The lightest "sweet spot"?

Hello All...looking for some theoretical/practical input. Right now, this is a thought experiment, but based on what input I get it will lead to the construction of a custom-build drum set.

The foundation for this thread was a throw-away comment by Jojo Mayer in the videos on his new Sonor bass pedal. It was along the lines of abandoning a contemporary "power pedal" approach in favor of something more old-school that performs more musically. I ended up experiencing a bit of what he was talking about when I pulled out an old Camco pedal and a properly set up Speed King. Immediately after this revelation, I had a sub-gig in a small room where I had to really "hold back" on my kit.

One player was using an Orange Tiny Terror set to seven watts output. The other was using a VOX AC4 head. Both had incredible tone at talking levels. They both agreed that if they wanted more volume, the PA could do the work rather than going for some monster amplifier rig. The bassist used a Mark Bass 2x10 combo at low volumes with the DI to the PA for any needed volume.

Meanwhile, I had a Mapex Saturn kit that sounds mid- to high-volumes. I was playing down to dinner-gig levels. Sure, I've learned to play with intensity (not extra speed) at lower volumes so rock tunes don't drag when played quietly, but the kit was nowhere near its tonal "sweet spot." The kit sounded nice, but I was obviously sacrificing tone for volume.

The key hurdle right least for that I want to play a kit at the volume level where it sounds best. If a friend's acrylic kit sounds best when hammered, that is where it is played. If a birch kit sounds best at mezzo-forte levels, then that is where it gets played.

Most kits marketed today for rock or contemporary tones are designed to "cut through the amps," and they sound best when trying to do that. Most "quiet gig" kits are oriented towards jazz tunings and not rock sounds. Orange, VOX and many of the boutique amp buiders have shown that rock guitar sound doesn't require a Marshall JCM800 at full-song.

I am not looking to build a quiet kit...any kit can be played at a reasonable range of volumes. What I want is to design and build a six-piece kit (two up, two down, single bass, snare) that reaches a great rock sound...but hits it's "tone sweet spot" at ambient jazz-trio levels. I want a kit that sounds so good at the lower volume ranges that I want to keep playing there...making "quiet" not be a chore or sacrifice.

A recording of "huge sounding" drums still sound huge when the recording is turned down. Amplification can always be increased. If I have a gig that requires more volume and projection, I can rely on my mics and the PA to do that lifting...or I can pull out my incredible Saturn kit.

What design parameters will allow that "rock-sound-turned-down" result in an acoustic kit? Smaller diameters tuned lower? Recommended head combinations? Extreme shallow depths? Thinner or thicker shells? Alternate bearing edge cuts? Specific or unusual wood selections/combinations? I reach out to the designers, engineers and customizers on the board. How would you approach getting this result? How would you approach building the "Tiny Terror" drum kit?

Thanks for any input you'd be willing to provide.

Duck Tape

Platinum Member
I would probably go a single ply coated heads because you don't want that plasticky attack sound when you softly hit the drum, but you still want it to sing.

As for shells... maybe bigger sizes tuned higher... and I notice my metal snares play more of a note than my wood snares at lower volumes, perhaps this means harder woods might respond more at low volumes. Sleishman make kits from blackwood, they're pretty awesome (I have played one).

Just guessing.
bump? No other input? With all of the experience and opinions on this board, there's only one response with only minor input? I thought the knowledgeable on this board would have something to say to help build a kit that fits this need.

Dre25...thanks for responding, even if it is with an admitted guess. I appreciate you trying.


Silver Member
I'd try a softer wood like mahogany on shells which should give a deeper tone. Add vintagey rounded bearing edges to bring in more shell tone and warm up the resonance. And then tune to a medium pitch, which will be give a nice full tone, but not have that clicky, plasticy attack sound you get from heads at super low tunings. Though honestly, the tuning probably has the biggest effect, not the shells or edges. Tuning with more tension gives more tone and sound, so should be more responsive when playing more gently.


Staff member
Sorry, super busy right now, so only just catching up with intriguing threads like this. The answer really isn't that complicated, & yes, tuning, head selection & bearing edges all play their part, but if we're talking full tones at lower dynamic, it's the shell that's the very foundation of such performance.

