On a ‘standard’ acoustic kit, snares tend to be 14” diameter, and toms are 10”, 12” and 14” for a ‘fusion’ kit, or 12”, 13” and 16” for a ‘rock’ kit. Electric kits invariably have much smaller drum sizes all round (since the sizes have nothing to do with the sounds produced like they do on acoustic kits) - just be careful to not to go too small as it can become hard to hit the drums accurately (eg with a 6” tom pad)! As a drum teacher I'd say buyer 1. should look for a minimum 10” snare with 8” toms, but a 12” snare and 10” toms may be preferable for buyer 2. The kick pad’s size is less important, since it is struck with a pedal-operated beater (which is fixed in place, so striking accuracy is not an issue) - just consider if it is big enough to accommodate a double kick drum pedal (with two side-by-side beaters), should you perhaps want to learn to play fast metal ‘blast beats’ and the like during my drum lessons - now or at some point in the future!
Sadly, these are an inevitability, since manufacturers are yet to come up with a viable alternative at anywhere near approaching a reasonable cost. The softer the rubber the better for playing comfort/lack of noise, but unfortunately only the more expensive kits from Roland or Yamaha seem to have softer cymbals. Without testing them first, you need to rely solely on reviews to asses this. Be prepared for cymbals on electric kits to be the biggest compromise on feel/noise, if you don’t want to spend a fortune! They bear little resemblance to playing the actual acoustic cymbals you'll play in my drum lessons (which of course are made out of metal), and as they’re much thicker, are generally much heavier in weight, so ‘swing’ a lot slower when struck.
Real acoustic hi-hats are comprised of two cymbals, one upside-down to the other, which open and close by operating a foot pedal. As well as feeling nothing like them to strike (being rubber), at the lower end of the budget spectrum electric hats are simply one rubber pad fixed in place, that does not move up and down (instead the foot pedal simply triggers a ‘closed’ or ‘open’ sound depending on if it’s pressed down or not). Of course, this makes it feel even less realistic to play, but as a drum teacher I can advise that in practice it's a compromise that can be lived with quite happily. At the upper end of the budget range, more advanced electric hats have one pad that moves up and down (which feels closer to a real hi hat), or even two pads that move apart just like an acoustic set of hi hats (though since you don’t strike the lower cymbal, this is largely overkill), and you could potentially upgrade your hi hat to this type, but from the leading manufacturers these are VERY expensive - a Roland VH-10 or VH-11 for example, will set you back around £250-300, and you also need to buy a standard acoustic kit type hi-hat stand (£50-100 depending on quality), so this sort of feature is probably best left to buyer type 3. Thomann do also now supply their own brand Millenium MPS-750X single hi-hat pad, that moves up and down and even comes with a stand, at a super low price of £66 delivered, but again compatibility with your particular kit may be an issue, so try to ask first.
When struck, pads send information to the sound module, which then triggers a sound assigned to that pad. Single or ‘mono’ zone drum pads are only capable of triggering one sound – that might be fine for a tom, but not so for a snare (for buyers 1. and 2.).
In order to be practically useful, you need to be able to play 2 (or ideally 3) different types of stroke on the snare: ‘standard’ using the tip of the stick on the centre, and ‘cross stick’ - lying the stick on its side and using the shaft to play ‘clink’ type sounds on the rim. More advanced players may also want to play ‘rim shots’, where you simultaneously strike the centre with the tip of the stick and the rim with the shaft of the stick, which on an acoustic kit creates a loud ‘crack’ accented snare sound. Dual zone pads have a second sensor in the rim, capable of triggering another sound – essential for playing ‘cross stick’ strokes on snare. They may also allow for ‘rim shots’ - check to see if the sound module supports this.
