Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Tom tom sizes rated!

The genesis of this post. 
Let's do something dumb: critically assess the full range of tom tom sizes for goodness and badness. Reward the good, denigrate the bad, punish the weak and strange:

6": A bongo, an effect drum. Cute. Use for circus-style roundhouse drum fills when you want to start absurdly high, like a musical joke. Virtually always appears as a concert tom, putting a bottom head on it is ridiculous. Sonor did that.  

Notable uses: Neil Peart, obviously. See 2112, the Working Man drum solo. Ralph Hardimon writing for the Santa Clara Vanguard would always write an exposed sixtuplet on the 6" tenor drum during the percussion feature.

8": Also a bongo, but sort of a drum. Use for non-ridiculous very high sound. Poor sustain consigns it to the effect category. 

Notable uses: For awhile Dave Weckl tried to make the 8" “the new” 10". It didn't sound good. Acceptable as a pair of add on 8"/10" concert toms, frequently used to great effect by 70s drummers like Ndugu Leon Chancler, and more lately by the Foo Fighters guy. Those guys put it off to the side, so you have to use it occasionally and deliberately.

10": Fun to play, but irritating. Remember the video game Asteroids? That's what you sound like to everyone. I would have given my front teeth to have one in the 80s, now they're just annoying. Usually placed right in front of the snare drum, so you're going to play it all the time. The only case where I would be tempted to reverse the tom toms, putting the 12 on the left and 10 on the right, but that looks stupid and I don't want a 10 around that badly.

Notable uses: Steve Gadd and everyone else in the world after him. See Night Sprite from the Chick Corea album Leprechaun. 

11": Rare oddball size that would probably be a good substitute for a 10" as a high drum, if they ever caught on as a thing. I've only ever seen one, and didn't actually play it, but it seems like it would be a fuller, less comical high sound paired with a 12. Now they exist only to create head-finding problems for their owners.  

Notable uses: Who the hell knows. I wouldn't be surprised if Tony Oxley used one, a metric 11". Gene Krupa probably had a few in his basement when he passed away. 

12": Normal drum, the main tom tom voice. Expressive, right tonal range for a high tom. Sounds good in high and low tunings.  

Notable uses: Every record ever made. 

13": The viola of the tom tom world, the dimwitted step sister of the 12". Substitutes for a 12 in heavy rock settings where the little drum gets overwhelmed. Good middle drum paired with a 12 and 14; pointless but I guess unavoidable paired with a 12 and 16.  

Notable uses: Jazz records where the toms sound tubby. 

14": The best, most versatile floor tom size. Sounds good in high and low tunings, adequately low and full for most settings. Agile, expressive low drum. Maybe an 80s Metal guy could get away with using one as a rack tom, despite being ridiculously low pitched for that role. Like the guy in the Melvins had a 14x14 rack tom when I saw them in Eugene. Anyone else attempting that, seek medical attention immediately. 

Notable uses: Everywhere. Elvin Jones playing Alabama on the Ralph Gleason TV thing. Tony Williams on Four & More. In my youth I played a whole solo on the 14 on a recording.

15": Alien drum size, strictly for weirdos. I would entertain the idea of a 15x15" floor tom, but I've never seen one, and it would instantly plummet the value of any drum set it was attached to. 

Notable uses: Steve Gadd has long used 14/15" floor toms mounted on a stand. 

16": Normal rock floor tom, only good for big, loud, low sounds. Too big and dumb for anything else. 

Notable uses: More jazz records where the toms sound tubby. Good paired with a 12" tom tom in funk/R&B settings, see Andy Newmark. 

17": Another very rare size. I have a 17" Ludwig marching tenor drum / thing I set my drink on, that I want to make into a bass drum someday.  

Notable uses: None. Marching drum for slow kids. 

18": Too low. Good if you want a big expensive pain in the butt nobody's going to be able to hear. Maybe use if you're a rock guy and want two floor toms, and a 14 is too small for you. Good for converting to a weird looking bebop bass drum. 

Notable uses: John Bonham I guess. His 18 never makes much of an impression on me. Tony Williams during the period when nobody likes his drum sound. 

20": Get the hell out of here. Now. 

Notable uses: What's wrong with you. 

20": OK, I've cooled off. Manufactured in small quantities in the 70s and 80s following the “add more of what we already did” logic favored by razor blade companies and IPA brewers, and Nigel Tufnel's famously halfwitted “these go to 11” line.  

Notable uses: Unknown. NAMM displays, magazine ads, a few chump purchasers. The Twisted Sister guy probably.  

Notes on depths: 

Standard: Always use standard depth mounted toms, square depth floor toms. 

Fusion: Very 80s/90s, but also sort of standard now. Do not want, but unavoidable with some lines— a lot of Yamaha  lines, for example. 

Power: Absurd 80s things, like a Flock of Seagulls hairdo. Sonor rendered a lot of their product totally worthless on the used market due to investing in this fad in a big way. 

Extreme: Sonor made some absurd deeper-than-the-diameter drums in the 80s. Everything wrong with power toms, made worse. As ridiculous as a drum can possibly look, this side of a North drum


Anonymous said...

Oh great, now I want a 19" bass drum with an 11" rack tom and a 15" concert tom (both mounted on a rack). Maybe add some chimes, a jam block and some splashes (why are there no C&G stacks and bells FFS?!?)

johnnyodrummer said...

Great post! I remember Phil Gould using an 11" Tom with his Pink Tama Granstar set with Level 42 in the 80's. And I have to say that the best sounding Floor Tom I've ever owned was a 15" Sonor Hilite many years ago. I'm pretty sure it had a 16" depth, and it sounded great no matter how you tuned it.

Todd Bishop said...

Anon, S O N O R is certainly your savior on that front , they made all kinds of weird stuff (see johnnyodrummer's comment). C&G is starting to make a few odd items-- some little cup chimes, some "trash hit" type cymbals, and some cool small, very thin swish cymbals, and 26" rides-- those are mostly going to the bigger dealers.

Johnnyo, yeah, I suspect I'd like 11 and 15 as the top and bottom sizes. Surprised Tama made an 11" drum, that must have been a custom thing?

R. Valentine said...

Weirdo 15" tom user here. I currently own 3(!) of them, all originally insane power toms. Add some floor tom legs and voila. I find a 14"/15" or a 15"/16" pairing preferable when using two floors. They save space and have a more versatile tuning range. I also like a 15" paired with a 12" rack tom. The 12"/16" combo is just too far a tonal jump for my liking.

And feel free to exclude the others, but Dale Crover has a name and it's not "The Melvins guy." Shameful behavior for someone who recommended Hog Leg in these very pages.

Todd Bishop said...

Yes! Dale Crover! I'm very fond of that EP Egg Nog, with the 13 minute sludge epic. One of the first things I bought when I became aware that grunge was a thing...

Lots of 15" devotees, but no one stepping up to defend the humble 13"... instructive...

John M said...

15" was used a lot in old marching snares, so they're fairly easy to get a hold of. And if you want to do a small kick/hat/snare/ride thing for a small space, it's a cool choice.
With you on the 11; they nest in a 14, and would be great if you didn't have to custom order everything.