Drum Sets For Under £500

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A beginners guide to buying a brand new drum kit. Below you’ll find good recommendations for what to buy and where from.

[UPDATE AUGUST 2016] Prices were correct in December 2015. Due to the outcome of the EU referendum, prices of imported music goods have increased across the industry.  

When I first picked up the sticks in the early 1990s there was little choice when buying drums on a budget, these days there are 100s more brands out there and with the advancement in electric drums we have even more options. That said, more options doesn’t always mean better quality.

Any drum kit sold by Argos or Toys R Us are not drums, they are toys and will end up broken – they simply cannot withstand the beating they’d receive from an enthusiastic drummer. Most large supermarkets or department stores selling unbranded or obscure brands of drum kit are poor quality and will quickly end up broken too.

To ensure good quality, stick with branded drums and cymbals and if in doubt perform a quick search on Google for reviews: if there are no reviews or positive mentions on Google then avoid!

Checklist:

Your drum kit should include the following items whether you buy electric or acoustic (don’t forget the stands/hardware!)

  • Bass Drum + Bass Drum Pedal
  • Snare Drum + Snare Drum Stand
  • 2 x Rack Toms + Tom Mounts
  • Floor Tom + Legs or Mount
  • Hi-Hat Cymbals + Hi-Hat Stand + Clutch
  • Ride Cymbal + Cymbal Stand
  • Crash Cymbal + Cymbal Stand
  • Drum Stool
  • Good Pair of Drumsticks (e.g. Vic Firth, Regal Tip, Pro-Mark, Zildjian, Vater. Size 5A or 7A for smaller hands)
  • Music Stand (can be bought from Amazon for between £10-20)

Electric Vs. Acoustic

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Electric kits allow you to play very quietly using headphones. Acoustic kits are loud, sometimes very loud although you can muffle them by using sound off pads or silencers. Perhaps the most important factor to consider is cost and an electric kit is usually going to cost more. In my opinion you get a lot more quality for your money when buying an acoustic kit (but they’re big and loud) whereas the electric kits allow for almost silent drumming and space saving. It is also worth mentioning that even the most expensive electric kits do not feel the same to play as acoustic drums and cymbals, despite what the marketing says (I’ve owned top of the range e-drums and am speaking from experience).

What else should I know about electric kits? – The electric drum pads (or triggers) connect to a module, this module processes the signals from the pads and turns them into sounds. The sounds on the module (and here’s the fun bit…) can be changed, so you can change between rock or jazz kits, or even latin and world percussion sounds. Although the kit sounds at this end of the market are not going to be the best, they are pretty good for student drummers and can be a lot of fun to play with. E-drums allow you to plug in an iPod/Laptop (via the module) so you can play to music at a comfortable volume (all on headphones if you wish!). They take up less space and are more portable. You will need to buy an external amplified speaker system if you want others to hear your drumming and this can get expensive with entry level practice speakers starting at £150.

What else should I know about acoustic kits?As already mentioned, acoustic kits are cheaper, less complicated and less prone to technical problems when compared to electric kits. You have more options when buying as there are many more acoustic kits out there. If buying used they generally hold their value provided they are cared for and well maintained. And most drummers agree that acoustic kits look better on stage, perhaps worth considering this if you’re planning to play in public.

Buying Electric

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If purchasing an electric kit, I advise trying to get one with a beater action pedal (instead of button operated bass drum pedal).

Electric Drum Kit List:

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Pedal and beater action pedal

  • Alesis DM6, The cheapest new electric kit you should consider £310 (approx).
  • Yamaha DTX 430K comes in at £399 (approx). Compact and with lots of different sounding kits to choose from.
  • Roland TD-4KP comes in at £559 (approx). Roland are the market leaders when it comes to e-drums. This kit features clever space saving design making it very portable.
    If you want to spend big, then check out other Yamaha and Roland lines.
    Don’t forget, when buying any of these kits you will also need to buy a drum stool, bass drum pedal, sticks and a music stand. Check the checklist. 

Buying Acoustic

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Some lingo you should know:
Shell Pack = Drums shells only. You will need to buy hardware (stands) and cymbals on top. Usually tom mounts are included but double check if buying a shell pack.
Rock Sizes = 22″ bass drum, 16″ floor tom, 13″ & 12″ toms, 14″ snare.
Fusion Sizes = 20″ bass drum, 14″ floor tom, 12″ & 10″ toms, 14″ snare.
Jazz/Bop Sizes = 16″ or 18″ bass drum, 14″ or 13″ floor tom, 10″ tom, 14″ snare.

Acoustic Drum Kit List:

  • Mapex Tornado Compact £259 (approx) and comes with all hardware needed. Features an 18″ bass drum, good for younger, smaller drummers as the small bass drum makes it easier to position the kit to fit the drummer. This kit is also offered in larger ‘Rock‘ and ‘Fusion‘ sizes too. Does include cymbals, but these will not be very good and should be replaced with better cymbals as early as possible.
  • Mapex Mars Rock Shell Pack£399 (approx). Also available in ‘Fusion‘ sizes.
  • Yamaha GigMaker Rock – £412 (approx). Includes bass pedal, hi-hat stand, cymbal stand and snare stand. Just add a drum stool, sticks and cymbals and you’re ready to go! This is a great long-term option kit, especially if you want to gig in public as this kit would do the job fantastically well.

Cymbals

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These entry level cymbal sets are all superb quality for the money:

Hardware

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If your drum kit is sold as a shell pack you’ll need stands (aka hardware), although you can always try to negotiate money off if buying a whole new set of drums from one shop.

And if you just need the stool, bass pedal and sticks:

Total Costs

If you bought the Mapex Tornado acoustic kit with Paiste 101 Cymbals you would pay £401All you’d need is a pair of sticks, and if buying everything from the same music shop, I’m sure they’d throw a pair in for free.

If you bought the Alesis DM6 electric kit with the Mapex Tornado Drum Stool you would pay £430 but don’t forget you would still need headphones and/or speakers to hear the drums.

If you’re thinking long-term and want to get something that will bridge the gap between beginner (bedroom practice) to small gigs (pubs and clubs), then it’s worth considering the Yamaha GigMaker RockZildjian ZHT Pro Cymbal Set and Mapex Tornado Drum Stool which all together comes to £729. Keep the kit maintained and replace the heads once in a while and you’ll have a kit that will look and sound great on stage in 10 years time.