If you intend to upgrade a snare pad from single to dual zone (if you’re lucky you may find a second-hand Roland PD-100 for around £100, or see 10” mesh tom upgrade suggestions above for less, plus the Millenium MPS-500/750 or MPS-850 models from Thomann, £82-£88), be sure to check for compatibility with your kit’s brand and sound module – does it support the extra zone you’re adding?
In a similar way, cymbal pads may be capable of triggering multiple sounds. A single or ‘mono’ zone cymbal may be fine for a crash, but not so for a ride cymbal. A crash cymbal is mainly used with occasional, individual, strokes - to accent the end of a drum roll for example, so it’s ok if this produces the same type of sound every time it’s struck. However, herein lies the difference between higher-end kits, which trigger a different version of the crash sound depending on how hard you hit it (sometimes known as ‘dynamic articulation’ - good for buyer 2.), and lower-end kits - which can sound almost laughable in that, if you strike lightly, you still hear the exact same (‘loud’, dramatic) crash sound, only quieter!! This is perhaps acceptable for buyer 1. though.
As a drum teacher, I advise that a ride cymbal pad really needs to be a minimum of dual zone, but preferably tri zone. This is because you need to be able to reproduce the ‘ping’ sound heard when playing the ‘bell’ (raised dome in the centre), of an acoustic ride cymbal, as well as ‘tah tah tah’ sounds when using repeated strokes on the ‘bow’ (between the bell and the edge). Dual zone ride cymbals tend to have a ‘bell’ for show only (no sensor), with one sensor in between the bell and the edge (which can be played instead of the bell, with a ‘ping’ sound assigned to it) and a second sensor on the edge (which can be played instead of the bow, with a ‘tah’ sound assigned to it!). In order to work on the material I teach in my face-to-face drum lessons, as well as my 1-to-1 online drum lessons, this is necessary for buyer 1. wanting to learn proper technique, and acceptable for buyer 2., but does mean you will use the ‘shoulder’ of the stick for ‘tah’ sounds, whereas on an acoustic ride you would use the tip!
Buyer 2. should ideally try and look for a tri zone ride, since these will have sensors on the bell, the edge and the bow area in between – allowing the edge to be assigned to a (secondary) crash sound, meaning you can play crash strokes on both cymbals/sides of the kit (something which, as a drum teacher, I often require during my drum lessons). However this is very difficult to obtain at a reasonable price point!
If you intend to upgrade a ride cymbal from single to dual zone (such as Gear4Music’s Digital Drums Dual Zone Electronic Cymbal Pad with choke, £45, or the Millenium MPS-400 from Thomann, £50), or from dual zone to tri zone, be sure to check for compatibility with your kit’s brand and sound module – does it support the extra zone you’re adding?
There is potentially a ‘sneaky’ way to upgrade a cheap kit, supplied with single zone cymbals, to have a dual zone ride & achieving the desired separate ‘bell’ sound. If the sound module has one or more extra trigger inputs (unused by the supplied drums & cymbal pads, designed to enable you to expand the kit adding extra pads), you could use a ‘Y’ splitter cable to take the stereo jack output from your new dual zone ride, to two separate mono jacks, connecting one to the existing ride input for ‘tah tah’ bow sounds, and the other to one of the spare inputs, assigning a bell sound to that (provided there are bell sounds onboard!).
As a drum teacher I can tell you there are many times when drummers don’t want a cymbal sound to ring out, but rather stop dead a split second after being struck, for dramatic effect or so as not to be heard during a period of silence in a song! This is achieved by grabbing the edge of the cymbal with the fingers, just after striking it with the stick - a technique covered in my drum lessons. This function is more important for crash than ride cymbals, and is desirable for buyer 1, and a must for buyer 2.
As a drum tutor I can also tell you there are times when a drummer may not want a closed hi hat sound, nor a fully open one, but something in between, or (especially for jazz) have the ability to produce different ‘splash’ sounds whilst stepping very quickly and lightly on the hi hat pedal (or ‘hi hat controller’ as it’s known as for electric kits). The most advanced (and expensive!) kits allow for these options (traditionally buyer 3. territory), but you may be able to find these functions at a lower price point.
