Today I play two main kits. On the west coast I have a maple Sonor SQ2 kit finished in Silky Oak with 8x7, 10x9, 12x11 rack toms and 14x14, 16x16 floor toms. The bass drum is 20x20. The side-snare is 12x5 and made of clear
acrylic. My East Coast kit, (stored in New York), and my Europe kit, (stored at the Sonor factory in Germany), is my 30th Anniversary Signature kit which is made of 9 ply beech and finished in Birdseye Amber satin. The kit includes: 8x8, 10x8, 12x8 rack toms
and 14x14 & 16x16 floor toms, a 20x16 bass drum and a 12x5 matching beech side-snare. With all of the kits I use my 5.5x14 Steve Smith Signature metal snare drum.
2009 I set up my toms with Remo Clear CS “Black Dot” heads on the top and bottom. This is the setup that I saw Tony Williams use and I’ve always loved that sound. With this setup I can have the toms tuned to warm, melodious tones, with a
relatively short sustain. Before that I used Clear Ambassadors on the top and bottom of his toms. In both cases I had the bottom head tuned slightly higher than the top head.
For many years now I’ve has used a Clear Powerstroke 3 on
the batter side of my bass drum and a white coated Powerstroke 3 on the resonant side. There is no hole in the front head and the only muffling is a felt strip on each side, placed about 3” down from the top of the drum. The tension of both BD heads
is medium, just getting rid of the wrinkles. By using a front head with no hole, and no padding inside the drum, the drum is more responsive – and has a full sound – when played with a wide range of dynamics.
I set up all of my
14” snare drums with a Clear Ambassador, or Diplomat, on the snare side (bottom) and a Fyberskin 3 Diplomat on the top. The Fyberskin 3 Diplomat gives the snare drum a warm tone and is perfect for brush playing. On my 12” side snare I use a White
Coated Ambassador on my wood drum and the Clear CS “Black Dot” head on my acrylic drum. With all of his snare drums I have the bottom head tuned tighter than the top.
My main ride cymbal is a prototype of the K Zildjian Renaissance, a 22” model designed by Zildjian’s Paul Francis and veteran jazz drummer Adam Nussbaum. The cymbal is thin with a nice “give,” plus clear stick definition with little
build-up of overtones. My secondary ride, positioned to my left, is the 19” Armand Zildjian “Beautiful Baby” ride that comes with three sizzles. A third ride that I place to the right of the main ride is a 22” K Zildjian Complex
II. My other favorite ride that I occasionally use is a 22” Hi Bell Dry, which Zildjian no longer makes.
When I need more of a rock sound I use a 20” A Platinum Ping ride and for some music I use a 20” K Flat Top as
an additional ride.
For both jazz and rock I prefer very thin 18” crash cymbals. I usually combines two of the following: the A Armand Zildian thin crash, A Custom Medium Thin Rezo crash and the K Custom Hybrid crash. For rock recording
I use thin A Zildjian crashes.
I have two different Hi Hat setups. One is the 14” A Armand Zildjian Hi Hats, which are reminiscent of the Zildjian Hi Hats from the 60s. The other setup is a hybrid that I came up: a 14” A Mastersound
bottom and a 14” K Custom Dark top.
Depending on the music, I have some other favorite cymbals that I may put up, a 22” A Swish Knocker or a 22” K Bounce ride.
Bass Drum Pedals
main Bass Drum Pedal is the the DW 9000 Titanium double pedal, which was a limited production. I also use a double pedal setup that I put together after years of experimentation: Since the late 80s I've used the DW double pedal with the nylon straps and the
light footboards. But I’ve made a custom adjustment which is I use the 5000 Delta Chain pedal with the heavy footboard as my left pedal. The added weight of the heavier footboard and the double chain helps to give the left pedal an easy “swing.”
With both versions of my double pedals I use the medium size DW felt beater and I have them lowered a bit so they swing smoother and I can play with a wide dynamic range. When the beaters are fully extended, it's harder from me to control them
and play softly. I have the springs tensioned loosely, that way the pedal feels light and follows the motion of my foot very easily.
When Vic Firth suggested that I design a Steve Smith Signature stick I resisted
the idea for a few months. I was extremely happy with the Vic Firth 5A model and couldn't conceive of improving it. When Vic wouldn't take no for an answer, I start to seriously think about a personal signature stick and decided that I wanted a stick based
on the 5A, but with a new tip.
I always like the Elvin Jones and Jack DeJohnette sticks that I bought from the NYC Professional Drum Shop in the 1970s that had elongated tips. Vic made me a few different sticks with the elongated tip and I
discovered immediately that I liked the balance better than the 5A. Suddenly the 5A felt heavy in the back and light in the front, and my Steve Smith Signature model felt well-balanced and just right. We tried Maple and Hickory and I felt that Hickory had
the best overall feel. I've been very happy with the stick ever since. Even with all of my recent technical developments, the Steve Smith Signature stick still feels just right to me.
I also use my Vic Firth Tala Wands, which come in both
Birch and Bamboo. In 2001 when I started playing with drummers from Indian I needed to find a to blend my sounds with the very low volume of the Indian drums.
I tried some bundle products that were on the market and none of them felt good to play
with. By adding a “foam core” to the center of the stick the feel and rebound improved immensely. I also adjusted the wrapping higher up toward the middle of the stick so it accommodated the balance point where I hold the stick. When I want to
play light and fast I use the yellow Birch 12 model and when I want to groove at a low volume I use the purple Bamboo 11 model.
For most gigs I use a simple micing setup: 4 overheads and a bass drum mic.
I use a Shure Beta 52 on the bass drum and four Shure KSM 137s as overheads. I use four overheads because my kit is rather spread out and with two overheads it may not cover the 16” floor tom and the 12” side snare. I position the mics so they
are over the drums rather than over the cymbals. Occasionally I’ll use a Shure SM 57 on the main snare and when I use tom mics I like the Shure SM 98s.
Since 2010 I’ve incorporated a Korg Wavedrum
into my setup. I find the instrument to be an inspiring addition to my sonic palette as it sparks many creative ideas and has many unique and usable sounds.
I use Puresound snares on all of my snare drums,
they improve the sound of any snare drum. I carry a supply of Puresound snare wires when on tour and if I am using loan equipment I’ll put the Puresound snares on rental drums and it always helps the sound and feel.
The Zoom Q3
HD has become an important tool for me. I’ve always enjoyed recording my gigs and practice sessions and with the Q3 I get excellent sound along with very good video.
I do not endorse any case company
as I use a variety of cases depending on my needs.
I've stayed with all of the companies that I started with because I only endorse the equipment that I truly play and believe is the best available. I've
been fortunate to have a long career and develop good relationships with the people that work at all of these companies.