Drummer Alex Pierson teaches you how to make your own kit.
So the RPM Challenge is upon us once again, and you’re going to need some drums, pronto. Assembling a homemade drum set may seem like a big deal, but it’s actually pretty easy. C’mon… it’s not like you’re making a set of stairs or anything. Really, the hardest part is going to be explaining to the neighbours what the ‘cursed racket’ is all about. All it will take is an afternoon, and a few items that you have kicking around.
Before you set out, keep in mind that many before you have created decent sounding drum sets from household items, and I am willing to bet you’ve heard a record or ten that features some sort of unconventional percussion instruments. The band Elliot Brood, for example, have destroyed many a suitcase in the throes of live performance.
To build your own kit, all it takes is lots and lots of imagination—all hot-glued and duct-taped together.
First things first: the bass drum. The heartbeat. The foundation. It is surprisingly easy to fashion a decent sounding bass drum from a large cardboard box with the lid taped shut. Even an old hard-shell suitcase, or a round plastic garbage can with cardboard cut to the size of the lid will do wonders. And just think: if you’re bringing your new kit to a jam, (or even better, a gig) your bass drum can double as a carrying case. Word!
The tangly part of the homemade bass drum is the kick pedal, and this is the only ‘real’ component that I recommend you buy, since building one is tricky and time-consuming. It’s definitely possible to rig something up—but given the amount of time you are likely to spend creating one, you may as well invest $20 at the pawn shop. I promise you’ll be happy you did. However, if you are bent on assembling one from scratch, there are many internet sites that’ll teach you how. Or feel free to e-mail me and we’ll talk (email@example.com.) There just isn’t enough space on this page to do it justice.
Whichever route you decide to take, the next step is to attach the pedal to the bass drum. If you’re using a cardboard box, this is easily done with a strip cut from one of the cardboard flaps, taped to the bottom of the drum, protruding out a foot or so, long enough so that you can stick the pedal to it. If you are using a suitcase, you may have to screw a small piece of wood on to the bottom, just so the pedal has something to clamp on to. Also, if you are using a cardboard box, you may want to reinforce (read: duct tape) the place where the beater of the pedal makes contact with the drum so as not to compromise the integrity of your delicate instrument. To change the texture of the sound, you can wrap the beater in some fabric. A sock works well. This’ll also help the drum last longer.
Next, the snare. Any large plastic bucket, turned upside-down will work great. Tape some sheets of old newspaper to the top if you want a decent ‘buzz’ sound. You can also get all kinds of different sounds by lifting a side of the bucket off the ground while playing. Ideally, you want something that you can position between your legs, something tall enough to wail on while sitting comfortably.
From here, things get a little more open-ended. The other drums, or toms, can be made from smaller buckets, or if you are still feeling adventurous, throw together a couple of log drums for yourself. Here all you need is plywood and finishing nails. The size is up to you, as long as you have the four sides, and it should be fairly long, like a rectangular prism. Seal one of the ends shut for maximum logarithm…
Cymbals? Bah! Who needs ‘em when you have trash can lids, stainless steel bowls, pots, pans, baking sheets, and…well, you get the idea. Mount these on top of your box (like a real trap set), or hang them from the ceiling like they used to do back in the day. A quick and easy cymbal stand can be made by taping a broomstick to the side of your box so that it points to the ceiling. Insert a screw in the top, and mount your ‘cymbals’ pro-style. Just be sure to get Mudder’s permission before putting holes in her bakeware.
On top of all this, there’s what you might call the auxiliary—the shakers, the rattlers, the proverbial can o’beans. Tape a couple tambourines to your non-bass drum leg and tuck a shaker into your sock in the place of a high hat. You are only limited by your imagination, and how many shakers you have on hand.
As always, the important thing is enjoy yourself… And be sure to send us audio or video samples at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Illustration by Tara Fleming