Drums and cymbals: every parent's worst nightmare rolled into one noisy contraption. If you're willing to take the plunge, buying a cheap drum set is the way to go. For one, many kids lose interest in their enthusiasms after a while, so you surely don't want to start your child out with a $1,500 drum set. And two, almost every major drum manufacturer -- including Pearl, Tama, Ludwig, ddrum, Yamaha, and Pacific Drum -- makes entry-level drum sets aimed at young players. Oh, yes, good inexpensive drum sets will appeal to adult rock star wannabes, as well.
Cheap Drum Sets Buying Guide
Although you may have spotted a $100 drum kit at a toy store, big box retailer, or online vendor, do not jump at this cheap drum set deal. Drums and cymbals are just not supposed to be that cheap: They're meant to be hit often and with vigor, and if they can't stand up to the abuse of normal playing, they're just not worth buying. Many drum kits costing less than $300 border on flimsy and may not produce the sound that keeps a player motivated. That said, there are a few good cheap drum sets at the lower end of the price range that seem relatively durable and pass the sound test.
A complete drum kit comes with drums, cymbals, and hardware. The main differences between the cheapest drum sets, mid-priced drum kits, and high-end drum kits are found in the quality of the hardware holding the pieces in place, the wood used in making the drum shell and how the shell is put together, and the process used to make the cymbals. Expensive drums and cymbals are built with higher-quality materials and upscale craftsmanship that together deliver a purer, richer sound and generally give you more years of playing satisfaction. By contrast, some cheaper drum kits have problems with drums that rattle or don't hold their tune, drum heads that dent or tear, and cymbals that break, buckle, or sound like tin. Likewise, the hardware on very cheap drum sets may be too brittle to adjust or too flimsy to hold the components steady. Many players report that upgrading to better drum heads and cymbals produces much improved sound and better hardware makes for easier playing. The drum shells found in the best of the cheapest drum sets, however, often earn applause from experts and users alike.
Our picks reflect a balance among price, features, and performance. For the best cheap drum sets, we settled on the Ludwig LC125 Accent CS Combo Drum Set w/ Zildjian Cymbals (starting at $499) for its durability and overall sound, and on the Gammon Percussion 5-Piece Complete Set (starting at $209) for its value as an entry-level starter kit. The ddrum D2 5-piece Drum Set (starting at $375) is a good inexpensive drum set lauded by users as a quality set that could be improved by replacing the drum heads and cymbals. The Pearl Vision VX 5-Piece Shell Pack Drum Set (starting at $495) is another good cheap drum set that players say gives excellent sound, but without any included hardware or cymbals, you'll have to spend more money to get a complete set. (Note that drum kits without cymbals and hardware are referred to as shell packs; read the kit's description carefully to be sure you know what's included.) We didn't find a cheap drum set that you should definitely avoid, as most seem to suffer from the same problems: thin drum heads, thin cymbals, thin hardware. As noted above, all these components can be replaced.
Here's something to consider: many amateur players and experts say if you find a used high-end drum kit selling at a low price, go for it. Hunting for a second-hand drum kit may require an online search and a subsequent trip to the local music store to check out the sound and the feel. You won't exactly replicate the experience of a new drum set when you play on a used set, but it will come close. And you can always improve the sound by replacing the drum heads for a relatively small price.
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Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
Drum Set Reviews
Drum kits are comprised of many parts: drums, cymbals, and hardware. Features worth noting on cheap drum kits include the type of wood and the number of wood layers used to make the drum shells, and the thickness of the cymbals. You'll also want to assess the hardware that holds things together -- it should afford comfort and ease in playing.
