If you’ve already checked out our Bass Drum Pedal Buyer’s Guide and want to learn even more about kick drum pedals, then this in-depth blog is the next logical step. Once you know exactly what the beater, footboard, spring tension, chain-drive and cam do, adjusting or upgrading your kick pedal will be much easier.

How Does a Bass Drum Pedal Work?

A Brief History of the Bass Drum Pedal

The very first bass drum pedal was invented by a humble East-German business at the start of the 20th century. That company, Sonor, is still around today which makes it one of the oldest manufacturers of drums and drum hardware in the world. Several years following the inception of the original kick drum pedal, the illustrious Ludwig brothers improved the original design which helped to make the pedal a standard part of every drum kit. Over a century later, bass drum pedals are still being improved and manufacturers claim every new model is faster, better and more stable and precise than the last – but is that really true? In practice, what’s most important to know when you’re picking out a bass drum pedal is what each part of the pedal does. And no, the most expensive pedals aren’t necessarily the best pedals.

The Beater

Beaters come in various shapes and sizes and the head can be made of different materials – including felt, wood, rubber and plastic – and each material has its own unique sound. If you want a warmer sound and a less aggressive attack, you’re best off with a beater equipped with a felt head. The fluffier and softer the felt head, the warmer the sound and the softer the attack will be. If you’re after a balanced sound and more punch, then go for a harder type of felt. Drummers who demand serious attack and more defined punch will want to use a beater with a wooden or plastic head, or perhaps even a two-sided head for the option to alternate between two sounds. Whichever head you use though, the shape of the beater head and the angle at which it strikes the batter head has a big influence on the sound. For optimum sound, it’s essential to make sure your beater head lands in the middle of your bass drumhead. In terms of the striking angle, make sure that as much of the beater head makes contact with the skin as possible. This ensures the fullest possible sound and helps prevent dents.


How Does a Bass Drum Pedal Work?

Spring Tension

Every bass drum pedal comes equipped with a system that ensures the beater automatically returns to its natural resting position after impact. In almost every case, including hi-hat pedals, that system is a spring-loaded mechanism. Single bass drum pedals are usually fitted with a spring on the right side of the frame, while double bass drum pedals are fitted with a spring on both sides of the frame – one for each pedal. In rare cases, the spring is traded for an elastic strap or a ball-bearing-based system. Unless the pedal has an elastic strap, the spring tension can almost always be adjusted via a screw. The perfect spring tension is a matter of trial-and-error, so be sure to keep tweaking it until you find the right tension for your particular playing style (e.g. heel-up or heel-down).

The Frame

The frame plays an important role in keeping the whole thing stable. Some frames are extra slim and compact to save space, which may come at the cost of speed and stability. A wider frame will naturally feel more solid and counter side-to-side wobble, although a little lateral leeway isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you play with your heel up.

The Footboard

While it may not seem all that important, the footboard significantly contributes to the way your kick drum pedal feels and performs. Footboards are available in various sizes, the two main flavours being standard and longboard. Important things to look at when you’re comparing footboards are whether or not you can adjust the angle and the way the footboard has been secured to the base. The majority of the pedals with an adjustable footboard angle are equipped with a little screw that can be loosened so you can shift the footboard into a more comfortable position. What you’ll also want to bear in mind is that standard footboards have a hinge that sits roughly five centimetres from the edge at the heel-end, while longboards will run all the way down to the base. As such, the angle of a standard footboard is a little bigger by default, but longboards have a slightly larger surface.

Baseplate or Wire Frame?

Some bass drum pedals feature a solid metal base plate which usually comes with an anti-slip finish. While this type of base gives you a lot of stability, it also makes getting your pedal from A to B a little harder because it often requires a purpose-made case or gig bag. In contrast, bass drum pedals that don’t have a solid base plate can generally be folded down into a compact whole and stored with the rest of your hardware. The downside of pedals without a baseplate is more side-to-side wobble and less overall stability. The upside is that these pedals are lighter and space-saving.

Different Pedal Drive Systems

Over the years, the way the footboard is linked to the beater has evolved from a simple leather strap to bicycle chains and solid metal strips. These different pedal drives are still implemented today and each comes with its own set of pros and cons.


How Does a Bass Drum Pedal Work?


Unsurprisingly, chain-drive pedals are fitted with a chain. They’re the most popular pedals going and are available in two forms: single and double. Compared to single-chain pedals, double-chain pedals won’t break as easily when they have to handle larger amounts of force. Single-chain-drive pedals are often part of budget-friendly and entry-level series, but that’s not to say they aren’t as good. They’re actually lighter and often more responsive, but theoretically, the chain might snap a little easier.


Belt-drive pedals are equipped with a belt that connects the footboard to the beater. Modern belt-drive systems are practically non breakable and, when compared to chain-drive pedals, offer a light feel and a faster response. While the chains of chain-drive pedals can suddenly snap as a result of metal fatigue, belt-drive pedals won’t break down out of the blue since any belt damage can be easily spotted and dealt with long before the belt is torn in two.


Direct-drive pedals are mainly suited for drummers who value speed, power and precision. These pedals feature a solid link between the footboard and the beater, which makes the whole thing more rigid and less likely to develop a side-to-side wobble over time. That being said, direct-drive pedals aren’t cut out for everyone since they won’t work as well in combination with the heel-up playing technique. Drummers who operate the pedal with their heel down will notice an increase in precision and control, but those who keep their heel up will get a more controlled feel out of a belt-drive or chain-drive pedal. Just so you know, none of these ‘rules’ are set in stone. If you’re a heel-up drummer who’s already grown accustomed to the feel of a direct-drive pedal, by all means, stick with it!

The Cam

The cam is the part that connects the drive mechanism to the beater and decides the angle at which the drive moves the beater relative to the footboard. The two main cam types are the linear cam and the offset cam. With linear cams, the radius is consistent throughout the range of motion, which keeps the speed of the beater constant. Linear cams are usually round and typically fitted to direct-drive pedals. In the case of offset cams, the angle and the speed are altered halfway through the motion. The action starts out feeling consistent and light, but as the beater gets closer to the batter head, the angle increases. This makes the pedal feel heavier and increases the speed at which the beater head strikes the drumhead, which is perfect if you want to pull a more powerful sound out of your kick. For that reason, drum pedal manufacturers sometimes include various different cams. In practice, some drummers always stick with the same cam and drive, while others change things up depending on the situation.


How Does a Bass Drum Pedal Work?

Double Bass Drum Pedals

Also known as twin pedals, double bass drum pedals are basically two separate pedals linked by a rotating axle. One of the pedals features two beaters that land on the same kick drum, so if you’re thinking about getting one, it’s important to know which side it should be set up on. Right-handed drummers usually have their hi-hats set up on the left, which makes the right leg the leading leg, so if you’re right handed, that’s where you’ll want the beaters to sit. If you’re left-handed, all you have to do is mirror this set-up. Drummers who want to play with two kick drums can simply use two separate pedals.

How Does a Bass Drum Pedal Work?

See Also

» Bass Drum Pedals
» Bass Drum Pedal Parts
» What’s the Best Kick Drum Pedal for Me?

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