I'm buying a drum set for the first time. What advice would you offer me?
February 15, 2008 11:01 AM   Subscribe

AskMe Musicians - I'm buying a drum set for the first time. What advice would you offer me?

Hey all,

I've been playing hand drums for the last 11 years, and a few months ago I decided to make the switch to playing a full drum kit. I've been practicing on a friend's set for the past five months, and am finally ready to buy my own. However, I don't really know where to begin!

I'm looking for a pretty basic kit - snare, bass, tom-tom, floor tom, big crash, small crash, hi-hat, ride, and throne. I don't need anything fancy, but I do want it to be durable and high-quality. Even though I'm a beginner, I don't want to buy another kit any time soon.

Although I would appreciate any help that you have to offer, a few big questions stick out in my mind :

1) How much should I spend, really? Some kits are ridiculously expensive, some cheap. How much should I expect to spend for a decent kit?

2) Does it make sense to buy a full kit at once, or does it make more sense to buy the kit piece-by-piece? I don't really know much about drum kits, so I'm a little hesitant to put it together myself.

3) What brands are good for the various pieces of a drum kit? Are there any particular models that you would recommend? Any that you would stay away from? I've noticed that some of the name brands have subsidiary "discount brands" - should I avoid these?

4) Where should I buy it? I live in NYC, and if I bought it locally I'd have to pay NYC sales tax, which is almost 9%. Plus, everything here is ridiculously overpriced. Are there local stores that would give me a good deal? What about online? Will I lose on shipping any gains that I would otherwise make from buying online?

5) This is more of a general question - what should I know about the various pieces of a kit before making this investment? As I said, I don't know much about drum kits, so I wouldn't know, say, the difference in sound between one type of crash cymbal and another. Are there any websites that you would recommend for this type information?

Thanks for the help.
posted by Afroblanco to Shopping (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Refer to this thread.
posted by Evstar at 11:15 AM on February 15, 2008

First off, if you aren't rushed for time, buy used. Great deals can be had on used drums, as people are constantly getting sick of how much space they take up, having neighbors freak out, etc etc etc. If you have a car/other transport, look on nearby craigslists as well - jersey, boston, etc.

1) How much money do you WANT to spend? if you pay more for, say, a nice DW kit, it's going to have resale value. The entry-level kits are not going to hold any value.

2) if you're committed to the idea, and don't care about stuff matching so much, I'd do the vintage piecemeal route.

3) cheaper entry level brands - they're not going to have much resale value. If you just want a beater kit to bang on, i'd get an entry level kit via craigslist until you're sure your neighbors won't be calling the cops on you every saturday night or what have you.

4)The problem with buying an instrument online is that you don't get a chance to play it first.. this may or may not be a problem for you. Local stores in NYC are rarely a "good deal" in the sense of "cheapest route", but are often worthwhile in terms of customer service, advice, and supporting the little guy.

5) making sure that the bearing edges aren't smashed and the shells are round is the biggest deal.

Spend money on the seat and get one that's really comfy for you. same thing with the kick pedal.
posted by dubold at 11:24 AM on February 15, 2008

What's your budget? What is the maximum realistic price you'd put on a kit?

1) You could do pretty well with a little over a grand going for used equipment. Add cymbals and hardware and the price goes up. My recommendation is to look for well taken care of used equipment. I always buy used drums.

2) I'd say it makes more sense to buy your toms and kick as a package because the wood, finish and quality will be evenly matched. Snares are most often sold separately except for on budget kits. The same goes for cymbals and stands.

3) I like Pearl and Yamaha hardware. I especially like Yamaha's hi-hat stands. Most manufacturers make a range of drums, from shit introductory kits to very high-end. I have a Taye kit and and a Ludwig kit, but I'd sell them both if I could get my hands on the kind of Gretsch bop setup I want. Yamaha's mid-range drums are great too. How you skin and tune them will make a big difference in how they sound anyway. I would avoid CB drums, the lower end Tamas and the really low-end Pearl and Ludwigs, though the Pearl Exports and Export Selects are good low-end drums. They've gotten a lot better over the years.

4) I live in Canada. I can't help you there, sorry.

5) For starting out, I think two crashes is excessive, but if that's something you really want then knock yourself out. I gig with one crash, one ride and my hi-hats. Sometimes I do without a crash altogether. When you're choosing a cymbal, the style of music you're playing is probably the most important consideration. It's hard to make a suggestion if I don't know what you're into playing.

