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Picture of Build a Suitcase Drum Set

I love drumming, but hate transporting my whole set around, so I designed a drum kit using a suitcase as the bass drum. The whole set fits inside the suitcase! My suitcase drum set sounds surprisingly good. Audiences love it.
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I built my first suitcase set 6 years ago. It was a big hit, and I ended up playing 500+ gigs on it, mostly around the Midwest. Since that first set, I have constantly been figuring out ways to improve it. For example, I've learned how to fix the problems that plague the use of a suitcase as a bass drum. And I'm going to share that knowledge here.

Gig after gig, people asked me how to make their own. This instructable is a culmination of years of development. If you build one, I would love to see a picture or video of your own suitcase, and am glad to answer any questions you have along the way.

This video -- made almost four years ago by Poodus --- jokingly explains my case for the suitcase drum set.

Notice the Cadillac logo on the front. The first one I built was a BMW -- so named after I found a BMW hubcap on the sidewalk while biking the suitcase home from a gig. The logo pulled off the hubcap and had enough stickiness left to hold it on the front of the suitcase.

That started a crazy trend of fans attaching things to the suitcase. People would show up to the gig with stickers, car logos, name tags, women's undergarments, service bells, and many other things. I wish I had a picture of that kit, after a couple years it was chock full of character.

To my surprise, I broke through the suitcase at a gig. I turned it around and beat on the other side for a few more years before it broke, too. The durability of the old Samsonite cases is something to behold. I played 3-4 long gigs every week for almost four years before the suitcase gave up, and I am a hard hitter. The suitcase in the video is the one I built after the BMW went to the junk yard, the pale yellow made me think of an old Cadillac. I told a fan and he brought in a logo, so it became the Caddy. I can't remember who gave it to me, but I thank them. ENOUGH REMINISCING! ON WITH THE INSTRUCTABLE.

 
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Step 1: Parts, tools, and how to find them.

Picture of Parts, tools, and how to find them.
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Bare-bones suitcase drum set parts
  1. Old plastic suitcase, preferably a Samsonite Heritage or Silhouette model. How to find the perfect suitcase is illustrated in the next step.
  2. Hi-hats and lightweight hi-hat stand. (all stands should be lightweight so they can fit in the suitcase)
  3. Snare drum and snare stand
  4. Bass drum pedal, preferably with a pedal board.
  5. Bass drum beater with removable beater (has a locknut holding beater on shaft)
  6. Super Pinky high bounce rubber ball, available online for $2. this serves as the new beater.
  7. Small piece of rubber, 2"x4" is plenty
  8. A 1/4" aluminum plate, 3-4"x4"
  9. 6-8 Small machine screws, washers and lock nut
  10. 3 Medium size machine screws, washers, and lock nuts
  11. Gorilla Glue
Parts list for accessories
  1. Splash cymbal
  2. Ride Cymbal
  3. Floor tom leg mounts
  4. 3/8" rod cymbal holders
  5. cowbell
  6. Anything you else you would want to attach to suitcase. I used to have a BMW logo on the front .
Acquisition of parts
-Selecting the suitcase is perhaps the most crucial step in building a suitcase drumset. I'm working on a video for this, but for now: Thrift stores are the best place to find these old Samsonite plastic suitcases. I have never paid more than $5 for one.

-Suitcase that work the best are full size Samsonite Heritage and Silhouette models.

-The Super Pinky ball has proved to be hard to find at sporting good stores, but is available on Amazon stores for about $2. Click here to buy a Super Pinky.

-Cymbals, snare drum, stands, throne, and bass pedal can be found in many places. Lightweight hardware is undesirable by most drummers and it should be easy to find cheap and used items. Ebay is a good place for cheap cymbals, and a local music store should have some used drums and stands. If you had a friend like me; a drummer, they would most likely have some parts laying around you could easily schmooze. Junk works too, consider using saw-blades or tin pans for cymbals. They don't sound like quality cymbals, but add serious character.

-Floor tom leg mounts for cymbal attachment can be found new, but most drum/music stores have a stash of used drum parts. Usually they are in a dusty corner in a backroom, so make sure to ask. I like to use rusty used mounts so they match the 'decor' of the suitcase.

- Metal plate can be found at any hardware store or metal shop, a scrap that might be considered useless could fit the bill for the suitcase needs perfectly.

Tools
-Drill
-Drill bits
-Craftsman Handi-Cut or razor blade
-Screwdrivers
-Crescent wrench





Step 2: Suitcase Selection

Picture of Suitcase Selection
This video demonstrates how to find the perfect suitcase.

