With drum kits, as with everything else, it’s possible to pick up a bargain if you buy secondhand (or used). Just remember that some older kits are undeniably wretched and you should be very careful to inspect every aspect for faults and breakages. If you have a drum teacher, or an experienced drumming friend who will accompany you, so much the better. Failing that take someone n anyone n along for a lay opinion and moral support.
Drum kits are simple mechanical devices of wood and metal and you don’t need to be a genius to work out that the kit you’re being sold is no good. Worn threads, cracked castings, and scarred finishes n they’re easy to spot if you take the time. When examining a kit, divide the task into three: the drums, the hardware and the cymbals. First the drums. If the plastic covering is badly scratched or bubbled, then the kit has been knocked about and is probably not worth bothering with. Like cars again, there are plenty out there with good finishes. Look inside each shell and make sure the shell itself is not cracked. It’s unusual these days, but who knows?
This is obviously unrepairable; leave the building now. It’s easy to see inside the shell if the drum has transparent heads. If not then look through the air hole and if it looks at all suspicious take the head off and examine it properly. The tension brackets and their bolts should ideally all be checked.
I know there are dozens of them, and it might be a bit embarrassing, but it only takes a few minutes. Take a couple of drum keys with you. On cheap kits, you may find the odd bolt cross-threaded or even missing. Bolts and damaged lugs can usually be replaced, but if possible check with your local drum store first. Worse, the metal rims or counter hoops may be bent out of round. You can check this by looking at the shell from directly above. Are the small gaps between head, shell and hoop concentric? The head’s own hoop should normally be perfectly circular, so if there are any discrepancies then either the shell or the rim (or both?) is out of round. Rims can be replaced but oval shells are useless. Don’t even think about it.
And if a rim is bent then someone’s probably dropped the drum. Take this as a warning sign and either leave now or check everything else with extra care. If the drums have been used for gigging, have they been transported in proper cases or just thrown in the back of the vehicle? The moving parts n bass drum pedals in particular, hi-hats and snare drum strainers n are all liable to wear and tear. Try them all out. Starter kits are not built for heavy use. If a kit has been kept at home it can last for years.
If it’s been left out in the school hall for all to thrash, bits will start to go missing in weeks. You can’t expect bullet-proof build for a couple of hundred. And these kits are pounded mercilessly by testosterone-fuelled six-foot 15-year-olds with Slipknot posters on their walls for inspiration. Finally, the cymbals. If they are the crude items thrown in with the starter kit then don’t expect much. They may be dented, bent or have cracks. Accept that they are valueless and that you will have to buy better replacements sooner rather than later. As a novice to the drum world, you may be better off finding a reputable store that deals in secondhand gear. They can offer you a warranty, and can replace any broken or missing parts. Any good dealer will do a maintenance check and replace small items like worn cymbal felts and sleeves.
They’ll also do you a good deal on fitting new heads, which will make a world of difference. And, if you can afford it, they’ll throw in a better cymbal package. However, because these cheap kits are not built to last forever, and because some of the old ones really are terrible, you may find that some dealers avoid the secondhand starter market altogether. You can’t blame them. But as these kits keep on improving, more and more dealers are realizing they cannot afford to ignore a potential starter sale.