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   The first set of drums I owned were some off-name kit - I don't even remember. I DO remember they were a pearl gray finish and my parents bought them. It was basically a guilt thing, although I didn't know it at the time. My father had a dance band and it seemed he had to fire one of his sidemen, whose wife just happened to be the band teacher in Junior High. Shortly after her husband was let go, she gave me the boot from the band (I have to admit I did give her a good excuse!). Tit for tat. My parents felt somewhat responsible, so they bought me a set of drums. I added a second rack tom because it looked cooler.

   In the late 70s I purchased a set of Ludwig Vistalites. Blue. Very cool. They sounded great. These drums stayed with me for over 20 years and was the cornerstone of my setup through dozens of bands.

   The kit came with the following Zildjian cymbals:

  • 15" Hi-Hats
  • 16" Crash
  • 20" Ride
  • 20" Inverted Sizzler (I've had more comments about this cymbal than anything else!)

   They've all mellowed with age and none have needed any repair work.

New Kit

   I recently sold the Ludwigs, along with a beautiful set of TAMA Superstars, in order to purchase my newest kit, TAMA Starclassics. I kept all the cymbals, though; once you find good sounds, hang on to them!

   In 1989 I invested in a 6 1/2" Black Beauty brass snare drum. This gave me the depth and range I needed to fill out my rock and roll pocket. The drum is capable of an amazing diversity of sounds. Jump to Technique for more on how to get the most out of a snare. There's nothing else quite like a Black Beauty!

   One other Ludwig note: I have a 4" Ludwig brass snare that was given to me by my wife's mother. It was her husband's when he was child (he passed away before I met him: at the young age of 37!). The drum is from the 40's and is considered vintage. The sound is remarkable! It's great for those traditional jazz gigs!

X-nelo in France

   In the fall of 2002 I spent a month touring France. Taking my drums was not an option, so I borrowed a small TAMA Starclassic kit from the soundman's son.

   Now, I've always played big drums. Both my previous kits has 24" kicks (14" deep), with 16", 18" floor toms, and 13", 14" rack toms. So, the first time I sat down at this little TAMA kit, I felt a bit unwhelmed: the kick was 20" (18" deep), and it had 10", 12" rack, and 14" floor toms.

   I then I hit them. Wow. Did they sound huge! The whole band was amazed!

   So, I started thinking: hmmm... maybe I should get a new kit, a smaller kit. I mean, I now know they can sound like a big kit, and I'm certain I can get them to sound like a small, jazz kit with some tuning (I could never get my big kits to sound small).

   So, I did some research, sold the two big kits, and picked out a nice set of maple TAMA Starclassics! Simply gorgeous, and they sounded fantastic right out of the box. No cheap heads, attention to detail. This is the last drum set I will own. I don't need any other.


  • 20" kick (18" deep)
  • 8" tom
  • 10" tom
  • 12" tom
  • 14" tom

   All toms are rack - no floor toms! Two stands came with the kit - the kick doesn't have a tom mount. The toms use the Starcast mounting system - cast hoops (harder to keep in tune - I had to buy lug locks for the first time in my life!).

   Now, years ago I saw a strange setup: the drummer was Donny Wynne. He went to a drum tech wanting something different - easier to play. The tech noticed Donny is ambidextrous, so he suggested a kit with the hi-hat in the middle (in front of the snare), and the toms off to both side. I thought it was interesting, and filed it away.


   Then, a few years ago Bill Bruford started playing this very same setup! (He mentions Donny as an inspiration for his new kit.) So, when I was casting about for new drums I decided to get a kit that could be set up both traditionally, and with the new setup. After finding a cable hi-hat on ebay (an absolute necessity for this ambidextrous kit), I took the plunge.

   After a couple awkward weeks, I started to settle in to the new configuration. And I have found that it actually easier to play than the traditional setup! No more reaching forward for toms - the hi-hat is very comfortable, and it allows me to lead with either right or left hand, even within the same musical phrase!

Back of kit

   Of course, the traditional roll-down-the-toms is gone: from left to right behind the kit: 12" tom, 8" tom, snare, 10" tom, 14" tom. But, that's OK: it's overused.

   I'm amazed at the new ideas that come out of this kit. And other drummers who play it get over their initial trepidation very fast!

   Please give this a try. For additional resources on the Ambidextrous Kit, lessons, cool videos, and other valuable material, I highly recommend Michael P. Barton's excellent site, Amba Dextro!

Tama Configuration



   I have generally stuck to Zildjian cymbals throughout my career. They are what I started with, and what appeals to me.

  • 14" Hi-Hats
  • 16" Crash
  • 20" Ride
  • 20" Inverted Sizzler
  • 16" Crash
  • 18" Sizzler

   I have since added more cymbals to give me some accents:

  • 6" Zildjian Splash
  • 8" Wuhan Splash
  • 10" Sabian Splash
  • 12" Wuhan Splash
  • 14" Wuhan China
  • 18" Wuhan China
  • 18" Zildjian China
  • 16" Sabian Fierce Crash
  • 20" Zildjian Ping Ride (for jazz)
  • 22" Wind Gong
  • Various other old cymbals

   They compliment nicely. My only warning about Zildjians is this: try before you buy! Don't get them mail-order. Every Zildjian within a given model designation will sound different. Find the one that will compliment your kit: bring some of yours down to the store to see how the new cymbal fits in.

