If you care about the specifics on the kit I’m using these days then this post is for you.

Sara’s summer tour launched 3 weeks ago and runs for about 3 more weeks. All the venues are 5,000 capacity (give or take 1,000) and most are sold out! The performances so far have been fantastic. I really love working with this band, and I’m especially pumped about the setup that I’m using.

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Kick and toms
*All RD padauk stave shells with tube lugs and diecast hoops
– 9×13 rack
– 16×16 floor
– 14×24 kick


– RD 6.5×14 black-polished brass shell with tube lugs and triple flange hoops
– RD 5.5×14 nickel-plated brass with tube lugs and single flange hoops (seen above on the kit)
– RD 7×14 walnut stave with triple flange hoops
– Canopus 5×14 ash ply with triple flange hoops

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*All Paiste
– 14″ Dark Energy Mk1 Hihats (on about 3 tunes)
– 16″ 602 ME Thin Crash (as top hihat) w/ 16″ Twenty Series Medium Light hihat bottom (on the rest of the set)
– 21″ Dark Energy Mk1 Ride stacked on a 22″ Traditional Light Ride (in place of primary crash on 2 tunes)
– 20″ Traditional Light Ride (primary crash)
– 22″ 602 ME Ride
– 8″ Dark Energy Mk1 splash (resting on the snare for 1 tune)


Other Misc Gear
– Remo coated Emperor on toms, coated P3 on kick, coated CS and Ambassadors on snares
– Vic Firth SD2 Bolero sticks, SD1 General mallets, and VicKick felt radial beater
– Roland SPD-SX
– DW 9000 series hardware
– Ableton 9 on a Mac Air with Motu Mk3 Ultralite
– BFSD “Original” and “Steve’s Donut” snare muffles
– generic goat hooves resting on snare for a tune
– Toca Caxixi, RhythmTech hihat tambourine ring, and LP Cyclops brass tambourine
– Booty Shakers leg resonators on floor tom and Gauger Ring on rack tom


The padauk stave shells are so beautiful. The natural color is a surprisingly bright orange (see below), and Grady left the insides of the shells unstained. The contrast between the dark chocolate brown finish and the unfinished orange is really striking, and for that reason I was originally using clear black dot heads on the kick and toms (so the inside shell would be visible). These sounded great to my ear when sitting at the kit, but our front of house engineer wanted to try the coated heads to compare and ended up liking those better. I think the coated Emps probably sound more like the classic “good” tom tone when EQ’d and cranked through a PA, but the clear black dots had a cool and unique vibe which is more what I was hoping for. I have a lot of great sounding “classic” drums and I like exploring other options with the kits that RD makes for me (acrylic, mahogany, etc).

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Not to give up on the clear black dot, however, my tech Kris threw one on the 14″ Walnut snare and it sounds AWESOME. I use that drum on the tunes that use the vintage “fat and dead” sound (Love Song, Uncharted, Gravity). It’s tuned really low with just a few moongels. The NOB and Black Brass snares have coated CD reverse dots, and those are feeling great. The BB is tuned low but wide open for a big rock sound (used on Hercules, King Of Anything, and Brave), and the NOB is cranked pretty tight for the more funky Bernard Purdie vibe (perfect for Sara’s cover of the En Vogue tune “Never Gonna Get It”). I also use the NOB on “Wanna Be Like Me,” “I Choose You,” and “Little Black Dress,” but with a donut muffle on LBD and the splash muffle effect on ICY. The Canopus sits in a similar tuning to the NOB (with a coated Ambassador), but the ash ply has a nice “thud” even when tuned high so it doesn’t replicate the NOB exactly (NOB has a ping while the Canopus is more of a slap). The Canopus appears on “Love On The Rocks” (wide open) and on “Chasing The Sun” (with the goat hooves).

I usually use my brighter sounding Paiste Twenty Custom cymbals when playing outdoors, because dark cymbals tend to get lost in the wide open space of an outdoor stage. I brought them along because this tour has so many outdoor venues, but the “outdoor” venues have all actually been pavilions with tent coverings and have felt more like theaters. The Twenty Customs made an appearance for the first two outdoor stages and then I switched back to the ME and Trads, which have stuck. As far as cymbals are concerned, I’ve really enjoyed using the sharper and tighter sounding 14’s on the three tunes that seemed like they would benefit from them (I Choose You, Little Black Dress, and Wanna Be Like Me). The 16’s are still my jam, but I’m trying to approach this live setting like I do in the studio, which is to pay attention to what the song wants from me and then determine which instrument will best deliver that sound. Complex and busy hihat patterns need the shorter and crispier 14″ tone, whereas slower and thicker tunes seem to sit best with the 16’s.

Also noteworthy are the custom BFSD muffles that Kris made for me during rehearsals a few weeks ago. I’ve noticed that the official “Steve’s Donut” model cuts a lot more decibel from the drum than my homemade one. We decided that this was perhaps because of the rubber ring that Kris uses to keep the muffles feeling more sturdy. He took the rubber off of both the donut and the original and I like them way better for this specific larger touring environment. The low-decibel effect of the official BFSD models work great for volume-sensitive gigs like a church or a wedding reception, but the varying volume levels weren’t ideal for our in-ear mixes. So there’s that.

I’m not sure if the Booty Shakers and Gauger Ring are worth it or not. Kris really wanted to try them, and they definitely help the drums resonate a lot more… but then we end up needing moongels so perhaps they cancel out?

Bottom line: I couldn’t be happier with the setup I get to play every night, and I couldn’t be happier with the musicians I’m playing with or the music we are playing. I am grateful.