Going out on the road is every aspiring drum legend’s dream. Touring across the country can be incredible. You meet new people, develop a following, play hard, and party like there’s no (gig) tomorrow. But the road can also be fraught with danger.
I’m not talking about drugs and groupies here. I mean, sure, but that’s a totally different article. I’m talking about the dangers to your precious drums. After all, you’ve put as much as you can afford into your drums, tuned them, modified them, and maybe even rocked them to sleep a few times. Now you have to take them on the road.
Well, my friends, that’s what drum cases are for. And if you haven’t got a set yet, let’s go through some of the best drum cases out there and find the perfect set for you…
Why Drum Cases?
The road is going to make mincemeat of your precious drums! If you strike down and just pile them up in the back of a van unprotected, these things are going to happen.
- Your skins will get dented or even punctured. At best, this will throw off the tuning. At worst, your drums will be unplayable for the next gig.
- Your shells will get scratched, dented, and even splintered. Your drums are pretty. Keep them that way.
- Your hardware will get scratched, dented, bent, or even broken. Let me be the first to tell you – a two-legged cymbal stand doesn’t exactly work as well as a tripod.
And that’s just your drums. Your cymbals can get scratched, chipped, or warped, but let’s leave cymbal cases for another time. The bottom line is that you’ve invested a lot into your drums (or worse – you’ve borrowed a set) so protect them. A drummer without drums is a wacko hitting air with wooden sticks, and I know you don’t want to be that wacko.
Types of Drum Cases
Oh, so I’ve got your attention? Great. Now let’s see the worst and best ways to protect your drums. We’ll start from the worst, just because it’s funny and pathetic, but so many drummers still do it. Are you ready for it?
Yes, some drummers carry a supply of blankets that they leave in the van and use to wrap their drums when they load up. Sure, blankets do provide a teeny tiny bit of protection from drum-on-drum scratches, but give me a break.
Any serious impact will go right through and render your blankets useless. And besides, you know they’re always going to get stolen on those cold nights crashing at people’s houses or sleeping in the van.
Okay, now we’re starting to talk about real protection. Drum bags are exactly what they sound like they are. These are (almost invariably) black durable synthetic cloth bags lined with soft foam on the inside. They’re usually zippered and have good, strong handles for carrying them around.
Drum bags are the best choice for new touring drummers or drummers who don’t gig around too often. You can easily find bags that fit your drums, with most brands selling a few different sets to cover nearly all the variety of sizes that drums come in.
They’re usually cheap, too, with a full 5-piece set costing of decent bags costing between $100-150. So unless your drums aren’t worth protecting, there’s not any reason not to get a set.
Hard Plastic Cases
If you want to take a step up, I applaud you. Hard plastic cases are generally made in the same way. They’re essentially hard plastic boxes that are lined with foam on the inside. A lined lid fits over the case, and then it’s usually strapped closed. They usually have handles to make them easy to carry, and a few have built-in wheels.
Hard cases offer high levels of protection for your drums, but they’re also a lot more expensive than soft bags. Each case may set you back around $100. So I wouldn’t recommend them for the drummer who moves their drums only occasionally.
Also, as a rule of thumb, your cases shouldn’t cost more than your kit. I know that sounds basic, but you’d be surprised how often I’ve been waiting curiously to see what will pop out of some particularly nice road cases. Only to be disappointed by a cheap beginner kit.
ATA Road Cases
Now, if you have a pretty nice drum kit and you are doing some serious touring, it might be time to invest in ATA Road Cases. These are strong, lined trunks with wheels that carry instruments and other equipment that has to be perfectly protected.
ATA stands for an old organization, the Air Transport Association of America, which used to rate these cases. They’re made of hard panels of metal, wood, or laminated plastic with molded corners and edges in steel or aluminum. Therefore, they are among the best drum cases you can buy.
ATA road cases can handle pretty much any damage you can throw at them. They’re also wheeled, so they can be loaded into venues and back onto trailers easily. However, they’re big, heavy, and, of course, expensive. That said, they are some of the most durable drum bags you can buy.
About the only thing better than an ATA road case to protect your drum set is a force field. Let me know if you find a good supplier. This ForceField is all I could find, and I don’t think it will do the trick.
Best Drum Bags
Let’s take a peek at some of the drum bags out there that can save your drums from a serious beating.
These five bags fit a pretty standard 5-piece kit: 22” bass drum, 12” and 13” toms, 14” snare drum, and 16” floor tom. They’re lined with 0.4-inch (10mm) foam, and their nylon fabric looks pretty durable. The zips might not hold up for ages, though, but at least they’re cheap!
The sizes are the same, but this set seems a lot more durable. The simple handles are made of tough seatbelt-like material. The zips are of better quality, and the foam seems a bit denser. For a little over $150, you’re looking at a pretty good deal here.
Drum maker Tama has a set of bags to compare as well. These bags are again a little bit sharper looking and a little bit better in the quality department. The sizes are the same except for 10” and 12” toms, rather than 12” and 13”.
These are all sets of individual bags – one per drum. But recently, we’ve seen a bit of ingenuity in the drum bag department. Now you can get multi-drum bags that fit your whole tom set, or at least a 3-piece tom set.
