Buying Your First Drum Kit
Acoustic Vs Electric
Before deciding which drum kit you are going to buy, you need to decide whether you want an acoustic drum kit or an electric drum kit. They both serve the same basic purpose however one may be more suitable than the other depending on exactly how you are going to use it and what you want from your drum kit. I’ve discussed the main pros and cons of both in this article.
Electric Kit Pros:
· Can plug headphones in
· Smaller, lighter, transportable
· Realistic sound and feel
· Multiple sounds and effects in one drum kit
Electric Kit Cons:
· Not suitable for live use
· Cheaper kits not as responsive for advanced playing
· Amp not included
Acoustic Kit Pros:
· The real deal!
· Better for live performance
· Noise can be controlled with dampening pads
Acoustic Kit Cons:
· Space consuming
ELECTRIC drum kits are perfect for practicing at home, especially for the beginner drummer. They’re more compact and can therefore fit neatly in the corner of most rooms and you can plug headphones into them keeping parents, partners, housemates and neighbours happy! Not all households are suitable for an acoustic drum kit and electric kits have made it possible for every drummer to have a practice kit in their home.
I would not recommend electric drum pads. These are small boards displaying pads that make the sounds of the different part of the drum kit. These are great toys and at the higher, more professional end of the scale used in electronic music, however they are not set up in the same way as a normal drum kit and so the stick placement and co-ordination will not be the same.
The technology on electric kits has improved massively over the last decade and the price has come down. At one time you needed to spend close to £1000 to get an electric drum kit that sounded and felt remotely like an acoustic drum kit, now you can pick up a decent electric kit for £100-£200.
Due to the improved technology, electric kits are very responsive and feel extremely similar to acoustic drum kits to play. A student learning on an electric kit can still practice their sound and technique without much of a problem. Most electric kits also come with a few different sound settings including different types of drum kits and usually a few silly but fun sound effects. However at the lower end of the price scale there will always be certain things that don’t play on an electric kit as they would on an acoustic kit. Common things that don’t play as well on the cheaper electric drum kits are rim shots and rim clicks, fast bass pedal work and accurate hi-hat pedal control. Regardless of its limitations, beginners should not be put off electric drum kits as they are perfectly capable of playing everything you are likely to encounter until you reach a higher level.
The major downfall of an electric drum kit when compared to an acoustic kit is its live use. Until you get to the £1000+ electric kits they are not really suitable for live use and even then they are rarely used in most styles of music. If you start learning in primary school, you will get your money’s worth out of your electric kit before you reach the age where you’re wanting to play in bands and will want to upgrade to an acoustic kit. However if you start learning in your teens and you’re hoping to be in the school band in a few months an acoustic kit would be more suitable. Another point worth mentioning is that generally electric drum kits do not come with amps and these can be a very pricey extra. Unless you want to invest in an amp, electric drum kits are most useful for home practice and little else.
So to summarise … If you have just started out and see yourself using the kit for no more than practice for the next few years then go for an electric kit. They’re reasonably priced, less space consuming and quieter. If you think you will want to progress onto live performance any time soon, an electric kit might be a waste of money as you will find yourself wanting an acoustic kit soon.
ACOUSTIC drum kits are the real deal and arguably more fun (and look cooler!) They are however also undoubtedly less practical to keep in the standard home. Acoustic drum kits are loud and do not under estimate how loud they can be when alone in a room with them! Despite this, the volume does not have to be too much of an issue. You can pick a full set of damping pads for around £50 and these are very effective. Whilst you will still here the thud of the sticks hitting the pads, the ring of the drums is completely silenced.
Price wise the beginner acoustic drum kits are similar to the beginner electric kits. You can pick up some extremely cheap acoustic kits however be wary of these as many of them are more like toys than musical instruments. A cheap and nasty electric kit will sound a little unrealistic and computerised but also relies on other factors such as the headphones/amp. A cheap and nasty acoustic kit however will sound like a bunch of pots, pans and bin lids. If in doubt, go to a music shop and give it a try rather than buying online. That being said, there are some good junior kits out there that don’t sound amazing and will not last forever but are good for kids to practice on whilst deciding exactly how committed they are going to be.
The main advantage of an acoustic kit is that it is not trying to look, feel or sound like a drum kit, it IS a drum kit. If continuing on to a more advanced level most drummers will find themselves performing and most performances will be on an acoustic drum kit. While the electric kits are set up in a very similar way to acoustic kits, inexperienced drummers can find the transition difficult. Drum exams will be taken on acoustic drum kits and so using this type of drum kit to practice on will provide good preparation for the exams.
Another huge positive point for acoustic kits is that they can be used for live performance. The cheaper kits may not sound great on the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury Festival but for entry-level bands and school bands most acoustic kits will do the job.
In conclusion … In my opinion you can’t beat a proper acoustic drum kit. If you have a suitable practice space in terms of space and noise control then go for it! If not then an electric kit will serve just fine.