Trying not to sound like a broken record, but any instrument is optimised when every element of it's design is focussed on a specific goal. Sure, you can adjust & augment any drum towards a certain set of abilities, you can even mimic a sound at the opposite end of the design spectrum (i.e. getting a Bonham sound out of a bop kit), but you'll never achieve the depth of character required to be totally convincing.

So, to the task in hand. The drums sound is derived from two primary sources, the shell, & the heads. Although they work together, the two subjects are utterly separate. The shell doesn't produce much sound itself, but it does greatly influence the resultant sound. Think in terms of the drum shell being a speaker enclosure, & the drum head being the speaker cone itself, & you're not far wrong. Anyone who appreciates the huge difference between reflex & bandpass bass bins, will get where I'm coming from here.

The fundamental tone is derived from the shell being excited by input from the heads. The shell only resonates appreciably for about 1 second or less (subject to multiple variables), then decays rapidly. Almost all audible sustain after that comes from the heads. Concentrating on getting that shell excited at low dynamic input from the heads, is key to achieving a full tone at low volumes. A good degree of contact between the head & shell is a contributory factor, but the shell's resonance profile is the key factor. A thinner shell, all things being equal, will "open up" under low dynamic input much more readily than a thicker shell, but overall, it's not as simple as that. Shell construction plays a massive part in lower dynamic performance. Modern ply shells, mass for mass, are far less resonant than well made solid shells (stave, steam bent, segmented, true solid). In terms of thickness, in our A - B testing, the ratio is about 2:1 (i.e. a 10mm thick stave shell has a similar resonance profile to a 5mm thick ply shell). A 6mm thick stave shell has the resonance of a 3mm thick ply shell, but retains the projection characteristics of the 6mm thick shell, so you can get great lower dynamic performance without sacrificing too much upper dynamic headroom.

Ultimately, "there's no such thing as a free lunch". Augmenting a construction 100% towards a specific goal will entail compromise in other performance areas. Equally, there really is no substitute for quality of construction & design, irrespective of what many will tell you. One valid point though, I've told you approximately how you can approach this, but whether you'll appreciate the differences in real life applications, or even more so, whether the audience will appreciate the differences, is another matter, & valid food for those that believe non of this really makes any difference.

As an example of a kit designed exclusively to perform at low dynamic, & excel in near field capture, here's a video of our experimental kit we built last year. Recorded without any close mic's, & totally unprocessed, throw on some good cans, & listen to the tone. Note how hard I'm hitting the drums to get them to full song. Even an angel's kiss is enough to rouse these drums. Ok, this is an extreme example, but it establishes & proves the principles I'm referring to here:

I hope this helps :)


Silver Member
If it was me, as a shopper, I'd be looking at some sort of fusion-sized kit, or something like the one Andy had on the demo [totally cool sounding, btw], I'd think. Something that had smaller shells of a darker wood to get the body out at low levels.
The trick would be to make a kit that could ride that line between quiet and loud without sounding excessively inefficient at either. Setting it up to it's own P.A. could have it's advantages, I'd think, since you can tune to a controlled volume level, so you probably have more options.
The bigger shells have to push more air, don't they? So they have to be hit harder to get all that sweet tone out of them. The birches are bright and present. I'd probably look for the harder, darker drums.

*edited to add: and the head selection and tuning is, of course, crucial.
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Thank you all for the post-bump input. KeepItSimple...that is an incredible kit you posted on YouTube, and it has just the kind of dynamic response I'm looking for.

After my bump-post, I spend time checking out footage of the Taye GoKit and the Mapex FastPack sets. These, combined with what I've heard here, will drive the project.

I promise to post up once underway. Thanks again.


Senior Member
one thing i have struggled with is trying to get more shell sound to project while hitting the drum softly... i have been working on getting the resonant head, with the batter off, to get in sync with the shell, then add the batter and pitch it up until it really resonates... sometimes i will dampen the batter head just a little, as i find sometimes when tapping softly it can produce overtones at any given time... i like this thinner shell concept and was mightily impressed with the full clean tone of those guru drums while played lightly..... now if i could only start to understand why shells sound differently depending on where you are standing/sitting... and how can i make sure they sound good to the audience?