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Drum Set Buying Guide

How do I find the perfect first drum set?

March 12th, 2020 by Matt Kjorvestad

If you aren't a drummer, shopping for drum sets is difficult. How could you possibly know what to look for?

That's why we made this interactive guide. It has checklists, comparison charts, and all the info you need to make a decision on your first drum set!

What are all the components of a drum set?

1) The Drums

There are usually four kinds of drums that comprise a drum set:

  • The snare drum is almost always a must, because it sounds totally different from the others. It has a set of (usually metal) wires underneath it that can be switched on and off and create a bright, high-pitched "sizzly" sound.
  • The bass drum is the biggest drum, flipped on its side and placed on the ground. You play this one with your foot using a pedal (but more on that in a second).
  • The floor tom is one of two types of tom drums. These ones are typically pretty big, and they make a low, boomy sound, although not as low as the bass drum. They are called a "floor" tom because it's most common that they have their own legs that attach right to the drum, and they stand on the floor without a stand. There's almost always just one of these.
  • The rack toms/high toms are the other type of tom. These are usually smaller, although if you have more than one, you'll almost always want to vary the size so you have two different pitches. These are also boomy, although they have a higher pitch than the floor tom. Usually you'll have 1-2 of these, mounted either directly on the bass drum or on stands over the bass drum. If they are mounted onto the bass drum, the attachments that you need to attach them are almost always included when you purchase the drum set.

2) The Cymbals

There are three main types of cymbals on a drum set:

  • The hi hat cymbals are an interesting and unique pair of cymbals that mount one on top of the other on a special type of stand. These cymbals can be controlled, to a degree, by a pedal on their stand. They can make a ton of different sounds, from "crisp" and "tight" to "washy" and "open." You only need one pair of these.
  • The ride cymbal is a large cymbal that you've probably seen jazz drummers playing. It is usually used as a driving rhythm in whatever groove you're playing, so it's pretty important to have.
  • The crash cymbal is a cymbal that you crash! Literally, that's all there is to it, at least on a basic levels - hit it, it goes "pshh." This is the stereotypical "two drums and a cymbal fall off a cliff" cymbal, and is the one drummers often use to highlight/accent certain beats in a song. If you had to go without one of the three main types of cymbals, this would be the only one you could potentially skip, since you can "crash" the ride cymbal as well - it will just almost always sound better if you have a specific cymbal for the job.

3) The Hardware

The hardware of the drum set refers to all of the miscellaneous equipment that you need to actually set up your drums and cymbals and get started playing. Here are the main types:

The Stands

You'll need quite a few stands to actually play your drums and cymbals. As mentioned above, most drum sets come with the attachments you need to mount your rack toms, but only sometimes do they include the other hardware you need. Some stands you'll need include a hi hat stand, a snare drum stand, a crash cymbal stand, and a ride cymbal stand (assuming you only have one of each of these. You'll need more if you have more cymbals/drums/etc.).

The Throne

You read that right. A drum throne is the stool (but never call it a stool) that drummers sit on when they play. Drummers are royalty, after all. You'll definitely need one of these - they are designed to be mobile and comfortable, as well as height-adjustable, so you can sound good and play safely on your joints. Be sure to see if the drums you're getting include a throne (some do, but most don't), because this can be a hidden cost you may not be accounting for.

The Bass Pedal

A bass drum and the hi hat both can be played using a pedal, but the hi hat stand has a pedal built-in. So how do you play a bass drum? You guessed it - a bass drum pedal. This attaches right to the drum and you play it with your foot. Kick foot, drum go boom. Splendid. This is 100% required, so definitely double-check whether the drums you're buying come with a pedal (some do, but most don't).

What is a "shell pack?"

A drum set shell pack is a bit of a confusing name. First and foremost, a "drum shell" is technically the frame of the drum, with no drum head or metal rims or any other attachments.

So is a shell pack just a bunch of wooden cylinders?

Well, not quite. When we (and drummers in general) say "shell pack," what we mean is that the drum set is drums-only. It only comes with drums. This means that it doesn't include any hardware or cymbals - it excludes cymbals, a drum throne, a bass drum pedal, and stands.

The exception to this is that most shell packs do include the arms/mounts required to mount your rack toms, as mentioned above.

Can I buy a drum set with hardware and cymbals included?

Absolutely! There are loads of all-in-one packages or partial packages available.

The only thing to take note of is exactly what these include. Some drum sets come with drums, cymbals, stands, a throne, and a pedal. Some come with just drums, cymbals, and stands - no throne or pedal. Others still come with just drums and stands, but no pedal or throne.

