Musical instruments are some of the most expensive pieces of equipment out there. Guitars are way over priced, amplifiers even more so, and good drums are equally as expensive. Of course you can always buy used gear, but making your own is the cheapest way to go. Plus ,depending on the sound and feel of the band, sometimes using homemade gear fits the vibe you want to give off.
Suitcase drums have become regularly used instrument in LoFi and Folk Based Indie music, but the drum we are going to be taking a look at today is specific to Shakey Grave's one man band suitcase drum. It's more complex than a suitcase being hit with a foot pedal. The suitcase itself becomes the drum in this instructable. A drum head and rim is installed into the suitcase.
This drum will sound good, be very portable, and can be mic'd up very easily. That and you can store other gear inside it. Along with that, there will also be a battery powered LED light bar installed on the inside that'll help you set the drum up on a dark stage.
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Step 1: Get Your Materials Together
There's a pretty big list of materials for this project. Between the tools and supplies, you'll have a decent amount of items. Before anything though, make sure you have a clean and safe workshop space to do this in. You'll need a decent amount of power tools and cutting the suitcase up will make a bit of a mess.
Here is the list of materials you'll need:
1 Old Samsonite Suitcase
1 Drum Rim (Choose your size according to size of suitcase)
1 Drum head to fit the rim
A ring of some sort that is the same circumference as your drum head (details explained later)
1 Kick Drum Pedal
Assorted hand tools (Screw Drivers, Xacto Knife, Hammer)
Hand Drill or Drill Press
Sharpie or Pencil
Hinges & Screws
9 Volt Battery & Terminal
330 ohm Resistor
Switch of your Choice
Solder & Soldering Iron
Skateboard Griptape or other rough material that sticks to the bottom of something
Step 2: Plan Out the Design
You're going to have to make quite a few measurements for this project to work out. Make sure you take all the size specs before doing anything else. Measure the whole suitcase to make sure you know what size drum head to use. I took it a step further and drew out the design of the project, just for personal reference.
The suitcase I'm working with is 22x14 so I have a decent amount of space to work with. An ideal size would be a few inches bigger, but this suitcase is still a very usable size.
Taking these steps prior to building will help increase your chances of getting it done right, plus its a good practice to make a habit of.
Step 3: Strip the Suitcase Out
Most Suitcases will be lined with some sort of fabric. Taking all this out will increase the resonance of the suitcase when it's hit with the kick pedal.
Take an Xacto knife or box cutter and just cut through the fabric and rip it out.
Afterwards I'd recommend rinsing your suitcase out, mine was pretty disgusting. I had to sand the old adhesive out of it and rinse out the old orange powder from who knows what that was in there too.
Step 4: Make the Light Bar
Before really getting into the suitcase I started off with just building the light bar. It will not be installed until the end though.
Find a somewhat thin piece of wood (the one I'm using is about 3/4 inch thick) and somewhere around a foot and a half. Take as many LEDs as you want to use, I'm using eight 10mm yellow LEDs apnd placing them two inches apart. Drill out holes on where you want your LEDs so that they fit snugly into the wood.
My piece of wood had some angles cut on the sides but I just used a table saw to take the ends off of it and make it straight.
I used a drill press and 13/64 bit to get the holes cut out right.
The rest of this is simple wiring. Lay down two strips of copper tape across the back of the wood then solder your LEDs in a series circuit. Connect the terminals to a switch, add the resistor between the switch and the tape, then the switch to the right parts of the copper tape and you're done.
For supporting the terminal, I put Velcro on the terminal and the light bar so the terminal wouldn't be hanging.
Put this piece aside for now.
Step 5: Line Up Your Kick Pedal
Before laying the drum head down to measure, set your kick pedal up at comfortable place for you. Kick the pedal and move it until you see where the beater strikes the drum flat. Mark the spot where it does so that way you can adjust your drum rim around the striking point, you don't want to install the drum head and miss the head every time you try and kick.
Step 6: Measure the Drum Rim
Part of what makes this drum superior to other designs is the drum structure attached to the front of the suitcase. Having this will give the suitcase a better sound and added depth.
So, take your drum rim and center it onto the front of your suitcase. I'm working with a 13 inch drum rim so I can get the most out of the suitcase, as well as actually be able to hit the drum head when i use the kick pedal, any smaller on this case and the pedal would have been missing the head. When you trace the circle of the drum rim onto your suitcase, measure at most one inch in from the initial trace, then trace a new circle.
The outer circle will mark as to where your drum rim will be screwed into the case and the inner circle will mark where you will make your cut.
If you cut the circle too big, the rim wont have a place to sit or be screwed into the case on.
