Drum sets for newbies?
March 5, 2009 6:34 AM   Subscribe

What should I know about buying a starter drum set?

I would like to buy a starter drum set for my significant other. I am open to either electronic or non-electronic. Used or new. What should I be looking for? Which pieces are essential to learn on? Which brands are decent? Are there advantages to the electronic kind (I gather that noise is a big advantage -- I'm thinking these will go either in the basement or in a spare bedroom, is that even possible?) Is there anything else I should know? It's a surprise, and I have about 4 months to pull it off, if that matters....
posted by anonymous to Shopping (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I had a crappy starter drum set before, and I was too excited to learn coordination on the whole thing to gain consistency/accuracy on the rudiments. Now I have just a nice snare drum (Ludwig) so that I can get the basics down before I invest in the rest of the kit.

Noise issues depend on first on your neighbors, and secondly on your own. Sounds like you're in a house or a townhouse...if it's a house with enough space between neighbors, you might be okay depending on your own tolerance.

I prefer real drums to electronic, especially to get the feel of real drum heads, although once I get better I might buy electronic to mess around with.

Some good, respected brands are DW, Tama, Pearl, Ludwig, and Gretsch. With all that time, you might start by looking up the brands used by your SO's favorite musicians.
posted by hellogoodbye at 6:50 AM on March 5, 2009

Real drums are definitely better to learn on if the noise isn't an issue. They are loud (obviously), but for someone who's trying to learn I really would recommend the real thing if at all possible.

As for the parts that would be absolutely necessary for someone learning to play drums:
-Snare Drum
-Bass Drum
-Hi Hat
-At least one "tom" drum (most drum sets come with 2 "toms" and a "floor tom" but you can get buy with 1 for a beginner if $$ is an issue)
-Crash Cymbal
-Ride Cymbal

These are the basic parts. I ordered them from most essential to least essential. You can probably get away without having a Ride cymbal but you cannot play drums without a snare. I would, however, call all of these parts more or less necessary for a full drum kit.

And of course there are ancillary parts like the throne (seat), drumsticks (they make "practice" sticks that dampen some sound), etc.

I would say that for a beginner brands aren't really that important. Just like learning anything, the difference in quality isn't noticeable unless you know what you're doing. Don't waste money (unless it's no object...) on an expensive first kit. Just not worth it.
posted by jckll at 6:59 AM on March 5, 2009

Since you have the luxury of owning a basement, I would go with an acoustic set. (imo, the primary benefit to a beginner of electronic drums is that they can be played very quietly, i.e. in an apartment setting, etc.) Do you have a drummer friend who can help you select an affordable--but decent quality—used kit? If so, I would definitely recommend going the used route and buying a good quality used kit from a respected maker (e.g. Tama, Ludwig, Pearl, etc.) rather than buying one of the many very cheap, entry-level, import brands (e.g. Apex) new. You can probably find (used instrument stores, craigslist, etc.) complete used kits, including stands, hardware and good (e.g. Zildjian, Paiste, Sabian, etc.) cymbals--which is important because cheap, no-name cymbals are especially crappy, and the threading in cheap hardware and stands becomes stripped easily and guarantee frustration down the road. Enlist the help of a knowledgeable drummer and go used.

[Caveat: I sold my last good drumset over 10 years ago, and have not owned drums since, so the brand names I mentioned above may have gotten better or worse since then.]
posted by applemeat at 7:12 AM on March 5, 2009

If you're looking for instruments on the cheap, pawn shops are you friend. Take the advice of the experienced drummers here on their recommendations of quality manufacturers. I'm a guitar player, not a drummer, but I've found some amazing deals at pawn shops who don't always know the worth of their merchandise.
posted by DrDreidel at 7:30 AM on March 5, 2009

Craigslist is good too if you can bring someone who knows even a little about drums.

jckll has a good list, I would add that for completeness you will probably need
* a drum "key" for tuning
* stands for all symbols and the snare (usually they come with but make sure those aren't broken if you're buying used
* sticks, lots of them
* bass drum pedal that works (newer this is the better)

It's not important that they all be the same brand or anything for a starter kit, but do make sure any individual piece isn't from a tiny kid's kit or a marching band or something.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:01 AM on March 5, 2009

I'd be really careful with pawnshops. There are deals to be had but 90%+ of every musical instrument I've ever seen in a pawnshop has been overpriced, junk, or both. To find the good stuff you need to know how to recognize it. This probably means finding a friend who's a competent drummer.
posted by 6550 at 8:03 AM on March 5, 2009

Just want to echo the advice to buy used. And to stay away from pawn shops unless you can bring someone with you who knows what they're looking at. Try going to your local guitar/music shop and asking around about used merchandise. If they don't sell it at the store, they will know the best place around town to find it. And guys that work in stores like that generally give lessons, and are great resources for matching buyers of used goods with sellers.
posted by jckll at 8:18 AM on March 5, 2009

We got a nice starter set for my daughter on Musicians Friend in the clearance/blem section - spent $300, and it's a reasonable set. Nothing wrong, scratched, or dented that we could find. It has been a good starter set.

