Drums Need Love Too: Tips For Maintaining Kits & Hand Drums

Mar 16, 2016

blog - drum care

Well, here we are again, and if you’ve been following our topics over the last few weeks, you’ll probably be aware of the maintenance theme we’ve been focusing on as the mercury begins to climb and the days are getting longer and more pleasant. Two weeks ago we started this course with Help it Last: General Care For Your Instrument, but the keen-eyed readers in the audience might have noticed a few glaring omissions. The first of these oversights, the piano, was address last week, with Piano Maintenance: Tips For a Long Life, and this week we will be going over care and maintenance tips for that other missing section of the band: drums. For simplicity’s sake this article will be broken into two sections, the first for drum kits, and the second for hand-drums. And lastly, even though tuning is an important and necessary part of the maintenance and care of your drums, we won’t be discussing it this week. And that’s only because we’ve already talked about the basics! If you need a refresher, check out March to Your Own Beat: Drum Tuning from way back in September!

Drum Kits

Your drum kit was an investment. And not an inexpensive one either. So maintaining it and caring for it should be fairly high on your list of priorities, especially given then potential costs of not keeping it in good condition; drum kit maintenance can cost around of $100 per year, but it can cost more than four times that to replace it if you let it fall into ruin. That being said, there are a number of simple things you can do to keep your drums sounding and looking great for a long time.

  1. Lug Screws

If you have just purchased a new drum kit, or if it’s just been a while since you took a look at the lug screws, it’s a good idea to remove the drum head from one side and tighten the lug screws from the inside. While you’re at it, take a moment to tighten all the mounting screws as well. These can loosen in transit or over time, changing the sound of your drums, or even falling out all together.

  1. Kit Covers

Depending on where your drum kit lives, you should consider investing in a cover. This can be as simple as draping a sheet over the set, because all you’re really trying to accomplish is keeping dust away from the drums. Dust can be just as damaging to an instrument as water, especially drums. It can easily find its way into all the little nooks, crannies, and crevasses of your drums, inside all the mechanisms, between the head and hardware, eventually causing premature wearing on all the parts. And that’s not even mentioning the dust that’s thrown into the air and your lungs when you play.

Most musicians keep their instrument in a bag or case when they aren’t playing; there is no reason not to treat your kit with a similar kind of care.

  1. Drum Heads

Just like reeds for woodwinds, and strings for violins, your drum heads needs to be periodically replaced. The frequency with which they should be replaced, however, depends on how often you play. For a kit that sees actions 3 to 4 times a week, think about changing the top (or batter) heads about twice a year, more if you play more often. If you play or perform often, you might even want to consider changing the batter heads before major shows. The bottom (or resonant) head is also important, but because it isn’t under constant assault by drum sticks, it doesn’t need to be replaced nearly as often. Again, for the drum kit that is played 3 or 4 times a week, think about changing the resonant heads every 2 or 3 years, and maybe every year for an even busier kit. Use your best discretion.

  1. Cleaning

Cleaning your drum kit has a few different aspects that should be focused on. The first is the drum heads themselves. When you remove them to be replaced (or for any other reason for that matter) you should use a clean, damp cloth to gently wipe around the bearing edge of the head. This is where the head meets the shell, and is a prime location for dust and grime to collect. A simple wipe-down once in a while will help prolong the life your heads. The second thing to focus on is the hardware. All the hardware should be dusted and cleaned to keep dirt from building up in the nuts and screws. Neglecting your hardware can cause over-tightening and screw stripping. Look for commercially available products specifically designed for drum kits. Lastly, your cymbals need to be cleaned periodically as well. However, when to clean your cymbals can be much more subjective. They can get dirty from the dust that threatens the rest of the kit, as well as from the oils from your hands. Some people use sleeves designed for cymbals, thought the sheet we discussed earlier would probably do the job with similar success. Keep an eye on all the hardware involved with your cymbals as well. They can wear out, and should be replaced every 2 years or so, again, depending on how much action your drum kit sees.

Hand Drums

Keeping your hand drums looking and sounding great for a long time takes significantly less work than a full kit. With hand drums there are only a few concerns, starting with your drum’s finish. If the wood has a nice varnished or lacquered finish, there really isn’t a lot that needs to be done to the outside. Just a wiping once in a while should be fine. Perhaps some furniture wax, though be sure to keep it away the head and tension ropes. For unfinished wood a light coat of teak oil every few month will keep it looking good and prevent cracks.

And speaking of teak oil, all hand drums need a little teak or linseed oil every 4 to 6 months to replenish the wood’s natural oils. Apply about a tablespoon of your oil of choice to a clean cloth, and rub the interior of the drum, being careful not to get any oil on the drum head.

In fact, you’ll want to treat the head of your hand drum with quite a lot of respect in general. It is highly recommended that you never use anything but your hands to strike your hand drum. Of course, the fun of drums comes from making new and interesting sounds with different materials, just be careful how you strike the head. When you are using your hands, try using a small amount of Shea butter on your hands before starting. Not only is this good for your hands, but it also helps keep the skin of your drum head from drying out. But remember, less is more, and never use moisturizer, as this can actually damage the goat skin head.

And last but not least, as with other instruments and the drum kit, consider a case for your hand drum. Cases help protect against drops, accidentally banging it off doorways or walls, and helps to maintain a consistent temperature.