Just make sure that whether you decide to get cymbals, drums, and hardware separately, or all-in-one, you double-check that you are definitely getting everything you need before you buy. Refer to the checklist if you need help!

What differentiates an entry-level, mid-level, and high-end drum set?

Material/sound, durability, visual design, exclusivity/rarity, collector's value, and uniqueness.

Tier Material Visual Design Rarity/Uniqueness
Entry-Level Usually Poplar Wood Often Simple Color Finishes Usually Mass-Produced
Mid-Level Usually Maple, Mahogany, Birch, or Walnut Wood Many Varied Finish Options Usually Mass-Produced
High-End Any Wood, Sometimes Exotic/Rare Varied Finish Options, or Exotic Wood Veneers, Unique Engravings, etc. Often Hand-Made, Exclusive or Limited Edition

How much do drum sets cost?

The cost of a drum set varies based on a lot of things. Since a drum set isn't just one instrument, it can sometimes be hard to tell how much you can expect to spend if you don't know what you're looking for.

Put simply, you can expect to spend somewhere in the realm of $400 to $1000 for an "entry-level" drum set, including drums, hardware, and cymbals. Usually, all-in-one packages will be on the lower end of this spectrum. It may go without saying that you can find a drum set for less than this (as well as much, much more), but if you make it out spending about this much, you're in good shape.

How much you spend, specifically, will ultimately depend on what you're looking for. And if you're not sure yet what to be looking for, that's what this guide is for!

So should I get an all-in-one package or a shell pack?

It's up to you! The advantages of all-in-one packages are clear: they are usually more affordable overall, and the shopping process is faster because your options are limited.

But despite all the benefits, all-in-one drum sets are almost always entry level drums on the lower end of the spectrum. And they offer less flexibility in exchange for the ease of shopping.

If you want to customize your drum set to your specific liking, you should buy a shell pack, with cymbals or cymbal box sets, and hardware or a hardware pack separately. This will give you exactly what you're looking for, but it will also usually be more expensive - the drums and especially cymbals you will end up with will usually be closer to the mid-level quality range, though, which is great if you want gear that will last you even after you aren't a beginner anymore.

Type Pros Cons
Drum Set All-In-One Package Usually more affordable, less shopping required, built for consistency & value Less customization/flexibility, usually (but not always) entry-level
Shell Pack with Cymbals & Hardware Sold Separately Much more customization, unique setup to you, often higher-end than all-in-one packs Usually (but not always) more expensive

Is it worth getting a mid-tier/high-end drum set if I'm a beginner?

The answer to this depends entirely on what you are personally looking for! Higher-quality drum sets will hold over even if you want to start playing gigs or recording, but entry-level drums are more affordable and can still sound great in the long run.

Consider how much you're willing to spend, and from there consider the "want" factor - if getting a drum set at the high end of your price range adds enough value for you to feel it's worth it, then go for it! But if you're going to be happy no matter what, it may be better to be frugal.

What size drums should I get?

This depends mostly on the genre of music you want to play. For a common set of drums that works across genres, a great choice would be a 22” (diameter) bass drum, 10” and 12” high toms, a 16” floor tom, and a 14” snare drum.

If you’re wanting to play jazz, you may want to get smaller drums over all. An 18” bass drum, a 12” high tom, a 14” floor tom, and a 14” snare drum should do the trick.

Larger bass drums, like a 24” bass drum, also sound great across a lot of genres, especially rock and other heavier genres.

How do I shop for drum sets on your site?

  1. Navigate to “Drum Sets” by clicking here.
  2. Use the “Refine Your Results” section to filter by things like price, brand, number of drums, special feature (like new items or best sellers), ways to save (like clearance or demos), color, and more.
  3. Once you’ve refined your results, you can also sort your results based on what we recommend, price, how new the drum set is, and more.
  1. Navigate to “Drum Sets” by clicking here.
  2. Tap “Refine Results” to filter your results by things like like price, brand, number of drums, special feature (like new items or best sellers), ways to save (like clearance or demos), color, and more.
  3. Once you’ve refined your results, you can also tap “Recommended” in the top-right to sort your results based on what we recommend, price, how new the drum set is, and more.

Enjoy Your Drums!

Now that you're an expert, you can shop with complete confidence! Go forth and prosper.

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If you have any questions, please feel free to get in touch anytime. And if you have any advice for first-time buyers, be sure to drop them a line in the comments!

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