A drum kit, or trap set, is a group of various percussion instruments commonly played with mallets or sticks. A full kit often includes a bass drum, snare drum, and tom-toms, along with various cymbals, bells, and wooden blocks.

During the American Civil War, military bands were an important part of maintaining troop order and morale, providing entertainment as well as timekeeping for various drills. In the years following the war, civilian bands were established in municipalities of all size, often performing outdoors for parades or holidays.

Typically, these brass bands included at least two percussionists playing cymbals, bass drums, and snare drums, which were mounted with rattles made from wire or gut beneath the drum head. As more concerts were held indoors, the need for multiple percussionists decreased and musicians developed ways to play different drums at once.

In 1898, U. G. Leedy created the first adjustable snare drum stand and in 1909, William F. Ludwig developed the first spring-loaded, bass-drum pedal. Both inventions allowed drummers to play their instruments from a seated position and improved their ability to multitask with other percussive instruments. By 1918, the Ludwig company was selling a complete drum kit, called the “Jazz-Er-Up,” which included a large bass drum, a snare, a wooden block, and a cymbal.

Following World War I, live music performances became a popular American leisure activity, particularly those featuring smaller bands playing contemporary music. These groups were hired to play in hotels, restaurants, vaudeville clubs, and silent-movie theaters; to accommodate these smaller spaces, fewer percussionists were required.

During the 1920s, drummers began using the first double-cymbal contraption known as the “low-boy” because it rose less than a foot from the ground. The low-boy was activated by a foot pedal that brought its two cymbals together, and eventually grew to the two-foot tall “sock cymbal” and the hi-hat of today.

The adoption of both the foot-activated bass drum and hi-hat resulted in a technique known as four-way independence, or four-way coordination, that was unique to the modern drum ...

Yet in the 1930s, the world’s first drummer superstar, Gene Krupa, entered the spotlight while performing with the Benny Goodman orchestra, playing on his stylish, white, marine-pearl drum kit. Krupa stripped down the typical stage setup to a four piece kit, replacing his trap board console with a mounted tom-tom over the base drum. Around the same time, companies like Leedy, Gretsch, and Ludwig began selling more modern versions of the Chinese tom-tom, improved with tuneable drum heads.

Krupa also made the drum solo into an art, particularly during Benny Goodman’s 1937 hit “Sing, Sing, Sing.” His popularity served to standardize the drum kit used by modern drummers, as Krupa settled on an arrangement of four drum sizes—a snare, base, and two tom-toms—that allowed him to easily move between each instrument.

Due to metal shortages during World War II, percussion companies modified their designs to create products including mostly wood components, though this was a short-lived solution. After the war concluded, drum manufacturers caught on to the affordable miracle of plywood and began using the thin sheeting instead of the traditional hardwoods like maple, mahogany, and walnut.

Drum production was forever altered in the 1950s with Remo Beli’s invention of the synthetic drum head, replacing the tanned calfskin used for centuries. Plastic drum heads stayed in tune much better, and were adopted by many drummers, though the rich sound and longevity of calf heads was impossible to match with plastic. The nylon-tipped drum stick was also invented shortly after, which gave drummers a wider variety of sounds to work with.

As music became electrified during the 1960s, with rock and roll hitting its stride, percussion instruments were improved to increase their sound capabilities. Cymbals became heavier, tom-toms had their lower heads removed, and the number of drum-shell layers, or plies, was often multiplied to keep up with the amplification of other instruments.

The Beatles’ 1964 appearance on the Ed Sullivan show caused a spike in demand for Ringo’s four piece Black Oyster Pearl kit, designed by Ludwig. The following year, other industry leaders like Gretsch and Slingerland added a second tom to the set, mounted on the bass drum, creating the standard five-piece arrangement.

In the mid-1970s, Ludwig debuted a line of acrylic drum shells, and by the late '80s, some companies were selling custom shell packs that included shells for a bass, snare, and tom-toms for home assembly. Around the same time, Japanese manufacturers like Yamaha, Pearl, and Tama also rose to prominence. Finally, the electronic drum kit was introduced, greatly reducing the space needed and volume created by percussionists, while also allowing a greater variety of sound effects.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Vintage Drum Guide

Vintage Drum Guide

David Anfuso’s Vintage Drum Guide is primarily focused on Slingerland, Rogers, Ludwig, Gretsch, and other major A… [read review or visit site]

National Music Museum

National Music Museum

The National Music Museum, which is located at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, features 15,000 instru… [read review or visit site]

