The first thing that needs to be shared here is that most drummers begin studying and practicing the instrument on a practice pad set rather than a full acoustic drum set. The advantages of doing so are many, not excluding the fact that you won’t alienate your family and neighbours as you go through the very loud growing pains that accompany learning drum basics. They’re also less expensive, easier to set up and tear down, and the heads are more forgiving.
Hopefully you’ve started out as a drummer in the same manner, and are here with some experience behind you as you look at purchasing your first drum set. Here are some suggestions as you look at purchasing your first drum kit.
New vs. Used
A new drum set is going to have an out-of-the-box shine to it and you can rest assured that it is as solid and reliable as it’s ever going to be. The heads won’t have a mark on them and the hardware is going to be straight and true. The benefits of buying a new drum set aren’t hard to grasp, and don’t warrant going on at length about.
What makes a new drum set unappealing for many new drummers are the price tags commonly attached to them. They’re not cheap, and like any product “you get what you pay for.” If you want a reasonable quality kit that’s not going to look and sound like a child’s toy, you’re going to be looking at 400-500 dollars and that’s not including the hardware (stands, pedals, etc.) and cymbals you’ll need to complete it. You’ll no doubt be able to find “cheapo” kits that go for less than that, and some “complete” kits with hardware and cymbals that go for around $700. Steer clear, they’re poorly made and you’ll be in the market for a new one within a year or so.
Further, only consider buying a new drum set if you’re 100% certain you’re going to stick with playing the instrument. Sure, you can sell it used if you decide drums aren’t for you, but you’ll take a hit on the price you can fetch for it.
A used kit makes much more sense for most fledgling drummers. They’re priced competitively and there’s typically no shortage of selection online, in the newspaper or at music shops. Most will be sold “whole” – with the necessary hardware and cymbals and often with extras like sticks, books etc. thrown in.
The risk with buying a used drum set is that a good price may be a reflection of a flaw or damage to the drum set that is not immediately visible or apparent to you. Follow this checklist to be certain you’re not buying a sub-par or structurally compromised drum set:
- If the kit is shown to you set-up, ask that you be allowed to disassemble it and inspect the drums individually. If the owner refuses, walk away – it’s likely they have something to hide. Look and see that the shell of each drum is perfectly cylindrical – both by eye and by feeling the exterior of it. Look at the interior of the shell through the head, and remove any coated drumheads that will prevent you from viewing it.
- Remove the rim of each drum and inspect the bearing edges – the area at the edge on the bottom and top of the shell where the shell has been machined to recess from the edge and where the rim secures the head to the drum. The bearing edge can be nicked, but any major damage or unevenness to the edge should be a red flag. Old or weathered heads aren’t a big deal, but be aware you’ll have to replace them and a decent set is at least $60.
- Look at the bass (kick) and hi-hat pedal on the kit and check that the beater shaft (kick pedal) is true and that both pedals work smoothly.
- Examine the bushings (the “tightness” of the stands where the moving parts of each come together) of the cymbal stands. Strike the cymbal and listen for any vibration or other unwanted signs coming from the stands. Hearing anything amiss is a sign the hardware is on its last legs.
- Lastly, do your homework on drum construction and components before shopping around. If you’re looking for a little better quality kit and are willing to pay for it, beware of sellers who are selling an average kit for an inflated price. For example, a poplar-shell CB 700 Brand drum set used shouldn’t be selling for $1000. Just be wary of scammers – a great idea is to enlist the help or advice of your teacher or a knowledgeable person when buying a used kit.
Most new drummers aren’t entirely certain which direction they’re going to move in as they find themselves as musicians. This is why the 5-piece drum set – bass drum, snare, drum, 2 rack toms and 1 floor tom – is the one most beginners buy. (And for the record many versatile and experienced drummers find that a 5-pc set is all they’ve ever needed.)
Most new beginner drum sets will be of this configuration, with a standard 18x22” Bass drum, 6.5x14” snare, 12x10” and 11x13” rack toms and 16x16” Floor Tom. This array of drums is a great starting point for one to explore their setup and determine which drums need to be added or omitted to suit their playing style and music.
Those moving more towards jazz and less-volume oriented music might be drawn to a smaller and simpler set-up with an 18 or 20” bass drum, one smaller rack tom and a 14” floor tom. Others compelled to rock might want to go with a thunderous 24 or even 26” bass drum or even a pair of them to allow the double bass playing that is characteristic of rock and metal music. These same folks might want to add more tom-toms to their set to allow for longer and more dynamic fills.
Cymbals follow the same logic. A “basic” kit will have the hi-hat cymbal with 2 crash cymbals and a ride cymbal. Jazz players and some others sometimes prefer to move their ride cymbal inside in place of the second rack tom and have just one crash cymbal above their hi-hat. The opposite end of the spectrum has the rock, pop, metal or fusion player sporting any number of crash cymbals along with accent cymbals like Chinese, splashes and gongs to paint their music more vividly. Remember that a larger diameter cymbal will produce a larger sound and feature a longer sustain and resonance.
Starting with a 5-piece kit and adding or subtracting as you grow as a drummer is the norm. For most, it is best to follow this path. Like most drummers, you find that your kit evolves as you do and is constantly changing.