A Drummer’s On-Stage Survival Kit

From DRUM! Magazine’s November 207 Issue | By Rick Van Horn

Like most drummers I know, I’ve always carried a collection of spare parts and miscellaneous paraphernalia along with my drum kit. These items accumulated because something broke on the kit at an earlier date, and I didn’t have what was needed to fix it at the time. I had to jury-rig, or do without the broken piece of equipment for the rest of the gig, and then repair or replace it the next day. From that point on I made sure to have a spare on hand as insurance against a similar breakdown in the future. This policy has served me well over the years, whether playing locally or touring.

But while it’s great to have all these items, they don’t do much good in a trap case stored offstage. You must be able to reach them in a hurry when you need them. This is especially important if you don’t have a drum tech to take care of problems in an emergency. (I certainly don’t.)

When I was playing locally all the time — on my own kit and driving to all my gigs — I used an old-fashioned wooden fishing tackle box that had multiple compartments and drawers. If you’re touring in your own vehicle and using your own kit, I suggest finding a similar container.

However, these days I do a lot of flying, and use backline kits. So I’ve opted for a collection of zip-style plastic freezer bags, which pack easily within the bag I check on the plane. Because they’re transparent I can readily see what each one contains. I just lay them out on the floor beneath my floor toms, where I can get to them in a hurry if need be.

Gibraltar Hardware’s model SC-GWK WingKey

Before describing what I keep in each plastic bag, I want to describe the two things that I keep within easy reach. The first is a WingKey — an all-in-one tool invented a few years ago by drummer Frank Parise, and currently offered by Gibraltar Hardware as its model SC-GWK. Its handle has a standard drum key socket on one end. Its body has a hexagonal socket on one end, for use on the 0.5″ nuts used on multi-clamps, rack systems, and seat thrones. It’s also useful for tuning congas, bongos, and timbales. The other end is slotted to fit over large and small wing nuts. It’s small enough to fit in a stick bag (which is where I keep mine), but large enough to be easy to work with.

The second stand-alone item is my indispensable roll of black gaffer’s tape; and I mean real cloth-backed gaffer’s, not duct tape. This all-purpose tape can be used for muffling drums, making minor repairs, securing set lists to stands, and even for quick bandaging jobs.

Now, back to the plastic bags. Let’s start with tools. Drum-specific tools include a few traditional drum keys and a small set of Allen wrenches. To these I add small hand tools, including a four-in-one reversible screwdriver (with large and small straight and Phillips heads), pliers, and an adjustable wrench.

Another bag contains my collection of generic spare parts. I carry an extra hi-hat clutch, a spare bass drum beater, and an assortment of cymbal felts, wing nuts, tilter sleeves, and metal washers. It’s especially important to have these on hand if you’re using backline drums, because at some point you’re likely to encounter a kit that has faulty or missing parts. If you use your own kit on tour, you should have spares for parts that are subject to heavy wear and tear, like bass drum pedal springs, straps, and footboard hinges.

A third bag contains an abbreviated version of the “pharmacy” I describe in my “Creature Comforts” article on page 45 of this issue. My onstage bag contains Band-Aids, antibiotic ointment, tweezers, and Q-Tips. These pretty much cover the sorts of minor injuries that often occur during setups and breakdowns. I also have a small package of throat lozenges (which I can pop during performances to soothe a tired voice), as well as a pocket-sized tin of aspirin tablets.

Aquarian Drumheads’ 4.5” and 5.5” duraDOT drumhead tone modifiers

If you’re partial to a particular drum-muffling product (as opposed to just using gaffer’s tape), you should carry some of that. And I also suggest having a few bass drum impact patches, such as Aquarian’s drumKit Tools, Evans’ EQ patches, or Remo’s Falam Slams. In addition to their acoustic functions, these can also be used as emergency repair patches on worn or punctured bass drumheads.

Evans’ EQ Black Nylon Double Patch

Of course, the snare batter is the most likely head to break on any kit. And when it does, it usually splits from hoop to hoop, eliminating the possibility of a slap-on patch repair. Even if a spare head is available, the time needed to change out the head and tune a new one simply isn’t an option during a show. In this case, you need a spare drum — which should be on a stand, tuned, and ready to install in an instant. What this means, in turn, is that if you’re using backline gear, your band’s rider must include a second snare and stand. If you’re traveling with your own kit, it must include them.

Remo Falam Slam beater impact patch

Though this all may seem like a lot of extraneous stuff to keep onstage, remember: You’re isolated up there. When you need something, be it a spare part or an aspirin tablet, you need it now, not tomorrow night. And you can’t run into the wings — let alone the local store — to get it. In order to deal with the problems that can (and probably will) crop up on tour, you need to follow the Boy Scout motto: Be prepared!