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Chrome Over Brass Super-ludwig Supraphonic Snare Drum -c.o.b. Pre-serialUntouched Vintage Fibes Snare Drum Chrome 5.5 X 14 W Ludwig CaseVintage Premier Black Wrap Early 60s Royal Ace Snare Drum Nice!!Clean! 60s Keystone Ludwig 5x14 10-lug Supraphonic Snare Drum W/nr!Vintage Rogers Swivomatic 4 Pcs Holiday Drum Set Black Diamond Pearl 1968Monroe Badge Ludwig Supraphonic 14" X 6.5" Snare Drum Vintage Ludwig 6.5x15" Snare Drum Mahogany Stain 60s Era Keystone Badge Rare UsaVintage Slingerland Brass 14 X 6.5 Cob 10 Lug Gene Krupa Sound King Snare Drum!Ludwig Floor Tom DrumVintage 60's Rogers Holiday Black Onyx Pearl 3 Piece Drum Set Rare!Vintage Ludwig Silver Sparkle Snare Drum, All Original And CleanLudwig Brass On Brass Black Beauty Snare Drum _4 46157Vintage 1960's Gretsch 26 X 9 Mahogany Big Bass 10 Lugs Marching DrumNoble & Cooley Classic ? Single Ply Snare Drum 14 3/4" X 14"Gretsch Usa Custom 4pc Drum Set (22/16/12/10) Solid Yellow Gloss - Video InsideLudwig Vintage Acrolite Snare Drum. 1968 Excellent Clean Condition. Ludwig Acrolite Snare Drum 5 X 14 1992 Blue Olvie Badge Usa Made Nr Vintage Ludwig 5x14 Supraphonic Snare Drum Clean..low World Shipping!!Gretsch Snare Drum Round Badge White Pearl 14" X 5.5" -(c)Vintage 8" & 12" North Set Of Toms Drums W/ Ludwig Clamps Missing Snare & BassLudwig Supraphonic 14x6.5 Snare DrumLudwig Bass Drum Vintage Big 26-inch Wood Good-condition Wm-skins Marching-band!Ludwig Supraphonic Snare Drum 6.5 Supra Lm402 Bonham Superphonic Vintage 1968 Ludwig Snare Drum Keystone Chicago 5" X 14 " Restore Or PartsSlingerland Rk110 Gibson Era Nashville Radio King Snare DrumRoland Tr-606 Vintage Analogue Drum Machine Comes With Ac Power SupplyVintage 6" & 10" North Set Of Toms Drums W/ Ludwig Clamps Missing Snare & BassDw Collectors Snare Drum, 5.5x14, Black & Gold Badge, Keller Shell!Roland Tr-8 Drum Machine Rhythm Performer - Tr8Rogers 5 X 14 Custom Built Dyna Sonic Snare Drum Cob Vintage 1969Vintage Slingerland Silver Sparkle Atrist Snare Drum - No ReserveRare Drum Set Alert! Ludwig 1971 Red Silk Big Beat Drum Set! 24",18",14",13"Vintage Tama Artstar Cordia 8 X 14 Snare DrumVintage Ludwig 6 1/2x14 Sky Blue Pearl Snare Drum! No Reserve!Vintage Ludwig Usa 14" X 5" Supraphonic Ludalloy Chrome Snare Drums *project*Roland Spd S Sampling Pad 9 Drum Pads SilverCamco Snare Drum, Rare Yamaha Japan Handcrafted Aluminum Shell Snare: 5.5"x14", Near Mint ConditionLudwig Vintage Snare Drum Case, Black, Original-ex !!! NrLudwig Drum Vintage 66 Hollywood Matched Set Great Players ConditionVintage 1969 Ludwig Champagne Sparkle Drum Kit Absolutely Stunning Vintage 1972 Premier Aqua Shimmer 14x14" Floor Tom1960s Ludwig Pearl White Floor Tom 16 X 16Vintage 60's Ludwig Snare Drum Chrome 14 1/2" X 5 3/4" Vintage Rogers 7 Line Cob Dynasonic 5x14 Snare DrumDw Bamboo Snare Drum Rare 5.5x13 Natural Finish Wonderful Warm Funky Snare DrumYamaha 13" Sfz Silver Finish Marching Snare DrumLudwig 9" X 13" Tom Champagne Sparkle 1976Vintage Wfl Ludwig Drum Set (store #15)Vintage Rogers Holiday Cleveland-era Silver Sparkle 16x16 Floor TomLudwig 70's Bass Drum Blue Pearl Oyster Ludwig Snare Drum 5 X 14 Acrolite Late 70's?Rare Vintage Tama Superstar Floor Tom Super Mahogany 20 X 18Gretsch Drums Renown Maple 6.5x14 Snare Drum Slate Silver Lacquer Sparkle Used1970's Ludwig Acrolite Snare Drum B/o Badge (low World Ship!)Roland V-drums Td-6 Percussion Sound Module Trigger Interface Electronic DrumVintage Ludwig 15 X 23 Black Oyster ???? Bass DrumRoland Td-8 V Drum Module And Mounting Plate Td 10, Td 12, Td 20, Td 30Roland Td-12 Module Electronic V Drum With Power Cord Pearl Export Select Snare Drum With Hardware