Purchasing your first drum set can be an overwhelming experience as the options are just about limitless. Configurations come in a variety of sizes, shapes, colors and woods making it difficult to know which model is best for you. By understanding the basic components of a drum set and the tonal differences between the wood used in making them, choosing the right set will be an exciting experience.
Step One: Choose Your Drum Set Configuration
When looking at drum sets, know that there are two basic configurations; 5 piece or 4 piece. Now, if you were to go to a drummers workshop, you might see someone like Shannon Larkin from Godsmack who has 8 pieces in his setup, but that is extreme for someone starting out.
A 5 piece set is standard for a drummer who wants more options for sound and transition between drums. This includes a bass drum, floor tom, two rack tom toms and one snare drum.
The 4 piece is geared more towards the musician who want to do more with less. Skilled drummers can get amazing full sound out of a smaller configuration once they master their technique. The 4 piece typically includes a bass drum, floor tom, one rack tom tom and a snare drum.
Step Two: Choose the Kit Based on Materials, Quality and Size
Drum sets can be constructed from a wide variety of materials. We recently came across a set that was made from old wine barrels! When shopping, take time to note the material used to make the drum shells and you'll see that they are either made from wood or PVC plastic. Wood is always a good choice for beginner drummers as the material offers a natural warm tone compared to PVC plastic that has a brighter, louder sound.
The most common types of wood used in making drum shells are maple, ash, birch, mahogany and basswood. Maple and North American Ash wood tends to be the most prominent woods used for high end custom drum sets due to the desirable tones they naturally produce. Birch is also a high quality wood used in higher end and intermediate series sets that has great resonance. Most entry level, lower priced drum sets are made from basswood which is a lighter wood with good tone, also used in other instruments like guitars and recorders.
While the material used to make the drums is a significant factor in determining the quality of the drum set, the hardware used on the drums is also a good indicator of overall quality. Compare the quality of the legs on the bass drum, the rims and the lugs used to hold the heads in place. These pieces on a more expensive kit will be heavy-duty and chrome while the less expensive models will not be quite as durable over time. A lower number of lugs on a drum may hinder the ability to tune the drum heads to a precise pitch so compare the lug count on the drums.
The bass drum is the largest drum in a kit and sizes range from 18-26 inches in diameter and depths range from 12-22 inches. The most popular sizes that typically come standard with entry level sets are either the 20 or 22 inch diameter drums with 16 or 18 inch depths.
Rack toms are the drums that are typically positioned just above the bass drum used for fills and transitions. There are a wide range of sizes to choose from for this type of drum however the standard sized set is typically around 8" x 10" and 9" x 12".
Snare drums are the soul of the drummer. When you see a drummer travel and he can only carry on 1 bag, he'll usually have his snare drum in hand. While most drum sets come with a snare, it is typically the first piece that a musician will swap out as they find their sound for something more custom. Some of the popular snare drums are the Ludwig Supraphonic Snare and the Gretsch Maple Snare. Popular sizes for the snare are 6.5" x 14" and 5" x 14".
You should now be comfortable browsing through our huge selection of drum sets and begin to narrow down your choices based on the materials and quality you desire. Most musicians look at their instrument purchases as an investment and lean more towards quality rather than bargains so that when they are ready to upgrade, they have an instrument of value that they can trade in or sell in order to make the purchase.