Buying A Drum Kit

Advice for students and their families
You can get a helpful start in drum kit by using a practice pad for snare drum technique and by tapping feet on the floor and hand on your knees / table top for co-ordination. A little imagination helps here. However, when you are convinced that you really want to progress with drum kit, then you will need to practise on an instrument for real.

Here are some starting points for choosing a drum kit. This advice assumes that you are a student buying a first kit, primarily for practice at home, perhaps with a view to the occasional performance. Everyone has unique needs and resources available, so there is no one perfect kit. I list below some things that you need to consider, and some places to start your search.

Acoustic or Electronic
Electronic drum kits have advanced enormously over the last decade and prices of entry-level kits (both electronic and acoustic) have fallen. Each option has advantages and disadvantages:

Acoustic Drums
It’s the real thing, capable of the full range of drum kit sounds.It feels right as you play it –  the response and bounciness of the instruments is authentic.It’s easy to upgrade individual parts, e.g. to change heads, upgrade a cymbal, add a cymbal.No amplification or power supply needed.Exactly what you need for grade exam preparation.Can be bulky, taking up lots of space when set up to play, though there are compact / fusion sizes.Loud ! – though you can moderate this with damping pads.If you want a different kit sound, you need to retune or change instruments.You might need to add on a ride cymbal to some entry-level set-ups offered in shops.·   

Electronic Drums
Basic models are slightly more compact  than acoustic kits, especially if you play through headphones only.Much quieter to practice on than the real thing (though not silent).Basic models are generally quick and easy to transport and set up. The electronic “brain” gives you the sounds of many different types of drum kit. The feel is different from real drums. With basic models watch out for the bounce under the stick and the pedal action.Basic models won’t do “extended” sounds, such as cross-stick clicks, or vary sound as you strike different parts of a drum or cymbal.You need a power supply, and if you want to play along with other musicians, you need an amplifier too.Not ideal for grade exam preparation.

There are electronic table-top devices that claim to be drum kits, and very much aren’t. They are splendid toys, but of very limited use for preparing you to play actual drums.

Number of drums and cymbals – Drum kits come in many shapes and sizes. In the early stages you’ll need a standard 5-piece kit with ride cymbal as well as crash and hi-hats. You need all the components that you see in the diagram near the front of the “Launch Pad” tutor book.

Dimensions of the drums and cymbals – this is especially important if you are a young / short drummer, in which case you will want small drums. Look for “compact” or “micro” size kits with18” or 20” bass drum, and “fusion” or “short stack” tomtoms. Ensure that you can sit comfortably at the kit, reach the pedals and also play all of the drums and cymbals with no strain.  Some electronic kits are very easy to set up for very short players because the trigger pads are much thinner than acoustic drums.

  New  vs. Second Hand 
A new kit should work perfectly and come with a back up of customer service, warranty, etc. It will cost more than a comparable second-hand kit.
There is a vibrant market for second-hand drum kits. You can potentially get a very helpful starter kit this way, particularly if you want it mainly for home practice. However, do ensure that you buy a complete kit – one with all of the components you see in the drum kit diagram near the front of your “Launch Pad” tutor book. Also ensure that it’s all in working order, which will require trying out the kit and some expertise. The downside is that it might sound horrible, or need repair/retuning to make it function correctly. The upside is that you can probably sell it again at a similar price when you want to upgrade, or if you decide that you really want to play the ukulele instead.

Try it out in person
It’s very important to check the kit in person. Sit at it, play it. Adjust it. Play some more. Take your time. Can you get comfortable, reach all the instruments, play without moving awkwardly?  Are you happy with the sounds of the instruments (if you’ve tried an entry-level kit, perhaps ask about upgrading the drum heads, or the cymbals).

The ideal is a specialist drums & percussion store with competent staff, or a large general music shop, with a good Drums department. These shops have websites and online shops too.

Online-only sources occasionally offer very good deals. However, I would not recommend buying musical instruments solely on the basis of seeing a picture on a website, unless you know exactly what you are looking for. If you’re after a drum kit, go along to a physical shop, discuss your needs and budget with a human being, and try some kits out in person. 
Second-Hand sources –  online private trade sites, such as E-Bay, GumTree, etc – though beware that you need to look for local sellers unless you’re willing to pay for shipping a bulky / heavy item. 

As with most things, you are likely to get what you pay for to some extent. In particular, the cheapest possible on-line deal will probably deliver a kit that looks, sounds, feels and lasts like the cheapest possible instrument. Equally, don’t invest in premium professional standard gear if that’s not what you need right now.

There are many brands and models of drum kit out there. It’s not practical to review them all here. However, in recent years, a number have gained helpful reputations with drum kit students.

Entry level:  Mapex Tornado, Odery InRock, Pearl Roadshow, Tama Rhythm Mate.  There are other (and cheaper) options from lesser known manufacturers, which may meet your needs, though they will need extra examination to ensure that quality is adequate.

Mid-Range: Pearl Export series (for many years a worldwide bestseller and essentially an industry standard kit) and Mapex Armoury / Mars series. There are also options in the mid range from Gretsch (Catalina series), Odery (Fluence series), Tama (Silverstar)

Electronics –  Roland and Yamaha are leading brands in electronic drum kits, with some other brands, such as Alesis, catching up fast.  There are lower cost kits at the entry level end of some other ranges, but as with acoustic kits, do check that they give the functions and quality you need.

What are you buying? 
Be aware that you may be offered a full drum kit, including stands and cymbals. This is often the case with entry-level kits. The shop may offer optional upgrades of cymbal or drum head quality.

For Mid-range kits and upwards, you will often be offered a “shell pack” (basically just the drums) with or without a basic set of stands. This gives you control over the hardware (such as pedals) and cymbals that you add to complete the kit.

It is quite easy to upgrade and extend acoustic drum kits, by adding extra stands / cymbals, or by improving component quality.

I hope this helps you to find the right drum kit for your needs and circumstances.

Jonathan Lewin      2020