   I found two old, cracked cymbals my High School was throwing out. They were very trashy, and made a nice quasi-chinese sound. I hung the bigger one by itself: the smaller one I put under an old, cracked Zildjian Hi-Hat I found. Now, there's an interesting sound! I love it.

   Check out Zildjian's Web Site!


Pro-Mark New generation ad campaign.

   I used to use these incredibly huge sticks called JOJO 9b. They don't exist anymore, but they were basically marching drum sticks. Don't ask me how I got hooked up with them, I don't know (they made 747s feel like toothpicks). I gravitated to JOJO 1As, which you can still get if you look hard enough. JOJO is basically a Regal Tip second nameplate, and the Regal Tip equivalent is the Chester Thompson model.

   I've since moved to two types of sticks: the ProMark 747B Super Rock for harder rock, and the 5a for everything else, including jazz. I've tried to use a "jazz" stick, but they're just too small; I might as well be holding cocktail straws!

   In 1997 I sent in my picture and Bio to the Pro Mark's New generation ad campaign, and they printed it! It wound up in the 20th Anniversary issue of Modern Drummer. Pretty cool!

   Click on the image if you want to see the original, full-size source photo by Laura Sells.

Drum Heads


   Heads. Tuning. This is where it all comes together. You can have great drums, but if your heads stink, or they're not tuned right, you might as well be playing cardboard boxes. You can check out my Tuning page for more info on that crucial area, but I think it's safe to say that good tuning starts with good heads.

   I have been playing Remo Pinstripes for a long time. They're a good, basic rock or heavy jazz head, but they tend to inhibit bounce. I'm beginning to learn that the same sound can be achieved by coated heads on the toms and a proper tuning. Coated heads offer a natural muffling due to the coating, where clear heads offer no muffling. A coated head tuned properly can be used to great effect for rock and jazz: low and open for rock, high and tight for jazz (the tighter the head the better the bounce). For slower stuff, or in smaller venues, deadringer-type plastic rings can be applied to the tom heads (these work quite well when you have crappy sounding drums and/or crappy sounding heads).

   I also use Evan Hydraulic Oil on the toms. These provide a great, warm, full tonality with no muffling. My new TAMA Starclassics set came with Evans G2s, and the Evans kick head system with no hole in the front head. My snare has Evans sound reinforcement. I tend to use the heads that work best for the gig I'm in, but the Evans have been the most adaptable.

   Generally, though, I prefer a wide-open sound, particularly on the snare. There are too many interesting sounds possible from the snare, and because of this I use Evans Coated Genera Dry with Muffle Ring (you can't play brushes on clear heads!).

Snare Drums

Snare Drums are your friends!

   I have five snare drums. The 6 1/2" bronze Ludwig Black Beauty mentioned above is my foundational rock and roll drum; the range of tones this drum is capable of producing is astonishing. It is can be used for just about any style of drumming imaginable, depending on the tuning: jazz, rock, country, ballade, prog, fusion, bluegrass, metal, reggae,... you name it.

   However, the other four drums lend themselves to peculiarities that fit particular styles of music. The 4" brass Ludwig snare is well suited to jazz: the crack and pitch - it's tuned way up - lend themselves to the tone and speed needed for jazz drumming. It can also be used for rock when the snare sound desired is a high, ringing tonality. I usually set my kit up so that the Black Beauty is the central drum and the 4" is off to my left: I then have most of the tones covered for the various songs in the setlist.

   I have two 5" snares: the Vistalite mentioned earlier - which is good for rock, country, and some ballade uses. It's tone is big for a smaller drum, and the ring is quite severe: it cuts through well in loud playing situations. The other 5" snare is a metal Rogers I purchased at a garage sale. This drum doesn't quite have the range of the Ludwigs, but is suited for some light rock, country (a very good country drum), and ballade.

   The fifth snare is a 6 1/2" metal Tama that came with the superstars. A physically very heavy drum! It has a die-cast batter hoop, so it tends to destroy sticks. Again, the range of tones is narrower than the Ludwigs (what is it about Ludwigs that make them so good?). It's good for basic rock - the snare response is pretty lame when hitting softly.

   All drums have 20-strand snares, except the 4" Ludwig and the 5" Rogers: these have 40-strand snares. This gives the drum a wetter sound.


   I've been playing percussion for over 10 years now, and my percussion setup consists of a LP Congas (Quinto, Conga, Tumbadora), LP Djembe, LP Generation II Bongos, LP Timbales, LP 36-bar windchimes (mark tree),

WorldBeat Bodhran, 6" Nickle Doumbek, 12" Rope-Tuned Djembe, 8" Clay Doumbek, Obsidian Wind Chimes, 22" wind Gong, Gourde Shakere, elephant bell, goat bell, LP Afuche-Cabasa, LP Multi-Guiro, LP Vibra-Slap, LP Vibra-Tone, Remo Spring Drums (3 sizes),

various cowbells, jam blocks, shakers, rainsticks, triangles, finger cymbals, claves, maracas, bells, tamborines (mounted and hand-held), splash cymbals, china cymbals, effects cymbals, whistles, nut shakers, goat toenail shakers, sandpaper blocks, didgeridoo, and other sundry noise-making devices.

   Sounds. It's all about cool sounds.

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