Being as their essential purpose is to be beaten, one would think that drums must be particularly rugged and, judging on how some drummers pound on them, indestructible.
If you’ve ever been to a metal, acid or rock concert, you surely know that a vigorous drum solo is a big part of the show, especially if the drum is in a cage and pyrotechnics flare whenever the cymbals are hit.
Nope, never been to one of those concerts... not me!!!
But what happens to all of that equipment after the house lights come up, the concertgoers leave and the roadies pack it all up?
And what happens to your drum kit over time, the more you play?
If you are still just learning to play the drums – barely beating out paradiddles and only just discovering what you can play on the snare drum and the toms, perhaps taking your kit apart and cleaning it doesn’t concern you right now.
Nevertheless, you will need to know how to take proper care of your equipment so that you can enjoy making music with it for a long time to come.
Before you can channel your inner John Bonham or Ginger Baker – or Gene Krupa, if you are more into jazz, you need to learn how to completely tear down, maintain and rebuild your kit.
Let Superprof show you how to keep your drums in top shape!
Cleaning Your Kit
Pianos are high maintenance, requiring a professional tuner from time to time. Guitars tend to fall out of tune rather quickly and breaking strings is a fairly commonplace occurrence.
By contrast, drums are easy to take care of; some drummers never even bother polishing a cymbal! At best, they may wipe the dust off the drum heads...
Once a year or so, depending on how much you play, you should tear into your set and give it a good, thorough cleaning: removing the heads, and possibly even breaking them down completely so that even the chrome will gleam when you’re finished!
Here is what you should have on hand before getting started.
T-cut colour fast scratch remover
Colron finishing wax
Autosol metal polish
a drum key
blade – a box cutter or Exacto knife
fine wire wool
a soft polishing cloth
a plastic tub (preferably with a lid)
Make sure you have everything at the ready; nothing is more frustrating than having to disengage and retrieve a needed tool or solvent!
Once you have everything at the ready, it is time to disassemble your kit.
After loosening the tension rods, you can remove the hoops and heads.
With the drum thus open, you can remove the lugs – not a strictly necessary step, but if you do, you will get better, more even results when you polish the shells. Besides, it is good practice!
Tip: any hardware you remove, be sure to place in the lidded container to prevent losing any piece.
Your drums’ badge will be difficult to remove so you may want to simply cover it with masking tape prior to cleaning and waxing the shell. However, you should carefully cut away any extra masking tape, making sure your blade does not cut into the shell itself.
If your drums are relatively new or have not seen much action yet, wiping them down with a soft cloth might be all the cleaning they need. But if, after buffing them out, you think they could do with a coat a wax, use only a small amount.
Should the lacquer appear lacklustre, apply a coat of T-cut before applying the wax.
Once the wax is dry, buff the shells again: you will be amazed at the depth of colour and shine!
Don’t forget to polish the metal components while they’re not mounted!
Feel free to reassemble them at any point after that. Don’t forget to unmask the badge!
Have you ever wondered what are the best drum kits on the market?
How to Clean Your Cymbals
There is a lot of conversation on this topic, with some swearing that lemon juice and vinegar work best, while others maintain that Groove Juice is the ticket.
There must be some merit to the lemon juice and vinegar method, especially as Groove Juice is itself acidic.
Whichever solution you prefer, be sure to work with the grooves, not from hub to edge, so you don’t compromise the tonal quality of the cymbal!
Also, watch out for the label. Whether Zildjian, Sabian, Meinl or Paiste, you will want to show that you play quality equipment, and lemon juice (or Groove Juice) could eat into those brand names.
A part of the aforementioned debate is whether metal polishes such as Brasso or Wenol are actually worth the effort.
As it is essential to follow the cymbal’s lathing when cleaning and polishing, some drummers report that trying to buff every bit of wax out of those minuscule furrows is an exercise in frustration.
Such an accumulation of wax, over time, could really impact how your cymbals sound!
However, all of the experts agree: using household cleaners such as glass cleaner or dish liquid is a definite no-no: the residue such products leave will make your cymbals look dull and affect their sound.
You might know that some drummers prefer not to clean their cymbals because the patina seems to add to the tonal quality of the instrument.
However, if you and your band have just landed your first gig, you would likely rather have shiny, polished equipment that will catch the light each time you hit the crash cymbal or the china cymbal!
Bottom line: clean them but don’t polish them, and be sure to inspect them for cracks.
Repairing a Cracked Cymbal
Now that you know how to clean cymbals, you may train your eye on the edges of your hi hats, ride cymbal and splash cymbal to look for minute cracks.
They’re not there because you’re a beginner and play badly; you may simply have the wrong cymbal for the type of music you play.
An extreme metal drummer should play on something sturdier than 14-inch crashes.
The important thing about cracks is to catch them early and repair them quickly, and there are two ways to go about doing so.
Using a file or a Dremel tool, you may simply wear away that part of the cymbal that is cracked.
Granted, your Zildjian K will no longer be perfectly round, but on the other hand, you won’t have to worry about your cymbal’s sound being compromised.
If you’d rather not wear into the metal, you may choose to drill just above the crack – but you must be very careful in selecting your bit and while drilling.
You may find this tutorial most helpful in repairing your cymbals...
Final note on cymbals: be sure to check your felts and sleeves. If they appear even a bit worn, be sure to replace them at once!
You might be wondering how much a drum kit costs if you haven't already bout one...
Stands, Pedals and Mounts
Unless you march in a band, most likely your kit will be mounted and your cymbals will be on stands.
Although not much could go wrong with them save a height adjustment lock, wiping them down while giving them the once-over is a good idea.
Of special note would be any jointed stand, such as for your snare drum, and any drum stand that has a memory lock.
Also, if your cymbals are mounted on boom arms, you should pay special attention to them, especially if your kit is kept in a garage or shed, where moisture and humidity could affect them.
Do you know all about these types of drums?
What you really need to focus on is the hi hat rod and clutch assembly, and its pedal.
While you’re examining pedals, your obvious next step would be the bass drum pedal(s).
Your pedal needs smooth movement and quick action; it wouldn’t do to have a bearing seize up mid-play, nor would you want anything to get caught in its chain or strap!
Here, common sense should prevail: you may use compressed air to clean dust from the intricate pedal parts, and lubricate your bearings with a quality bearing grease. Only use it very sparingly lest your pedal become sluggish!
Please do not use vegetable oil, as one hapless would-be drummer did, rendering his pedal useless in a matter of days!
As long as you have smooth action, good tension on the spring and no squeaking, you can say you’ve done your bit to keep your pedals maintained!
That is all we’ll cover on pedals; they are far more complex than what we have room for in this article!
Winding Down the Beat
You’ll note we’ve not said anything about drum heads other than removing and replacing them.
We’ll go more in depth on that subject in our article on how to tune a drum!
Nor have we said anything about drum sticks and brushes, and we haven’t uttered a word about electronic drums! At least, not in this selection...
Still, we hope you find some of these tips helpful in keeping your kit in optimum playing shape.
Incidentally, roadies aren’t called that anymore; in fact, that term is considered rather derogatory.
Instrument techs take care of the musical equipment these days. It is a highly specialised job involving lots of skill... as you can surely see from this outline of how to take care of your drum kit.
Now find out what you need to know before buying your first drum set...