In the following paragraphs I will be dealing with individual drums of a drum kit, and their characteristics. Later on, there are some notes on different drum set variations. Hopefully they will help in designing your own kit.
For a good reason, the most common snare size is 14″x 5″ or 5.5″ as it’s an easy drum to tune and play in every way. With a tight tuning the drum has a great feel and a punchy sound, with a medium tension you can take care of half of all the songs in the world, and a loose tuning suits the ballads.
The slightly deeper models 14″x 6″ and 6.5″, which have a bit more bottom end and low frequencies, are a perfect choice for rock and pop drumming. Even with a tighter tuning there is more depth to the overall sound, too. If you’re looking for a low and wet sound, it’s easier to achieve it with a deeper drum.
14″ x 7″ and 8″-size drums are a great option when looking for a low snare sound. These drums can easily produce a very deep and thuddy sound, which is difficult to achieve with a shallower drum, at least without sacrificing the feel.
For a snappy, high-pitched and penetrating sound a nice choice is 14″ x 3.5″- 4″, especially with a tight tuning. With a little less tension, however, you can get a surprisingly warm sound from this kind of a Kumu snare as well.
13″diameter snares are many times considered tight-sounding, which is often the case with the shallower versions (4″-5″). When the depth is increased, a 13″ drum turns into a versatile instrument. For instance, a 13″x 6″ or 6.5″ is a very good all-purpose drum with a crisp feel.
The smaller diameters 10″ and 12″ function best as auxiliary snares when you’re after a tight hip-hop sound or a special effect.
The benefit of Kumu toms is the low fundamental pitch and sensitivity, due to the extremely thin shell. Therefore, you can get a full, warm sound even from the shallowest tom. This is a concrete advantage if you wish to place the toms as low as possible above the kick drum.
Although I can make 6″ toms in diameter, the smallest sensible size really is 8″. It’s actually quite difficult to hit a 6″ tom, and the sound is…well, pretty small and extraordinary. Even an 8″ tom is not the world’s easiest drum to play and tune, and it works best as an 8″x 7″ or 8″. In its own way, it has a tasty sound but requires some sense of style and restraint from the drummer. It can easily have quite a numbing effect if used too much as its sound truly overpowers the traditional world of drum sounds.
A 10″ tom is a favorite for many drummers, and it’s an easy drum to tune and play. However, for some it’s still too small. The most common size is 10″x 8″, but basically anything from 10″x 6.5″ to 10″x 10″ works very well. The shallower size responds a bit quicker, but all in all there’s so little air moving inside a drum of this size that a deeper drum is easy to play, too. If desired, you can get a very high-pitched sound out of a 10″ tom, but it’s possible to tune it surprisingly low as well.
12″ is the most popular tom size, with depths of 8″ or 9″. The depths that work best range from 6.5″ to 12″. The shallower sizes are more versatile – it’s not worth trying to get a tight jazz sound from a deeper model as they are meant for rock and pop rumble. Still, you can get a big sound from a shallower 12″ tom, if desired.
The 13″ diameter is often in the minority when choosing toms. This is because it’s kind of a difficult size between the 12″ and 14″ drums. For example, 12″x 9″ and 13″x 10″ are so close to each other in size that finding a good interval between them might require a compromise. That’s why a 13″ tom is often combined with a 16″ floor tom (for instance, 13″x 9″ and 16″x 14″). As such, the 13″ size works very much like 12″, with depths of 6.5″ – 13″. In a small set you can have a 13″ floor tom, such as a 13″x10″ or 11″.
A 14″ drum is most commonly a floor tom, but sometimes a rack tom, too. As a rack tom its shallowest depth can be 6.5″, and at its deepest 11″. As a floor tom the depths range from 11″ to 14″. Generally, a 14″ tom is a very easy drum and it produces a great sound regardless of the depth. The most popular floor tom sizes are 14″x 12″, 13″ and 14″. The deeper drums have a bit more sustain, but the difference is really small.
The 16″ diameter is almost always a floor tom, but sometimes you see them suspendend, too. However, it’s quite a big drum to be mounted on anything… 16″ is a size in which the equal depth by diameter rule doesn’t hold true any longer, meaning that a 16″x 16″ is clearly a more difficult drum. It’s such a big drum that in order to make it resonate properly it requires a lot more power. Therefore, the most common Kumu size is 16″x 14″, which works really well and produces just as great a sound as the deeper models but is also a lot easier to tune and play. The shallower sizes are easy, too, and there are good experiences from, for instance, 16″x 12″ and 16″x 13″.
