The Best Bass Drum Beaters for Jazz Drumming
Choosing the right bass drum beater for the music you’re playing is a critical and underrated way to take your sound to the next level. In this guide, we’ll talk to some Low Boy jazz artists about which beaters they use and why. The answers might surprise you!
What’s the difference between wood, leather, felt and lambswool striking surfaces? Put on your headphones and hear for yourself.
Choosing the right bass drum beater for the music you’re playing is a critical and underrated way to take your sound to the next level. There are so many different tones you can get out of a bass drum, and while the differences might seem subtle, it’s really about choosing the right striking surface. Jazz drummers are known to be meticulous about their gear, but also highly adaptable since playing jazz is all about intuition, feel and musical flexibility. The best players can get a ton of sounds out of each part of the kit and use them to make creative choices that elevate the music to a whole new level. In this guide, we’ll talk to some Low Boy jazz artists about which beaters they use and why. The answers might surprise you!
Many folks see the Puff Daddy beater with its deliciously soft lambswool surface and think “all jazz drummers must use this.” The Puff Daddy is perfect for a softer attack and boomier tone, which emulates a vintage sound favored by drummers in the early 20th century. However, many jazz players prefer something a little punchier. Buddy Rich and Elvin Jones both used wooden bass drum beaters, while Tony Williams mostly used felt.
The best way to find out which beater is right for you is to take them for a spin. Low Boy artist Scott Amendola is renowned for his sensitive and dynamic jazz playing with artists like Charlie Hunter, The Nels Cline Singers and T.J. Kirk. Amendola uses a couple of different Low Boy beaters to get the tones he wants for different musical situations, especially the Lightweight Felt Daddy and Leather Daddy beaters.
“When I travel, I don’t bring my own drums, but I’ve found that bringing the beater is a good idea. Low Boy came up with something that really affects the music, and for me that’s the most important part of being a drummer. With Charlie Hunter you’re dealing with electric bass and electric guitar, and we go between hard-hitting funk grooves, ballads and slow blues. The dynamic range of what we do is so wide and there’s a lot of musical ground to cover. The leather beater has a harder surface – you can get a quiet sound but with attack. The felt is a little warmer. You can get those quiet feathery sounds.”
Amendola also zeroes in on the flat striking surface as an important element for getting a balanced sound. “One of the greatest advantages of the flat surface is that it doesn’t wear the head down. We get this consistent sound forever – if your beater is round, the batter head starts getting dented. With the design of the Low Boy, there’s this really long consistency. I really don’t have to change heads for a while.”
Low Boy artist Steve Lyman is also a big proponent of the flat striking surface since he feels it creates “an equality of tone.” Lyman’s forward-thinking and contemporary approach to jazz drumming incorporates musical elements of electronics, and he exclusively uses the Low Boy wood beater to achieve that sound. He describes his style as “running the gamut from the jazzy contributions of Elvin Jones to grid-like playing that’s deeply influenced by EDM and electronic instruments.” As a New York-based player and educator, he’s worked with artists like Chase Baird, Gilad Hekselman and his own jazz-electronica duo, “tmprl.”
“I often use a lot of really intricate fast single and double combinations in succession. I also ‘feather’ the bass drum from a jazz perspective and from an electronic perspective. I prefer a bigger beater and the direct contact with the wood. I don’t think of it as any different than a drumstick hitting a head. I want the attack that the wood provides. I want the articulation between my snare and my bass to have an evenness. It helps me get the direct attack that I want.”
Lyman also prefers the weight and shape of the Low Boy Standard beater (which is 95 grams compared with the 80-gram Lightweight models). He explains, “the extra weight is important since it helps me think of it more like a drumstick. It gives me more utilization of the bounce.”
Low Boy artist Jason “JT” Thomas is also a fan of the Standard beater. “As soon as I put it on the pedal, I liked the weight and action – it felt balanced to me. I like to have some weight in the back to give me more leverage. To me, this was the first time somebody figured out the right balance.” Thomas is known for his fiery and energetic performances with Snarky Puppy, but he’s also a versatile player, working with projects like FORQ, RH Factor and Mark Lettieri. He primarily uses the Felt Daddy beater, but switches to the wood and Puff Daddy models depending on the situation.
