Setting up a drum kit can be a fairly daunting task considering how many different pieces and parts need to go together to make it both playable and ergonomic. In addition, efficiency and time spent putting together the kit is just as important in any live gigging situation. Spending over a decade drumming professionally in a myriad of different live situations, I wanted to create this guide to help you set up your kit in the most efficient and comfortable way possible.
While setting up a drum kit, you want to build using a bottom-up approach. Aside from the rack, which determines where your kick will go, every step is going to build the kit from the ground up. If you put your crash cymbals up first, they’re just going to get in the way and create more of a headache than just waiting to do those last. Additionally,
First things first. Throw down your carpet. At the bare minimum, you need something that your pedals and kick drum can fit on. A lot of people use carpet bar floor mats for the drum set and get away with it just fine. Something like this Casa Pura carpet mat. A Simple 3’x5’ Carpet with a rubber bottom. For larger kits though, having a carpet that has room for everything on top helps a lot.
Not everyone has or needs a rack. I would only recommend a rack if you are bringing a 6 piece or more kit. In the studio, I have a three-sided curved Pearl rack that is the base of my 9+ piece kit. Without the rack, that kit is even more of a nightmare to set up. But if you’re carrying a 3 piece jazz bebop kit around, there is no need to use a rack. If after reading that you’ve deemed a rack necessary, then let’s set it up!!!
They come in a bunch of different sizes and shapes, but they all have the same thing in common where it matters. Two legs with a bar that runs across connecting the legs that the kick drum sits under. The rack serves as the blueprint or foundation of your drum set and once this is up, putting together the rest of the kit is a breeze.
III. Kick Drum(s), Pedals, and Throne
Now that your foundation has been laid down, you can finally start putting drums together. If you have a single kick drum, then it is most likely just going to face directly forward and positioned slightly to the right of the middle of your body – assuming you are playing a right-handed kit. If you have two kick drums, then the kick drum on your right will be angled just slightly clockwise and the kick drum on your left just slightly counter-clockwise. In either case, you’re going to want to connect your kick pedals up to the drums and sit down for a second and make sure they are in a comfortable position. After your kick drums and pedals are put together you should put your hi-hat stand in the mix too. If playing with a single kick drum with double pedals, you can experiment with having your hi-hat stand on the inside of the slave pedal as well as on the outside as is the standard. Putting it on the inside brings your hi-hat closer to the snare drum which can be very convenient for certain music styles that rely heavily on intricate hat play. Double kick drum kits typically have a problem getting the hi-hat within a reasonable distance to the snare drum and often time drummers use remote hi-hat stands.
IV. Snare Drum(s) and Stands
Once you have your feet taken care of, let’s get to the hands. The snare drum is the central part of the kit considering it is positioned right in the middle of your body space. The stand should sit fairly center between your pedals and should be angled and at a height that allows you to consistently hit the drum in the middle of the head as well as ease in hitting rim shots and cross sticking. You can go ahead and begin placing all of the tom and cymbal stands on the ground or in the rack. Hold off on placing any cymbals just yet though.
Depending on how many toms you have, this next step can be a real chore. 4 piece kits with a single rack tom and one-floor tom are of course easy enough, but 3 or more toms get a little trickier. The key to multiple toms is consistency between all of your rack toms and all of your floor toms independently. It is very difficult to get a straight line between your rack and floor toms as the ride typically sits right between the two groups. If you look at Nicko Mcbrain, from Iron Maiden’s kit, you can see that his toms don’t have a break in between rack and floor toms, but his ride cymbal has been positioned out of the traditional spot to allow for this. Positioning the toms to move from snare drum to any of the toms comfortably is ideal. Make sure you allow room for your hi-hats to be placed as well.
Hi-Hat and Ride
Next is setting up your hats and ride. I would focus on the hi-hat first and adjust the toms to fit around the hi-hats. Some people position their hi-hats based on their toms, but I prioritize my hi-hat as far as ease of access goes. Setting up the ride should be a breeze depending on where your floor toms are at. The main idea is just to allow room to hit the bell clearly, ride on the body of the crash and for certain rides, being able to crash on the edge of the cymbal.
VII. Splashes, Stacks, Effects
If you have any effect style cymbals, now would be the best time to place them in the nooks and crannies around the kit. Most drummers put splashes and stacks above the rack toms or to the left or right of the hi-hat sitting slightly above it. I use the tiny boom arms off my main cymbal stands for splashes. Some drummers place their cowbell on a clamp on the kick drum, I prefer mine to sit over my floor tom or to the left of my hi-hat.
VIII. Crashes and Chinas
Finally, you can place your crashes and chains which will sit atop your shiny palace of a drum set in which your throne lives. Most often, the first crash will above everything just to the left of the kick drum and the second crash just to the right of the kick drum. The first china cymbal is often slightly to the right and above the ride cymbal and after that, you just put them all over, wherever you want. Once you have all the pieces together, it typically takes me just a couple minutes to minutely adjust every little aspect of the kit. But once you set it up enough, it starts to just fall into place right away.
Tips for Consistent Set Ups
Almost all drum stands come with memory locks on them. As you get your kit set up exactly where you like it, put the memory locks in their correct space and mark it with a sharpie. The locks help prevent the drums from moving and the sharpie line will allow you to put that memory lock back in the same spot next time, but also allow you to break down the stand to its smallest size for storage as well.
When your kit is finally all set up, you can take a roll of tape, using the tried and true system, and mark where all of the stands are sitting on the rug. That way in the future you can put your stands and drums on the ground exactly where they were last time.
If you want to learn more about what I use, you can check out my gear list here.