Tips on buying drum gear- what, how, and where. Many items can be purchased online at my Amazon.com store. Feel free to e-mail me if you have questions.
Having a top-of-the-line pro drumset is not critical for a student- most economy/student model drumsets by major companies (Gretsch, Yamaha, Tama, Premier, Pearl) are of much higher quality now than in the past, and it's usually not hard to get a decent sound from them (so long as they haven't been abused by a previous owner). Remember before you buy new: student level gear usually doesn't have the same resale value as pro gear does, so make sure you shop around for the best deal. Look for free shipping if you're buying online.
A more economical option is to buy used: you may be able to get a decent older pro-level set for the same amount you were going to pay for the new mid-level set, or you may be able to get a screaming deal on the student drums.
Check the condition of used drums carefully- there are enough good cheap drumsets floating around that you can afford to be picky. Pass on anything that doesn't look almost new. Everything should be shiny, no major scuffs on the finish. Heads can and should be replaced regularly, but it's costly enough (~$100 for an entire set) that you should probably pass on sets with dented heads.
A number of companies have come out with cheap compact kits for gigging drummers who don't want to schlep around a lot of gear. They're usually about the same quality of drum as the student or semi-pro lines but in very small sizes- 18" or 20" (sometimes 16") bass drum, 10" or 12" tom/s, 13" floor tom and 13" snare. They sound surprisingly good and can be found used for $300-400. They might be good option if you're not playing a lot of high volume music. The best deal on this type of kit seems to be the Tama Imperialstar Compact (till recently known as the Stagestar), which you should be able to get online for $450-500 with free shipping. Other sets of this type include the Gretsch Catalina (a popular choice with very good resale value), Yamaha Manu Kache or Rydeen, Sonor Jungle, and Taye Spotlight.
- Used student sets more than a few years old.
- Oddball finishes that may make the drums harder to resell when it's time to upgrade- natural wood grain or solid colors are best.
- Transparent drums. They sound terrible and, in the case of the transparent ones, look a little silly on most gigs.
- Single-headed toms or bass drum. Something of rarity today, single-headed toms have a very dated sound that is not appropriate to most musical situations. You're more likely to find a set which was originally set up for 2 heads, but the owner removed the bottom ones. In this case, make sure he kept all the hardware (rims, lug casings and lugs) so you can put them back on, and bargain hard for a reduced price.
- Again, be very careful about buying used student drums- be picky about condition!
- Google the name of the company and series of the drums. Companies are constantly changing updating their lines, so be sure if the drums you are buying are student, pro, or semi-pro models.
-For many years, the standard student-model drumset came with a 22" bass drum, 12" & 13" rack toms, and a 16" floor tom. There are millions of these drumsets out there, and it's often possible to pick them up very cheaply, but try to avoid them if you can. Smaller drums (particularly a 14" floor tom and 20" bass drum) are usable in a wider variety of situations, and have better resale value. Still, they are extremely common, and most of the cheapest sets will be in these sizes.
A good beginner's set-up should include:
- 20" (or 18" or 22") bass drum
- One (12" or 13"), or two (10" & 12" or 12" & 13") tom-toms (mounted on the bass drum).
- One (14" or 16") or two (14" & 15", or 14" & 16") floor toms (mounted on legs or floor stand).
- 14" (maybe 13") snare drum. 4" to 8" deep is usable, but I suggest sticking to within - 5" to 6.5" deep.
- 2 cymbal stands.
- Snare drum stand.
- Hi-hat stand.
- Bass drum pedal.
- Tom mount, floor tom legs or stand, bass drum spurs.
The absolute minimum you need:
Bass drum with pedal
Snare drum with stand
Hi-hat cymbals with stand
Good options for student/semi-pro drums include:
- Gretsch Catalina
- Yamaha Stage
- Tama Imperialstar/Stagestar
- Mapex QR, VX, or Pro M
I advise my students to buy professional-quality cymbals if possible- you can't change the sound of a cymbal the way you can the sound of a drum, and most cheap cymbals sound pretty bad. They may be OK for the practice room, but you will most likely want to replace them before long, and they tend to resell very poorly. The major cymbal companies do make some decent mid-quality cymbals, but you need to shop carefully to be sure that's what you're getting; these lines change frequently, and it is not always clear which lines are junk and which are usable.
