Steve Smith's Drum Talk:
My Setup and Equipment Part 1: The Early Years

My first drum set was a Rogers Champagne Sparkle with a 20 BD, 5x14 snare, 8x12 rack tom and a 16x16 floor tom. The kit was a Christmas present from my parents in 1965 when I was in the sixth grade. I had already been taking lessons for two and a half years, but I only had a practice pad.

During that time, the only real drum I played was in the school concert band, using their snare drum when we rehearsed and played concerts. Shortly after that, I got a job delivering newspapers and saved up the money to buy my first ride cymbal and hi hats: 14" A Zildjian Hi Hats and a 24" A Zildjian ride (I still have the ride and recently used it on the Count's Jam Band recording).

Buddy Rich was my hero and he was playing Rogers drums at that time, so I was proud to be playing the same drums the master played. That kit served me well for many years, all throughout high school and into my first year at Berklee in 1972. Unfortunately the kit was stolen in Boston, along with the car that the drums were in!

Over the next few years I had a variety of different kits, from a Slingerland (once again, the drums Buddy was currently endorsing), to a Fibes, (one of my new heroes, Billy Cobham, was playing Fibes), and Gretch. The Gretsch kit was the hippest; it was the same as the one Tony Williams used with Miles and Elvin Jones used at the time: 18 BD, 8x12 rack tom and a 14x14 floor tom.

I found a great used 22" K Zildjian cymbal at Harvey Simon's Drum Shop in Boston completing my jazz setup -- I was be-boppin' and free-jazzin'!! I still have that cymbal and used it on the new Vital Info record, Show 'Em Where You Live. I also had another Gretsch kit with a 20 BD and some Pearl concert toms (this was a configuration that Steve Gadd was using in the early 70s and was I very into Gadd).

In October 1976, I auditioned for Jean-Luc Ponty and got the gig. For the first tour, I put a kit together combining drums from my two Gretsch kits: 20 BD (white), 8x12 (dark stain), 9x13 (white), 14x14 (dark stain), 16x16 (white).

At the end of the tour, Jean-Luc asked me to buy a large double bass kit "like Billy Cobham," to quote him. He didn't think my kit looked cool (it didn't) and it wasn't powerful enough to deal with the high volume and energy of that band.

I remember seeing Bernard Purdie at a drum clinic at Wurlitzer Music in Boston and he was playing Sonor drums. I thought they sounded great and he described in detail how advanced the hardware and construction of the equipment was. I tracked down the US distributor, Charles Alden Music, and in January 1977, purchased my first Sonor kit and they signed me up with an entry level endorsement. The configuration was: double 24 BD, 10, 12, 13, 14 rack toms, 16 and 18 floor toms. Now I was ready to play some high energy fusion!!

I had played Zildjian Cymbals from the very beginning. I grew up only a few miles from the Zildjian factory and I even visited there when I was a kid. My first drum teacher, Billy Flanagan, knew the Zildjian family. I got to know Armand Zildjian and Lennie DiMuzio in the mid 70s, when I was playing around the East Coast with the Lin Biviano Big Band. Lin had played with Buddy Rich and Maynard Ferguson for years, and his band was made up of Buddy and Maynard alumni, so the Zildjian folks were big supporters of the band. But my official endorsement with Zildjian didn't start until 1979, after I was a member of Journey for one year.

I had always used Remo drum heads, starting with the white Ambassadors moving into the clear Ambassadors on the toms and bass drum, by the time I was touring with Ponty.

After I had been playing with Ponty for a few months I scheduled a meeting with Remo Belli, the owner of the Remo drum head company. I wanted to become a Remo endorser, but he told me to come back in a few years. He laid out the endorsement game very clearly and I respected him for it. Remo told me: "It's great that you have this Jean-Luc Ponty gig right now, but we're interested in people who will be around for a while. Come back in a few years, if you're still recording and touring on an international level, and then we'll talk." I continued to use Remo heads and went back to see him in a few years when I was a member of Journey and he signed me on as an endorser.

During this period, I became a Vic Firth stick endorser. When I was at the Berklee College of Music, (1972-1976) Vic was already a legend around my hometown of Boston for his work with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and his teaching at New England Conservatory. When the word was out that he was making sticks, I checked them out and immediately liked them.

During my years with Journey (1978-1985), I used the 2B model, in 1986 when I played with Steps Ahead I moved to the Harvey Mason Signature model. A year or two later I used the 5A model until Vic and I designed my own Steve Smith Signature model in the early 90s.

During the Journey years, I played and endorsed DW pedals and have been using them ever since. Their innovative chain pedal was perfect for the high energy rock I was playing with Journey.

Recently I have become and endorser of Shure Mics and Joe Porcaro cases, both are very high quality products that I'm happy to use.

Go to Part II: My Set-Up Today...

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Drummer Magazine, 2007 (PDF)
Modern Drummer (three parts)
Choosing the Right Equipment
The Art of Practice (an excerpt)
Interview with Rhythm Magazine
Drums du jour: Dealing with Rental Drums
Vital Reading: My Favorite Music Books
Learning from Mentors
My Setup and Equipment: The Early Years
My Setup and Equipment: My Setup Today