Introduction: Build a Suitcase Drum Set

About: Drummer who builds hot rods and teaches music for a living.

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.

Step 1: Parts, Tools, and How to Find Them.

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.

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

Step 2: 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.

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

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

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

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.

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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