- Cracked or warped cymbals. Cracks are usually found at the edge, radiating from the center hole, or with the "grain" of the cymbal. If you hit the cymbal and there is any kind of rattle or sizzle (that can't be attributed to the stand or installed rivets), it has an invisible hairline crack and you should not buy it. However, a worn, irregularly-shaped center hole ("keyholing") is regarded as undesirable by cymbal nuts, but is acceptable to you: it does not harm the sound, playability, or long-term durability of the cymbal. Nicks in the edge of a cymbal (usually from being dropped) are generally not a big deal, and shouldn't effect the sound of a cymbal.
- The cheapest line of cymbals by any manufacturer.
- Any cymbals by brands other than those listed below. There are good off-brand cymbals, but avoid them until you know what you are looking for.
- Heavy cymbals. Avoid anything with words like "rock", "power", "heavy" stamped on it. These sound terrible in any but very high-volume situations. Stick to medium-thin to paper-thin crashes, medium or light hi-hats, and medium, light, or jazz rides.
- "Ping", "dry", "flat" or "mini-cup" rides. These have their uses, but should not be your first ride cymbal.
- Unlathed cymbals. These will have a smooth (except for the hammer marks) surface; lathed cymbals have a circular grain running around them. They look great and can sound great, but many of them have a specialized sound you aren't going to want for your first cymbals. Many of them tend to be on the heavy side as well. Avoid these until you're experienced enough to know what you want from a cymbal. An exception to this is the Sabian Raw ride, which despite appearences is a light, pretty sounding cymbal which makes an excellent (and relatively economical) jazz ride.
- Flashy, exotic-looking cymbals. Some companies dress up their junk with flashy finishes. Most companies offer 'brilliant' finishes which are safe to buy.
- Don't be afraid of cymbals that are dirty or dull-looking, or that have the silk-screened logos worn. They can be cleaned (with Ajax or Soft Scrub), and are often where you get the best deals. Everyone likes to have shiny new cymbals, but remember that the sound is the important thing. All cymbals get dirty and dull-looking after a few years' use.
- The best bargains are likely to be filthy old A. Zildjians, Sabian AA's, or Paiste 2000's (or 505, possibly 3000 or 2002) cymbals from the 80's or early 90's.
A good beginner's set-up:
- 20" (or 22") medium ride
- 18" (or 16" or 17") thin to medium-thin crash
- 14" (or 13" ) medium hi-hats
A good jazz drummer's set-up:
- 22" medium-light to medium sizzle ride
- 19" or 20" light ride (or 18" medium-thin crash)
- 13" or 14" light to medium-light hi-hats
All cymbals are used for both riding and crashing. All cymbals by Bosphorus, Zildjian K or K Custom, Sabian HH or HHX, Paiste Traditional, Istanbul Agop (or Mehmet), or Meinl Byzance. These tend to be idiosyncratic (and expensive!) cymbals, so it would probably be smart to consult with me personally before buying. I heartily recommend the Cymbals Only site for browsing/purchasing these cymbals- the site features audio files of every individual cymbal played a variety of ways. They also automatically give a nice discount!
Zildjian- A., A. Custom, K., or K. Custom. The old Amir student line of cymbals were fairly decent, and should cost you next to nothing if you can find them used.
Sabian - AA, AAX, HH, or HHX
Paiste - Paiste's lines have changed dramatically over the years, so research carefully before buying. Currently their Traditional, Twenty, Signature and New Signature series appear to be the nicest. Their older series of pro-quality cymbals include: 2002, 3000, 602, and Sound Creation. Excellent deals can be had on the older semi-pro 2000 and 505 series cymbals, if you can find them. Avoid the old 404 series.
Istanbul (Agop or Mehmet) or Bosphorus - High-end cymbals mostly suited to jazz. Fantastic cymbals, but pricy and maybe not ideal for a beginner. Istanbuls tend to be more idiosyncratic, and the rides are generally way on the heavy side, so shop carefully, and be sure to play the cymbal before buying. I've heard very few Bosphorus cymbals that weren't great-sounding- the ones I didn't care for were in the medium-heavy and extremely thin range. Bosphoruses are excellent for low-volume applications, maybe less so when a lot of projection is required.
