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James Sharp

The Right Kit

8:00, 11th July 2017

Buying a drum kit is a big but often necessary investment for a music department, and it’s important to get the right balance between quality and price. Drum teacher James Sharp recently crowdfunded for a new school drum kit. Here he picks out some top buys

I recently organised a crowdfunding campaign to buy a new teaching kit for Park School in Dartington. My students at the school range from 6 to 11 years old, and therefore vary greatly in height. I’ve found that younger students struggle to play the standard-sized kit, with 22” bass and standard-sized toms. Many children struggle to see over the top of these kits, let alone hope to play with any degree of confidence. Smaller bass drums, with shallow tom depths, are now readily available, and are much more suitable for schools, catering for students of varying ages and sizes.

I wanted the kit to be as close to the standard in my teaching studio as possible, budget permitting. I’m a firm believer that school kits should be of a standard that inspires the student to play – rather than just being the cheapest option. The choices laid out here, therefore, fall into the ‘beginner-intermediate’ bracket as opposed to ‘budget’ kits. All are five-piece configurations, with bass, snare and three toms, as most contemporary workbooks and grades require.

Although all the kits I have included here are acoustic, some schools might prefer an electric kit, for which I would suggest looking at both Yamaha and Roland.

Having looked at the offerings from the major manufacturers, I have narrowed the options down to a shortlist of three acoustic kits and three cymbal packs. Should you need to complement your kit with extra hardware items, a company that specialises in top-quality hardware is Gibraltar, which is worth checking out.

I hope this goes some way to helping you decide on your next kit for your school or teaching studio.

Drums

Drums

Pic 1First up is the Mapex Storm. Mapex offers this kit in a Fast Fusion configuration, meaning 20” bass, 10”, 12” and 14” shallow-depth toms and matching 14” x 5” snare. The floor tom depth is a sensible 12”, complementing the rack toms perfectly. Four different wrap finishes are available, with two of them offering black shell hardware. The build quality is very good, with the Soniclear’s bearing edges being immaculate. I would recommend upgrading the heads to really get the most out of these drums. A hardware pack comprising hi-hat stand, snare stand and two cymbal stands is included in the set. Recommended retail price is £659.00.

Also consider: Pearl Export EXX

Natal Arcadia UFXThe Natal Arcadia UFX Plus is my next choice, as the only kit I have included that has a 22” bass. What appeals here are the tom sizes, coming in at 10” x 6.5” and 12” x 7” with a 14” x 12” floor tom. Even with that 22” bass, the toms can be set low enough to suit most students. The kit is visually very attractive, with the embossed Natal sun logo on each low-mass lug. Once again, the drums would really benefit from better-quality heads. A hardware pack is included, and four finishes are available. The recommended retail price is a very reasonable £499.00. If this kit were available with either a 20” or 18” bass, it would be a genuinely world-beating school kit.

Also consider: Yamaha Rydeen

Yamaha Manu Katche Junior kitFinally, the Yamaha Manu Katche Junior kit. This set comprises a 16” bass (with adjustable lifter), 10”, 12” and 13” shallow toms, with a 12” matching snare. Of all the kits here, this one offers the most flexibility in terms of height and flexibility of positioning. This kit really can be played comfortably by players of all ages. Three wrap finishes are available, and a hardware pack can be added upon request. Build quality is excellent throughout, and the drums sound very impressive, even with the stock factory-fitted heads. Recommended retail price is £695.00.

Also consider: Tama Silverstar

Cymbals

Cymbals

As with the drum recommendations, I have tried to steer away from ‘budget’ cymbals, preferring to opt for something that will inspire and be enjoyable to play. Although the selections are sold as packs, all can be purchased individually – and added to.

Istanbul Mehmet TraditionalFirstly, the Istanbul Mehmet Traditional set. This pack offers a pair of 14” hi-hats, a 16” crash and 20” ride cymbal, with cymbal bag included. The cymbals are hand-hammered, and are made from top-quality B20 bronze (80% copper to 20% tin). The main appeal with these cymbals is their wide range of applications: I cannot think of many playing situations in which these cymbals wouldn’t fit, perfect for teaching different styles. Recommended retail price is £732.00.

Also consider: Zildjian K series

Paiste PST7 SessionThe next set comes from cymbal giants Paiste, and it’s their PST7 Session pack. Once again, this set comprises the essentials, 14” Light hi-hats, 16” Light crash and a 20” Light ride. The PST7 range is made from B8, also known as 2002 bronze (92% copper to 8% tin). Paiste have a knack of making B8 cymbals sound far more impressive then you might consider. The sound is subtly brighter than the Mehmets, but not anywhere near as harsh as brass. These cymbals work well across most genres of music, but especially for pop and rock. Recommended retail price is £407.99.

Also consider: Meinl Classics Custom

Zildjian A seriesFinally, we have a modern classic: the Zildjian A series. The A series is the most recorded range of cymbals in popular music, and have graced countless classic records in pop, rock, jazz, blues, punk and more. This set goes one step further than the above selections and offers 14” New Beat hi-hats, 21” Sweet Ride, a 16” Medium Thin Crash and a bonus 18” Medium Thin Crash. Although these cymbals can be correctly described as pro-quality, the pack represents superb value for money. The recommended retail price is £695.00.

Also consider: Sabian AA

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