Upgrading Your First Drum Kit

malonedrum

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Hey Everyone,

I've been a private lesson instructor for a long time, and I'm always offering recommendations to families about either purchasing kits or upgrading pieces of their current sets in order to help the student grow along with their equipment. As I make videos on YouTube, I figured I could also develop this into a full fledged video so I can pass it on to my families when I get the question in the future. So in the spirit of the holiday season and buying stuff, I'd love to hear what order you guys would upgrade a beginner kit.


SPOILER ALERT, my order is as follows:
1) Drum Heads
2) Cymbals
3) Drum Throne
4) Bass Drum Pedal
5) Snare Drum
 

drummer5359

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I would say replace the heads or cymbals first. (Although I'd lean toward replacing the cymbals first.)

Playing terrible sounding cymbals is a chore, and sonically depressing for the entire family.

As for heads, I'd recommend replacing the bass drum and snare batters after the cymbals. The heads on the toms can likely wait until they are worn out. By then the snare head will likely need replaced again at the very least. Heads are not a one and done replacement.

I'd probably put the bass drum pedal next in line for upgrade, depending on what their first pedal is. Some entry level pedals are okay.

I started gigging in 1975, I got my first decent throne in 2008. I'm not recommending that every drummer deal with a crappy throne for over thirty years, but I think that it isn't worthy of the third spot on the list to upgrade.

I'm personally obsessed with snare drums. I currently own over forty, maybe forty five. (I'm afraid to actually count.) None the less, I put a good snare drum at the bottom of the upgrade list. My reasoning is that entry level snare drums just are not that bad these days. With decent heads and proper tuning a basic snare can be pretty gig worthy.
 

malonedrum

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I would say replace the heads or cymbals first. (Although I'd lean toward replacing the cymbals first.)

Playing terrible sounding cymbals is a chore, and sonically depressing for the entire family.

As for heads, I'd recommend replacing the bass drum and snare batters after the cymbals. The heads on the toms can likely wait until they are worn out. By then the snare head will likely need replaced again at the very least. Heads are not a one and done replacement.

I'd probably put the bass drum pedal next in line for upgrade, depending on what their first pedal is. Some entry level pedals are okay.

I started gigging in 1975, I got my first decent throne in 2008. I'm not recommending that every drummer deal with a crappy throne for over thirty years, but I think that it isn't worthy of the third spot on the list to upgrade.

I'm personally obsessed with snare drums. I currently own over forty, maybe forty five. (I'm afraid to actually count.) None the less, I put a good snare drum at the bottom of the upgrade list. My reasoning is that entry level snare drums just are not that bad these days. With decent heads and proper tuning a basic snare can be pretty gig worthy.
Those are great points, I think the reasons I had to put heads first is because I think a lot of people will have an easier time investing $60-$100 for drum heads (or less, if you're more practical about which ones need replacing) than $300-$400 for a set of cymbals that is slightly better. I think cymbals probably make the biggest difference in quality, but I also try to factor in budget.

I imagined the throne would be where most people would vary, but I remember when I got my first nicer throne, and it really helped me be comfortable for longer.
 

paul

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I agree that the throne is important. I'd put it above the bass drum pedal, assuming that the latter is minimally functional. Being able to play comfortably is a great encouragement to play.

By focusing on people who started with a new beginner set, though, you may be ignoring a large group of drummers who, like me, bought a used set of "higher level" drums. My first kit was a four piece Slingerland with Zildjian cymbals and hard cases. My immediate priorities after playing it for a while were new heads to replace the calfskin ones, and cymbal stands. But a four year old kit could have offered very different challenges, and I was as new to drum sets as any other novice. I don't know how you'd approach that in a video, though.
 

DrumPhil

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I agree with the items in the OP's list, except if their throne isn't wobbly or annoying replacing it could wait. Instead I would encourage the young drummer to pick up a few different models of sticks and a set of brushes (gasp!), so they can begin to experience how different a groove feels or a cymbal sounds with a change of implement in the hands. The most important concept in my mind is to get young players to think of the drums as making music, not just playing beats. Musical sense is getting frighteningly rare in pop culture these days.
 

healthie1

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oh this is a great question! Only recently did I decide to start buying specific gear; rather than using whatever I had from flipping gear.
I would go:

heads
bass drum pedal
hi hats --> ride --> crash

Then whatever. I was using a simple yamaha pedal for ages, then used a few nice pedals - mapex falcon, a pearl, and a DW5000. I spent $300ish on a new single DW5000 and its a huge game changer. I'd like a good throne next.
 

distantplanet

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Being a new drummer myself (started lessons July of this year), this is what I did, and what I plan to do in terms of replacement/upgrade:
1. New heads (easier on the purse/wallet);
2. Upgraded my cymbals from a Meinl HCS set to Zildjian As (also purchased as a set). This made practicing feel/sound so much better, but it lightened my wallet.
3. Snare(s). I lucked out with a couple of great deals and in the span of 2 months, I ended up with a NOS Pearl brass sensitone 5” (2016, I think) and a modern Ludwig 6.5” Supraphonic (Feb 2020 manufacture date). Both are amazing and are leaps and bounds over the stock Export snare.
4. Currently researching bass drum pedals; I haven’t outgrown my current one yet, so I’m in no hurry. (Current model is what came with the Pearl 830 hardware set on my Export).
5. Throne. I’m in my late 40s and comfort is rising to the top of my priority list.
6. Eventually… new shell pack. I’d like to go to a place like Memphis Drum shop or Drum Center of NH to test different ones out.

