Which is better - rack or stand?
If you were to describe your dream drum set, you would most likely talk about brands, drum sizes, materials, craftsmanship, and appearance. After that, you'd discuss the cymbals.
However, for most drummers, the enthusiasm stops there. There's no trace of technical talk or even mention of the hardware (aside from the bass drum pedal and hi-hat, which aren't strictly hardware but can be considered instruments due to their function). Most drummers, if at all, are primarily impressed with certain hardware for aesthetic reasons.
On the one hand, this is easy to understand. Hardware doesn't produce sound; it can't be "played". It's ultimately just a kind of heavy and bulky coat rack. On the other hand, hardware deserves special attention. It should not only enhance the appearance of your set but also gently yet securely hold your drums and cymbals, be reliable, support the best sound, and above all, if you're often on stage or in the studio, save time and nerves!
Over time, two methods have emerged for positioning and securing drum components. Either stands (also called stands or stands) are used, or a drum rack (also simply called a rack) is set up.
Both variants have features that are neutral in themselves. There's no inherent "better" or "worse" in hardware. How the hardware works for you largely depends on what kind of drummer you are and what demands you place on your drum set! If you examine these aspects closely, you will find out which hardware is best suited for you.
After that, you can delve deeper, as both stands and drum racks each have their own detailed articles dedicated to them.
Table of Contents
- First impressions count, right?
- Why do you need stands?
- Why do you need a Drum Rack?
- The pros and cons of stands and drum racks from an objective point of view
- The three most important aspects from the drummer's subjective view
- Your musical and personal style as a drummer
- Setting up your drum set in light of your style
- Setting up your drum set from a transportation perspective
- Occasional transports
- Regular transports
- Let's summarize!
First impressions count, right?
The sight of a drum set surrounded by a drum rack may seem cage-like to some, or - depending on its design - like the cockpit of a spaceship. A drum set equipped with many stands, double stands, and additional arms brings terms like "forest of signs" to mind.
A small jazz set with a drum rack can quickly seem mismatched, and a large set with many stands can quickly feel overloaded. Whatever it may be, the first impression is probably purely aesthetic. As long as you have your drum set in one place and hardly ever dismantle and reassemble it, you can give aesthetics high importance.
The initial "fiddling" required to get everything hanging precisely where it should be is fundamentally the same for both drum racks and stands. But as soon as you want to transport your set more frequently, very different conditions and situations apply, and it's worth really grappling with the question of "drum rack or stands." It can save you a lot of time and frustration!
Why do you need stands?
The stand (also known as a holder or stand) is the classic solution for mounting cymbals. At the beginning of the history of the drum set as we know it today (early 20th century), the roles of the individual components were clear.
The mounts for the toms were directly attached to the bass drum (hence they were referred to as hanging toms), sometimes even for a smaller cymbal. Floor toms stood, and still stand today, on legs mounted to the drum. Finally, the cymbals were hung on three-legged straight stands. One stand per cymbal.
That was it.
Initially, the stands were very simply constructed. They were thin, and the legs consisted of a single strut. This was completely sufficient because the cymbals carried by the stands were relatively light. Over time, stands became not only much sturdier but also more versatile.
Boom arms, allowing for more flexible cymbal positioning, became increasingly popular. Today, many stands are designed so that the arm can be used both straight and as a boom. The legs of the stands are double-braced and can take up a larger footprint. The stands have become thicker and heavier overall.
Now it's possible not only to attach multiple cymbal arms to a stand base stably but also to attach tom arms on which even larger toms can be mounted.
This development went hand in hand with the evolution of the entire drum set. In the 1960s, musical styles began to diversify. This continued in the 1970s, aided in part by the ever-more sophisticated multi-track recording technology in studios that forever changed record production methods. There was no longer a need to make do with just two to four microphones; practically every single drum set instrument could be miked. As a result, drum setups became more layered.
