Buy the best

Should you start small and upgrade, or shoot for the stars? Allan Leibowitz spoke to the retail experts.

For first-time e-drum buyers, a common approach is to “buy basic and upgrade later – if necessary”. This trend is evident both among new drummers and experienced acoustic drummers moving into electronics.

Some may be lucky and find exactly what they want – or need – first time around, but more often than not, buyers who start looking at entry-level kits end up shelling out for something more advanced.

“This happens almost every time,” according to Wayne Davis, a sales manager at Sweetwater. “Most entry-level kits are missing one or two key features – things that are important to a beginner and an accomplished drummer.”

Konrad Müller-Bremeyer, founder and chief executive of drum-tec, believes customer education prevents purchase errors. “If customers really seek advice from us, then we ask for their needs and ideas in great detail and advise them on the set that meets those needs and will deliver joy and added value. We actually do not pay attention to maximising sales or our profit at all because that only works once! But we want the customer to play e-drums for the next 20 years and to start their customer journey happily at drum-tec.”

When customers approach the drum retailers we contacted about e-drum upgrades, they’re often replacing worn or broken components – either from ‘new’ entry-level kits or from second-hand gear they’ve acquired.

Rob Sparrow, drum manager at UK chain Andertons Music, says it’s common for owners of kits under £500 to be replacing something they have broken on the kit. “Other issues could be the need to add a double bass pedal or more pads,” he says. Additional upgrade motivators are the small size of their drums, the desire for quieter pads or the need for improved sensitivity of the snare pads.

But the most common reason for upgrades at Kraft Music, according to contact centre supervisor Michael Jones, is the desire for better overall playing experience. “Perhaps they have a hi-hat pad with a separate pedal controller and they want a more realistic hi-hat that mounts on a traditional stand. Perhaps it’s larger mesh pads as opposed to smaller rubber ones. Also, a desire for better, more realistic sounds is a common upgrade request,” he adds.


E-drum ‘must-haves’

What’s clear is that upgrades are almost always the result of expectations not being met in the original purchase. Drum-tec’s Müller-Bremeyer says drummers should ask a few questions before buying:

  • What do I want? Is the kit just for fun, will I use it for gigging, etc.?
  • What are my minimum requirements? This spans space requirements, volume, quality, etc.
  • What are my wishes? This takes in your aspirations and priorities.

Of course, budget also comes into the equation, but it shouldn’t be the primary decider.

For Sweetwater’s Davis, key considerations should include a three-zone ride cymbal (bell, bow, edge). “The bell is vitally important to most drummers, but is often overlooked when comparing kits in different price ranges.

“Next, individual audio outputs are critical for anyone that wants to play live and allow the sound crew to mix the drums effectively. Entry-level kits typically just have a left and right output, while a high-end kit will likely have each drum/cymbal on a separate output.

“Last, a larger-sized pad or snare isn’t a necessity, but it sure does make for a better experience. It’ll allow for more dynamic control and overall freedom and realism behind the kit.”

Kraft’s Jones, meanwhile, points out that “the entire goal here is trying to match, as closely as possible, the acoustic drum playing experience”.

He advises drummers that “things like hi-hats that mount on a traditional stand, larger pad size, adjustable head tension, pad and cymbal sensitivity and sound quality, and editability are some major must-haves”.


The bottom line

Sparrow points out that quite often, electronic kits get overlooked because of a stubborn, old-fashioned teacher who thinks they are still the ‘80s drums. “Most electronic kits, including the cheaper ones, are so sophisticated that even a cheap one is a great tool. A lot of the time, an e-kit is a tool, a tool to help someone practise or a tool to help someone learn, or a tool to embellish their acoustic set-up for a hybrid setup to add textures. Very rarely – if at all – do people lust over an e-kit like a gorgeous finished acoustic kit,” he says.

Müller-Bremeyer stresses that e-drum technology is mature. “If anyone tells you it’s not, ask when they last sat behind an e-drum and what that was exactly. In all likelihood, that was 20 years ago and it was a Simmons SDS8!”

The basic advice is the same with electric or acoustic shoppers: buy with your ears, according to the Andertons drum head. “If you think the Pearl e/Merge or Yamaha DTX sound better than the Roland, then trust your ears.”

It may seem like stating the obvious, but you only get what you pay for, says Müller-Bremeyer. “If you buy cheap, you buy twice,” he adds, advising that it’s better to purchase just a very few parts (even used) that are good and, above all, compatible, than a lot of great-looking stuff that, unfortunately, after a year “you won’t even be able to sell via classifieds”.

In similar vein, Davis says buyers should save up for a kit that they can grow into, not just something that will work for today. “Very few people think that they really need the bell on a ride cymbal, individual outputs, full-sized snare pads, etc. Those features are more expensive, and sometimes impossible if you try to add them later.”

Jones’ advice to experienced acoustic drummers is to have realistic expectations about e-drums. “If you are buying an entry-level kit and you want it to sound and feel just like your acoustic kit, you may be disappointed. However, if you have a certain budget and a certain environment where you’ll be using the kit, there are many choices. E-drums have come a long way in a short period of time. Gone are the days of cheesy electronic drum sounds! There are some wonderful options for players of all levels and budgets,” he notes.

The drum-tec founder believes that some people might only have to spend €500 on a Roland TD-1 set to meet their needs, “but it can also be that it makes a lot of sense for you to spend €2,000 to €4,000 or more”. This is especially true because top-end gear holds its value – as well as being fun to play, robust and dependable.

The experts all agree that you can save time, money and frustration by buying your last kit first. As Davis puts it: “Get it right the first time, and the kit will be able to handle anything you throw at it for much longer.”

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