The Best Bass Drum Beaters for Small Club Gigs
Playing a small club or dive bar can be one of the most challenging gigs a drummer can do. This article will help guide you towards choosing the best bass drum beater for these types of situations.
Playing a small club or dive bar can be one of the most challenging gigs a drummer can do. You need to play with touch and musical sensitivity, but without being too tentative. It’s important for your drum parts to cut through the mix without overwhelming the other instruments or sending the horrified audience scurrying for the exits with fingers in ears. Sometimes you’re crammed into a tiny space with your throne against the wall and maybe the house sound system is “less-than-inspiring.” Maybe your drums aren’t even mic’d up at all.
Regardless of what style of music you’re playing, showing up with the right gear can make a world of difference in getting the best sound. This article will help guide you towards choosing the best bass drum beater for these types of situations.
Low Boy artist Caleb Thoemke has played everywhere from massive outdoor stages like Red Rocks Ampitheatre to local haunts like The Raccoon Motel in Davenport, Iowa with his indie rock band Wildermiss. He uses a Standard Felt Daddy bass drum beater as his main option because he feels it gives him exactly the right tone and control to execute his carefully crafted drum parts regardless of where he’s playing.
“The felt allows the drum to sound natural and have that low-end definition. My kick drum is 24”, so it’s already big and round. Sometimes when you’re playing a smaller room, you don’t even need the mic. Literally, the only reason you’d have a mic is to get some ‘sub’ information [low-end frequencies]. The beater provides the perfect balance as far as attack goes and still translates really well for going into a big theater or an outdoor festival. All of that attack is there still and can be brought out in the mix.”
He also makes an important point about how the tone of the Felt Daddy beater fits perfectly into his band’s overall sound. “Playing with a female vocalist, you have to be careful with that higher register and I don’t think our songs require as much of that ‘smacky’ kick. We definitely go for a more low-end electronic sound and let the vocal soar on top of the song.”
Thoemke also stresses how important it is to play with sensitivity, touch and musical awareness in these musical situations. ”Two nights ago, we played this club called Clementine’s in Harrisburg, VA and I was basically right behind her onstage. My crash cymbal could have touched her back. It’s just learning how to be dynamic with your playing and play to the room. It’s tricky. The vocal mic is right there in front of you.”
Low Boy artist Scott Amendola agrees with this sentiment, saying “one of the things I like about these beaters is not having to play so hard to get a good sound.” Amendola is renowned for his creative and delicately nuanced drum parts, working with artists like Charlie Hunter and the Nels Cline Singers. He often switches up his bass drum beaters to adjust to different-sized rooms and musical situations.
“With Charlie [Hunter], the dynamic range of what we do is so wide. There’s a lot of ground to cover. You’re dealing with electric bass and electric guitar and we do everything from hard-hitting funk grooves to ballads and slow blues. The Leather [Daddy] beater has a harder surface so you can get a quiet sound with attack. The felt is a little warmer. You can get those quiet feathery sounds. For Nels Cline, I bring the felt and leather since we go dynamically from very subtle things to bigger-sounding things. They give me the dynamic range and ability to have different sounds and colors.”
Thoemke feels that much of this range and versatility can be attributed to the weight and shape of the Standard models. “The cool thing about these beaters is you can get volume and attack. Whenever my kick drum isn’t mic’d, I can still play through the drum head and move a lot of air to cut through a guitar amp and the vocals going through a PA. Because of the way it’s weighted, it also offers the ability to feather it. Some beaters feel like they’re all or nothing, whereas the Low Boy feels a little more nuanced.”
Amendola, who often uses the Lightweight beater models for even greater control and touch, hones in on the flat striking surface as an important feature for consistency and durability. “One of the greatest advantages of the Low Boy is that it doesn’t wear the head down. We get this consistent sound forever. With a round beater, your head starts getting dented. With this consistency of sound, you really get the feel of how these beaters are different. I really don’t have to change heads for a while.”
Thoemke sees another advantage to the flat striking surface, especially if you’re playing a house drum kit. “I think I get a more consistent strike out of the flat surface, but also if your kick pedal isn’t mounted nicely to the hoop, the curve of a round beater can actually push it off your kick drum. A flat striking surface doesn’t have that downward pull.”
The main takeaway is that the Standard Felt Daddy is great choice for smaller clubs since it has just the right combination of attack and warmth to cut through the mix without overwhelming the room. If you need more attack, the Leather Daddy is another useful option. For more subtle situations, you can try a Lightweight beater (which weighs 80 grams as opposed to the 95-gram Standard models). Regardless of which beater you choose, Thoemke believes comfort and familiarity are important in navigating the unpredictability of small club gigs.
He concludes, “it’s gotten to the point where if I have to play a backline kit, I’m definitely bringing my pedal with the Low Boy beater because I’m so used to the response of it and the way it pulls back after striking. It feels more natural and it’s not going to get away from me. It just has a perfect natural response with my playing.”
Gear Up For Your Next Club Gig!
By Rob Mitzner
New York-based session drummer and writer Rob Mitzner has played on Billboard Top-10 charting albums, films, and Broadway shows, performing 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. His book "Drumming in a Band: Stuff You Can Use" was released by Hudson Music in early 2022 and recently entered the top 100 best-selling percussion books on Amazon. Rob has also been featured in Downbeat magazine, Modern Drummer, Drumeo and Drum Talk TV and recorded on 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. 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.