OK firstly, I don't believe that equipment is that important, although I can be super picky about sounds for myself; which leads to a very important point:

being very picky about gear is for YOU, not for the listener. When you spend way more than you should for that fancy mic pre for your studio, or that vintage old cymbal, the listener mostly doesn't even know the difference. All of that research and jumping through hoops you did only serves YOU. So before you spend your entire discretionary budget on a vintage old K cymbal, or a Neve mic pre, consider if the extra money it will cost you is worth it - for YOU and only you to notice the difference. It won't sell more records. It won't get you any more youtube views, It won't impress a band to hire you. It's for YOU and you alone.

BUT!!!!, if it makes you play significantly better to have that fancy vintage thing, then MAYBE it's worth it - whether it's because of the placebo effect or not.

I like to like my sound, so I'm picky about equipment, even though I know it's really only me that cares about the difference...

My drums are mosty GMS - these guys are really great drum makers. They are what other American quasi-custom drum companies wish they were. A company that makes custom shop drums for high-end players, and some VERY good factory produced drums for the masses. Tony Gallino, the drum maker, has a gift for making smaller drums sound huge. particularly the bass drums. I have a 20x12 bass drum of his that will dwarf ANY other company's 22" drums.
Their drums are very simple and straightforward - no esoteric shell materials, fancy floating this that or the other; just plain old good shells, good hardware, and simple old-school design with a few important innovations.

I mean, I won't mention any names, but what's with a drum company telling me what the resonant frequency of a particular drumshell is, the implication being that I should tune the drum to that pitch? GIMME A BREAK. I want to tune a drum where I feel like playing it - and that may change day to day, gig to gig; and the drum should sound good at any pitch. GMS drums do that - crank up one of their maple snares in homage to stewart copeland for one track, then tune THE SAME DRUM all the way down to flappy for the next tune - it sounds great at both extremes, and everywhere in-between. No choking, lots of bottom and nice attack.

I have some GMS special edition drums (SE), some GMS CL drums, and a couple of their Grand Master Series snare drums. the special edition drums have a small footprint, all brass lug which is designed to pull tension evenly across the shell, the Grand Master lug is a one piece shell spanning design, and the CL lugs are small footprint, steel, and not hand made by GMS. does it make a difference? Yes. Are the fancier ones better? - no, they're different, not better.

The SE and Grand Master drums sound more refined, more sensitive, more detailed. The CL drums are a little tubbier, aggressive and for my money have morevibe.I'm talking hairs here - very few people on the planet could hear the difference between a drum that was otherwise identical in a track. but again, we're talking about choosing and buying gear for ourselves, not for the public.

Keep in mind that my CL drums are made by Tony in the shop here in New York, they don't come from the asian company that now makes their lower end drums - not because I'm snobbish about factory made asian drums, but because I always seem to want non-standard sizes and finishes, so they make them for me rather than just ordering them from the asian suppliers.

CYMBALS - big topic here. Never get to it all.

I am a Zildjian endorser. I love old Ks from turkey - not all of them, just the good ones. Myth #1 - that all old Ks are great. more than 50% of the ones left are not all that good in my experience.

I also like some of the things Zildjian is doing now. I think we're on the precipice of the large cymbal companies making some really great instruments in the old style. Don't get me wrong - they make great cymbals for a lot of styles of playing, but I don't really like most modern cymbals for myself. I prefer old style cymbals even though I play thoroughly modern music in a thoroughly modern way.

I also have some modified cymbals which are very nice - some zildjians modified by the late great Mike Skiba, and a few of his original creations.

HEADS - I am an Evans endorser and I really like their stuff. I use mostly their coated G2s and G1s on tops of snares and toms. I like the G2s cause although they are similar to Remo emporers in that they are 2 ply, they are livelier (maybe they're thinner?). my bottom heads are clear G1s. another thing I really like about Evans is their bass drum head series. I don't use or love all of the designs, but I love the fact that they give you so many different choices. The bass drum is by far the hardest drum to get sounding good, and all of their head choices make it easier. Personally I use coated EQ4s on the batter side of all my bass drums, and the resonant side varies, but often times will be a clear EQ4 with a small offset hole cut in it.

