Everyone loves the drums, and everyone wants to play the drums. They are loud, fun to play, and a great stress reliever. But, when it comes time to buy a kit of your own, the task can seem over-whelming and expensive. In terms of buying a drum kit, there is a lot to consider, but as with anything else, it gets easier as you go along.
1. Know Your Price Range
A new drum kit can range in price anywhere from $300-$5,000. That said, knowing what you want to pay can narrow down your options dramatically. With drums, the cheaper the price doesn't always mean less quality. It's important to know that some very reputable companies such as Gretsch and Ludwig have less-expensive kits around or under $500 that sound great. Usually, if you find yourself paying over $3000, you are probably falling prey to a company's marketing strategies of kits with extra bells and whistles that have no real value to the average person.
2. Who is the kit for?
Whether you have played drums for years, or are simply looking for a kit for your 10-year-old, it's important to know who will be playing the kit. Many parents buy brand new drums for their children only to find out a few months later that they have lost interest, and are left with an overly expensive decoration. If you're just starting to learn drums, buy something cheap. You can always upgrade later.
3. What are the drum's intended use?
Depending on the style of music you are playing, you will probably want to buy a kit that fits your particular needs. Drum sizes, setup, and even the number of toms you have can factor a lot into the styles of music you play. If you just want to hit them for stress relief and some fun, go cheap and smash away.
4. Know the brands
There are many different drum companies out there. These companies can range from having years of experience and mass manufacturing plants, to smaller and newer custom companies that may make only a few kits a year. Unless you are looking for an extremely cheap kit, or an expensive custom job, look for trusted companies such as Gretsch, Yamaha, Ayotte, Drum Workshop (DW), Tama, Ludwig, Pearl, Mapex, and Sonor. While each of these companies have a lot of kits for varying prices, you're probably safe knowing that the kit is of trusted quality.
Now that we know your basic price range, who is playing the kit, and for what purpose, we can start getting into the basic details of the drums themselves. Remember that there are many factors that can change the way a drum sounds, and some of them are pretty technical, but for now we will keep things basic and easy to understand.
1. Drum sizes
Depending on the type of music you will be playing, it's important to know how large you want your drums. In general, rock drummers are looking for bigger sizes: 22"-26" bass drums, and 12"-18" toms. Rock drummers also tend to have a larger number of drums, which can add problems to portability. Alternatively, jazz players tend to have smaller kits: 16"-20" bass drums, and 10"-14" toms. Smaller sizes can mean less volume and cut, but depending on the purpose, might be suitable.
2. Type of material used
A drum's sound is drastically altered by the type of material it's made of. The majority of drum kits are wood based, but other materials can be used as well. Things here can get very technical, with different materials altering the high's, mid's, and low's of a kit, as well as volume, presence, and warmth among many others. A simple rule of thumb would be to look for a kit made of commonly used woods such as Birch, Maple, or African Mahogany (Avoid Mahogany from the Philippines as it can be of poor quality). These woods all have different tonal properties, but generally produce a pleasing sound. Unless you are in a very low price range, avoid drums made out of woods like, Luan, or poplar, since these are usually of lower quality and won't sound as good. Other woods like Oak, or Ash can also sound nice, and other materials like metal, or acrylic can be used to produce different results. Choosing a kit based on the type of material is largely determined by your ear and what you think sounds best. Go to the store, listen to a few kits, find out what they are made out of, and narrow down your choices.
Now that you've narrowed down the drum sizes, and what sort of material it's made of, you are almost ready to buy. Finally, when choosing a drum kit, there are a few smaller details to discuss. While some of these may seem largely aesthetic, they are important.
1. Drum wraps and finishes
Drums wraps and finishes vary greatly, but are mostly aesthetic. It's important to buy a kit that you enjoy the look of, or else you will be less likely to play it. Drums can have a natural wood finish, a thick lacquer coating, a paint job, or a wrap. These have little impact on the drums overall sound, but in general, the thicker the wrap or finish, the less the drums will resonate. Drum sets with wraps tend to be on cheaper kits, as it is the least expensive way to apply a finish. Just keep an eye out for something that looks cool, and then check the specs to see if you want to buy.
2. Mounting Systems
Drums need to mounted on something to be played. Snares usually have their own stand, but every company uses different methods for mounting toms. In general, the less parts that are connected to the drum directly, the more resonance the drum will have. Companies like Yamaha have floating rack tom systems allowing the drums to be suspended with minimal contact to the drum. Cheaper kits will have mounts connected directly to the drums.
3. Is hardware included?
Another cost that most people forget about is the hardware. Hardware includes the stands for the cymbals and snare, the throne, and any pedals needed. Some kits are only sold as "shell packs", meaning that the drums are for sale, but with no hardware included. Depending on how many drums and cymbals you have, this expense can add up. It's fine to buy cheap hardware, but the chances of it breaking are increased, meaning that you might have to go back and buy more again.
4. Cymbals cost extra
Finally, a kit is not complete without a few cymbals. Again, this is a much broader subject, but it is important to at least buy a hi-hat and one more auxiliary cymbal such as a ride or crash. Drum kits are rarely sold with cymbals, so it is important to include them in them cost as well. Remember, more cymbals mean more hardware, which leads to a higher overall cost.
And that's it. Buying a drum kit can sometimes be an overwhelming and expensive task, but if you keep some of these tips in mind, you should get the best value for the money you're paying without a huge headache. Also keep in mind that there are great deals to be had elsewhere, such as Craigslist and Ebay, but they come with their own risks as well. Just remember to have fun, and keep on drumming!
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