Used drum set with new drumheads

Students often ask me if they should buy a new drum set. I’ll want to look at their current set first before giving a definitive answer. I’ll then suggest a few ways to make their drumset sound better. They are often pleased with the results – and the money saved vs. purchasing a brand new set. I will share similar advice in this article.

Key Takeaways

  • Assessing the condition of a used drum set is crucial before attempting to improve its sound.
  • Replacing drum heads, tuning the drums, and upgrading the snare wires can greatly enhance the sound of a used drum set.
  • Muffling techniques and cymbal replacement are other ways to change the overall sound of a used drum set.

Assessing the Drum Set Condition

Before making any changes to a used drum set, it is important to assess its condition. This will help identify any issues that need to be addressed before attempting to improve the sound quality.

The first step is to inspect the drum shells for any cracks, dents, or other damage. If the shells are damaged, it may be necessary to replace them or have them repaired by a professional. This is usually expensive, so you must consider the value of your current set before committing to repairs.

Check the hardware and make sure that everything is in good working order. This includes the lugs, tension rods, and hoops. If any of these parts are damaged or missing, they should be replaced.

The snare wires, bass drum beater, and cymbals should also be inspected. If any of these components are worn or damaged, they should be replaced as well.

It is also important to check the drumheads. Old, worn-out drumheads can affect the sound quality of a drum set, making it sound dull and dry. Replacing the drumheads should greatly improve the overall sound.

Replacing Drum Heads

Choosing the Right Drum Heads

Drumhead choice can make a big difference in the overall sound of your kit. There are a few things to consider when selecting new heads, including the type of music you play, the size of your drums, and your personal preferences.

First, consider the type of music you play. If you play rock or metal, you may want to go for thicker, more durable heads that can withstand heavy hitting. If you play jazz, you may opt for thinner, more resonant heads that allow for subtle, nuanced playing.

Consider your personal preferences. Do you want a bright, punchy sound, or a more mellow, warm sound? Do you prefer coated or clear heads? These are all factors to consider when choosing new drum heads. If you are not sure of the sound you want, drumhead manufacturers such as Evans have sound samples on their website. These samples allow you to hear the differences in the various types of drumheads.

Some drumheads have muffling (ring reducing) properties built into them. These can include internal dampening rings and air vents.

Installing New Drum Heads

Please remember that the drumhead diameter must be the same for your new heads. You can purchase the heads separately or buy a drumhead pre-pack.

Once you’ve chosen the right drum heads for your set, it’s time to install them. Here are the basic steps:

  1. Remove the old drum heads by loosening the tension rods with a drum key and lifting the head off the drum.
  2. Clean the bearing edge of the drum with a soft cloth to remove any dirt or debris.
  3. Place the new drum head on the drum. Place the rim on top of the head, lining up the holes in the rim with the lugs on the drum.
  4. Insert the tension rods through the holes in the drum head and finger-tighten them.
  5. Use a drum key to lightly tighten the tension rods in a star pattern. Repeat this process, gradually increasing the tension until the drum head is evenly tightened.

Tuning the Drums

Tuning Basics

Tuning the drums is an essential part of making them sound great. The first step is to make sure that the heads are in good condition and properly seated. Once this is done, the basic tuning can begin.

Start by tuning the snare drum. Tighten each lug a quarter turn at a time, working in a star pattern. Once the lugs are tightened evenly, tap the drumhead near each lug to check for any discrepancies in pitch. Adjust the lugs accordingly until the pitch is consistent across the drumhead.

Next, move on to the toms. Tune them to the desired pitch, making sure that each lug is tightened evenly. Use a drum key to make small adjustments to the tension of each lug until the pitch is consistent across the drumhead.

Finally, tune the bass drum. Start by tightening the lugs on the batter head, working in a star pattern. Once the lugs are tightened evenly, move on to the resonant head. Tune it to a slightly higher pitch than the batter head to create a clear, resonant sound.

Another method of tuning toms is shown in the following video. This method can also be applied to the bass drum.

Fine-Tuning Each Drum

After the basic tuning is complete, you are ready to fine-tune the drum. This involves making small adjustments to the tension of each lug to create the desired sound.

For the snare drum, adjust the tension of each lug to create a crisp, snappy sound. Make sure that the heads are not too loose, which will produce a “boomy” or “rattly” sound. Also, make sure that the heads are not too tight, resulting in a “choked” sound.

For the toms, adjust the tension to create a full, resonant tone. For the bass drum, adjust the tension to create a deep, powerful sound.

It’s important to take your time and listen carefully to each drum as you make these adjustments. Small changes can make a big difference in the overall sound of the drum.

In addition to tuning, some drummers will prefer to add a bit of muffling to reduce the overall ring of the drums. If you decide to use muffling, experiment with different types, such as damping gels or tape, to find the right balance of sustain and tone.

Upgrading the Snare

Selecting New Snare Wires

One way to upgrade the sound of a used drum set is to replace the snare wires. The snare wires play a crucial role in defining the snare drum’s sound. Choosing the right snare wires can help achieve a better snare sound that is crisp and articulate.

When selecting new snare wires, it is essential to consider the material, the number of strands, and the wire’s length. Snare wires come in various materials such as steel, bronze, and brass. Each material has its unique tone and characteristics. The number of strands also affects the drum’s sound.

Installing the Snare Wires

Installing new snare wires is a straightforward process that can be done in a few steps. First, remove the old snare wires by loosening the tension rods and lifting the snare wires off the snare drum. Then, place the new snare wires on the drum and line them up with the snare beds. Make sure that the wires are centered and evenly spaced.

