THE ABOVE IMAGE IS OF THE EXCELLENT SAN FRANCISCO DRUM COMPANY WEBSITE.
I don't own one of these kits, but I have played on one in LA in the recent past, and it does sound GREAT! I love a big bass drum and these drums sound classic and have great tone.
The above kit illustrates what is meant when someone says a 4 piece drum set (or kit). Four drums. Certainly, as I woefully found out after choosing to play drums and learning to play them, a four piece kit consists of MANY MORE than four pieces, most of which are heavy and must be lugged from place to place, along with the cymbals. All in all, a minimal 4 piece kit would usually include what is shown above plus one more cymbal and stand for a total of five cymbals (two hi-hat, two crash and one ride). So you can see that when you start talking 4 drums AND 5 cymbals, you start talking a 9 piece kit, and we have not yet counted other stands, seats and accessories.
But as I often do, I digress.
The point is, a four piece kit is the essence of drumming boiled down to it's essentials. In my youth, it was fashionable to have very large drumsets. I had several large kits in my youth and into my 20's, when it got to the point of ridiculousness.
I was playing a five piece drum kit, augmented by three small roto tom drums, accompanied by various toms of a simmons electronic drum set, and all of the attendant cymbals and stands and electronics weighing over a hundred pounds. The Peavey electronic drum monitor amp I used weighed at least 75 pounds and was HUGE and UNWIELDY.
I had an epiphony in the late eighties, and basically began using a four piece kit more and more, until I pretty much exclusively went to a four drum and five cymbal set up. I'll usually have a large cowbell, which I frequently use to augment a rhythm, and have occasionally added electronics to my kit for fun.
But when I'm gigging, I'm taking the minimum. The lightweight stands I have weigh less than a third what the huge bohemoth double braced heavy duty withstand a hurricane stands I used in the 70's and 80's. Over the years, in my quest for lightweight hardware and drums, I've found solutions to my problems with lightweight steel or aluminum cymbal, hi hat and snare stands.
Having played a five piece kit off and on as the basic core of my drum kit for more than 20 years, it took some time to adjust to having one less tom on top of the bass drum or on the floor. But I've found that creative sticking techniques (learned as a child from instructor the late Joe Raynor) can get multiple sounds out of toms.
I was playing a four piece kit for my first drum set, a used set of Ludwigs. It was in the early 70's, and my dad had picked them up cheap from a fellow needing to repair his motorcycle, a Ducati as I recall. They were old 50's drums, with a 22" bass, 12" and 16" floor tom and they sounded great.
But some of the bands I followed back then had drumsets with double bass drums and 8 toms and many cymbals and I had played on a few such sets at friend's homes and at music stores. You could certainly be very busy on a big kit like that. As I pleaded one Christmas to Santa as to how I needed a huge drum kit from Santa "to be a really great drummer", my Father ruefully remarked that "Gene Krupa didn't need 20 drums to be great. All he needed was four drums. And that Buddy Rich. I noticed he has five drums but really only plays four. He keeps his ashtray and towel on the fifth drum in the back.
These things were all true. I should have listened to his wise words back then more carefully, but of course at 14 or 15 I KNEW I was much smarter than my folks in oh so many ways. Of course, inevitably, I was wrong. And not just about not needed 20 drums in a drum set.
As these things often turn out, 15 years later after my large drumkit early teen Christmas wish, I had been playing a four piece kit for a while. I was doing a new gig with a fairly established Houston blues band, and after the second smoking set, which really did groove, the lead guitarist of the band told me that I was "just like Al Jackson, Man! Right there in the pocket". Man, that's the biggest drumming compliment I've ever had before or since, notwithstanding the drumming compliments given my by my homeboys Billy Ray and Ricky Ray.
That lead guitarist remains a good friend to this day, over twenty years later. But then at the time, I had only known him a months when he paid me that compliment.
I had finally learned that LESS IS MORE, both in the size of my drum kit and in the style and content of my drumming.
As time went on, I ended up working with an awful lot of bands from the late 80's to the 2000's. I'm still playing with two bands, but those are both of an semi-regular nature. People compliment me constantly on my drumming, to the point of making me laugh. Because I'm doing simple stuff. Grooving, but simple.
I think in this materialistic world that it's a mantra we should all think about. We don't have to go extreme in adopting it as a motto, but as an adage it's got some useful applications.
LESS IS MORE: THE ZEN OF DRUMMING