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 Gretsch Usa Custom Drum Set - Player's Kit - 20/12/16 - No ReserveLudwig Black Beauty Snare Drum 6.5x14 Tube Lugs Twin Channel Hoops Millennium Tama Starclassic Drum KitLudwig & Ludwig Vintage Snare Drum Silver Anniversary!Slingerland Radio King Snare Drum In Rare Capri Pearl FinishVintage 1970's Ludwig 5x14 Supraphonic Snare Drum (supra/phonic/set/70s)Roland Tr 909 Drum Machine - Great Condition, Original Manual, Latest UpgradeLudwig Lm400 Supraphonic Snare Drum 1964 Vintage Brass HoopsNear Mint Recording Icon: Tama 4"x15" Snare-engraved Brass Shell & Brass Rims Dw Craviotto 2001 Snare DrumVtg Rogers Power Tone Drum Set Blue Strata Pearl Nr!!!Gretsch Usa Custom 6.5" X 14" Snare Drum - Piano Black W/ Gold - In Stock Now!Slingerland Vintage Snare Drum Fancher/tone Flange ModelDavid Garibaldi Owned Yamaha Beech Custom 6 Pc Drum KitLudwig Black Beauty 90th Anniversary Limited Edition Snare Drum W/ Coa _4 46154Roland Tr-707 Rhythm Composer Vintage Drum Machine Synthesizer Midi Tr707 808 Pork Pie Percussion Pork Rub Snare Drum 6.5x14" Maple Made By American Est 1987Vintage Ludwig 75th Anniversary 6.5x14 Supraphonic Snare Drum (supra/phonic)Slingerland Radio King Snare Drum Cloud Badge Wmp EntactRare Vintage 60's Trixon Telstar Conical Drum Set Kit W/ Snare Red SparkleVintage 1967 Ludwig Snare Drum Nice ChromeRoland Td-9 Electronic Drum Sound Module V-drums /// 1960's Rogers Bluer Onyx Luxor Snare Drum 5x14 All Original Very Nice!! ///Roland Tr-808 Rhythm Composer Drum Machine (real Deal)Alesis Dm10 Dm 10 High Definition Drum Module W/dynamic Articulation *usedVintage Snare Drum Ajax Roland Tr-909 Rhythm Composer Drum Machine Tr 909 Works Great 99 Cent Auction...Sjc Drums Acrylic Kit Ludwig Snare DrumVintage Lion And Healy Chicago Snare Drum - Circa 1890 To 1905.Sonor Signature Horst Link 14" X 8" Hld580 Ebony "light" Birch Snare Drum-cleanTama Artstar Ii 6 Piece Drum SetYamaha 14" Sfz Silver Finish Marching Snare DrumRoland Td-10 V-drum Percussion Sound Module DevildriverGretsch Usa Custom American Drum Series 14 X 14 Floor Tom-- Excellent!Old Vintage Ludwig Blue Sparkle Snare Drum Keystone Badge 1965 Case Key Bb Vintage 60's Trixon Drum Kit Yellow Sparkle 20-16-13 W/matching Snare W. GermanyVintage 1970s Slingerland Buddy Rich Drum Set Kit Tdr Cob Snare 24 13 16 18 14 Ludwig Snare Drum Super Sensitive Hammered / Bag Lower Buy It Now And ReserveVintage Ludwig Blue (green) Oyster Pearl Snare Drum - Mid 60's - 5 X 14Yamaha Akira Jimbo SnareDw 6.5x14 Brass Snare Drum Yamaha Recording Custom 16x24 Bass Drum Stage White / Cherry Wood InteriorVintage Gretsch Round Badge 4157 Snare Drum, Blue Sparkle W Microsensitive ThrowPaiste "s-bronze" Snare Drum By Jeff Ocheltree "mint"Vintage Radio King Floor Tom Vintage Slingerland Drum Osyter Diamond Pearl OldTama Snare Drum Made In Japan ** Vintage ** Very Nice ! No Reserve !Rare Vintage 1968 Ludwig School Festival Snare Drum 6.5 X14. Killer! Ww Ship!Ludwig Supraphonic Snare VintageRoland Td-10 Drum Module With Tdw-1 ExpansionHuge Vintage Gretsch Square Badge 16” X 18” Floor Tom Drum In White Nitron Wrap!Ludwig 14” Acrolite Snare Drum (gray With Blue/olive Badge)Vintage Drum-leedy Bass Drum-24x12-leedy Reliance Model-indianopilis-1930s-l@@k!Vintage Ludwig Bass & Snare DrumVintage Ludwig Drum Co. Percussion Floor Tom - Gold Sparkles 15 X 14" ()New In The Factory Box, Pearl Omar Hakim African Mahogany Signature SnareDrum Set 5-piece Complete Full Size With Cymbals Stands Stool SticksRoland Kd-140 Kick Drum And Iron Cobra Double Kick PedalAbsolutely Superb Vintage 1963 Rogers 1-pc Footboard Swivomatic Bass Drum PedalTama Superstar Original 1970's Snare, 14"x8", Birch, 8ply Natural Finish W/case