Buying Used Drums: The Ultimate Guide
If you can’t afford a shiny new kit, you can often get great value for money by buying used drums. Websites like Craigslist, Kijiji, Gumtree, eBay, or your local drum stores can have some great deals. As long as you know what to look for, you can get something way better than the crappy drum set you might have!
With this in mind, I’m going to cover everything you need to know when buying used drum sets. The important stuff, the not-so-important stuff, and a few tips on how to improve your used drums along the way.
For people selling used drums, this guide will give you some great tips on how to get the best price for a used drum kit. Check these points and fix up anything that stands out, and you can ask a little more for your used drums.
With a little love, you can turn the right used drum set into something fantastic. If you’re wondering how to buy used drums and what to watch out for, this is the guide for you.
Buying Used Drums: What’s Your Budget, What’s Your Goal?
First up, it’s important to figure out how much you’re willing to spend… Your budget will determine what kind of used drum sets you can expect. Also, think about what your goal is: Will you use this as a starter kit and upgrade later, or do you want something that you’ll keep for a long time?
If you’ve only got a few hundred dollars, you’ll probably have to compromise on some things. In this price range, you’ll usually find decent entry level used drum sets, with a few accessories (enough to learn and practice on). Don’t expect great cymbals on a low budget (although you might get lucky!). There might be a few issues with really cheap used drums, but this can be fine if you just want a starter kit to learn the ropes. See below for the really important stuff when buying used drums, and other stuff that is not so important.
If you’ve got more to spend than a few hundred dollars, you can usually find some great deals on used drums, especially if you’re a little patient. With more to spend in your budget, you can also piece together a great set of used drums from a few different places.
Even with really high-end gear, you’re often better off buying used drums and cymbals… All gear will loose a lot of value as soon as it leaves the shop floor. A bonus with high-end used drums is that they’re often in great condition: Experienced drummers know how to play and care for their instruments.
Used drums buying guide: Where to find used drums
Check your local online spaces like Craigslist, Kijiji, Gumtree, local Facebook musicians groups, or eBay for used drum sets. If you live in a smaller town, widen your search to the nearest city (as long as you’re willing to travel). Also look at pawn shops and local drum stores – many of these places will have used drum sets and other used drum gear.
Regardless of your budget, spend a week or two checking out what’s available. Look up the new price on Amazon or your favourite music store if you’re not sure what something is worth. This will give you a great idea of what’s out there, and it will allow you to spot a good deal on used drums when one comes up. Don’t pull the trigger on the very first thing you see, unless you know what it’s worth.
Buying Used Drums: The Important Stuff
Each of the points below are important factors that will directly affect the sound of your used drums.
However, when you’re checking out a used drum set, there’s one problem: It’s extremely time consuming to check everything listed here…
To help with this, I’ve included some red flags to indicate whether something is worth investigating. If I don’t see any of these red flags when I’m shopping for used drums, I’ll usually assume the kit is in pretty good condition.
If you’re on a super tight budget, you might not find a used drum kit that ticks all of the boxes below. However, as you’ll see, some things are much bigger deal-breakers than others. If you’re spending more than a few hundred dollars on a used drum set though, you should expect them to be free (or almost free) of all of the following issues.
Used drums buying guide: Non-round drums
Is this a deal-breaker?
Yes. Drum need to be round!
Don’t buy used drums that are out of round, unless you just want a super cheap kit for practice and nothing else.
USED DRUMS: Why it’s important
If the drums themselves aren’t round, they’re basically worthless… This is the biggest deal-breaker when you’re buying used drums. You won’t be able to tune them, they won’t sound good, and this problem can’t be fixed.
What causes drums to go out of round? Usually, it’s because they’ve been stored in a bad environment for a long time. For example: very high humidity, constant extreme humidity/temperature changes, long-term direct sunlight, extreme heat/cold, water damage, etc.
Note that it’s not uncommon for drums to be very slightly out of round, especially for cheaper models (we’re talking a tiny amount here). You’ll start to have noticeable sound problems when drums are out of round by 2/16 of an inch or more (approx. 3mm). When you go beyond this, drumheads and hoops won’t fit properly, and the drum won’t tune well.
Red flags… Should I check this?
Checking whether all the drums are round will be very time consuming. I personally don’t bother, unless there’s a red flag: Do these used drums seem like they’ve spent time in a bad environment? If you notice big cosmetic issues like a lot of the wrap peeling off, heavy discoloration inside or outside the drums, very uneven changes in the finish, or hardware not sitting right, think about checking the used drums.
