Playing the drums is a lot more enjoyable when the kit you own matches your personal tastes, skill level and physical traits. The key is knowing what to look for on your buying journey, and this guide has been assembled to help you out along the way. Having a basic understanding of what drum set is right for you will not only save you time - and possibly money - it will ensure you're going home with a kit that you can be proud to call your own. Below, we'll look at everything from the various drums and cymbals in a kit to the different tonewoods and hardware used in their construction. You'll also be given examples of the different types of drum kits that are currently available on the market.
In this Drum Kit Buying Guide
Choosing the Right Drums
Drums, Cymbals and Other Components
Sticks and Brushes
Drum Accessories and Practice Tools
Choosing the Right Drums
Before choosing a drum set, you'll definitely want to take your own preferences and needs as a player into consideration. These include the kind of music you prefer and plan to play, and the skill level you want to reach. Your physical stature is another thing to think about, since not all drum kits are built to the same size specifications.
Another way to narrow down your search for the perfect drum set is to think about what your favorite players use. For example, many famous heavy metal drummers go with drums from Pearl, DW and Mapex, since these companies often use wood types and construction methods that are durable enough to handle hard-hitting styles. On the other hand, many intricate jazz percussionists prefer Gretsch and Ludwig drums for their warm tonalities. Of course, the most well-known percussion companies (including the ones mentioned) have options to suit countless drum styles, and a veteran player or music store clerk will gladly point you in the right direction.
If you're an experienced drummer, you probably already know what to look for in your next kit. You're also most likely aware of the seemingly endless range of online reviews from fellow percussionists - a huge help when it comes to finding the right model and brand for you. Of course, nothing beats sitting behind an actual set of drums and trying them firsthand. Even if you're planning to make a purchase online, trying out an in store kit (similar to one you've found online) and testing it out is an excellent way to ensure you're making a good choice.
Popular Drum Set Types
To make your decision easier, here is a list of popular drum configurations:
Standard: Typically, a standard-size set features a 22'' bass drum, 16'' floor tom, and 12'' and 13'' mounted toms. Standard-size drum sets are preferred by drummers who like to play loud.
Fusion: Known for their punch and articulate tone, fusion drum sets have smaller diameters compared to standard-size sets, and usually feature a 22'' bass drum, 14'' floor tom and 10'' and 12'' mounted toms. Jazz percussionists often favor fusion sets.
Double bass drum set: Although they originated with jazz players, double bass drum sets were used by many rock drummers in the late '60s and '70s. Today, metal drummers often prefer them for playing lightning-fast downbeats.
Complete drum set: Featuring all the hardware you need, complete drum sets are offered by all major drum manufacturers. With that in mind, you might want to consider purchasing a shell pack if you own hardware. Shell packs are an affordable way of getting all the drums you want without any additional hardware.
Starter drum set: For beginners, you'll definitely want to go with a starter drum set. Consisting of all the drums, cymbals, hardware and stands you need, starter drum sets are very affordable and a perfect way to kick off the early stages of playing.
Junior drum set: Basically, junior drum sets are starter drum sets for children, which means they're scaled down in size to suit the physical traits of a younger player. There are plenty of solidly built junior drum sets on today's market - many of which boast the same feel and sound of a regular-sized kit.
During the '70s and '80s, electronic drum kits could be heard on countless albums by famous recording artists of the time. While many of those original e-kits now sound dated, modern electronic drum kits have benefitted greatly from technology's many breakthroughs, and even sound just like regular sets.
They also have many unique advantages, including hundreds of drum presets, triggers and effects. Electronic drum sets give you a headphone option too - ideal if you're the parent of an infant or if you live in a quiet neighborhood.
Note: If an electronic drum kit sounds interesting to you, you'll still require a sound system to be heard (that is, if you're not using headphones). An amplifier will also be needed if you have aspirations of playing in a band.
A standard drum set usually contains four drums: a snare, bass, mounted tom (sometimes two mounted toms) and a floor tom. For beginners, this configuration is perfect, and as a player progresses they can make other additions and upgrades as they go along.
Snare: The main drum in the kit, the snare has a loud and sharp sound, typically sits on a stand and is usually positioned between your knees.
