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Buying Guide: Your first drum set.

I’ll start with one of the most common questions I receive as a drum lesson teacher around the holidays: “Can you help me select my first drum set?” or “Which drum set is best for a beginner?”

Many acoustic drum sets will look the same or similar to the untrained eye. With drums, like many things, the price reflects the level of craftsmanship and quality of materials that are not easily seen. Because most drum set manufacturers offer everything from entry-level sets to professional sets, I often suggest starting by calculating or estimating a budget. Honestly speaking, most comparably priced drum sets will be approximately the same quality and materials. Prices can range from $500 to several thousand dollars.

Let’s start with learning the main components of a standard 5-piece drum set. The term “5-piece” refers to the number of drums on the set and does not include other components, such as cymbals, and hardware. Typically, you will purchase a snare drum, bass drum, two mounted toms, and a floor tom. These drums, when sold alone, are referred to as a “shell pack”.

In addition to the shell pack, you will need cymbals. The most common configuration includes a ride cymbal, a crash cymbal and a pair of hi hats. The size, type of metal, and manufacturing process will dictate the price of the cymbals. Entry-level cymbals are typically sheet bronze and require the minimal amount of labor to produce. While they are good for a young drummer, as the drummer matures, he or she will notice a lack of richness in the tone of the cymbal. Professional cymbals are cast bronze, turned on a lathe to create tonal grooves, and hammered to bring out rich overtones when played. This labor-intensive process is why cast cymbals can cost as much, or more than the drums themselves and are not included with entry-level packages.

You will need enough hardware to support the drums, and cymbals you purchase. When bought in “cymbals and hardware included” sets, the manufacturer will ensure you have what you need. If you choose to purchase components separately, you’ll want to add the following. Snare drum stand, hi hat stand, enough cymbal stands for the number of ride and crash cymbals you purchase, and a bass drum pedal. Additionally, you’ll want an adjustable drum throne to sit on. The quality of hardware often comes down to how well they lock into place, how sturdy they are, and chrome quality.

The type of wood used to construct the tom, and sometimes snare shells will range from a soft wood such as poplar, or basswood on less expensive drums, to harder woods like birch, maple, or oak on intermediate and better drums. The wood type affects the tone and overall sound as well as the durability of the shells.

There are two main types of finishes. The wrap finish is available in a variety of solid colors, sparkles, and is regarded as durable. The wood grain finish is available as a solid color, or fades and bursts, and often has a hardened lacquer finish over the wood stain. The selection of color and finish is a personal choice.

The drumheads are the part of the drum that is hit and are considered consumable. Manufacturers often cut costs on the drumheads, knowing that many drummers will change them out soon after purchasing the drums. Drumheads will likely be the first upgrade, and are not very expensive at approximately $1-$2 per inch. For example, a 14” diameter drumhead is about $17.

Thoughts on electronic drums for beginners. Electronic drum technology has advanced tremendously over the past ten years, and virtually every manufacturer has created their version of an electronic set that plays as well as an acoustic set. Unfortunately, these high-end drum sets are still very expensive, costing thousands of dollars and more affordable drums don’t offer the features or durability required in an instrument designed to be struck repeatedly with a stick. There are certain situations where an electronic drum set would be the best option. Anywhere that noise is a consideration, such as apartments, newborn babies at home, etc., and I would recommend them. Otherwise, your best bet is to start with an acoustic instrument.

What about buying used drums? Facebook Marketplace, Reverb, and other second-hand apps are full of listings for drums, and some of them are good deals. Entry-level drums do have a useful lifespan and often these used drums are past their prime, but may still be playable. Between retail prices, street prices and used pricing, add-on accessories, and upgrades it can be a challenge to know which drum sets are fairly priced. I encourage my students who are looking at used drums to contact me to discuss specific sets. Feel free to text or email me links and I’ll gladly share my opinion.

Where should I buy my drums?

As a small business owner, I like to support and recommend local businesses whenever possible. Dallas Percussion is located in Dallas, and has a great selection in their showroom. Their knowledgeable staff is great, and prepared to help you along the way.

Online retailers are another option. Be sure to stick with major drum manufacturers since parts for repair are readily available. Each year, before the holidays, I’ll prepare a short list of drum sets that can be purchased online. I may receive compensation if purchases are made through these links.

Beginner Sets: Pearl Roadshow Drum Set 5-Piece Complete Kit with Cymbals and Stands, Jet Black $659 at time of publishing.

These intermediate drum sets are “shell packs”, so hardware and cymbals will need to be added.

Pacific Drums & Percussion Drum Set Concept Maple 5-Piece, Satin Black Shell Pack $899.99 at time of publishing.

Yamaha HW-680W Double-Braced Hardware Pack. $259.99 at time of publishing.

Zildjian A Series 391 Box Set. $849.95 at time of publishing.

When shopping for sets online or in a store, it’s important to notice whether the price is for “shell pack” only, includes hardware, or if it includes hardware and cymbals. The shell pack price is for drums only. The drums and hardware price will typically include hi hat stand, bass drum pedal, snare stand, cymbal stands, and only sometimes a drum throne. The complete set w/ cymbals will include the drums, hardware pack, and a set of cymbals.

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