Like guitarists can choose between electric or acoustic guitars, we drummers have the same decision to make. Advances in electronic drum technology have made them more affordable than ever. We have written extensively on this topic, and you can get the full low-down in this article.
If you have decided on acoustic drums, the first decision is whether to buy a fully inclusive package or select your own drum set and cymbal combination.
Inclusive packages typically include the drums, cymbals, and hardware (the pedals and the stands holding the drums and cymbals). These packages often include a basic drum throne. Yes, we drummers sit on thrones - it's a posh term for a seat. These convenient combo deals are generally at the lower price point and typically cost between $400-$700. 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 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, you will need to put together a drum set, hardware pack, and cymbal pack.
Some drum sets come with stands and pedals, referred to as hardware. 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 buy a shell pack, you will also need 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 add that to the list. 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, 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, which 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, getting a set of hi-hats, one or two crashes, and a ride cymbal is desirable.
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 with 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, ensure you have enough cymbal stands to hold them. You may need to purchase an additional cymbal stand.
Cymbal packs range in price from $300-$1000+. The starter packs usually are sheet cymbals made from sheet metal to reduce costs, and the more expensive sets are often cast cymbals. These are formed in individual casts and are superior in tone, projection, and quality.
Drum sets are described as having pieces, the most common being a five-piece setup. Five-piece setups 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. A four-piece drum set may only have two toms.
Starter drum sets are usually five-pieces and come in what we call 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 this is called a floor tom), 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 - the latter 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 tom will usually have legs), and a 14-inch snare drum. The current trend is toward Fusion, and Hybrid sizes since the drums can be set up closer and more compact while maintaining a good tuning range. Since ten and 12-inch diameter toms are usually 1-2 inches shallower than rock-sized toms, they can be positioned lower too, which is desirable for younger players.
If you have decided to go with an electronic drum set, it is essential to note that a bass drum pedal, speaker system, headphone set, drum throne, and sticks are usually not included. Many online retailers and physical stores offer bundles.
It is also advisable to check the features of your electronic drum set. Desirable features include multiple drum set options (enjoyable for experimenting with different drum and percussion sounds), play-along songs, smartphone compatibility (to mix in and play along with your favorite music), and an onboard metronome. Again, our feature on choosing between electronic and acoustic drum sets can help you understand the practical differences between the two options.