How to Convert Any Acoustic Drum Into an Electric Drum Step by Step Guide




Introduction: How to Convert Any Acoustic Drum Into an Electric Drum Step by Step Guide

About: I am a musician, but not professional, I have been in many bands over 18 years and have different experiences from them. Being in the military (Navy) I have been around the world a few times so I got to see ...

This Instructable will show you how to modify any acoustic drum and make it an electronic drum with the option to reverse back using very simple items.

Step 1: Making the Mesh Heads.

The first item needed is mesh.
Regular window mesh is too weak to handle continuous drumstick abuse... Pet proof mesh is the answer.
For about $ 17 a roll, it's enough to make heads for a 6 piece kit, maybe more.
One layer is more than enough to make a very decent head.

Step 2: Making the Mesh Heads Continued.

Plastic tubing (found in the plumbing section of your favorite hardware store) about 1/4 inch thick. slightly bigger than a pencil.
The tubing will be used to make the rim that will hold the mesh in place.

Step 3: Tools and Materials

Double sided tape, it doesn't have to be clear it just needs to be double sided.
This will be used to secure the piezo sensors to their respective locations.

Step 4: Tools and Materials

Sand Paper block. (The cheapest you can find) it will be used to make the blocks located between the sensors and the heads.

Step 5: Tools and Materials

A cheap box knife will be needed to cut the sanding block as well as the tubing, double sided tape, and more.

Step 6: Tools and Materials

The screws, nuts, washers, locking washers and L brackets are all suggested sizes, you can use different ones. The sizes shown actually worked pretty well. Too long screws and you might run into problems, too short.. you might run into problems.

Step 7: Tools and Materials

Leather punch or some other object that can be used to make holes in the mesh for the tubing to go through.

Step 8: Tools and Materials

Heat Shrink tubing (optional) better looking and more durable connections are created using it.

Step 9: Tools and Materials

Solder, Soldering Iron, Soldering iron base (optional but highly recommended) Black and Red wire.
Really thin speaker wire will work as well, as long as you have gold and silver. (Must have 2 colors to distinguish the different leads)

Step 10: Tools and Materials

1/4 Phone jack. Mono if you plan to do a single zone drum. Stereo if you plan on doing a double zone drum (Head and Rim sensors) if you order it make sure that it looks like that it is a female connector and not a male!!.

Step 11: Tools and Materials

Table vise also know as "Third Hand" (optional) but very "handy" indeed.

Step 12: Tools and Materials

Wire Stripper. (Optional of course) This is a very cheap but very effective stripper since it strips cable in one single motion and it's very gentle with fragile small cable which is what we are going to be using for this project.

Step 13: Tools and Materials

Thin Aluminum bars, 2 or 3 (They are about 1 inch wide by 3 feet long and approximately 2/16ths of an inch thick. These will be used to make the sensor bridge. also they are about 5 or 6 dlls each. Wood can be used as well but it will make your drums heavier.
I just like the more professional look of aluminum.

Step 14: Tools and Materials

File. Required if you choose to use the aluminum bars. Optional if you use wood.

Step 15: Tools and Materials

A saw that can cut metal, (Aluminum in our case) A very rusty old one in my particular case.

Step 16: Tools and Materials

A drill, measuring tape, drum key (no self-respecting drummer would be without one!) and multimeter.
There are very cheap multimeters in the car section at Wal-Mart. Of course, if you happen to have one like the one pictured, you are doing well already. I noticed after going through the rest of the instructable that I never mentioned the use of the multimeter, I only used it to test for continuity. (for those not electronic types, to makes sure that the connections are not broken, that there is connectivity from beginning to end). For a tutorial on how to test for continuity check this video:

Short and sweet, but if you want to know more..... search a little my friend.

Step 17: Tools and Materials

A mono (TS) cable (blue cable in the first picture) if you are using a single piezo sensor. (head sound only)

A stereo (TRS) cable (purple cable in the second picture) if you are using 2 piezos for head and rim sounds.

The third and fourth pictures are for the bass drum trigger, I happen to have this already but a simple (mini bridge) can be made for the bass drum using a bigger L bracket and just mounting the sensor on top of it so that it sits on the side far away from the middle of the head to avoid the bass pedal beater.

The last 2 pictures are of different Y connectors 2. mono female inputs to 1 stereo male output. If your module supports double zone triggers, These type of connectors can be used to make for example 2 bass drums (mono mono from each drum, to stereo single input on your module) of course those are optional and I still have not used them. they are pictured just to show more options.