Drum Set Drums.Cheap drum kits, or starter sets, usually include a bass drum, a snare, a floor tom, and two rack toms. The bass drum is the largest and ranges in size from 18 inches to 23 inches; the bigger the bass drum, the more booming the sound. Among the cheap drum sets on our list, the Ludwig LC125 Accent CS Combo Drum Set w/ Zildjian Cymbals (starting at $499), Gammon Percussion 5-Piece Complete Set (starting at $209), ddrum D2 5-piece Drum Set (starting at $375), and Pearl Vision VX 5-Piece Shell Pack Drum Set (starting at $495) all feature 22-inch bass drums.The rack toms range in size from 10 to 13 inches and produce a higher sound than the bass drum. The two drums usually differ in size by a couple of inches and are both mounted above the bass; the hardware can be adjusted to the angle you prefer. The floor tom in inexpensive drum sets measures 14 to 16 inches and has its own stand.
The snare drum, another stand-alone component, typically measures 14 inches across and is generally positioned to the left of the drummer. Metallic snares on the bottom drumhead give this drum its signature bright snap.
Drum Kit Woods.The shells on good cheap drum kits are made of wood, (the shells on the very cheapest drum sets, which are more toy than instrument, are often made of metal or plastic). Because woods vary in hardness and thickness, the type of wood used affects the drums' sound and durability. Cheap drum kit shells are typically made with birch, beech, poplar, and occasionally, mahogany.Birch, featured in the Ludwig LC125 Accent CS and the Pearl Vision VX, gives the drums a comparatively hard bright tone, with some punch and good sustain; the brighter the tone, the better the sound moves through the air and the louder it seems. Poplar, used in the Pacific Drums by DW Z5 Complete Kit (starting at $344), is a medium-hard wood that gives off warmer tones that may not sound as bright depending on the room you're playing in. The drum shells in the Gammon Percussion kit are made of nato wood, which produces softer and lower tones that are somewhat reminiscent of mahogany. The ddrum D2 shells use mahogany, which produces rich lows and smooth middles. Maple is another medium-hard wood with a warmer tone than birch but less body than mahogany; although a preferred wood type for drum shells, maple is rarely found in inexpensive drum sets.
Each drum shell is made by fusing together a number of wood plies, or layers; a six-ply drum, for example, has six layers of wood. The rule of thumb, according to an expert at Drum Junction, is the more plies in a shell, the less the drum vibrates and the louder the sound created by the drum head; bass drums and snares have relatively thick shells and thus produce louder sound. Fewer and thinner plies cause the drum to vibrate more, so you get richer tones at lower volumes. The Pearl Vision VX drum kit features an 8-ply floor tom and bass drum and 6-ply rack toms; all the ddrum D2 shells are 9-ply mahogany and the Ludwig Accent also features 9-ply drums.
Drum Sets Cymbals.Cymbals are a basic piece of equipment for a drummer, but many cheap drum sets come up short in this regard. Some budget drum sets, like the Pearl Vision VX, don't include any cymbals at all; others can be had with or without cymbals. Some sellers of the Ludwig LC125 Accent CS include a set of low-end Zildjian cymbals, which is a good name brand at any price level; without the cymbals, this model costs about $100 less. Our other top picks come with a hi-hat (two cymbals that sit next to the snare drum) and a crash cymbal. But be forewarned -- the cymbals in inexpensive drum sets are usually stamped, and in some are so thin that they tend to splinter or buckle with use. Higher quality cymbals are cast from a mix of metals; they're thicker and deliver a noticeable improvement in volume and timbre.If you need to buy cymbals either because you want to upgrade or because there aren't any in the set, you can save money by opting for a ride/crash combination cymbal. This cymbal is a cross between the standard crash cymbal and a ride cymbal, which is a bigger and thicker cymbal used for jazz; the Paiste PST5 18-inch is a good ride/crash cymbal that starts at about $110. The Sabian B8 2-Pack includes all the cymbals you need -- a pair of hi-hats, a ride/crash, and a splash -- and will set you back about $200. Cymbals are about as expensive as the drums themselves, so prioritize.
