Beginner's Guide To Buying A Drum Kit

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Obviously everyone has to start somewhere, and when you do, the wealth of options available on the market these days are bound to confuse the novice drummer.  So where do you start?  There is an awful lot of choice so consider your objectives in drumming carefully when you consider buying a drum kit.  Are you starting to play just for fun?  Do you have aspirations to get in a band and get signed?  Will you want to play gigs for a bit of extra cash down the pub or working men’s club at weekends?  All this will narrow down what is suitable for you.

With anyone, the two simple rules of “you get what you pay for” and “get the best you can afford” apply to drums as much as anything else.  Even if you only ever want to play purely for your own enjoyment at home, having a better kit to play on will make it more enjoyable, and be a bigger source of inspiration for you.  It’s surprising how many of our customers who consider themselves bedroom players, have really nice kits.  It makes the whole drumming experience more enjoyable.  The more you spend, it is more likely that you will have something that looks better, sounds better and lasts longer.  Having said that, the recent improvements to the budget-mid range market have really raised the bar in drum kit quality.

So what do you look for?  If you are buying your first kit, you will want a full set up of drums, stands, pedals, cymbals, and of course, sticks.  Most kits up to £300/400 these days come as a complete deal with all that in.  As you get higher up the scale, it is more unlikely cymbals will be included.  As you get towards the more professional end, you will find you are looking at a price for a shell pack comprising bass drum and toms, maybe some tom holders, but no hardware, snare drum or cymbals, so be clear about what you are getting for your money and set your budget accordingly!

The most standard kit you find comes in rock sizes, with 22” bass drum, 12 and 13” mounted toms, 16” floor tom and 14” snare.  This is by far the most common configuration, especially in pre-configured drum kits to take “off the shelf.”  Fusion sizes come with a 20 or 22” bass drum, 10, 12 and 14” toms (sometimes the 14” is a floor tom, sometimes it has a clamp to hang off the cymbal stand) and the 14” snare.  For the record, it is not always necessary to get a junior, small kit for young players.  I have had students at 5 years old playing a full size rock or fusion kit, and they cope very well, and of course they will also grow into it.  Whether you choose rock or fusion is down to you.  Two kits the same, but of the different sizes sound very much the same, the difference being the higher or lower pitch generated by the different sized drums.

Quite often, the drum shells can only be an equal component of the kit when compared to the hardware.  After all, it is the hardware which is the working, moving part of the kit, and if poor quality, is the bit most likely to let you down.  The two most crucial parts are the bass drum pedal and hi hat stand.  Check that these are sturdy and operate smoothly.  With the cymbal stands, check that all the height adjustments and cymbal tilters seem sturdy enough to handle what you’re going to throw at it.  Obviously, with more expensive kits come bulkier and better hardware, so the pitfalls become fewer.

The shells can come in a few different materials, obviously made of wood, but often the snare drum can be made of steel or other metal.  You should consider that quite often, a basic set of drums could be vastly improved by putting good skins on, which you can do once the original set wear out.  A word on skins, by the way:  don’t get too upset if you break one.  They are bound to go sometime and unfortunately are not covered by manufacturers warranties; as of course are sticks!  As time goes on, you will get used to breaking stuff over time!  Shells and hardware are of course covered by warranty, excepting physical damage caused by improper use (something that Keith Moon should have taken note of…).  If you can, just check the quality of construction in the shells, especially on the top and bottom edges of the shell, which are the most important parts.  On any kit, these should be well rounded and smoothly cut.

Many kits will come with cymbals up to a certain level, and are usually quite well up to the task of getting you started.  With cheap starter kits, the cymbals can often be very lightweight, and not sound very good.  Ideally, consider cymbals within your budget if they are not included with the kit, so that you can get a decent set.  If you decide to blow most of your money on the drums themselves however, you can easily upgrade the cymbals at a later date.  Buying cymbals in pre-packed sets is by far the most economical way, so look for good deals on various sets.

Then quite often it comes down to what you can afford, what sounds good and is well-built, and of course whether you like the look of it or not!

Buying second hand.

The main thing with buying second hand drums is always try and look at them in the flesh before you hand over any money.  Or at least make sure you ask some vital questions that will help you ensure you get what you need.  Quite often, if buying your first kit, looking at a higher grade used kit may be a better option than a cheaper new kit, for around the same money.  Ensure the kit is complete, and you know exactly what you’re getting for your money.  It may be that the kit is missing some components, maybe nuts and bolts that will need to be replaced.  If skins need replacing, a new set may cost you £20, or up to £50, depending what you go for.  If no stands or cymbals are included, scout around first to see how much it will be to make up what you need, in order to stay in budget.

Well, good luck with it and enjoy your drumming!

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