A word about coated versus clear bass drum heads. In my experience, clear bass drum heads have a more modern sound, which live engineers like, and coated heads have a more old school sound, which recording engineers seem to like more. A/B-ing a coated and clear EQ4 on various drums, I found out the the clear ones gave a more pronounced and specific sub-low frequency, and a more plastic, bright attack. The coated version made the low end a higher, less tangible pitch, and LOWERED the attack frequency to a mix of more musical tones, from low mid push, to chesty thump to palpable more papery attack.

the clear heads give a more mid-range scooped out sound out of the box, which is why live engineers like it - they can quickly get that standardall lows and all highs with nothing inbetween sound, which they almost always go for. the coated heads are sometimes harder work to get to sound serviceable, but it's worth it because you get a fuller frequency response, and a really sensitive palpable attack.

STICKS - I am a Vater endorser. They make great sticks. I still haven't found my perfect stick and I fear it doesn't exist on the planet, but I have several vater models that I really like.

the recording model with 1/2 an inch cut off the back - this ends up feeling a little bit like the Firth Gadd stick (yes the black one). When I was practicing for the paul simon 2001 tour, I kept pinching my index finger when I held 2 sticks in each hand for late in the evening. the artist rep for Firth had given me a couple pairs of those Gadd sticks at the Namm show (maybe because I was subbing for Steve!); I tried them and voila - no more pinching.

Meanwhile I had signed with Vater. The cut-down Vater recording model was as close as I could come to that Gadd stick (for the no-pinching effect). I ended up liking them for everything - better than the Gadd stick, which has a larger bead and is very clunky on the kind of ride cymbals I like.

The other Vater sticks I like are the 8A (maybe their best all around stick), the manhattan 7A, and the bebop 550.
I generally find most modern sticks to be too heavily backweighted. I realize that it makes it easier to play fast technical things cause the stick bounces back up at you, but I find them a little skittish, like a car where the clutch releases too quickly.

PERCUSSION - I'm an LP endorser. good solid stuff, with the occasional brilliant innovation. LP is so dominant that many players don't realize that some of their instruments are modern reinventions of older folkloric instruments - like the cabasa (modeled after the afuche) and the vibraslap (modeled after the quijada). I also have a bunch of other traditional percussion instruments, like senegalese sabar drums, talking drums, traditional brazilian instruments, and afro-peruvian instruments (cajons, cajitas, quijadas, etc)

HARDWARE - I endorse Axis, the company which makes the super cool aluminum hardware. many players only know of their bass drum pedals, which are incredible. they also make great stands. I recently collaborated with them on the design of what I think is history's lightest, smartest cymbal stand. pics.
it weighs about half of what an old ludwig flat base stand does, and has only 2 sections but is modular and can expand to 3 if need be. they shipped me 2 of them AND their heavy duty hihat stand and the shipping weight of the box was barely over 10lbs!
stay tuned - my cymbal stand design will hopefully become part of their standard product line, and if you want to stop breaking your back carrying your hardware bag, sell all that overbuilt DW/Gibralter stuff and buy a full line of Axis stuff.

CASES - I endorse monocase, which is a small but great company out of Marin county CA. they make the best cases around, and little by little they are expanding their drum line. Now they have 2 different size stickbags, a cymbal bag and a snare drum bag, (and a bunch of guitar bags, DJ bags, backpacks and other things). I'm conversing with them about expanding their drum case line. stay tuned cause if all goes well there will be some more incredibly smart cases for the gigging drummer.