Bass: Sometimes called the kick drum, this is the largest drum in the set. With its deep, pulsating notes, the bass drum usually provides the downbeats in a rhythmic pattern.
Mounted Tom: Typically suspended on top of a bass drum, mounted toms produce a hollow tone at various pitches depending on their size. Usually there's two mounted toms: the high tom (which is the smallest and near the snare) and the mid tom (which sits beside the high tom).
Floor Tom: This is the largest tom and is usually positioned near the drummer's leg, opposite to the snare.
These days you'll find a wide range of specialty cymbals to choose from - each of which boast their own unique accents and tonalities. Some popular effects cymbals are the China cymbal and the splash cymbal. While customizing your set with effect cymbals can be an enjoyable hobby to get involved in as your technique improves, we'll just look at the most common types for now.
Crash: Available in various sizes, the crash is the loudest cymbal in a kit and is usually placed above the toms.
Ride: Bigger than a crash, the ride cymbal has a more "washy" type of sound compared to a crash and is normally suspended above the floor tom.
Hi-Hat: Placed next to the snare drum, the hi-hat consists of two cymbals that are placed on a stand (on top of one another), and a foot pedal is used to clash or hold them together - depending on how you prefer to play your hi-hat patterns.
It's recommended for entry-level players to look into purchasing a cymbal pack. These cost-effective bundle options feature the essential cymbals for most music, including a hi-hat pair, crash cymbal and a ride. Cymbal packs do vary, so you'll definitely want to make sure that it has what you want before purchasing it.
Drum Wood Types
Understanding various wood types and their unique qualities will help you decide which drums are right for you as well. Here is a list of the more common woods used in a drum's construction:
Maple:The most popular wood type, maple has a tone that's warm and balanced. Falkata:This wood is often used by companies as a cost-effective alternative to maple due to its similarities. Mahogany:With a sound that's been described as "vintage", mahogany is preferred by players who favor a strong mid-range and low end. Birch:Bright, tough and loud, birch drums are often used in recording studios for the aforementioned reasons. Poplar:This wood has a similar sound to birch and is also quite affordable. Basswood: With its stunning visual appearance, basswood combines well with lacquer finishes and it's also less expensive than birch and maple. Oak:A rare wood that's similar to maple, oak is highly sought after for its bright and powerful tone. Lauan:More affordable than birch, lauan is sometimes called "select hardwood".
Many different factors in a drum's construction will heavily influence its resulting sound. For example, a drum's shell contains several plies of wood. Drums with more plies have a brighter sound, while fewer plies deliver a lower, warmer tone.
Another important characteristic in a drum's construction is the angle of a shell's bearing edge - sharper edges provide sharper tones, while rounded bearing edges deliver a more mellow sound.
A drum's finish is also something to consider. There are many different finishes available, some of which are more affordable than others. Transparent lacquer finishes have a natural appearance due to their ability to enhance the woodgrain. Covered finishes offer exceptional durability and are very resistant to scratches. A more affordable treatment is called a covered finish - this type uses vinyl wraps that come in a wide range of patterns.
Since heads greatly impact the sound of each drum in a set, we're going to give them a closer look.
Firstly, drum heads come in two main types: clear and coated.
Clear: These heads produce a high pitch with plenty of sustain. Clear heads are best suited for the resonant side (bottom) of a tom and snare.
Coated: Muted and more focused than clear heads, coated heads have a warm tone, are easy to tune and have more bounce when hit with a stick. For this reason, coated heads are ideal for the batter side (top) of a snare or tom.
As for thickness, drum heads come in single and double-ply.
Single-ply: Naturally thinner than double-plies, this type is often preferred by jazz percussionists for its quick response.
Double-ply: Producing a quicker decay when compared to a single-ply, double-ply heads are used by most rock drummers because of their durability and focused attack.
Your best bet is to try out different drum heads and see what style you like most. Respected drum head manufacturers like Remo and Evans specialize in both clear and coated drum heads, and Woodwind & Brasswind has plenty of options from both.
There's more to a drum set than simply the drums and cymbals themselves. Bringing it all together involves many important pieces of hardware, including hi-hat stands, cymbal stands, and a bass drum pedal. A terrific way to save money on all of these components is to purchase a drum hardware pack. By providing you with the necessary stands, pedals and even a drum throne, these packages will cost you a lot less than purchasing everything individually.
