Steve Smith's Drum Talk:
Drums du Jour

Having done a lot of touring on the jazz circuit in the USA, Europe and Japan, I’ve frequently had to play "Drums du Jour." This is a term I got from my friend and serious jazz road warrior, Adam Nussbaum, which translates into: Rental Drums.

Let me give you a little insight into what I’ve experienced, as far as drum sets are concerned, at different levels of touring.

At the top level is the rock band with hit records. At this level the band usually takes all its own gear most everywhere. When I toured with Journey in the 1970’s and 80’s, we brought my drums all over the USA. When we went to Europe or Japan I was able to get a "loaner kit" of my exact configuration provided to me by Sonor, the drum company I’ve endorsed since 1977.

As our popularity grew overseas, we were able to take my personal kit with us, which is ideal. Now that I’m mainly touring on the jazz circuit, the money is much less so we don’t have the budget to be shipping drums overseas, and sometimes we can’t even bring them to some US dates. There are lots of touring bands in this situation where they have gigs around the country or around the world, but there isn’t enough money for them to take all of their gear with them.

This is where a good endorsement comes in handy. Sonor has been very good about getting me kits where I need them around the world, but like any drum company, they don’t have drums everywhere. When touring Europe with Vital Information or Steps Ahead, we have done a lot of bus/van tours. We could pick up a Sonor "loaner kit" at the first gig and keep it for the whole tour. This works out great, and I do bring along some of my own accessories -- but I’ll get to that later.

On some of the Vital Information or Steps Ahead dates in Europe, we had to leave the bus and fly to a few gigs. For instance, the last gig where we'd use the bus would be in Germany, but then we’d have two gigs on the Canary Island, off the coast of Africa. Or we would have a one-nighter in Tromso, Norway, which is above the Arctic Circle, and that's when Drums du Jour happens.

When I toured the USA with pianist and jazz legend Ahmad Jamal, he wouldn’t pay for the shipping of my drums, so that was Drums du Jour every night. When I go to Turkey to play jazz festivals with the great Turkish keyboard player Aydin Esen, it's time for, you guessed it: Drums du Jour.

Almost without exceptions, there will be problems with rental drums. They are beat up, have old heads on them, cymbals stands are missing felts, the rental company may have forgotten to pack certain items, etc. After experiencing this for many years, I have finally come up with a method of dealing with most of the problems that arise with this less than ideal situation. I carry quite a few items to help in times of need. But first, I try to avoid problems with a detailed rider.

In my Vital Information band rider, it is specified what I need. When preparing for your tour, be very thorough in what you put in the rider, since you can’t give them too much information. I give them the brand, number of drums, sizes, number of cymbal stands, hi hat stand, snare drum stand, throne. I even include the obvious because sometimes if I don’t put it in the rider, it doesn’t show up. For example, I always include requests for the tom mount that goes on the bass drum, legs for the floor toms, a clutch for the hi hat stand, felts on the cymbal stands, plastic sleeves on the cymbal stands and a carpet (not a blanket!) to set them up on. Many times we’ll get to a gig and there is no "drum rug," and then we have to search around for a welcome mat or something to put the drums on so they don’t slide all over the stage.

Here is a copy of the drum portion of our Vital Information rider. I also use this rider for other gigs as well:


(SONOR DRUMS as per Steve Smith’s Sonor endorsement and will usually be provided at no cost by the local Sonor distributor. The promoter will have to arrange delivery to the venue.)

The depths of the drums sizes are not important; Head Sizes are very IMPORTANT:

20" Bass Drum w/ Double Tom Mount Attachment
8" Mounted Rack Tom (Mounted on a freestanding combination cymbal/tom stand)
10" Mounted rack tom (mounted on bass drum dbl tom mount)
12" Mounted rack tom (mounted on bass drum dbl tom mount)
14" Freestanding floor tom with legs
16" Freestanding floor tom with legs
5x14 Sonor wood snare
4x14 Bronze and or Brass snare (must have two snare drums in case one breaks during the show)
One Sonor or comparable professional drum throne - must be able to adjust high and be in PERFECT working condition. (No Roc’N Soc)
One Sonor Hi Hat stand with clutch
One Sonor 2000 or 3000 Snare stand (a small light stand)
One Sonor Bass Drum Pedal as a spare
(Steve brings his own main DW Bass Drum pedals)
One combination Sonor Tom/cymbal stand
(this is what 8" tom is mounted on)
Six Sonor or comparative boom cymbal stands with functional felts and rubber/plastic sleeves
HEADS Must be Remo (NEW) Clear Ambassadors
Please Note: Bass drum must have Remo Clear Ambassadors front and back NO HOLE IN RESONANT (FRONT) HEAD.
The felt strips that come with Sonor Bass Drums WILL BE THE DAMPENING, NO HOLES CUT IN RESONANT HEAD.
HEADS for SNARE DRUMS must be Remo (white coated Ambassadors) Top or Batter
On venues with wooden floor stages, a DRUM CARPET must be provided
Suggested size: 8x8. *Not a blanket, but a carpet large enough to accommodate the drum set. Steve does not use a drum riser as per stage plot.
Most of the time when I get to the gig, the drums are not right or there is some problem with them. If it’s a jazz festival, many times the promoter has rented one or two kits for all of the drummers to use. This is difficult because I usually don’t have much time to really personalize the drum set to my specs. In all these situations I have to remain flexible to keep from going nuts and getting off of the focus of just playing some music.

