BY RICK VAN HORN | FROM THE WINTER 2018 ISSUE OF DRUM!
Let’s face it: As drummers, we need to be 50 percent musicians and 50 percent mechanics. No other instrumentalists employ as many mechanical devices as we do in order to create our performance. Ironically, the very act of performing on a drum set creates stresses that can, in turn, cause its mechanical components to fail — often at the most inopportune time.
What’s more, in addition to being the most mechanical of instruments, a drum set is also the most visual. Its appearance is an important part of a drummer’s entertainment value. But that appearance can be adversely affected by environmental factors encountered during performances.
What this all boils down to is something that one of my first drum teachers drilled into me: “Take care of your drum set, and it’ll take care of you.”
1. COVER THE KIT
For most drummers, the appearance of their kit is very personal. That’s why there are so many different finishes available in wraps, lacquers, stains, or other styles. But no drum finish looks good if it’s dingy or dusty. If your drums are left set up for long periods, keep them dusted. Better yet, keep them covered. A simple bedsheet or lightweight painter’s drop cloth will do the job here. This is especially important if your kit is set up in a club where the air quality isn’t great. Fortunately, cigarette smoke is a thing of the past in most clubs and restaurants, but if food grease is in the air that can create a film on your drum’s finish pretty quickly.
2. WIPE IT DOWN
Wipedowns with a clean cloth and some Windex can remove grease and other film from drums and hardware. But you should still do a full-scale cleaning of your drums from time to time. This involves completely dismantling them. Set the lugs and rims aside for the moment, and then use a quality polish on the shells. There are several drum-specific products on the market for this, including Trick Drum Polish, Dunlop Drum Shell 65 Polish, and Music Nomad Drum Detailer. Household cleaners and polishes like Pledge can work well, too.
3. DON’T SCRATCH THE SURFACE
Remember that with a wrapped finish, you’re cleaning a plastic surface. On a lacquered kit, you’re polishing several layers of clear lacquer. Only in very rare cases, like with some oil finishes, are you actually touching natural wood, in which case you should use a high-quality wood furniture polish. In any event, you never want to use anything abrasive that might scratch the finish. Soft cloths and non-abrasive polishes work best.
4. LUBE UP THE BEARING EDGES
While you’re looking at the shells, it’s a good time to examine the bearing edges. If they’re in good shape, you should lubricate them to aid in drumhead seating and tuning. Drum Dial offers its Bearing Edge Conditioner for this purpose. Some drummers use a lightcoat of wax.
5. SPIFF UP THE CHROME
When it comes to cleaning chrome hardware, you can generally use the same products that you do on the drum shells. Just make sure to get the polish thoroughly out of all the little nooks and crannies on lugs and stands. In these cases, it’s best to put the polish on your cloth first rather than directly onto the part.
6. CLEAN TENSION RODS
While the tension rods are out of the lug casings, be sure to wipe them off thoroughly to remove any rust or grit that would affect their ability to operate smoothly. Once they’re completely clean, a drop or two of oil, such as 3-in-1 oil, wiped back on will lubricate them and protect them from future oxidation.
7. REFRESH YOUR HEADS REGULARLY
Before you reassemble your now-clean drums, take a serious look at your drumheads. Heads aren’t designed to last forever, and worn-out heads can’t provide optimum sonic performance. Batter heads that are pitted, or coated models that have their coatings worn smooth and thin, should be replaced.
8. DON’T FORGET ABOUT BOTTOM HEADS
Bottom heads can lose their tensile strength as the plastic material stretches over time. This is best evaluated when the head is put back on the drum. If you can’t tune it evenly, or if it doesn’t seem to give the drum the resonance that it should, you might want to consider replacing it.
9. MAINTAIN THAT NEW CYMBAL SMELL
Years ago many drummers were reluctant to ever clean their cymbals, holding the opinion that the cymbals’ sound “mellowed” with age and accumulated dirt. But that was before there were so many different cymbal manufacturers offering so many different specific models. If you want your cymbals to keep sounding like they did when you bought them, you should keep them looking like they did when you bought them.
10. POLISH MAKES PERFECT
Fortunately, cymbals are relatively easy to keep looking new. Every major manufacturer offers its own brand of cymbal cleaner and/or polish, and there are a number of excellent after-market brands (such as Groove Juice or Zims). Each is an easy-to-apply liquid that removes dirt and tarnish quickly. Just be aware that there are cleaners, there are polishes, and there are combinations thereof. Polishes alone generally won’t deep clean a dirty cymbal; cleaners alone won’t create a lasting shine. Some polishes are specific to “brilliant” cymbals that may have a coating to protect their finish. Also, some cleaners will remove ink along with dirt, so be careful around logos.
11. TIGHTEN THE SCREWS
Be sure to see that all the screws holding the parts of the pedals together are securely in place. On a recent gig, my bass drum pedal started to feel very sponge-y and I couldn’t get any impact on the drum. At first I figured that the hoop clamp had let go, but it turned out to be the footboard that was moving. It was still attached to the chain, but swinging left and right, completely free of the baseplate. The machine screws holding the heel plate of the footboard to the baseplate had worked loose and fallen out.
12. CHECK THE BEATER
Before you attach your pedal to the bass drum, take a moment to examine it thoroughly. Check to see if the beater shaft is clamped tightly. Make sure the beater head is firmly attached to the shaft. If the head is held by a nut, tighten it. If it’s machine-fixed, make sure it isn’t loosening up.
13. DRIVE BY
If you use a chain-drive pedal, make sure that the bolts connecting the chain to the axle and to the footboard aren’t wearing through. Likewise for a direct-drive linkage, as metal connectors can wear out too. On strap-drive models, straps will wear thin where they bend around the tip of a footboard, and their adjusting holes can stretch out around the bolts that connect them to the footboard and to the axle. You should carry replacement straps in your stick bag for this eventuality.
14. SPRING FORWARD
If your pedal’s spring is exposed, be sure to check it. The weak spot on a spring is at each end, where it connects to the axle and to the tension adjustment. If the “hook” of the spring is starting to wear thin, replace the spring. (You should also carry spare springs.)
15. EXAMINE THE HINGES
Hinges should be oiled regularly, but they need more attention than that. A hinge is designed to move up and down — which is the action that the hinge connecting a heel plate to the rest of the footboard should have. Unfortunately, many drummers don’t play exclusively in an up-and-down motion; many move their feet from side to side as well. Consequently, the hinges — especially the hinge pins — receive a sideways torque they weren’t designed to withstand. The pins can become weakened, and the hinges themselves can get “stretched out,” causing the connection between the heel plate and the footboard to become loose and sloppy. Such a hinge should be replaced. If left uncorrected, the hinge will ultimately break, rendering the pedal useless.
16. GIVE REGULAR CHECK-UPS
In just the past couple of years I’ve discovered — and had to fix — problems with hi-hat clutches, cymbal tilters, tom holders, rack clamps, case straps, and even the wheels on my rolling hardware bag. Some I caught before they failed; others caught me. But in each case, it reinforced my belief in yet another old adage: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” So do yourself a favor and give your kit regular check-ups. That way, you’ll be able to deal with problems before they ruin your gig.