Bargain Hunting: How To Score A Cheap Killer Kit

Bargain Hunting

Above: If you need to swap out a beginner kit’s snare a vintage Ludwig Supra-Phonic is an excellent choice.

Money’s tight these days. Fortunately for beginners and gear-starved gigging drummers alike, there are lots of ways to put together a decent drum set by exploring the world of used gear. But how does one go about building a kit without getting ripped off or breaking the bank? We asked vintage drum aficionado and expert used gear hound Ross Garfield of L.A.’s famed Drum Doctors cartage facility for his sage advice.

What are the components of a good, basic first kit?
“Kick, rack tom, floor tom, snare, hi-hat, and kick pedals, one cymbal stand, and a cymbal and a throne. You can always add on later, but this is a good place to start to get a kit you can actually start playing on.”

How much will a set like this cost?
“The package deal is the way to go. You’ll get a better deal by getting everything you can in one spot, rather than buying stuff individually. Look for kits from a reputable company like DW, Gretsch, Ludwig, or Pearl — even their least expensive drums are good to get started on. If you can find one of these lesser lines used, you’ll be ahead dollar-wise. Inexpensive sets can be found used — like DW’s PDP lines or Pearl’s Export or Ludwig Standard series from the ’70s and ’80s — for around $200–$500. One of the least expensive sets I can think of is Sunlite — you can usually find them for about $200–$300.

“As for cymbals, there are a lot of cheap ones out there these days that you don’t want to own; they break pretty quick depending on how hard you play. I try to steer people toward old Zildjian cymbals as they’re easy to find used. $100 for a 20"–22" cymbal is a great deal. Zildjian ride cymbals of any year — 1940s up to present — can be found for around $200, and hi-hats for around $200 a pair.”

How do you ascertain the value of an item’s worth so you’re not paying too much?
“The best way to find out what things are worth is doing a little bit of research online. My rule of thumb: If you can find a full set with cymbals and hardware for around $400, you’re doing pretty good. You’re not going to find anything cheaper that’s not a toy or that doesn’t need serious work. Of course, we’ve all heard stories where people get drums at garage sales for amazing prices, but that’s rare.”

Where are the best places to find great deals?
“The cheapest place to find deals — and if you have the time to research — is probably first at garage sales or flea markets, then through your local penny-saver newspaper, and then Craigslist or eBay. The problem with eBay is that so many stores have a presence and they fill up all the auction pages with their gear and the good stuff gets bid up.”

Bargain Hunting

Left: Check for cymbal cracks along the body, the bell hole, and the edges.

What are some red flags to look out for when buying used?
“For drums, look to see if the outside shell is separating — this is hard to fix and is an indication of too much moisture or exposure to the elements. Also, make sure the finish isn’t bubbling or has dings or gouges deeper than 1/4". Back in the ’70s, guys would take the bottom heads off their double-headed toms because they liked the way they sounded or for stacking while transporting. When you don’t have that bottom head the bottom edges tend to get dinged up. I see a lot of drums like that. This will affect the sound, but it can be repaired.

“Another thing to look out for with the cheaper sets is that they often have cheesy snare drums. I’ve always liked the old Ludwig Supra-Phonic 14" x 5"s, and they made an Acrolite version of that as well. It’s a real solid beginner drum and you can usually find them for cheap. With the right heads and care they sound good and will last forever.

“With cymbals, make sure there are no cracks. Check in three places: on the body, at the bell hole, and along the edges. Hold it up to the light and try to bend it — if you see any light coming through it’s cracked and only going to get worse.

“The bottom line for buying used is that if you’re going to spend the money, you shouldn’t have to settle for inferior, damaged gear. There are lots of great buys to be had out there. Also, with a set you’ve purchased, you can always eventually change out things like the hardware or replace the pedals or the snare with new or used gear when you’ve got the cash or the inclination if you don’t like a particular piece. Not to mention, The Drum Doctors can do just about any repair needed if you’re in the Los Angeles area.”