How to Choose A Drum Kit (Beginner Guide)

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At some point or another…every person on Earth fantasizes about playing the drums.

And yet it takes a rare and special individual to actually take that first step…

And do what’s necessary to turn that fantasy into a reality…

Simply because of the many problems and headaches that inherently come with the instrument itself.

  • Sometimes it’s an issue of noise
  • Sometimes it’s an issue of space

But MOST times…

The biggest obstacle to getting started with the drums…is that overwhelming feeling you get from the thought of the endless:

  • research,
  • decisions,
  • and purchases…

…you must first make, before you can even start playing!

So for today’s post, I’ve created a massive “all-in-one” ultimate guide that explains every little detail of the process, for BOTH:

  1. newbies searching for their very first kit
  2. intermediate/advanced drummers looking to upgrade

Section 1: First Drum Sets for Beginners

When shopping for their first drum set…

One of the biggest mistakes beginners make is worrying about the minor details that don’t really matter…

At least not for them…and not yet.

So instead, here are the 4 MAJOR DETAILS you absolutely MUST consider to avoid making a dumb purchase:

  1. Shell Packs vs Complete Drum Sets
  2. Number of Pieces
  3. Double vs Single Bass Drum
  4. Shell Sizes

And up next, we’ll discuss each of these in more detail, starting with…

1. Shell Packs vs Complete Drum Sets

When you look at pictures of drum sets online…

They almost always show you a full setup that includes:

  • drums
  • cymbals
  • hardware

But what you may not realize is that some of those packages include JUST drums, and no cymbals or hardware.

These are known as shell packs.

Compared to the drums included with “complete drum sets“…

Shell pack drums are typically higher quality…and the same is often true for individually purchased cymbals and hardware as well.

Typically, mixing and matching all these pieces is preferable for more advanced drummers who know exactly what they want…

Whereas beginners are better-off buying complete packages, because they’re cheaper and require much less decision-making.

Up next…

2. Number of Pieces

Depending on what style of music you listen to…

And who your favorite drum heroes are…

The drum set of your dreams could be anywhere from the simple 4 piece setup that many jazz legends prefer…

To the monstrous 30+ piece kits of rock gods like Neil Peart.

But regardless of which you think you want…

For your first kit, it’s always better to start with a simple 4 or 5 piece kit…

And expand later on if necessary.

Because if you can’t even play a simple beat yet…you won’t have much use for a giant rack of toms.

Make sense?  Moving on…

3. Double or Single Bass Drum

While it may not make sense to buy a giant rack of toms for your first drum kit…

It MIGHT possibly make sense to add a second bass drum…

IF and only IF, you consider yourself the “metal head” type, and ALL your favorite drummers play double bass setups.

But even then

They’re generally not ideal for beginners…

Because learning to use just one foot is difficult enough…and using both right away is mostly unrealistic.

But if you really want to learn double bass rhythms, a better solution might be to use a “double bass drum pedal” instead, which allows you to play one bass drum using both feet.

Later in this post we’ll go into more detail on that topic.

Up next…

4. Shell Sizes

While advanced players might scrutinize over the exact dimensions of every drum on their kit…

Newbies only need concern themselves with the following two options:

  • rock/standard sized kits – which have larger shells, and are better-suited for heavier rock n roll styles.
  • jazz/fusion sized kits – which are smaller and better-suited for lighter playing styles.

As a general rule of thumb, compared to jazz/fusion kits…standard kits have:

  • lower fundamental pitches
  • looser heads with slower stick response
  • more volume

And typically feature the following sizes for each drum:

  • kick – 22″ x 14″
  • rack toms – 12″ x 8″ and 13″ x 9″
  • floor tom – 16″ x 16″
  • snare – 14″ x 6″

Up next…

5. Recommended Beginner Sets

So now that we’ve covered all the major “newbie decisions”…

The only thing left to do is actually choose something.

Now besides what’s already been mentioned, the one obvious detail that must still be considered is price.

Regardless of your personal budget, the sweet spot price range for beginner drum sets is always the same: $600-$1000.

Any lower than $600 and you’re likely to get something that feels more like a toy than an actual musical instrument.

Any higher than $1000, and you’re approaching a budget where you may just be better off NOT buying “complete drum set” at all, and instead…purchasing each component individually.

Luckily…once you narrow things down to this price range, you’re basically left with the following list of viable options:

And if you happen to be looking for a “junior kit” for your child, check these out instead:

Up next…

Section 2: Drum/Cymbal Upgrades

Once you’ve been playing drums for around 6 months to a year…

And you kinda begin to get a feel for it…

You start wondering to yourself:

What would I sound like, if only I had some better gear?

