A guide to buying Secondhand drums.

Buying second hand gear is a daunting experience especially for a new drummer. We jump onto eBay, Facebook, Gumtree etc looking for a bargain and are inundated with kits in all states. We are lured to click through to listings by attractive prices, deals too good to be true and plain old cat killing curiosity (I love cats 😻 by the way). So how do tell if you’re looking at a good investment or a waste of money?

Is it a set up?

The first thing that draws our attention (asides from the price of course) is probably a thumbnail image. Now, if you follow @MangledTubs on Twitter, you’ll be aware that there are a lot of listings out there with very VERY questionable setups. I always wonder if the reason that the kit is for sale in the first place is because the owner hasn’t ever set it up correctly and found it incredibly difficult to play. 

We have a tendency to decide things based on what we see. How many times have you seen a UFO type setup and kept scrolling? However are we passing up a good deal? Ok so it’s not laid out like a standard drum kit but that’s a super easy fix once you get it home. As long the kit has all the parts you need it doesn’t really matter about the sellers presentation and photography skills.

Heads Up!

So far we’ve talked about how a kit is presented and how it shouldn’t have a bearing on your decision making. So if setup isn’t really that important what is? One thing that really lets a drum kit down is the condition of the heads but does that really matter either? 

Drum heads aren’t designed to last forever especially if they’ve not been played properly. They are consumables just like drumsticks. Think of them like the tyres on your car, they last a while but will eventually need replacing. What I’m trying to say is that at some point you’ll need to replace the heads anyway whether it’s when you first by the kit or a few months down the line. The same can be said for the snare wires so if they look mangled then don’t panic!

You can buy a full set of batter heads for around £50 from most drum stores (a word about them later) and online retailers. Changing heads is a very simple process even for a novice. We live in the 21st Century, you can watch a tutorial about anything within seconds nowadays (keep an eye out for my video on tuning 😜) and if you’re really unsure you can ask your drum tutor, drum shop or drummer friends for help.

The last thing you want when buying anything is Hassle. So whilst changing heads on a kit you’ve just brought is a pain in the booty it’s not entirely the end of the world. I will say however that you should take into consideration the price of the kit before going down that route as it’s going to cost you an extra £50. We will talk about pricing later.

Hardware or Hard Wear.

Now this IS a big deal. Whilst changing heads is a pain, if you had to buy new hardware you’d be throwing out expletives like Gordon f#*@ing Ramsey. Yes you can buy cheap hardware but unless you’re buying it from top brands like Gibraltar, Mapex, Tama and Pearl you’ll fall foul of the age old adage of ‘buy cheap buy twice.’ This is not to say that you shouldn’t buy a kit unless it comes with DW9000 stands but the condition of the hardware is important.

Firstly all drums need all tuning rods and lugs, pictured below. They are a small but vital piece that keeps the drums in tune and yes they do need all of them so have a check that they are all present. 

Secondly is the Tom arms and Floor Tom legs. Starting with the Floor Tom, it needs THREE, that’s 3 legs to stand on. In some case they might be suspended from a stand but more often than not they are supported by legs. So not only do you need to check that all three legs are present but also check that the brackets for the legs aren’t cross threaded or worn so can still be adjustable. 

As for Tom arms it’s very much the same process. Make sure there is one for each Tom and that the Tom brackets on the Toms AND the Kick drum are in good condition with no cross threading or worn threads. As well as the brackets, the arms themselves will likely have a tilter for adjusting the angle of the Toms. Make sure the wingnut there is in good order also.

The Kick drum should have two adjustable legs to support it and the snare should have a strainer that engages the snare wires. If you don’t understand some of the things I am talking about refer to the pictures.

As for the stands and pedals, again check the condition of the wingnuts and tilters. Cymbal stands should come with two felts and a wingnut on the top to hold the cymbal. Again the felts are fairly consumable and are very cheap to replace.

When it comes to hardware ask yourself: Should it move? Then ask Does it move? If something moves that shouldn’t you’ve got an issue and if something doesn’t move that should you again have an issue. 

Shell out or shells out?

At last we arrive at the most important aspect of a drum kit; the shells themselves. The shells are integral to the kits sound but unlike drum heads they aren’t consumables and costly to replace. So how do you tell if the shells are good or not? 

The first thing that will ring alarm bells 🔔 is scratches, gouges and rashes on the shells but should it? Maybe a controversial opinion but let’s talk about it for a second. Most drums, especially entry level kits, are wrapped in a plastic ply. This ply gives the drums their attractive colours and is a few mm in thickness. 

So this is where we can turn those bells off (well at least snooze them for a bit). Asides from providing an array of colours to the drums they also help protect the shells. This plastic wrap is where most of the scratches, gouges, rashes and dents occur. Apart from making the kits aesthetic look used and tired if the defects are on the plastic wrap then the quality of the shell may not be jeopardised. Remember the plastic wrap is a few mm thick. 

So scratches, gouges and dents aren’t necessarily a deal breaker. Remember you’re buying secondhand in search for a deal so you may have to lower your standards or compromise a little. You may not get a shiny perfect kit for your money but you will get a kit that fulfils your needs.

There is of course a flip side to this. If the defects are deep then the integrity of the shell may well be compromised and if the defects are present on the inside of the shells then it’s integrity will definitely be compromised!

