Bass Drum Pedal and Hi-Hat Stand Setup Tips
When playing a drum set, half the action comes from your feet, so proper pedal setup is vital to play and sound your best.
Optimizing your pedals is about both feel and sound. Proper pedal positioning and setup make playing more effortless, with less fatigue. Additionally, the right pedal setup helps your bass drum and hi-hat sound great and better fit your style of music. With a little knowledge and minimal time investment, you can get all your pedals adjusted so they’re just right for you.
Bass Drum Pedal Setup
Bass drum pedals offer multiple different adjustments to make the pedal better fit your preference and playing style. While more expensive pedals usually have more adjustment options available, more moving pieces can also mean more issues, more screws that can get stripped and more places for rattles and squeaks. You don’t have to spend a lot to get a good pedal; even the most basic pedals still allow you to make adjustments. Below, we will review some of the different options to consider when dialing in your bass drum pedals.
The bass drum pedal’s beater is essentially a mallet that strikes your bass drum on command. The material of which the beater is made affects the sound created by the bass drum, so choose wisely. Beaters made of harder materials, like wood or plastic, create more attack and volume. Softer beaters, made of wool, felt or rubber, have less volume, but a warmer, fuller sound. Harder beaters are also more durable than their softer counterparts and last longer. Also, if you want additional volume, try a larger or flatter beater.
Another important aspect of the beater is adjusting the counterweight. The counterweight can be found at the bottom end of the beater shaft and affects the feel of the beater’s motion. Moving the counterweight down, or further from the beater, creates a heavier feel that requires a little more effort with each stroke, but also increases volume. A lighter setup, with the counterweight higher up, or closer to the beater, makes it easier to play quick notes, as it requires less effort with each stroke.
Where the beater strikes the drumhead is the final important consideration. Check the placement and adjust the beater height to make sure it strikes at or near center on the bass drum head. Check out our recent articles about tuning your bass drum and properly positioning your pedals, for more info.
Beater & Footboard Angle
The angle of the beater at its starting point can be adjusted to make the beater closer or further from the drumhead. Setting up the beater with a steeper angle, closer to the drumhead, allows you to play faster because there is less distance to travel with each stroke. However, starting with the beater closer to the drum head decreases the force and volume you can create. Setting the beater up with a flatter angle allows you to strike the drum with more force, at the sacrifice of a little speed. Also keep in mind, too flat of an angle can create rebound interference, where the beater can bump into your legs or pants.
Dixon PP-PCP bass drum pedal with easy footboard, beater and spring adjustments.
The footboard of the drum pedal most often comes in two varieties: split and longboard. In the more common split version, the footboard’s hinge is under your foot. Split footboards are a little sturdier and louder than the longboard version. In the longboard version, the hinge is behind your foot, so that your foot sits upon one solid piece. Longboards have a more responsive feel and can work well playing very fast notes. Choosing the right version has a lot to do with your playing style and the type of music you play. If you like to play toe up, a split footboard may be the better. If you prefer to play heel up or heel-toe rocking style, a longboard is worth a try.
The texture of the footboard you choose comes down to personal preference. Some prefer a grittier footboard with a lot of traction and some like a smoother feel. If you’re unsure which is best for you, try a few different pedals and see what you like best.
Many pedals allow you to easily change the cam, which connects the footboard to the beater, for different situations. The classic round cam offers a consistent beater radius with constant reliable speed. Oval or oblong cams allow you to play faster and louder. Since oblong cams aren’t perfectly round, the beater accelerates as it approaches the drumhead, creating more attack. The size of the cam also has an impact on the pedal’s feel. Larger cams require less effort and create a lighter, easier feel.
Originally, bass drum pedals utilized a leather strap to connect the footboard to the cam, but the straps weren’t very durable and would eventually fall apart. Nowadays, pedal drive systems are usually chain, belt or direct drive.
Chain drive is the most common option seen today. Chain drives are available in single and double chain varieties. The double chain option is more durable and more stable, with less side-to-side motion of the beater. Chain drives are durable and have a heavier action than other varieties. The major downside of chain drives is the chains can be tricky to keep clean and tough to repair, when there are issues.
Belt drives are similar to the original leather straps, but built with more durable modern materials. First off, they’re lower maintenance than chains because they’re easy to clean and inspect for damage or wear. Belts are also stiffer than chain drives, so they deliver a quicker more responsive feel, similar to a direct drive. Since the belts are stiffer, they don’t have much slack on the upstroke, where a chain drive can momentarily fold back onto itself.
With a direct drive pedal, no cams are needed because there is a direct link between the footboard and the beater. Direct drives offer a quick response, because there is no slack like you’d find in a chain, or to a lesser extent, a belt drive. Every movement of the footboard is reflected directly in the beater on both the up and down stroke. The downside to direct drive is they generally offer fewer customization options because there is no cam component.
Dixon PP9290SV bass drum pedal with double chain cam drive system.
The rebound of the pedal, when it resets to the starting position after each stroke, is created by springs in the pedal. Many pedals allow you to adjust the rebound without removing and replacing the springs. However, if your pedal doesn’t come with this adjustment, you can experiment with different types of springs to find the strength that fits your needs. Lighter springs require less effort each time you press the pedal, but also rebound more slowly. Conversely, tighter springs give a quicker rebound, but require a little more effort with each stroke.
Keep in mind too, springs can wear out over time. I’ve never noticed a big change in feel as they wear out, but they do become more susceptible to breaking, so I like to give them a look every once in a while to make sure they are still in good shape and I don’t risk them breaking at an inopportune time.