If you buy a a set of nice drums, don't be surprised if they sound like ass off the bat. You're new to kit drumming and probably haven't built a knack for tuning them yet. Choosing heads and tuning them well is important to getting the sound you want out of them.
posted by Evstar at 11:36 AM on February 15, 2008

Consider buying from Guitar Center. They have an amazing drum room with tons of stuff set up, and even if they don't have an exact set you like, they can point you to something great. Shop around online with them first.

DW makes great stuff. Pearl is pretty nice. Yamaha, etc. There are a LOT of things you can obsess over, like what material the shells are made of, how they're mounted (not having mounts go INTO the shell is a big bonus for "fidelity" though the difference isn't terribly noticeable but the price is, for instance).

Spend good money on a good throne, especially if you're not crazy skinny. I'm a huge fan of the Roc-N-Soc Lunar Series and here's why: It's contoured to support you, even if you're doing bass-foot independence stuff that requires both feet off the ground. It's very comfortable, even for extended periods and supports you fully. It's also a bit expensive and not necessarily somewhere you need to put your money up front, but make sure you have *a* throne. A kitchen or folding chair is a disservice to your kit.

Also spend good money on a pedal. For pedals, I'm a big fan of DW, but again, gravitate towards cheaper within the brand. A good pedal will let you get good response and feedback and work less to do interesting bass work.

For cymbals, go to a Guitar Center and bang the hell out of a few different types. Sabian and Zildjian are the staples (and from the same family, who split in a crazy rivalry after the founding father died) but Paiste and such are good too. Really, this is personal preference. Pick a crash that provides a full, solid sound and isn't terribly thin. You can buy a cymbal series for consistency across the board like the Sabian B8 Cymbal Pack that'll give you two crashes, a ride and a hi-hat. You can add a splash to round things out.

Stay away from China and other Effect cymbals for now. (China cymbals are a style of cymbal that provide a very "dark, trashy" tone. You'll almost NEVER use them in most types of music, and especially as a beginner.)

DW, for instance, sells a lower end line called Pacific Drums and Percussion. They lack internal reinforcement rings in their shells but are largely the same drums and level of quality. They're not as sturdy for touring and travel, but they'll sound good and cost you a lot less. If you can find a decent five-piece from them for a relatively decent price, jump on that.

Expect to pay $600-$1200 for a decent drum set (shells and stands and mounts only), another $300-$400 for cymbals, $150 for a good throne, $200-$400 on cymbal stands, $20 on sticks (I love the Pro-Mark Carter Beauford Signature Series 5ABs, personally), $100 on a decent pedal (though most sets will come with a starter pedal) and such.

When picking out a set, pay MOST attention to your snare sound. Test it at all dynamic ranges, on different parts of the head. Most the time, you won't be touching the toms. Hell, you could take out the mid-tom in a set and people'd probably hardly notice. They're used, as you know, for fills and for heavily driven songs, but listen to something on the radio and you'll notice snare comes out most. If you buy a shitty snare, you will hate life forever that you own it. I had a *terrible* snare with my otherwise decent set, and I wanted to kill someone everytime I played.

I ended up buying a Noble & Cooley Alloy Classic Cast snare drum from a friend for the bargain basement price of $300. Now, you don't need to get something CRAZY expensive like this, but you DO need to pay close attention to how the snare sounds. If it sounds off when you're testing it, you're not going to like it too much. (Grain of salt: tuning of the head and the drum head itself can affect the sound quality from a snare, as can some other minor things. But if it sounds bad at the shop you're going to buy it from, where they usually tune it up right... beware.)

Guitar Center again for reviews and recommendations. They also often have audio clips of different pieces so that you can get an idea, though nothing beats playing in real life.

Take a look at your favorite drummers from your favorite bands and find out what they play on. You can usually find a drummer's equipment list by Googling for their name and "equipment" if they're at all popular. Of course, they're usually sponsored and have bought some *very* expensive stuff, but if you like their hi-hat sound, for instance, you can tell a drum pro what sound you're going for and see if they can place you with something similar/cheaper.

The Guitar Center people are typically very friendly towards new folks and experienced players. Lots of people buy their first set there, and they know how to help you fit your budget. Again, focus on the hi hat and snare sounds, since those are what come through most. The bass drum should sound to your liking, but a decent head can be surprisingly effective at cleaning up a rough bass drum sound. Avoid something that looks terribly cheap or thin, but recognize that budget means budget, and you can get into sets that cost $5,000+ without cymbals.

Don't forget that every single thing requires a stand. Also don't worry *too* much about double-bracing everything. (Stands can have "double-braced" legs, which are twice as thick, so to speak, and serve to help keep cymbals from knocking over during more fervent play—cheap stands can be balanced poorly and fall quickly, or have crappy tighteners, but depending on your play style, you may never know.)

Don't forget a drum key. Learn how to tune everything. Learn how to replace your drum heads. (Again, GC folk can help with this.)

Really, buy the core kit itself at once so that it matches and is the same brand. You can swap out the snare to something amazing later. Buy a cymbal pack to get going in that respect quickly and relatively cheaply, but you can always add (dissimilar) cymbals to the mix later, no harm no foul. Don't spend under $500 for the kit itself—it'll come back to bite you. But look for a brand like Pacific to keep the quality level relatively consistent so you know what to expect. And again, check the reviews on different brands on Guitar Center and Musicians Friend and elsewhere on the web. They're pretty spot on, I've noticed.

Guitar Center has free shipping over $99, but they have locations almost everywhere, so you'll still get saddled with sales tax probably. Again, make sure you check this stuff out in person and see what they recommend. They won't have more than 3 or 4 sets set up, but they are *extremely* knowledegable and can help you a great deal.
posted by disillusioned at 11:36 AM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Evstar is right about a used kit. If you can find a decent-brand name used kit that's been well maintained, you'll save a ton. Drums keep very well if they're not used for gigging excessively, cracked or otherwise damaged. (My Ludwig set was used and I bought it on eBay, after $300 in shipping... it also included 8 cymbals, stands for everything and more. And came in like 9 boxes, lol.)

He's also right about the crash thing; consider what you play with most and how much you need the additional crash. A cymbal pack will give you both, which is great and you can always add on more later.

Good luck!
posted by disillusioned at 11:39 AM on February 15, 2008

Man, drummers love to talk about drumming. Look! Someone finally wants to hear what we have to say!

yammeryammyammeryammer. Good luck, Afroblanco, and if you give us a working budget we can give you a little more direction.
posted by Evstar at 11:45 AM on February 15, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all of your suggestions thus far. I can already tell that this is going to be a great thread.

As far as budget goes - I'd like to keep it under $2K if possible.

As far as music goes - I pretty much play your standard indie rock stuff. I may eventually want to invest in some special cymbals to get more of a "shoegaze" sound (I love My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Jesus & Mary Chain, Lush, Chapterhouse, etc) but I can wait on that until I've got the fundamentals down.

One minor clarification - in my question #5, where I mentioned that "I wouldn't know, say, the difference in sound between one type of crash cymbal and another" - I wasn't just speaking about crash cymbals. I don't really know a whole lot about drum kits, in general. So advice on all parts of a drum kit are welcome.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:00 PM on February 15, 2008

I'd suggest getting a 4-piece (snare, bass drum, one tom and a floor tom) with a hi-hat and a crash-ride (or a separate 16" medium crash and a 20" medium ride if you can afford it). Buy used. I advise that the hardware is marginally more important than the drums themselves, because you don't want a spindly hi-hat stand or bass drum pedal that will get in the way of your learning. When you look at used sets, wiggle the tom on the bass drum to see if it creaks at all, undo and tighten the screws on the floor tom and bass drum legs to make sure they're solid. The hi-hat stand and bass drum pedal should not have a sluggish action.

As mentioned at length above, the particular pieces and brands you get will depend entirely on your budget, but it's important to have some kind of understanding of the pieces and a way to prioritize the different quality of sets out there since there are so many kinds of parts of any drum set.

Good luck, it's great fun once you start getting the coordination down!
posted by rhizome at 12:02 PM on February 15, 2008

Lots of good info in here, and I enthusiastically second the Roc and Soc throne. Never has my poor ass done better during 4 hours of gig than on my wonderful Roc and Soc. The downside is that is heavy as hell, but frankly I do not care. I don't get misty-butt anymore, and that's all that matters.

I also second the idea of getting a really good pedal. I have an Axis AX-A single that I love dearly.

I also agree that Yamaha hardware is very good.

My drums are second-hand. I don't even know how old they are! I bought them about 20 years ago. They are Premier, and have a nice responsive jazz sound, although I am currently playing in a rock band and usually mike the snare and kick through out PA. But I don't hit as hard as I did when I was a kid, so that works for me. My first kit was a Rogers, and they were solid fucking drums but very heavy and something of a drag to schlep around. I'd buy Rogers again, for sure, but I do love my Premiers.

Consider getting drum cases -- perhaps soft ones to start with. Your beautiful drums will stay beautiful that much longer.

