A drum kit for a beginner
September 14, 2014 7:29 AM   Subscribe

I want to buy a drum kit (as a gift) and have no idea where to start (this is in Melbourne if you happen to have some location-specific information).

I'm buying a drum kit. Why, doesn't matter. The person (who is an adult) to be using the kit doesn't know it's coming and cannot yet play the drums, but will be practising or getting lessons I'm sure. Rock music.

So I want to get a good value (of course) kit that will last until either a passion is ignited and better gear can be bought, or a whim is vanished.

I know absolutely nothing about drums.

I would buy second hand for value, but I wouldn't know where to start (except on gumtree) and would sound an utter naif. I will be going to a major music store (any advice as to which store in Melbourne greatly appreciated, city or south-eastern suburbs preferred) and will be looking for a friendly and supportive salesperson, and will put myself in his or her hands. But, to start with, I wouldn't mind knowing a little bit... e.g. how many drums would you start with (Wikipedia suggests bass, snare, two toms, two hi-hats)? My budget is $500 - $800, this is realistic? Are there extras I should remember (sticks, I bet they're useful).

Fire away with whatever advice you can give on buying a first beginners drum kit...
posted by wilful to Shopping (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
10 years ago it'd be Billy Hyde for drums, but having been through a merger with Allan's and then a receivership who knows how useful they are any more. could be worth a shot though, they appear to have locations in the CBD and Blackburn.
posted by russm at 8:53 AM on September 14, 2014

Can't recommend any specific outlets in Australia, but as a drummer of 30+ years, I have to say that pretty much any new entry level kit I see in stores here in the USA is an INCREDIBLY good deal. For your budget, you can absolutely buy a good starter kit, with high quality shells and heads and hardware and pedals and even a decent starter set of cymbals and a throne. I wouldn't bother going second-hand, especially if you're not a drummer yourself, because there are so many moving parts. Just go with your local equivalent of Guitarcenter, and you should be able to find a complete starter kit without having to worry about each individual part. And if the recipient starts taking a liking to playing, upgrading slowly (a new snare, or a nice ride cymbal, or a top of the line kick pedal) is easily done.
posted by monospace at 9:12 AM on September 14, 2014

Here's a page with starter sets at Guitar Center, to give you a sense of what you'd be looking at. These are called a "5-piece" because of the number of shells and they're pretty standard. You could get one of those, add a throne, a kick pedal and some sticks, and you're in business.
posted by monospace at 9:16 AM on September 14, 2014

Best answer: It's been a while since I played, but here's what I've got.

Drummers Paradise in Richmond was always a good go-to shop in Melbourne. (And on preview, Billy Hydes! that's the name I couldn't remember.)

The drum config of bass, snare etc.are collectively 'pieces' - ie. a kit with a bass, snare, mounted tom, and floor tom would be called a '4-piece'. This is usually a jazz/country/light-rock setup, with more toms being added the heavier-rockier you're going (huge generalisation there). So, the recipients tastes might be a factor, and you can tell the salesperson whether you're looking for a 4 or 5 piece kit; 5 being a standard configuration for entry level sets, but you can safely lose a mounted tom if needed to bring the price down.

Note that cymbals or hi-hats aren't counted there. They're considered seperate hardware/investments, although most shops will have some bundle deal going on. The price tags on the display kits will often mention whether cymbals (and/or hardware such as stands) are included in the display price. At minimum you'll want one set of hi-hats, and one 'ride' cymbal. A 'crash' cymbal is also pretty much a default, but you could save that as a great present for a future occasion, and it's a forgivable thing to skip for a beginner.

The kit should have all the required hardware for setting up the drums - tom mounts and a snare stand - but the cymbals will need stands, and the hi-hats need a special stand with a pedal. The bass drum also needs a pedal. The saleperson should be well aware of this, and make sure one is included in the final package of whatever you get. Here's a pic of some stands and pedals. The 3 on the right are your hi-hat stand, snare stand, and bass pedal - your basics. The two stands on the left are cymbal stands - a 'boom' stand, and a 'straight' stand. A straight stand should be fine for your beginner friend. Boom attachments are sold as aftermarket addons if required.

One thing all too easy to forget is the stool. All drummers end up improvising one out of crates or something at some point, and it sucks. If you've got the choice, don't buy solely on price. Stools take a big beating, but one that lasts and you can trust becomes an old friend. A key word when shopping for durability in drum hardware is 'double-braced'. The stands in the pic above are all examples of double-bracing. The 'legs' all have parallel, uh... bits, and are much sturdier. Compare with this pic of a cheapy snare stand with single-braced legs.

(A quick look on the Drummers Paradise site shows many of their entry-level packages do include cymbals and all the necessary hardware, and reminded me that they're called 'thrones', not 'stools')

Sticks are a consumable, so no need to go all out on those just yet. Grab whatever's cheap (sub-$20) for now. A little check you can make in the shop is just to roll the sticks on a counter to make sure they're not excessively bent or warped. There are plenty of stick size options, but 5A or 5B are pretty standard if I remember right. Another choice here is between wood or nylon tips. Nylon sounds somewhat 'glassier' on cymbals, but it's a pretty minor aesthetic difference at this point. Consider brushes or 'thundersticks' if you are going for a more acoustic sound, or lounge-room jamming.

So your shopping list looks something like
  • 1 x (4 or 5) piece kit
    • Check if bass pedal included
    • Check if snare-stand included
(Plus or including, depending on package)
  • 1 x Stool Throne
  • 1 x set of Hi-hat cymbals
    • 1 x hi-hat stand
  • 1 x Ride cymbal
    • 1 x Straight cymbal stand (Boom stand if you're feeling fancy)
  • Get a couple of sets of sticks of the same model - they WILL get broken at some point, and not having a spare ruins the party.

Some sundries to consider:
  • Gaffer tape - good for controlling overly resonant drums and cymbals, holding stands in place on slippery floors, all sorts of things
  • Foam - like pillow/mattress foam, once again for sound control. Tape the foam to the skins to dull the ringing
  • A drum key - a small keyring socket-type tool for changing the 'heads' (skins); also often used to tighten stand braces and other hardware

Your budget should get you an entry-level kit - it's the extras (cymbals and hardware) that might stretch it a bit. You'll be pushing it to get a 'brand-name' (Pearl, Tama) kit though.
(After doing some window-shopping, here's something that suits your budget and requirements. For a beginner just testing the waters, I'd just a add Ride cymbal and stand (that package comes with hats and a crash) and call it a day.)

Think that covers it.
I'm also in Melbourne - memail me if you've got any followup questions. (or need a hand setting it up - it's been years since I actually played!)
posted by quinndexter at 10:16 AM on September 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Quick thing regarding the "two hi-hats"; they are sold as pairs - a top and a bottom that a pedal will keep together or open - so "One set of hi-hats, please shop-keep" will get you two matching cymbals. When talking about music though, you talk about hitting the hi-hat, and a standard kit would normally be said to have 'one hi-hat'.
posted by quinndexter at 10:34 AM on September 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've been playing the same drum set for nearly 25 years: Yamaha Birch Studio Custom. I play rock music and am a pretty abusive towards my equipment. They have never had cases of any kind and I play out frequently. The quality and longevity of Yamaha drums is incredible to me.

Though something like that may be slightly outside of your budget once cymbals and accessories are factored in, if you happen upon a used kit it may be worth taking a look at.

quinndexter offers some fine advice, I would just add the following caveats.

Double-braced hardware is not only more expensive, it is significantly heavier to haul around and brand quality does vary considerably in this area. I would recommend buying high quality brand single braced cymbal stands vs a lesser brand double braced. Also, there are two types of drum thrones to be aware of; the kind that spins to raise or lower is significantly more sturdy, adjustable and reliable than the kind that use a pin to adjust the height.

Really though anything at all will probably be fine, don't worry too much. My practice kit is basically a pile of random junk and it plays great. Whatever shiny looking beginners kit will be good enough to get started.
posted by j03 at 11:56 AM on September 14, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for your responses everyone, particularly quinndexter for going the extra mile.
posted by wilful at 9:54 PM on September 14, 2014

re: cymbals, in addition to the ride and hi-hat that quinndexter mentions, you will probably also want to get a smaller crash cymbal (and accompanying stand).
posted by oakroom at 6:10 AM on September 15, 2014

Response by poster: So, just for closure, I ended up getting this - the PDP Z5. Reckon I got upsold something atrocious, but oh well, I'm sure it's a good enough kit for me/her.
posted by wilful at 5:41 AM on September 17, 2014

Response by poster: Hey I got an 18" crash-ride, is that all I need?
posted by wilful at 4:58 PM on September 19, 2014

It'll do to start. You can easily spend as much on cymbals as on the drums themselves, but no need to rush into that.
posted by oakroom at 6:18 PM on September 20, 2014

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