ELECTRONICS - I endorse Presonus. good interfaces for digital audio recording, and reasonably priced with tremendous bang for the buck in terms of functionality and inputs. they also have a great DAW product called Studio One, which will eventually kick Pro Tools' butt.
Other good stuff I use:
Focal studio monitors - great! blow away those weird sounding genelecs you see everywhere.
Neve mic pres - predictably great.
Dangerous Music summing buss - great for eliminating sonic and mix problems incurred when recording and mixingin the computer. This company and their products partially grew out of a studio I had years ago, and my frustration with trying to mix a record I was doing in the box; so I'm really proud of those guys for making such great gear, sticking with it and eventually becoming so successful.
Vintage Neumann mics - including KM84s for drum overheads. worth the hassle of hunting a pair down. anything else in a similar price range sounds like cotton in the ears to me.
Tube-Tech compressors - problem solver for vocals.

My main live and recording kit is a mix of different series of GMS drums.

bass drum #1 - SE 22x14
bass drum #2 - CL 20x12
snare #1 - CL 14x5.5 diecast gretsch style hoops, coated G2 batter head.
snare #2 - Grand Master series 13x4, coated G1 batter head (this drum which is NOT A PICCOLO, is a killer. maybe the best drum I've ever owned.)
tom 1 - SE 12x8, coated G2 batter head (the old sizes are still the best. deep toms and bass drums should be used for firewood and ocean going vessel ballast).
tom 2 - CL 12x8, coated G1 batter head (yes that's correct - toms 1+2 are the same size, but #2 has die cast hoops and is tuned up much higher than tom 1)
tom 3 - CL 14x14, coated G1 batter, die cast hoops, tuned ABOVE tom 1!
tom 4 - SE 16x14, coated G2 batter - this is the only drum which deviates from old school sizes. I've always found 16x16 toms to be a bit basketball-eque, so we tried making it 14" deep and it seemed to work.

the theory behind the mixed drums and hoops is a jazz kit inside a modern rock kit. bass drum 1 and toms 1+4 are tuned low and fat; bass drum 2 and toms 2+3 are tuned up high like a 50's jazz kit. it makes for really fun fills and grooves. the drums not only have unorthodox pitches, they have a different tonality because of the different series they come from, and the different heads and hoops. Next time an engineer tells you, "the 2 toms sound different". say, "they are different, mister."

When I'm home recording or practicing, the CL drums in my setup get replaced by a '60s vintage Gretsch round badge kit in the same sizes. (the CL kit stays packed up by the door since it's my around town gig kit).

I use a lot of different cymbals but a couple worth mentioning are:

a 22" old K which is somewhere between tony williams' classic '60s ride and one of Mel Lewis' better rides.
a 20" old K which is really unique - more towards an Elvin vibe but hard to define. I used it as one of the main crashes on Suzanne Vega's beauty and crime record. a very unique and interesting sounding cymbal.
2 pairs of spectacularly good old K 14" hats. not all old K hats are created equal - the vast majority are too thin and washy; and I can't say enough about how hard it is to find modern hihat cymbals that are musical instruments rather than just chunks of bronze which go clank.
my favorite modern zildjian ride cymbal is a 19" Armand Zildjian signature ride. sounds like Jimmy Cobb, but is also a GREAT crash cymbal - you can hear me playing it as the left side crash/ride on the David Byrne 2008-09 tour recordings and clips.
my favorite modern zildjian crash cymbal is an 18" A zildjian & cie. they make these periodically in a design from the '30s, (rumor has it that they have to to keep their trademark alive in France).
they are spectacular - very thin, soft feel, very buttery and supremely musical. like the crash cymbals I remember from when I was a kid messing around with my dad's drums.
I also recently got a couple of zildjian's renaissance rides, developed with Adam Nussbaum (a GREAT and underrated jazz drummer). these are really good - probably the closest any of the modern cymbal companies have come to reproducing an old turkish K. we have to wait and see how they develop over time. I don't really know whether my old Ks are so spectacular just because of the way they were made, or how much age and use plays a part. I HOPE that in 30 years these renaissance cymbals sound as good as my old Ks do now!


Graham Hawthorne 2012