Inside The World Of Backline Drum Rentals

Inside The World Of Backline Drum Rentals

vintage drums

It’s somewhat embarrassing to admit, but my drums earn more money on their own than they do when I sit behind them. If you have some nice gear but don’t have the time or talent to earn money performing, you might want to explore the possibility of doing some rentals.

On show days, I work at the local Indian casino. We have a 3,000-seat venue and bring in acts like Alice Cooper, REO Speedwagon, Tony Bennett, Brooks & Dunn, Ray Charles, and B.B. King. I usually work the load-in, help place and connect microphones, and serve as the in-house video guy.

Quite often, the artist’s contract includes a clause specifying that the casino has to provide specific backline items. The closest large-scale backline rental place is about three hours away. We contact them when we need several Marshall stacks, big multi-keyboard rigs, or exotic amps. It always amazes me what this place sends for drums. The actual tubs may be Yamaha Recording Custom or DW, but you can just sense that these drums aren’t being provided by drummers. The backup snares are usually pretty trashy, stuff generally looks abused, and nothing is tuned.

The casino’s production manager has learned that if he is looking at a more modest rider, he can count on me. I have a decent bass rig (GK, Bag End), a few Fender amps, and a Kurzweil 2500 rig. But being able to communicate with the drummers is where I earn my keep.

I don’t take along vintage toms and kick drums unless they’re specifically requested or I have a reason to suspect that the drummer might appreciate it. On a hunch, I once took along a Blue Sparkle bread-and-butter Rogers kit for a Debbie Reynolds appearance. Drummer Gerry Genuario was so pleased that the next time Reynolds came around, Genuario phoned me directly to make sure I’d supply backline and would bring the same gear.

Most of the riders I see seem to ask for DW, Yamaha Recording, or Pearl Masters Series drums. I think you’ll find that if you show up with any premium kit you’ll do just fine as long as they are properly tuned and you have a couple different flavors of heads. (Don’t assume that substitutions are okay; if you must substitute sizes or brands, clear it with the proper authorities.)

Snare drums are where we vintage guys really can put most backline companies to shame. I love watching the drummer’s face when I pop open my snare case and tell him to take his pick. This is almost invariably the beginning of a beautiful friendship. After just a few moments of conversation, the drummer and I usually find a lot of common ground, which is very relaxing for him. Attitude is extremely important. Like Hal Blaine says: “If you show up with a smile, you’ll be around for a while.” Aggravate a couple people, and it may well be your last appearance.

You don’t really need a large or exotic collection of drums to leave the drummer raving about you. I do think that you should take at least two snare drums. This will mean you have a backup, plus you’ve given the drummer a choice. I suggest that if you’re taking only two that you take a metal drum and a wood drum. They certainly do not have to be rare or expensive instruments. The Supraphonic 400 (available on most street corners for a couple hundred bucks) stands head-and-shoulders above the crowd of metal drums, and there are a number of appealing wood-shell choices that can be picked up for about the same bucks. Consider a Ludwig Pioneer, or maybe a three-ply Slingerland. If you can afford to spend a little more, look for a Radio King, Camco, Gretsch, or George Way.

Fit the snare drums with white coated Ambassador heads unless something else is requested. Have the drums tuned up and ready to go right out of the case. Pay attention to detail. I’ve seen rental drums come in with shabby snare cord and bent parts. I’ve even had to repair other people’s rental drums at the casino because the backline company didn’t carry spare parts. Be sure you have a fanny pack loaded with felt washers, an extra clutch, snare cord, polish, pedal springs, and keys.

Most of the riders I see do not ask for sticks or cymbals since the drummer usually walks in with a stick bag and cymbal case. Bring a pair of sticks and nice set of cymbals anyhow; you may have to set the drums up hours ahead of the drummer’s arrival.

What drums do I take? For tubs, I have a “full size” DW kit with 22" kick and rack toms through 16" as well as a Ludwig Birch Classic kit in “jazz” sizes: 20" kick and toms through 14". Here is a typical assortment of the snare drums I take for a backline gig:


This is a new Aldridge-engraved tube-lug Black Beauty. Aldridge’s motto? “The guy with the prettiest drums gets the gig!” This one is sure gorgeous, and adds a lot of credibility and pizzazz to the group!

Supraphonic 400

Never leave home without it. This alloy-shell drum is the most-often picked drum in the case. This blue-and-olive-badged drum is certainly no rarity, but is simply one of the greatest sounding drums ever made.


Frankly, this drum is seldom picked, but it remains the most unique drum in the case, and always is a conversation starter. The drum was made from olive wood (stave construction) by Tuscan cymbal craftsman Roberto Spizzichino.

Brass 400

Pre-serial numbered keystone-badge brass Supraphonic. Most professional drummers will recognize this immediately, especially when it’s in the same case as the blue-and-olive alloy drum. It is frequently chosen.

Ludwig Pioneer

It’s always wise to have a good-sounding wood-shell drum in the arsenal, and this six-lug drum sounds great.

Rob Cook is the author of numerous drum company histories and drummer biographies published and distributed by his company Rebeats, He can be contacted at 989-463-4757 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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