Tim’s drum gear page


A lot of people want advice on what to buy. In fact, so many people ask about this that I've ended up writing some general info - right here!

If we’re talking drum kits, the main choice you have to make is whether to get an acoustic or an electronic kit. There are pros and cons for both:

Acoustic kits. The real thing! They're wonderful, BUT they do take up a lot of room, and are unbelievably loud. If you have a basement, a garage, or very understanding neighbours, then you might get away with it (although you'll need to get some earplugs*, see below).

If not, you will probably end up having to buy a set of damping pads to quieten them down - so you end up playing something that sounds like a load of cushions, and feels like it too.

Electronic kits. Increasingly popular - I teach on electronic drums, and I would say most of my students are buying these rather than acoustic kits. They are relatively small, nice to play, and very quiet compared to the alternative. You can wear headphones to hear yourself, and play along to music at the same time, so they're great for practising, up to a point.

BUT if you want to play with other people - invite your friends round for a jam, or form a band - they're not so good: you need a big powerful amp / speaker to make any kind of decent noise. And they just don't have the sound and feel of drums - there's always a nagging feeling that you're playing an imitation of an instrument rather than a real one. But still, for many these are the only practical option.

Cost. You can get something that looks like a drum kit (and sounds a bit like one) for £100, or you can spend thousands. You should expect to pay somewhere around £300 for a pretty decent kit - either a cheaper new one or better second-hand one - and it's about the same whether you get electronic or acoustic.

You can certainly get kits cheaper than that - some of the new acoustic 'starter' kits are pretty amazing value and well worth a look eg Stagg, CB and Mapex; better-known manufacturers like Pearl and Ludwig do beginner kits brand new for under £400. If you're after electronics, Session Pro and Alesis do new kits at around £300, with the better names like Roland and Yamaha starting at around £550.

Second-hand. Obvious places to look are your local drum shop, (in Bristol try The Drumbank ie downstairs from where I teach) or ebay, and local online listings (eg Gumtree, Trade It, Pre-loved).

Try some out. The more expensive electronic kits have fancy drum heads made of 'mesh' or similar which are great to play and much more realistic in terms of feel than the hard pads which cheaper kits have. A good compromise is to have a nice snare pad and standard pads for the rest of the kit. If you're serious about getting an electronic kit - or in fact any kind of kit - it's well worth going along to a music shop while there are still some left and hitting some drums to see what that the differences are; or, use online listings in your area so you can actually go and see what you're getting before you pay for it. If you can, go local, and try before you buy.

(Incidentally, mesh heads are available to buy separately in different sizes, so it's possible to buy an acoustic kit and rig it up with mesh heads for silent practice - then put standard drum heads back on to convert the shells back to real drums. Bit of a hassle but it does work...)

Sticks. No rules on this. Best bet is to go to a shop and try some out to see which feel the best. The system of numbers and letters used to label drumsticks is pretty confusing, but in general the lower the number the fatter and heavier the stick. So, a 3 is heavier than a 5, while a 7 is about as light as you can usually get. Similarly, the letters also refer to size and weight; a 5A is lighter than a 5B. Some people say younger kids should be playing with big chunky sticks as they are easier to grip, and yes, some kids do find this works for them. But use whatever feels comfy.

*Earplugs. If you're lucky enough to be able to play an acoustic kit without damping, you should be protecting your hearing by wearing earplugs. Drums are very loud and will, over time, damage your hearing. Maybe the idea of going deaf or getting tinnitus is hilarious when you're 15, but rather less so when you're 50, so start as you mean to go on.

When I say earplugs I don't mean the squashy foam ones - they're rubbish (unless you want to sleep on a bus or something). Instead you can get earplugs designed for musicians which reduce the volume without ruining the sound.  Personally I use this kind of thing but there are lots of different sorts. You'll probably need to be going to a music shop rather than a chemist, and spending 10 or 15 pounds rather than 2 or 3; money VERY well spent.

You can also make a cheapo but very effective in-ear monitoring system by going to a DIY shop and buying some ear defenders ie the kind of sound-proofing headphones people wear when they're using noisy machinery - you can get them for under a tenner. Then, put in some ear-buds eg that come with an mp3 player and put the ear defenders on over the top - hey presto, the drums aren't too loud, and you can hear your favourite songs perfectly to play along to.