At 45 inches long, it can take your floor tom and usually two rack toms stacked vertically. There are soft padded dividers that strap on between the drums so that they don’t collide in transport. The floor tom legs and fit in an external pocket, along with some sticks and a drum key and tuner.
But the best part of this bag is that it has wheels. You can pull it along like a carry-on bag through the airport or into any gig you’re heading to. As a result, it’s one of the best travel drum bags you can buy.
Best Hard Plastic Drum Cases
Moving up from soft drum bags, you should expect to pay a lot more and receive a heck of a lot better protection from hard plastic cases. These shell cases can protect your drums from scratches and dents. But also serious impacts like getting dropped or slammed in a door. Even if you roll the van, you might still be in luck, unless one of the cases hits you in the head!
Protechtor Series Floor Tom Case (18”x16”) or Bass Drum Case (22”x18”)
Once again, Gator Cases makes some quality hard cases for your drums. They’re made from thick molded plastic and lined inside with thick closed-cell foam. The lids strap shut, and they have rubber-coated steel handles to make carrying easier.
But you’ll see that each is well over $100. Throw in a snare and a couple of tom cases, and you’re looking at an easy $500-600 for your cases.
SKB is another brand making some of the best hard drum cases out there. These are made from some real heavy-duty plastic shells and strong webbing straps. The handles flip up and stop at 90 degrees to make carrying easy. And the foam inside is thick and strong. That said, just a 14” x 6.5” single drum case will set you back over $100.
If you want to pick up a set, you can get yourself a bit of a better deal. This package gives you cases for the three biggest drums in your kit. A 22”x18” bass drum case, a 16”x16” floor tom case, and a 12”x10” tom case. This set is nearly $500 on its own, and you’ll probably have more drums to go, plus hardware.
Like I said, hard cases don’t come cheap – but are they worth it? Well, you’d pay through the nose for a safe car seat for your kid, right? How are your drums any different?
Don’t answer that, especially in front of the wife.
Best ATA Road Cases
If you want, and, quite frankly, can afford the best of the best for your drums, then nothing other than ATA road cases will do. These hard and ultra-durable wheeled cases protect your babies from everything short of a tornado or a plane crash. They usually have wheels to help them load and unload like a dream. And they cost an awful lot.
Roadie Products, Inc. (great name!) has an 18”x16” case for toms that’s over $200. So multiply that for each piece in your kit, and you’ll start to wonder if you need to take out a second mortgage. But then look at the specs.
This case is made from durable laminated ¼” plywood and lined with quality foam. The edges are all protected with extruded aluminum, and the eight corners are steel balls that are totally bash-proof. Unfortunately, there are no wheels on this single case, though.
If you want to go bigger, you can fit two floor toms or a floor tom and two smaller rack toms in this case. Also, by Roadie Products, Inc., this one has all the same specs but also has strong caster wheels. And can save you a bit of money as it’s $300+ for a two to three drum case.
So far, I’ve only talked about the best drum cases, bags, and boxes you put your actual drums in. Well, we all know that hardware is just as much of an issue for transportation, or maybe even more so since it’s so heavy and awkward. Once again, you’ve got three different levels of protection.
A soft hardware bag is the cheapest option and often enough for the average drummer to keep hardware protected. I like this one because it’s pretty darn tough. It can fit about four or five stands easily at a size of about 34” x 6” x 8”.
This bag is padded well and has quality zippers. It has strong handles and a single shoulder strap which you’re going to need. There’s also an outside pocket for sticks, etc.
A hard plastic case for your hardware. It has a hard shell lined inside with sturdy foam, just like the brand’s drum cases. The difference here is that it’s on wheels. There’s a handle on one end and two wheels on the other so you can pull it behind you.
At 36” x 16” x 12”, this one case can probably handle all of your hardware, but that will make it super heavy. You’ll be thankful for those wheels, even though I think they could be even bigger.
And finally, if you’re looking for the best, choose the best ATA road case for drums. It measures 32” x 14” x 10.5” on the inside, so it should handle all of your hardware too. Like the Gator Case, this box has two wheels on one end to help you wheel it behind you.
It’s made from plywood and aluminum trim plus steel ball corners, all riveted together for durability. The inside is foam-lined, but you may still want to individually wrap each stand as you put them inside.
Looking for Great Drums or Drum Accessories?
We can help you find what you need. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Snare Drums, the Best Drum Practice Pads, the Best Bass Drum Pedals, the Best Portable Drum Kits, the Best Drum Thrones, the Best Drum Tuners, and the Best Drumsticks you can buy in 2021.
The Best Drum Cases – Final Thoughts
They certainly aren’t blankets! I don’t know why I’m so fixated on the whole blanket thing. I just really feel strongly about protecting drums the way some people feel about street dogs or stray children, I guess.
If you’re moving your drums around at all, let’s say at least once or twice a month, get yourself some bags for protection. If you’re a touring or heavy gigging drummer, you know you need to protect your kit from devastation. Pick out your choice of hard cases or even ATA road cases if you’re a real pro.
I’d say your drums will thank you, but the truth is that you will thank yourself – your drums are used to enough abuse when you are playing them as it is.
Until next time, let the beat go on.