Electronic drum kits can work well for heavy metal drummers but there are certain features that will make the experience feel more authentic and enjoyable.

What Makes a Heavy Metal Drum Kit?

There’s no specific rules as to what makes a good heavy metal drum kit. At the end of the day it comes down to the drummer behind the kit and their own personal preferences. But if you had to define what makes a heavy metal drum kit in a quick description, it would be powerful, punchy drums, a variety of cymbals and of course double bass. That seems a little overly simplified but it gets us going in the right direction. Let’s take a look at how that translates to an electronic drum kit.

Double Kick Bass Pedal Support

This is a big one. Double bass becomes essential when you get into the more extreme niches of heavy metal and it’s hard to avoid it. Depending on what you’re into, you might need to constantly play double bass or at a minimum use it for accents and smaller parts within the songs you’re playing.

Finding a kit that supports your double bass pedal will be essential. I know from experience that double bass drummers can be very picky about their pedal settings and how the pedal feels during play.

Kick Pad Width

One obvious thing to watch out for is a kick pad that is wide enough to support two drum beaters. The kick pad should also have enough sensitivity around the surface so that when you have two beaters working slightly off the center of the pad you still get solid response.

Kick Pad Height

Another thing to watch out for is the height of the kick pad. I’ve found on some electronic drum kits with smaller, fixed-height kick pads that the pad is too high for my preferred double pedal setup. I hadn’t ever considered this to be a factor until the first time I tried to hook my pedal up to an electronic kit.

I like to keep my beaters at a height where they are centered vertically on a 22 inch acoustic kick drum, and that was actually too short for some of the taller kick pads on some electronic drum kits. I didn’t like having to raise the height of my kick drum beaters when moving the pedal to an electronic kit since it changed the feel. So for double bass I usually prefer a kit that gives me more vertical space to work with as well as horizontal so I can keep the pedal settings the same as on my acoustic drum kit.

Kick Pad Sensitivity and Response

If you are a very fast double bass player a little more research as well as trial and error could be in order to make sure that you find a kit that has good enough sensitivity and response to handle fast, repeated strikes on the kick pad without dropping notes. It’s not a huge issue on more advanced electronic kits, but some budget kits can come up short in this area.

Velocity Curve Settings

Depending on what you play and how you play, you might also want your kick drum to have very little variation in volume no matter how hard you strike the pad, similar to what you hear when drummers trigger the kick on an acoustic drum kit. It’s worth taking a close look at the module settings or check the manual before buying to make sure you can change the velocity curve settings for the kick pad to accomplish this.

Be Willing to Upgrade or Swap Kick Pads

If you already have an electronic drum kit but just don’t like how the pad feels or works with your double bass pedal, you can always look into swapping out the kick drum pad for something different. There’s lots of good kick drum pads on the market that you can try out. Just make sure that whatever your switching to is supported by your drum module. Roland drums tend to be a good example for this since you can often buy a cheaper kit that has support for their better pads if you want to upgrade.

Use Dual-Zone Tom Pads For More Cymbals

Many electronic drum kits have just hi-hats, maybe one or two crash cymbal pads and a ride cymbal pad. This can feel limited, and metal drummers often want more cymbal variety around the kit.

An easy workaround for those limitations is to get an electronic drum kit that has multi-zone tom pads. You can usually assign cymbal sounds to the rims of dual-zone toms, which can effectively add more cymbals around the kit without having to add more cymbal pads. So you can assign a splash, china or different types of crash cymbals to the rims of the toms and add a wider variety of sounds to work with.

Cymbal Chokes

This is a feature that you’ll find on most kits, but if you get into the budget kit realm sometimes the feature is missing. Usually at least the crash cymbal pads have choke features but it can also be found on ride and hi-hat pads as well. I can’t imagine trying to play thrash metal drums without cymbal chokes.

Closed Hi-Hats While Playing Double Bass

There may be times where you want to play a closed hi-hat sound while also playing double bass. Many electronic drum kits have settings that allow you to set the hi-hat to permanently closed rather than having to use the hi-hat pedal to keep it closed. This is similar to releasing a clutch on an acoustic hi-hat to keep it closed. If your play style requires closed hi-hats along with double bass, you’ll want to keep an eye out for this feature.

Triple Zone Ride Cymbals

This one is arguable for any style of drums, really, but a three-zone ride cymbal can be much more enjoyable when playing metal on an electronic drum kit. Many budget drum kits come with single or double zone ride cymbals that can only produce a bell sound by hitting the pad harder rather than by hitting the bell. Stuff like that can feel pretty limiting if you rely on bell sounds a lot when you play.

It’s best to look for a kit that has a three zone ride cymbal that can make bow, edge and bell sounds similarly to an acoustic ride cymbal. Not only do you get the bell zone, but you can also then use the ride like a crash at times by hitting the edge rather than the bow.

Drum Sounds, Custom Kits and Layering

Last but not least is the drum sounds. You’ll want a drum module that has some decent rock or metal drum sounds. This is pretty easy to find. It seems like every drum module always has a least one kit designated as heavy metal along with rock or other kits that could also work for metal. 

Sound Design

Beyond the default kits, I think most metal drummers will prefer a module that allows you to mix and match the sounds and create your own drum kits. Even better yet is a module that allows you to layer drum sounds to create sounds with thicker textures. These types of features will allow you to really dial in your own sound.

Metal Drum VST’s

Another thing to consider is that you don’t need to rely on the drum module entirely for sounds either. If you want to incorporate a computer into your setup there are drum VST’s out there that have incredible sounding metal-focused kits that can sound much better than the kits in your drum module.