Of course you can’t always identify such defects from pictures so contacting the seller is strongly advised.

Ride the lightning.

No drum kit would be complete without those flat, round bits of metal called Cymbals. Now this is where things get sticky. There are very few records made using budget cymbals and I think we can all imagine why. This does set a standard when it comes to how we expect cymbals to sound and thus makes you feel like you’ve caught a raw deal when buying a kit.

There is something to be said about the companies that manufacture products within the drum industry. The drum industry is relatively small and nearly all companies involved were started by drummers for drummers. Even though some of them may seem like huge corporations they generally tend to care about drummers and understand our needs, wants and financial position however, there is only so much they can do before they are forced out of business. 

Cymbals are often made of different alloys providing different acoustic characteristics. These alloys are then lathed, hammered and finished in various ways to produce unique sounds. As I’m sure we can all appreciate raw materials for metal work can be pricey especially when they need to be of a certain standard for a specific purpose. This of course sets a bare minimum that companies can sell their products for. 

Now if these companies took their best alloys to create budget cymbals for the beginners and cash strapped drummers why would anyone buy their other ranges for more money? At the end of the day they are still businesses and need to make a profit to sustain themselves and their employees as well as push the craft into new sonic areas. In short you’re not getting shortchanged or inferior products think of it like buying a Bentley verses buying a KIA.

All that being said some budget lines such as the: Zildjian ZBT, Sabian Solar, Meinl MCS and Paiste PST3 ranges are extremely great value for money and sound good. 

Now when buying cymbals there are various things to look out for. Firstly if the cymbals are bent or dented back away slowly. Although cymbals have a natural bow to them they shouldn’t be ‘wavy’ or ‘bent’. When placed on a flat surface the edge of the cymbal should make contact with the surface all the way around it’s circumference if it doesn’t proceed with caution.

So asides from dents and bends you should keep a keen eye out for cracks. Cracks can happen in cymbals if they aren’t properly cared for or played incorrectly. Cracks will appear round the end goes of the cymbal where the cymbal moves the most. The big alarm bell 🚨 with cracks is that they only get worse. Whilst some cracks can be stopped if you know how, it’s a decision only you can make. As I said before ‘Proceed with Caution’.

Lastly we come to what is known as ‘Keyholing’. Keyholing happens around the central hole of the cymbal. It is caused by the cymbal sitting incorrectly on the cymbal stand, mainly due to worn felts or bent cymbal washers. Keyholing turns the perfectly circular central hole into an uneven oval, egg shape.

Any defect of a cymbal will have a drastic effect on the cymbals sound. This advice goes for any cymbal budget or not, In fact these issues are a bigger deal in the more expensive cymbal ranges.

Digit-all or nothing.

So far we’ve looked solely at acoustic drum kits but what about electronic products? A lot of the same advice is applicable here; the setup isn’t too much of an issue, Does it move and Should it?, are there any visual defects?

Visual defects on any cabling is a cautionary red flag 🚩 as with any electronic product. The trouble with electronic products is that its defects are usually invisible so seeing a picture of it on is a massive mind settler but shouldn’t console you entirely. Lights and screens can still work even if the triggers don’t so keep that in mind.

This all seems like the internet is full of scammers and con artists and I apologise if I have painted this picture in that light. It’s not all doom and gloom, the majority of people tend to be honest with their listings and selling a good quality secondhand product. 

Money, Money, Money.

So I mentioned pricing earlier and it’s often hard to determine what’s a good deal and what’s not. A brand new beginners kit from a reputable retailer will set you back around £400 – £500. This will usually include everything you need to start drumming.  Obviously this is quite an investment for most beginners especially if there is any doubt about he longevity of the beginners interest. It is this doubt that causes most to turn to the internet for secondhand bargains.

In general you get what you pay for, a £50 – £150 drum kit will sound exactly like that, don’t expect a £2000 sound for £50. Obviously any drum kit for under £150 is probably going to be worth buying it as it’s not too much of a financial loss. 

Listings up for £200 – £350 are usually a decent investment as long as its passed your check list. This is where the drum heads are worth considering. A £350 drum kit that needs all its heads replacing is worth bartering down. 

Listings for upwards of £400 can be a good deal for those who know what they are looking at. I would suggest that if you are looking at drum kits for around the £400 mark, go to a reputable retailer and spend that money on a brand new drum kit.

I certainly believe in going to shops still. The great thing with drum shops is that it is full of drummers!!! It may seem obvious but you can get a lot of information, ask as many questions as you need and have piece of mind in your purchase when you go to a drum shop. You can also try things out first which is always a valuable asset. 

Conclusion.

So what to make of all of this? Well as always ‘Knowledge is Power’ and hopefully you now have more knowledge. Great deals can be found in every corner of the world and the good deals outweigh the bad ones. Don’t be afraid of buying a secondhand product, you may not know anything about drums but trust in yourself. 

Never spend more money than you have or want to spend, if you’re unsure ask questions to the seller and ask someone who does know about drums to take a look and advise you. If it feels wrong or too good to be true it probably is. 

I hope this advice has helped and i wish you the best in your purchases. If you have any questions at all don’t hesitate to contact us and we’ll do our best to help you out!

For now take care.

Roro

*Credit to the owners of the photographs*