At which point…you spend the next several years obsessed with drum equipment…endlessly searching the next upgrade to elevate your game.

So to help you through this phase a bit faster, in this next section, we’ll take an in-depth look at each of the following upgrades:

  • Shell Packs
  • Drum Heads
  • Custom Snare Drums
  • Cymbals

First up…

Shell Packs

Despite undoubtedly being the most important upgrade of all…

Many drummers save the shell pack for their very last upgrade…

Simply because it feels like the biggest (and often most expensive) decision of all.

Which is understandable, and totally fine if that’s what you choose to do.


I would argue that it makes more sense to save your money and upgrade the actual DRUMS first, because a good shell pack will have a greater impact on your sound than anything else.

And to help you understand exactly what distinguishes one drum shell from another, we will now look at the following 4 variables:

  1. Woods
  2. Shell Construction
  3. Finishes
  4. Rims

First up…

1. Woods

The ideal drum shell wood is determined by 3 factors:

  1. tone – it has to produce a nice sound (obviously).
  2. abundance – it can’t be too rare or too expensive.
  3. workability – it has to be relatively easy to mold into a shell, and stable enough to hold its shape over time.

And the 3 woods best-suited for the job are:

  1. Maple – which is most popular, highly-versatile, with a well-balanced tone.
  2. Birch – which is ideal for recording, due to its accentuated highs and lows…and abundant enough to be used on both cheap and expensive kits.
  3. Mahogany – which is the third most popular, more scarce than maple or birch, and known for its warm vintage tone.

With cheaper drums, the top 3 substitutes for the “premium woods” just covered are:

  • Falkata
  • Poplar
  • Basswood

And among “rare woods”, you can occasionally find high-end custom shell packs made from any of the following:

  • Beech
  • Cherry
  • Walnut
  • Oak
  • Bubinga
  • Ash

You can also find synthetic shells (usually bass and toms) made of acrylic, fiberglass, or carbon fiber…

And metal shells (usually snares) made of steel, aluminum, copper, or bronze.

Up next…

2. Shell Construction

Once a wood is chosen, the next step is shaping the shell.

And the quality of the results is ultimately determined by 3 main factors:

  1. shaping technique
  2. thickness
  3. bearing edge

First off, the basic shell shape is created using 1 of 5 possible methods:

1. Plywood – which is done by gluing a bunch of thin flexible wooden sheets together within a circular mold.  This is the most popular method by far.

  • Pros – cheap to produce, well-suited for mass production.
  • Cons – less sturdy, high volume of glue may have a negative impact on tone.

2. Stave – which is done by gluing a bunch of vertical wood strips together into a shell shape, much like you would with a barrel.  Among custom drum builders, it’s the most popular of all designs.

  • Pros – holds shape well because there is no stress on the wood.
  • Cons – more costly than ply shells, ineffective with thinner shells.

3. Segmented – which is done by gluing small strips of wood together in a pattern mimicking floorboard tiles.

  • Pros – basically the same as stave shells
  • Cons – more difficult than stave shells as it requires more pieces, and therefore less popular.

4. Steam-Bent – which is done by softening a single piece of wood with steam, then rolling it into a shell.

  • Pros – uses very little glue, and according to most drummers, has a better acoustic sound than the previous 3 methods.
  • Cons – difficult to maintain roundness, difficult to make too thin or too thick, quite rare to find.

5. Solid – which is done by carving a single piece of wood directly from a tree trunk.  Before the days of modern manufacturing, all drums were made using some variation of this simple, yet labor-intensive method.

  • Pros – considered to have the very best sound of all, as there are no joints and no glue.  Since the wood is in its natural state, there’s no stress on the shape.
  • Cons – expensive to carve, not practical for thinner shells, not many suitable woods, and the least common of all methods.


Alongside shell shaping, there’s still the matter of choosing a thickness.  While the process of carving out a particular thickness may be quite complicated, the results of the work are actually quite simple:

  • Thicker Shells – have brighter tone with higher fundamental note
  • Thinner Shells – have a warmer tone with a lower fundamental note

And that’s pretty much all there is to it.

Now for the final part of drum shell manufacturing…

We have the shaping of the bearing edge

Which is simply the rim of the shell where the wood makes contact with the drum head.

