments that can go on forever.
Till next time: Good luck, and happy spiking!
Rick Van Horn