To check whether a drum is round:
- Measure the drum’s diameter is the same all the way around.
- Remove the hoop and see if the drumhead wobbles, rather than sitting flat on the drum (note: this is more accurate with new(er) drumheads that are in good shape).
- Use your eyes. If a drum is really out of round, you might see it.
- Hit them! If they sound good, they’re likely round (or round enough). If not, check one of the other points above. Also keep in mind that if you hit a drum and it sounds bad, the drum could just be badly tuned.
Tip: Check it’s the drum that’s out of round, and not a bad hoop or bearing edge causing problems.
This video has some excellent information on out of round drums, including how to deal with it if you do have a bad drum:
Used drums buying guide: Bad bearing edges
Bearing Edge Problems: Is this a deal-breaker?
It’s not as fatal as out of round drums, but bad bearing edges will have a big impact on the tuning and overall sound of a used drum set. This might not be a problem for a cheap practice kit, but for performing and recording you’ll likely run into some big tuning issues.
Minor bearing edge issues can be fixed by rubbing candle wax on the problem area, to help the head make proper contact with the shell. Bigger issues mean the bearing edge needs to be re-cut… There are professionals out there who can do this for you, so think about whether you’re willing to spend the money on this. Personally, I’d recommend avoiding used drum sets with bad bearing edges, unless you’re comfortable dealing with the problem.
Used drums: Why it’s important
The bearing edge is where the drumhead makes contact with the drum shell. If the bearing edge isn’t even all the way around, the head won’t make a good seal. When this happens, you’ll have bad sounding drums that will be extremely difficult to tune.
As well as not being flat, bearing edges can also be chipped, cracked, or have spurs sticking up (these can puncture your drumhead).
Bearing Edge Red flags… Should I check this?
It’s time consuming to take each drumhead off a set of used drums. Luckily there are some quick ways to check, and a few red flags with used drums that suggest a more thorough investigation.
If the kit looks like it’s been thrown around, then the bearing edges have more potential to be damaged. Look for major noticeable cosmetic issues, although this alone isn’t a sign. A well-used drum kit will naturally have scratches and small dents, but might otherwise be in top shape. Also, some drummers play without the resonant heads… If the resonant heads are removed, the bearing edges are left unprotected (so they’re very easy to damage).
To check bearing edges on used drums, you can do the following:
- With the drumheads on, run your finger around the bearing edge, pushing down firmly. It should feel solid all the way around. If you feel the drumhead dip down (a soft area), the bearing edge is damaged there.
- Clear drumheads let you see the bearing edge – take a quick look for flat spots or chips/dents.
If you suspect a problem, take off the drumhead and lay the drum on a flat surface (a table is usually good, just make sure it’s actually flat). Check the bearing edge makes contact with the table all the way around. Shine a torch around the inside of the drum, and look for light escaping where it makes contact with the table. If you notice something, spin the drum on the tabletop to check it’s the bearing edge that has the problem (and not the table!).
Used drums buying guide: Non-round hoops
Hoop Problems: IS THIS A DEAL-BREAKER?
It really depends on whether you’re willing to buy new hoops, and what you’re using the used drum set for.
If you’re buying the used drums for a cheap practice kit, you might not be too worried about the sound. If you’re planning on playing shows and recording with those used drums, then you’ll need to replace the bad hoop(s).
One hoop is pretty cheap to replace. Just measure the size (in inches), and count how many lug holes you need. I’d avoid used drum sets where a few hoops are bad (it suggests really cheap quality, or mistreatment of the drums). If a hoop is only slightly out of round, you might be able to bend it back into shape yourself.
Used drums: WHY IT’S IMPORTANT
The hoop pushes the drumhead down onto the drum shell. If the hoop isn’t flat and round, it will push unevenly, making tuning very difficult or impossible. When this happens, those used drums are going to sound bad until you replace the hoop.
Drum Hoop RED FLAGS… SHOULD I CHECK THIS?
First of all, visually inspect the hoops… If they look straight, with no dents or big marks, it suggests they’re good. A hoop with a big dent is worth taking off and checking. Here’s how to check it:
- Use a measuring tape to check the hoop’s diameter is the same all the way around.
- Lie the hoop on a flat surface. If it’s bent our of shape, it will usually wobble.
- Put the hoop on the drum, and spin it around gently. Check that it doesn’t wobble or get stuck.
Tip: Confirm it’s the hoop causing the problem, and not an out-of-round drum or a bad bearing edge.
Used drums buying guide: Ply separation
Ply Separation: Is this a deal-breaker?
If the ply has separated a lot, then yes. A small separation may not affect the drum’s sound too much (although stay away if you’re just not sure).