The 4 most common bearing edge cuts are:

  • 45° – with a 45° slant on the inner edge, and a tiny 1-ply cut in the opposite direction on the very outer edge.  This cut offers a good combination of both attack and sustain, due to the fact that the shell makes minimal contact with the head.
  • Dual 45° – with a symmetrical 45° cuts on each side of the shell, resulting in a contact point with the head that is closer to the center of the drum.   The result is even longer sustain and a greater tuning range.
  • Roundover – with the same 45° cut on the inner half, and a more rounded cut on the outer half which adds more contact area between the shell and head.  The result is a vintage/jazzy sound, with more stick articulation, less sustain and a warmer tone.
  • Baseball Bat – with a rounded edge on both sides to create an extremely warm vintage tone, with minimal sustain, and minimal overtones.

Up next…

3. Finishes

In order to put the finishing touches on the drum shell…

An outer coating is added in 1 of 3 ways:

  1. Staining – which can be as a simple as rubbing some tung oil on the wood.
  2. Laquer – which is a bit more complex process, and may include layering and buffing.
  3. Wrapping – which is done by covering the shell in a thin vinyl sheet.

Compared to the other two methods, wraps offer 3 advantages:

  1. they’re cheaper and easier to produce
  2. they allow for the greatest variety of design patterns
  3. they offer the greatest durability and resistance to scratching

The common concern with wraps however, is that they could potentially have a negative affect on tone.

And while this may be true with wraps on cheaper and/or older drums, which tend to be much thicker…

Today’s modern technology allows for ultra-thin wraps…that most sources agree, have a negligible effect on sound.

So with newer high-end shell packs, you need not worry.

Up next…

4. Rims/Hoops

With today’s modern drums, the 3 common hoop design categories are:

  1. wood
  2. die-cast
  3. flanged

Compared to flanged hoops, wood and die-cast metal hoops are stronger and heavier, and maintain a firmer grip on the outer edge of the drum head.

This results in a more focused sound, with less sustain, better projection with rimshots/rimclicks, and more tuning stability.

Flanged hoops on the other hand are much lighter, and make minimal contact with the outer edge of the drum head, resulting in more overtones, and more sustain.

The two common variations of flanged hoops are:

  • Single or Double flanged – which has a sharp upper edge on the rim, which can be harsh on your drumsticks
  • Triple flanged – which adds an extra bend over the upper edge (sometimes inward, sometimes outward) to create a rounded playing surface that is easier on your drumsticks.

Recently, a new hybrid design known as the “S-Hoop” was invented…

Which is essentially a triple-flanged hoop with the density and strength of a die-cast, and an extended top flange which offers a better playing surface for your drumsticks.

Up next…

5. Recommended Shell Packs

Now that we’ve covered a good deal about drum shells…

The only thing left is to make a choice and go with it.

However, since there are still literally 100’s of possible shell packs to choose from…

It’s impossible to narrow things down to a list of 5-10 recommendations that would suit pretty much anyone.

Especially since the brand name and aesthetic look of a particular shell pack are personal preferences entirely.

So what I’ve instead done here is simply create a list of the best-selling and most highly reviewed shell packs currently on the market…

And hopefully, one of them feel right to you.  And if not, I suppose the search continues.

So here’s the list of the best options UNDER $1000:

And here’s a list of the best options OVER $1000:

Up next…

Drum Heads

When buying shell packs…

One accessory that many drum manufacturers are often unclear about is the drum heads.

They don’t always say whether the shell pack includes heads or not…

And if they do, they may not say exactly WHICH heads are included.

Typically though, shell packs include generic heads labelled with the brand name of the drum company…

Which are inferior to what you’d get if you bought your heads separately.

And since drum heads are responsible for a huge portion of the overall tone, yet are quite cheap compared to the drums themselves…

It makes sense to always swap out the factory heads with premium heads, the moment your new shell pack arrives.

Having said that…here’s what you need to know about drum heads:

The two separate categories of heads we will discuss are:

  • batter heads – which are on the top, and meant to be struck
  • resonant heads – which are on the bottom, and exist only to affect tone

With batter heads, there are a lot of associated terms and features, including:

  • double ply – which refers to an extra layer of material on the head
  • coated – which refers to a textured playing surface on the head
  • premuffled/specialty – which could refer to any number of special features, including a center dot, outer ring, or even a layer of oil sandwiched between plies

But all these features are ultimately designed to accomplish some variation of the same end-goal: dampening.

Added thickness, extra plies, coatings, and special add-ons all contribute to create a more dampened head that results in:

  • more attack
  • less sustain
  • less overtones
  • more durability

…which tends to work better for faster, heavier, rock n roll styles.  Where as a thin single-ply head would typically work better for lighter jazz styles.

