Drum Conversion: Making Low Volume Drums

Before we can make high-tech super drums, we have to make quiet drums that can stand up.

In this series…

When I was acquiring my new (very old) Percussion Plus drums, it was easy to overlook their flaws and marvel at their overall great condition. Now, with the set safely transported from Missouri to my basement in Southern Illinois, it was time to really take inventory.

To start the transformation to a hybrid electronic drum set, they had to be put together correctly (they weren’t), they needed to make a complete set (no again), and they needed to be modified to minimize acoustic sound so I can control the sound electronically when we’re done.

Assembly and repair

I think I hate this snare drum

One of the great things about an electronic drum set conversion is it takes away a lot of issues you have to look for with an acoustic set, especially an aging one. The seller was very upfront about a torn resonant head on the snare drum (the side you don’t hit), for example. Because we’re going to modify the top heads and use sensors to read the hits later, the bottom head on these drums really don’t even need to be there. Plenty of players cut holes in bottom heads to run cables or leave them off entirely. I happened to have a leftover head on a shelf, so I went ahead and put it on. I like the look of complete drums, but I’m leaving all possibilities open for the future.

I also noticed the top and bottom rims on the snare drum were significantly warped, to the point that it was difficult to change and tighten the heads. This can happen because the drum has been dropped, stored weird, or if someone habitually tightens and loosens the lugs in a circle instead of a star pattern like some kind of neanderthal. It’s an all-metal snare with a Cannon sticker on it, it definitely was not part of the original set, and I’m realizing that I hate it very much. I’m quietly keeping an eye on ebay and Facebook Marketplace for a black-wrapped wood CB 700 snare like I had when I was a little kid. More likely, a virtually free snare drum of some other kind will pop up on Marketplace, and I’ll go risk getting robbed again.

Is this bass drum built…backwards?

I have to admit I didn’t notice this before getting the drums home, but the bass drum heads were on backwards. In the Marketplace photos, the toms were even mounted that way, so the arms were on the side closest to the player, and the toms were pushed out even further toward them. The kick pedal would have been directly under the toms, which would have been a crazy way to play if anyone did. Obviously, switching the heads around is an easy fix.

I noticed considerable rust on the kick drum hoops. These are the “rims” of the kick drum, they’re just a little fancier. I’m still mentally struggling with this part because I could have sworn these sets had wooden hoops in the past. In researching this, I was able to find photos of their kick drums with hoops in chrome and black versions. This may be why the chrome rims stood out to me. I think mine were originally all black. That was better, because with age, the ones I just bought were looking rough.

Having no idea what to do about rust on anything I went to YouTube and found this guy’s approach which is basically to gently rub rusty surfaces with some aluminum foil and WD-40 and wipe away the resulting gunk that comes off. I’m here to tell you it works.

Here’s your reminder to go light with WD-40 and keep it off your skin. God only knows.

Keep in mind that this should not involve a ton of pressure. It’s a chemical reaction that is doing the actual cleaning. It should feel more like you’re gently smoothing out the surface. Where there are already dings, scratches, etc., it will be difficult to completely eliminate discoloration, but I was pleasantly surprised how far this method went.

After a relatively short work session, I felt like I’d set the clock way back on these hoops.

This worked so well, I went ahead and treated some of the claw hooks and tension rods that had some rough spots. I was grateful not to be replacing all the hardware on the drum or possibly the whole set. Shining it up was the least I could do. The only parts I outright replaced were all the bass drum washers (I had a set left over from when I upgraded my regular set to nylon) and one singular screw and washer from inside the drum which had totally rusted together. No idea what happened there. I was able to find fitting replacements out in the garage.

I got the hardware and heads back on (correctly) and, suddenly, the drums themselves were restored to a much prouder time.

New surfaces

Mesh heads

One of the driving principles of an acoustic to electronic drum conversion is to reduce the acoustic sound as much as possible and let the drum module or the computer you’re connected to create the sound based on the signals it receives. Older electronic sets did this by replacing drum heads with rubber pads (similar to what you might practice on) with sensors inside to send signals. Since the last time I was active in this world, most of the industry has moved on to tension-adjustable mesh heads. These create a bouncier feeling than a typical drum head, but they feel better than hitting rubber pads, and they’re very quiet.

