John Riley

I am very fortunate to have opportunities to play with people that continually inspire me to grow as a player. I am equally grateful to have instruments that sound and feel so good that they too inspire me to play. The first piece of gear that I purchased myself was a 20" Zildjian ride cymbal. I saved the money I earned delivering newspapers to buy it. I knew then, in the 6th grade, that Zildjian's were my sound and they still are.

For the last few years I've been using a thin version of the 22" K Custom Medium, with two rivets, as my main ride cymbal on my right. This cymbal has a fairly low pitch and a beautiful combination of "tick" stick sound and underlying wash. It's clean enough to play hard but thin enough to crash easily. To my left I've been using an 18" K Pre-Aged Dry Light Ride; this cymbal is a fine secondary ride and a great full bodied crash. My hi-hats are 14" K Constantinople and I like them on the thinner side, so that I can both ride and crash them, but heavy enough to make a good clear "chick." To my far right is a swish cymbal; it's used as both a ride cymbal and a crash. My 22" A Custom Swish, with 4 rivets, is very thin and low pitched and I put a little piece of duct tape under the bell.


A stick's weight, taper and bead each have a dramatic effect on my sound and my facility. Years back Zildjian asked me to try their sticks. They sent a nice variety of models but I wasn't totally comfortable with any of them so I took the closest model into my workshop and sanded it down until I liked the feel and sound. I sent those "home made" sticks up to the factory and, lo and behold, they decided to start producing a model based on those whittled down sticks! Originally it was called the Zildjian "Concert Jazz" Stick but has been renamed the "John Riley" model. It's basically like a 5A with a longer taper and a teardrop shaped bead. By design the stick is very responsive and the teardrop shaped bead produces a great cymbal sound. Please check out the stick specs and the full line of cymbal options at the Zildjian website -

I've recently been working with Zildjian on a combination stick/mallet and I'm really happy with the results. It's my stick with a medium-firm felt mallet attached to the butt end and it's great for cymbal rolls, melodic playing around the drums or simulating timpani rolls on the toms.

I've owned and played a lot of great drums through the years but none are finer than the Yamaha Maple Custom Absolute drums I've been fortunate to be playing for the last couple of years. Yamaha has the total package; great sound, beautiful craftsmanship and finish work and great hardware. They are very versatile instruments. When tuned high they are Bebop drums, tuned midway they work great in the studio or in a fusion band and when tuned low they're perfect in a Big Band or on a funk date.

With small groups I use a Vintage finish 18"x14" bass drum, 14"x 5 1/2" wooden snare drum, 12"x8" mounted tom and a 14"x14" floor tom. With larger groups I'll substitute a 20"x14" bass drum for the 18" and sometimes add a 10"x7" mounted tom. The lightweight 600 series hardware is perfect for every playing situation and very portable. With the big band at the Village Vanguard I'm using a "mixed" Silver sparkle kit; maple snare and bass drum and birch toms. I have those drums tuned on the low side, ala Mel Lewis, and everyone that hears them is knocked out. I've also been having fun experimenting with a Hipgig type setup. You can see them all and more at the Yamaha website -

mallet stick

When I was a kid, calf heads were more popular than they are today and some of the drums I played in school bands and orchestras had calf heads. I didn't see any calf heads on the drums used in the marching band. Growing up in New Jersey I played in all kinds of weather during the fall and winter marching season; calf heads were too particular to be depended on and, perhaps not durable enough to withstand the punishment we doled out with our 3S sticks. On the parade drums were Remo Weather King drum heads; they sounded great and were practically indestructible. My first drumset had Remo heads too. I've always been curious about the sound and feel of different types of drum heads and, through the years, have tried just about every head available. For me Remo heads are the universal choice, they can be tuned across a wide spectrum and always sound clear and true. There are models for everyone; heavy hitters, jazzers and orchestral players.

On my small group kit I like coated Ambassadors on the top and clear on the bottom. On the bass drum I have a Pinstripe on the batter side and a PowerStroke3 on the resonant side and no muffling in the drum. On my bigger bass drum I like FiberSkyn3 PowerStrokes on both sides and no muffling. On my Silver sparkle kit at the Vanguard I'm going for a slightly different sound and find the FiberSkyn3 Diplomat weight heads are the ticket on the snare and toms and the same F3 PowerStroke on the bass drum. Remo is constantly coming up with new sounds for the drums and I'm always looking forward to checking them out. You can see their entire catalogue, including all their World Percussion gear, at

Since my studies with Paul Guerrero, at North Texas, and my days playing with the great percussionist and teacher Frankie Malabe in the bands of Bobby Paunetto and Bob Mintzer, I've been an enthusiastic student of Latin music. LP has been the leader in developing instruments to meet the needs of students and professionals alike. I am proud to be a member of the LP family and encourage everyone to check out their vast catalogue of instruments at