Like it or not, the drumming industry accounts for a very small percentage of the human population. In fact, stats show that musicians in general only account for a tiny part of internet traffic and of that very undersized piece of information highway, we drummers account for all but a sliver.
The upside is that the ratio of drummer to drumming related products is heavily in our favor. Choices abound for any groove-meister who is looking to buy! There are over 1,000 companies associated with drumming, cymbals, sticks, accessories and drum related products. Thusly, one of the most overwhelming choices a drummer will face is the decision when buying the “dream kit”.
Finishes, hardware, bearing edges and plies are all things you become concerned with as an experienced player, so it makes sense that the buying process will be more involved than that of an amateur drummer. Having endless choices can be a good thing, but it can hamper one’s ability to come to a final decision. Here are a few ideas to keep your head from spinning when you are ready to make the plunge into the world of high end drums.
The benefits of a custom build:
- Have it your way. Everything is done to your specifications.
- Uniqueness. Generally custom kits stand out from a crowd.
- Quality. Custom builds can be among the highest quality.
- Elite. As a custom owner, you are among a very few—perhaps 1% of the 1%!
And the downside:
- Price and resale. Rightfully, you paid big bucks for your beauty, but not everyone considers your specs to be theirs. You may lose quite a bit of money if you ever decide to get rid of the kit.
- Retail support. Your custom company may not have widespread distribution, or in the case of the big brand name custom builds, their parts are incredibly expensive and hard to get. Keep in mind most retailers carry what is popular and sells through, not always what is incredibly cool or unique.
- Obsolete. Some smaller custom outfits go out of business which can leave you with a kit that is in need of parts but no company to provide that service.
The term boutique is a more appropriate term for companies like Q Drums or DS Drums. These builders have an operation that pumps out product, yet not at the rate that large companies can. For the most part, these companies are highly sought after because of the builder. Dunnett is a classic example of a brand that is in high demand, has good distribution but is not made in mass quantities.
The benefits of boutique.
- Price. Sometimes you can land really nice drums at a great deal if the drum maker is offloading some old stock.
- Support. Generally, these builders would have decent distribution relationships with retailers and parts would be easier to come by.
- Quality. Once again these builders are sought after for their quality not quantity. The resale on this type of drum is probably very high and could become an investment as it ages.
- Additional drums. If you love the kit so much that you want to add to the set, it may be pricy. The manufacturer probably built your kit and that’s it. Any additional drums would be considered a custom job and quite expensive.
- Cymbal stands, pedals, etc. If you are a little on the particular side and like your stands to be the same brand as your shells, some boutique drum companies do not sell hardware.
Brands like Sonor, DW, Mapex and Pearl all have different levels of drum sets to pick from. The good-better-best model applies to all major brands. The big brands pay top advertising dollars so that you are more aware of them than anyone. Rightfully so, these companies spend millions of dollars in wages and production costs and need to recoup that in order to see any profits.
The bright side:
- Cost. Any brand name out there provides a kit for every budget and situation.
- After-sales support. Retailers make a large amount of money from after-sales accessories and parts. For the most part, big brands ensure that retailers are fully stocked.
- Reputation. There is a reason Starbucks makes good coffee; they have been doing it for 40 years. The same applies to drum companies. Companies like Sonor and Ludwig have been in business for over 100 years.
On the down low:
- Time. Larger companies often have thousands of orders and not enough stock in the retail chain. In this case more drums must be built. Sometimes the dreaded “back order” on specific models of kit can be as long as a year’s wait.
- Obsolete. Some companies can shutdown production on certain models if they don’t do well in the market place. In some cases, it may be very pricey (if not impossible) to get parts or additional drums if your specific model has become obsolete.
- Originality. As beautiful as the finishes can be on modern kits, you can rest assured there are many who have the same kit as you.
It is always a good idea to write down what is important to you before you visit your retailer, custom builder or boutique shop. Make sure you have all the facts and that they match up with your desires in a drum set. If anyone is too quick to get you into a kit and out the door, go deal somewhere else.
Sean Mitchell is a drummer/artist, songwriter and the creator of Drum Geek.