Sadly, mesh heads are a bit of a specialty item, and there aren’t as many options as I’d like. These come in 1-, 2-, and even 3-ply variations and affordable mesh heads start at 2-3 times the cost of standard heads. I spent some time shopping around because, if I went nuts with this step, the heads would cost more than the drums. Finding 5-piece packs in the right sizes narrowed things down even further which led me to try sourcing the five I’d need independently. Unfortunately, many brands weren’t available in the sizes I needed at the same time.

When I was about to give up hope and/or spend too much, I found that Musician’s Friend had a Pearl mesh head pack in “standard” sizes (12, 13, 14, 16, and 22″) for $85. I see now that, after I ordered them, they went to backorder. It may be interesting trying to find future sets.

I’ve heard a lot of folks say you don’t really want to play on single-ply mesh heads. Double-ply seems to be the sweet spot, while triple-ply may interfere a bit with triggering. triple-ply prices greatly exceed anything I’m likely to pay for heads, so I doubt I need to worry about it.

Maybe I can chalk it up to growing up broke, but I’m often very okay with things that make other drummers positively miserable. I won’t call it snobbery on their side, I don’t blame anyone for good taste, but maybe I’ve developed a certain adaptability that might be uncommon among our ranks. I suspected this was the case with single-ply mesh heads, and I think I was right. I love the look of Evans’ pricey 2-ply dB One series at a whopping $175, for example, but when I got my Pearl heads, even before I pushed my luck by experimenting with tightening, they felt just fine. Plus, I can tell it’s going to be very cool being able to see through them so well to get a look at the internal triggering components when they’re installed.

Rim covers

Just like we don’t want super loud drumhead pops, we don’t want accidental rim clacking, either. There’s a simple setup during triggering design that allows you to treat the rims as totally separate instruments, if you want to get that fancy. The widely accepted solution here is to cover the rims with some kind of protective barrier, usually in rubber. This seems like it’s become kind of a racket all its own.

If you piece together a standard set’s worth of this trim from Pintech (I’m picking on them because it’s the first Googleable solution), you’ll come in just under $50 to cover the rims. UFO Drums sells a similar product by the foot on ebay for $3.85/ft. which would have actually cost me more at $57.75 before shipping.

I was starting to consider skipping this step completely because it looks cool but, ultimately, it’s not worth it for another 50-60 bucks. First, I started looking at rubber U Channel with similar measurements but intended for general non-percussion purposes.

Boy, I’m glad I did.

A brand called SZKXMJ on Amazon will sell you 19.8 feet of trim channel matching the drum product measurements almost identically for $13.99. This will cover the rims on a standard 5-piece kit with room to spare. I got the whole job done under $15 and the fit was amazing.

The name brand difference here represents a trend in drum and accessory pricing that’s been prohibitive since I was a poor kid, and I don’t mind a bit doing something small to disrupt it now (I hope to do more later). If you want to have a career in drums and parts, great. You don’t need to get rich off of broke musicians.

New parts


When I was looking over these drums at the seller’s house, one of the last things he said to me was, “Hey, I think I put a hi-hat stand in the photo. Do you want me to go look for it?”

He had, but my answer was a polite “no.” I knew very well that if I wanted this to work, I was going to have to substitute all of the normal Percussion Plus stands and cymbals. They’re cheap and wobbly, and I’ve absolutely had them fall over during a show.

Decent stands are more expensive than you’d like for them to be, and a bad one can fail on you when you’re counting on it most. I still don’t want to pay $50-100 per stand, so this was another shopping chore.

Amazon had one deal that stood out above the rest. For $113 flat, you can get new stands for a snare drum, hi-hat, ride cymbal and a boom arm stand for a crash cymbal, all from a brand called Griffin. I still wanted one more crash stand, but this knocked out a ton of my hardware shopping. The gear looked decently sturdy in the photos, so I took a chance.

