What makes a drum set cheap?

jabster

Junior Member
Hi.

So I have a cheap drum set (Thor, bought in the last 80's) which has been in storage for about 20 years, and I am now trying to get it set up again, make it sound better, etc.

To make it sound decent, I know to buy new heads (will buy some Evans or Remo coated heads soon), tune it, put a pillow in the base drum, tape on the batter head, etc., I've done most of that.

In addition to that, I've also cut the toms shorter by 4 inches (for more flexibility in positioning), sanded the ends flat (they were quite bad), and recut the bearing edges.

But what really makes a cheap drum set so crappy sounding?

Besides crappy bearing edges, what else?

Is it the wood type? Number of plys?

I'm talking about low to mid end here. Obviously at a certain price point you get better woods, better selection of laminate sheets, etc. But in the low to mid range, since they aren't great to begin with, why not just go as cheap as possible and replace the heads, etc.

Also, I'm just asking about the drums themselves, not cymbals, hardware, etc.

I guess I'm also wondering if there is anything I can do to improve the sound beyond the standard "get better heads."

Thanks,
John
 

Humdrummer_

Junior Member
Well it depends how many tools you have access too as to what you can do, I've heard people removing plys and making the shells thinner but I'm not the person to ask. Cheap kits use poplar or basswood and beyond buying new shells there's nothing you can do about that as far as I know. New heads are a great option as you said. As is proper tuning. That's all I can think of really. Hope it helped, good luck :)
 

jabster

Junior Member
Well it depends how many tools you have access too as to what you can do, I've heard people removing plys and making the shells thinner but I'm not the person to ask. Cheap kits use poplar or basswood and beyond buying new shells there's nothing you can do about that as far as I know. New heads are a great option as you said. As is proper tuning. That's all I can think of really. Hope it helped, good luck :)
So basically, it boils down to the wood then.

I'm not going to remove plys tho. That sounds way to dangerous. And expensive after I break them.

Thanks,
John
 

Humdrummer_

Junior Member
So basically, it boils down to the wood then.

I'm not going to remove plys tho. That sounds way to dangerous. And expensive after I break them.

Thanks,
John
Yeah I wouldn't go anywhere near that either, most of the sound is from the heads as I'm sure you know. So yeah basically more expensive kits use different woods (birch for example) and have more lugs, 8 or 10 rather than 6 on cheaper kits. But add new heads and it will sound much better! And it's not the about the kit is about how you play it, don't worry too much. :)
 

KamaK

Platinum Member
Is it one of these?



It will probably play/perform just like any other 9-ply poplar set. Generally,with good heads and decent bearing edges, they will sound quite usable. Nothing phenomenal, but usable.

Most of the complaints regarding kits like that tend to be about bent hoops, stripped wing nuts on the L-Bars, broken BD spurs, etc. The snares tend to be lackluster as well.
 

pgm554

Platinum Member
Hi.

So I have a cheap drum set (Thor, bought in the last 80's) which has been in storage for about 20 years, and I am now trying to get it set up again, make it sound better, etc.

To make it sound decent, I know to buy new heads (will buy some Evans or Remo coated heads soon), tune it, put a pillow in the base drum, tape on the batter head, etc., I've done most of that.

In addition to that, I've also cut the toms shorter by 4 inches (for more flexibility in positioning), sanded the ends flat (they were quite bad), and recut the bearing edges.

But what really makes a cheap drum set so crappy sounding?

Besides crappy bearing edges, what else?

Is it the wood type? Number of plys?

I'm talking about low to mid end here. Obviously at a certain price point you get better woods, better selection of laminate sheets, etc. But in the low to mid range, since they aren't great to begin with, why not just go as cheap as possible and replace the heads, etc.

Also, I'm just asking about the drums themselves, not cymbals, hardware, etc.

I guess I'm also wondering if there is anything I can do to improve the sound beyond the standard "get better heads."

Thanks,
John
Lot's of things ,cheap fittings (breaking ,rusting),bad glue jobs (ply and cover separation),warped hoops ,drums out of round or warping,drums not sonically matching
 

jabster

Junior Member
KamaK, yes!

That is it exactly!

Well, "was" at this point since I cut it down and repainted it.

And the crash and hi-hat sucked, but I do rather like the Camber ride that came with it. (I bought it used.)

And at the moment I'm not playing it too well either. :-/ 20 years is a long break. I know what I want to do but my arms won't listen to me!

-john
 

WallyY

Platinum Member
Drums need three things to sound good:

1) They need to be round.
2) They need to be solidly built without gaps, uneven wood or glue.
3) A true-cut bearing edge.

To work good, and not break often, they need quality components in addition to the above.
 

GruntersDad

Administrator - Mayor
Staff member
First new heads to improve the sound. Then learn to tune. Tape , bass drum pillows, etc are not necessary. Check the General Info section on the first page and go to the Drum Tuning Bible section.

As for cheap, the type and quality of the lumber. The quality of the lugs, cast, forged or machined. The quality of the hoops and whether or not they are still round and not warped. The wrap on the drums. Plastic, PVC, or wood veneer. Many things.
 

MoreBeer

Silver Member
My first full kit were Stewart Drums, made in Japan. It was a division of Pearl and basically the forerunner of the Pearl Exports I believe. My dad bought them used for $100 back in the late 60's. Entire kit, hardware, throne, stands and cheap Stewart branded cymbals and hats.

Obviously, they sounded great to me at the time. Although even after buying my first pro kit when I was 14 or so, a Slingerland Buddy Rich setup, the Stewart's still didn't sound that bad as I had them tweaked a bit along with good heads for that period in time and had updated to Zildjian cymbals and hats.