So that’s what you need to know about batter heads.

With resonant heads:

  • Double Ply/Coated/Specialty heads – results in more attack and less sustain (same as with batter heads)
  • Removing the head entirely – results in even more attack with even less resonance

But interestingly enough…

With single ply resonant heads, added thickness actually has the opposite effect of increasing sustain and overtones.

NOTE: Various internet sources give conflicting opinions on whether certain resonant head features increase or decrease sustain.  So expect to find contradictions on this topic. 

Up next…

Custom Snare Drums

Unlike bass drums and toms…

Which usually require some degree of tonal uniformity in order to sound “right”…

Snare drums tend to have a sound of their own, entirely independent from the rest of the kit.

Which is why pro drummers might use a variety of snares for a single kit (especially in the studio)…

And why certain shell packs do NOT include a snare at all (beware of this by the way).

Up next…


As the “other half” of the drum kit…

Cymbals play as important a role in the overall sound of the instrument as the drums themselves.

And just like with the drums, the cymbals included in beginner sets aren’t nearly as good as those that you might purchase individually.

Section 3: Hardware Upgrades

Aside from the elements of the drum kit that actually affect sound

There’s still the matter of the other parts that affect playability.

And since the hardware included with “complete drum sets” is usually of marginal quality…

There’s still plenty of room for improvement by upgrading the following 4 items:

  1. Drum Thrones
  2. Bass Drum Pedals
  3. Hi-Hat Stands
  4. Racks and Stands

And up next, we will look at each of these in more detail.  Starting first with…

1. Drum Thrones

When you first start playing drums…

You never really consider how important your chair might actually be.

But it doesn’t take long at all to figure it out.

Not only does a good drum throne makes playing 10x more comfortable…

It also increases the precision and accuracy of your playing, because it is the foundation from which you base all your movements.

And when all 4 limbs are doing their own thing at once…

It’s not hard to imagine how a wobbly foundation can result in a bit of “unsteadiness”.

2. Bass Drum Pedals

Unlike most other musical instruments…

Bass drums are unique in the fact that they are one of the very few played with the foot.

And since your foot alone does not have the required dexterity…

You rely heavily on the speed and precision of the bass drum pedal to play to your full potential.

It’s effectively as much a part of you as your actual foot.

Playing with a cheap wobbly bass drum pedal is the equivalent of playing with an old, arthritic, diabetic foot.

And since premium pedals are relatively cheap compared to most drum set upgrades…it makes since to limit your options to only the very best.

To see exactly which pedals fall into that category, check out the links below:

Single Pedals:

Double Pedals:

Up next…

3. Hi-Hat Stands

Just like with bass drum pedals…

Hi-hat stands are a uniquely important piece of hardware…

Because they also function as an extension of your foot.

The smoother the motion of its moving parts…the more potential you have to play faster, more intricate rhythms.

But just like all “stock” hardware that comes included with complete drum set ups…

The hi-hat stands usually aren’t that great, and there are way better options out there, if you’re willing to spend a little extra.

Oddly enough, among all the major drum companies out there, it seems that for some reason, DW hi-hat stands are the most popular by far.  Therefore, it is the only brand I will recommend in the links below.

As you can see, I’ve included both the 2-leg and 3-leg models.

What drummers typically find is that the 3-leg models are sturdier and ideal for heavy-footed playing.

The 2-leg models, while still quite sturdy as well, offer the primary advantage of occupying less floor space, which may be necessary in cramped venues, and is especially necessary if you play double bass pedals.

Anyways, here are the links:

2-Leg Models:

3-Leg Models:

Up next…

4. Racks and Stands

With most drum gear, it doesn’t take long for a drummer to know whether he’s liking it or not.

With drums and cymbals, you can tell after a few minutes of playing whether or not you like the sound.

With bass drum pedals and hi-hats stands, you can tell after a few minutes of playing whether or not you like the feel.


With racks and stands, you typically need to use them for several weeks or months to really get a sense of how they perform over time.

Which is why with this type of gear, the best way to ensure you’re making a wise purchase is to trust the word of other drummers who have owned and used the gear for extended periods.

And after much research, these are the very best options I have found for cymbal stands, snare stands, and racks:

Cymbal Stands:

Snare Stands:


That’s It

So there you go guys…the ultimate guide to drum sets and all drum-related upgrades.

Hopefully, with everything we just covered, you should be fully equipped to build the drum set of your dreams.

‘Til next time.