Meinl - They do make good cymbals, but they also make some junk, so buy them with caution. Their Byzance series are excellent, very versatile high-end cymbals. Also very interesting (but specialized) is the old Dragon line, which were made from chinese castings. Avoid Avanti and Raker. The Meinl Classics line appear to be good mid-range cymbals.
Dream - This is a Chinese company that has been getting some attention recently for making very inexpensive, sometimes wonderful Turkish-style hand-hammered cymbals. They vary wildly in quality, and need to be chosen with care, in person.
Hand-hammered ("K" type) vs. machine-hammered cymbals:
Hand-hammered cymbals (K. Zildjian, Sabian HH, Istanbul, Bosphorus, Paiste Traditional, Meinl Byzance) typically have a warm, dark sound while machine-hammered cymbals (A. Zildjian, Sabian AA, most Paiste and Meinl) tend to be more bright and cutting, with a "cleaner" sound. Hand-hammered cymbals are more idiosyncratic, and can vary widely in sound. Some of them are extremely dark, exotic and trashy-sounding, which a student may not want, so they should be chosen with care. Don't buy them without being able to play them first. Machine-hammered cymbals are more predictable, and it's hard to go too wrong buying them (so long as they aren't too heavy).
If you need additional or replacement hardware, usually the cheapest stands/pedals by Yamaha, Tama, or Gibraltar will do just fine. Heavy, bulky, expensive double-braced hardware is usually overkill, except in the case of thrones and floor-tom stands.
For snare drum and practice pad, the classic stick is the Vic Firth SD-1 General. As You should not use these on drum set or for any other application where they'll get beat up. One pair of Generals should last you for years.
For drumset, any wood-tipped hickory or maple stick in the approximate weight range of a 5A to a 5B will do. I use Vic Firth SD-11 Slammers (a medium-sized maple stick) or VF American Classic 5A's (hickory). Vater makes good, inexpensive sticks. For heavier playing, I use VF American Classic Rock. Nylon tipped sticks are popular, but not necessarily more durable than wood.
For marching, any major manufacturer's 3S or equivalent will do (I recommend the Silver Fox 3S). Also good is Vic Firth's Ralph Hardimon line of sticks, which includes an excellent Junior model for younger players, or players desiring a lighter marching stick. If you're playing in a drum line, marching band or drum corps, check with your instructors first- they will likely want all of their drummers using the same kind of stick.
- Very heavy or very light sticks. You may need to use them if a playing situation requires it, but for general practice medium weight 5A's or 5B's are best for drum set.
- Sticks with nylon tips. These give an unpleasantly bright sound when played on the ride cymbal.
- Sticks made out of Oak or other hard woods, which are more rigid and pass along a lot of shock to your wrists. Pro-Mark seems to be the main producer of oak sticks.
- Colored sticks, which tend to be of poor quality, leave paint chips everywhere, and make ugly marks on your cymbals and drumheads.
For band, orchestra, or percussion ensemble, here are my recommendations for the various instruments:
Vic Firth SD-1 General
Vic Firth SD2- Bolero (optional, for very soft playing)
Regal Tip Saul Goodman Mallets #3 (general purpose)
Regal Tip Saul Goodman Mallets #5 (ultra staccato)
Regal Tip Saul Goodman Mallets #6 (cartwheel; soft, optional).
The equivalent mallets (general, ultra staccato, cartwheel) by Vic Firth are also good.
All students studying timpani should also own a pitch pipe, A-440 tuning fork, and black "trap" cloth (a piece of thick, dark black fabric roughly the size of the flat surface of a music stand).
Musser M-403 Blue, rattan handle (general purpose)
Mike Balter M-424 hard black, rattan handle (glockenspiel, xylophone)
Musser M-402 Red, rattan handle (for softer playing on glockenspiel, xylophone)
Vic Firth American Custom medium round, red yarn, rattan handle (general, 2-mallet marimba and vibraphone)
Malletech Dave Samuels DS18 hard, rattan handle (4-mallet vibraphone)
Malletech Concerto Series CN14 medium/medium-hard, birch handle (4-mallet marimba)
Avoid: mallets with fiberglass handles.
The coated Remo Ambassador is the standard drum head for the snare drum and toms. Other companies (Evans and Aquarian) make equivalent (medium-weight, single-ply) heads which are also good. For bottom heads, use clear or ebony Ambassadors (or the equivalent by Evans or Aquarian). Some students seem to be disturbed by the normal overtones of a drum (which are more noticable when you're playing the drums than they are when you're listening listening to a record)- for a little bit dryer sound, or for very heavy players, try using Remo Emperors on the toms. I suggest avoiding heavier 2-ply heads like Pinstripes and Hydraulics. Heavier heads or heads with built-in muffling are fine for the batter side of the bass drum.
