A kick drum is round. A kick drum has two heads. A kick drum is usually made out of wood. A kick drum is struck with a foot-operated beater.
You have now amassed the same drum knowledge that I had before starting this project. I tell you this for two reasons. First: no whining about not knowing anything about drums. Second: I am completely unqualified to write a tutorial in drum building. I'm sure an experienced builder would laugh/cry/swear at many of things I will say. However, I'm a student of the New Jersey school. Worse is better.
I've been in need of a good kick drum for a while, and since I'm a broke college student, my choices were quite limited. Certainly not an Orange County or Spaun (upwards of a grand). So I did what I usually do when I find out that something I want/need is too expensive--figured out if I could build it myself for less. It turned out that I could--quite a bit less, actually. Excluding the shitty Tama pedal I bought, this drum cost about $360. And since I used the same shells that most of the custom shops all use (Keller), I have a drum that is on par with the best. Well, minus the plaid/polka-dot/whatever-crazy- pattern-you-can-imagine wrap. But I just wanted matte black, so that's fine.
So, where to start? First off, let's talk about the structure of a drum. In the most simplistic of terms, what is a drum? Let's start with this simple definition: a drum is a tensioned membrane attached to a resonant cavity. You hit the membrane, and the resonant cavity--well, it resonates. That's it. That's a drum. Sometimes you add a second membrane on the opposite side of the resonant cavity to help control the resonance of the drum. But that doesn't really change our simple definition.
So our first problem is clear: how do we attach the membrane (the head) to the resonant cavity (the shell)? Before I answer that question, let me pose an additional question: how do we tension the head? Both questions have the same answer: with rims (or hoops). The hoop comes down on top of the head and is pulled towards the shell to put tension on the head. Which brings us to our next question: how do we pull the hoop towards the shell? Well, we attach lugs to the shell, into which we insert threaded tension rods; these tension rods are then attached to the hoop. An illustration, hopefully, will make this all clear:
Note that this illustration--besides being horrifically not to scale--is specific to a kick drum; with a snare or a tom, the hoop is different, and no claw is used. So it goes like this: the head is laid down on top of the shell; the hoop is inserted on top of the head; and the tension rod is inserted through the claw, and then threaded into the lug (which is bolted to the shell). There are usually 8 or 10 lugs per side, laid out concentrically. I couldn't find any references describing if 8 or 10 was better, but I like the look of 10, so that's what I did.
That's it. That's a kick drum. The only remaining pieces of hardware are the spurs, which are the little feet that extend down to hold the drum upright on the floor. Pretty simple, huh? Let's be clear; this is not rocket science.
The Shitty Part
Ok, we now know how a drum works, and how it is constructed. The next part is ordering parts. This really drives me up the wall. Nothing pisses me off worse than planning an order, placing the order, and then realizing I forgot something. This stage of a project often overshadows all others, time-wise.
Let's make a checklist of what we need:
1 x drum shell
2 x hoops
2 x spurs
20 x lugs
20 x tension rods
20 x claws
and the stuff I didn't tell you about yet:
40 x lug screws (attaches the lugs to the shell)
40 x lug bolt washers
20 x lug gaskets (a soft pad between the shell and the lug)
2 x spur gaskets (ditto)
First, we need to make a decision about the shell. Size. How big should it be? I'll let you spend ten hours browsing usenet discussions on shell sizes...ok...done? Good. I chose a 16 x 20 (that's depth x diameter). I didn't want a huge Bonham-esque boom, and I read that 16x20 gave a nice, punchy sound. Having chosen a size, you need to choose a shell material. Most non-recording kits are made of maple, so that's how I went. If you were building a solely-to-be-used-for-recording kit, you might go with birch. Next, number of plies. The number of plies determines the rigidity of the shell, and hence, its resonance characteristics. This is sort of a non-issue for a kick drum, as I was only able to find 8-ply kick drum shells from Keller. If it were a tom, you could choose between 6 or 8-ply, and for a snare, you can choose between 6, 8, or 10-ply.
The only other thing to be concerned about with the shell is the bearing edge. The bearing edge is the surface where the head actually touches the shell. You can imagine that the shape of this edge will impact the sound of the drum. The most typical appears to be a 45 degree cut (as shown in the diagram above). You can order shells with or without the bearing edge cut. I paid the extra $25 and had the edge cut for me.
Next up: hoops. This is pretty easy; just buy two hoops of the same diameter as your shell. Again, I went with maple.
Now for the hardware. You really just have to decide on a style and color that suits your aesthetic. I was going for the blacked-out look, so I went with all black hardware in a style that didn't look like it was from 1954.
Where to buy all your parts? There are a bunch of websites selling drumparts; I went with drummaker.com. They had great prices, and they shipped promptly. I recommend them.
What to do with all These Parts?
Let's establish a top-level view of what we need to do here. We've got a shell. We've got lugs. We need to mount the lugs to the shell. The lugs mount to the shell with screws We need holes in the shell for the screws to go through. Thus, our plan of procedure is:
1.) Layout holes
2.) Drill holes
3.) Mount lugs
4.) Profit. (I've only seen three South Park episodes in my life. -ed)
Ok. Step One. The Laying Out of the Holes. The first thing I did was make a shell layout mat. Like this one, only free. I started with two large sheets of paper taped to a sheet of plywood.
Having transferred all the marks, I then struck lines perpendicular to the front face of the shell. This, however, required more tape:
It fit pretty well. Not too tight, not too loose. Satisfied with everything, I drilled holes for the rest of the lugs: