Cocktail drum sets are wonderfully strange contraptions. Not only do they look unusual, but they usually require drummers to stand up while playing them, balancing on one leg to work the kick pedal. On the plus side, playing gigs like this could be a great way to lose a few pounds! Maybe that’s how Slim Jim Phantom from Stray Cats got the nickname “Slim.”
However, contrary to what you may be thinking, cocktail kits weren’t invented by a drummer who forgot his throne or wanted a better view of the girls dancing in the front row. To paraphrase DRUM!’s own Liam Mulholland’s superb 1997 article on the subject, the kits came about after WWII, when jazz music reigned supreme but the era of big band music was waning and smaller combos playing bebop were beginning to emerge.
Drum companies experimented with new types of kits and one style that caught on employed a single drum that doubled as both a kick and snare. These used a long 14" x 28" shell with an inverted pedal underneath that played the bottom head as a bass drum, with snare wires mounted under its top head. Many kits of this type included a cymbal, cowbell, bongo, or other accessories mounted from the shell. In the ’60s, large amps and the emergence of rock and roll drove these kits from popularity. But for those among us who still pine for the lost charm of smoky midcentury cocktail lounges and hipsters sipping martinis and snapping their fingers to the beat, the cocktail kit is back, and better than ever, thanks to a select few artists and manufacturers keeping them alive.
In fact, these kits work well for more situations than you might think: unplugged weeknight gigs, rockabilly, country, mariachi, and drum ’n’ bass, to name a few.
This roundup should get you started in your quest for the ultimate in portable kits. The offerings outlined here range in price from a few hundred dollars up to several thousand dollars. Many of the kits feature mini snares that mount like a bongo off the vertical bass drum, and one features a full-sized snare drum that mounts above the bass. The bass drum diameters vary from 14" up to 18". You’ll get more low end from a larger drum if you need it, but since it can also double as a floor tom, something in the middle might work better.
You can buy separate drum cases – one manufacturer even includes a set – though the drums of some kits could fit together into a larger conga case. Almost all these kits employ a reverse-action bass drum pedal that attaches to two of the legs supporting the vertical bass drum. These kits come with hardware to mount closed hi-hats or other cymbals and accessories, though, depending on the kit, quality varies widely.
Billy Blast drums prides itself on making high-quality kits at very reasonable prices. The company offers a unique cocktail kit that allows for easy transportation since the drums all fit inside the 16" x 24" bass drum. To accomplish this, the drum uses two heavy-duty latches and rubber seams that allow it to separate and store the other drums, similar to the way Yamaha’s Hip Gig kits operate. That should speed up your load-in time!
The drums use Keller 100 percent maple 8-ply VSS shells with Billy’s own sound-controlled heads. The kit comprises a vertical bass drum/floor tom, two nesting single-head toms (10" x 6" and 12" x 6"), and a 12" x 6" snare drum with heavy-duty throw-off. The kit also features the proprietary Sliding Bass Drum Rail System to mount an inverted pedal under the drum. Up top you get adjustable snare and tom clamps and L-arms for easy positioning. The kit comes in a variety of wrapped finishes (metal, carbon-fiber wraps, and lacquer finishes are optional) and includes a leather gig bag for just $1,050, or you can get your own bag and nab this kit for just $875.
Billy Blast Drums
C&C has been making custom cocktail kits for some time now with Keller shells, but has recently upgraded its facility with new equipment and has begun making its own shells under the name Gladstone, and at a surprisingly reasonable cost.
Being a custom drum company, a plethora of options are available from C&C, but its “typical” cocktail kit includes the company’s new 7.6mm 8-ply 100 percent maple shells with 45 degree bearing edges in a configuration that includes a 14" x 24" bass drum/floor tom with either three or four legs, a 10" x 6" snare drum with either a high-end Trick or Nickel throw-off, and a 10" x 6" small tom – with both the snare and tom mounted onto the vertical bass drum. The kits come with either tube or beavertail lugs and two brackets for mounting additional cymbals and accessories, though more can be added for elaborate sets. Remo Powerstroke 3 heads are used for the bottom of the bass drum, with coated Emperors used for all batter heads (coated Ambassadors also available), and clear Ambassadors used as resonant heads. Most kits come in a variety of wraps, though lacquer finishes are also available. Note that the cymbal arms and bass drum pedal are not included. Price: $1,399.
