Homemade Electronic Drum Kit




Introduction: Homemade Electronic Drum Kit

What is it?

A full-sized homemade electronic drum kit.


I am excited by the endless sounds available through electronic sampling. I’ve already been using keyboard-based MIDI controllers & an electronic hand-drum (Roland Handsonic) for many years. I wanted to expand my palate to include full-sized pads that I can hit with drumsticks, to augment the acoustic drums that I play with my band Battlehooch. Additionally, I'm employed as an accompanist for modern dance classes, so this would add to the laptop-piano-iPad-MIDI keyboard combo I currently use to compose music in real-time.


This first iteration is roughly modeled after the Roland V-drum. The main features I extracted were:

1. Piezoelectric pressure sensors for velocity-sensitive note triggering.

2. Mesh drum heads for quiet, responsive hits.

3. Dual-zone pads in which two sensors are connected to each jack. This allows for triggering two separate notes over a single cable. Usually the hits are divided as snare & rim, or cymbal & bells. This kit also features double kick pedals that transmit over a single TRS cable.

4. A drum brain that converts analog signals from the piezos into MIDI messages that a computer can recognize. Software then interprets the messages to generate musical output. In this case, I am using an Alesis Trigger I/O, which feeds into my laptop via USB.

5. Typical drum kit form-factor. Based on the number of inputs on the Trigger I/O, my kit features three dual-zone cymbals, two kick pedals, one hi-hat pedal & five dual-zone drum pads. A total of nineteen independent notes.


I wanted to make a drum set controller that would have the same functionality as a professional kit, but at a fraction of the price. I also wanted to have control over the look and feel of the kit, as well as add more triggers than are typically offered. After much trial-and-error, I can say that I was successful in these goals. The main cost was the drum module. It’s also one aspect that’s not fully DIY. After looking at several options for custom microcontrollers, including Arduino & PCB-based solutions, I decided on the Alesis Trigger I/O simply because it’s an eloquent & affordable solution to a tricky electronics problem. I knew that building the kit itself would be a long process, so it made sense to go with a market-proven solution for the analog-MIDI-USB communication. All the other parts either came from Ebay, various hardware stores (Lowes turned out to be most helpful), or salvaged from my own workstation & my dad’s garage. My father turned out to be an immense help, offering his sage advice and expertise on materials, methods and tools. Most of the creative problem-solving was a joint effort between the two of us. It was quite a thrill to have all the pads work successfully on my first try playing a drum rack in Ableton Live. (To be fair, there was plenty of troubleshooting to get each pad working individually before trying them all together!) There are, however, some crucial areas that leave room for improvement. A fundamental goal of the project was to be able to transport the controller to live performances. However, my kit turned out to be quite fragile in several places. The TRS jacks are not as reliable as I’d like. Sometimes they fail to make the proper connection with the separate TRS cable sleeves. The cymbals feel less than solid. The kick pedal beater pads tend to loosen over time. I’ve also not figured out a way to safely transport the kit. The rack is clunky when disassembled, & each component has to be tediously removed. There are lots of cables to account for & reassembly is a chore. That being said, it's still a great instrument and I'm especially proud of the pads. They're much nicer than the plastic ones that come on most consumer kits.

What's Next?

For the reasons mentioned above, I am currently building a new, more compact version of the kit. It will have roughly the same number of triggers & large enough pads to play with drum sticks. However, the shape will be a single large rectangle containing 20 pads, arranged into four terraced rows of five pads each. All the wires & the brain module will be housed within the unit. The pads will be a sandwich of wood, metal & neoprene. Assembly and disassembly will be much simpler: just attach the pad to a stand, & connect to the computer. It won’t look as cool or have the same intuitive playability as the full kit, but will be much more portable. Look forward to a second Instructable outlining this project, coming soon! Further in the future, I would like to figure out how to add positional sensing to the pads, for additional X-Y control dimensions.

Step 1: Step 1: Drum Pads

Use a jigsaw to cut the basic shapes out of a large sheet of 3/4" MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard). Each pad is basically a circle with a rectangle jutting from one end. I made five pads total: three at 10.5" diameter and two at 12.5". To decrease weight, cut three small circles in each baseboard, and cut the jutting rectangles into a more triangular shape. Then, cut rings for the drum rims. On the inside edge of each rim, cut a right-angle indentation to house the drum head (see step 3). Use a router to round all the outside edges. My dad had some purple laminate (Formica) lying around, so I decided to use that for the shell. After etching a shallow circle into the top of each baseboard, cut long, thin strips of the laminate that you can bend and wedge into place. Drill several holes equidistant around the shell to allow for inserting machine screws and threaded inserts (1/4-20), as shown in the picture. These will connect the rim to the base and tighten the membrane around the shell. Once I had all the components cut correctly and tested with the drum heads from Step 3, I had my dad give them a lacquer spray. He wouldn't let me do it. Fine by me! I just photographed the toxic application from afar.