An 18″ floor tom is a drum with lots of street credibility, and good sizes include 18″x 14″, 15″ and 16″. When you’re looking for the ultimate low boom, this is the size for the heavy-handed drummer. It’s not, however, an all-around drum, it’s meant for rock…
The 20″ diameter is the most popular, it’s a great all-purpose size. In addition to the portability, the drum has an easy, tight feel, and the sound is sufficient for both pop and jazz. A good basic sound can be found in 14″- 16″ depths. The deeper sizes 20″x 17″ or 18″ are still easily controllable, but you lose some of the sensitivity. Surely, there is more punch in the deeper models. In ultra-fast double bass playing the 20″ size a nice choice because there is no play in the drumhead and it has a great feel.
22″ is an excellent rock size, and it has a significantly bigger sound when compared to 20″. The easiest sizes to play would be 22″x 14″ – 16″, and they have plenty of sound and low end to them. The deeper 17″ and 18″ models demand a heavier foot and they’re not actual all-purpose drums, but serve well in loud playing.
A 24″ kick is one cool bass drum and it’s a really great drum to play as you can truly feel the sound, too. Just like with the 22″ models, the best sizes are 24″x 14″ – 16″. The deeper kicks have quite a heavy feel, but you can add a bit of tension to the head and the sound still remains nice and low. This way, you can improve the feel of the drum.
An 18″ bass drum is surprisingly versatile. Usually, you see them in a jazz setting but with the right heads and tuning it can produce a great solid thump that suits pop and jazz playing really well. You can make the drum sing beautifully with a tighter tuning and that’s why it’s the most popular size for a jazz environment. The most common size is 18″x 14″, which is a true all-around drum. The deeper models also fit pop and rock playing, and the feel of the drum is still great.
A 16″ drum is a nice little kick with the same characteristics as the 18″ models but with a bit less volume. The most common size is 16″x 14″, the deeper models tend to emphasize the cannon-like sound. It’s a very suitable size for light playing and small rooms, and works anywhere with a microphone.
14″ is the smallest bass drum size I make, it’s a special drum already. By using the laminated and flexible riser I’ve developed, you can get the drum to sing and resonate, and the sound is amazingly big. Well, of course, it’s not in the same league with a “real” bass drum, but it works really well in practice. A similar kind of a riser is used with the 16″ drums, too. These little guys work best with pedal beaters that are as soft as possible. The size is usually 14″x 14″.
26″ is also a special size as its owner must have not only a big car, but also lots of character. The feel of the drum is unique (compared to smaller models) because the pedal beater doesn’t hit anywhere near the center of the drumhead and controlling the head is also more difficult as there’s quite a bit of play to it. It’s no use making a drum this size too deep – the playability for a 26″x 14″ is one of the best in this size range. The sound is big and you can really feel it.
28″ is the biggest drum size I make and the same applies here as with the 26″ kicks but even a bit more drastically. A drum this big is at its most versatile as “not-so-deep”, and there are good experiences even from a 28″x 12.5″. In the hands – and feet – of a capable player these large drums are very versatile. Also, when sitting behind a kick like this, you do feel like a captain of an ocean liner…
The suitable set?
As you start planning for a Kumu drum kit, it’s worth considering what kind of a musical environment it’s for. In a lighter and jazzier setting the drums can usually be smaller in size, especially the bass drum. For rock playing the kick can be larger, along with the toms. The bass drum and the toms should be in the same ballpark with each other. If the kick’s diameter is 24″, the best choice for toms might not be 10″ and 14″ but preferably at least 12″ and 16″, possibly even 13″ and 16″. The drum’s character is defined more by its diameter than its depth.
Perhaps the most common drum set configuration in the world is a 14″ snare, 12″ and 14″ toms and a 20″ bass drum. Using a single rack tom has its staunch supporters, and there are plenty of good reasons for it. However, there is a large number of drummers using two rack toms, plus for the toms the combination of “one up, two down” has become very common in the past few years. Thankfully, there isn’t a single right drum set configuration, the possibilities and variations are almost limitless. Many drummers have first chosen, for example, 12″ and 14″ toms, and then added 10″ and 16″ drums, which creates a combination that can cover all kinds of musical situations.
When choosing tom sizes, it’s also worth thinking about the desired sounds, especially the pitch differences between toms. For instance, the interval between a 10″ and 16″ tom is quite naturally an octave, which may sound odd in drum fills (if using only two toms). Toms with a two-inch difference are easier to tune to fit contemporary music, but things can somewhat be affected with depths as well. So, if you want a set with 12″/13″/16″ toms, a good depth for the 12″ is, let’s say, 8″ and for the 13″, for instance, 10″. On the other hand, there’s nothing to stop you from using even the wildest of combinations, it’s the music that counts. Go ahead!