How to Find (and Purchase) a Quality Used Drum Kit

2620170206_8bdb56da66_o (2)Looking around at used drum kits? Buy with confidence with the following tips from Lancaster, OH drum teacher John S...


When you’ve decided that it’s time to buy a drum set, the most important considerations in my opinion are why the kit is being purchased, the kit configuration, and the condition of the drums. You’ll also want to think about the pros and cons of buying used vs. new gear. I’ll now explain these points in more detail. Please note that although this article’s focus is on used gear specifically, much of this advice can be applied to purchasing a new kit as well, if you decide to go that route.

Think About Why You’re Purchasing the Drum Kit

This is important because it will help you determine how much to spend, the kit size, and level of quality. For example, purchasing a general purpose starter kit for a young drummer can be different from buying a kit for a specific professional application. I would recommend four or five drums, a hi-hat, ride cymbal, and crash cymbal for a first drum set for a young or new student.

Consider the Kit Configuration

As far as drum dimensions, here is where I’d start: 14″ diameter snare drum between 5″ to 6.5″ deep; 20″ or 22″ diameter bass drum between 14″ to 16″ deep; 10″, 12″ & 14″ diameter tom toms which would be about 8″, 9″, and 11″ to 14″ deep, respectively. I’d recommend at least two toms and three at the most. If purchasing only two toms I’d recommend 12″ and 14″ diameter drums, which would be about 8″ deep on the small tom and 11″ to 14″ deep for the floor tom.

For cymbals, I’d recommend 13″ or 14″ diameter hi-hats (medium weight top cymbal and heavy weight bottom cymbal), 20″ diameter ride cymbal (medium or medium-heavy weight), and a 17″ or 18″ diameter crash (thin or medium-thin weight). I think these sizes and weights are the best for general purpose playing.

Another consideration when buying cymbals is the profile, or arch, of the cymbal. Look at the cymbal from the side and see how curved or flat it is. I generally prefer warmer lower pitched cymbals so I look for flatter profiles. Higher profiles (more arch) will produce higher pitches. The weight of a cymbal affects the pitch too. Thinner cymbals have lower pitches.

Look at the Drum Condition

As you search for quality used gear, make sure that everything is in good condition. I always take all of the drum heads off and inspect the drum shells to make sure they are not warped and to verify that the bearing edges (the area where the drumhead makes contact with the shell) are in good condition (smooth and even rather than dented or nicked, for example). Another thing to look for on the bearing edges of wood shells is ply separation. Minor ply separation is probably not going to be a serious problem and can most likely be fixed with wood glue and clamps.

I also make sure that nothing has been exposed to smoke, excessive sunlight (signs of fading on the finish, for example) or moisture. Check to ensure that the drums are free of excessive rust or corrosion (minor issues can usually be taken care of with some appropriate cleaners, such as chrome polish, and lubricants) and make sure tension rods (screws that hold drum heads and hoops in place) and drum hoops (fits around the drum head and attaches to the drums with the tension rods) aren’t bent or warped. I like to lay the hoops on a thick glass surface and make sure the hoops don’t wobble back and forth very much. If they do, it can be impossible to properly tune a kit with bad hoops.

Check cymbals to make sure they aren’t cracked. Interestingly, sometimes cracked cymbals can have really desirable and complex sound qualities that you might want on certain occasions. Generally, however, you should avoid cracked cymbals. Additionally, I always play all of the cymbals together (hi-hat, ride, crash, etc.) to make sure they all sound good with each other (pleasing and complementary pitches and tones that work well as a collection of sounds).

Personally, I don’t mind if used cymbals are a little dark and dirty, as long as it’s from normal use and age. If the grime is bothersome you can clean the cymbals by checking for cleaning products made by that specific cymbal company (use only Zildjian products for Zildjian cymbals, for example). Make sure to read all of the directions on the cleaning bottle. Finally, make sure your purchase is returnable in case you discover a problem after you’ve had a chance to thoroughly inspect, test, and play everything at home.

Some Pros and Cons of Used vs. New Gear

Finally, consider the pros and cons of buying new versus used drum kits.

Used Gear -Pros

  • Great quality at cheaper price.
  • Could buy vintage, collectible, or otherwise out-of-production gear. Note: for collectible gear make sure your purchase contains everything that was originally sold together (no missing pieces or later additions, for example, otherwise the collectible value won’t be as high).

Used Gear – Cons

  • Manufacturing standards may not be quite as good as today’s new gear.
  • Some repairs may be desired/necessary (possible ply separation on wood shells, corrosion to clean, damaged or missing parts, etc.).
  • Replacement parts may be hard to find if out-of-production.

New Gear – Pros

  • Today’s manufacturing standards are probably better due to technological advancements and computers (which may mean being able to buy lower-end gear today that sounds as good as middle of the road or even high-end gear in the past).
  • More cymbal sound options (sizes, weights, and lathing, for example), drum sound (more shell composition and bearing-edge options, for example), and finishing options now than in the past.

New Gear – Cons

  • May be price prohibitive to buy brand new high-end gear.

Final Thoughts

When buying used drum kits and cymbals, you might have to make a series of separate purchases. Even with used drum kits, be aware that cymbals, hardware, bags, or cases, for example, may not all be included in one purchase price. If you are also looking for a drum instructor I’d be happy to be of assistance. Have fun shopping!


John S. teaches drums and music recording in Lancaster, OH. He has been playing the drums for more than 30 years and has been teaching students since 2010. Learn more about John here!



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