Buying A Drumset- The Abbreviated Ins & Outs

Buying A Drumset- The Abbreviated Ins & Outs

The oft-asked question “Do I need to buy a new drum set, or is used a good option?”

The short answer: Used is certainly acceptable, as it’s the drums’ shells and accompanying hardware/cymbals that are the important things. Drumheads can be replaced rather inexpensively. Purchasing “new” should be for the “second” kit; meaning, it’s good to start on a used kit, until the player’s ear is developed to be able to discern the difference between various wood. To be totally honest, any player who begins their “walk with the drums” on “kick/snare/hats” (bass drum, snare drum, hihat stand + cymbals) will end up seeing growth in their playing on the most important aspect of playing drums, and that is “sketching time”; drawing lines in the coloring book for others to scribble in their melodies.

There’s a few local drum shops in the Seattle area including West Coast Drum Shop in Bellevue and American Music in Fremont who can offer great guidance in choosing a first or second kit. Third kit? HA that’s the beginning of the obsession part of drumming. 😀

“Should I get an electronic or acoustic set?”

Probably not a $500 kit. And definitely not electric.

Some things to consider: You’ll need to provide your own way to hear what you’re playing. and regardless of the type of kit you acquire, the physical striking of the kit can transmit through floors by way of the foot pedals and vibrations coming from the sticks, so upper-level dwellings may require some conversation with the lower neighbors.

Electric drum sets do something that acoustic drums can’t- they’re a “data entry appliance” in that they connect to your computer and can be recorded, and have the sounds altered in ways the owner manual doesn’t illustrate.

Brands you want to gravitate towards: Roland, Yamaha, Alesis, EfNote. Anything else will be on the cheap end of things and isn’t recommended due to replacement compatibility. Some pads won’t talk to some “brains” (side note: the “brain” is the electronic control center of the Edrum kit). Also, E-drums are NOT like acoustic drums; they’re a totally different animal. E-drums are great for “data input” as well, because they can be connected into a computer via USB and can utilize such programs as Reaper (PC), Garage Band or Logic Pro (OSX) to record directly into. If you do get an electronic kit, I’d encourage you to explore what options are available other than “hit pad, make sound”.

A Cue Stick…

Acoustic drumkits are, quite frankly the reason we got into playing the drums! Hitting a surface with a stick and sound issuing forth through the air until it hits our ears and every surface in the room… there’s a certain magic in it. Also, the neighbors dropping by for a chat at 3am is always a magical moment, (good thing I was up playing my drums, ah hahahaha) Brands to consider: Tama, Yamaha, Ludwig, Pearl, DW, Rogers, PDP, Pacific, Pork Pie.

Just because.

An acoustic kit is going to require more room both physically and sonically; sound travels and the range of a good drumkit through normal bedroom walls can be 100ft or more on a quiet day. If there’s urban noise or thicker walls, that will present a more formidable barrier to contain the sound. People will know you play drums. This is a given. 

However, a good “in-between” option is to get an acoustic kit but use mesh heads and low volume cymbals. That way, touch can be developed and the feeling of playing an acoustic kit remains.

Don’t Forget Cymbals!

You can’t go wrong with a Sabian AA Medium Ride.

You’ll also have to purchase cymbals to round out the kit, if they don’t come with them already. Protip: It’s better to buy used “pro level” cymbals rather than “new in the box” cymbals made from lesser alloy (B8 bronze vs B20 bronze). B20 bronze is the “pro-level” and the 20 denotes 20% bronze in the mixture. They sound superior overall and are worth the extra outlay, in my opinion. Major brands to look for are Sabian, Zildjian, Meinl, Paiste, and smaller brands are Soultone, Zion, Trexist, UFiP, Dream Bliss.

“What is a “shell pack”?”

This is what you get with a shell pack. No hardware, just drums. Maybe mounts, be sure to ask.

You may see these words occasionally in ads. A “shell package” is just the drums; that may or may not include any sort of mounting hardware for the drums to hang on. In other words, “all you get are the drums”. This could be a good way to upgrade to a nicer set of drum shells in lieu of purchasing a “showroom new” drum set. 

