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On March 14 I received an invitation to play in Ben Rector‘s band for his slot on leg one of NeedtoBreathe’s Tour De Compadres, which ran from April 16 – May 16. I had never heard Ben’s music or even met any of the guys in his band or the other bands (NTB, Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, Colony House), but the experience proved again why the music world is so rad: I really loved playing music with Ben and his band (Cody Fry on guitar, Kevin MacIntire on bass). They are all great players/vocalists, and Ben is a masterful songwriter and front man. On top of that, the hang was incredible… not just with Ben but with all 4 of the bands. I got home from the tour a week ago and I’m bummed it’s over!

But this post is about gear, because I¬†love giving credit where it’s due. Risen Drums, Paiste Cymbals, Vic Firth sticks, Remo drumheads… theses companies all make fantastic stuff that makes playing music so gratifying. I remember when I had to always fight my gear in order to get it to sound good, and those days are over now.


For Ben’s music I decided to use the same physical setup that I’ve had on recent Sara B tours: kick/snare/rack/floor, SPD in a second rack tom position, and hats/crash/ride. My laptop provided Ableton goodness but only for click purposes, and I kept a swap option snare off to the right.


The drums were the Risen “vintage mahogany” shells with triple flange hoops (8×12, 14×16, and 14×22). The finish is a paint (not a wrap) and has been dubbed “Steve Gold Sparkle.”

I used my workhorse 6.5×14 black brass tube lug snare (tuned mid-low-ish) on most of the set, supplemented by my 5.5×15 Canopus Ash snare as the tight and high alternative. The BFSD muffles (Donut and Original) showed up as well a few times throughout the set.


I brought two cymbal rigs on the tour, one for large outdoor spaces and one for theaters or enclosed bandshells. The outdoor rig is pictured above, L to R (all Paiste): 602 Modern Essential 16″ crash hats, 20″ Masters Dark crash, 22″ 602 Modern Essential 22″ ride. They’re full and rich, with some brightness and presence, but not overbearing.


The indoor rig had the same 20″ Masters Dark crash, but the 16″ crash hats and 22″ ride were Masters Dark as well. That series is somewhat new to the Paiste world, and I got a set back in February. Wow. I love them. The tone is dark and the pitch is deep, but there’s no trashy or flimsy presence. The ride really surprised me – unique, full of character, and different than I expected – but I love it. I’ve used it on jazz gigs, in sessions, and now out on tour with Ben.

Below is a drumcam video I made at one of our Florida gigs, and it features the Masters Dark rig. It also features the always-boss stage moves of Kevin MacIntire, who I played disc golf with literally every day of the entire tour. #winning

As always, comment here or message me if you have any questions!

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.

Screen shot 2014-07-22 at 4.55.16 PM

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).

Screen shot 2014-07-22 at 4.46.35 PM

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.



Geek alert…

I would’ve posted this on my Tumblr page since it has to do with gig stuff that I’m doing, but for some reason I’m unable to post multiple photos there and still have visible text. Lame.

This… is… my current setup for Owl City. I’ll try to be as detailed as possible, for those who have been asking.

Risen Drums – acrylic – diecast hoops – internal LEDs
16×24 kick
14×16 floor (left side)
14×18 floor
8×15 snare
5×10 “trigger” snare (above left floor)

Paiste Traditional cymbals
16″ thin crash (hihat top… with 3 strips of gaff tape)
16″ Twenty medium light hat (hihat bottom)
22″ light ride (left side crash)
22″ medium light ride (ride position)
20″ thin ride (right side crash)

DW Hardware
9000 series boom stands (4)
9000 series hihat stand
9000 series single kick pedal (active and backup)
5000 series snare stand
5000 series throne

Remo heads
Coated Powerstroke 3 kick (both batter and reso sides… falam pad on batter)
Coated Emperor CS snare (w/ Ambassador hazy bottom)
Coated Emperor toms (w/ Ambassador coated bottom)
Coated Emperor trigger snare (heavily muffled… w/ Ambassador coated bottom)

Roland Octapad/404 sampler (with Rt10-s trigger to side snare)
Original sample library… no Roland sounds

Vic Firth sticks/mallets (w/ Mono Cases stick bag)
Dave Weckl Signature sticks
Extreme 5A sticks
CT1 General mallets

I’m really enjoying not having a rack tom anymore. Not that I won’t ever use one… but this particular gig just doesn’t need it. Additionally, I use the electronic pad so heavily that having it in the rack tom position is just perfect, with the triggered side snare to top it off. I’ve got a million new sound and sticking choices for things that way.

The other major changes from my past rigs include the 22″ light ride as my main crash (instead of a 20″) and the 15″ acrylic snare (instead of a 14″ black brass… which is hiding under the 18″ floor as a backup… I’ve only had to use it once when the snare wires broke during a set). The bigger snare is super versatile with both tight and loose tones (which I alternate between during the show). I’m loving that, though the main reason I’m using it is for the internal LEDs. As for the 22″ crash… man, I think I’m hooked for that permanently. So huge, so full… it has all the wash I want from a crash but with the depth and power of a 22″ ride.

Also… I’ve been using two different home-made drum head mufflers… a full one and one with a 4″ diameter hole in the middle (pictured on the main snare). The full gives me the deep and loose tone that newspaper normally has in the studio, and the cut one has a super dry and tight sound. Between those and a totally open no-muffle option I’ve got a cool range of sounds to choose from.

Lastly, I’ve been using the Weckl sticks for decades (literally), but I’m thinking about switching over to the Extreme 5A’s. The difference is an added 1/4 inch of length on the x-5A, and a slightly different tip shape. Vic Firth just sent me a brick of them to try out and I might officially make the switch… if for no other reason than to get rid of those red marks all over the drums.

Aaaand I use ONE moon gel on the 18″ floor tom…

I got back last night from the Jason Harms UK tour. It was a really great experience all around. I think my favorite gig was this one at a club called the Boston Dome in London…

Hunnicutt tour is going well. My friend Christian Ankrum is playing bass, who I also play with in Joel Hanson’s band. Christian’s brother Aaron is Liz’s normal guitarist, but he couldn’t come this time, so Jeremy Sanoski came out for the tour. He’s another solo artist who’s band I’m in, so the lineup turned out to be a cool clustering of guys I play with all the time. It’s a lot of fun.

We’re in Spokane, WA right now playing for a women’s conference. The conference put the whole band up in the luxurious Double Tree Hotel attached to the convention center. Last night Christian and I made a video to showcase how nice the place is, and it’s pretty funny. Check it out.

So I mentioned in the previous post that I’m in the midst of a short tour with Elizabeth Hunnicutt right now. Most of the gigs that we’re doing are in small venues, where the natural drum volume is too loud. Dowel sticks (I use the brand ProMark “Hot Rods”) make this problem easy to get around. But… rods have quite a different timbre and sound from normal sticks – they aren’t just a softer volume. Here’s a few things that I’ve learned when using rods:

1) Buzz rolls, although possible with rods, don’t sound very good.

2) Toms also sound bad, but using rimshots on the toms can make them sound more like normal.

3) Non-rimshot snare hits have a unique tone to them, but they are not just a little quieter than sticks, they are A LOT quieter. If you’re going to use that sound, you have to back way off the cymbals to get a correct blend.

4) Along with the point just mentioned, be careful to note that “crash” hits (cymbals hits with the “edge” of the stick and not the tip) are really the same volume with rods as they are with sticks. So, be extra careful to back off on the velocity of those hits so as to gain a good drum/cymbal blend.

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