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How To Buy A Drum Set

Q - What should I look for if I want to buy a drum set

http://www.americandrumschool.com/howtobuy.html - Dave Bedrock

I know what you‚re thinking, Should I get 6 lugs or
only 5? What the heck is a lug anyway? I will explain
it all!

Buying your first drum set can be intimidating and
confusing but there are a few basic things to
understand which can make it easier. The standard drum set package is made up of the following parts:
  1. Snare drum
  2. Bass drum
  3. Two tom toms mounted on the bass drum
  4. Floor tom

This is called a five-piece set. By tradition only drums are counted in the description (5 piece set). Cymbals are considered separate and a standard package is:

  1.  Ride cymbal
  2. Two h-ihat cymbals
  3. Crash cymbal

The remaining components are called hardware which are made up of stands and pedals and a standard package is:

  1. Snare drum stand
  2. Bass drum pedal
  3. Tom holders
  4. Cymbal stand
  5. Hihat stand
  6. Drum throne or seat (optional-generally considered a separate purchase)

This is the description of the standard five-piece
drum set with cymbals and hardware. There are many
variations and I often use a four piece set that has
only one mounted tom.

My cymbal set-up varies but I usually use a ride, hihats and 2 crashes plus a small splash. I will explain in more detail how all these parts are constructed below.

A drum is nothing more than a resonating cylinder or "shell" (the first ones were hollowed out logs) with membranes or "head" stretched over the opening. The quality of sound is determined by the quality of the shell and the head. What this means is the drum will produce the best sound if it is perfectly round and has a flat edge where the head comes in contact with the shell. This edge is called the "bearing" edge. If it is smooth and even it will sound good.

The type and quality of material that the shell is constructed of has a definite effect on the cost of the drum and the quality of the tone. Many different materials such as fiberglass, steel, plastic and high tech composites are also common. They are also used in less expensive drum sets because all of these materials are easier than wood to shape in to the correct dimensions and to make perfectly round. They also hold their shape better than wood, which has a tendency to warp, especially when wet. Each material has a unique sound with wood, especially maple being the one most desired and also the most expensive. Without going into too much detail, the thickness of the drum is important also and you will find less expensive drums sold as 3, 5 and 9 "plys" or layers of many different types of wood. Each ply is a thin sheet of wood that is cemented together and formed around a mold. The manufacturer does not usually identify the types of wood and they are given generic names such as "hardwood" because many inexpensive woods are used. Obviously, 3 or 5 ply hardwood shells are thinner than 9 ply. The 9-ply shell is stronger and is my preference in the less expensive drum sets. However, there are differing opinions about the more expensive maple shells with some people preferring 3 or 5 ply over 9 ply maple. The most exclusive drums are made of a single thick ply and require many hours of processing to be formed into a perfectly round shell.

Next we have another important consideration. Each drum shell will have a head and a counter hoop by which tension is exerted on the head for tuning purposes. Tension is controlled by tension rods and lugs (also called tension casings) and the number of lugs on the shell is important because the more lugs that the shell has the more control there is in tuning the head. The snare drum requires more lugs than most of the other drums to tune well and sound good. Eight lugs on top and bottom is a good minimum for the snare drum though there are many inexpensive snare drums with only six. I recommend eight lugs to my private students. I personally use a ten-lug snare drum and a twelve-lug snare drum, which sound great. On a snare drum more is better!

On the small tom toms six is the minimum though you will see drums with only four. On the larger toms eight is preferable but you will see drums with six. The bass drum eight is minimum with some drums having only six.

At one time all drumheads were made of animal hides. Today plastic is the preferred material and heads come in a variety of thickness and plys. Single ply heads are one layer of Mylar and double ply heads have two layers of Mylar. The single ply heads have more complex tones and are the choice of some people. Thicker double ply heads have more controlled deeper tones and produce more of a "thud" which I like in my toms and bass drum. My preference on the snare drum is a thin single ply white coated head. The entry-level drum sets typically come with very thin single ply heads. I personally recommend name brand heads such as Remo and encourage my students to use them.