Suitcase brand and model
Samsonite Heritage, Silhouette, and Saturn models are the best. There are models called the Silhouette II and Saturn II that also work great. Saturn II is the type of the suitcase in the intro video and the image below. The one I used in the instructable is a Silhouette.They made different versions of these through the years and the older versions are better. They also made different sizes. Those cute little ones are not for drum sets, get the biggest you can find. They also made different depths of suitcases. The deeper the suitcase, the more bass it will produce.

Plastic only!
I have had little luck with other types of suitcases. If its made out of anything besides plastic, it will not sound cool.

Wheels or no wheels?
I mention in the video to avoid wheels because they rattle. The suitcase I built in this instructable does have wheels. I built it for a drum student of mine, and the suitcase he found had wheels and they don't rattle, so I gave it a shot. I imagine they will start rattling soon and he will have to find a different piece of luggage. Sometimes wheels can be OK, but you're better off without. If the suitcase has wheels, it will also have a handle on the side that can be a rattling problem.

Latches
Make sure the latches are not worn out. It should close nice and tight.

Plastic only
I have had little luck with other types of suitcases. If its made out of anything besides plastic, it will not work.

Step 3: Suitcase Preparation

Picture of Suitcase Preparation
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Many things can improve the sound of your suitcase bass drum. The most important one is gutting out the lining. Most of the time it just rips out with little effort. If not, use a razor blade to cut it out.

Leave the thicker material border intact. If you rip it out, the rivets holding it in will remain and cause a horrible sounding rattle (however, you can dampen this with hot glue if you rip out too much stuff). Cut out any extra straps and flaps.

Step 4: Rebuilding Hinges

Picture of Rebuilding Hinges
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Samsonite made a fairly durable suitcase. One area that they made weak was the hinges. They are riveted on, and usually rattle. If they don't rattle, they will after some hours of beating the suitcase.

I recommend fixing them right away.

This is a simple process. Just drill out the rivets, and replace them with machine screws and lock nuts. If you don't use lock nuts, they will loosen. USE LOCK NUTS! Be careful not to tighten too much or it will tweak the hinge and your suitcase won't close.

I have tried using heavier duty hinges, and finding one that fits is very hard. The stock hinges will hold up for a long time if you replace the rivets.



Step 5: Bass Drum Beater

Picture of Bass Drum Beater
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Using a regular bass drum beater will not do. Your suitcase will sound horrible.

I have tried many different materials, felt, rubber, sheepskin, etc… The very best thing to use is a very hard foam rubber. This particular suitcase uses a piece of foam I found at a surplus store. It was from exercise equipment.

If you don't have a surplus store, time, and patience, the easiest way to get the right material is to buy a Super Pinky brand ball. Super Pinky Link.

To build the beater, you need an old bass drum beater that has a removable beater head. Take the old beater head off and drill a hole through your Super Pinky ball. Drilling the hole is not the easiest thing to do. I have drilled some, and on others heated up a nail with a torch and melted a hole through it.

Put the Super Pinky on with a washer on top and bottom, and your beater is done.
Depending on the beater shaft you use, you might have to cut down the size of the ball. A razor blade is the right tool for the job, if you go this way.

Step 6: Attaching Bass Drum Pedal

The metal plate is the critical component in suitcase construction. I have tried and seen others try many approaches that fail or make the suitcase very clumsy.

When drummers see the suitcase drum set they always ask, “Why doesn't it t fall over when you hit it?” The metal plate takes care of that problem. Any ¼” thick metal will work, but aluminum is best. 

Pedals are designed to clamp on a bass drum hoop, which is about ¼” thick.  It needs to be ¼” thick or the bass drum pedal will not attach well. The piece I used was recycled from another project and has a trapezoid shape. The shape is not critical. I recommend a 3 ½ ”x4” rectangle -- if you're buying this piece from a metal shop, they can cut it for you. The size can change slightly depending on the pedal and suitcase used -- use your judgment.

Countersinking the screws is necessary so the bolt heads don’t touch the ground and throw the suitcase off-balance. Drill three holes in a triangle pattern. The triangle pattern is to create enough stability.

To attach the plate, you must first find the perfect spot to mount it.
Clamp the plate in the pedal and slide the plate under the suitcase (either side of the suitcase is fine, I  hit both sides  of the case to hear which side has a lower pitched sound, and pick that one).