One separated ply might be tolerable, especially if you’re just looking for a starter or practice kit. If you’ll be recording with the kit though, I’d consider looking elsewhere.
Used drums: Why it’s important
Drums are usually made with thinner plies of wood stuck together. If one or more of these plies separates, it can stop the drum resonating properly. If the separated ply stops the drumhead making a seal with the bearing edge, you’ll have tuning problems as well.
Ply Separation Red flags… Should I check this?
If the used drums are quite old, or if it looks like they’ve been mistreated or stored in a bad environment, it might be worth checking the plies.
You’ll see fairly quickly if a ply has separated:
- Visually check the inside of the used drums, and around the bearing edges (if the drumheads are clear). Look for smooth joins in the wood, with nothing sticking out.
- Run your finger around the bearing edge (with the drumhead still on), to feel for anything sticking up or out.
- Run your hand around the outside of the drum, feeling for the joint in the wood (not the wrap). The wood joint should be fairly flush.
Tip: If the top drumheads are coated and you can’t see inside the drum, turn them upside-down… The resonant heads are usually clear!
Used drums buying guide: Drum hardware problems
Bad Drum Hardware: Is this a deal-breaker?
Sometimes, depending on the extent of the hardware problems.
USED DRUMS: Why it’s important
The hardware is the gear that will support your drums, your cymbals, and your butt, and it can have a big impact on the playability and sound of a kit… The hi-hat stand, pedal(s), throne, cymbal stands, bass drum legs, and snare throwoff are all fairly important things.
Crappy hardware takes the fun out of playing, so briefly check it all out. The hardware is rarely perfect with cheaper used drums, but it should be at least functional.
If you’re buying a full set of used drums and want to avoid spending extra money, then make sure the hardware is in decent shape. Otherwise, it’s up to you how much hardware you’re willing to replace if something is broken.
Drum Hardware Red flags… Should I check this?
Have a quick look across the hardware, and test it out if you notice something off. You should pay the most attention to the following things, because they’re a little more expensive to replace:
- The hi-hat stand: It should be sturdy, and spring open after you push down on the pedal. Problems here might mean you’ll need to replace the entire stand (although some hi-hat stands are tension-adjustable).
- The bass drum pedal: It should bounce back smoothly after you push down on it. Check for missing parts, and for really worn out areas. Bass drum pedals are usually very tough, so a quick inspection is probably all you’ll need.
- The snare stand: This will be holding the main drum you’ll be hitting, so make sure it stands up well on its own and doesn’t wobble.
- The throne (seat): You’ll be sitting on this for hours at a time, so make sure it’s in good condition (and can adjust properly to your height). If not, you’ll probably want to buy a new one.
- The snare throwoff: Flip it on and off, and tighten/loosen it to check it runs smoothly. Throwoffs can be replaced, but it’s a little more expensive and time consuming to do so.
If any of these things are in bad condition, check whether your budget can handle replacing them.
Don’t worry too much about…
This stuff is nice to have when you buy a set of used drums, but everything listed here can be very easily replaced if it’s missing or broken:
- The hi-hat clutch: Cheap and easy to replace.
- Cymbal felts and sleeves: Important to have, but you can buy these very cheap. Note: If these are missing and you’re buying cymbals, check the center mounting holes of the cymbals… Metal-on-metal contact is bad for cymbals, and can cause cracks (very bad) or keyholing (which is okay, as long as there are no cracks).
- Snare wires: These are easy to replace, and can be a quick way of improving your snare sound if they’re in bad condition.
- Snare wire straps/string: This is very cheap and easy to replace. You can even make DIY snare wire straps with an old drumhead!
Buying Used Drums: The Not-So-Important Stuff
When you’re buying used drums, there are some things that are nice to have, but won’t permanently affect the sound or playability of the kit if they’re missing. These minor issues are easily fixed, replaced, or simply ignored.
On a very cheap set of used drums, there might be quite a few of these issues. On a high-end used drum kit, hopefully none. Vintage kits, even more expensive ones, can be anywhere in between.
Either way, unless you’re looking for a perfect set of used drums that require zero effort, don’t stress too much about any of the following.
Used drums buying guide: Lugs, screws, and tuning rod problems
Is this a deal-breaker?
It depends on the extent of the problem(s), and how willing you are to fix them.
One thing to watch out for with missing parts: If two or more rods/lugs are missing side by side, it can put extra pressure on the hoop and the drum (especially if the drum is tuned tight). If you notice this, take off the hoop, and check both the hoop and drum are still round. Besides this issue, these small missing parts won’t affect the sound of your kit once they’re replaced.
