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Cheap Drum Sets Buying Guide

Although you may have spotted a $100 drum kit at a toy store, big box retailer, or online vendor, do not jump at this cheap drum set deal. Drums and cymbals are just not supposed to be that cheap: They're meant to be hit often and with vigor, and if they can't stand up to the abuse of normal playing, they're just not worth buying.

Many drum kits costing less than $300 border on flimsy and may not produce the sound that keeps a player motivated. That said, there are a few good cheap drum sets at the lower end of the price range that seem relatively durable and pass the sound test.

A complete drum kit comes with drums, cymbals, and hardware. The main differences between the cheapest drum sets, mid-priced drum kits, and high-end drum kits are found in the quality of the hardware holding the pieces in place, the wood used in making the drum shell and how the shell is put together, and the process used to make the cymbals. Expensive drums and cymbals are built with higher-quality materials and upscale craftsmanship that together deliver a purer, richer sound and generally give you more years of playing satisfaction. By contrast, some cheaper drum kits have problems with drums that rattle or don't hold their tune, drum heads that dent or tear, and cymbals that break, buckle, or sound like tin. Likewise, the hardware on very cheap drum sets may be too brittle to adjust or too flimsy to hold the components steady. Many players report that upgrading to better drum heads and cymbals produces much improved sound and better hardware makes for easier playing. The drum shells found in the best of the cheapest drum sets, however, often earn applause from experts and users alike.

Our picks reflect a balance among price, features, and performance. For the best cheap drum sets, we settled on the Ludwig LC125 Accent CS Combo Drum Set w/ Zildjian Cymbals (starting at $499) for its durability and overall sound, and on the Gammon Percussion 5-Piece Complete Set (starting at $209) for its value as an entry-level starter kit. The ddrum D2 5-piece Drum Set (starting at $375) is a good inexpensive drum set lauded by users as a quality set that could be improved by replacing the drum heads and cymbals. The Pearl Vision VX 5-Piece Shell Pack Drum Set (starting at $495) is another good cheap drum set that players say gives excellent sound, but without any included hardware or cymbals, you'll have to spend more money to get a complete set. (Note that drum kits without cymbals and hardware are referred to as shell packs; read the kit's description carefully to be sure you know what's included.) We didn't find a cheap drum set that you should definitely avoid, as most seem to suffer from the same problems: thin drum heads, thin cymbals, thin hardware. As noted above, all these components can be replaced.

Here's something to consider: many amateur players and experts say if you find a used high-end drum kit selling at a low price, go for it. Hunting for a second-hand drum kit may require an online search and a subsequent trip to the local music store to check out the sound and the feel. You won't exactly replicate the experience of a new drum set when you play on a used set, but it will come close. And you can always improve the sound by replacing the drum heads for a relatively small price.

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