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    

No Reserve! Roland Td-30kv Pro Series Electronic Drum Set With AddsRoland V Drums - Electric Drum Set Td-6 - Extras!Roland V-drums Td-15k V-tour Drum Kit Plus Extras Fantastic Condition No ReserveMint Vintage Pearl Free Floating 6.5" X 14", Ten-lug Snare ChassisVintage Slingerland Chrome Snare Drum 1920's RareDw Handcrafted All-maple Shell Drum SetSlingerland Vintage Snare Drum Fancher/tone Flange ModelVintage 1979 Ludwig Supraphonic 14" X 5" 400 Snare Drum - Blue And Olive BadgeSlingerland Radio King Snare Drum Cloud Badge Wmp EntactAlesis Dm8 Pro Kit Complete With Mesh Pad UpgradeLudwig & Ludwig Vintage Snare Drum Silver Anniversary!Early 1930's Vintage ~ Ludwig Snare Drum ~ Estate Find Wow!!Vintage 70's Ludwig Supraphonic 5 X 14 Snare Drum Lm400 Beautiful! No Reserve!1970's Ludwig Acrolite Snare Drum B/o Badge (low World Ship!)Pork Pie "pork Rub" Brass Snare Drum (6.5 X 14") + New Snare Case + Remo HeadVintage 8x14 Tama Mastercraft Superstar Snare Drum-piano Black-very Nice Drum!Vintage 1966 Ludwig Keystone Badge Drum Set Supraphonic Snare July 28Alesis Dm10 Studio Drum Module/ BrainRare 1970s Rogers Satellite Skinny Pancake Snare Drum For Collection & Set #m638Vintage Slingerland Usa Drum Set 4 Piece Kit Shell PackSlingerland Radio King 3-ply 24"x14" Bass Drum Wmp/ With Hoops/mufflers Yamaha Japan Handcrafted Series Aluminum Shell Snare: 5.5"x14", Near MintVtg Roland Tr-606 Drumatix Analog Drum Machine Synth Mint Case Box DocsNice! 70s Ludwig 5x14 10-lug Supraphonic Snare Drum W/nr!Rare 1800's Fred Gretsch "20th Century Drum" Gut Snare Skin Head Vintage BrassRare 1976 Ludwig 14" Vistalite 5-band Black And Clear Snare Drum For Set #m670Yamaha Roy Haynes "copper" 14" Snare Drum HammeredLudwig Coliseum Snare With Die Cast Hoops And Skb Case.Pearl Reference 6 1/2 X14 Snare Scarlet Fade Perfect ConditionRoland Td-3 Kw V-compact Series V-drums KitPearl Reference 6.5 X 14 Snare Drum Great Shape!! Mastercast Hoop! Ludwig Acrolite Snare Drum - Blue/olive BadgeVintage Rogers Dynasonic 14 X 5 Snare DrumVintage Gretsch Model 4157 Round Badge Silver Sparkle Snare DrumAlesis Dm5 18 Bit Drum Module New Aruba Percussion Cajon Box Drum With Gig Bag Natural Wood Finish Vintage All Maple Shell Pearl 10" Tom Drum With I.m.s. MountJeff Ocheltree Paiste Spirit Of 2002 Bronze Snare Drum 6.5x14Tama Superstar Original 1970's Snare, 14"x8", Birch, 8ply Natural Finish W/case1960's Rogers Chrome Dynasonic 5" X 14" Snare 10359Gretsch Usa Custom Spun Brass Snare Drum 5"x14"Dw Collectors Series 18 In Floor Tom With Racquet Case Drum Workshop No ReserveDw 5.5" X 14" Snare Drum With Case, Ten And Six Maple Shell With Extra Remo HeadVintage 1960's Slingerland Bass Drum 14"x20" Dark Blue Sparkle 3 PlyPearl Omar Hakim Signature Snare DrumMapex Percussion Kit (bells, Snare ,and Pratice Pad)Tama Starclassic Maple 5.5"x14" Snare Drum - Very Good Condition!Roland Pd-7 Drum Pad Lot Of 8Vintage Yamaha Drum Set. Blue Willow 4 Piece. Mint/excellent Condition. Vintage 50s Slingerland 7 X 14 Black Diamond Pearl Snare Drum Alesis Dm5 18-bit Rackmount Brain Trigger Drum Synthesizer Sound Module Dm-5Original Mark Goodwin Sick Puppies Masters Of Maple Drum Set Vintage Rogers Power Tone Drum Set...rogers!! Dw 14" Collector's Series 10 & 6 Maple Shell Snare: Collector Grade, Oil FinishDw Workshop Snare Drum Collector's Series Collector Percussion Maple 7" X 14 " 1988 Tama Powermetal 6 1/2 X 14 Snare Drum (model No. Pm216)Dw Collectors Series Snare Drum - 5.5" X 14" - Maple Shell W/ Natural FinishDw Dec 2003 Collector Series 16x12 Tom With Case. Gold Plated, Flame BurstYamaha 6 1/2" X 14" Tour Custom Vintage Snare Drum - Trans Red Lacquer - No ResVintage Ludwig Snare Drum