Tiny drums

In past years my jazz gigs were done on my 12/14/20 kit, the same one I use most of the time with the Jivewires (though in some big rooms where the band is highly amplified I might use the 24" bass drum to kick things along big-band style). But I've been doing more and more gigs that call for a quieter approach, and while I can subdue the sound of the above kit, I thought that even smaller drums would help. This would hopefully allow me to lay into the kit at times, but it would not result in a huge increase in volume.

I first tried using my 16" floor tom as a bass drum, building a cradle for it out of wood to raise it up a bit and also provide a clamping spot for the pedal. This worked quite well on a few gigs, and I was all set to build up a second 16" tom for permanent use, with legs and a fixed pedal bracket. But then one day I was in my local fave local music store (Songbird Music), spotted a tiny secondhand kit, and the wheels of deviation began turning in my head...

The kit was a worse-for-the-wear set in sizes built for a kid. The toms are 10" and 12", with the snare also at 12" and the bass drum at 16". Really thin shells that seem to be a few grades above balsa wood, the rack tom only has four lugs, the 12 inchers each have six, and so on. Some of the drums had broken lugs, the floor tom had no bottom hoop, the snare drum's mechanism was toast, etc. But something in me (the part the doctors are scared to look at) thought that perhaps the whole sad mess could be salvaged and turned into a little jazz kit.

So a deal was worked out, I brought the kit home, assessed what needed to be replaced and fixed, then back to the store for whatever I didn't have at home. Dave and the guys at Songbird gave me a very good deal on stuff, and once back home I put it all together, even managing to get the crappy little hi-hat stand to work. So I set it all up, using one cymbal stand and my old Tama pedal (with shortened beater rod), and was surprised that it sounded quite reasonable! Replacing the dead original heads with new or lightly used pro models did the trick. And since the drums were not going to be too highly tuned (due to their small sizes) the low number of lugs per drum was not an issue.

A few days later the kit got its first test, playing some light jazz at a wedding reception with the Steve Berndt Quartet. The guys thought it sounded great, as did I, and we laughed over the Thunder name. I was even introduced as "Mark Rehder on Thunder drums" though of course the crowd probably didn't quite get the joke (though I'm sure they had their own chuckle at seeing a 6'3" guy behind this little kit). The drums definitely have a more restricted dynamic range, but that was exactly what I was looking for when putting it all together. I was able to dig in a bit and not have the volume get out of hand. I have also used the kit for acoustic non-jazz gigs, adding my djembe into the mix as well, since it doesn't get overpowered by the other drums.

So my little gamble paid off, and I now have a light, small and easy to carry kit for these kinds of gigs. I modified the wooden cradle for the previous 16" drum to fit this one (it's shallower), and the cradle fits into the drum's case quite nicely. Hmmm, maybe I should build a replica of those old drum stools that doubled as a hardware case. Then, with the drums all fitting into two cases, the cymbal bag, and the hardware stool, I will only have four pieces to carry in with me! Not bad for a full (if tiny) four-piece kit.

111_1176.JPG A sad little collection of half-dead drums.
111_1177.JPG Jett the black cat inspects the black kit, and gives a good contrast for showing its small size.
111_1178.JPG "Thunder" drums from the Taye company of Taiwan. Kinda hard to thunder with a 16" bass drum...
111_1179.JPG Better heads installed, hardware bits replaced. After using standard long legs for the floor tom, I decided to mount it off the cymbal stand via one of its leg holders. But the thin shell distorts a bit with this set-up and chokes the sound, so it's now back to the long-legged flamingo look.
111_1180.JPG Snare mechanism borrowed from my 10" Dixon aux. drum, with a new set of 12" snares. This will be replaced by a new mech. now that I've proven to myself that the drum makes a viable sound.
111_1181.JPG Lookin' good! The small sizes of the drums make the 20" and 14" cymbals look oversize. Perhaps go to 12" hats and add a nice 18" flat ride?
111_1182.JPG All this drum talk wears a kitty out...


Copyright 2006 Mark Rehder; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.