Drum Kit Buying Guide

How to Set up a Drum Kit – Beginner’s Guide

OK, so you’ve got your shiny new drum kit but you have no idea how to set it up? Watch this 10 minute video about how to set up a drum kit and read the full guide below for some help!

How to set up a Drum Kit

How To Set up a Drum Kit

Firstly there is no right or wrong way to set up a drum kit. Drum kits come in all shapes and sizes, just like people! There are a few basic tips to keep life simple but the most important point is keep it comfortable! Also don’t be frightened to change things – the kit set up will evolve as you learn more about the drums. The below guide is written for right handed drummers – if you’re left handed you have a couple of unique advantages and some options to consider when setting up your kit. Adapt the set-up of your drums to your playing style, not the other way ’round. So, where to start?

Layout of a Typical 5-Piece Drum Kit
Layout of a Typical 5-Piece Drum Kit

You’ll Need A Drum Key! What’s A Drum Key?

Drum Keys
You’ll need a drum key!

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You will need a drum key to properly set up a drum kit – if you don’t have one, go get one! A drum key is a small metal tool about 2″ long with a square hole in the end and it’s used to adjust most of the nuts on a drum set. Sometimes they’re supplied with drum kits and pedals, sometimes they’re not and you’ll have to buy one.

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How To Set up a Drum Kit

1. The Bass Drum

The bass drum is the biggest drum and the hardest to move around so start off by setting this up – this will be roughly in the centre-front of your kit – logo / hole pointing forwards (if it has one). Make sure the spurs (feet) are extended so that the front of the drum isn’t touching the floor. In fact no part of the drum itself should be touching the floor since the back edge will rest on the bass drum pedal. You should also fit your bass drum pedal at this point. It’s worth noting that the bass drum pedal by itself can be a complex beast to set up but this is something you can fine tune over time. Set it up so that the beater is at roughly 45 degrees to the head of the bass drum and keep the spring on a ‘medium’ tension. The pedal should firmly attach to the rear hoop of the bass drum – there’s normally a wing nut under the foot pedal part that allows you to attach the pedal to the hoop.

2. The Drum Throne

Now get your drum throne (stool) and adjust the height so that your feet comfortably reach the ground. The legs of the throne should be at roughly 45 degrees. I prefer to have the height at a level where my legs slope downwards slightly when my feet are flat on the floor. Once you have it at a comfortable height you can lock it in place using any memory locks on the throne.

3. The Hi-Hats

Next get your hi-hats and position them to the left of the bass drum so that when your right foot sits on the bass drum pedal your left foot can comfortably sit on the hi-hat pedal. There should be a big enough gap between the two pedals so that your snare drum can fit between but don’t make the gap so wide that it feels uncomfortable. Similar to the bass drum pedal, the hi-hat stand can be adjusted in many ways – the level of adjustment varies from stand to stand, from foot pedal angle through to spring tension. For now keep things on a ‘medium’ setting and you can always fine-tune it later.  You’re going to adjust the height of the hi-hat cymbals shortly.

4. The Snare Drum

The snare drum should fit in the nice little gap left between your bass drum pedal and hi-hat pedal. I like to have mine as close to the bass drum as possible without touching it. Adjust the height of the snare drum so that it sits roughly at waist level – it should sit comfortably between your legs. Now adjust the height of the hi-hat cymbals – I like them to be as low as possible while keeping a big enough gap so that my sticks don’t catch each other when playing beats between the hi-hat and snare drum (as most beats do!). A height gap of 4″ to 6″ between the top cymbal and the top of the snare drum works well for me. You can also now adjust the gap between the top and bottom hi-hat cymbals – around 1″ to 2″ will do for now.

5. The Toms

Now position your toms around the kit. Working from left to right you should have your high tom, medium tom and then low / floor tom. My fusion kit (in the video) has a mounted low tom that attaches to a cymbal stand. Most 5 piece kits have a floor tom that stands on in-built legs. Position your toms so that they’re easy to get to. I like to have the high and mid tom as low as possible without touching the bass drum or each other, angled so that they’re easy to hit in relation to the snare. You should position the drums to make life easy for yourself – minimise the chance of catching the drum rims or any unnecessary stretching. With a fusion kit I like to have the low tom at a similar angle to the medium tom, slightly lower – so that it’s easy to move between the three toms without catching the rims. Since a floor tom (with legs) can’t be angled in the same way as a mounted tom you will probably end up having this a bit lower than the height of your snare drum, angled towards yourself. Again, this is something you can tweak over time.