Especially in rock music and related genres, many drums in the set were the trend. Two bass drums became standard, and the cymbals were large and heavy. Therefore, the stands also became large and heavy.
Since then, there have been further developments, some of which were technical, while others were simply fashion-driven. In the 1980s, especially deep drum shells were in vogue. The second bass drum became somewhat less significant, but the double bass drum pedal began its rise to prominence. The study of the vibration behavior of drum shells led to toms being hung on stands, making the mounting device on the bass drum largely obsolete.
For the toms, mounting systems that allow the drum to vibrate freely have now become standard. The design of the floor toms, due to the fixed connection of floor-legs-drum, inherently prevents them from vibrating freely. Thus, as drum design evolved, it was only a matter of time before floor toms became free-swinging hanging toms, mounted on stands. The growing number of stands in a set often causes setup problems, as the three legs of each stand often interfere with the legs of the neighboring stand. On modern stands, one of the legs is rotatable, making it more flexible to position on the floor.
So, even though the stand took on an increasingly pivotal role, literally and figuratively, it is still considered "accessory" equipment. And this accessory can be quite bothersome. It's heavy, takes up space, and often needs to be partially disassembled because of its bulkiness before it can be transported.
Why do you need a Drum Rack?
In the 1970s, initial experiments began with horizontal structures that were attached to the stands, connecting them. The crossbars allowed for fixed mounting of holding devices for toms, cymbals, and accessories. The idea was to reduce the need for stand legs, which take up a lot of floor space. Additionally, individual holders on each crossbar didn't need to be disassembled, as the crossbar could simply be removed as a whole.
However, there was a catch: this construction forced the stands into a fixed position since they formed the connection points of the crossbars, and crossbars were not available in every possible size. Furthermore, the more loaded the crossbars were, the more the stands were exposed to physical forces.
Though the system continued to evolve and found some popularity, it wasn't considered the original drum rack. The modern drum rack, as we know it, rose to prominence due to a key design improvement combined with an unbeatable pairing: a major brand backed by a legendary drummer as an endorser. It was Jeff Porcaro who, alongside Paul Jamieson, developed the drum rack as a completely free-standing construction. Crossbars, which weren't round but rectangular, gave the rack its stability. Pearl introduced the drum rack under the name DR-1 in 1983. And Jeff Porcaro became the face of the drum rack.
Four roughly one-meter-high tubes are connected using three rectangular struts. The two central tubes (feet) serve as a pivot point for the outer struts, allowing the drum rack to be assembled into a straight, narrowed, or expanded "U". The middle strut of this "U" runs across the bass drum. This is primarily where the mounting points (clamps fitting the rectangular strut) are fixed for the tom arms, on which the toms are hung. With the growing popularity of the drum rack, the term rack tom also became prevalent for the hanging tom. Another strut acts as a side strut alongside the hi-hat, holding cymbal arms using the same clamps. On the other side, the third strut runs alongside the floor toms, or in place of floor toms, larger rack toms and additional cymbals are hung.
Competing products quickly entered the market, not just from major drum brands, but also from companies specializing in hardware and accessories. The drum rack, especially for larger drum sets, now holds virtually the same importance as stands.
The development was somewhat different for electronic drums. An advantage of electronic drums is their potential for compactness. Since a drum rack also offers this advantage, it became a solution for E-drums quite early. On a lightweight rack, compact E-drums can be pushed together as one piece and easily fit even in a small car. Often, the mounts for the snare drum, hi-hat, and sound module are already integrated into the drum rack for E-drums.
So, stands play a less pivotal role for compact E-drums. They are more likely used in hybrid sets where stands are already in use instead of a drum rack. On the other hand, large E-drum sets, modeled after acoustic drums, are indeed also equipped with stands—the same ones used for acoustic drum sets.
