The next level of drum kit consists of those bearing the familiar names of the dedicated drum companies. These budget kits are also made in the Far East, and if you go back a few years they didn’t look much different from the generic brands. Some were pretty indifferent, despite the illustrious labels. But as the market has evolved, kits have taken on more and more of the features of their parent brands, so that now you can get kits by Sonor, Premier, Tama, Mapex and all the other big names, displaying the identity of those companies in their lug designs and tom mounts, etc.
As for price, we’re talking around $400 upwards in the USA. These are street prices, which are sometimes way below the manufacturer’s listed prices. You will see discounts of 10 to 20 percent in Britain and double that or even better in the States. For example, I’ve seen Pearl Forums advertised in the USA at $600, which is barely more than half the list price of $950. Yes, pricing and competition are fierce, but it’s often difficult to compare like-for-like since there are so many different packages offered by stores and on-line dealers. If you’re starting at this level look out for an all-in package, including stool, sticks and cymbals. The Forum even includes a video with advice on setting up and tuning. The edesigner’ companies do not necessarily have their own factories in the Far East.
But they have gradually established production shops using their own tools, dies, moulds and quality control procedures, so that they can reproduce their own designs economically. Over the years there have been instances where the shells and items of hardware of one brand are the same as those used by another. But as time goes on each company is gradually producing its own completely individual kits.
Obviously it’s nice to move up to the drum world’s equivalent of the designer label. The companies want you to get hooked on their product and hope that you will eventually trade up to their more expensive lines. To do this they will try to persuade you of the merits of their particular design solutions. The big difference is that you’re moving away from the generic look and buying into the particular style of the big-name company. You’ll find that items like the tom mounts, tension lugs, snare throw-offs and pedal footboard castings all have the particular company’s look and feel, but are budget versions of the company’s pro lines.
For example, Pearl’s Forum has its famous double post tom mount while Yamaha’s YD has its equally illustrious ball and clamp design. You need to get down to the drum store and decide which works best for you n or failing that, which look you prefer. Shells will still be made from between six and nine piles of semi-hardwood and again you’ll see woods like Phillipines mahogany, basswood, meranti, falkata and so on. For example, both the Mapex V and Sonor’s Force 1001 have nine-ply basswood shells, while the Gretsch Blackhawk has six-ply and Premier’s Cabria Lite seven-ply mahogany. The latter two companies have always preferred slightly thinner shells, and you can see them trying to carry that philosophy right through to their cheapest line.
Pearl’s Forum shells are made using the heat compression molding system (HCMS) it always uses. Likewise Yamaha’s nine-ply Philippine mahogany YD shells benefit from the company’s air seal technique. In terms of finish, most of these kits still have plastic wraps, but the choice of colors is considerably wider and the wrap is hopefully secured a bit better. Many of the features that once made high-end kits more attractive have filtered down to the budget level. Wooden rather than metal bass drum hoops are often fitted. And in a few cases your toms will have resonance isolation mounts, which were a major selling point of the most expensive kits just a few years ago. By isolation mounts we mean tom tom mounts that do not penetrate the shells of the toms, as do the older tom arms. Instead they suspend the toms via a bracket attached to the top metal rim of each drum.
The idea is that the tom is left free to resonate rather than being tightly gripped and stifled. Wood shell snare drums are gradually replacing the previously ubiquitous steel shelled models, and these will give you a warmer, crisper sound. The snare throw-off will be a simple, side-lever affair, which should be sturdy enough under moderate use. And one thing you can be sure of is that there will be no stinting on tension lugs. Snare drums, bass drums and floor toms will all have eight turning points per head. Many kits are today fitted with budget heads made by Remo, the leading American professional drumhead company.
Remo has a factory in Taiwan that uses American made polyester Mylar film to produce a cheaper version of its own industry standard Weatherking heads. This is a great improvement on the past when, because most of the big name drum companies don’t produce their own heads, they would throw on frankly dire heads to keep the cost down. This did the drums no favors. Now that the budget kits are themselves of a better standard the heads are getting better too. Pear, incidentally, has gone its own way and produces its own ProTone Mylar heads, which also sound pretty good.
As for hardware, nearly all packages now have double braced stands. You will have to look closely at the specifications to see whether you get one or two cymbal stands. If there are two, the second is nearly always a boom stand. The hi-hat and bass drum pedals should be of an adequate standard, which will give you good service until you can afford heftier and more flexible models. Since so many new drummers want to play heavy, their first upgrade is often to a stronger pedal or even a double pedal, followed by a better snare drum and cymbals.