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  • Ringo's Drums and Percussion: Driving the Beat

    By Phil O'Keefe |

    Ringo's Drums and Percussion: Driving the Beat

    A look at the drums that propelled the world's greatest band


    by Phil O'Keefe




    When it comes to drummers, probably no one could have been a better "fit" for the Beatles than Ringo Starr. Able to play in a variety of styles and always rock-solid and ready to go, take after take, he was the ideal anchor for the band. The unique "feel" of Ringo's drum fills can be partially attributed to Ringo being a left-handed player who played with a right-handed kit; he tended to start his fills with his left hand, making them rather unique.


    With The Beatles, Starr originally used a Premier Mahogany Duroplastic drum kit which he acquired in 1960. This is the kit that was used on the earliest Beatles recordings from 1962, including their first album, Please Please Me. He switched to a four piece (kick drum, snare and two toms) Ludwig Downbeat kit in June of 1963. Originally the drummer for fellow Liverpool-based band Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, he left that group to join the Beatles, where he replaced original drummer Pete Best in mid-August of 1962. He played various Ludwig kits throughout the rest of his career with The Beatles, and was known to be fond of Ludwig's Oyster Black Pearl finish.


    By the time of their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, Ringo was on his second Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl "Downbeat" drum kit, with the 14"x20" bass drum featuring the now-iconic Beatles "Drop-T" logo, and with a 5.5"x14" snare, 8"x12" rack tom, and 14"x14" floor tom rounding out the kit.



    In late1968 Ringo switched to a five piece Ludwig Maple "Hollywood" drum kit (14"x22" bass drum, 5.5x14" snare, 8"x12" rack tom, 9"x13" rack tom, 16"x16" floor tom), which was used on the famous Apple "Rooftop" performance as seen in the film Let It Be. It can also be heard on Abbey Road, including its use on The End, which is the only song Ringo played a drum solo on while with the Beatles.   


    Ringo used other cymbals early in his career, but soon became an endorser of Zildjian cymbals, which he continues to use to this day. He now also has his own Zildjian Artist Series 5A sized drum sticks. While the details about his exact cymbal models for specific songs remains largely limited and unconfirmed, Ringo Starr typically used cymbals from Zildjian's "A Zildjian" line, including 14"  hi-hats, and 18" and 20" cymbals. Several photos show him using a 20" 4-rivet "sizzle" cymbal from as early as 1963, and continuing throughout his time with the Beatles.


    In addition to drums, Ringo also played a wide variety of percussion instruments on many Beatles recordings, from hand percussion such as tambourine and maracas to hand drums such as bongos (You're Going To Lose That Girl) and congas (A Day In The Life), and even orchestral percussion instruments such as timpani, as heard on Every Little Thing, and orchestral bells, which he can be heard playing on When I'm Sixty-Four.This kind of sweetening was crucial to the overall sound of several of their recordings.


    Paul McCartney also played drums on a couple of Beatles songs, including The Ballad of John and Yoko and Back In The USSR. 











    Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.  

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