Shopping for a drum set can be overwhelming. Two “all-in-one” packages can contain an identical list of components but differ in price by anywhere from $200 to $1000. A lot of the information that you wish you had known when you bought your drum set is not very available and often the guitar or bass player that is selling you that drum set might not even know that much about the drum set that they are selling you. This guide will give you some things to consider, watch out for, and recommendations for any budget.
What to consider when buying drums
Beware music shops that work on commission
Having worked in a variety of music shops, I can say that commission based music shops are terrible for just about everyone. The system forces employees to sell products that aren’t a good fit to the customer based on which products will net the highest commission. Unlike a car dealership, where the salesman is only working against their invoice price for the car, there are many factors that play into what a salesman at a commission based music shop is going to recommend to you. The markup on musical instruments depends on a variety of things. For example, a music shop might move a lot of equipment from various manufacturers through one distributor and as a result might have larger discounts on their volume orders. Regardless of whether or not that brand is right for you, salesmen are more likely to push products from those distributors because they know they have more wiggle room against the store cost of the instrument.
Also, manufacturers and distributors in the music industry often offer direct incentives to the salesmen or the store for various individual products. For example, Company A might offer a salesman a $25 cash bonus for every “Drumset B” or “Cymbal Pack C” sold during the month of September. So whether or not those individual items are right for you, they’re going to try their hardest to sell as many of those items as they can, and you will have no idea why they’re pushing those individual products so hard.
Your best bet is either to do your research online, read articles like this one (smart move) and make your decision before you even walk through the door, or simply make your purchase online. If you’re worried about the drums shipping to your house and possibly being damaged, that same shipping company shipped them to the music store before they were assembled and displayed.
All-in-one drum sets vs. piece by piece
With the exception of drummers that have been collecting drum sets for their entire lives, no one pieces a drum set together one drum at a time. Typically, you buy your bass drum and toms together, your hardware piece by piece or in packs, and your snare drum separately. There is a lot of value in some “all-in-one” packs that come with snare drums and hardware, even though you’ll probably end up replacing certain components down the line. The biggest factor to consider is actually not the shells themselves but the hardware!
The first thing you want to do is know exactly what hardware is included with the drum set:
- Are cymbal stands included? If so, how many?
- Are the legs on the cymbal stands double braced? If not, stay away!
- Does it come with a hi-hat stand?
- Does it come with a kick pedal?
- Does it come with a throne? Believe it or not, a lot of drum sets do not come with a throne!
A standard package comes with two cymbal stands, a hi hat stand, a kick pedal. Good ones come with a throne, great ones come with quality double braced cymbal stands. Know that any all-in-one that comes with cymbals is going to come with cheap cymbals that are going to sound terrible and fall apart almost immediately. Even if these cymbals have a brand name that looks familiar to you, you’re going to want to replace them as soon as possible. Whether or not an all-in-one comes with cymbals should not sway your decision.
There is a lot of metal on a drum set. The lugs that are screwed around the tops and bottoms of each shell, the screws that tighten and loosen the drumheads, the cymbal stands, the feet on the bass drum, the kick pedal, the hi hat pedal. Your drum set’s ease of use is based entirely on the quality of your metal parts. The shells only impact the quality of sound. Chances are your drum set is going to be disassembled, moved, and assembled from time to time. As a result, when advising friends that are shopping for drum sets, I lean towards companies that make quality durable hardware.
Pacific Drums & Percussion (PDP), which is the entry level line of Drum Workshop (DW), and Tama are standouts when it comes to the quality of hardware that will be included in your all-in-one pack. I bought a set of Tama hardware for my drum set back in 2004, I’ve gigged extensively since then, and I’ve never had to replace a single component.
PDP and Tama also make some pretty decent shells as well. If you’re looking for a PDP set start with PDP’s “Mainstage” series and only go up from there. This five piece Mainstage set sells for about under a thousand comes with two double braced cymbal stands, a double braced hi hat stand, a kick pedal, and a throne. It even comes with cymbals, but you’ll probably want to replace them as soon as possible; they’re not real cymbals. If you’re looking for a Tama set, you can choose any of their series of drums and find a quality set. This five piece Imperialstar set is identical to the aforementioned Mainstage set in every way and priced to match. You can also read our best drum sets article for about 10 other recommendations.
