While it has been in that last decade-plus that electronic drums became a bit more ubiquitous, the use of synthesized drum kits by major players in the drumming world has been going on for the better part of 40 years. Perhaps the biggest difference is that early models for electric drums had fewer sounds and tones and usually sounded emphatically synthetic.
In addition to their limited sound range, electric drums in the late 1970s and throughout most of the 1980s were much more expensive than regular kits were – predominantly because of the technology required for them to operate. Nonetheless, electronic drums started becoming very popular with the rise of synthesized music in the 1980s. Here are some famous drummers that have or still do use electronic kits.
One of the greatest names in drumming and solo work in general, Phil Collins used electronic drums in two Genesis albums (Genesis and Invisible Touch) as well as in his solo album No Jacket Required. Collins used the Simmons SDS-V drum set, which gave him the ability to vastly change the tones of the drums in the recordings.
The heavy synth sounds of the SDS-V can be heard very clearly on the song “The Brazilian” and represents a fundamental shift in how musicians incorporated synthesized percussion into their music. To date, Collins still uses electronic kits intermixed with his acoustic drum set on stage.
Roger Taylor (Duran Duran)
In Duran Duran’s second album Rio, the band began really experimenting with new musical technology. At the time, drum machines were becoming more popular. However, famous drummer Roger Taylor decided to incorporate actual electronic drums into the recording as well. Taylor famously uses Simmons electronic drums in the Rio song “Hungry Like the Wolf”.
The song later went onto be one of the greatest singles for 1982, topping the charts in both the United Kingdom and in the United States.
Rick Allen (Def Leppard)
Perhaps one of the greatest hard rock/metal drummers on the 1980s, no drummer has had to overcome adversity like Rick Allen of Def Leppard. In 1984, Allen lost his left arm in the aftermath of a car accident. Allen, however, still plays for the group and is known as the ‘Thunder God’ by his fans.
At first, learning to drum for Def Leppard with only one arm was challenging, but Allen found that electric drums could help him overcome some of those obstacles. In the years following the accident, Allen worked with an electric drum company for a year, developing technology that would allow him to compensate for his loss. Simmons built a foot pedal that would mimic the sounds of at om or symbol so that it would be as if Allen had his left arm back.
Thanks to these pioneers, electric drums have not only become a staple in many bands but have advanced in their sound and quality. Here at Best E-Drums, we’re committed to continuing that legacy through reviews of the best electric drums on the market.
Neil Peart (Rush)
As a Canadian author and retired musician, Neil Peart is more well-known for his role as drummer for the rock band, Rush. He was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 1983 and made him the youngest person ever honored for this award. He grew up in Port Dalhousie, Ontario and floated between several regional bands on the search for a career as a full-time drummer. He joined Rush, a local Toronto band, in the summer of 1974.
While with Rush, Peart played Slingerland, Tama, Ludwig, and Drum Workshop drums. In concert, he used a 360-degree drum kit and had a large acoustic drum set in the front with his electronic drum set in the rear. He played many songs using primarily his electronic drums while also using Akai digital samplers. Songs played with his electric drum kit included "Red Sector A" and "Closer to the Heart."
Josh Dun (Twenty One Pilots)
Josh Dun is an American musician and is best known as one half of the duo, Twenty One Pilots. He plays alongside Tyler Joseph. Dun has his own line of drumsticks with Zildjian. They are available in Blurryface red and the drumsticks were inspired by the "Alien Josh" logo. His setup includes SJC Drums, Zildjian cymbals, Remo drum heads, and Roland electronic drums.
Danny Carey (Tool)
Daniel Edward Carey is another American musician and instrumentalist who is well-known for his part in the American Grammy Award-winning progressive metal band, Tool. Because of his interest in jazz and his technical abilities, as well as his frequent use of odd time signatures, he is quite popular among drummers and non-drummers alike. He has even performed a snare drum solo with his feet as a way to improve his double bass drumming, hi-hat control, and foot independence.
Tony Royster Jr
Tony Royster Jr is an American drummer that started learning to play the drums at age three. He has been given several endorsement deals with big names like DW Drums, Zildjian Cymbals, Vic Firth sticks, Remo drumheads, LP percussion, and Drumfare among others. He has played with several artists including Imajin, Lazyeye, New Flava, and En Vogue.
Akira Jumbo (Casiopea)
Akira Jumbo is a Japanese musician who combines electronic drum technology and acoustic drums. He plays drums for the Japanese jazz fusion band Casiopea and also does his own solo work as well. He uses Yamaha drums and Zildjian cymbals with Yamaha electronic drum triggers which allows him to create many different sounds.
Wil Calhoun (Living Colour)
Wil Calhoun is an American drummer who was born in the Bronx, New York and attended the Berklee College of Music. He graduated with a degree in both music production and engineering. He also received the Buddy Rich Jazz Masters award as a drummer. He is best known as the drummer for the band Living Colour, but he has also played with Jungle Funk and HeadFake. He uses different drum and bass grooves and has integrated ethnic percussion and sampling into his playing.
Ben Barter is a New Zealand drummer who is based in Los Angeles, California. He is the drummer that tours with Lorde and has also performed with Broods, Jarryd James, and Passion Pit. Barter received his first drum kit at the age of five and played in his family jazz band. He currently plays with Ludwig Drums, Zildjian cymbals and sticks, and Roland electronics.
