Bonzo's Birthday Weekend: How to sound like Led Zeppelin's John Bonham

The late, great John Bonham
The late, great John Bonham

Throughout Led Zeppelin, John Bonham played large sized drums and, bucking the '70s trend, always double-headed with wide open tuning. Unremarkable now, but almost everyone played single-headed toms then, removing their front kick heads and plastering their batters with masking tape.

Bonham's sound was rooted in the big band drummers of earlier decades. His set-up mirrored that of Buddy Rich, with a tall bass drum, single top tom and two floors. One of the few rock drummers Bonzo admired was Carmine Appice and, fortuitously, he met Carmine on Zep's first American tour in 1968.

Who needs double kicks?

Carmine was playing double 26" bass drums with a further 22" bass drum converted to a floor tom. Ludwig supplied Bonzo with a similar maple finish kit, but his style never suited (or needed) double kicks. Soon Bonzo was playing a Glitter Green Ludwig with 26" kick, 14" mounted tom, 16" and 18" floor toms.

This would remain his standard set-up until the late '70s. His final two kits, a Sparkle Silver and a stainless steel Ludwig, had larger 15" top toms. John always played a 14"x61/2" Supraphonic 402 'Ludalloy' snare, even with his 1973 Amber Vistalite kit.


As for cymbals, he stayed with Paiste throughout, starting with Big Beats and moving on to 2002s. His ride was a monster 24" and his 15" Sound Edge hi-hats were also quite large. His crashes were smaller and faster - usually a 16" and 18" - although at times these were augmented with a second 18" and/or a 20".

He had a Paiste gong suspended behind him and he incorporated congas, cowbell and later on, two Ludwig timpani.

John Bonham's set-up

John bonham drum set-up

John bonham drum set-up

Ludwig drums

A) 26"x14" bass
B) 14"x12" (or 15"x12") mounted tom
C) 16"x16" floor tom
D) 18"x16" floor tom
E) 14"x 61/2" Supraphonic 402 snare drum. Ludwig Silver Dot or Remo CS (black dot) or Remo Emperor (double-ply) coated heads


Paiste Big Beat and 2002 series (from 1971):
1) 15" Sound Edge hi-hats
2) 24" ride
3) 16" crash
4) 18" and sometimes, 20" or 22" crashes


Ludwig stands and hardware, Ludwig Speed King foot pedal, Rogers throne and hi hat pedal, Paiste 36" or 38" symphonic gong, pair of Ludwig Universal copper shelled timpani with 'T' tuning handles (to left of kit), cowbell, Ludwig 2A hickory sticks and Shure microphones

Legendary power

Bonham's power was legendary. His longest serving roadie/tech Mick Hinton says, "We had a riser with holes drilled for the tom legs, spurs and hi-hat to slot into. Ludwig drilled holes in the front bass drum hoop so I could anchor the bass drum.

He used a Rogers hi-hat pedal and Ludwig Speed King bass pedal with a wooden beater. Every tour, Ludwig supplied one gross (144) pairs of 2A hickory sticks. We used Remo CS black dot heads.

It was always the 14"x61/2" metal snare with Gretsch 42 strand snare. There was no damping in the bass drum, just a Dr Scholl's moleskin patch. John's great thing was the snare drum which had to be spot on, so he tuned it himself and I tuned the rest. The bottom heads were quite tight and the tops were slacker. But his sound was the way he played - it was nothing to do with me."

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