Step 2: Step 2: Add Sensors and Jacks to Drum Pads

I purchased a bunch of piezoelectric pressure sensors and TRS jacks from Ebay. These are the heart of the electronic kit. Pressure applied to the ceramic-metal disc generates an electrical signal that the drum module converts into a musical message. Using Tip-Ring-Sleeve jacks and cables (as opposed to Tip-Sleeve) means that two independent signals can be passed down the length of each cable. The drum brain that I am using can recognize these "dual-zone" pads, so separate notes can be triggered by hitting the center of the drum or the rim. For the center, I carved foam insulation into a cone shape so that hitting the drumhead will transfer pressure from the tip of the cone to the base, where a piezo trigger is sandwiched between squares of adhesive foam. The sensors are quite sensitive, and I've found that insulating them gives a better pressure response than hitting them directly. It's a little tricky, but try to make the sensor-cone-foam stack precisely as tall as the baseboard to the top of the shell, which is how high the drum head will be. A second piezo is attached to the inside of the rim, and both are soldered to a TRS jack as shown in the picture. Take note which TRS tabs correspond to which wires. Center piezo: ceramic-sleeve; metal-tip. Rim piezo: ceramic-ring; metal-sleeve. Attach the jack to the baseboard by drilling small holes in a washer and screwing the whole thing into the fiberboard. The piezos came with their own thin wires. In cases where they were not long enough, I used wire couplers and added extra length with salvaged wire from other projects.

Step 3: Step 3: Drum Head Membrane

Pet screen from Lowe's Hardware makes a great durable drum head. It's meant to protect window screens from the the sharp scratch of dog claws, so I figure it's rugged enough to withstand a drummer's barrage. Bend a length of thin copper tubing into a circle that will go around the shell while fitting snuggly inside the groove of the rim. Sand the ends of the tubing so they're smooth, then solder them together. Cut a circle of pet screen about an inch wider than the ring, then sew it as tight and evenly as you can. I found it helpful to use clamps to keep the head in place as you sew. Place the head over the shell and tighten the machine screws into the threaded inserts. The membrane should just graze the tip of the foam cone.

Step 4: Step 4: Rack Construction

A cheap rack for mounting your drums and cymbals can be assembled from PVC plumbing pieces. I used mostly 2" pieces for the base and 1" pieces to mount the cymbals and drum pads. With a circular drill bit, cut holes in the protruding portion of each drum pad. Add threaded inserts to the bottom of each hole, which will eventually house threaded knobs. To support the weight of the pad, cut short pieces of metal U-channel to cap the very top of the pad, then drill a hole through the U-channel, MDF and 1" PVC to allow screwing in the knobs. I used a tap to clean up the thread when I cut the threaded knobs to size. A final addition to the rack provides a board to hold the Alesis Trigger I/O drum module. Two-holed conduit straps work well to hold the board in place on the PVC below the two middle drum pads.

Step 5: Step 5: Cymbal Construction

Each cymbal unit contains a 3" 'bell', 6" 'cymbal' and a TRS jack embedded in a 1" PVC T-joint that can be freely inserted into the rack. This component had me stumped for a long time. I couldn't seem to find an appropriate material. Most plastic I tried was too brittle, too expensive or not the right shape. I first tried to make the cymbals out of vinyl records that were placed between actual ride cymbals in the oven (my band has a ton of self-titled albums laying around!). Unfortunately, the vinyl was too brittle and cracked soon after. My first successful attempt used a thrift store frisbee covered with Gorilla tape & rings of neoprene for the main cymbal. The bells were constructed from the same laminate as the drum rims. First, cut the PVC to size. You'll need three small lengths of 1" tubing, a T-joint and two caps. Cut out 1" holes in the center of your cymbal and bell. Cut three short pieces of pipe insulation tubing to sandwich the cymbal and bell between the T-joint and top cap. Piezos will eventually go under the cymbal and bell, so drill two small holes in the top piece of PVC where the pipe insulation will meet the bottom of the cymbal and bell, respectively. Run two wires through each hole to the jack. Use wire connectors to attach the piezo leads to the wires leading to the jack. Drill another hole in the T-joint cap, just wide enough to house the TRS jack. The wiring and soldering turned out to be challenging, so make sure you have enough length to work with. I regretted using the Gorilla tape and cheap frisbees. Later, after playing disc golf with some friends, decided to use disc golf drivers and mini drivers from Innova's online store instead.

