Buying Used Drums & Cymbals

Buying a used drum kit can result in a better quality instrument compared to spending the same budget buying new. Although buying any musical instrument can be a potential minefield to the beginner, this guide is designed to give you some tips and recommendations for buying used. If you’re looking to buy your first drum kit read our Buying New Drums for Under £500 guide as there’s some important information there too.

It is worth noting that there isn’t a single company that produces drums, cymbals and heads. All these components are manufactured by different companies. To sell drum kits to beginners companies will sometimes buy in very cheap unbranded cymbals and heads so they can sell kits as ‘complete’. Unfortunately this can be a false economy as these cymbals and heads will need replacing after a short amount of drumming.



Buying new heads can really boost your sound

75% of the sound you get from a drum kit is produced by the heads and how they’re tuned, so think about setting aside a good chunk of the budget on buying new heads (aka skins). Most new drum kits, (even premium ones) come fitted with cheap (and to be frank, rubbish!) heads. If you already have a drum kit, consider replacing the heads before replacing the entire drum kit as you could be amazed by the difference it makes.

Although it might seem counterintuitive to spend so much of the budget on heads instead of spending it all on the drums, you should seriously consider setting aside £100-150 to replace all heads.

You can make almost any cheap drum kit sound GOOD with good heads and good tuning. You can make any expensive premium drum kit sound BAD with poor heads and poor tuning. I gigged, recorded and toured for years on a budget drum kit (Pearl Forum) and by regularly investing in good heads and good tuning techniques my drums always sounded good. You can get very far on a cheap drum kit paired with a good snare drum, good cymbals with good quality heads and good tuning.

Never buy used heads.
Heads and sticks should always be bought new.

The main 3 manufacturers to use for heads are Remo (but avoid Remo UT/UC), Evans and Aquarian. For more detailed information about drum heads, please see my other blogs.



Drums are simple, they are basically wooden or metal tubes with a membrane (or head) held in place by a wooden or metal hoop. The main concern when buying a used drum kit is simply ensuring it has all its parts.

Make sure all drums have all their hoops and tension rods.

fig 2b

Snare and tom heads are fixed by tension rods going through the hoop. There should be metal or plastic washers at the head of the bolt


fig 03c (1)

Bass drum hoops are held by claws and tension rods


Ensure bass drums have their legs (aka spurs) included.


18″ or smaller bass drums should also have a riser, shown in this image

Make sure your toms have their mounts. Rack toms usually have holders or arms that attach to the bass drum. Floor toms usually have 3 legs.


Rack tom mounts

1967 Floor Tom legs

Snare drums are a little more complicated, they have snare wires and a throw off mechanism which allows the drummer to raise or drop the snare wires from the snare side (aka bottom or resonant head). Ensure this mechanism is working as sometimes this can get broken and can be expensive and awkward to replace.


A new throw off mechanism should work smoothly without excessive movement

Snare wires are easily broken or bent which can result in a poor snare sound. Ensure the snare wires are in good condition and are not bent, kinked or broken. A good set of snare wires can cost £30-40 to replace.

bubinga snare 006-840x600

Snare wires should sit flat on the head from end to end

There a several good manufacturers for drums which include Pearl, Tama, Sonor, Mapex, Natal, PDP, DW, Yamaha, Gretsch and Premier (although Premier Olympic should perhaps be avoided if you’re looking for long lasting quality).


When buying used cymbals do not buy anything with a crack, no matter how small as it will end up only getting bigger. Avoid buying cymbals where the crack has been cut out of the cymbal, cymbals don’t sound good unless the outer edge is completely round. When inspecting a cymbal, run your finger round the entire edge of the cymbal, if you feel any nicks or dings be aware they will develop into cracks.
Keyholing is the result of a cymbal that has been mounted to a stand without a plastic insulation collar, over time and lots of playing this metal on metal contact and wear the center of the cymbal which produces a keyhole shape. Debates between drummers regarding keyholing (see image below) rage on, but in general a cymbal that is showing signs of keyholing can mean extra savings, although some consider keyholing to be a sign that the cymbal has not been cared for. As long as the keyholing is small and the cymbal can still be mounted to a stand it is worth considering if the price is cheap and there are no cracks.

The center of the cymbal here is showing signs of keyholing

Good manufacturers for cymbals include, ZildjianSabianPaisteMeinl and Istanbul.


Don’t forget your hardware! Your drums and cymbals are going to need mounting, you’re going to need somewhere to sit and you’ll need a bass drum pedal too!


When buying used hardware ensure that the pedal mechanisms are working. When you press the hi-hat pedal the pull rod should move up and down with your foot. Make sure the stool height can be adjusted as sometimes these mechanisms break especially on budget hardware.

Make sure cymbal stands and hi-hat clutches have all their felts, plastic cymbal collars and wingnuts.


A = Cymbal stand             B = Hi hat clutch

All the previously mentioned drum manufacturers make good hardware, but it is also worth considering  Gibraltar who specialise in manufacturing hardware.

The great thing about drums is you can upgrade a drum kit in parts. For example, you can start with a cheap drum kit and later upgrade to better cymbals, upgrade to a better snare drum, fit premium heads, buy better pedals; this can all be done in increments. Stick to branded, undamaged drums and cymbals and it is difficult to go wrong. Avoid unbranded instruments and your drums and cymbals are less likely to end up broken.

If you have lessons with us at Northwich Drum Studio, we’re always available by email if you want a second opinion on buying a drum kit. We’re happy to help.