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 Rogers Drum Set, Mardi Gras FinishSonor Sq2 Drum Kit In Red Yellow Sparkle Finish 22 13 16 - Free Global ShippingVintage Gretch 4 Pc Drum Set 95275 - No ReserveDw 3pc Collectors Series Maple Drum Set New Store Demo! No Reserve Auction!!1920s Vintage Super Ludwig Snare Drum Wfl Ludwig Buddy Rich Super Classic Drum Set White Marine Pearl Vintage Jan 2 58Roland Tr-707 Vintage Drum Machine W Original Manual - Clean With Extras MidiLudwig 14"x5" 1968 Supraphonic Snare Drum Keystone Badge Ludalloy Chicago EraVintage Gretsch Round Badge 4 Piece Drum Set Lb417t Ludwig Black Beauty Snare Drum 6.5x14, Tube Lugs, No Reserve! Alesis Dm10 Drum Kit With Dm10 Module/ With 682drums Mesh Conversion KitLeedy Ludwig?? 14" X 24" Cocktail Drum With 11" TomVintage Early 1950's Slingerland Radio King Drum Kit 22-16-13-14 Gold GlitterLinn Drum Lm-2Slingerland Radio King Snare1968 Ludwig 3-ply Sky Blue Pearl Drum Set 22" 13" 16" Dual Mufflers & Rail MountMinty! Bo Ludwig 5x14 10-lug Supraphonic Snare Drum W/nr!Vintage Pearl Mlx All Maple Floor Tom 18 X 16 RedVintage 7 Piece Tama Superstar Drum SetPearl Marching Snare DrumRoland Tr-606 Drumatix Drum MachineVintage Ludwig Drum SetVintage Ludwig Snare Drum In White PearlVtg 1976 1986 Birch Yamaha Recording Custom 14” Floor Tom Tom Ft914a Signed HagiVintage Leedy 4" X 14" Metal Snare Drum Shell +hoop For Restoration IndianapolisAlesis Dm6 Electronic Drum KitVtg March 1982 Birch Yamaha Recording Custom 6” X 5 ½” Mini Concert Tom Et906geVtg 1972 Ludwig Weather Master Ct-batter Db-750 Medium Blue Sparkle Tom DrumVintage Gretsch Round Badge Wmp 4105 5x14" Snare Drum Good Condition No Reserve!Slingerland Chicago Badge Capri Pearl Snare Sharp .99 NrOcdp 3 Piece Usa Custom Drum Kit Orange County Drum Percussion Maple Shell Pack Vintage 1964 Ludwig Standard Drum Set, Blue Strata, 22,14,16,14,14,13 And 4 CymbVintage 1969 Ludwig Acrolite Snare Drum 5x14 Tama Starclassic Maple 5.5"x14" Snare Drum - Very Good Condition!Ludwig 14" Snare Drum 202988Yamaha Jimmy Chamberlin Signature Snare DrumTama Pro Custom Bem 6.5"x14" Snare Drum With 24k Gold HardwareRoland Td-11 Drum Sound ModuleDw Drum Tom W/ Mount 8"x10" White PearlTama Artwood Aw543 Maple Piccolo Snare Drum Cherry Wine, Soundfile! No Reserve!Vintage 1960's Ludwig Snare Drum "wfl" Snare Drum 12" X 6" Vintage Slingerland Snare Drum, Drum Sticks, Stand, & CaseVintage 60's Yamaha 20" Brown Willow Bass Drum .. Great Sound!Vintage 1976 Ludwig 3-ply Floor Tom 16"x18" Mahogany Stain Tama Hazy 300 Snare Drum, 14" By 6.5" E/1268Pearl Snare Original Design By Dennis Chambers 12 X 7Vintage Lion And Healy Chicago Snare Drum - Circa 1890 To 1905.Bermuda Calypso Steel Drum And Ludwig StandAlesis Sr-16 24 Bit Stereo Drum MachineSonor Force 3000 Drumset Drum Kit Made In Germany German Birch 5 Piece Soft BagsCooperman Liberty Model Rope DrumTama Rosewood Snare Drum 6.5x14, Origional Edition!70's Ludwig 14x5 Vistalite Pattern F Blue White Snare, Ultra RareLudwig Lm400 Supraphonic 5x14" Snare Drum, Blue & Olive, Soundfile No Reserve!Vintage Sonor Snare Drum With Drum Pad & 4 Drum Sticks Made In West Germany1960s Vintage Ludwig 8x12 Red Sparkle Rack Tom Drum Shell [vg-ex Minus]Tama Starclassic Performer*13 Inch Mounted Tom*star-cast Mounting*mij*no ReserveRoland Tr-606 Drum MachineGretsch Usa Custom Snare Maple 14x5.5 Beautiful Drum