Shopping for cymbals
You’re going to want to spend anywhere from $600-$800 on your shells and hardware, then you’re going to want to start looking for cymbals. Zildjian is and has always been one of the top dogs in the cymbal world. With most drummers its just a matter of taste and preference but Zildjian cymbals are going to last you a long time and the company will take care of you if you have any issues with your cymbals.
I highly recommend the Zildjian A Series Cymbal Set priced at under a grand. The cymbals that come in this set are extremely versatile and appropriate for almost all styles of music. If you’re looking to spend a bit less and still get quality cymbals, you can also go with some of their lower priced starter packs, but here is the thing… Cymbal companies make real cymbals, and alloy cymbals. For a pack of real cymbals, you’re going to spend at least $500 or $600. Their alloy cymbals are cost effective blends of different materials to try to emulate the sounds of real cymbals at a cheaper price. Zildjian’s ZBT line for example sounds like a normal cymbal at first but there is this constant unnatural tone that rings through these cymbals at all times that will wear on you and your band mates very quickly. The palette of color sounds you can create on a real cymbal using different part of the sticks, striking different parts of the cymbal, or using sticks or mallets made of different materials just can’t be recreated using composite alloy cymbals. I strongly advise shoppers to spend more on cymbals the first time around, because no one uses those composite alloy cymbals for more than a year or two without replacing them with that same recommended A Series pack they should have bought the first time.
Buying snare drums
The snare drum that comes with your drum set will work just fine, but most drummers end up buying a new snare drum to complete their set. My snare drum is made out of stained maple at a standard size of 14” (width) by 5” (deep). Almost all snare drums you find will be sized closely to that. Some snare drums are more shallow and are commonly referred to as piccolo snares. Those snares have a brighter sound that cuts almost piercingly through anything else that’s happening on the stage. These snares are great for loud punk or rock bands but not ideal for softer settings. Some snare drums are made out of copper or bronze to provide more projection.
By the time you’re interested in buying your own snare, you’ll be willing to go try some to find the sound you like the most. Buying a snare drum is 100% based on taste and preference, as our snare drums guide goes into further detail with this if you want some recommendations.
The looks of drums may be deceiving
Drum shells are traditionally made out of either Maple or Birch. Wood shells can be wrapped in various colors and designs or stained and lacquered to showcase the intricacies of the wood grains in the shell. Cheaper entry level sets are not really made out of wood, rather they are made out of condensed paper. Stay away from those unless you’re shopping for a child or a beginners drum set and you’re worried they won’t be interested in drumming after a few years or you’ll be upgrading later on. Some companies sell transparent acrylic drum sets that look pretty cool and don’t sound half bad.
After I was done with my beginners kit and shopping for my first real drum set, I was introduced by a friend to someone who was starting a custom drum company. He told me he wanted to help me out so he built me a custom drum set for a pretty reasonable price. I was 16 at the time. I went with a black glass glitter wrap with neon green rims and lugs.
At the time, this was a pretty rad drum set. Fast forward 7 or 8 years to when I am actually getting paid to play drums at weddings and private event. Other musicians in the band cringed every time I pulled these drums out of their cases.
The black glass glitter wasn’t all bad though. Drum sets that come in wraps, regardless of the cover, are significantly more durable than drum sets that are stained. Wood is soft and the slightest bump or touch will cause a dent or scrape on a stained or lacquered shell. These wraps provide an extra layer of protection throughout the life of the drums. The trade-off here is that the wrap and the adhesive used to keep the wrap on the shell inhibits the natural vibration of the drum. How much? Not so much that it makes a wrapped drum set obsolete, but if the drum set you’re buying is going to live in a studio and rarely get disassembled or moved, you might want to consider a lightly stained drum set.
I ended up replacing those drums with another set from the same company with stained cherry wood veneer wrapped shells. They’re gorgeous and appropriate for any venue and any style.
Shopping for drum heads
Once you’ve purchased your drum heads, don’t feel obligated to immediately replace the heads that came on the set. If you went with Tama or PDP, chances are your drum set came with high quality Remo or Evans drum heads with the Tama or PDP logo stamped on there thanks to a partnership between those companies. Don’t believe me? Take the drum head off, look for a item number on the metal hoop of the head and google it. Chances are you’ll find a Remo or Evans product number.
Consider this guide when shopping for your new drum set and you’re bound to wind up with quality drums that will last you decades.