A Guide To Buying Your First Drum Kit

So, you’ve started taking drum lessons – hopefully with Rhythm House if you’re in Singapore – and you’ve decided it’s time to buy your first drum kit. Pots & pans, cushions & pillows, practice pads & the occasional trip to a jamming studio no longer sate your desire to make noise. But… where to start?  It comes down to two main questions:

Do you want Acoustic or Electronic drums?

What’s your Budget?

Let’s get on with it!

Acoustic or Electronic?

Ask any drummer and the answer will always be acoustic. The main reason is the feel. Electronic kits just don’t feel as good to play; The sticks bounce differently, the pads are too small, you can’t hit it as hard etc…

However, Acoustic kits are highly impractical, especially in a densely populated country like Singapore. The sound from a drum kit travels a long way & you’ll get a lot of complaints from your neighbours.

Of course, there are solutions for the noise, you can build a sound proof room – it’s gonna cost you quite a lot of money though & making it totally soundproof is almost impossible. Cheaper solutions include things such as rubber pads, mesh heads, volume reduced cymbals  etc, but they all change the feel (which was our main reason for going acoustic) & you don’t get to enjoy the sound of the kit.

That’s the main reason why I would choose to go for an electronic kit, you get to enjoy the sound of the kit & don’t have to worry so much about neighbours complaining all the time.

That doesn’t mean that electronic kits are totally silent though, you’ll still be hitting a rubber pad with a wooden stick, but the noise is more manageable and doesn’t travel as far. Pro-tip: Place your electronic kit on these 1m x 1m x 4cm rubber martial arts mats to prevent vibration from the bass drum travelling through the floor (the link takes you to a Singapore based sports shop – it’s where I got my rubber mats from).

Additional bonus points for electronic kits also include:

  1. They are generally smaller in size & therefore take up less space in your home.
  2. The electronic modules often come with lots of helpful tools such as metronomes, rhythmic training games and songs in a range of styles for you to play along with.
  3. The ability to connect to other devices so you can play along with your favourite songs.
  4. The ability to record your practice so you can listen back to your performance – do you really sound as good as you think? Hopefully even better!

Onto our second question:

What’s your budget?

Less than $1000?

Here’s where acoustic kits have the advantage. If your budget is tight , you can pick up a cheap acoustic kit (SGD $500 – $700) & then slowly upgrade it.

How to upgrade it?

1. Buy some good drum heads. The heads that come with budget kits are normally not so good. Changing out the batter head (that’s the one you hit) for something good will make a big difference to the sound. It’ll cost you around SGD $120 – $150 to change all the batter heads. You may also wish to change the resonant head (the one on the bottom) too, but that’s not so essential. If you can’t change them all, I’d start with the snare & the bass as these are the drums you’ll be hitting the most.

2. Change the cymbals. If your budget kit comes with cymbals they will probably sound awful. All the top cymbal manufacturers (Zildjian, Paiste, Sabian, Meinl) have budget cymbal ranges that will sound better than the ones that came with your kit. You can often find these in complete sets (Hi-hat, ride & crash) that’ll be cheaper than buying them individually (available from around SGD $300).

3. Change the snare drum. A good snare drum helps you to find your signature sound. Maybe you want a warmer sound, or perhaps a tighter funkier sound, or maybe you need more volume. A good snare will help you find that sound, most professional drummers have several snare drums for use in different musical situations.

Electronic kits start around SGD $599 and are harder to upgrade – especially in Singapore because often the parts aren’t available –  you’re pretty much stuck with what you get & you’ll have to buy a whole new kit in order to upgrade.

For electronic kits there are 3 main brands I recommend, Yamaha, Roland & Alesis. All three offer budget kits and more expensive options.

Alesis tend to be cheaper and offer more bang for your buck – they have features such as mesh heads at a much lower price point than the other two brands.

Yamaha & Roland have a higher pedigree, they are the brands the professionals use.

There are other brands that are cheaper but most don’t sound or feel anywhere as good & you’ll probably not enjoy playing them.

My advice would be to do your due diligence and go & play a few different kits that are within your budget & check out reviews on YouTube. If you are on a budget, my main recommendation for buying a kit is to make sure you get a kit that has a proper bass drum pedal. Some of the budget kits (such as the Yamaha DTX 400) have just a simple electronic pedal for the bass drum & not a proper bass drum pad/pedal combination. The simple electronic pedal may be quieter, but it’s not going to help you develop proper bass drum technique.

$1000 – $2500

If you’re buying an acoustic kit in this range, you need to choose between the kit & the cymbals. Do you want a better drum kit with budget cymbals (which you can upgrade later)  or a budget drum kit with better cymbals? I would more than likely go for the better drum kit & then upgrade the cymbals at a later date. If I had $2000 to spend, I’d spend around $1500 on the kit and then $500 on the cymbals.

When you’re buying an acoustic kit, check what comes with it. Some kits are shell packs only – meaning you have to buy the hardware – snare stand, cymbal stands, bass drum pedal etc – separately. That can massively inflate the cost – the shop will probably have a pre-packaged hardware pack that goes with the kit available for SGD $300-$400. You may wish to source your own hardware & you may be able to do it cheaper. You might need to buy a stool too – good ones start around $200.

For an electronic kit in this range, at the lower end ($1200 – 1400) I’d look at the Alesis Kits as they offer more bang for the buck (the Crimson II model has had good reviews).

At the higher end of this range, I’d look at the Roland TD17KV (or KVX). It’s a new kit this year & it seems to have a set a new standard. I’ve played it, I liked it and I’ve only seen glowing reviews of it. If I was buying an electronic kit this year, that’s what I’d get

Yamaha also have offerings in this price range – the DTX 502 series – these are worth checking out, you may prefer the feel of the Yamaha DTX pads.

Again, when buying an electronic kit, check if it comes with the stool and bass drum pedal. If not you need to budget SGD $250 – $500 to get both these items.

I’m not going to consider more expensive options for kits because most people buying their first kit won’t be looking to spend that much money.

So… What would you buy?

In Singapore, it’s more than likely that you’ll be buying an electronic kit because of the noise constraints. My advice would be to save up your money and stretch your budget as much as you can to buy one of the mid-range electronic kits. As stated above, right now (November 2018) I would buy the Roland TD17KV or KVX. I’ve played it, and I thought it was great. If I didn’t have the money for that, I’d look at the Alesis kits in the $1200-$1400 range.

I personally wouldn’t buy an electronic kit under $1000 because often they lack the ability to do things a real kit can do such as cross sticks, rim shots & cymbal choking; and the cymbals often only make one sound no matter where you hit them. Also often they just don’t feel that good to play. I’ve had students tell me they don’t practice as much as they should because they don’t like their cheap electronic drum kits. I’d rather you spend more money and get something you enjoy playing on.

A good electronic drum kit isn’t cheap but if you take care of it, it should last. I bought a Yamaha DTX Express II in 2003 (for around $2000) and in 2018 it’s still working fine. I’ve used it to practice on, to teach on in my  studio & to rehearse with my band. It’s now with one of my students & getting used regularly.

The best thing you can do is go and try a range of kits that are within your budget (and maybe one or two that are just outside it) and see which one you enjoy playing the most.