Step 6: Step 6: Pedals

The kick pedals were also tricky, because I wanted to utilize the dual-trigger capability of the Trigger I/O, as I had with the pads and cymbals. I wanted to have two pedals at a distance sending separate notes over a single cable. The solution I settled on was to house the TRS jack on the right foot pedal and connect the the left foot pedal's piezo with removable lengths of wire using alligator clips and O-ring leads. It ended up working pretty good, but the beater stand I constructed is not as strong as it could be and will probably have to be changed eventually. I used random found pieces of wood and metal, and don't think I've found the optimal design yet. I will therefore leave it up to the reader to try your own design, using the principles I've outlined. For the 'high-hat' pedal, I tried out several types that I already had in my collection: a Line6 expression pedal, an electric piano sustain pedal that I use as a looper switch when I play dance classes, and a couple of XBox Rock Band pedals I found on the street. Each one has it's own MIDI messaging behavior when sent through the Trigger I/O. I like that the expression pedal sends control change (CC 0-127) messages, similar to a mod wheel. I'm still experimenting with different use cases in the Ableton Live software environment.

Step 7: Step 7: Software

Connect each drum unit to the Trigger I/O (a dozen cheap 4' TRS cables can be found online. I got some rainbow ones on Ebay). Then connect your laptop with a USB cable and open MIDI Monitor. You should be able to view each message sent by the Trigger I/O. You should now be able to control samplers and virtual instruments in your favorite DAW. My 'hello, world' moment came from an 808 drum rack in Ableton Live. So rad! I typically use an Apogee Duet interface for quality sound out of my laptop, but the built-in 1/8" line-out works fine too. Organizing all my sound banks so that they are easily accessible and playable by all my controllers is an ongoing project. I generally organize my drum patches according to general MIDI protocol: channel 10 is dedicated to percussion sounds and each type of drum gets a specific note #. When I play modern dance classes, I also use my iPad to control certain aspects of Ableton Live wirelessly over WiFi. For example, I can switch patches, change volumes and dynamically set effects and parameters such as delay, reverb, modulation, compression, EQ, etc. My new drums fit nicely into this system. The computer sees my DIY drum kit as another MIDI controller, just like the iRig Keys that I typically use. Fun !!!



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    25 Discussions

    Nice job...I was wondering how close are you to finishing the next iteration?

    Something to note. I used to play the Roland V-drums. The 12" crash cymbals were dual triggered on the edge and bow (surface), with choke control (a switch to short out the leads across, i believe, the edge to signal the controller to cut the note). The 15" ride cymbals were triple triggered on the edge, bow, and bell. If you you look at the underside og the ride you'll find 2 stereo jacks, not 1 like on the crash.


    1 year ago

    what can i use instead of Alesis Trigger I/O?

    I enjoywd looking over yourbuild and how you incorporatedothers builds but also made your own unique contributions. I am wondering about your choice of materials for the cymbals. I see a listing for "practice cymbals" on Amazon which comes with a crash, ride and hi-hat for just shy of $100. I dont know what material these are built with, and I believe they are practice cymbals for accustoc players (since e drums have no need for low/no noise alternatives), so I have to wonser of this pack of practice cymbals would work for an e kit?

    I am really impressed with the durability of the construction, but I imagine with a bit of ingenuity a better frame and joint system could be made for more portability without having to scrap the entire design. In fact, I came up with a design concept for better interconnectivity customization with the potential of being able to just pull each pad apart from the others and keep them in a gig bag or a hard case. My current Roland v drum kit (the discontinued TD 7) s fairly easy to tear down, ravel with (I bought a good sized rubbermaid bin to keep it all in) md reassemble for performances (I am a long way off from this, but nice to know I can when I do get there). And it only involves tightening and loosening the "clamps" that the pads attach to.

    My actual interest is creating a new brain module, potentially using an Arduino or similar micro processor, and I have seen some builds for this, ut not geared towards the drum world but to the general midi electronic music world. I used to be a programmer and I have some interesting features in mind, so hopefully I can start working on this soon.

    I made it, and it works with ableton

    you should probably mention that most of your instructable is a copy of another instructable by mikejl47


    it's cool to see that you've made a nice kit, but give credit where credit is due.

    6 replies

    Thank you for bringing mikejl47's page to my attention. I was not aware of his particular project, but I do indeed owe a debt of gratitude to the thriving community of DIY electronic drum makers online. A quick Google image search attests to the wide range of creative designs, and there are forums dedicated specifically to this topic. I was inspired by many of these, and took design cues most directly from the site www.edrums.info. The main features of my kit, like many which came before me, were derived from a series of patents by major music manufacturers, most notably by Roland. That's where I believe the mesh head and dual-trigger concepts originally came from.

    edrums.info IS mikejl47. He came up with the idea to use copper tubing for a head ring, MDF for the hoop, pet screen (the exact one you have in your instructable) for the head, etc.Did mikejl47 invent the mesh head? no, but he came up with the exact DIY solution that you're presenting as your idea (by not giving credit to the person who came up with the idea you're effectively trying to pass it off as your own). The features of your kit were most certainly not derived from patents from Roland or any other manufacturer. The features of your kit were derived from a DIY hobbyist who's many hours of hard work were derived from patents from Roland and other manufacturers. THAT is the point I'm trying to make.