When pedal is depressed and beater is touching drum, the beater shaft should be parallel to the suitcase. Mark the spot where the plate is and drill holes in suitcase using the plate as a template.

Bolt the plate to the suitcase using lock nuts and flat washers.

After its bolted on, cut a piece of rubber just big enough to cover one side of the exposed plate and glue it on. Gorilla glue works great. The rubber keeps the pedal from slipping off the smooth metal. Don’t skip this step.

Now you can set up the bare-bones kit and jam out.

Step 7: Adding accesories

When I first built this thing, I didn’t attach anything to it. After playing gigs on it, I wanted a larger sound palette. Accessories can be mounted on the suitcase in many different ways.

DO NOT bolt anything on the front or back of the suitcase. It will kill the sound of the suitcase. Only bolt accessories on the sides and top, which has little effect on the sound.

Floor tom leg mounts work nicely to attach anything with a 3/8” mount to your suitcase.
3/8” is the standard for all percussion mounts. You can get mounts for cowbells, cymbals, microphones, and other accessories in a variety of shapes and lengths. The company that makes most of them is Gibraltar. I used two of their S-shaped cymbal mounts in this example.

To attach the floor tom leg mounts,  drill two holes in the side of the suitcase as shown in the pictures and bolt it up. I installed two on this suitcase, but have installed as many as four on previous models.

I mounted a cowbell on one cymbal mount, and used a cymbal stand to hold an old ride cymbal. I found this ride in the garbage. Its brand name is awesome, "KRUT"!

Get creative and think other types of mounts and accessories to personalize your kit.
To use the floor tom leg mounts just measure and drill holes on the side of the suitcase and bolt the mount on as shown in the picture.

Step 8: Play it and pack it up.

Picture of Play it and pack it up.
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packed up set closing.jpg
If you use all lightweight hardware, everything will fit inside the suitcase. It ends up being heavy, but compact. And it is sooooo much easier and more fun than moving a standard drum set!

I've included a few more pics of the completed suitcase, and some shots of the way things fit inside.

I use a towel to wrap the snare drum, and sometimes another towel to cover the cymbal and keep everything tight. I left it out of the pictures so you could see all the parts.

Amplifying your suitcase
If you are playing in a venue with a PA system, the suitcase sounds great under a microphone. There's only one way to do it and get a low thump. Put a mic (preferably a bass drum mic) right next to the spot where the beater hits, 2 inches or less from the suitcase. Turns the highs and mids on the mixer all the way down; really, all the way down. Crank up the gain and the lows, and you'll be surprised how fat it sounds. It does require a ton of gain, so be careful sending it through monitors. If you send too much through the monitors, you'll get some annoying feedback.

Good Luck! Drum on!
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Adsadsads made it!1 month ago
Cheers for this instructable, I've never really played drums before but wanted one to mess around with with other guys without having to commit to the space/cost of a full kit,
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ChrisO9 made it!2 months ago

I AM IN LOVE with my suitcase drum set. I hated the idea of having to carry around my whole original drum set around. Too heavy and inconvenient especially for a new yorker.

I made this suitcase drum set following these instructions! Just awesome. THANK YOU

What I DID:

1. I placed two floor tom leg mounts, 1 on each side and actually used one of the floor tom 3/8'' rods to place a ride/crash cymbal. To get the cymbal to stay on the floor rod, the floor rod had a rubber grommet on the end so I cut out a hole right through the center and pushed the rod through and placed the cymbal through and now the cymbal rests on the rubber nicely.

2. I used a door hinge that I bought from home depot and had that as my mount to clamp my kick pedal to. I wanted to find something that could fold and wouldn't protrude from my case, so the door hinge worked great for the kick, and when I don't need it i just fold it and it apparently clicks into place so the hinge won't flap unnecessarily.

3. Found an awesome deal from guitar center for a 30 bucks to get a cowbell and tambourine attachment and put it right directly onto one of the floor tom mounts on the side of the suitcase. Great addition to the set.

*** I still have to redo the hinges so they can be sturdier and also buy a rubber ball for the kick. Other than that, still plays great. Thanks a millions!

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ben.brill.5263 months ago

YES. THANK you for these thorough instructions. For a while I was discouraged in my search for an Aluminum plate to clamp the kick pedal to. Eventually, I would up at a dollar store looking at some cutting boards and $3 later the search was over.

Sure, metal would be better but this was easy to cut and seems strong enough.

The suitcase is small (15" x 20" Samsonite) but sounds great.

