Let's face it - shopping for drums can be a minefield for first time buyers. Fortunately, Drum Ambition is here to help! If you are ready to buy drums, our guides on buying your first set, choosing between electric and acoustic drums, and common mistakes to avoid when buying drum sets online can help point you in the right direction.
As a teacher, I am often asked by students why some drum sets are considerably more expensive than others. Fortunately, as well as playing drums for over thirty years, I have had a good amount of experience selling them too. Before I turned to full-time teaching, I managed one of the UK's top drum stores, as well as the drum department at Guitar Center's flagship Hollywood store in Los Angeles. I've seen just about every model from every manufacturer, and learned a lot along the way.
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Consider this: You are looking at two drum sets online, or perhaps you are at your local retailer. Both sets have a bass drum, a snare drum, and three toms. One is priced $399, and the other is priced $3'999. There are other sets, with the same components that fall between these prices. How can this be? The drum shells, finish, and quality of the hardware can vary considerably from set to set.
Drum shell construction.
If you strip an acoustic drum bare of the drum heads, rims, tension bolts and lugs, you are left with the shell. (Drum Ambition members can also refer to our comprehensive glossary should any of these terms be unfamiliar). Bass drums, toms and many snare drums have a wood construction, and the type and quality of that wood has a big impact on cost. Starter drum sets at the lower end of the price spectrum tend to be made from plywood/basswood, while the intermediate to advance level sets favor maple, birch, mahogany, and oak. The better quality the wood, the better your drums are going to sound. (And the more expensive your set is likely to be).
"Most beginners pitch-in at the lower end of the price scale, until they are sure that drums are going to be a long-term commitment. If this is the case for you, then fear not. There are many ways to make a starter drum set sound great".
Simon DasGupta - Founder, Drum Ambition.
While much depends on the thickness of the shell (measured in individual "plies" - in other words, one thin layer of wood attached to another to form multiple plies), the general rule of thumb is that different wood types produce different sounds. For example, maple is said to be "warm" and resonant, while birch is more cutting with a shorter decay, meaning it rings less. It's tough to think of sound in descriptors such as these, particularly if you are new to drumming. The best thing you can do is try them out at your local retailer, or listen to sound samples on manufacturer's websites. The same applies to snare drums that have metal shells instead of wood. (Snare drums can be either wood or metal). While steel is by far the most common (and thus typically at the lower end of the price range), more expensive metals can add to the cost, such as brass, copper, aluminum, nickel, higher grade steel, and bronze. Again, each metal has a different sound nuance, which really needs to be heard.
The way your drums look is referred to as the "finish". There are typically four common types of finish, ranging from plastic wrap (the most economical), to oils, (more expensive) lacquers (more expensive still) and exotic finishes (the most expensive). The plastic wrap option is the most economical - these can be found on drums of all levels from simple colors to plush sparkles. Oils tend to have a matte finish, and range once again from simple colors to burst and fade finishes (where for example, a darker color fades to a lighter color). Lacquer shells are beautiful painted finishes sealed with a clear lacquer, and range from colors to fades, bursts and even sparkles. Like oil finishes, it is possible to see the natural grain of the wood on drums that have been finished with a lacquer. Exotic finishes are where shells have been constructed from exotic rare woods that have a very unique grain pattern, such as burl maple or spider pine. These unique woods can be color stained and lacquered, and represent the most expensive of the finishes. Many drum manufacturers will tell you that the type of finish affects the sound - but in my opinion, this is marginal at best. It really is more of an aesthetic feature rather than a sonic one. If you have a good shell and good drum heads, a drum is going to sound good, irrespective of whether it has a plastic wrap or a swanky lacquer.
While the shell construction and the finish determines the bulk of the price of a drum set, there are some other factors to consider. Are the rims, hoops and bolts stainless steel (more expensive) or are they chrome over steel? The latter is less expensive, and more likely to rust or tarnish over time if not properly maintained. The rims and nut boxes might be a custom finish, such as brass, gold plated or nickel. These can add to the cost and are usually found on high end drum sets. Are the drum heads a brand name (like Evans, Remo or Aquarian), or are they a nondescript generic brand? The latter are often found on beginner level drum sets, and well worth an immediate upgrade. Is the drum set manufactured in your home country or produced abroad? The majority are produced in China and Taiwan, and the shipping, import duty and other related taxes are all factored in to the price. Does the drum set include the hardware (pedals, stands and seat), or is it just a shell pack? Does the drum set come with a cymbal pack? While starter drum sets often do (albeit often worth an immediate upgrade), most intermediate sets do not, and professional level drums never come with cymbals, unless packaged and bundled together by a retailer.
Most beginners pitch-in at the lower end of the price scale, until they are sure that drums are going to be long-term commitment. If this is the case for you, then fear not. There are many ways to make a starter drum set sound great.
There is also a big price difference between entry-level electronic drums and top-of-the-line models. Starter electric sets usually have a basic module with limited sound options, and undersized pads that are mostly made from plastic or rubber. More expensive models have a superior sound module (with added features such as recording, customization and editing), larger mesh or "real feel" rubber pads that are often 12 inches in diameter for a more realistic feel, as well as a more substantial rack for mounting and positioning. Check out this article for more information. Remember that electronic drums rarely come with speakers, bass drum pedals or a seat, unless specifically stated in the product description. These are considered additional purchases, and may be offered in a bundle by your retailer.
If you have any questions relating to this article, please feel free to reach out! Email us at [email protected].