When I was 15 years old, I built my first drum kit out of whatever I had. I played on cans and gas gallons in the garden. I didn’t have a bass drum, so I had to fake it. I had just one cymbal, which I got secondhand, and it was broken on the edge. The sound was total crap. I hung it from the ceiling on a bungee cord – those straps you use to keep gear in the back of your car – and I had to duck every time I hit it so it wouldn’t take my head off.
We were so poor we couldn’t even afford a camera to take a picture of it.
That ‘drum kit’ is one reason I don’t take my current setup for granted and why I take such good care of my gear.
I started selling junk to save up for a real drum set. I bought a hi-hat stand and got my bass drum and snare drum from my school, and built the stands from materials at a local car shop (the guy told me I had to make sure I was happy with the position of each stand because there was no way to go back after it was made).
I got my first double bass pedal – a Mapex – in 1989. I was always complaining about it. I blamed the pedal for not letting me play fast. I told myself that the only way to get better was to buy a DW 5000, who was advertising their Delta Accelerator technology that was supposed to help you play faster.
I went to a show in Porto Alegre (Brazil) and saw a guy playing so fast and so clean with a worse pedal than mine. Okay…if this guy can play this fast on a pedal like that, I need to find a way to get there. Until I could afford a DW 5000, I decided to get as much as I could from my Mapex, and played that pedal until it was falling apart.
By the time I switched to DW, I was playing better.
Many people find excuses for why they’re not getting better. They aren’t taking responsibility; they’re blaming the gear. It’s all about the way you practice and the time you spend on the instrument.
My old band, Lucas Scaryotis was getting ready to play at a punk fest in a city called Cachoeirinha. It was going to be cold and late at night, so we agreed between all the drummers that we would share a kit and that each of us was going to bring one piece. “You bring the pedal, I’ll bring the hi-hat, they bring the crashes.” The guy who was supposed to play after us decided he didn’t want to play so late and wanted to switch spots with us.
“You can play longer if you let me go on before you.”
“No, let’s stick with the plan,” I said.
The guy started arguing. He said, “Okay, if you want to play right now, I won’t let you use my bass drum pedal.”
“This isn’t part of the deal,” I replied. “We agreed already. But if you won’t change your mind, no problem – I’ll play without a pedal.”
So I did.
I kicked the bass drum with my foot instead.
The drum head broke, of course.
It’s all about getting things done and learning to adapt. When I played at the Drumeo Festival, my setup was kind of different. I’m used to playing with a 14 inch rack tom, but I had to play a 13 inch that was also really deep. That tom on top of the bass drum guides the angle of all the other toms, and it was higher than the kit I was playing on the Tony MacAlpine tour that month. I was also using a 14×8 snare with Tony, but I played on a 14×5.5 at the festival.
By the end of my festival performance, I was loving that 13 inch rack tom – it just felt and sounded great.
When you want to make something happen, you just need to get over your concerns and have fun. If you get too picky with the details, it’s going to kill your drumming. When you’re touring and don’t have your own gear, you need to adjust yourself.
When you try, you realize the situation isn’t that bad.
The point is, you need to be flexible as a drummer. And you can be a drummer using any kind of gear. No matter how poor you are, how old the equipment is, or how unusual the setup is, you can find a way to make it work. You’ll be happier. You’ll play better. And you’ll find it easier to reach your goals.
The best gear is what you’ve got. All the other problems are inside your head. Live each day like there is no tomorrow…
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