TS= Tip and Sleeve
TRS= Tip, Ring and Sleeve.
Good to know that when wiring the phono jack.

Step 18: Piezo Part Number.

The Piezo sensor part number if you order it from Radio Shack, if you don't, Amazon has several vendors that have 20 sensors for 20dlls or 10 for 10 etc.

Sharpie marker. It doesn't have to be silver but it can't be black because the mesh is black and we need to make some markings on it.
Note: If you are marking your mesh on the floor, use something to cover the floor, I didn't for the first head and marked the floor. (Lucky for me the silver marker was easy to remove).

The third item is called Liquid Tape. The liquid tape can be used instead of the heat shrink.
Personally, I tried it and discovered that it's messy and that you need a really well ventilated room to use it.
Basically it's "painted" on top of the soldered connections to act as an insulator.

Step 19: Building the Rim for the Head

The tubing is taped to the inside of the rim then ran around the rim. (Tape more than once if needed) ensuring that there is enough tubing to complete a full circle.
It is very important that the tubing is cut to the right measurement so that when it's fitted on the drum is not too tight (If the rim is too small) or to loose (if the rim is to big).
Again if you need to add more tape to follow the inside diameter of the rim, do so, as long as the tubing stays against the inner wall and doesn't wonder off, you should have a very exact size.
Once you get it all the way to the other end, cut the tubing to match. If you cut a little over, it's Ok, It is always better to have extra and do a second or third cut than to waste tubing because of cutting too much.

Step 20: Marking the Mesh.

Using the Sharpie (silver, gold or any other color you have) position the drum rim and mark the outside skip the parts where the drum bolts go, then once you have an open circle (as shown in the picture) proceed to rotate the rim and fill the empty spaces.

Once again: Use something under the mesh to protect your floor/table/surface. The marker ink does go through the mesh very easily.

Look at the last 2 pictures for reference on how to cut the mesh. (Any scissors would do)
Cut approximately 2 inches out of the circle, it doesn't have to be super precise, that is just to have a little extra space after the tubing rim.

When the circle is complete, mark your hole locations. Usually one inch or one inch and a half is enough. as long as you have a fairly even number. those are going to be perforated for the tubing to go through using the leather punch/scredriver/knife, or whatever you are going to use.

Step 21: Installing Tubing Into Mesh.

Once you have marked and perforated the holes in the mesh, you going to insert the tubing that you previously cut.

Going all the way around ensure that the tubing doesn't miss any holes, when finished, put the 2 ends together and tape them with some strong tape. ( I used electrical tape because that was what I had laying around, it worked pretty well. Once that is done voila! a D.I.Y. mesh head!. I know it doesn't look like much yet but if you put it in the rim and then test mount that to your drum it will look a lot better. When mounting that head on the final step, ensure that you don't over tighten it, it really doesn't need to be too tight as long as it's not too lose, (there is no acoustic tuning, but you will hear a little noise if you leave the bottom head in your drum. To resolve that, I added mouse pad material to the bottom head which served 2 purposes:

1 It muted most of the acoustic noise.

2 It prevented light from coming into the drum and looking ugly. ( when you can see all the bridge and piezo, screws, etc.)

You can purchase drum mutes (the mouse pad material sized-matched to your drums.

or you can make your own stuff using upholstery (furniture) fabric.

Step 22: Getting the Piezo/sensor/trigger.

Now we are going to build the sensor that will "trigger" our hits to the mesh.

I mentioned the part number for those of you who live near a Radio Shack. all others look in the internet for Ebay or similar place for piezo packages.

if you get the Radio Shack piezo, you will have to get it out of its housing without damaging it.

carefully break the screw tabs on the side, using a small blade or small screwdriver, pry open the top. (be very careful not to pull on the wires or cut them). carefully get the piezo out. (there is a hole in the other side which if you use a small object will allow you to push the piezo to get it out easier).

Step 23: Adding Lenght to the Piezo Wires.

Once you have your piezo, you will realize that the wires that come with it are usually very short. To resolve this, I suggested to get thin wires, a red and a black wire to easily match the wires that come with the piezo.

Cut one red wire and one black wire from your wire rolls. (2 of each if you are making a double zone drum)

Ensure that each cable is about as long as the drum is wide (for a 10 inch tom, cut a 10 inch cable). This is done to have enough cable to route it properly once installed inside the drum.