I use Remo Renaissance heads on my toms, which have a very nice warm sound which I prefer to the Ambassadors. Some people have durability issues with them, but I haven't found them to be excessively delicate.
Visit my Amazon store to purchase these and other books. You can also purchase books directly from me at your lesson. Titles in bold are required for most or all students. Email me for advice and availability.
Progressive Steps to Syncopation for the Modern Drummer (or just "Syncopation") by Ted Reed
Stick Control by George Lawrence Stone
Basic Drumming by Joel Rothman (not required, but an extremely helpful book- contains a little bit of everything!)
Snare Drum - beginning
Elementary Drum Method by Roy Burns (most beginning middle-school students will use this book)
Snare Drum - intermediate to advanced
Snare Drum for Beginners by Morris Goldenberg
Accents and Rebounds by George Lawrence Stone
Master Studies Vol. I & II by Joe Morello
Snare Drum - advanced
Wrist Twisters by Buster Bailey
Portraits in Rhythm by Anthony Cirone
Snare Drum - rudimental
Rudimental Swing Solos by Charles Wilcoxon
Rolling in Rhythm - Charles Wilcoxon
Savage Rudimental Workshop by Matt Savage
Mini-Monster Book of Rock Drums by Joel Rothman (most beginning drum set students will use this book)
A Funky Primer by Charles Dowd
The Drumset Musician by Rod Morgenstein
Studio Funk Drumming by Roy Burns and Joey Farris
Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer by Jim Chapin
The Beatles - Revolver
The Beatles - Rubber Soul
Rolling Stones - Hot Rocks
Led Zeppelin - II
Led Zeppelin - IV
The Who - Who's Next
The Police - Ghost In The Machine
AC/DC - Back In Black
AC/DC - Let There Be Rock
Jimi Hendrix - Are You Experienced?
Black Sabbath - Paranoid
Sex Pistols - Never Mind The Bollocks
Frank Zappa - Apostrophe
Miles Davis - Kind of Blue
Miles Davis - Milestones
Thelonious Monk - Monk's Dream
Thelonious Monk - Trio
Sonny Rollins - Saxophone Colossus
Ahmad Jamal - At The Pershing
Horace Silver - Song For My Father
Art Blakey - Night In Tunisia
John Coltrane - My Favorite Things
John Coltrane - A Love Supreme
McCoy Tyner - The Real McCoy
Bill Evans - Explorations
Keith Jarrett - Belonging
Keith Jarrett - Standards Vol. 1
Wayne Shorter - Footprints Live
John Scofield - Time On My Hands
The Meters - Funkify Your Life
Sly Stone - Greatest Hits
James Brown - In The Jungle Groove
Curtis Mayfield - Superfly
Marvin Gaye - What's Going On
Stevie Wonder - Songs In The Key Of Life
Stevie Wonder - Talking Book
Parliament - The Bomb
My Amazon.com store
Craigslist - great source for used drums.
Rhythm Traders (Portland - ask for Brad, an old school mate of mine)
Trade-Up Music (Portland)
Revival Drum Shop (Portland) - Premium used gear, run by a former student!
Steve Weiss Music (online) - A great source for drum gear and hard-to-find-books.
Other reputable online retailers:
Lone Star Percussion (online/mail order)
Musician's Friend (online)
Sam Ash (online)
I recommend not shopping at "super-store" type places with large glitzy showrooms- service and discounts are usually substandard.
- For musical gear, pros generally expect to get a discount of 40-50% off retail for everything they purchase new- drums, stands, sticks, cymbals, heads. Be sure to ask the saleman for at least a 20-25% discount off list; if they refuse, you may want to consider taking your business elsewhere in the future.
- When buying online, you should be able to get free shipping for any major purchase. If the site's shopping cart software isn't giving it to you, try calling them and asking for it. If they still won't give it to you, try another site.
- Before spending a lot of money at an unfamiliar online store, be sure to Google the site's name, along with "complaints" (or something similar). Buying online is generally very safe, but it's always good to be informed about the company you are doing business with.