Used drums: WHY THIS ISN’T A DEAL-BREAKER
Lug and tuning rod problems can actually be a positive… The used drums might be a lot cheaper due to this. With a small amount of money and effort, you can fix these problems and end up with a great set of used drums.
The common problems you’ll see when buying used drums include bent tuning rods, rusty lugs and rods, missing screws, broken wingnuts, or lugs that rattle. Rusty lugs and rods can make tuning more difficult, simply because it’s harder to turn the drum key.
Importantly though, those used drums should still tune up perfectly fine… At worst you’ll just need to replace the missing/broken parts.
Red flags… Should I check this?
You’ll see pretty quickly if a tuning rod or lug is missing on the outside. Do a quick visual check for each of the screws inside the drum too (these hold the lugs in place). If any of these parts are missing, they should be replaced (otherwise you’ll have tuning problems). You can easily order these parts online, or find them at any drum store.
When you hit a drum, you might notice a small rattle from the lugs. This might be a loose screw, which simply needs to be tightened. It could also be the spring rattling inside the lug… You can remove the lug and stuff it with cotton wool (around the spring) to solve this problem. Noisy lugs are common with older used drum sets.
Rusty lugs and rods can be cleaned up or replaced cheaply. The amount of time and money you spend to fix these problems really just depends on how nice you want your kit to be. A small amount of rust won’t affect your drum sound, but it might make turning the rods slightly more difficult. If you want to check, give each tuning rod a quick turn with a drum key to see how smoothly they turn. On old or cheap used drums, some of the rods might stick a little. If they all feel really tight and don’t turn consistently, they might need some lubrication, or replacing. Luckily, this is a small problem and won’t cost much to fix.
Used drums buying guide: Drumhead condition
Bad Drumheads: Is this a deal-breaker?
Changing drumheads is usually the quickest way to breathe new life into used drums… You’ll replace your drumheads a lot across the life of your kit.
Used drums: Why This isn’t a deal-breaker
If you’re buying a set of used drums, you should simply assume that you’ll need to change the drumheads. If you don’t, then it’s a nice bonus.
Very old or damaged drumheads won’t tune well, and they’ll probably sound terrible. For a cheap practice kit, this might be acceptable. Otherwise, get some new heads and instantly improve the sound of those used drums.
The drumheads will probably be the first thing you notice on used drum sets. Expect to replace the heads if they’ve got dents, a lot of chipped coating, excessive stick marks, if they’re covered in tape, or have any other obvious damage.
Check the resonant (bottom) drumheads on the used drums too… these should hopefully be in new or almost-new condition (no stick marks, dents, tape residue, or other issues). If there’s any damage, you’ll want to replace them. The resonant heads need to stay in top shape to vibrate properly.
The type of drumheads, how well they’re tuned, and their general condition will all have a huge influence on the sound any drum kit. Luckily, we’ve got you covered for all of these thing:
- Check out the drum tuning basics and drum tuning tips.
- Use the free drumhead selector, to find the best drumheads for your sound.
- See the other in-depth drum articles, and get the most from your kit.
Used drums buying guide: The sound of the drum kit
Is this a deal-breaker?
That’s right… The sound of those used drums is not important when you’re checking them out. This seems counter-intuitive, because you want to buy used drums that sound good, right?
Sure, jump on the kit and have a play if you like, but it’s definitely not a deal breaker if it sounds bad.
Used drums: Why This isn’t a deal-breaker
All of the things mentioned in the Important Stuff section above will affect the sound and tuneability of used drum sets. If you’ve checked these and don’t find any problems, then the bad sound is very likely due to the tuning and drumheads. These are easily fixed!
A lot of drummers (myself included) will barely play used drums before buying them. It’s just too time consuming to re-tune all the drums if they sound bad, so don’t worry about the sound if the drums seem to be in good condition. When you get them home, you can take your time to make those used drums sound great.
Used drums buying guide: Wrap & finish problems, dirty drums
Ugly Drums: Is this a deal-breaker?
Not at all, unless you want really nice looking drums. Sound-wise, it won’t affect things.
USED DRUMS: Why This isn’t a deal-breaker
Cosmetic problems can often be fixed. Even if they can’t, they usually won’t affect the sound of the kit.
Especially on older used drums, the wrap can start to peel off. You can easily glue it back on (I use a hot glue gun), or just leave it. As long the wrap is not vibrating heavily when you hit the drum, it’s simply a cosmetic issue. It won’t affect the sound of the used drums.
