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What You Should Know Before Buying Drums

By Sophia, published on 20/07/2018 Blog > Music > Drums > What to Know Before You Buy Drums

Maybe you were one of the lucky ones who got to see Rush in concert before Neil Peart retired.

Or perhaps you’ve read the discussion boards of whether Lars Ullrich is or is not a good drummer.

It could be that you or someone you know is taking drum lessons!

In any of these cases, your fascination with percussion is evident.

What Superprof is going to do is feed it a meal of facts, figures and fabled drummers, all with the intent to help you finally get the kit you’ve always dreamed of.

Do you have a concrete idea of the kit you want? Then maybe Superprof can help you flesh out your drum set; maybe with eclectic percussion instruments or perhaps by helping you choose the right stick.

Different Types of Drums

Can you play the African djembe? the djembe is the most famous African drum Source: Pixabay Credit: Rrotondi

There are many different types of drums…wood drums and metal drums that come in Standard or Fusion configurations.

Whether wood or metal, a basic kit would consist of a snare and kick drum, at least one hanging tom, a floor tom and a crash cymbal, a ride cymbal and a pair of hi hat cymbals.

All of the stands, mounts and the bass drum pedal would be included.

Of course, you can add another bass, another floor tom and one or more hanging toms. For cymbals, you might choose the oddly inverted china cymbal or an array of splash cymbals.

If that were all the drums available, this would be a short article indeed!

Fact is, drums have a long history, not just intertwined with human civilization but with drumming primates!

Let us start at the Cradle of Humanity, and travel through Asia and Europe to see how drums impact societies and how humans have caused the drum to evolve.

African Drums

Anthropologists agree: the earliest drums originated on the Sub-Saharan continent.

Log drums, also called slit drums have long been used not just in rituals but also, when strategically placed, as long-distance communication devices.

Strangely enough, although it is classified as a percussion instrument, the log drum is actually an idiophone, not a drum in the truest sense, even though it is beaten with a mallet.

Mirroring the human migration out of Africa, slit drums can be found in Asia, Australia – among the Indigenous people, all the way into native American tribes and down through Chile and Peru.

Another African drum that has gained worldwide popularity, not because it was dragged all over the world but because of that lively African beat!

The djembe is a goblet-shaped drum whose shell is carved out of hardwood. The drumhead is a rope-tuned hide, generally goatskin.

A good djembe player is said to make the drum talk, telling a story by producing different tones.

The list of African drums is so long we might talk about them all day, but we’ll feature only one more: the talking drum.

Its hourglass shape ends in two drumheads, connected by leather tension cords. The player holds the drum under one arm, alternately squeezing and releasing those cords; the effect being that the drum mimics human speech.

Gongs of Asia

In Asia is where the cymbal came to prominence. Sure, they had their drums: war drums in China, ceremonial drums in Japan…

You might say that the drums complement the cymbals! Or is it the other way around…?

Either way, gongs and cymbals take centre stage in traditional Asian music.

Today, the Asian influence prevails in the name of the Big Three cymbal companies, all of which originated in Asia:

  • Zildjian – over 400 years in the business!
  • Sabian: an offshoot of Zildjian, founded in Canada by the brother of Armand, who became CEO of the company
    • Robert nevertheless made use of the Zildjian technique for cymbal-making!
  • Paiste: an Indo-European company founded in Estonia

And, of course, some of the finest cymbals on the market, the Istanbul Mehmets, are made in Turkey!

Naturally, we have to include Meinl in the big cymbal names, but this company got its start less than 100 years ago, in Germany.

Drumming in Europe

The art of drumming remained essentially unchanged for over a thousand years until the snare drum was created in the 15th century.

Its use, particularly by the military, revolutionised drum making and drum playing!

Drum rudiments, the paradiddle and the drag among them, seem to have developed with the snare drum.

As military campaigns became further-reaching, so too did the influence of snare drums, until they became ubiquitous.

Today, they are essential for any jazz, rock or marching band!

What are you going to beat yours with?

The stick's shoulder is mostly used to hit cymbals The type of drumstick you play with will affect your sound and your playing Source: Pixabay Credit: Pexels

What Are the Best Drumsticks?

Categorising anything as best is, in principle, a subjective affair.

And when it comes to drumsticksso many variables go into the choice of sticks you use to beat your kit with!

  • What type of music do you play?
  • What level player are you: beginner, intermediate… advanced?
  • What size are you? – nothing implied in that question; stick diameter and weight is important in selecting the right stick
  • What sound are you looking for?
  • What kind of kit do you have?

A good drummer would have a stick bag replete with an assortment of drumsticks: oval heads and round ones; teardrop-shaped and barrel-shaped. Nylon-coated or pure wood…

Each of these tips, along with the anatomy of the drumstick will affect what sound your drums make and how they respond to your playing.

Furthermore: most sticks are made of either hickory wood, oak or maple; each type of wood brings its own properties to your sound.

You can drum quickly with maple sticks because they are light, but they would not stand up to heavy rock drumming, for example.

The rule of thumb for beginners is to learn to play with a set of 5A hickory sticks. They are of average weight and mid-sized diameter, and absorb vibration well.

From there, you may opt to go for a heavier stick or one made out of nylon-coated graphite – a much lighter material that helps forestall fatigue.