Drum Sets Hardware.With five drums and a few cymbals to manage, you obviously need a framework to hold it all together. The critical pieces of hardware include a snare drum stand, mounts for the toms, a bass drum pedal, a hi-hat stand, cymbal stands, and a drummer's throne. Many cheap drum sets don't offer much in the way of hardware, but the budget drum sets on our list, with the exception of the Pearl Vision VX, come with everything you need to set up. The hardware should be flexible enough to position the drums and cymbals so you can comfortably reach them and sturdy enough to hold the instruments steady.But as with cymbals, the hardware that comes in inexpensive drum sets is not top quality -- the stands may wiggle a bit, the metal may be brittle and hard to adjust, the tightening mechanisms may weaken with use, and the throne may collapse -- but it's good enough to get you going. If your cheap drum set is really a shell pack (no hardware, no cymbals), you'll have to buy the hardware yourself. You can get an entry-level bass drum pedal, snare drum stand, one cymbal stand, and hi-hat stand for about $100; better quality hardware kits that often include an extra cymbal stand start at about $200. As for your throne, a kitchen chair will do in a pinch.
Best Drum Sets
Drum kits reviews are loudly enthusiastic about the sound and overall value players get with cheap drum sets. For our top picks, drum kits reviews indicate the drums can withstand hours of playing and remain in tune, the finish on the drums holds up, and the hardware doesn't fall apart, although we did notice a number of comments about drummers' thrones that sag under the weight of grown men and the absence of instructions for putting everything together. Many users posting drum kits reviews compare the sound quality with that of higher-end drum sets, but note that the only way to achieve this level of performance is to replace the stock drum heads and cymbals with higher quality components.
Drum Sets Sound.Disregarding the skill of the drummer, a drum kit is only as good as it sounds. Based on the drum kits reviews that we read, the cheap drum sets on our list are not in the same league as upscale models but are excellent kits for novices that also happen to meet the expectations of some veteran players. That said, drum kits reviews for every model we researched indicate that upgrading the original drum heads and cymbals results in much improved sound. Some players also recommend putting a pillow inside the bass drum to produce cleaner and shorter notes.The sound quality from the Ludwig LC125 Accent is generally lauded by both amateur players and experts. Drum kits reviews on Zzounds.com note that the bass drum in particular gives off a big, rich thump, the snare sounds okay, although the toms could be deeper. Changing the drum heads and a good tuning job would make the sound even better, according to a drum kits review at DrumsetConnect. A number of players writing drum sets reviews on Amazon add that buying better cymbals is a worthwhile investment.
Users seem quite satisfied with the quality-to-price ratio of the ddrum D2, according to drum kits reviews, although they likewise note the importance of replacing the heads and cymbals. The drum shells draw special mention for their quality in drum sets reviews on Musician's Friend, where users write that these drums play bigger than the price -- with upgraded components, that is -- and the bass is loud and punchy. A drum kits review on Guitar Center likes the pop on the snare drum and the low bass and high mid range on the toms.
The Gammon Percussion kit boasts enthusiastic fans among younger and beginning players; one drum sets review on Plaza101.com reports a church band was very grateful to receive this set. Despite complaints in drum kits reviews on Amazon about the usual problems with inexpensive drum sets -- flimsy hardware, thin drum heads, cymbals that sound harsh and metallic -- players and purchasers (that is, parents and grandparents) say the Gammon Percussion set is well worth its price. The bass drum and floor tom produce good lows, say drum kits reviews, although the snare and rack toms aren't as impressive; a sock placed in the bell of the lower hi-hat is a low-cost way to get rid of what one reviewer describes as a whiny ring. But in all, this very inexpensive drum set ranks at the top for a starter kit.
A comparatively upscale set of drums (no cymbals or hardware here) hovering at the edge of the Cheapism range, the Pearl Vision VX5 claims its share of fans. Drum sets reviews at GuitarCenter.com praise its sharp looks and clean sound, and one veteran player writes that he decided to add on to this foundational set rather than buy a more expensive one. MusicGearReview.com approvingly notes the bright, warm, and consistent tones coming from the Pearl Vision VX5.