This was a big win. Griffin sells solid hardware at great prices. They offer drums too, and after this, I’d be inclined to keep them in mind. There were some small variations from the photos, but I actually liked those too. The hi-hat felt and hardware had red accents, and I think that made it the coolest looking hi-hat stand I’ve probably ever had. The locking mechanisms are designed perfectly. I have no negative feedback here of any kind.

Unfortunately, the closest comparable crash stand I could get here in a timely fashion for that last cymbal I wanted set me back $50. A rare pricing L for this project. It comes from Starfavor, and it’s another great piece of hardware. I would have just loved to find a deal. I threw this in the Amazon cart while on vacation and the task was starting to take up a lot of my time. I could have done better here.


I didn’t know “mute” or “low volume” cymbals existed before about three weeks ago. Now, I’m not sure I’d buy any other kind unless I was outfitting an acoustic set for a concert in public.

I recently heard from a rep for Guitar Center (they finally caught wind of all this) and we chatted a bit about our backgrounds and what we’re up to. I probably won’t do more business with GC for practical purposes, but I’m always happy to talk to a musician. When I told him I planned to go it alone and do this hybrid conversion, he said he’d done the exact same thing, and says it’s the cymbals that set these kits apart. This was an eye-opening statement because he’s right; you can spend $9,000 on a similar set from top brands, and you’re still smacking cymbals made of some combination of rubber and plastic.

Low volume cymbals, on the other hand, offer a fantastic playing experience. They look real because they basically are, they’re just drilled with many holes to control the reverb and volume. They’re still loud enough that, for a jam night at the house, I wouldn’t hesitate to use them. Some edrum enthusiasts cover the edges with that same rubber U channel to bring the volume down even further. I’m undecided on this step, but I can understand why it’s done.

I found a set that I love called “Mosico” for about $67. This came with a 20″ ride, 18″ crash/ride, 16″ crash, and 14″ hi-hat, everything I was hoping to add for one price. For different prices you can get these in the traditional gold, bright blue or red, multi-color, or different packages with varying sizes and accessories. They look and feel great.

Their trigger systems for the cymbals will be more complicated than the drums, so I’m pushing that step further back and enjoying how nice their are on their own for the moment.


I’m carefully tracking my investments for this project and keeping a running total of everything I buy or order that I won’t reuse for future projects. Here’s where we’re at so far:

  • 5-piece Percussion Plus drum set: $150
  • Pearl mesh heads: $85
  • Rubber U-Channel Edge Trim: $14
  • Snare and cymbal stands from Griffin and Starfavor: $163
  • Mosico Low Volume Cymbals: $67

Total: $479

This is very apples-to-oranges, but even before we start the electronic overhaul, what we have here is a like-new acoustic set, modified for quiet practice with upgraded hardware, cymbals, and heads, for probably half or less of the cost of their market value.

I have already learned a couple of lessons for next time. Basically, every time I said, “Aww. I was hoping there was a cheaper way,” there was. I told a friend I suspected there was a way to buy suitable mesh material in large quantities, cut the skins from old head hoops, and make my own mesh heads. Sure enough, people are doing it, including “mikejl47” on Instructables who succeeded at almost exactly what I envisioned, and it came out looking great. Basic home repair mesh starts at about $9 for a roll measuring 48″ by 118″, and while I haven’t done the exact math here, it’s clear I would save a fortune this way, even if I decided to do 2-ply heads.

The last crash stand I needed was a patience issue. I’m kind of surprised I gave in and bought that. Again, I was trying to round up parts to have ready to roll when we got back from family vacation, and I’d just been burned by $22 shipping I didn’t notice on the first ebay auction I ever won (it was for a ddrum DDTI trigger interface, and we’ll be talking about it soon), so the safety of Amazon kept me on the hook. The product is super nice, but the stand greatly outvalues even the cymbal it’s holding. This alone caused the stands in total to cost more than the drums. Dumb.

Coming Up

It’s time to go electronic! Next, I’ll be testing the trigger components by themselves (spoiler: there’s already very good news on this) and seeing if we can get our first tom fully converted.

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