    Listen, I don't take pleasure in calling you out on it, I'm just saying that your instructable is a derivative of somebody else's many, many hours of experimentation and you didn't mention his work even once (until I brought it up). If you put in tons of hours into coming up with a new approach to something and somebody else tried to pass your work off as their own how would you feel? You definitely did some unique things compared to his build, why not give credit where credit is due and focus on your own innovations?

    Great Instructable - lots of inspiration.

    OK, fine, it's similar to another great project.
    But - do we really need the nit picking over "who was there first"?

    Who cares? I don't. I am pleased to have found a community of people who enjoy coming with these ideas.

    Maybe mikejl47 would prefer to comment on it.....?

    Well, I’ll be darned. I didn’t even realize how much I owed to Mikejl47’s specific innovations. Thank you for notifying me. When I began the long process of making this kit, I scanned the web for projects and compiled a folder of relevant images and links. There were a great many. I liked the aesthetics on display at edrums.info, so modeled the look of my pads on those. I didn’t actually realize that they were made of MDF. When I told my dad I was considering wood, he was the one who suggested MDF to me. I first encountered the pet screen idea on a forum, which in hindsight likely came from Mikejl47’s pioneering work: A testament to his out-sized influence on the world of e-drum makers. Copper tubing for the hoop and holed-out baseboards did indeed come from his site. MAD props for the hard-won insights he has generously shared. I am inspired by him and all the other excellent projects I’ve seen online. I hope that by posting my experiences I, too, can encourage others to make something cool. I’m certainly not claiming that these are my own innovations, nor am I profiting off of any of this. I merely wish to share my process. Even with all the maker guides that exist on the net, it is still quite a challenge to make a kit from scratch, as there will be be different material and tool availabilities. Also, it’s worth mentioning that the supplies typically stocked at hardware stores will tend to point to certain common solutions to given engineering challenges. You make an excellent point about idea attribution, and I will surely keep this in mind for future projects. I also appreciate your advice to focus more on the unique aspects of a project and less on the derivative. Cheers!

    well said! well handled! you are a Good Young Man!!!

    As he told you there's many, MANY e drum builders so if someone come with similar idea that's totally ok! Where is your e drum kit? Even if he get idea from same source as you mention than what, what that can change.
    This man play his drums at home now (same as me 5 mins ago ;) , enjoying in his life without that stupid questions in his head, 'give credit', huh.
    I builded an e-drum kit too, and I was on all possible places on the web to finish all drum set, to find solutions, possibilities... It's not that easy as you may think.
    He seems to be very kind guy in answering to you, but no you have to push it. Can you respect someone and preciate it!? Look what he's made man, be positive. Cheers to all of you people!

    this is AWESOME and I think you just inspired me to give this a go! I HAVE seen the other 'ibles but was scared off this project for fear I couldn't handle it. you have shown me that it CAN be done! it CAN be affordable! and look good too!!!! THANK YOU........I want to make one for my Autistic Nephew as well and $$$ is an issue for them too. THANK YOU!!!!

    Hmm, good question. I think I paid $35 for a big sheet of MDF that I only used a portion of. $36 for 10 3 ft TRS cables. $30 for a combo pack of 20 piezos and 10 TRS jacks off EBay. ~$25 for misc hardware (foam insulation, wire connectors, alligator clips, some extra PVC parts). The rest I salvaged from my own work station & my dad's. Plus tax. Less than $150 total. Would definitely be more if you had to buy all the parts though.

    nice work, man!! thanks for sharing!

    can you make a video with the sound of the pads themselves. I mean not the notes made through software, but the sound the pads make when hit by the sticks, just because I want to have an idea of the noise it makes around... :)


    1 reply

    You're quite welcome :-) The sound of the pads are not trivial. Since the pet screen is made of vinyl coated polyester (methinks), it makes a bit of a click sound when you strike the heads. I turned up the stereo pretty loud in the video which is why you don't really hear them, but they are definitely audible acoustically. Also, hitting the rims is quite loud, as you can imagine. This is another reason why I will be trying out neoprene-based pads for my next iteration.

    Hi , nice project , what do you use as midi interface , because for me this is the blocking point , mostly , they are expensive...

    1 reply

    This is awesome! I will totally be making one.