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A Guide To Choosing Your First Drum Kit

- by Ian Darke, Johnny Roadhouse Music Drum Department Manager

Buying your first drum kit.

Buying a drum kit for the first time can seem like a huge undertaking. There are now more drum manufacturers than ever, each offering their own ideas as to what creates the best sound, the best look or the most affordable (or expensive!) gear on the market. Throw current trends and fashions into the mix and you can be forgiven for not knowing where to begin.

Factors such as drum sizes, shell material, shell thickness, bearing edges, drum heads and the quality of hardware (the lugs, tom suspension mounts, hoops etc.) can and do have a big effect of the sonic quality of a drum. But when buying a first kit these factors are a bit of a red-herring. A seasoned drummer can be extremely fussy about customising or configuring some or all of these things when buying an expensive kit but at entry-level a lot of these decisions are largely made for you by the manufacturer based upon what's affordable to produce and what works best to acheive a good sound.

The following is a quick-step guide to buying a first drum kit, touching upon all of the main considerations that should inform your decision-making process.

1) Price.

An entry level drum kit can cost anything between £260 and £600. Whilst there is quite a large scope in terms of what a kit might cost, at this price range the differences between the kits themselves will be largely aesthetic. Most are made of the same wood (poplar, mahogany or a blend of both), most feature a 'wrap' finish rather than a more expensive lacquered finish, most have fairly simple hardware features which do their job well without being flashy and all are made in the Far East to keep production costs down.

With this in mind, let aesthetics guide your choice to an extent; only you know whether a nicer looking drum kit is worth spending an extra £50, £100 or £200 on. As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That being said, some brands are historically more reliable than others in terms of build quality, aftercare and resale value. Generally speaking, anything made by Pearl, Tama or Mapex in this price category is a sound buy.

2) Sizes.

Nearly all entry-level kits will come in pre-configured packs consisting of a bass drum, a snare drum and a combination of tom toms and floor toms. The most common configuration in this price bracket by far is a 5-piece kit in either Rock or Fusion sizes. A 5-piece Rock configuration will feature a 22" bass drum, 14" snare drum, 12" and 13" inch tom toms and a 16" floor tom. A Fusion configuration will feature either a 22" or 20" bass drum, 14" snare, 10" and 12" tom toms and a 14" floor tom.

If you are buying a drum kit for a young child it is important to consider whether everything is going to be phsyically within reach of the player. To play a drum kit properly you must be able to reach two pedals with your feet - left and right - and at the same time be able to reach the tom toms, which are generally mounted on top of the bass drum. The 2 inches that separate a 20" and 22" bass drum can make all the difference in this regard. A 20" bass drum is a common size through beginner to professional levels so there is no need to worry about your child outgrowing it.

3) What do I get for my money?

By and far, the cheapest way to acquire everything you need to get started is to buy a 'starter pack' deal. These will equip you with everything necessary to begin playing as soon as the drums are unpacked from the boxes. In a starter pack you will get the drums, cymbals, stands, bass drum pedal, a throne and usually even some sticks and a drum key for tuning.

Perhaps curiously, the more expensive drums get the less you get with them. Professional kits are sold as 'shell packs' which literally means you get the drums, heads, hoops and nothing else. By the time you have added cymbals, stands, pedals etc. you can easily be looking at an outlay of £2000 plus. A starter pack can be bought for as little as £260 (a Mapex Tornado) and while the quality will be nowhere near that of a professional kit, you will have all of the components needed to learn how to play and progress as a drummer.

4) The sound / look.

The single most important thing about a drum kit is the sound that it produces. Second to this is how it looks. As drummers we should be first and foremost concerned with the sounds that we make, but we want to do the business behind a kit that looks the part as well! Entry level kits come in a variety of finishes from solid coloured wraps such as Piano Black or Ruby Red to slightly more exotic Sparkle wraps. The most basic finishes are duplicated by a number of manufacturers, but most will also have specific finishes that only they offer. A good example of this is the Smokey Chrome finish that Pearl offer on their Export range - a beautiful finish that really enhances the visual aesthetic of the kit and is perhaps worth paying a little extra for.

The many guitars, saxophones and keyboards stashed away in cupboards and closets up and down the country are testament to the fact that children can often lose interest in learning to play an instrument. In my experience, a child is always likely to put that extra bit of effort in if they have a drum kit that they love the look of.

There is no substitute for your own eyes and ears when it comes to choosing a drum kit. It is always a good idea to try and play the kit you are interested in before parting with your money or at the very least see it in person. If you are unsure of what to buy, play as many kits as possible and see which one suits you best in terms of how it sounds and looks. At Johnny Roadhouse Music we are always willing to let potential buyers demo our drum kits as we believe it is the only foolproof way to make an informed decision.

5) If you are unsure of anything, ask us!

Here at Johnny Roadhouse Music we pride ourselves on being able to offer expert advice on all of the products that we sell. We provide instruments for people of all ages and experience levels and there is no such thing as a silly question as far as we're concerned. Our product specialists are available to answer any questions that you might have during the shop's opening hours; you can call us on 0161 273 1111 or come in for a look around and ask questions face-to-face. There will always be someone on hand to get you the answers that you need to make an informed decision.


This buying guide was written by Ian Darke, Drum Department Manager at Johnny Roadhouse Music.

If you have any questions about percussion, give us a call on 0161 273 1000

Or pop in to the shop if you are in the area, we are always happy to help!

Johnny Roadhouse Music
123 Oxford Road

M1 7DU