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Classic Rock

Rock concerts: head-banging people in leather pants and torn shirts – a whole stadium full of them. A huge stage with tons of equipment, an enormous PA and of course the famous rock stars, with charisma and the ability to turn this evening into a legendary experience. Or as Freddie Mercury once put it: “the bigger, the better”. The most visually impressive instrument are obviously the drums. But where did all this start? To answer that question, we go back in time, look at one of the most influential drum styles – classic rock – and show how you can recreate that signature drum sound today.

At the end of the 1960s, with classic rock acts like The Who, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, music had become louder than ever before. However, technical equipment was very limited and microphones, amps and PAs were pushed to their limits. For drummers, this meant that they didn‘t only have to play very loudly, but also find a way to make their drums and cymbals as loud as possible in order to get a big drum sound.

Probably the most iconic drummer from that era is John Bonham. In this episode we take a look at his idea of using large drums and tuning them rather high. Thus they end up in a desirable pitch range for rock music, but they are louder than a smaller drum which is tuned lower.

So our task was to get our hands on some big drums. That’s why we visited a backline rental company and put together three different drum sets, with the goal to achieve that classic iconic Bonham sound.

We started by going with the original Bonham shell sizes from Ludwig:

  • 26×14″ bass drum
  • 14×10″ high tom
  • 16×16″ floor tom
  • 18×16″ floor tom

To complete this Ludwig drum set, we were happy to find a Black Beauty 14×6.5″ snare. The batter heads on the toms and snare were Remo Emperor coated and on the bass drum we used a Remo Powerstroke 3 coated with felt strips for muffling and of course a medium-high tuning. For cymbals we went with Paiste, using a 2002 15″ sound edge hi-hat, Formula 602 18″ and 20″ crashes and a 24″ ride. What a huge sound!

Next up, we tried a Gretsch Broadcaster kit with smaller shells:

  • 24×14“ bass drum
  • 13×09“ high tom
  • 14×14“ floor tom

We chose a Gretsch copper snare in 14×6.5“ and used the same drum heads as before, except for an Emperor X on the snare. We went with Zildjian cymbals: a 15“ K light hi hat, a 17“ K thin crash, an 18“ crash and a 24“ A Custom medium ride. The sound we got was a bit more controlled, as to be expected with smaller drums.

Lastly, we found a Yamaha Recording Custom, which has very modern sizes:

  • 22×18“ bass drum
  • 12×08“ high tom
  • 16×14“ floor tom

We completed the setup with a 14×5“ aluminum snare and put on some Evans UV1 coated heads. On the bass drum we used a G2 coated. This time we chose smaller cymbals: Sabian Artisan 14“ hi-hat, 17“ and 19“ crashes and a 22“ ride. With these more modern sizes the sound became even more compact.

Obviously, there are many factors to take into consideration when striving for that classic rock drum sound: the way you play, the choice of drums, heads, cymbals and tuning. Keep that in mind, because as the video demonstrates, there are various configurations to get to your vintage sound as long as these factors work together.