Well-used drum sets might also have scratches, chips, or small dents in the finish, especially if they’ve been constantly used for live shows. Again, this usually won’t have any impact on the sound of the used drum kit.
Red flags… Should I check this?
The only time I’d look further into a cosmetic issue is if it suggests bigger problems:
- Extremely uneven discoloration on the inside or outside of drums suggests they’ve been in a bad environment (especially long-term direct sunlight or water damage). Check the drums are round, and that the plies haven’t separated.
- Huge dents or chips could mean the drum has been dropped. If you notice this, then check the plies, bearing edges, hoops, and look for cracks in that drum.
- Huge parts of the wrap peeling off might suggest the used drums have been stored in a bad environment (e.g. extreme cold/heat/humidity, or water damage). Again, double check the drums for the important stuff listed above if you notice this.
Buying Used Drums: Tips and Advice
Used drums buying guide: Advice for beginners
As a beginner, it’s usually a good idea to get something cheaper to start with, then upgrade later. If you’re on the fence and wondering “should I learn drums”, a cheap set of used drums is a great place to start. You can dip your toe in the water without spending too much, and upgrade once you’re a little more experienced. Once you’ve been drumming for a while, you’ll also learn exactly what you like (and don’t like) in a drum kit, so you’ll have a much better understanding of the type of kit you want.
Also, don’t go huge when you’re just starting out. A small, decent quality used drum set is much better than a terrible quality huge kit. When you’re looking for used drums, the minimum is usually:
- Snare drum
- Bass drum
- 2-3 toms
- Ride or crash cymbal
- Hardware for all of the above (a pedal, stands, and seat)
You can either buy a full set of used drums with all of this, or piece together your own.
Used drums buying guide: Buying a whole kit vs. piece-by-piece
When you start shopping, you’ll find all sorts of used drums, cymbals, and hardware… both together and separate.
At the super-cheap/beginner end of the spectrum, you’re often better off simply buying everything at once. This is because you’ll probably upgrade later anyway. Use your time to learn the basics, and to slowly get a better idea of what kind of kit you’ll want in the future.
For midrange and high-end used drums, sometimes it’s better to buy different parts separately. You can save money, and get a more personalized drum kit this way. You can also slowly upgrade your current kit by doing this, and keep any good gear you already have.
If you’ve got some extra money to upgrade a low-end kit, think about upgrading your snare drum, bass drum pedal, and cymbals. Also, don’t neglect your drumheads – new heads can make an old set of used drums sound great!
Of course, keep an eye on full used drum kits that are for sale, because there might be the perfect full set drums just waiting for you. Even if there’s not, have a think about what you’d keep and what you don’t need when looking at advertisements for used drums.
Used drums buying guide: What will you keep, and what can you sell?
When you’re shopping for used drums, it can take time to find the exact setup you want. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to sell off anything you don’t need, so factor this into the price you’re paying for the kit.
If a set of used drums comes with some decent gear that you can sell, it might be worth paying a little extra for it. You can also trade gear if you find that a particular piece just isn’t for you. It can take a little extra time, but this can be a cost-effective way of slowly building your perfect drum kit.
Used drums buying guide: Hidden problems with the kit?
If you discover problems with a used drum set that weren’t mentioned in the advertisement, ask the seller to reduce the price. On the flip side, if you’re selling used drums and you know there are certain problems, make sure you mention them in the ad!
Used drums buying guide: What about the cymbals?
The most important thing is to check used cymbals for cracks… Check the cymbal’s mounting hole, bell, bow, and edge. See the used cymbal buying guide for all of the important info, and extra tips to ensure you avoid getting dud cymbals.
Buying Used Drums: It’s All Relative
Relative to your budget, that is. Hopefully you’ve now got a good idea of what to look out for when shopping for used drums.
If you’re on a really tight budget, it’s rare to find a great set of cheap used drums in perfect condition. Think about what you’re willing to compromise on, and how much extra work you want to put in to fix up any issues. With a little bit of effort, you can bring an old set of used drums back to life, and have them sound great!
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Want More Free Drumming Resources?
If you’ve just picked up a set of used drums, these articles can help you get it sounding as good as possible:
Everything you need to know about bass drum port holes: How they change your sound, where they should go, and whether you actually need one.
Speaking of bass drums, your bass drum beater will also have a big impact on your sound. Check out our overview of different beater types, including the best bass drum beaters in each category. While you’re at it, take a look at our reviews of the best bass drum pedals.
Looking for top drum accessories and gifts? Take a look at our roundup of great drum accessories and the best drum gifts for drummers.