Step 7: Make Your Cut
After measuring out the circle you are going to cut, take a hand drill and make a hole along the circle for where you want to start cutting. Then take your jigsaw and begin your cut.
After you make your cuts, go back with a sander or a Dremel tool and use the sanding wheel to round out the edges and clean it all up. If your drum head is clear, you don't want to see ugly cuts of vinyl in your drum.
Step 8: Make the Drum Structure
Here's the part that required further explanation. Since the drum head will need something to give it tension, you'll need a structure the head can go over. If you have an old tom drum that fits the size of your suitcase, then you'll just need to cut it in half and set it into the suitcase, and you're basically done. Since I didn't have that, I had to make my own. Here's how
You have to find some sort of ring that fits the drum head. Since my drum head was 13 inches, It was a little difficult to find something in that size. 12 inches is very easy because the top of a 5 gallon Home Depot bucket is exactly 12 inches. I tried soaking a thin strip of plywood and bending it into shape but it didn't work. After looking around I found that a stool i keep in my basement had a ring around it that was exactly 13 inches. I sawed the ring off the seat and it came out perfectly.
Step 9: Make the Drum Structure Pt. 2
So after you get the drum head structure sorted out, now you'll need a place for the drum rim to drill into on your drum. Re trace the same circles you traced onto the front of your suitcase onto a piece of plywood. Cut out the inner circle first then cut the whole circle out. Next lay your drum rim over your newly created wooden circle. Mark where the screws of the drum rim are then drill the holes out to the correct size.
Step 10: Install the Drum Rim
Take the wooden circle and lay it on the inside of the suitcase around the hole you cut. Drill out the holes you have drilled onto the wooden rim into the suitcase. Now, set your drum head with the ring you made into the drum rim and line up the screw holes on the drum rim and the suitcase. Start bolting them in until it is sturdy.
Step 11: Make the Rear Support
If you want your suitcase to stay standing when you hit it, you're going to have to make rear support structures. These supports are simple wooden structures used in conjunction with 2 inch metal hinges.
Take your pieces of wood and line them up on the back of your suitcase. I put them about 4 inches in from each side of the suitcase. Take the side of your pieces and line them up onto the suitcase, mark it so you don't lose place.
Keep your wood in place then take your brackets and find where they can meet flush with the wood & the suitcase. With my suitcase, it was basically in the middle of the wood where it fit. Mark where the brackets go, then screw them into the wood.
Step 12: Make the Rear Support Pt. 2
After attaching the hinges to the wood, set it back up where you had it marked on your suitcase. Mark and pre-drill some small holes where your screws will fit into the suitcase. Now screw the hinges to the suitcase and you have a well supported suitcase drum.
The best part of this structure is that you the two pieces can fold inwards and you can keep them together on the back of the suitcase using a latch or hitch, or even just Velcro or tape.
At this point you can install the light bar to the inside of the suitcase. I'm using even more Velcro to stick to the back of the bar then inside top of the suitcase to connect it easily and to where it'll be functional.
If you want, you can always paint or decorate the wood on the back so that your suitcase has a more pleasing look to it.
Step 13: Test Your Drum
Tune up the drum head then set up your kick pedal to what feels comfortable for you and hit it. If it stays standing, then you've probably done it right. The rear supports should keep your drum in place no matter how rowdy you may get. However, make sure you have traction on the ground. I recommend putting some kind of rubber pads, or even skateboard grip tape, on the bottom of the suitcase and/or the supports, this way you really wont ever have to worry about it moving.
Here is a short video of me testing out the drum as well.
Step 14: How to Mic Your Drum Up
Being that this drum can be opened up, you can fit a microphone directly into your drum to get the loudest sound you want. If You're playing a larger venue with this drum, that'll work best because you'll need more output to cover the sound through the PA.
You can mic this drum up with just about any mic you want. I'm using a Shure SM57 for a more sharp & direct sound.
If you're playing a smaller gig you can set the mic up next to the drum head to get a clearer sound, but with less impact.
For recording, you can basically mic up the drum anywhere depending on the sound you want. If you want a roomy sound for acoustic songs, place your mic a few feet away from the drum, if the drum is going to be your actual drum sound for electric songs or full band songs, definitely do a close mic to get a brighter and more direct sound.
Step 15: Take It on the Road
This drum is perfect for small gigs in cafes or bars, your drummer can set it up easily and store their pedals and sticks in it, and if you're doing a one man band show, you can store your guitar tools and picks in it. Its the most useful way to get around as bar level musician. And even if you aren't going out and gigging, what isn't fun about a suitcase drum? If you make this and it never leaves your house, you still have an instrument that could raise your level as a musician.