Step 24: Soldering the Wires to the Piezo.

Using your "Third Hand" or table vice secure the phono input to it and start soldering the wires. refer to the diagram for Alesis modules, or look for Roland wire diagrams in the Roland forum for their diagram. As you can see in the pictures the phono connector input has 3 rings which means that two wires are going to be soldered to one, while the other two wires are going to be on the remaining two. before you solder place the wires in the inputs by tying them, test with your module for head and rim sounds and use your marker to mark the piezos with H for head and R for rim for easy identification when installing them. Before I forget again, add each length of wire to each wire in the piezo, solder it and then use the heat shrink or the liquid tape to insulate and prevent shorts. Then proceed to solder the piezos to the phono input.

Step 25: Building the Bridge.

To build the bridge, use the aluminum bars.
1 Cut the aluminum bars to length (the diameter of the drum; ie: if you are using a 10 inch tom, cut the aluminum bar just short enough to be able to slide inside the drum.) Don't worry if you have square corners, that's where the file comes in.

2 Use the file to round the corners and remove any sharp edges. Once done your aluminum bar should fit flush inside your drum.

3 Use the L brackets to hold the bar as illustrated in the last picture. Place the L brackets in the top hole in your drum. (by removing the lug holder screw, placing the L bracket in that spot and re-inserting the lug holder screw).

4 After you have the L brackets in position (opposite from each other), place the aluminum bar on top, ensure that if the head is mounted, you have enough clearance for the piezo, plus a little piezo rizer (about an inch or 2 below the head). If you don't have enough clearance such as in a snare drum, move the L brackets to the bottom lug holders.

5 Once your aluminum bar is in position, use the marker to mark the holes (Use the built in holes in the L bracket)

6 Drill the holes and ensure that they are big enough for your screws to fit.

Step 26: Mounting the Bridge.

The images used here illustrate how to mount the bridge better than I can explain it.

The pink spongy material is from a CD spindle that I used to isolate the head piezo from the rest of the drum. you can use rubber washers but I found them to be too stiff and not good for isolation.

Alesis modules work better with a center piezo. (The head piezo is placed in the center of the drum) which is what I show here.

Roland modules work better with the piezo placed on one side.You could use only one L bracket, build a mini bridge and place the head piezo that way. experiment and see what works. add a comment if you like.

Step 27: Monting the Head Piezo to the Bridge.

The pictures again illustrate how to build a riser for the piezo.

1 Drill a hole in the center of the aluminum bar, just large enough to fit your screw.

2 Cut a little piece of tubing but make sure that you still have enough screw left to go through the aluminum bar and tightened on the other side with a nut.

3 Utilizing cardboard, (or in my case the lid from my cat's can of food), cut a little disc that will them be glued to the top of the screw.

4 Use the double sided tape to secure the piezo to the riser.

5 cut a small rectangle (or cube) from the sand block, remove the sand paper and leave just the spongy stuff, about the size of the piezo and stick it to the piezo using double sided tape. Make sure that the cables on the piezo face the bottom of the drum. (Ebay sells pre-made cones for those with Roland Modules, I make my own so I have not tried them).

6 Place the head piezo on that riser, and the rim piezo on the side of the drum as illustrated on the first picture. The rim piezo doesn't have to be too close to the rim, place more towards the middle of the drum or it will be too sensitive.

7 This last step is up to you.

If you have a really nice set of drums, don't drill on them!! I did that on mine because mine are cheap and I didn't detract from their "looks". if you do decide to drill make sure that the phono connector is large enough to go through the drum and can be properly secured. if you don't drill, you can make a small bridge and secure that connector to it, and connect your cable from the bottom of your drum.

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    5 Discussions


    6 years ago on Introduction

    If you want to hear my heavy accent trying to explain this look here:


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you very much for this. I have a question. Once you have triggered the drums, how do you associate it with a computer so you can really play sounds?


    6 years ago on Step 18

    You are correct Squozen, but it think it is cheaper to buy the piezos by themselves than to buy a card and get them from it. unless grandma sends a lot of those to you...


    6 years ago on Step 18

    A little tip: those annoying, audible greeting cards often have a piezo very similar to this inside them. I've been using them since the early 1980s in my own electronic drums as replacements to the triggers when they go out. Enjoy!

    Wow, thanks for posting this! It's so well documented! Also, you should post that video in the body of the instructable :)