There are several different types of tom-tom drums which vary in shape and size, which has an effect on how they sound. In this article I’ll guide you through the different types of toms and their sizes, and why they sound different from one another.
Tom Drum Size 101
Tom drums vary in size considerably and can have a diameter between 8″ and 18″ and a depth between 6.5″ and 14″. Rack toms are smaller than floor toms. Rack toms usually have a diameter of 8″-14″ and a depth of 6.5″-11″ whereas floor toms usually have a diameter of 14″-16″ and a depth of 11″-14″.
Larger toms have a lower pitch sound sound more mellow compared to smaller toms. Toms with a deeper shell also sound more resonant compared to shallower toms which sound sharper.
How Does the Size Affect the Sound of a Tom?
There are two aspects of “size” to consider here:
The easiest way to distinguish between the affects of the two are that diameter affects the pitch and depth affects the resonance. But this is a very simplistic assessment.
Let’s take a look at each aspect individually and discuss the impact on the sound of the tom.
The main impact that diameter has on the sound of a drum is related to the drums pitch. The larger the diameter of a tom, the lower the pitch will be, conversely toms with a smaller diameter will have a higher pitch.
Every drum has a range of pitch that it can be tuned to. High pitched drums brighter and cut through the mix more compared to low pitched drums which sound more mellow.
Toms can be tuned to different pitches but this is mostly affected by the size. Usually the smallest tom is tuned first, then the next smallest etc. to make sure they all sound good together.
Toms with deeper shells have more resonance and volume whereas toms with shallower shells have more attack.
Longer (deeper) drums have more air inside which means the sound waves can bounce around for longer creating a sound which lasts for longer. Shorter drums on the other hand have less air inside so the sound is typically heard more quickly but does not last as long.
Types of Toms and Size
There are 4 main types of tom-tom drums:
- Rack tom
- Floor tom
- Roto tom
- Concert tom
In acoustic drum kits you’ll typically only find rack and floor toms but I will briefly discuss the other two types for completeness.
Rack toms have standard diameters of 8″, 10″, 12″, 13″ and 14″ and the depth is typically between 6.5″ and 11″. The most common rack tom sizes are 8×6″, 10×8″ and 12×9″.
Rack toms are usually mounted on the bass drum and are used for fills. Most 5-piece drum kits will have two rack toms, each with a different size to produce a different sound.
Typically the smaller rack tom is placed on the side closest to the crash/ hi-hat and can also be referred to as the hi-tom. The larger rack tom is usually placed on the side closest to the ride cymbal and can also be referred to as the mid-tom.
Due to the shallow depth and smaller diameter, rack toms sound sharp and bright as they have low resonance and are tuned to a higher pitched.
Floor toms usually have a diameter of either 14″, 16″, and 18″ and a depth between 11″ and 14″. The most common floor tom sizes are 14×14″, 16×14″ and 16×16″.
Most acoustic drum kits typically have a single floor tom which is located underneath the ride cymbal. Some larger kits may have an additional floor tom if the drummer likes to have more options for accents and fills.
Since floor toms are deeper and wider than rack toms, they have a more resonant sound and a lower pitch so sound more mellow.
Check out my in-depth comparison between rack and floor toms to learn more.
Roto toms are not usually found in acoustic drum kits. They do not have a small and instead consist of the head stretched over a metal frame. There are 7 diameters of roto drum available: 6″, 8″, 10″, 12″, 14″, 16″ and 18″.
Concert toms have a single head (batter) and no resonant head and are not usually found on acoustic drum kits and instead used for classical music. Concert toms have a diameter between 6″ and 16″ and a depth between 8″ and 14″.
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