6. The Ride Cymbal

The ride cymbal is generally the biggest and most cumbersome of all the cymbals so it makes sense to add this next. You will normally have this on the right hand side of the kit above or near the floor tom / mid tom. I like to have my ride quite low but many other drummers prefer to have it higher up. As an extreme example have a look at the kit set-up of Nicko McBrain from Iron Maiden – he has his ride high up at a very steep angle – he uses a LOT of toms in his set-up and this is probably the only way he can fit a ride cymbal in! There’s no right or wrong here but you need to be able to play all parts of the ride comfortably – i.e. the bow and bell of the cymbal. You also don’t want it to cover too much of your toms otherwise you’ll catch it when playing around the kit. Most drum kits only have one ride cymbal but some drummers add a second ride on the left side of the kit or even more centrally placed above the high / mid toms – this isn’t very common though.

7. Crash Cymbal / Other Cymbals

Finally add your remaining cymbals – in a fairly basic 5 piece set-up you’ll have one crash cymbal and one ride cymbal or even a combined crash / ride cymbal. Obviously you can build your collection of cymbals over time to suit your own individual tastes, but for now let’s just place the crash in the gap you should have left between the hi-hats and the high tom – towards the left hand side of the kit. Make sure the cymbal has enough room to move freely without hitting any other drums / cymbals. It’s handy to have a second crash towards the right hand side of the kit so you don’t have to move as far when going from the floor tom to crash.

5 Golden Rules for Drum Kit Set-up

1. Make sure drums aren’t touching each other!

No part of your kit should be resting on or touching any other part of your kit. Special care should be taken to make sure no metal part is rubbing on / touching any wooden part otherwise you’ll damage your drums very quickly.

2. Use rubber / plastic sleeves on all cymbal tilters – METAL ON METAL = BAD!

This is a really simple one but so many people forget about this – no part of your cymbals should be touching anything metal. The hole in the cymbal passes over the cymbal tilter and must be protected from the tilter / thread by using a rubber or plastic sleeve. These come in a variety of shapes and sizes – some include a flanged base to support the cymbal, some are just bits of rubber tube. In emergency situations I’ve even cut up an old plastic pen and used that. Anything to protect the cymbal otherwise you will get cracking from the inside-out and once a crack starts it’s very difficult to stop!

3. Use cymbal felts on the top and bottom of all cymbals

All cymbals should have a proper felt cymbal washer on BOTH sides of the cymbal – these are known as cymbal felts and they’re usually around 1″ thick and 2″ wide with a hole through the middle. The thicker the better but do allow your cymbal to move freely when you hit it – don’t choke it by using too many felts. Ideally you should be able to fully tighten the metal wing nut holding the cymbal on while allowing the cymbal to freely move when hit.

4. Protect your hi-hat cymbals properly!

Your hi-hats are probably your most expensive cymbals so look after them. As with normal cymbals there should be no metal on metal contact with the exception of the clutch assembly since the centre of this is normally made of metal. The bottom hi-hat should sit on a plastic flanged support followed by a larger felt washer to match the size of the flange, followed by your bottom cymbal – the flanged support should include a central plastic sleeve. Sometimes a metal washer will sit on top of the plastic support but this must still be followed by a felt washer before placing the cymbal on. The top cymbal should be supported by the clutch assembly. This normally consists of a metal main body, top and bottom nuts and 2 x felts / rubber bushes. The cymbal sits between the two felts. This is the only cymbal where metal on metal contact is permitted and is unlikely to cause significant damage. Having said that, do try to use a clutch that doesn’t have a thread running all the way through the assembly – the central portion (where the cymbal rests) should be unthreaded. If you like to have your hi-hats very loose and are a heavy hitter you might want to cover the unthreaded part with a rubber sleeve or electrical tape, but normally this is unnecessary.

5. Protect the floor if you’re using spikes!

Many drums will have metal spiked legs – these are commonly fitted to bass drum spurs, hi-hat feet and the base of the kick pedal. If you can get away without using them then simply retract them and forget about them. If you have no option but to use them (i.e. if your kit moves around when you’re playing it) then make use you protect the floor using carpet or a proper drum mat. Spikes can cause serious damage to a floor!

And finally…

Remember it’s up to YOU how you set up YOUR drum kit. Drum kits come in all shapes and sizes and we’re all different. What works for one drummer might not work for another. Don’t be frightened to adjust your kit over time to suit your playing style. Keep it comfortable and make life easy for yourself!

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