I suppose one of the benefits of being a more “mature” newbie is that I have more financial resources now than when I was 20 years old, and have some sense to not rush the shell upgrade process.
 

paul

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My first set came with a throne with a metal back rest. My mother, who sewed a lot, reupholstered the seat for me and added padding to the back rest. Changed my life.
 

DanRH

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I also agree with the OP’s list. My cousins boyfriend who hadn't played in 50 years but gad a nice Gretsch kit from back then, asked what I would replace first. The throne, no question. He gad an Rogers throne that basically was a piece of plywood and a piece of red rubber covering. Two minutes on the thing and i was standing up playing. I gifted him a DW throne. Now he practice's all the time.
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D87037BF-FE9A-42C7-81DD-EA2E1BF65B90.jpeg
 

covinasurf

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I used the throne that came with my Big R kit. Worst. Throne. Ever. Like sitting on a pile of bricks. Replaced it with the ‘new’ Tama throne in 85. I still have it, it’s in the rehearsal studio. Use it every week.

JH
 

Rock Salad

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On the inexpensive side of upgrading a kit for your new drummer: cowbell, tambourine, wood block, some shakers-like maybe even a string of rattley things to throw on the snare or hats, muffle rings or big fat snare
A little more pricey: tuning aids, iem, recorder
 

Gunnellett

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First off, that was really an outstanding video! Nice job!

A few thoughts/comments:

I really like how you show the before and after with the upgrades. However, you mention upgrading the cymbals through a $250-400 cymbal pack, which I feel is on the low end of a real upgrade worth the effort, but what you actually demo as an "after" are 3 cymbals that are not of a cymbal pack that would cost in that 250-400 range each.

I feel the bass drum pedal would be the first thing I would upgrade as it has the most potential for affecting performance and developing skill. It is amazing what the right pedal for an individual can do. Something that may be helpful for your students could be having a few different types/standards of pedals to try to see what they may prefer or act favorably with. Pedals such as a DW 5000, Camco, Speed King, Iron Cobra, Yamaha, etc. come to mind. They might be able to figure out if they prefer a direct drive, chain, strap, long board, etc. Picking up a few used at decent prices to have on hand shouldn't be to difficult.

I like the previously mentioned tone rings, moon gels, big fat drum company, etc. as all of these have an instant affect on the sounds which can be fun. It is surprising to me how a poorly tuned drum with a cheap head can all of a sudden sound pretty decent, dare I say good at times, with just a tone ring. These are cheap things that you can always use, if you like, no matter what your equipment or skills are.

Different beaters for bass drum pedals are also a nice inexpensive way to try things with different sounds and feel to see what you like. As an example, I was pretty happy with getting an old wood beater and was also surprised at how much I liked the Vic Firth beater with the wood shaft.

Again, these are just thoughts. I really dig your video. It was very well thought out!
 

malonedrum

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On the inexpensive side of upgrading a kit for your new drummer: cowbell, tambourine, wood block, some shakers-like maybe even a string of rattley things to throw on the snare or hats, muffle rings or big fat snare
A little more pricey: tuning aids, iem, recorder
Last year I did a video around christmas where I highlighted 10 cheap gift ideas for drummers, mostly accessories like those style things. This year, I wanted to focus on making more substantial upgrades as opposed to fun additions, but I totally agree with you thoughts!
 

malonedrum

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First off, that was really an outstanding video! Nice job!

A few thoughts/comments:

I really like how you show the before and after with the upgrades. However, you mention upgrading the cymbals through a $250-400 cymbal pack, which I feel is on the low end of a real upgrade worth the effort, but what you actually demo as an "after" are 3 cymbals that are not of a cymbal pack that would cost in that 250-400 range each.

I feel the bass drum pedal would be the first thing I would upgrade as it has the most potential for affecting performance and developing skill. It is amazing what the right pedal for an individual can do. Something that may be helpful for your students could be having a few different types/standards of pedals to try to see what they may prefer or act favorably with. Pedals such as a DW 5000, Camco, Speed King, Iron Cobra, Yamaha, etc. come to mind. They might be able to figure out if they prefer a direct drive, chain, strap, long board, etc. Picking up a few used at decent prices to have on hand shouldn't be to difficult.

I like the previously mentioned tone rings, moon gels, big fat drum company, etc. as all of these have an instant affect on the sounds which can be fun. It is surprising to me how a poorly tuned drum with a cheap head can all of a sudden sound pretty decent, dare I say good at times, with just a tone ring. These are cheap things that you can always use, if you like, no matter what your equipment or skills are.

Different beaters for bass drum pedals are also a nice inexpensive way to try things with different sounds and feel to see what you like. As an example, I was pretty happy with getting an old wood beater and was also surprised at how much I liked the Vic Firth beater with the wood shaft.

Again, these are just thoughts. I really dig your video. It was very well thought out!
Thanks for your thoughtful comments! I appreciate your positive and constructive ideas, as for the cymbals I didn't have access to one of those packed sets, so it was really showing somebody who has never experienced anything other than the cheap pressed cymbals that come with kits (the kind that say Pearl/Tama on the actual cymbal lol) what cymbals that use legit alloys can do to the sound. I wish I had the option to borrow a set of ZBTs, B8s or something in that first tier up range, although high end cymbals like the ones I showed would be awesome.

I didn't include accessories in this video like moon gel or tone rings, because I did a video last year highlighting accessories and cheaper options as gift ideas for drummers, but I understand you can't know that without watching the video, but yes, I totally agree those things should be a quick gift before any major upgrades like the ones in this video.
 


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