You can drop $500 on a decent beginner's set of drums, but I would advise you to put the snare away in the closet and go get yourself something like a Ludwig chrome-shell snare. It will sound better, last longer, and make you feel like a fucking king back there.

I personally would not buy "rack" toms. I like 'em off the kick drum. less hardware that way, but of course YMMV. Much depends on the sort of music you play and the image you wish to project.

You really want to get decent cymbals, and testing them is a full-time job. I have Zildjian, and there seem to be some good packs listed here. That said, I wouldn't buy a pack. I have some sweet Z 14-inch hi-hat cymbals of which I am very fond... the lower one has a scalloped edge which gives a very satisfying "chick" with the foot action. I love these guys.

Ride and crashes... well, wow, that's a day's worth of chat right there. I swap 18's and 20's in and out of the ride stand, but I have a nice 18" that I use for crashes, plus a silly little 12" splash and a couple of other goofy things I use to amuse myself.

Whew... this is fun.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 12:20 PM on February 15, 2008

Lots of good advice so far. I will add that I am a firm believer in quality cymbals. Sabian B8's are the el-cheapo's of the bunch and there is a reason why. In my personal opinion they sound like shit. Go to a drum shop and ask to hit the cymbals and you can test it out. The B8's are really clangy.

Really you'll have to get a taste for cymbals as you get more experienced. I would suggest you buy only one - maybe a crash-ride, something versatile - plus a hi-hat, until after you've been playing for a while and know the type of sound you want. Different cymbals are appropriate for different genres so this is a personal preference.
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:22 PM on February 15, 2008

I got a cheap, used beginners kit off CL for about $200. It's a Sound Percussion. It's okay--it's a little tinny sounding, it's not the sturdiest kit out there, I have a 15" floor tom which is apparently really bizarre, but it does what I need it to. I will definitely upgrade at some point but this has been fine so far for practicing. It sounds like you might want something better than this...I was told I could get a much better, new kit (Tama Star) for about $600. Obviously that's not top of the line but my teacher said it was a pretty decent kit for the price, it would last awhile, and would be good for starting to play out should I get to that point.

I say this every time someone asks about drums on here, but it's so true--mesh heads are great. And so much better for playing on than padding your drums. I got a set of four for less than $40 and it means I can keep my full kit in my Brooklyn apartment and practice whenever I want without bothering the neighbors. Since I'm not playing out yet I keep the mesh heads on all the time, so for me it didn't make sense to spend a ton of money on a nice kit since I can't really hear it anyway. (Not to mention I didn't have $600.) YMMV. If I really want to play and hear it, I rent time at a studio.

I don't know so much about prices, but the people are good at Modern Drum Shop and First Flight Music, and they're both small locally owned shops.

I've only been playing about a year so some of the other comments might be a lot more helpful...this is just a couple thoughts from the cheap beginner end of the spectrum. (Would that make it my $.01 cent instead of $.02?)
posted by min at 12:39 PM on February 15, 2008

I'm with min, I'm not a gearhead and definitely not rich so I bought a <$300 CAD beginner kit. (Kick, two rack toms, floor tom, snare, hi-hat and crash, throne and all hardware.) It suits my needs just fine. I'm of the general opinion that it's not the gear, it's how you play it, and that eventually I'll upgrade various bits and pieces as I can afford to and as I become more knowledgeable about what I like and don't like. Sure it'd be great to go out and spend $1000+ on really nice vintage pieces or whatever but I don't have the money and as long as I don't get caught up in the gearsnob thing I'm quite happy with what I've got.
posted by loiseau at 1:31 PM on February 15, 2008

A two thousand dollar budget is plenty to work with. You'll be able to pick up some nice equipment with that. You could shop around a bit on craigslist. If you're buying from there you need to actually play the drums and inspect them before making a purchase. Don't be scammed.

Two grand really isn't that much to spend on a musical instrumental, and I don't think that spending that much money on an instrument constitutes snobbery of any kind if making music is something you love to do. Good, medium priced drums sound considerably better than cheap ones. If you care how you sound when you play, it's worth an investment. If you're playing for an audience other than yourself you have even more reason to want your instrument to sound good.
posted by Evstar at 2:13 PM on February 15, 2008

Another good thing to do is read about what your favorite drummers use. That should give you a fair idea of what different drums and stuff sound like.

2nding or nthing checking out used stuff. JMO but I don't think it's worth the money to buy new when you can get equal or better quality used for much less. Good luck and have fun!
posted by snsranch at 3:14 PM on February 15, 2008

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