Buying a drum set is an exciting moment for any beginner drummer. I'll never forget the day my dad took me to a music shop in York (England) to pick out my first drum set. It was a life changing moment. When purchasing drums, there is a certain amount of research that needs to be undertaken, to ensure that you are buying the right product that suits your needs, at the right price. Some of the options and terminology that you will encounter can be a little confusing. Don't worry - Drum Ambition is here to help simplify the process, and give you some practical pointers in what to look for when purchasing your first set of drums. If you are unsure of any of the terms used in this feature, there is a glossary that can help.
Firstly, determine whether an acoustic or electronic drum set is the best option for you. Check out our blog: Electronic vs Acoustic Drums - Choose What's Right For You.
Acoustic drums - All inclusive starter packages.
If you have opted for acoustic drums, the first determination to make is whether to opt for a fully inclusive package, or select your own drum set and cymbal combination. Let's take the first option. Inclusive packages typically include the drums, cymbals, and hardware (that's the pedals and the stands that hold the drums and cymbals). These packages often include a basic drum throne (Yes, we drummer's sit on thrones - it's basically a posh term for a seat). These convenient combo deals are normally at the lower price point, and can generally cost between $300-$600. Beware of anything under this price, as you will be compromising on build quality and sound. The cymbals that come with these all inclusive sets are normally very basic, and you may only get a set of hi-hats and a crash/ride cymbal (which is just one cymbal used for both functions). If you are not buying an all inclusive package, then you will need to put together a drum set, hardware pack and cymbal pack.
Selecting a drum set and hardware pack.
This is where the products can get a little confusing. Some drum sets come with stands and pedals (referred to as hardware), but some come as "shell packs". The latter refers to the drums and holders only. Holders are the "arms" that attach the toms to the bass drum, and should not be confused with "hardware". If you are buying a shell pack, then you are also going to need to purchase a hardware pack that includes a hi-hat stand, two cymbal stands (possibly three depending on your chosen cymbal pack), a bass drum pedal and a snare drum stand. Hardware packs rarely include drum thrones, so be sure to add that to the list too! (Don't skimp here - a comfortable, height adjustable throne will be one of the best investments you can make). If your drum set includes a hardware pack (and check the specification very carefully) then all you need to add is a cymbal pack, a seat, and some drum sticks. Believe it or not, drum sticks are generally not included, and this can lead to a real disappointment if you are not prepared!
Most cymbal companies offer a boxed set to help keep costs down. The contents can differ between manufacturers, but generally, it is desirable to get a set of hi hats, one or two crashes, and a ride cymbal. There are two common boxed set options. A basic box set will have a set of hi hats and a crash/ride cymbal. Again, a crash/ride cymbal is one cymbal used for both functions, and is not two separate cymbals. The second option is a boxed set that includes a set of hi hats, a crash cymbal and a ride cymbal. Some packs occasionally come with a free cymbal (usually an extra crash). If this is the case, then make sure you have enough stands to hold them - you may need to purchase an additional cymbal stand. Cymbal packs range in price from $200-$1000+. The starter packs are normally "sheet" cymbals made from sheet metal to reduce costs, and the more expensive sets are often cast cymbals. (Formed in individual casts and superior in tone, projection and quality).
Regardless of which set-up option you choose, it is very important to read carefully what is, and what is not included. It would be worthwhile to take five minutes to read our recent feature, on the common mistakes people make when buying drums. You may also wish to read our article on how to get the best sound from your new drum set if you are considering drums at the lower end of the price point.
Drum set "pieces".
Drum sets are usually described as having "pieces" - the most common being a "five piece set up". Five piece set-ups usually include a bass drum, snare drum and three toms. As you can see, the pieces refer to how many drums you have, and the cymbals and hardware are not included in this count. A six piece drum set may have an additional tom.
Selecting the right drum sizes.
Starter drum sets are usually five piece, and come in what we refer to as Rock, Fusion, or Hybrid sizes. Rock drum sets have slightly bigger drums, with a 22 inch diameter bass drum, 12, 13 and 16 inch diameter toms (the 16 inch tom is usually floor mounted with legs) and a 14 inch snare drum. Fusion drum sets come with a 20 or 22 inch bass drum, 10, 12, and 14 inch diameter toms (the 14 inch tom may have legs, or a holder to attach it to a cymbal stand - this is known as a "hanging tom") and a 14 inch snare drum. Hybrid sets often have a 20 or 22 inch bass drum, 10, 12, and 16 inch toms (again, the 16 inch will usually have legs) and a 14 inch snare drum. The current trend is more toward fusion and hybrid sizes, since the drums can be set up closer, and more compact, while still maintaing a good tuning range. Since 10 and 12 inch diameter toms are usually 1-2 inches shallower in depth then rock sized toms, they can be positioned lower too, which is desirable for younger players.
Choosing the right electronic set.
If you have decided to go with an electronic drum set, it is important to note that a bass drum pedal, monitor (speaker system), headphone set, drum throne and sticks are usually not included. Many online retailers and stores offer package deals, and it is worth checking the contents carefully. It is also advisable to check the features of your electronic drum set. Desirable features include multiple drum set presets (particularly fun for experimenting with different drum and percussion sounds), play-along songs, iPod/Smartphone compatibility (to mix-in and play along with your favorite music) and on-board metronome. Again, our feature on choosing between electronic and acoustic drum sets can help you understand the practical differences between the two options.
There are some useful add-ons that you might also want to consider. If you are planning on storing or transporting your acoustic drums, then a set of soft-bag cases may be a good idea - be sure that you choose the correct sized set depending on your chosen drum sizes. There are various sound control options that might be useful if acoustic drum sound could be an issue, including sound dampening pads and tone rings. Drum sticks, brushes, music stands, instructional books/dvd's, stick bags, stick holders, drum tuners (for acoustic drums) and practice pads are all worthwhile additions that are not included in drum set purchases.
Buying your first drum set can present a lot of options, and I hope that this article has helped point you in the right direction. Subscribers to Drum Ambition can get full support on all aspects of equipment purchasing, by emailing [email protected].