To fully apply the skills I teach in my drum lessons, you really need a ‘continuous’ hi hat controller - able to trigger a full range of sounds in between closed and open, but these are mostly only available to buyer 3. ‘Half open’ controllers are capable of triggering a closed, half open, and open sounds – desirable for buyer 2. Buyer 1. may have to do without this! Be warned though, for some reason this is a function rarely mentioned on kit specs/descriptions - don’t be afraid to do ask, or do more research online before buying!
A word of caution from a drum teacher - hi hat controller pedals are often the weakest part of electric kits, and even the sensors in the market leaders Roland’s models, are prone to losing sensitivity over time (meaning you have to press increasingly harder to maintain a closed hi hat sound – very annoying), or even stop working altogether! Again, if you need a replacement (which may well be the case straight away if you buy a second-hand kit) there are cheaper alternatives on the market, just try and assess whether they are compatible, and if they support the half-open or continuous functions, should you trying to be replace one that has these, like for like.
The obvious thing to note is that buying new, you will get a warranty period, allowing you to return any pads or cymbals that develop faults for replacements during this time - as a drum teacher I know electric kits take quite a beating. I've encountered (and I've heard several pupils in my drum lessons over the years saying the same) issues such as inconsistent volume strokes, intermittently triggered strokes, or even completely dead/unresponsive pads, which drive you mad when you’re playing! This can even be the case even with high end kits from the leading manufacturers - the trouble is that problems due to wear will likely occur after your 12-month warranty period! Manufacturers tend to offer 12 months warranty as standard, but some manufacturers (or more often retailers) may offer a longer warranty period – always check, if you’re weighing up whether it’s worth the expense of buying new. Thomann, for example, offer a 3 year warranty – very useful, and much more appropriate for electric drum kits...
Due to the potential ‘out of warranty’ issue, and maybe solely due to your budget, don’t be afraid to buy second hand, especially for kits from the leading manufacturers. As you will see later. the decent Roland kits, for example, are prohibitively expensive new, and I would solely look at buying these second hand (though there are now many suitable models available from their competitors, which are much more reasonably priced new). Furthermore, since they’re often so over-priced new, the leading manufacturers’ electric kits, bought second-hand, tend to hold their value well, should you stop drumming or wish to sell up and buy a different kit in the future – I’ve actually made a profit several times in the past, re-selling second-hand Roland gear again!!
Avoid nasty, ‘forced’, financial surprises after you’ve chosen and bought a kit, by planning ahead - price-up everything you need, before you buy anything! As a drum teacher, in my drum lessons I find it often comes as a shock to those new to drumming, that when you buy new, as standard most electric kits do NOT come with a kick drum pedal, drum stool, sticks or headphones – all essential to play them! If they do come with any of these as standard, they’re likely poor quality!
A decent kick pedal will become more and more important as you improve your playing proficiency and attempt to apply the skills you'll learn in my drum lessons, playing kick drum strokes at increasingly smaller intervals! There are broadly 2 types: single chain and double chain mechanisms (ignoring more ‘specialist’ belt/direct drive or magnetic models). This refers to a short length of ‘single’ or double’ bicycle type chain that attaches the foot pedal to the beater. As the ‘toe’ part of the foot pedal mostly wobbles side-to-side (making it difficult to play two kick drum strokes in quick succession), cheap single chain kick drum pedals are tolerable for buyer 1. but will likely need upgrading in a year or two. For playing accuracy and stability, and to avoid the need for future upgrades, any drum teacher would say buyer 2. should aim for a double chain kick drum pedal. Be sure not to confuse this with a ‘single pedal’ or ‘double pedal’, which instead refers to whether you have one kick drum pedal and beater (for one foot, as standard), or two pedals and beaters (to play the kick drum with both feet)!
The other thing can really affect the stability of the ‘heel’ part of the pedal, is the design of the underside – those with a solid metal floor or ‘base’ plate (front to back), are far superior to those with a ‘bent rod’ or ‘thick wire’ type frame, and are worth the extra few £’s.
From the leading manufacturers (such as Pearl, Tama, Mapex, Yamaha, Iron Cobra), double chain kick pedals, with metal base plates, start from around £60-70. As a drum teacher, there are some really decent ‘own brand’ models on the market I'm increasingly recommending to beginners in my drum lessons, starting from just £30 - such as the ‘Heavy Duty Kick Drum Pedal’ from Gear4Music pictured above right, or the slightly superior Thomann’s Millenium PD-122 at £39 if buying with a kit (add £8 shipping if buying individually).
During my 1-to-1 online drum lessons I’ve seen many pupils try and drum sitting on a kitchen chair, foot stool, office chair etc – not a good idea unless you want to end up having physio for leg/back/neck injuries! Drumming can be very physical (and for correct kick drum technique also) it is important you sit at the right height, so you definitely need a proper, adjustable drum stool! If buying for a child remember they grow quickly too!
As a drum teacher I'm always saying 'you get what you pay for' and extremely cheap (or included) drum stools (or 'thrones' as they're also called!) may have foam so thin that you get a sore (or even numb) backside during long practice sessions! It is an item that can be upgraded easily later, though expect to pay £60+ for a comfortable, good quality one with thick foam padding! If buying a kit from Thomann you can add their Millenium MTD2S for £49 (add £8 shipping if buying individually), or if buying a kit from Gear4Music condsider the Mapex T570 for £55 (+ shipping cost if buying individually).
As a drum tutor I've lost count of the number of times in my drum lessons I've said 'forget your iPhone in-ear buds' - these (and probably any headphones you already own) are unsuitable as you’ll need headphones with minimum 1.5/2m cable length (though you could use an extender cable) so you can run the cable behind your head (and down your back, to avoid snagging it with your sticks while playing), a decent frequency response (down to 30 or even 20Hz to handle the deep bass of kick drum sounds, and up to 20,000 or even 25,000Hz for the high frequencies of cymbal sounds), ideally an over-ear design that won’t fall off while your head’s moving around when you’re drumming. Included headphones may get you up and running, but will likely be of low sound and build quality.
Expect to pay £25-80 for most suitable branded models (Mackie MC-100 sound incredible and are fantastic value at £25), but if buying a drum kit from Thomann you could add the perfectly decent Fun Generation HP 5's which tick most of the boxes for just £15 (add £8 shipping if buying individually) or if buying a drum kit from Gear4Music the Behringer HPS3000 are good for just £15.50 (+shipping if buying individually)
There can be some decent savings to be made by looking for ‘stool/throne and pedal,’ ‘electric (or ‘e-’) drum add-on' sets etc, which combine some, or all, of the necessary extra items described above, such as the one pictured below (available from Thomann at £65).
These may be suitable for buyer 1. or just to get going cheaply, though it’s rare that all items will be of high quality - note here neither the pictured headphones nor pedal feature the desirable designs outlined above, and I doubt the foam on the stool is thick!
As a drum teacher, I'm always saying in my drum lessons that a great advantage to buying a second-hand kit, is that sellers often throw in a kick pedal, stool etc, which can offer a significant saving, since in many cases they may have quit drumming altogether and have no use for these. If not mentioned, ask if they’re included - if they are, ask for the make and model of the kick pedal before agreeing to buy. Look it up online - is it any good? If so great, if not - there’s little point paying for that too (it would just need instantly replacing/upgrading), when you could ask for a discount to not include it, and instead put that money towards a decent one!
When buying new, always look for ‘bundle deals’ where kick pedal, stool, headphones etc are included in the price of the kit (if they look decent) - this can offer a significant saving compared to buying them individually.
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