Next, thread the snare wires through the strainer and tighten the tension rods. Tune the snare drum to the desired pitch and adjust the snare wires’ tension to achieve the desired snare sound. It is essential to experiment with different tensions to find the sweet spot that produces the best sound.

By selecting the right snare wires and installing them correctly, one can achieve a better snare sound that is crisp, articulate, and responsive.

Enhancing the Bass Drum

Choosing a Bass Drum Beater

The size, shape, and material of the bass drum beater greatly affect the sound of the bass drum. It is recommended to experiment with different beaters to find the one that best suits the sound you want to achieve. A felt beater produces a softer sound, while a plastic or wooden beater produces a sharper attack. A larger beater head often will produce a fuller sound, while a smaller beater head produces a sharper attack.

Adjusting the Beater and Pedal

Once you have chosen the right beater, it is important to adjust it properly. The beater should strike the bass drum head close to the center, and the angle of the beater (if adjustable) should be positioned to achieve the desired sound.

By choosing the right beater for your needs (and adjusting it properly), you should notice a great improvement in the drum’s sound.

Some pedals allow you to adjust the distance of the beater from the drumhead. Make sure that the beater (in resting position) is not positioned too close to the head. You want the beater to swing back fully on each stroke.

Muffling Techniques

Some drummers believe that the drums should never be muffled. Others prefer a dry sound, which is mainly attained though muffling. Muffling involves placing materials on the drumhead to control the sound. Drummers will often you tape or products such as MoonGel to reduce the ring of the drums. If you choose to muffle your drums, start with a small amount of muffling, adding extra only when needed.

The bass drum is often muffled in contemporary music. One common technique is to place a small pillow or blanket inside the bass drum to reduce the amount of resonance and sustain. You can also buy bass drum heads that have built-in muffling properties.

Cymbal Replacement

Replacing old cymbals with new ones can greatly improve the overall sound of a drum set. When selecting new cymbals, it is important to consider the type of music being played and the desired sound. For example, one drummer may prefer a thinner cymbal with a greater amount of sustain (ring). Another drummer may prefer a heavier cymbal with a lesser amount of sustain. A cymbal with little sustain is said to have a “dry” sound.

You may want to start by replacing the essential cymbals first (hi-hats, ride, and crash). You can then add other cymbals for a greater range of sound. These include splash cymbals and Chinese (China-type) cymbals. There are also other “effects cymbals” which have large holes in them, giving them a trashy (yet bright) sound.

When selecting new cymbals, it is also important to consider the material they are made of. Most cymbals are made of bronze, with varying amounts of copper and tin. B20 bronze is the most common for higher-end cymbals and is considered to be the best quality.

For more information on choosing cymbals, visit my article on this website.

Protecting Your Cymbals

It is extremely important to eliminate metal-on-metal contact. Make sure that the cymbal hole is not against the threaded metal part of the stand. Always make sure that there is a protective plastic or rubber sleeve on the cymbal.

All cymbals, including the hi-hats, should have some “play” in them – meaning that they should move freely. Do not tighten the wing nuts to the point that they restrict motion. Tightening them in this way will stress the cymbal, making it prone to cracking.

Drum Set Maintenance

Maintaining a drum set is crucial for ensuring that it sounds like new. Regular cleaning and hardware inspection and repair can help prolong the life of the drum set and prevent any issues from occurring.

Regular Cleaning

Cleaning the drum set regularly is important for maintaining its appearance and sound quality. Here are some tips for cleaning a drum set:

  • Use a soft cloth to wipe down the drum shells, cymbals, and hardware after each use.
  • Use a drum cleaner or mild soap and water to clean the drum shells and cymbals. Avoid using abrasive cleaners or scrubbers that can damage the finish.
  • You can use a cymbal cleaner to polish the cymbals and remove any dirt or grime. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use. Be aware that some cleaners will remove the protective coating and/or the writing on the cymbal. For this reason, you may want to substitute a slightly damp cloth in place of a cymbal cleaning product.

Hardware Inspection and Repair

Inspecting and repairing the hardware on a drum set is important for ensuring that it functions properly and sounds its best. Here are some tips for inspecting and repairing the hardware:

  • Check the snare wires and bass drum beater for any signs of wear or damage. Replace them if necessary.
  • Lubricate the moving parts of the hardware, such as the bass drum pedal and hi-hat stand, with a specialized lubricant to ensure smooth operation.
  • Tighten any loose hardware to prevent rattling or buzzing during play.

By following these maintenance tips, a used drum set can sound like new and even better. Regular cleaning and hardware inspection and repair can help prolong the life of the drum set and ensure that it sounds its best for years to come.

For more information on drumset maintenance, please see my article on this website.

Acoustic Optimization

Room Acoustics

To make a used drum set sound like new, it is important to consider the acoustics of the room in which it is being played. The sound of drums can be greatly influenced by the size and shape of the room, as well as the materials used for the walls, ceiling, and floor.

One way to optimize the acoustics of the room is to add sound-absorbing materials such as acoustic foam panels or curtains. These materials can help to reduce unwanted reflections and echoes, resulting in a clearer and more defined drum sound.

Another option is to use a device such as the Yamaha EAD10. This allows one to monitor the sound of the set through headphones while adding EQ and effects, resulting in a studio-like sound.


A used drum set does not necessarily need to be replaced. The sound can be greatly improved while spending only a small amount of money compared to the cost of a new set.

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