So, you want to buy a drum set. Congratulations! You’re about to embark on a lifelong journey filled with fun and music. Let’s explore just what you’ll need to get started, and what to expect as your drum set needs change over time.
The Standard Drum Set Configurations
Drum sets come in all shapes and sizes, from the stripped down to the gigantic (think Neil Peart from the band Rush!), and in a variety of wood types including maple, birch, ash and basswood. The most typical configurations are either four or five pieces, which include the bass drum, toms, and the snare drum.
The Snare Drum
The snare drum is the heart of any drumset. This is the drum that gives that strong, loud, cracking backbeat. Most entry level and intermediate drumkits come with a snare drum, but it’s generally recommended to augment your kit with a high quality snare drum when your budget allows it. Some standout snares are Ludwig’s Supraphonic and Pearl’s Sensitone series.
The Bass Drum
The bass drum, or kick drum, is the largest drum in the kit, and ranges in diameter from 18” to 26”, with depths ranging from 12” to 22”. The most popular sizes are 20” or 22” bass drums in either 16” or 18” depths. This drum gives a nice, boomy punch, and is used in conjunction with the snare drum for most grooves on the drumset.
There are a couple of different tom types in the drumset. Rack toms, or mounted or hanging toms, are flown from a tom holder on the bass drum, or on a separate stand or mounting clamp. These drums generally range in size from 6” to 20”, with depths from 6” to 18”, and are used for fills and alternative groove patterns. Floor toms are larger drum with legs attached to them so they stand freely on their own. The most typical sizes are either 14” or 16” in diameter, with depths from about 12” to 16”. The floor tom is a great drum to use for groove or ride patterns.
Cymbals can be used in almost any imaginable way, from straightforward timekeeping to the creation of freeform colors and patterns, and everything in between. The four major cymbal manufacturers are Zildjian, Sabian, Paiste and Meinl, with several smaller makers in the mix. All of them are creating great cymbals these days. Let’s explore the cymbal types found in the typical drumset.
One of the main cymbals used to keep time for most grooves, hi hats are paired cymbals mounted on a stand with a pedal attached to it. This pedal is used to open and close the hi hats during various grooves. The most typical sizes are 13” and 14”, but there are hi hats as small as 10” and as large as 16”. When played close together, the cymbals create a tight, snappy sound. When played farther apart, the hi hats take on a sizzly, sloshy quality.
The ride cymbal is the other cymbal type used primarily for timekeeping. It’s usually larger than the cymbals around it, and it can be played either on the edge, or on the bell in the center of the cymbal. The edge or bow area is generally pingy or washy in sound quality, while the bell is bright, loud and cutting. Typical sizes range from 18” to 24”.
Crash cymbals get their name from the crashing tones they produce. Used primarily for accents, some can be ridden on as well. Tonal colors range from bright, glassy, sizzly, dark and dry, and everything in between. Typical sizes range from 14” to 22”.
These types of cymbals are not really rides and not really crashes. They can have more interesting and complex sound qualities, and usually are used for special accents. China cymbals are modeled after cymbals made, well, in China, and usually have upturned edges and square shaped bells. They create quick, trashy, biting sounds in smaller sizes, and more mellow, almost gong like tones as they increase in size. Splash cymbals are small crash type cymbals, and range in size from 6” to 12”. Several manufacturers, including Zildjian, Sabian and Paiste are making cymbals with several round holes cut into them. These O-type cymbals tend to have trashy sounds and quick decays.
Now that we’ve talked about the major parts of the drumset, the drums and the cymbals, we need to discuss the stands and holders they’re mounted on, as well as pedals and thrones. All of these pieces fall under the category of drum hardware.
Stands and Holders
Drums and cymbals all need mounting hardware. Toms need holders to either mount them on the bass drum, or to fly them from other stands. Most drumkits include bass drum mounted tom holders. There are also stands designed to hang toms. Snare stands are designed to hold the snare drum, with a basket to hold the drum in place while playing. Cymbal stands come in a few different types. Straight stands look just like the name says, vertical stands that can be adjusted to various heights. Boom stands are straight stands with boom arms that can provide more flexibility in positioning. Finally, hi hats stands are designed specifically to hold hi hat cymbals. They have a pedal used to open and close the two hi hat cymbals while playing.
Bass pedals clamp to the hoop of the bass drum, and can then be used to strike the batter head with the foot. There are various types, including chain driven, belt driven and direct drive. Each provides a different feel and speed, so it’s recommended to try different types to see which your foot likes best. Some of the top pedal manufacturers are Ludwig (which actually invented the foot driven bass drum pedal!), DW, Mapex and Pearl.
Unless you like playing your drumkit in a standing position, and there are many famous drummers who play this way, you’re going to need a drum seat, or throne. The throne consists of a stand which has a cushioned seat attached to it. The throne should be comfortable and provide good support, and many come with backrests for even more back support. A good throne may cost a little more, but the extra money is worth it.
The playing surface of the drum is called the drumhead. It mounts to the drum, and is held by a hoop and tension rods. Some beginner and intermediate drums will come with heads that may not be of good quality or durability, so it’s often wise to invest in high quality drumheads. The major manufacturers of drumheads are Remo, Evans, Aquarian and Attack. All of them make a wide variety of heads to fit any drummer’s needs.
Unless you’re playing hand percussion like congas or djembes, you’ll need drumsticks to play your drumkit. The major drumstick manufacturers include Pro-Mark, Vic Firth, Vater, Zildjian and Regal Tip. All of them make sticks in a wide variety of sizes and lengths, with either wood tips, which make more natural sounds on drums and cymbals, or nylon tips, which can create brighter sounds, especially on cymbals. Experiment to find the right size and type for you.
Well, we’ve covered everything needed to get started playing the drums. What follows is a checklist which can be used to put together the drumkit of your dreams.
- Drums – The major components of any drumset, which include the bass drum, snare drum and toms
- Cymbals – Should include at least one crash, one ride and a pair of hi hats. Most manufacturers make cymbals packs with all of these in one box.
- Hardware – Should include at least two straight or boom cymbal stands, a snare stand, a hi hat stand, a holder for the toms, a bass drum pedal and a throne. Many beginner or intermediate drumsets come with all necessary hardware.
- Drumheads – You may not need to replace the drumheads on your kit right away, but they do wear out over time, so it will be necessary to replace them regularly or whenever they break.
- Drumsticks – Absolutely essential! They also wear out over time, and will need to be replaced when they do.
Now, get out there and play!