I've been playing harmonica/ guitar/ kick drum, and I haven't had this much fun with music in a long time. Thanks!

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rmcfisher4 months ago
I made one of these awhile back and I made over 100 dollars buskering
RockerFly6 months ago

I could make this cheaper next time. I used a kick drum riser with a pedal mount when I could have just used a door hinge. Bass spurs work perfect but are cheaper online so I will get them there next time. I run a bass mic through the sound hole. Think I'll make another that looks similar so I can play "double case". I use a cajon for my throne and use it for added thump. Sounds awesome, I love it. Whole kit basically packs within itself...everything but the cajon.

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How do you avoid that the suitcase moves away from you if you hit it while drumming? I know that some drummers connect the (regular) bass drum to the chair with a chain but this is not going to work with the suitcase, right?

i use a couple of strings attached to the drum throne. no more moving away of rhe suitcase

i had some pretty good luck mounting a door hinge on the bottom of the case and placing a bit of velcro for the pedal to grip onto... i also play on a small rug from bed bath and beyond.

what kind of rubber did you use? I've been looking at stores like Home Depot and haven't really found anything suitable.
mikereetz (author)  golfchick0054 years ago
It should be easy to find some rubber. I used some from a hardware store that was supposed to be for making stairs not slippery. I got a roll of it for a few bucks. A music store should have bass drum hoop protectors that would do the same thing, but might run you $4. If you seriously have troubles finding one, send me your address in a private message and I'll throw a chunk in an envelope for you. Don't let this hold you back.
Anyone else know of an easy source? needs to be about an 1/8" thick.
mrider1 mikereetz9 months ago
I was just going to use an old bicycle wheel inner tube? My brother has a bike shop so I can get a load of punctured ones for free!
mmacht14 years ago
i have a saturn II suitcase with seemingly good latches, but I am still getting quite a bit of rattling from the latches themselves. any suggestions?
mrider1 mmacht19 months ago
I was getting that too. I just put a bit of super glue into and around the lock part as these seemed to be making the most of the rattling. I didn't have a key for the locks and wouldn't want to to use them anyway so they were a bit redundant! But I. Still getting a bit of noise which is annoying so I'm just going to take the latches off and put some guitar case type latches on.
mikereetz (author)  mmacht14 years ago
Sometimes the latches are just worn out. A little rattle is inevitable, but they are probably just worn out. I had one like that, to fix it I would carry a roll of duct tape and put some over the closed latches, kind of ugly, but also added some 'character'.
In less words.... tape the latches down.
spencer.parsons.9 made it!9 months ago

Great article here! Thanks for the inspiration... a friend and I are starting to book side gigs with this little setup... Gotta give props to my lady for the suitcase!

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tonielli made it!11 months ago

Thanks for inspiring me, thank you so much; this is the result, with an hand made snare drum create by me and a cymbal made from a larger cymbal that was broken. The suitcase is about 70 years old and although it is not plastic (it is made of cardboard), however, is more robust than it looks and it's sound amazing ! (i'm not American so sorry for my bad English)

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Wow, very cool! I have a similar suitcase. I should try building this. That cymbal looks interesting. Can you tell us more about it?

Southpaw6910 months ago

Wow, what a cool idea! Very innovative. I actually bought a Remo Legero portable drum set years ago because I wanted something small like the one you build with the suitcase. Wish I had seen this!

Do you have any videos or audio of you playing it? I would love to hear how it sounds. Thumbs up for creativity dude!

Alfie Ward made it!1 year ago

Thanks to my Son Shane I
now have a complete "Drum Kit in a Suitcase" The suitcase fits
everything except the Ride Cymbal. Next time I will make sure that the suitcase
is big enough to accommodate it. Surprisingly it sounds good, much better than
I first thought. I find my felt beater sounds and reacts how I like it however
I may have to mic-up the case depending on the venue. How I mount both the
Crash and Ride Cymbals are well balanced. For an added touch I added a
Tamborine to the Crash Cymbal arm and the Cow Bell mounted to the front top of
the suitcase.Thank you Mike for your sharing your idea looks like you have a following of fellow drummers.

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This is great, man! Very clean. Attaching your cymbal stands directly to the suitcase is a very nice touch. Could I get a rundown of what you used? More pictures would also be appreciated. ^_^

Not ready but the most important part is done! Thanx for the idea!

Hopefully soon i will make it a complete drumkit, and post some pics and movies!