He also hones in on another important detail: “I think that on other beaters, the felt is too thick. Low Boy has just enough felt and the shape of the felt is right. I mostly use the felt, or if I’m playing outside, I use the wood. I always keep both with me.”
The ability to switch beaters for different situations is something Amendola finds refreshing and inspiring. “One of the hardest things about our instrument is making the bass drum a more colorful part of the drum set and more of a chameleon in a way. When you have access to these different beaters you can do that.”
He also sees the Low Boy Power Switch quick-release thumbscrew as a game-changer.
“One of the greatest inventions ever is the Power Switch. Why hasn’t this been invented already? It’s perfect. I can take two beaters on the road and switch them in seconds. You can even switch them in the middle of a tune. Why not do that with your beater? It deepens the musical experience for us and everyone involved.”
Amendola also makes an interesting distinction between live playing and recording. “I love using the Puff Daddy when I’m recording with a singer-songwriter or more acoustic guitar-driven thing. I want there to be the presence of the bass drum, but maybe a bit more mysterious. I can play it quieter to get it to blend in with everything else I’m doing. It’s not as defined in a sense, but it’s more present. That’s what I like to use the Puff Daddy for – when I’m working on something where I want a very subtle and elusive sound from the bass drum.”
Thomas agrees that being able to get different sounds makes the recording process so much better. “When I’m recording, I go all in. I change my setups for each session, and can also change for each song. It’s nice having an arsenal of bass drum beaters so I can switch it up and get the tone I want. All the best engineers I’ve worked with, the one common thing they all have is that they get great tones and sounds from the initial drum recording. I use the Puff in the studio when I know I’m going to be playing soft with real dead toms – that thick, ‘70s dead drum sound. I want the kick drum to be felt more than hearing any attack. If I need the really soft big touch, I’ll use a 24” bass drum with the Puff Daddy and play it soft and crank the pres up.”
Amendola adds, “if you hear music in production, someone might take a recorded pattern and put a filter on it. You can hear the snare and bass drum and it’s filtered. I can create effects like that with these beaters. One of the things I like is not having to play so hard to get a good sound. When I work with The Nels Cline Singers, I bring the felt and leather, since there are definitely moments when I want them both. We go dynamically from very subtle things to bigger-sounding things.”
Lyman echoes the importance of having the right bass drum beater for quiet playing. “In terms of independence at low dynamic level, it’s really essential. I notice a large difference in the tone and the rebound. The beater is really central to the articulation I get from the standpoint of tone and attack. I love the direct attack and its very, very clear tone.”
For the best experience, please listen to these bass drum beater audio samples while wearing headphones. All sounds were played and recorded by Rob Mitzner.
The bottom line is that each musical situation requires different gear and these artists use a variety of beaters both live and in the studio. The Felt Daddy is a versatile choice, while the Leather Daddy provides similar warmth but with a bit more attack. The wood beater cuts right through the mix, while the Puff Daddy has less attack with a broader tone. You can even trim the lambswool to alter the sound more precisely (it’s attached using a powerful magnet, making it easy to swap out).
Playing jazz is all about being creative and finding your own sound, and Low Boy has a beater for every occasion. Pick one up and try it for yourself!
By Rob Mitzner
New York-based session drummer and writer Rob Mitzner has recorded for Billboard Top-10 charting albums, films, and Broadway shows, and performed at Lincoln Center, The Smithsonian, Caesar’s Palace, The Blue Note, Boston Symphony Hall and for President Obama in his hometown of Washington D.C. He has been featured in national publications such as Downbeat magazine and Modern Drummer, and his credits include over 60 commercially available albums across many genres. When he’s not playing and touring, Rob spends his days at C-Room Studio in Brooklyn cutting drum tracks, shedding funky electric bass and writing articles. His new book “Drumming in a Band: Stuff You Can Use” is due to be released by Hudson Music in early 2022. Rob holds a B.A. in Music and Political Science from Brown University, and is a proud endorser of Paiste Cymbals, Remo Drumheads, Hendrix Drums and Drumdots.