Things to look for… 

The condition of the heads is not as important as are the state of the fittings on the drums themselves. Make sure there’s nothing visibly broken or out-of-place. Drums are fairly repetitive in design, and you can tell if a lug casing is damaged or missing if it looks askew. Also, check the condition of the hardware. Anything loose and flimsy will break as soon as you get it home. Drum hardware does have a certain built-in flexibility to it, but it all tightens up pretty rigid so if it’s slipping, chances are something is stripped and that can be an issue to bring up. The pedals should be flexible and active to the touch; a bass drum pedal with a bad bearing is most certainly a real drag to encounter and will hinder development. 

Cymbals should be free of cracks and chips; hold the cymbal up to a light and if you can see any hidden cracks in the grain, that’s going to do nothing but get worse over time. There should only be the center hole unless it has been drilled for rivets or to stop an existing crack. Cracks are bad, MMMkay? 

Where The Royalty Sits

It’s referred to as a “throne” and that’s what they call our seats. We’re “royalty of the round resonant things!” Some things you want to consider when buying a throne:

  • Make certain it’s double-braced for stability
  • A piano-style height adjustment will last far longer than a nitro-charged base (the kind where a lever controls the height)
  • Anything that rhymes with “Oc & Oc” (*cough” Roc-N-Soc), Orthopedic Throne Company, or DW.

Speaking of cymbals… (again)

Cymbals are a personal thing and once your ear dials into the sounds you’re producing, you may wish to pick up some alternate sounds. Buying a cymbal is like adding a new color to an artistic palette. They come in all sizes from 4″ splashes all the way up to 30″ ride cymbals, and everything in between. I can recommend a 16″ crash as an add-on. If the kit you have already has a 16″ crash, try an 18″ or some new hihats. 

Thinner cymbals tend to “explode and die” faster than hitting a thicker one and are more desirable for everyone. There’s less “clang” and offense to the ears. Ride cymbals tend to be thicker and carry a longer note (hence “riding on the sonic wave of the cymbal strike”). Trust your ears. And buying a used cymbal of professional quality (B20 alloy) beats buying a brand-new B8 alloy set that’s shiny and in the box. (Side note: B20 alloy is the desired metal for professionals, as it has 20% bronze content. B8 alloy cymbals are cheaper and have a clangier sound and they sound cheap to the trained ear.)


There’s many variables in the line of hardware that can confuse the layperson; single-braced hardware is lighter and easier to carry but can move around if the player is a heavy hitter. Double-braced stands will certainly nail down the drums to the floor, from the added weight of more metal at the base. If more anchoring is needed, there’s always stage sandbags, available on You’ll also need to get your own sand to fill them. 

Single-braced hardware. Lightweight and easy to pack.
An example of double-braced hardware. Heavy and sturdy!

Pedal To The Metal…

In the opinion of the author, this is the best pedal on the planet. DW5000.

Bass drum pedals are a whole different story; the one thing I want to mention is that the pedal does not make up for poor foot technique. That being said, having a pedal that’s reactive to a light touch of your finger will be a good find. Many of them have integrated plates underneath to aid in the stability. (Side note: BD pedals have spurs that can dig into fine wood floors, so a good carpet and proper adjustment of said spurs will make sure the floors are protected. RTFM, as they say… ). 

Where do I seek these “Drums of Used Repute?”

Chris Hankins at West Coast Drum Shop in Bellevue can steer you right! WC Drum is a “Proper Drum Shop”. Michael Cotta at American Music in Fremont is also a great resource. 

If you want to look for something on your own, I’d recommend using Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist,, All are good places to look. I’d avoid the big chain stores, because usually there’s the guy from guitars or pro audio working the drum counter and may have limited knowledge of the instrument’s finer points. As always, Caveat emptor. 

Get ready for your own collection of “deranged looks” photos from your loved ones, once you buy a drum set!