The pros and cons of stands and drum racks from an objective viewpoint
Drum racks and stands both have the advantage that they can be individually adapted to the drum set. Their modular design also enables more complex solutions. The combination of two boom arms for cymbals on one stand is particularly popular with stands, as is the combination of a tom arm and a cymbal arm on one stand. Some people simply find stands more attractive than the drum rack. A fully assembled stand can quickly exceed a height of 1.50 m. For larger, heavy versions, the stand can span approximately 80 cm. This has a drawback in handling, as to transport the stand, at least the legs need to be folded. Often, folding or dismantling the arms is also necessary. The more stands you have, the greater the risk that their legs will interfere with each other on the floor. This can quickly become fiddly, especially when in a live or studio situation, other stands and cables for microphones must also be accommodated. Especially with complex drum setups, it's crucial to position the stands precisely to ensure the toms and cymbals don't interfere with each other. A common practice is to place the drum set with stands on a carpet specifically intended for this, on which markings made with tape precisely indicate where and how each stand is set up. With many stands, this helps a lot, but it can't prevent some fiddling if things are tight on the drum set. So stands, especially many stands, can be time-consuming!
However, what can be disadvantageous for assembly can also be viewed the opposite way. There are always situations where you want to set up your drums but space is tight. This isn't necessarily because the room is small. For example, at a city festival where several acts share a stage, even a large stage can quickly become crowded. With a tight schedule, it can easily become hectic. In this situation, stands can save a lot of time, stress, and frustration. They can be easily moved or left out entirely if it's not possible to set up the drum set in the usual way. This flexibility that stands offer is, of course, very advantageous.
Drum racks don't offer this flexibility. The drum rack itself must always be fully assembled, or at least its basic form (the "U") must be. So, the rack always occupies its space. Adjusting the rack doesn't help either, as you're simultaneously adjusting all the arms and nothing is in its place anymore. If tight space forces you to leave out some arms, you can't alternatively set them up elsewhere - you don't have a tripod available and would have to first release the clamps and attach them elsewhere. But that would mess up your finely adjusted position of the clamp. It's essential to have the required space available. Then, the drum rack shows its advantages. The markings on the carpet are limited to four positions for the feet of the drum rack (assuming a basic rack not extended by additional feet and bars), and the rack is quickly set up. Fine adjustments are not necessary and there's significantly more space on the floor for pedals and microphone stands. You could even attach the latter directly to the drum rack using the appropriate clamps. The time-saving advantage of the drum rack becomes even more noticeable compared to the stands, the larger or more comprehensive the setup is. One disadvantage that drum racks and stands share is the challenging handling of large drums. With the stand, you need to pay special attention to the lever effect. If only the drum is supposed to hang on the stand, it's necessary to position one of the legs directly under the drum so the setup doesn't just tip over. (The same applies to a far-extended boom arm on which a heavy ride cymbal hangs.) This limits the flexibility of the stand. With the drum rack, however, it can happen that it gets in its own way. This happens when the drum is large, especially deep, and is supposed to be mounted at an angle with a relatively short arm. The shell is likely to hit the crossbar of the drum rack. Not good. While this isn't an insurmountable problem, it initially requires a time-consuming examination of how to integrate your hardware into your drum set. If you want to change your setup once, you can assume that a change at one point will result in changes at one or more other points.
Now, you've received some information, but you still might feel like you're not any wiser. That's because, from an objective standpoint, stands and drum racks seem evenly matched in terms of pros and cons. It's high time, therefore, to expand our perspective. After all, it's not about which solution is better, but about which solution is better for you!
The three most important aspects from the drummer's subjective point of view
What's best for you doesn't primarily depend on the characteristics of the chosen system, but on:
- your style (or better: your attitude) as a drummer
- how your drum set is built, and
- how often and under what circumstances you're on the move.
That's why let's take a closer look at these three aspects.