Acoustic is nice if you have somewhere to play without bugging neighbors. You can buy mutes (pads) or mesh heads for acoustic drums to quiet them down, but you lose a bit of the fun.

The lower priced electronic sets seem pretty bad. Sound is just not that good. The high end electronic sets - like a $3500 Roland are really great.
posted by ecorrocio at 9:48 AM on March 5, 2009

Electronics are great if you're willing to shill out lots of money for them. All mesh pads and a decent sound module can easily set you back a couple of grand. Not something I would recommend for beginners, who might still change their mind and decide drumming isn't for them anyway.

If you have the space, go acoustic. You will get a much better feel for the tactile and sonic qualities of the instrument. Yes, they're loud as f*ck, so consider sound proofing your basement. Musical practice can be quite annoying when you're not the one doing it.

Don't waste money on so-called entry-level drum kits. Those are being offered for cheap because more often than not the parts are inferior. You can find good used equipment easily, but be sure to ask a drummer friend to inspect the thing first. Look for cracked shells, stripped screws, loose lugs, bent tension rods, and with cymbals, tears and "keyholes". Don't worry about drumheads, you'll be replacing those anyway.

Lastly, don't skimp on cymbals. They're an important part of the sound, and hitting cheap sheet metal "trash can lids" will get annoying real quickly.
posted by monospace at 9:53 AM on March 5, 2009

I recommend going to your local music shop and getting a rental for a month or two (mine ran me about $40 a month) before deciding to get your own. It would come with all the necessary items and help you get a feel for what you like in a set so you can choose to spend money on what you like when you decide to make the plunge.
posted by kinakomochi at 10:01 AM on March 5, 2009

I'd buy new - a used kit is something that people have been hitting with a stick as hard as they can, and a kit has a lot of parts to lose or break.

You don't give a price range - it's possible to get a basic drum set from a good brand like Tama for about $500.
Less prestigious brands start cheaper, from about $200.

Note that a "shell pack" is missing required bits of hardware (it's designed as an upgrade pack for people who already have those bits of metal lying around), whereas a "drum set" or "drum kit" is more complete.
Some sets come with a "throne" (the drum stool) and some don't.

I would buy a small set at first. If your SO takes to drumming a kit can always be added to and upgraded bit by bit.
posted by w0mbat at 10:04 AM on March 5, 2009

That Tama kit does look like a deal that's hard to beat (haha). I agree that with prices like that, it's probably not worth the hassle to find a decent used kit. (And that explains why I'm having such a hard time finding takers for some drum bits I've been trying to sell for ages.)
posted by monospace at 10:53 AM on March 5, 2009

Don't cheap out on the cymbals. With cheaper drums (to a certain extent), good tuning with good heads can make them sound pretty decent. Cymbals that sound like crap will always sound like crap. It is much better to spend less on the drums and put a little more money towards the cymbals.

A used pearl export set would be a great way to go, since those drums aren't too expensive, and they can sound good enough to record with and play live if wanted. You see export kits for a couple hundred bucks on craigslist, and then pickup a set of hihats and a ride (if those don't come with it).
posted by markblasco at 1:18 PM on March 5, 2009

I have a used Pearl Export kit and I actually really appreciated having to do some repairs and cleaning because it taught me how to care for the set and to really get to know WHAT I was playing while I was teaching myself HOW to play.
posted by stefnet at 5:48 PM on March 5, 2009

Before you go to music shops, ask friends if they know anyone with drums. Drum sets often get purchased only to be used once or twice and never again.
posted by hpliferaft at 8:37 PM on March 5, 2009

Last comment is astute. You can do this for free with a bit of applied observation.

Most people just don't have the space, acoustically speaking. Think of this as buying something like a used bike and pay accordingly. There are a tonne of drummers on this site who can advise you how to sort the heads, etc. Shit, I'm a bassplayer and I can do that stuff.

Go cheap!
posted by Wolof at 5:15 AM on March 6, 2009

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