I kept them for many years....just couldn't part with it and that's while owning a new Ludwig Octoplus kit and original Ludwig clear Vistalites as the years progressed.

Eventually gave them away although sorry I did. Therefore, cheap drums can most likely be manipulated to sound "okay". Although as I recall, the build quality of the Stewart's wasn't a complete disaster.
 

JustJames

Platinum Member
My take on the "put good heads on" flies contrary to what most will tell you.

By the time you've replaced all the batter and reso heads, you're a fair portion of the way down the road to a decent used entry/mid level kit...think used Pearl Export or whichever equivalent tickles your ticklish bits.

Play the crappy kit exactly as it is until you decide it's time for an upgrade and then sell it. You won't get any more money for it because it's got decent heads, so there's another argument against the good heads approach.

Remember boys and girls: You can't polish a turd, but you can roll it around in glitter.
 

BruceW

Senior Member
My take on the "put good heads on" flies contrary to what most will tell you.

By the time you've replaced all the batter and reso heads, you're a fair portion of the way down the road to a decent used entry/mid level kit...think used Pearl Export or whichever equivalent tickles your ticklish bits.

Play the crappy kit exactly as it is until you decide it's time for an upgrade and then sell it. You won't get any more money for it because it's got decent heads, so there's another argument against the good heads approach.

Remember boys and girls: You can't polish a turd, but you can roll it around in glitter.
There's a lot of truth in this. A decent compromise is new batter heads, at least to see if you can get somewhere with it. Prices for tom kit heads are in the $30 range, which isn't a heckuva lot and can make a big difference. Hopefully enough to see if you really want to invest more in the cheap kit or not, and you can always put the old heads back on, keeping the new ones for that next kit.
 

SmoothOperator

Gold Member
I thought fine threads on the tuning lugs are a nice step up. It's really difficult to get a decent tuning with course threads, and they don't stay in tune as well. Depending on what your climate is like wood can make a big difference.
 

RockNGrohl

Senior Member
My first kit in the mid nineties was a cheapie beginner setup, bought from Strings N' Things in Memphis, Tenn. It was an Xmas gift from my parents. The best thing I did was upgrade the heads and slowly learn how to tune. That made the most difference. Then the cymbals, one by one as I could afford them.

My advice would be to find a pack of all the batter heads together. Attack makes makes a great one with a coated snare head, and three clear tom heads. I used that on my Mapex kit. Then teach yourself to tune them by ear. You can get one of the Rhythm Tech Torque keys to make it easy but in the long run just learning to tune by ear will make a big difference. There are tons of Youtube videos out there. This one by Jared Faulk from Drumeo and Cobus is good: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udooOap4m2c
The basic idea is to tap by each lug and hear the pitch. Then tune the others to match it. The drumhead will be in tune with itself and you can tune it up tighter (higher pitch) or loser (lower and deeper pitch) to find "your" sound from there.
 

PorkPieGuy

Platinum Member
The wood used for the shells.
The craftsmanship (or lack thereof).
The location of the "build" itself
The hardware (lugs, rims, etc.)
The stock heads (these are usually pretty bad...even on some pretty good drums).
The lack of fit and finish (too much glue, gaps, bad wrap jobs, bad paint jobs, gaps, etc.).
 

WallyY

Platinum Member
Some cheap drums can be made to sound good enough for people who good enough is quite fine, but some other cheap drums won't sound okay at all.
Some are just plain terrible perpetrations on the stupid that can't be fixed in any way.
 
M

Matt Bo Eder

Guest
Hi.

So I have a cheap drum set (Thor, bought in the last 80's) which has been in storage for about 20 years, and I am now trying to get it set up again, make it sound better, etc.

To make it sound decent, I know to buy new heads (will buy some Evans or Remo coated heads soon), tune it, put a pillow in the base drum, tape on the batter head, etc., I've done most of that.

In addition to that, I've also cut the toms shorter by 4 inches (for more flexibility in positioning), sanded the ends flat (they were quite bad), and recut the bearing edges.

But what really makes a cheap drum set so crappy sounding?

Besides crappy bearing edges, what else?

Is it the wood type? Number of plys?

I'm talking about low to mid end here. Obviously at a certain price point you get better woods, better selection of laminate sheets, etc. But in the low to mid range, since they aren't great to begin with, why not just go as cheap as possible and replace the heads, etc.

Also, I'm just asking about the drums themselves, not cymbals, hardware, etc.

I guess I'm also wondering if there is anything I can do to improve the sound beyond the standard "get better heads."

Thanks,
John
In this instance, how much did you invest in these drums? If it was quite low (before buying new heads for it) then you can decide if it's even worth it to upgrade the heads when you're certainly no longer losing money on the kit. If, 20 years later, you can swing buying yourself a newer kit, you might as well treat yourself. If you feel like you won't make the commitment to playing, then definitely don't buy new drums. But there is something to be said of figuring out if you want to invest in an entirely new kit, or spend money on getting your current kit up to speed.

And actually, I don't subscribe to the "you're almost at the price of a newer kit" idea if you invest in new heads. You don't really get good heads on a kit until you're in the pro level, like $3000 and up. Up until that price point, you still see sub-standard heads being used, so even if you spent $1700 on a kit, you might get slightly better heads, but it's not like you can get what you want. So that must be considered as well.
 

fac

Senior Member
I say buy new batter heads and try to make it sound the best you can. You might spend between $50-$100, but buying a new decent kit will set you back no less than a grand, and you might still need to buy the heads.
 
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