Most of the time the drums are workable and I'll be able to get by. There have been times when the drums are so bad there isn’t much I can do to fix them. Like in Ankara, Turkey, the last time I was there a couple of years ago, they forgot to bring the cymbal stands and a tom mount for the one rack tom. We waited until someone from the audience went home to bring back a couple of old and rusted cymbals stand (with no felts or plastic sleeves, of course) and a snare stand for the mounted tom. In those situations I just have to get thru the gig the best I can and hope that it doesn’t happen again, though it usually does.

Even though I always ask for new heads, it rarely happens. The drums usually show up with heads that are thoroughly trashed. Because of this I’ve learned to carry one set of new heads in my cymbal bag. If you stack the heads inside each other they don’t take up too much space and fit easily in the cymbal bag. If the heads on the rental drums are in bad shape or if they are a type of head I don’t like, I put on my heads and then take them off and pack them up again after the gig. Having good heads makes all the difference as far as a kit sounding good or not. I use clear Remo Ambassador heads and even if the drums are some unknown brand and beat up, I can usually get them to sound good with the new heads.

For me the bass drum is usually a problem. I like to set up my bass drum with clear Remo Ambassadors on both sides, with no hole cut in the front head. The only muffling I use is a felt strip on each head. Everywhere I go the bass drum shows up with a hole cut in the front head, an old blanket inside and usually a Remo Powerstroke 3 on the batter side. Try playing jazz on that setup! So I also carry 20" bass drum heads and felt strips. What the band and music is like determines what size bass drum I ask for. Lately, I ask for a 20" bass drum, but about 25% of the time the kit will show up with a 22" and I’m out of luck. There is only so much I can carry. Occasionally it will be an 18", but usually they are set up without the hole in front head, so that's OK.

Another consistent problem with rental drums are the cymbal stands. They usually have no felts or very worn felts and no plastic sleeves, so the cymbals are up against bare metal. I now carry felts and plastic sleeves. They don’t take up too much space, I just put them in the side pocket of my Porcaro Cymbal Bag. I find that I’ve had good luck with the soft Porcaro Cymbal Bag and have opted for that vs. a hard case that would be even heavier than the soft case. Again, don’t forget to take the felts and sleeves with you after the gig.

When touring the major European countries like Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden etc., the drums and hardware are usually decent. There are a few countries where I’ve had consistently old and broken down drums and hardware. To name a few names, Turkey, Spain, occasionally Italy, (though they are usually pretty good) any former Communist country like Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, etc.

When I go to these countries I also carry my own drum throne as well A couple of years ago in Turkey I played three nights in a row on three different bad Drums du Jour: Ankara, Izmir and Istanbul. But what made it the worst was the seats. One was a seat from someone's desk with wheels on the bottom! Hello!! (We were able to remove them) Another was a stool from someone’s kitchen, these were both non adjustable. The third was a real drum throne but all the screws were completely stripped and didn’t hold. This was the worst one of all; I could barely play because of the seat moving around so much and then my back started to really hurt.

Now I have a lightweight but solid drum throne that I put in my suitcase. I actually noticed that Jack DeJohnette does the same thing, and I asked him about it. He likes to have the same seat every night and he brings one that has a back on it. It’s unlikely that he would consistently get that from the various rental companies.

I strongly recommend getting to the gig well before the rest of the band and the soundcheck. That way if there is a major problem, there may be time to get someone from the rental company to fix it. Other common problems besides a forgotten drum or stand is the hi hat rod may be bent and, as a result, the hi hat is very stiff or the bass drum pedal has a bent spring so it doesn’t work right.

To summarize: for me to be as prepared as I can be for rental drums I take with me in my cymbal bag in addition to the appropriate Zildjian Cymbals; a full set of heads, two felt strips, cymbal felts and plastic sleeves. Zildjian has a nice kit that includes felts and sleeves and some tools which is also very helpful.

In my suitcase: a stick bag with a selection of Vic Firth sticks, brushes and mallets, etc., and a drum throne (when going to the real boonies). I carry a DW pedal bag with my personal DW double bass drum pedal that uses the nylon straps instead of the chain. The nylon strap pedal isn’t as common as the chain pedal, so I’ve found I need to take that with me also. A lot of the rental pedals are messed up in some way and usually every drummer sets up their pedal in a unique way, so I recommend carrying your pedal also. Also in the pedal bag I carry my own compact X-hat, a cowbell and small cowbell mount. I carry the pedal bag on the plane so it doesn’t get damaged in the luggage compartment under the plane. I know many players on the touring circuit who carry their own snare drum, which is a nice, but I’ve decided to draw the line there.

All together, the few extra items that I bring really don’t add too much weight or bulk, but they make a huge difference in how I feel when I play. That makes it all worth it, when I can just relax and let the music happen. There you have it. With a little preparation I’m ready for the dreaded "Drums du Jour!"

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Click the links, below, to read "Drum Talk" articles written by Steve Smith:

Drummer Magazine, 2007 (PDF)

Modern Drummer (three parts)
Choosing the Right Equipment
The Art of Practice (an excerpt)
Interview with Rhythm Magazine
Drums du jour: Dealing with Rental Drums
Vital Reading: My Favorite Music Books
Learning from Mentors
My Setup and Equipment: The Early Years
My Setup and Equipment: My Setup Today