Lastly, if you’re trying to dial in the rebound of your bass drum pedal, also check the tightness of your bass drum’s batter head. A tighter head creates more rebound off the drum. If you like the feel of your pedal’s current spring setup, but aren’t happy with the rebound, consider tightening or loosening the batter head of your bass drum and see how it affects the rebound.
Double Bass Pedals
Double bass drums offer exciting options and intensity to your drum set. Depending on whether you have a single bass drum with a dual beater pedal setup or two bass drums with two pedals, you’ll really need to dial in your setup to achieve a consistent sound. With a single drum setup, position the main pedal carefully to ensure both beaters are centered and create identical tones. With dual bass drums, it’s important to make sure the settings on both your pedals are identical so they have the same feel. This makes playing much easier, especially at higher speeds. Additionally, with two bass drums, you need to take care when tuning each drum, both resonant and batter heads, to ensure both drums have the same tone. Our previous article on drum tuning provides additional helpful tips.
Hi-Hat Stand Setup
Bass drums aren’t the only item in your drum set with pedals; hi-hats play an equally important role. Hi-hats are probably the most challenging piece of a drum set to master, but they provide a wide variety of musical options. Hi-hat pedals don’t have as many adjustment options as bass pedals, but there are still a few settings you can alter to improve both feel and sound.
The two hi-hat pedal styles are direct link and cable. The direct link, which is the original and most common, uses a straight rod to link the pedal to the cymbals, which are oriented directly above the pedal. A cable hi-hat uses a cable, like the brake line in a bicycle, to link the pedal to the cymbals. The great part about a cable hi-hat is the cymbals can be positioned away from the pedal, which adds a lot of extra flexibility and placement options.
Dixon Hi-Hat Stand PSH9290 with cable linkage.
Springs inside the hi-hat stand allow the cymbals to return to the starting position after releasing your foot off the pedal. In some stands, the springs are compressed and in others they are stretched. Some use one spring and others use two. Carefully disassemble your stand to investigate, if you’re unsure of the components. Many stands have an external adjustment, like a screw, which allows you to change the spring tension to make the pedal lighter or heavier. If your stand doesn’t have a spring adjustment, you can try replacing your current springs with heavier or lighter versions.
Another option is that some stands have double-sided pull rods, which can be switched around to create a different pedal tension. For example, on the pull rod, there is a crimp in the rod which the spring rests against, but the crimp isn’t directly in the middle of the rod. With one end of the rod up, the crimp will be either higher or lower than with the other end up. By switching which end of the rod is on top, it affects how the spring rests against the crimped part of the rod and changes the pedal tension. Lastly, if the pedal tension feels really high, check to make sure the pull rod is straight and hasn’t been damaged or bent. A little oil or other lubrication also helps free up a tight pull rod.
While it isn’t available on all pedals, some models also allow you to make the pedalboard steeper or flatter, to fit your personal preference.
Top Hi-Hat Cymbal
The top hi-hat cymbal is usually lighter than the bottom cymbal. Hi-hat cymbals are typically labeled, but if you’re unsure, hold one cymbal in each hand and place the heavier cymbal on the bottom of the hi-hat setup. Make sure to fully tighten down the bottom nut of the hi-hat clutch and use the top locking nuts to make adjustments. Be careful to not overtighten the cymbal in the clutch. Cymbals should be able to move freely. This creates a better sound and also helps lessen the risk of cracking a cymbal. I prefer a looser top cymbal for the added sizzle and swish. Check all the felts to make sure they’re in good shape. You never want your cymbals to touch other metal pieces of the stand or they may become damaged.
Bottom Hi-Hat Cymbal
For the bottom cymbal, the main adjustment you can make is the cymbal angle. A flat angle, where the cymbal is parallel to the floor, will give a quieter effect with more of a “chick” sound when the cymbals meet. Adjusting the bottom cymbal angle, making it slightly off-parallel from the top cymbal, creates a splashier sound with more wash or buzz. Adding a little angle to the bottom cymbal also helps alleviate air lock, where the two cymbals can become locked together because of a vacuum.
Cymbal Gap Width
The final adjustment is the gap between the two cymbals, which can be adjusted by sliding the top cymbal clutch up or down the pull rod and retightening. As with most instrument adjustments, this is a very subjective topic and depends on your style and the music you are playing. A one inch gap is a good starting point. A wider gap is more common in jazz music, where the “chick” sound is more often used. In heavy metal, where quick notes are common, a smaller gap allows for quicker motions and a splashier sound.
Testing Your Setup
If you’re just starting out with a new pedal you haven’t played before, try it fresh out of the box without any adjustments to get the initial feel of the pedal. Start by playing along with a metronome at a fast setting, 8th and then 16th notes, and gauge how easy it feels to stay in time. Next, add in varying patterns, tempos and intensity or play along with a few challenging songs. How does the pedal feel? Is the action too heavy or light? Is it easy to stay in time? How does the volume and tone sound? Note what you do or don’t like and what can be adjusted to fix any issues. Only adjust one aspect of the pedal at a time before retesting. This makes it easier to narrow down what is working and what isn’t ideal. Experiment with different setups until you find what works best for you.
If you’d like more information on setting up your drum kit, you can also check out our How-To Videos or Lessons sections for additional helpful resources. Any questions, please email us at Sales@OnStageMusicSupply.com .