Selecting an electronic drum kit

Overview

This is part 3 of the Using an electronic drum kit with Rock Band FAQ.

OK, so you're convinced you'll benefit in some way from getting an electronic drum set for Rock Band.  You'll possibly bypass several months to a year's worth of lessons on real drums.  You'll never miss a hit in the game because the hardware wasn't up to the challenge.  Or maybe you just need a hobby to work on for a few weekends.  You're ready to take the big plunge.

The short answer is that most of you will want to buy a used TD-3SW or TD-6SW kit off Craigslist for around 600-1000 dollars.  For the long answer and some context, read on.

Manufacturers

There are several companies that make drum kits.  The most common and popular models seem to be the Yamaha DTXplorer line or any of the kits by Roland.  The Alesis DM5, Simmons SD7K, and the ultra cheap Ion audio kits are also options that we've seen in use.

Personally, I decided to stick to Roland because they're a very familiar name to me, and they have a very wide range of options available.  Roland also just happens to be one of the premiere names in electronic drums, so you're definitely not getting steered in the wrong direction by going with them.  There's also an excellent online community for Roland V-Drums at http://www.vdrums.com/.

So for the purposes of this guide, we're going to go with Roland.

Used or new

Used.  Definitely used.  You'll save at least a few hundred dollars and these electronic kits don't blow up over time like a car, so you're not losing anything.  In most cases you'll find that someone bought the kit, didn't play it as much as they would have liked, and are unloading it to cut their losses.  Standard new music instrument-itis syndrome.

Also, if you decide to sell the kit later, it will lose little to none of its value.

If you're dead set on buying new, you can go to a Guitar Center.

Where to buy

Craigslist is probably your best bet for getting a used kit.  Just search in your area for "roland" and you'll turn up some options.  You'll be able to pick up the kit locally to avoid shipping costs, and you won't end up in the middle of a bidding war like you might see on eBay.  The only downside is that you will need to be a bit patient if the kit you want isn't up for sale at the present time.  But if you live in a decently sized area, you shouldn't have to wait too long.

eBay is a good option if you don't turn up any local deals for a while and want to get the ball rolling.

Building your own kit from scratch

If you're getting a kit mostly for the purposes of playing Rock Band, and you're not so interested in playing the kit standalone, then an attractive option may be to build your own kit.

Let's talk about why.  Most drum kits are tiered by the quality of the different parts in the kit,  but, as you go higher end, the drum brain becomes a very large portion of the total cost.  Because the quality of the drum brain has basically no bearing on playing Rock Band, building your own kit allows you to devote more of your limited budget to things like nice mesh heads and stands, which can really enhance the physical aspects of your drumming experience.

Remember, a low-end drum brain like the TD-3 sounds just fine and has a good selection of instruments.  What it lacks compared to a TD-20 brain is expansion, extra controls for real-time adjustment, more inputs and outputs, more sounds, programmability via PC, the ability to actually adjust the mathematical model of each instrument, etc.  These are all features where you really need to be at a level above casual to appreciate the difference.

Also, there's no law that says you can't upgrade to a really nice drum brain if you happen to get musically inclined enough to appreciate the features a high end drum brain might have to offer.

The downside to putting together all the parts for your own kit, of course, is that the whole process may be more trouble than you're willing to go through.

The kits

HD-1 – Product details

This is the lowest end kit in the Roland V-Drum line.

The drum brain cannot remap MIDI notes, which is quite limiting for Rock Band.

The kick pedal isn't an actual vertically placed drum where you need a real kick pedal to beat the drum…it's just a pedal with a sensor.  I suppose this saves some money, but it's completely inauthentic…and I have to assume anyone undertaking this project is doing it to realize some level of authenticity.  So this is a minus.

The HD-1 kit itself is extremely compact and pretty quiet for a drum kit, so if you're in seriously confined quarters, it might be your only option.

To sum up, though, I don't recommend buying this kit.  You get way more flexibility and quality by going up one rung in the ladder.

TD-3SW (or the older TD-3Kit) – Product Details

I bought a used TD-3Kit, and it works just fine.

If you buy used, be aware that older kits (TD-3Kit) had all rubber pads and did not have the hi hat.  The new TD-3SW kits generally have a mesh pad for the snare and a specially designed hi hat pad.

The one thing I will say is that the TD-3 drum stand is a little cramped for me, but quite usable.  I stand 5' 8" and have a slim frame.  I could easily imagine that someone taller might need a bigger drum stand to match.

1000 dollars, new.

TD-6SW – Product Details

No advantage over the TD-3 in terms of pads…a standard mesh snare and rubber everywhere else.  The main upgrades are the drum brain and a bigger stand than the TD-3SW, which is nice.

1500 dollars, new.

TD-6SXT – Product Details

Same as the TD-6SW, but with mesh pads.

2000 dollars, new.

TD-9SProduct Details or TD-9SXProduct Details

Slightly better hi-hat and cymbals, and a better drum stand.  The TD-9SX is the mesh head variant of the TD-9S.  The drum brain is better than the TD-6 series, obviously, but this has no impact on Rock Band.  Just released in the US.

TD-12S – Product Details

Hi hat on its own stand.  One mesh drum for the snare and 3 mesh pads for the toms.  2 cymbals and a mesh kick pad.

3000-3200.

TD-20S – Product Details

If you have way too much money and a good amount of room somewhere near your TV, go ahead and get a Roland TD-20 kit.  This is the top of the line and you *cannot* do any bet
ter.  One look at this thing, and you can feel the rock and roll emanating from it.

The hi hat is on its own stand, and you have 5 large mesh drums along with 3 cymbals and a kick.  No fooling around here….this is the real deal.

5500 new.

Who you are

If you're on a super tight budget, you might be able to save some money by going with a really cheap ION audio kit.  I think this is a pretty poor middle ground, however, and I've never investigated this option seriously

If you're like me and want to get into this in an affordable fashion without buying total crap, then look for a Roland TD-3 or TD-6 kit used off of Craigslist.  This should run you anywhere from 600 to 1000 dollars.  The nice thing is that it will be very simple to upgrade parts on the kit in a piecemeal fashion as you become more experienced.

If you're made of money and just want a really good setup with a minimum of fuss, then make sure to buy one of the kits with all mesh heads.  Consider the TD-20S if you want to awe house guests.

Conclusion

Hopefully all of the above has given you a much better feel for what kind of drum kit will be best for you and your Rock Band drumming experience.  Happy hunting!

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