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Alfie Ward1 year ago

What a great idea,I have been trying to think of ways to downsize
my drumming gear for a while and while talking to my son about it he told me
about your drum kit in a suitcase. Just what I needed so I am well on my way of
building it I have all the parts except finding it hard to obtain the suitcase.
When I am finished I will post a picture up of it. Meanwhile anyone living in
Australia who can help me out with the suitcase email me alfieward@hotmail.com I live in
Rockhampton Queensland 4701

Hello

Was wondering how you eliminate the rattle of the suitcase handle while playing?

Thanks!

ceet3 years ago
Awesome! How much would it cost if u start out with nothing? I would love to give this a try. Don't have a lot of cash to spend though, so approximately how much do u think i would need to spend if i can't find any of the items for free?
smarion ceet2 years ago
I don't know if you ever went ahead with it, but it cost me around $100 bucks because I didn't have a lot of spare parts lying around. Make use of friends/neighbors and friendly hardware stores if tools are an issue.
mikereetz (author)  ceet3 years ago
This question is hard to answer, but I would say between 150 and 500 bucks.
lots of factors to consider.
smarion2 years ago
Hey Mike,

First off, thanks for starting my new obsession with your Instructable. I was literally trying to find the way to do this with minimal tools and budget (being a college kid) starting six months ago. Well, I finally finished it and while I don't have images yet (maybe in a future comment), I can assure you it's functional. I used a popcorn snare with a cymbal stand mount and added a bucket on the side of the case.

My only question is how you deal with the volume differential between the drums/cymbals and case. I didn't use a Samsonite as many others have, but that was because I couldn't find any that were suitable, so perhaps my case is thick, but I'm using a hi-bounce pinky on a 1/4" rod for the beater, as per your suggestion.

I had to dampen all my cymbals and put a rag on my snare to balance everything tonally.

Thanks,
Seger
prometheusX2 years ago
Can you use a wooden plate instead of an aluminum plate
dariomoses2 years ago
Here's my build, pretty much followed your instructions to a T (I couldn't reply to your post because there was a problem with the captcha, so I had to post a new comment). The only thing I did differently was the tom mounting (close-up shown) - it has a strange attachment for some unknown type of stand, which happens to perfectly fit on an L-shaped shelf bracket, which I've bolted to the top of the suitcase. I use a little dog toy football as the beater and I've wrapped it in duck tape because it was disintegrating slightly without, but the sound is good. I was never going to buy a drum kit but it was a fun project, I enjoy 'playing' it (badly) and in total it cost me around £80. The badge on the front is from a superhero outfit I once wore to a party.
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mikereetz (author)  dariomoses2 years ago
This is great!!!!
dariomoses3 years ago
Mike, thank you for this! You inspired me to spend the past 4 months putting together a suitcase set of my own and (finally!) I think I can say it is complete. I only have one question: how do you bend the angled rods you hold your cymbals on? Does it not weaken them enormously?
mikereetz (author)  dariomoses2 years ago
It would be rad to see a vid or pic of your build.
I bent the arms in with my vice and hands, I suppose you could heat them, but they are plenty sturdy without. A little 'chrome' flakes off.
Haven't been on here in quite some time, but I'm still tweaking my suitcase kit. Here's a pic from November 2012 of the suitcase kit at Donn Bennett's Woodstick 2012 in Kirkland, WA. Needless to say, it caught a lot of attention. I'll put up a video soon.
Everything but the throne fits inside!
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mikereetz (author)  ideofone.ezek2 years ago
Nice build! Thanks for posting the picture.
I'm glad you represented the suitcase at Woodstick!
markus21023 years ago
Bro i dont even play drums. Im a guitarist. I have always sucked at drums whenever i would give it a shot haha.
but this AMAZING ible makes me want to build one and start learning as soon as possible!
thanks for the great instructable man!!
cbower23 years ago
How do you get the pinky ball on the beater without it falling apart? You mention cutting it down as well but I don't see how that's possible either since the ball is hollow, the washers would just go through.
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mikereetz (author)  cbower23 years ago
The real super pinky ball should not be hollow. Is that ball a real one, or more of a racquetball? Its should be high density foam throughout.
WhiteTech3 years ago
I think I've found a new way to jam on the street, :D
Couple questions: 1) Does the suitcase move at all when you kick it? I have issues with this on regular kits, so any ideas would be helpful, 2) where would I find a tom small enough to fit in the suitcase that isn't a toy?
bosniaguy3 years ago
COOL! :D
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