C&C Custom Drums
One of the priciest and more elaborate offerings in this roundup is DW’s Collector series cocktail kit. It’s very customizable in terms of sizes and finishes and includes four 100 percent maple shells, including a larger-diameter 18" x 16" bass drum for extra bottom, a unique 18" x 8" “woofer tom” that mounts above it, and a 12" x 6" and 12" x 5" tom and snare. It also uses a novel “sidekick” bass drum pedal based on the DW5000 pedal that mounts to the side of the drum but uses a clamp and 90 degree arm to position the beater underneath. DW’s DogBone dual clamps allow for a wider variety of potential configurations than many of the kits in this overview. This may be the Rolls Royce of cocktail drum kits. List price, $4,592.
Drum Workshop, Inc.
Ronn Dunnett IS known to many of us for his superb titanium snares and high-end throw-offs (like the new R4.0), but Dunnett also creates custom snares out of stainless steel, brass, bronze, copper, and, most recently, wood. Dunnett is the only drum manufacturer in the world who makes custom metal snares and drum sets. And yes, those include breathtakingly beautiful cocktail drums.
Since everything is custom made, you’d start with a cocktail drum constructed from titanium or stainless steel and add whatever additional drums or hardware you’d like à la carte. Dunnett mounts a 14" snare drum via a small carrier directly above the bass drum, resulting in a very compact vertical setup. One advantage of this is that you can remove the snare to use with a more standard drum kit. Cymbals and accessories can be added via brackets on the cocktail drum. This gorgeous 14" x 22" titanium bass drum/floor tom with wood hoops, extra-long tube lugs, and space-age legs would cost you about $2,000, which seems reasonable considering these unique drums do double duty as works of art as well as great musical instruments.
Dunnett Classic Drums
Custom drum maker GMS offers a couple of different cocktail kits in both its SL and SE series. The SL kit features 7-ply 100 percent birch shells with 45 degree bearing edges and includes a 15" x 20" bass drum/floor tom with an 8" x 4.5" snare with throw-off and 10" x 4.5" tom that both attach to its sides. A reverse-action bass drum pedal and a cymbal arm are included to finish the package. The kit features a Silver Sparkle-To-Black fade high-gloss lacquer finish and several other finishes for a very appealing $899. Also, GMS offers an even more compact 8-ply 100 percent maple—shell kit from its SE line in a two-drum “snare-over-bass-drum” configuration (similar to Dunnett’s and Peace’s offerings) for $2,399 that’s available in wrap or satin finishes.
GMS Drum Co.
HB Retrophonic cocktail kits boast a 1967 sound and price. The company offers an attractive Natural Birch Lacquer—finish kit (also available in Sea Foam Lacquer), though its wrapped finish kits are even less expensive than these remarkably inexpensive drums. The cocktail kits feature 6.5mm, 6-ply birch shells with retro-style lugs and badges. 16" x 24" vertical bass drum includes a reverse-action chain-drive pedal and internally muffled Mylar heads. The 8" x 5" snare comes with a real throw-off so it can double as a small tom. There’s another dedicated 10" x 5" tom as well. This kit also includes 12" hi-hats, a 10" splash, a small cowbell, sticks, and even a set of cases! List price is from $349—$479, depening on if you want PVC wrap or lacquer finish. Customizable shell depth, lug option, and bearing edge angles. Made in the USA.
Next up is the Peace Manhattan kit, which might have gotten its name from the fact that you could easily transport it around the Big Apple via the subway or taxi. This stylish take on the Cocktail kit features a full-sized 14" x 5.5" snare drum, a 14" x 18" bass drum, and Peace’s Velocity reverse-cam chain-drive bass drum pedal and two cymbal arms for mounting your hi-hats or cymbals. These cleverly mount via two of the floor tom brackets, which also hold the snare drum in place. A matching 10" x 5" tom is mounted on the far side of the kit from the third pair of brackets. Since the snare is mounted directly over the bass drum you can’t have the drum double as a floor tom. Peace separates them with its Iso-Facto muffling disc to minimize sympathetic snare buzz. It comes in a variety of finishes (including Red Flame and Blue Sparkle) PVC finishes. The Manhattan’s full-sized snare may prove to be a more comfortable adjustment for drummers who play a lot of brushes. Price $1,409.
