Drums come in all shapes, sizes and materials for all sorts of music styles and environments.
Furthermore, one has to ask: is ‘kit’ defined as just the drums and mounts – as some contend, or does it also include the cymbals and their stands, and your throne?
And what good is a set of drums if you have no sticks to play them with and no bass pedal to strike those deep, resonant vibes?
Don’t start panicking just yet! Superprof has taken a close look at the market to present you with things to think about before planning your drum set purchase.
Let go of your wallet for now and read on!
Player Size and Level
By no means are we intimating that one must be of a particular stature to play the drums. However, it would help to know if you are buying a drum set for an adult – maybe you? or a pre-teen.
If you are looking into drums for your child, you may consider a junior drum set.
They generally come equipped with a bass drum and a snare, as well as one cymbal. You would have to buy the drum stool, known as the throne, separately. You may also have to buy at least one pair of drum sticks.
Should you be looking for a kit for yourself or an avid drummer you know, you should consider the level of the player: beginner, intermediate or advanced.
An advanced player most likely has his/her own preferences in mind: the type of wood the shell should be made out of and what type of drum heads to look for – more on those later.
Drumming tip: if you or your drummer are only beginning to discover playing the drums, you may want to buy a practice pad before you buy any type of drums.
Drum teachers advocate learning drum rudiments during lessons and practising on a pad between lessons.
A practice pad is made of durable materials to withstand transporting and generally being tossed about. They are very similar in action to an actual drum, in that when you hit it, your sticks have a measure of bounce.
A major benefit to practising on a drum pad is that they are far more quiet and compact than an actual drum set.
While it is true that you will not build the speed and accuracy that you would hitting a fully kitted drum set – and, depending on the model you select, you may not be able to practice rimshots, you will nevertheless build your dexterity, as well as your wrist and arm muscles – an aspect of learning the drums that so many beginners overlook!
The Remo practice pad is widely proclaimed as a drummer's favourite, and there are several varieties to choose from, starting at just over £22; the top of the line models’ price tags hovers near £30.
Considering the far higher prices than a full drum set and all of the accessories may cost you, buying a drum pad for your beginner drummer would make the most sense!
Especially if you are buying for a fickle child: what if s/he won’t stick with drumming: would you be out all that money?
Find out also about the different types of drums...
What Type of Music?
Drums are not a one-size-fits-all proposition.
Jazz drummers and those in acoustic or folk bands tend to gravitate toward smaller drums, and fewer of them make up their kit.
If you are a traditionalist, you may prefer the 4-drum configuration that Ringo Starr made popular during The Beatles heyday: a bass drum and a snare, with a single hanging tom and a floor tom.
That arrangement is well suited to jazz, acoustic, folk and rock music styles.
By contrast, Bill Ward (Black Sabbath drummer) may well faint when confronted with delicate, thin cymbals and single-ply drum heads, and would most likely feel bereft behind only four drums!
Find drum lessons anywhere in the UK!
Before settling on a drum set, you should give thought to how they will be played.
To make choosing easier, you might want to know that drums come in two broad configurations: Fusion and Standard.
The Fusion drums tend to be a bit smaller in diameter, but with a zippy tone and more voluble sound.
By contrast, the Standard configuration is probably better known, among other things, for the bigger tone the toms produce and the greater volume overall.
There are merits to both configurations and choosing which set-up is entirely up to you.
However, we urge you to consider: while you could probably play anything by Taylor Swift on either drum kit, you may want to do your Lars Ullrich impression on a standard set – you risk cracking a cymbal if you hit it too hard!
Find out how to maintain your drums optimally...
The Shells and Heads
What your drums are made of will impact how they sound.
Even more specifically than that: the type of wood used to craft your drum shells and the type of heads you select for them will radically change how your drums sound, and even how they play.
For example, if you told us you just bought a drum set made of birch, we would think you are headed into a studio to record a few tracks.