And then, you might experiment with brushes and mallets, just to see what kind of sound you can coax from your kit!

What Are the Best Drum Kits to Buy?

Here again: a subjective question!

Are you enthralled with Gene Krupa and wish to meet or exceed his prowess behind the drums?

Or are you hoping to make it on the hip-hop scene with your drum machine or electronic drum kit?

If you are looking for an acoustic drum set, you have many great names to choose from: Pearl, Gretsch, Ludwig, Tama… all the way up to DW Timeless Timber: arguably every drummer’s dream set!

The most important criteria in selecting a kit include:

  • Wood: what type of wood are the shells made of?
  • How many plies, and what degree bevel?
  • Did you want a Standard or Fusion configuration?

Fusion drums are a bit smaller and they are well-suited for playing anything from rock to jazz.

One great benefit is that they are also lighter, so if you anticipate moving your kit from gig to gig, this might be the drum set for you!

On the other hand, if you play metal, acid or hard rock, the bigger, meatier Standard configuration might work best.

Read more about choosing a drum kit.

What you have to consider is cost…

You should see your kit as an investment, not an expenditure How much you spend on your kit and accessories depends on how much of an investment you are prepared to make Source: Pixabay Credit: Stux

How Much Does a Drum Kit Cost?

Were it not for our helpful and professional bent, we may disclose that the cost of a drum kit depends on what you choose and what accessories you’re looking for!

That doesn’t help you very much, does it?

Admittedly, the cost of your drum kit depends entirely on what you’re looking for in a drum set.

If you want rich tone for your jazz combo, you may shell out over £600 to get the right Fusion kit.

On the other hand, if you are just beginning to play drums and your drum teacher has encouraged you to get your own kit – rather than continuing to practice on a pad between lessons, you might make out well with a kit that costs just over £400, drum key, sticks and throne included.

The takeaway from shopping for a kit is to be careful of the wording in adverts.

You may find a low-priced shell pack which would nicely fit into your budget, only to get disappointed upon discovering that you get no mounts, hardware, and no cymbal stands – or cymbals, for that matter!

If you are budget-conscious, as we all must be in this day and age, perhaps buying a full kit for a few pounds more will serve you better in the long run than the (perhaps) lower-priced shell pack.

Once you buy your kit, you will need to tune it!

How to Tune a Drum Kit

Tuning your drums is not difficult at all; it just requires a good ear, a bit of finesse and a lot of time and patience.

While some instrument techs advocate tuning your snare and bass drum first and then ranging the toms within that pitch spectrum, others insist you should start with the smallest drum and work your way through the sizes, finishing with the kick drum.

Either way, you will start with your snare!

One important distinction between tuning this drum and the rest of your kit is that you will tune the batter head first, and then the resonant head.

With the other drums, that order is reversed.

When tuning your drums, remember that you are tuning the heads to the tone and pitch of the shellsee what we mean by needing a good ear?

You should tap the side of the drum with a stick as often as necessary to internalise its tone, and then, using the drum key, turn the tension rods in quarter-turn increments until the drum head makes a complementary sound.

Always remember to work diagonally: work with the tension rod closest to you first, and then the one opposite to it.

Never travel the circumference of the drum, loosening or tightening as you go, unless you are replacing the drum head!

The best drummers agree that you should tune your drums before you play them, whenever there is a change in condition – from hot to cold or after they travel; and whenever you change the drum head.

In fact, tuning should be a part of your regular drum maintenance!

You will need a drum key to tune your drums properly A drum key is vital to the proper tuning of your drums! Source: Wikipedia Credit: Alno

A Guide to Drum Kit Maintenance

Although drums exist for the purpose of getting beat on, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t treat them with loving care!

Some drummers seldom/never bother to take on extensive drum maintenance and we daresay that big-name professional drummers hire instrument techs to take care of their drums.

We urge you to not be one of those drummers who only wipe the dust off the heads prior to playing!

With a bit of care, your drums and all of the drum accessories you kitted it out with, could last a good long time.

Cleaning Your Kit

About once a year, you should totally tear down your drums, removing everything, down to the lugs. Cover the badge up with masking tape and…

Do not use household cleaners on them!

T-Cut colourfast scratch remover would be the ticket to cleaning and restoring your shells’ lustre. If, after buffing them out, you feel like they need a coat of wax, apply it sparingly and let it dry before polishing them.

Now the Cymbals

The most important thing when cleaning them is to work with the lathing!

Cleaning them from the bell to the edge is sure to affect the tonal grooves, meaning your cymbal won’t sound the same.

While there is substantial debate on what exactly should be used to clean them, Brasso or some other metal polish, experts advocate for Groove Juice, a mildly acidic cleanser.

If your cymbal’s label is important to you, be careful of where you spray said Juice: being acidic, it will eat the brand name away!

Acoustic drum sets and electronic drums are an investment: of money, of time and of your passion.

Choosing the right drum set, the right drum heads and the right drumsticks; even down to your selection of drum throne will all impact your love and ability to play the drums.

Taking care of your investment through regular tuning and proper maintenance, from the drum hoops to the drum hardware means that you will have it to play on for a long time to come.

Sure, you could upgrade your kit, but once you’ve found the one you want…

Happy playing to you!

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