RCI Starlight offers the New Wave Retro Coffee House Kit, which, other than having the longest name, features RCI’s acrylic shells in a wide variety of solid and transparent colors certain to appeal to any taste. This cool kit has a 16" x 24" bass drum/floor tom, 10" x 6.5" snare drum, 10" x 6.5" tom, an adjustable cymbal arm, a closed hi-hat arm, reverse bass drum pedal, four tom legs, all mounting hardware, and RCI’s Super Duty hoops. The kit boasts a very quick set-up and tear-down time for drummers on the go as well as a completely unique appearance. Price varies by shell type: Transparent kits start at $2,899; pattern finish kits are $3,799; and the spectacularly patriotic Spirit Of America kits are $4,799.
RCI Starlite International
For those wanting a little more from their cocktail kits, Stauffer Percussion has you covered. The company has been handcrafting kits under the Stauffer and Phattie labels since 2001. But our money’s on the Deluxe cocktail kits, which feature 100 percent maple Keller VSS shells with hand-crafted bearing edges. This kit features a 16" x 24" bass drum, 10" x 6" mini-snare drum, 10" x 5" tom, and a staggering selection of 19 different Glass-glitter and Pearl or Onyx wrapped finishes. Evans heads are used throughout along with Gibraltar’s excellent cymbal and hi-hat hardware, which is sturdy enough for full-sized hi-hats and ride cymbals.
A Gibraltar 9611DC reverse-action pedal is included but unlike the other kits here, this one doesn’t attach to the bass drum’s four legs but instead adheres to the small gig rug included with the kit. This should save a bit of time during setup and teardown. The six interchangeable mounting brackets allow for a wider variety of setups than most of the kits in this roundup. Radio King—style lugs, vintage-style snare strainer, and an antiqued die-cast badge round out the niceties included with this professional kit. This kit retails for $1,249 plus shipping. Incidentally, Stauffer offers two other types of cocktail kits: $899 Standard and $1,399 Nester (nesting) kit, as well as the option to customize in any number of ways.
Whitney Drums makes what are arguably the most unique cocktail kits in this article. Featuring “fat-in-the-middle” Penguin shells (2" larger than the head diameter), these drums boast a completely unique lug-less design. The drums are very lightweight (just 18 lbs. for the three drums), and have 3-ply all-birch shells with 9-ply birch collars and 6-ply birch bearing edges with a rounded cut.
Whitney’s Sidekick Penguin set can be played while sitting down and includes three drums that function as four since the 15" x 14" “kicktom” bass drum doubles as the floor tom. There’s also a separate 12" x 5" snare drum with real throw-off and a 10" x 7" tom. All three drums mount on a single cymbal stand and cleverly don’t require legs for the vertical bass drum so this kit will take up less floor space than most.
More incredibly, the drums actually nest inside one another for ease in transport – simply remove four thumbscrews on the kicktom and pack the snare and mounted tom inside it. The complete set of hardware includes a DW5000S Sidekick pedal (which Whitney designed for DW), a cymbal stand with hardware for mounting the drums and two cymbals, blankets for the nested drums, and a padded bag for drums and another for the hardware. The drums come in a variety of lacquer finishes and wood hoops for a factory-direct price of $1,899 with wood hoops, or $1,749 for chrome hoops.
You may have deduced that Yamaha’s Club Jordan kit was developed following a collaboration with Yamaha endorser and drumming great Steve Jordan. If so, take a bow, Sherlock! This kit features an eight-lug 15" x 24" bass drum with muffled Remo Pinstripe bottom head, six-lug 10" x 5" tom and a five-lug 8" x 5" mini snare, the latter two mounting on the bass drum like bongos via Yamaha’s YESS mounts. A cymbal arm is included that can mount a crash/ride below a pair of hi-hats, and even accommodates woodblock or tambourine.
The shells of this kit are constructed of birch and Philippine mahogany. The small snare has a traditional strainer that you can drop for an additional tom or bongo effect. The floor tom has a knob that raises a fan of wires that press up against the bottom of the batter head to give a snare effect similar to the sound of a Civil War snare. This is a nice bonus, though using the bass pedal will also vibrate the wires. This kit includes a reverse-action bass drum pedal and even a unique Side Shell Percussion Board for jamming out cascara patterns. These kits are available in either Silver or Pink Sparkle with a retail price of $1,378.
Yamaha Corporation Of America