What to Look For in Buying Used Drums

© Jammin Sam. All Rights Reserved.

For about seven years (1982-89) I made a living on buying and selling used drums (before the Internet offered cut-rate drum sets), in Arizona. I was also selling drum wrap at that time, but that had not yet “gotten off the ground.” I bought and sold just about every set out there (at the time) and acquired valuable information (at least to me) as far as what to look for, and what to pass up. The purpose of this article is to help you realistically evaluate a set of used drums to see if the end result may be worth the purchase. Here are several areas to consider when evaluating a used set of drums:

Example photograph of an old beater drum

This “before” picture submitted by Dave

  1. shell condition – roundness, strength, sound edge condition, wear/abuse, extra holes, etc.
  2. hardware condition – clean-ability, pitting, etc.
  3. wrap/finish condition – clean-ability, is re-wrapping needed, etc.
  4. changes from original condition – have extra holes been made, non-factory hardware added, unprofessional looking or poor quality replacements, etc.
  5. labor needed – how much actual time may be needed to re-furbish/repair set
  6. missing parts – availability of those parts, cost of missing/worn parts, etc.
  7. what is the set actually worth – (realistically) in present condition, and in re-furbished condition.
  8. three things not to focus on – see below…


Shell Condition

For most of the drum sets I have seen and bought, the shells were in reasonable, to good condition (when the heads were always kept in place). The heads and rims do a good job of protecting the shells. However, sometimes the shells are in poor condition. If the drum heads go on and off quite easily, then the drums are “in round” and the shell versus drum head tolerance is good. If heads are tight, either the shell is slightly out of round, or the shell versus drum head tolerance is too far off- avoid those drums/sets. Some manufacturers (especially 60’s – 70’s, and some in the 80’s), allowed some of their out of tolerance drums to be sold anyway (shells were made too large for the corresponding drum head). Again, avoid these whenever possible. If edges are bad (usually when heads and rims were left off for a time period), they may need to be re-cut- consider that cost as well. Sometimes extra holes are found in some of the shells; this is a condition issue and decreases the value of the set. Even though these holes can be filled, consider this condition when purchasing these.

Nicer wood is more desirable than cheaper wood, is easier to resell and usually brings more money. But what is not widely known: there is no sound difference between the two. The volume of the air chamber together with the head (tuned & dampened) account for more than 95% of the sound. Realistically consider, how much having better wood is worth to you, and/or to the set’s resale value.

Hardware Condition

Most hardware can be cleaned to an acceptable appearance. Rust can be removed with steel wool; discoloration can be removed with metal or chrome cleaners. Most people are amazed how chrome can be brought back to a condition that looks new, with off-the-shelf products (such as “Brasso”).

Pitting (little holes in the metal) is the exception, no-one can clean away pitting. The only procedure that repairs this problem is re-chroming, and that’s usually expensive- so avoid drums with pitted hardware if possible.

Wrap Finish/Condition

This is the one area that is not so important. Most of the drums I’ve bought, needed to be re-wrapped (even with some I thought didn’t need re-wrapping). I later decided to re-wrap them, so keep this thought in mind. When you get the drums home, you will find more problems with the finish (and possible hardware) than when you inspected them for the first time. This is important to remember when buying used sets- there is always something you’ll miss at the time of purchase.

There is too much to inspect (hardware, wrap, shells, etc.) and too little time; the owner is not going to let you dismantle all the drums, for you to make your decision. So again, remember, you will probably find a problem(s) with the set after you get it home- count that in the mix.

Changes From Original Condition

Are there any extra holes? Any non-factory hardware added? An unprofessional looking or poor quality finish? These all negatively effect the value of the set. However, these conditions can turn to your favor, if the set can be obtained cheap enough.

Labor Needed

How much time will you need to invest to restore the set (if needed), especially if it needs to be re-wrapped. Many people look at this aspect, more as recreation/enjoyment than labor. But it is actually labor, consider that when offering a price.

Missing Parts (if any)

How many parts is the set missing? Are replacements available? How much will they cost? Even small parts can be expensive to replace. Many cannot be found (or very expensive), so consider this as well.

Initial Price Compared to Finished Cost

Even if a set of old “Ludwigs” can be made to look like new, is it going to be worth it? Is it going to be worth the time and money, for you to make them look that way? One needs to realistically evaluate their present worth, and what the set may be worth refurbished. Estimate the actual cost to you- add it up. If it is going to cost the same as a already finished set, it may not be worth it (some have paid more). However, if the finial cost is several hundreds dollars below the going rate, then it may be very well worth it.

Three Things Not to Focus On

In my opinion, there are three things that you should not to get too adamant about: the present sound of the set, the present wrap/finish condition, and the present overall appearance:

  1. Sound of the set.
    I know you’re thinking, “That is the most important!” Well, I hate to say it, but you’re incorrect. Of all the sets I have bought (as much as I can remember), I never played any of them, before I bought them. And of all those sets (and many of them were low-end sets) they all sounded great after I refurbished and tuned them. And this is known industry-wide in the drum business. This is hard for some to believe, because of the hype they have bought into from all the drum advertisements, but it is true. I have heard drums made out of compressed cardboard, sound better than the most expensive sets tuned by their owners. If you cannot tune your drums to sound good, find someone who can, and have them teach you. The only situation that might make a sound difference, is poorly cut bearing edges. But most of the time, that would probably be more of a tuning issue than a sound one. (See “Shell Condition/Note” info above.)
  2. Wrap condition.
    Most of the time, the set will not be a color you prefer, and as already stated, most of the sets I have bought over the years, either needed to be re-wrapped, or I decided to re-wrap them soon afterwards. However, re-wrapping may be expensive and time consuming- you should consider that aspect as part of the cost of the purchase.
  3. Over all appearance
    For the most part, after inspecting the drums (wrap, hardware, shells, etc.), the dirtier the overall appearance, the more I get excited- I should be able to get the drums cheap. Why? People don’t give much for dirty drums. And I know how they can look all cleaned up. If two drum sets in a music store are for sale, sitting side-by-side, same basic sets, one is dirty, and one is clean, usually the dirty one will not bring as much as the clean one. If you are willing to spend some time cleaning (all other factors the same), you will save some significant money. If the hardware and shells are good, the set can be made to look like new. To me, this is the satisfying pleasure of buying used drums. Usually, the nicer the appearance, the more the owner wants for them. However, there is something to be said, for buying drums in mint condition, and sometimes this is the smartest move (all the parts are there, and no work is needed). Whatever the case, correctly size-up the set in question, figuring in all the costs and time, before you make your offer.
I hope this article helps you in your valuation of used drums. I wish you well in your search and purchase of used drums. If you have any questions, or would like to add to the information here, just give us a call.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.  We welcome your interest in all our products and hope that you will call us for a free catalog and samples of our drum material.  Thank you for spending the time to read this article.

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