The term finishes refers to the appearance of the drums. Some drums are finished with coverings suchas vinyl and come in a variety of colors. The more expensive drums are polished, stained and lacquered natural wood. Though the argument can be made that natural wood shells without covering sound better, less expensive entry-level drums can sound good with a vinyl finish.

The term "hardware" refers to the bass drum pedal and hi hat stand, the snare and cymbal stands and the mount for the tom toms. Most of what is available is fine though there are definite differences in the durability and ease of use from one manufacturer to another. It is typically divided into single and double braced categories and double braced is very sturdy though I find good single braced hardware completely acceptable for my use. All the hardware that I sell is very serviceable and a perfectly good choice for most players...

My recommendations for a first drum set:
A five piece 9-ply wood drum set with a vinyl finish

8 lug bass drum

8 lug snare drum

6 lug-mounted toms

6-8-lug floor tom

Remo drumheads on all drums

3 or 4 cymbal package including 16 or 18-inch crash-ride

Two 13 or 14 inch hihat cymbals

Hardware package including bass drum pedal, hi hat stand, snare drum and cymbal stands, tom mounts and drum throne.

These sets are available for very reasonable prices
and have everything the new player needs to get

Cannon has great beginner and professional level drum sets - see the Jamm V for a great starter set!


When I got my first drum set I didn't care what it was (it was a used Tempro with Krut cymbals). I was thrilled and excited to have a drum set to play! It is more important to have the drums and get started playing than to agonize over whether you are buying the perfect drum set. I encourage first time buyers to get something good but not too expensive in the $300-400 range.

It takes many years of experience to understand cymbals and make the choices that are right for you. It is because of this that I suggest beginning with any cymbal and let the learning happen in it's own time.

Cymbals made by drum companies and included in drum set packages are usually practice cymbals of inferior quality. They are thin plates stamped out of a metal sheet and formed into the shape of a traditional cymbal. They can be used for practice but not much else. They have a hard metallic clank sound when hit with a drumstick.

A quality cymbal made by a cymbal company has a fine musical tone. It has a complex sound. They have several metal ingredients formed by hammering and lathing some of which may be done by hand. This, of course, makes them quite expensive though a good cymbal can last a lifetime and improve with age.

Basically, cymbals fall into two categories, one for playing sustained rhythms including ride cymbals and hihat cymbals and another for playing accents called crash cymbals.

Ride cymbals are typically 18-20 inches in diameter
and occasionally larger. They are usually fairly thick
and used to play steady sustained rhythms though some of them are thin enough to use for accents (called crashing).

Crash cymbals range from 14 ˆ18 inches in diamenter
and vary in thickness from thick and heavy to very
thin. Thinner cymbals are usually higher in pitch and
respond very quickly to a stroke from the drum stick.

Hihat cymbals are 13-14 inches in diameter and mounted one on top of the other on a stand and controlled by a pedal. They also vary in thickness.

Splash cymbals range from 8-12 inches and are very
thin with a bell like sound. They are used for special
effects and should be used sparingly. They are not
usually included in less expensive cymbal packages.

A cymbal package should include:

  1. A pair of hi hat cymbals 13-14 inches in diameter
  2. A 16 inch crash cymbal
  3. A good fourth cymbal is a ride 18-20 inches in diameter.

When included in the price of the drumset they will be for practice only. A package of student model entry-level cymbals should include the same as above but will increase the price by $200-300 dollars. These include cymbals by Meinl,Paiste, Sabian, Wuhan or Zildjian.

Professional quality cymbals by the same manufacturersas those listed above could total well over $1000. It is usually possible to get substantial discounts, as much as 40 percent off or more. I play a great cymbal called Istanbul. Most of the sets carried by American Drum School have cymbal sets that are included in the purchase price though I offer a cymbal upgrade by Wuhan for under $200.


Drum Sets