Thanks to these pioneers, the electric drum set has not only become a staple in many bands but has advanced in their sound and quality. Here at Best E-Drums, we’re committed to continuing that legacy through reviews of the best electric drums on the market.
Using Electronic Drums in Combination with Acoustic Sets
It is very difficult to replicate the sound of an acoustic drum set electronically, and they don't always meet the expectations of a more modern audience these days. In the same respect, there is also a problem with a full electronic drum set. Most drummers are looking for the best of both of these worlds, and that is where hybrid drums come in.
Hybrid drums are the perfect combination of acoustic and electronic drums. Drummers can include electronic elements with their current acoustic drum kit by including triggers, drum pads, and drum modules. Electronic drum pads are a good way to start using electronic sounds while playing the drums.
Since you can't always find hybrid drum sets as a complete package, there is a lot of room for both personalization and customization as you can choose which items you want and which you don't. The best genres for this hybrid mix are dance and pop because they can trigger different samples and effects that are relevant to whatever style they are playing.
Using an Electronic Drum Set for Live Performances
We already know how useful it is to be able to quietly practice our drums with headphones that are plugged directly into the sound module of the drum set and we also know how electronic drum sets can be used in recording situations. But, what about when it comes time to perform live on stage as the famous musicians above have done time and time again?
Electronic drum sets are becoming more and more popular among musicians and are often now used for touring, rehearsals, and so much more. What are the advantages?
The drummer can pre-program their drum sets, so they are readily available with just a push of a button. The drummer can also easily switch between drum kits for each song to better customize the sound for the style of song being played. You have the awesome abilities of a dozen different drum sets conveniently packaged in just one.
Sounds can also be picked from the module to customize the acoustic drum sound you want in each situation, and during a live performance, the electronic drum set can be played through the sound system so everything can be even more balanced and more well-produced which makes the show that much more enjoyable for the audience.
With the electronic drum set, the sound of your drums will never get lost or swallowed up by the rest of the instruments on stage, and they will never be too overbearing or too loud during a performance.
Using electronic drums in a live performance setting is not only convenient but produces better and more high-quality sound. You will find that the sound is bigger, deeper, and higher and more vocal oriented. One of the loudest instruments often heard during a live performance is the bass drum or kick drum. So, remember this and give the audience something they will love during each performance.
Features of an Electronic Drum Set
The Brain. This component is also known as the drum module or the sound module. It is a synthesizer that is able to generate different drum sounds while running all the other features of the kit.
Drum Triggers. Also known as trigger pads, these drum parts pick up and sense vibrations. Whenever the trigger is struck, the pickup senses that it has been hit according to the vibration.
Drum Throne. This is the foundation for the drummer and is an important consideration when choosing an electronic drum set. There are different styles including a round versus saddle style as well as a spindle versus hydraulic system.
Drum Heads. This is the membrane that is stretched over one or both of the open ends of the drum. It is the part of the drum that is struck with the drum sticks or hands. It vibrates and the sound then resonates while playing drums.
Bass Drum Pedal. When you use a bass drum pedal, you can produce even greater bass sounds. Most come with a bat that has several striking surfaces.
Hi-Hat Pedal. This is a combination of two cymbals and a foot pedal. Each of these components is mounted on a metal stand and is typically part of a standard electronic drum set package.
Ride Cymbal. This is a standard cymbal for most drum kits, and it maintains a very steady and rhythmic pattern - otherwise known as the ride pattern.
Crash Cymbal. This cymbal produces a very loud, sharp, almost crashing sound is used by drummers to create accents. Most electronic drum kits come with either one or two crash cymbals.
Best Electronic Drums for Live Performances
When finding the best electronic drums for live performances, you will want to look for the following:
Roland TD-50KV V-Drums Pro Electronic Drum Kit
Using Roland's cutting edge technology, this drum kit has everything you will want to have for your next live performance. It contains a Roland TD-50 module that has Prismatic Sound Modeling as well as brand new onboard sounds.
The new 18-inch digital ride allows for more accurate positional sensing and greatly improves the dynamics with its multisensory system.
It has a quiet count metronome along with audio recording and playback functions that prove to be useful during those many practice sessions before your performance. You can even play your own WAV samples with an SD card.
Alesis Strike Pro Electronic Drum Kit
This drum kit offers you more in the way of flexibility and gives you complete control over the sound you are producing. It comes with large dual hoop pads with mesh heads and wooden shells.
It also features the Alesis Strike Pro cymbals including a 16-inch 3-zone ride, three 14-inch crash cymbals with choke, and a 12-inch hi-hat. You can choke the sound just as effectively as with an acoustic kit.
You also have over 100 new drum kits to choose from that span a variety of different genres and 100 customizable user kits and more than 100 musical instruments you can play. The drum rack is also sturdy and stable, which makes it more than reliable during each and every live performance on stage.
Ready to Plug-In?
So, are you ready to plug in and be like those famous musicians you love that use electronic drum sets for percussion sounds? We are aware some acoustic drummers won't replace their current setup with an electronic one for drums and percussion, but for bigger sound, more sequencing abilities, and other benefits we briefly touched on here while playing drums, you will see that it still may be something to keep at the back of your mind for the future.