Your musical and personal style as a drummer
The more established you are as a professional, the more defined your musical style will be. If you've managed to land a gig in a successful Schlager, Heavy Metal, or Musical show, you'll primarily have to "deliver" and stick to specifications. Things are tightly and professionally organized because it's about (a lot of) money and optimal time management! Maybe you're more interested in studio work or are a session drummer in several different bands. If you establish yourself in this area, you can get many jobs as a stylistic all-rounder. As you climb the career ladder, you'll either focus on a musical style for which you're specifically booked, or you're so good and versatile that just having your name on the album credits boosts sales.
As a beginner, you'll still need to find your musical style. Don't worry; it will develop over time. Just keep going. More relevant to our topic is the style you have as the person behind the drums. If you're a beginner, this personal style also needs to develop. It is closely related to your style (or character) as a person. For example, if you're someone who values order, you'll likely ensure your set is meticulously organized and maintained. Or are you a seasoned pro who's seen it all and could write books about your experiences before, on, and behind the stage? Then you probably don't care about the state in which you find things; you take what's there and create music from it. Maybe you thrive in creative chaos. Then you'll always want to try new things and always be in motion. Do you recognize yourself in any of these descriptions? Can you already determine, based solely on your personal style, whether a drum rack or stands suit you better?
Configuring your Drum set in light of your style
If you're not a professional yourself, you might think that your role models who "made it" enjoy maximum freedom regarding creativity and equipment. While this might be true financially, there's also a significant downside! The higher you climb in the professional league, the more you must adhere to clichés, or the business doesn't work. No Hip-Hop without the Gangsta style, no R&B without dancers, no solid rock show without pyro effects. This, of course, also applies to instruments and their setup! A heavy metal band with a jazz set with an 18-inch bass drum and two small toms would be simply laughable.
There are not only content-related but also external expectations, and as a pro, you need to meet these. In reality, this narrows the configuration of your drum set. For you as a studio drummer, the opposite is true. You share responsibility with the stage pro regarding your perfectly functioning setup. But in the studio, you must be flexible and able to quickly adapt your set, for instance with different snare drums, entirely different drumheads on the toms, an alternative cymbal set, or a reprogrammed sound module. Often, the studio also has various equipment on hand that is frequently used. As a studio drummer, you need to cope with this. However, if you're still a beginner or pursue drumming as a hobby, you indeed have the most freedom since you're not tied down. But that doesn't mean you don't need to think. Especially as a beginner, you should ensure you have a suitable set! (Find out how to choose the right drum set for beginners in our article "Das richtige Drumset für den Anfänger").
Configuring your Drum set considering transport
If your drum set is permanently set up at home or in the practice room and almost never transported, the choice between stands and a drum rack plays only a minor role for you. If you often rearrange and reorient, you'll likely find it easier with stands. Otherwise, you can prioritize your preferences with confidence. This changes once you occasionally or even regularly need to transport your drum set. As we've already discussed style, it's clear that different musical or personal styles strongly influence the decision for the drum rack or stands. You can directly apply this principle to the aspect of transport. The question is whether you only have a small car (or, in the worst case, no car at all), or you can use an estate car or even a minibus or sprinter.
With modern good stands, you can fold the legs and retract the boom. In the end, you essentially have a straight construction that, along with other stands, fits well in a traditional stand box. This is a box made of sturdy cardboard with a thin wooden bottom, about 1.20 m long, and about 30 cm wide and deep. There's a handle on one side and a pair of wheels on the other. The lid, made of sturdy cardboard, is secured with two or three straps. When well-packed, it can weigh between 30-40 Kg. Such a box can still fit relatively easily in a small car, by folding the back seats and/or loading the box lengthwise or diagonally. In an estate car, the box might fit across as well. However, storing a drum rack is trickier. The advantage of quickly setting up a drum rack is quickly lost if your car is small. In addition to the length of the crossbars, there's also the height of the feet. Transporting the rack as a fixed "U" in the car will rarely work, especially if the cymbal and tom arms are still in the clamps. Thus, the arms must be removed from the clamps. Then you can loosen the crossbars and fold them, transforming the expansive "U" into a stretched "I." This way, you can lay the drum rack with the mounted feet in the trunk. But you're still far from done. The removed arms also need storage. The stand box is, of course, an obvious solution. However, to accommodate the arms easily in the stand box, you'll have to fold them.