Let's take a closer look at some important pieces of drum hardware.
Throne: There are plenty of drum thrones to choose from on today's market - each of which are adjustable, portable and padded so you feel comfortable during your performance. Most entry-level drum sets have a throne included, but it never hurts to double check.
Bass drum pedal: Today's line of bass drum pedals is far-reaching, and both single-pedal and double-pedal configurations can easily be found. Double pedals are used often by fusion and metal drums, but it's best for a beginner to start out with a single beater before jumping into anything too technical.
Stands: The right stands for you will depend on how you want your kit set up, as well as your current budget. With that in mind, there are more than enough drum and cymbal stands to choose from in this day and age from respected hardware brands.
Drum rack: Many drummers prefer to use racks instead of mounting their cymbals and drums on stands. These frame-like structures are exceptional alternatives and act as a convenient solution to hold more than one cymbal or drum at a time.
The sticks you use should depend on what you feel comfortable holding and what best matches the type of music you play. Certain drum sticks are designed specifically for drummers who play at louder volumes, while others are more suitable for softer styles like jazz or folk. Some popular drum stick companies are: Vic Firth, Zildjian, Pro Mark and Vater. Of course, Woodwind & Brasswind offer these brands and many others as well.
A variety of wood types are used in the making of drum sticks. Some of the most popular include:
Maple: Light and low in density, maple sticks are best for fast playing at lower volumes.
Hickory: The most popular wood, hickory is dense, heavy and rigid when compared to maple. Hickory also absorbs shock well.
Oak: A very durable and dense wood; heavier than hickory.
Numbers, Letters and What They Mean
When looking for sticks, you'll notice that various pairs are assigned a number and letter (5A, 5B, 2B, 3S, and 7A). The number represents the stick's circumference, and the lower the number is, the larger the stick. As for the letter, it indicates what the sticks were originally designed for. For example:
"S" model sticks were made for "street" purposes, like marching bands and drum corps. These sticks are large and project a hefty amount of volume.
"B" model sticks are for "band' applications like symphony orchestras. They have a smaller circumference than "S" sticks and are easier to control, making them ideal for beginners.
"A" sticks were actually meant for orchestras. The decision of going with the letter "A" instead of "O" is credited to Ludwig Drum Company founder William F. Ludwig, Sr., who simply thought it printed better on the stick. "A" sticks are favored by drummers who play softer styles like adult-alternative and jazz.
There are two stick tip types: nylon and wood. Nylon tips produce a focused cymbal sound and are very durable. Wood tips, on the other hand, are often preferred for the soft, warm sound they help to deliver.
Brushes and Rods
If you're a drummer who wants to play a softer, quieter style, you might want to pick up a set of brushes. Just like sticks, brushes come in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials, some of which include: metal bristles, plastic bristles, loops and ball ends.
Rods (also called "bundled sticks") are also an option. Producing a sound that's half way between sticks and brushes, rods are definitely something to think about if you want to play at a low volume.
Accessories and Practice Tools
From cleaning kits, drum keys and tuning tools to gig bags, cases, replacement parts and more - today's drummer will find no shortage of accessories and tools to enhance their drum experience. The longer you play, you'll find that many of these drum accessories will come in extremely handy. After all, maintaining the quality of your set is essential to its playability and your performance.
Another useful accessory to own is a practice pad. These days, practice pads are designed to feel just like a regular drum or cymbal, and they're perfect for those times when you want to hone your craft but need to keep the volume low.
Speaking of practicing, learning tools like interactive CDs and DVDs are also highly recommended for beginners, and you'll find plenty to choose from at Woodwind & Brasswind. Many of these tutorials feature the best percussionists on the globe today who will show you unique tricks, beats and techniques to speed up your progress. With that in mind, you can't beat private one-on-one instructions.
As you've probably realized by now, trying out as many drums, cymbals and sticks as possible is the best way to start your percussion journey on the right foot. Of course, you can always ask an experienced percussionist to guide you along the way - and with so many online resources, seeking professional advice is easier than ever. Read reviews, look at what your favorite drummers use, ask a lot of questions, and trust your gut. Remember, a drum set chosen carefully and wisely is a drum set you can enjoy for many years to come.