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I'm thinking about getting a beginner drum kit, and am hesitant to make the jump for fear of either buying a lemon or not being as interested as I'd have hoped.

Things to consider:

  • 24 years old
  • Into metal music (thrash, progressive)
  • Owns home, married, no kids (yet)
  • Would like to spend $500 or less (after tax)

There have been some decent enough kits on Amazon, but I'm not sure how they would differ from name-brand kits sold on the actual vendor's website. Any advice or recommendations are appreciated!

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One thing to not skimp on is a good throne. You almost always have to buy these after the fact. If you find that you stick with drumming and start doing more than 2 hours a day, you'll find spending money on a high quality throne is worth every penny and allows you to practice longer. Of course that might not do much to help your marriage, for that you need an electronic kit! –  Tod Aug 22 '11 at 18:19
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2 Answers 2

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Your first kit should not break the bank, nor should it be highly specialized. It is simply a kit you will use to gain skill in drumming, and also to illustrate what you personally do and don't want in a drum kit. Different woods, skins, and cymbal construction will all contribute subtle tonal differences, all at the same (high) pricepoint. Making all of these decisions for your first kit is a waste of money; you have no idea what you want, because you have no point of reference.

As far as brand and pricepoint, virtually any kit, in the right hands, can be made to sound pretty good. Tuning and dampening drum heads, adjusting the snare, etc etc are key whether you're playing on a $400 or a $4000 kit. I've seen wonders performed on a $350 Pearl Rhythm Traveler kit just by selecting the right skins for each can and properly mounting, tuning and dampening each one. However, a good kit set up properly will definitely beat a cheap kit set up properly; most of the working pros I've dealt with generally have a "gigging" kit somewhere in the $1200-$1600 range, up to $2000-$2500 including cymbals. But, like I said, spending that kind of money generally requires you to know what you want, or you end up spending that $2000-$2500 on a kit that doesn't do what you want.

You simply need to sit down and play any kit you are thinking of buying. If the store or seller will let you, tear it down and set it back up again as well. You're looking for the following things:

  • Utility. For your $500 going into a beginner's kit, you need a kick, at least two toms (more like three), snare, hat, crash and ride. A "jazz kit" (kick, snare, hat, ride) for $500 may be a pretty good setup, but you won't be playing much thrash metal on it. While we're on that subject, understand that very few kits at this pricepoint have the double-pedal kick you will need for most metal music. The ones that do suffer horribly in other areas; they're designed to have the metal look and features, but terrible sound and durability. You can budget for an aftermarket double kick pedal, or you can just look harder for a (probably used) kit that includes one.

  • Solid hardware. This is the number one place that cheap kits cut corners. Thin tubes, friction-plate hinge mountings, narrow tripods, etc etc. will cost you bigtime when they fail during a gig or break in transit from place to place, and in the meantime they'll be a constant source of frustration as they constantly shift, bend or sway on you. This is an instrument you're literally beating with sticks, for Pete's sake; it should look like it can take everything you've got with a "thank you sir, may I have another".

  • Decent tone. The toms shouldn't sound like they're stuffed full of socks, the snare should sound crisp and precise with the snares on and off, and the cymbals shouldn't sound like you made them out of frying pans. Understand that money buys tone, so you're not going to get perfection, but the sound of the kit should be at least livable if not serviceable. Also understand that it's not going to sound like the drum track on your favorite metal album; recorded drum tracks are first close-mic'ed, then each individual signal is EQed, compressed and gated to hell and back to produce the overall sound that gets mixed into the final cut. There are some things you can do to nudge the sound of individual drums one way or another, but if you can't get a tone you can live with out of the kit with just a tuning key, then moon gel and new skins probably won't save it.

  • Looks you can live with or at least easily change. As this is a beginner's kit that you're going to be learning with in your own home, looks are the very lowest on the list; if it has everything else you need in a drum kit, but the shells are pink sparkle with butterflies, buy it. Nobody's going to see you playing it until you want them to, and a can of Krylon flat black will have any set of shells looking "metal" in pretty short order (you just have to fully disassemble each drum down to the wood shell and mask the rims and inside before painting).

One last note; understand that the newer metal genres (like any "metal" genre newer than 80's hair metal) is probably the most physically and rhythmically challenging genre for drummers. Metal drummers turn the beat around, use fills heavily, and generally don't conform to the standard rock rhythms that are generally recommended for new kit players. Just fair warning: your first song, from a confidence-building standpoint, should probably not be Disturbed's "Remember". Maybe Judas Priest/Marilyn Manson's "Personal Jesus".

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Fantastic answer - thank you! –  Pwninstein Aug 1 '11 at 15:03
    
KeithS and MrG have solid advice and recommendations... don't cut corners especially if the goal is to drum any recent genre of metal. It must take a pounding. But KeithS, Disturbed's "Remember" is not a hard song at all!! I still consider myself a beginning drummer and that is one of their easiest songs hands down. If we're on the subject of Disturbed songs... try "The Infection" or "Another Way To Die". Now those frustrating...! Mike Wengren doesn't get the credit he deserves!! –  user2689 Jul 30 '12 at 19:12
    
"the snare should sound crisp and precise even with the snare on"---do you mean "with the snare off"? –  Alex Basson Jul 31 '12 at 13:37
    
@AlexBasson: Probably. –  KeithS Jul 31 '12 at 14:12
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KeithS has it pretty much covered, but I'll chip in my 2p as a metal drummer.

If you are fairly young inexperienced drummer and you join a metal band for the first time its exciting, at least it was for me, its also quite loud, these 2 factors lead to the drums taking some punishment. Probably more than they should do, but thats part of the learning experience/fun!

Keith rightly states Solid hardware. This is my number one priority.

This is the number one place that cheap kits cut corners.

Looks, tone and the rest of it take a back seat if your cymbal stands are falling over or your tom arms are threaded after your first half a dozen tries at reign in blood.

My advice for all drummers I've met is to try ebay and local listings site (gumtree in the UK, I guess craiglist in the US)

When it comes to hardware, a 5 year old kit from a solid manufacturer with a half decent ebay seller is likely to be more reliable than a brand new kit from a lesser known brand.

am hesitant to make the jump for fear of either buying a lemon or not being as interested as I'd have hoped

Buying a reputable name will help with re-sale value if it doesn't take your fancy.

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+ 1 Excellent suggestions! I did end up using craigslist, hadn't thought about that. –  Pwninstein Aug 1 '11 at 15:04
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