On the other hand, if you just invested in a mahogany kit, we would presume you were gigging standards and oldies – this type of wood has a quality sound uniquely suited to big band music and early rock’n’roll.
Maple is commonly used in drum making because it has a rich, warm tone and is relatively easy to work with.
Other woods used to make drum shells include:
Birch – a dense wood that makes for a hard, bright sound
Oak yields a similar sound to maple
Basswood is an inexpensive alternative to maple and birch; the advantage being that it takes lacquer exceedingly well.
Poplar is another low-cost alternative to maple and birch, yet makes a similar sound
Lauan, generally referred to as ‘select hardwood’, might be considered budget-birch.
Bottom line: the type of shell you select will impact your kit’s sound and durability.
Find out all you need to know about choosing the best drum kit for your playing...
Selecting Drum Heads
If you play jazz or big band type music, you would no doubt favour single-ply drum heads.
You would also want the coated batter heads.
Should you just want to let loose, like the Muppets’ Animal, you will want the two-ply option, and might prefer the clear heads.
These Mylar heads come with or without coating, with or without damper rings and in a variety of thicknesses.
You may get a single, coated snare head for as low as £7 if you shop around and a kick drum head for up to £70; or you might look for a set of heads for your tom toms, which might run as high as £70-90.
Accessorising Your Kit
No drum set would be complete without a least a few cymbals: the hi hats, ride and crash cymbals are elementary.
The splash cymbal and the china cymbal have become most popular of late, but they are not strictly necessary to play good music. Also, you have a choice of effect cymbals – again, not necessary to play basic tunes.
Top of the line, brand name equipment such as Zildjian and Sabian will most certainly cost you a pretty penny, and there is really no getting around the fact that your cymbals may just be the most expensive component in your kit.
The choice of brands, thicknesses and whether they are cast or cut from sheet metal all make a difference in price.
Tip: Paiste, a brand with a loyal following, is a sheet metal cymbal line with a great sound and not much variance in sound from cymbal to the next (of the same line and size). And they tend to cost less than Zildjian cymbals!
Oddly enough, you can’t really play the drums unless you have drumsticks, yet they are considered a kit accessory!
What are the best drum sticks? Find out here...
Other accessories for your drum kit include felts and sleeves for your cymbals, cases for your drums and various stands: for your snare and floor tom; for your bass and for assorted cymbals.
Don’t forget your drum throne!
Of course, you could use any stool set to the proper height, but stools made specifically for playing the drums are so engineered as to help keep you comfortable while maintaining good posture – so essential to good playing!
You may feel that, after your initial investment into the drum set of your choice and all of its cymbals, that the accessories are nickle and diming you to death, but shopping around can score you a few bargains.
Who knows? You might find a music store that wants your repeat business and give you a good deal on at least your kick drum pedal, sticks and brushes!
Once you get really proficient in beating out those paradiddles, you may want to outfit your basic drum kit with a few other percussion instruments, like a cowbell or chimes.
A choice percussion instrument, the cowbell can add tones and highlights to your music, underscoring the fundamental beat and creating unforgettable tunes – like Aerosmith’s Walk This Way or AC/DC’s You Shook Me.
A Word on Electronic Drums
As digital is the wave of the future is already here, you may look into an electronic drum set.
Besides being prohibitively expensive – into the several thousands of pounds for even a basic setup, they are much more compact than acoustic drums and resist environmental conditions much better.
One great feature of electronic drums is that they can be muted by plugging earphones in so that they play directly into the headphones rather than waking up the neighbours!
If you have moved beyond the beginner stage of drumming and wish to build your kit, but live in a small apartment, an electronic drum set may just be your ticket.
However, purists swear they will never give up their acoustic kit: for the ambience it creates and the sounds it makes; for the sheer joy of playing on equipment so responsive.
Yes, your wallet will influence your purchase. But then, your heart and soul as a musician will drive you to the kit you need to express yourself most fully.
Now find out everything you need to know before buying your drum set...
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