In other words, to transport a drum rack in a standard car effectively, you'll have to mostly dismantle (and later reassemble) it. From this perspective, the drum rack doesn't offer any advantage over stands! The comfort and time savings associated with drum racks are only noticeable as the size of the transport vehicle increases. A family minivan might make folding the "U" into an "I" unnecessary. A sprinter van will easily accommodate the entire rack, including the mounted arms. You'll just have to secure it. The van is, therefore, not the only possible but by far the best solution if you occasionally travel with your drum set. While the drum rack travels "naked," the drums are stored in nylon bags or hard cardboard cases (affectionately called hat boxes), which you can store individually in the vehicle as needed.
For you as a professional often on tour, the aspect of transport appears differently. Everything must withstand the harsh treatment of touring while being as time-saving and lightweight as possible. You won't get around using flight cases, custom-made to fit your drum set. They're sturdy, rollable, and large. You'll need a sprinter or truck with a ramp to transport such flight cases. If you're touring as a pro, you probably have a drum tech who takes care of your set, loads and unloads it, sets it up and breaks it down, and maintains it. Make the job as easy as possible for your drum tech, as touring is very demanding! Ideally, he can unload the flight cases so that when setting up your drum set, he always extracts exactly the part he needs.
If your drum set has stands, one of the cases will have a compartment for them. In rare cases, stands can remain completely assembled for storage in cases; they simply take up too much space. However, for the drum rack, it's possible to leave it partially assembled. If the flight case is tall enough, you can simply loosen the crossbars to change the "U" into an "I," saving a lot of space. The arms might need to be pulled out of the clamps but can be stored in compartments in the case without having to be folded. Thus, drum racks are slightly more advantageous for professional touring, given the right conditions.
Both drum racks and stands have their pros and cons, making it impossible to label one as "better" or "worse."
Whether a drum rack is more suitable for you than stands largely depends on your positioning as a drummer.
- Beginner/Hobby drummer: You can base the choice between a rack and stands on your personal taste. If you are a tinkerer who often redesigns everything, stands are probably a better choice for you because they are more flexible to handle.
- Studio drummer/Session drummer: You regularly face new musical tasks and need a flexible set. Hence, you should prefer stands.
- Permanent drummer of an established show: Your primary role is to "deliver," and you'll have more creative freedom depending on how much the show is focused on you. A drum rack is probably more practical, but it also depends on the technical and visual requirements of the show. If you have a drum tech: make their job as easy as possible!
- Very large drum set with many components: The larger and more complex the drum set, the more the advantages of the rack come into play. The effort to set everything up perfectly is high at first but worth it.
- E-Drums: For compact E-Drums, special lightweight and compact drum racks are obligatory. For large E-Drum sets that mimic acoustic drums, the same racks and stands are used under the same considerations as with acoustic sets.
- Stationary drums: If the drum set is hardly ever moved, you can base the choice between a rack and stands on your personal taste.
- Occasional transport in a small vehicle: Due to the necessary disassembly, all advantages of the drum rack are nullified. You're better off with stands for small vehicles.
- Occasional transport in a Sprinter: You can leave the drum rack fully assembled. This saves time and effort. Ensure proper strapping of the rack in the cargo area and cover it with blankets to protect it from scratches.
- Regular transport on tour: You need to invest in flight cases, which require at least a sprinter with a loading ramp. If you have enough space available in the truck, a solution with a drum rack in a (relatively large) flight case pays off in no time.
It's clear that your individual situation will change over time, especially if you've just started making music. Always keep an eye on what makes the most sense for you. But don't forget that sometimes rules need to be broken. If it feels right for you - then it is right!