Differences Between Acoustic and Electric Drum Kits

Acoustic Or Electric Drum Kit! Which should you get?
I will tell you a short story about my sons musical journey who is now 14 and a very keen drummer and this will hopefully help you decide which way to go…..

My son at age 11 decided he wanted to be a “professional drummer in a band”, having been through piano, guitar and ukulele for a few months each, deciding they weren’t for him, as children do….swapping and changing!  After the “I won’t ask for anything else ever” line, I had to decide what to get him. Was it going to be an electric drum kit, or an acoustic drum kit? So, I researched, talked to teachers and drummers and found out the benefits and flaws to each one and made a decision. I have detailed main aspects below that will hopefully be a benefit to you.

Let’s start with an electric drum kit (or digital drum kit as some people call them).
Electric drum kits can be great if space or noise is an issue. There are many different types and brands to choose from such as Carlsbro, Alesis, Yamaha and Roland who all make good quality kits. In most cases they make what is known as a “5 piece kit”. This means its made up of the bass drum, snare drum and 3 tom toms. There is also a hi-hat cymbal and possibly a crash and ride cymbal (created from pads). This is a standard kit set up. The differences between the digital kits come in various ways, I will try to explain them…..

Electric Drum Kit Rubber Or Mesh Pads?
Some electric kits use “rubber pads” (to replace the traditional acoustic drums with skins) and some use “mesh pads” as a replacement. Which pad is better, is a matter of opinion. For example, Yamaha use rubber pads all the way to the top models, Roland use a rubber pad and mesh mixture leading to full mesh pads on the top models. Some drummers say that a mesh skin can be more responsive. What they are referring to is the speed at which the stick bounces back up from the pad. If the bounce speed is slow then it makes playing a “drum roll” for example more difficult. Part of the technique is to allow the stick to bounce to get the drum roll that we have all heard before, so if the stick doesn’t respond fast enough it makes the drum roll very difficult to achieve.

Regarding the cymbal and hi-hat pads they are usually rubber and depending on the price you have paid, will either be a basic sounding pad, or allow different sounds to be heard depending on where and/or how you hit the cymbal pad. For example, hit the “bell” part near the centre can create a different sound than the other part of the cymbal. If you hit the cymbal and then hold the cymbal it will “choke”, this basically means the sound will be stopped. The more expensive kits do much more and more accurately.

Bass Drum Pad Or Trigger Switch?
After talking to drum teachers and drummers, this is one point they all agreed on! Ideally you want a bass drum pedal hitting a pad rather than a “trigger” switch type of bass drum pedal. They all said the switch type pedals do not give the “feel” or reaction time that a traditional bass drum pedal hitting a pad does. A bass drum pedal hitting a pad gives almost the exact same feel as a traditional acoustic kit. It also means at a later stage you can buy a better bass drum pedal or even a double bass drum pedal if the pad is big enough to take one, so you are a bit more future ready. Generally its the entry level electric drum kits that have a trigger switch bass drum pedal. If you can afford a bit more (or choose a brand that only use bass drum pedals) this would be better long-term for the player.
(I have attached couple of pictures to show you a bass drum pedal hitting a pad and a trigger switch)

Brains, frames and output sockets!
The “brain” is the main part of the kit that has all the sounds, output sockets and everything in it. A digital drum kit has no speakers built in there is an output/headphone socket on the kit that allows you to either plug headphones in to hear the sounds, or use a lead to connect the kit to a powered drum monitor speaker so you can hear it out loud. All the pads are connected to the brain with leads and when you hit the pad at different levels this triggers the sound to play at different volume levels (I hope I have explained this ok). As you spend more on the kit you get more sounds to choose from like different drum sounds, percussion sounds, timpani drums and many more. The quality of the sound improves as you spend more and you can get other features like fine tuning the drums, recording yourself playing, playing along to set songs and much more. Everything improves as you spend more, in general terms the frame of the kit becomes more robust, the sounds get better (and more of them) and additional features are added. The quality of all the parts will get better as you spend more. Basically, the more you spend generally the better it is, as with most things in life.

So, what’s good about an electric drum kit?
1. The space it takes up is less than an acoustic drum kit. Keep in mind however you still need to sit at the kit, but most kits fit well into a corner.
2. All you hear is the pad thump as apposed to a loud acoustic drum noise.
3. You can play with headphones, or via a PA or drum monitor.
4. There are loads of different sounds and kits to choose from to keep you interested, or get that electronic kit noise that you need for some songs nowadays.
5. Via the output you could connect to a recording device to record your playing without any background noise or thumping pad noise.

If you are thinking of getting an electric drum kit get one with a bass drum pedal rather than a trigger switch if you can and spend as much as you can afford to ensure you get a good quality sound and quality parts (such as the frame and pads). If you can afford the extra get a drum monitor, so you can show off how you’re doing to everyone when you can!

To view our range of digital drum kits

Now, let’s look at the traditional acoustic drum kit!
The traditional acoustic drum kit has been around for as long as I can remember and seems to give off a special primal urge to anyone who goes near one. We always seem to want to hit the drums!

Most people start with a “5 piece” kit. This means its made up of the bass drum, snare drum and 3 tom toms. There is also a hi-hat cymbal and possibly a crash and ride cymbal. The pictures shown show a 5 piece kit with hi-hat, crash and ride cymbal and a kit with a hi-hat and ride cymbal (ie set up right handed with the ride cymbal on the right hand side for the player).

Many drummers and teachers will say, “you cannot beat an acoustic drum kit for feel”. What they are referring to is the bounce speed of the stick when it hits the skin of the drum. You also get different sounds depending on how you hit the drum skins on the drums and the position you hit them. There are a lot of dynamics to the sound from acoustic drum kits that simply put, an electronic kit cannot replicate!

Drum Skins, drum shells and hardware
Its the wood on the drum shells, skins and hardware quality that make an acoustic drum kit good. The more you spend the better each component is. From the sound the drum makes to the robust and accurate positioning you can get for each drum. In basic terms, the drum shells are made up of strips of wood curved to make a circle, the better quality the wood the better sound (especially depth to tone) you are going to get. If you get a kit with “ball” joints for the positioning of the “toms” on the kit you get a much more accurate placing for your particular playing style, ie you can get the drums exactly where you want them. Some kits have “cog teeth” type positioning mechanisms that do not allow the same accuracy (its easier to show you than explain I hope you understand this ok). The stands get better and go from single braced to double braced, as well as being thicker better quality materials as you spend more.

What about the cymbals?
Kits that come with cymbals will be ok, but the cymbals will generally be compressed metal and of a price and material value appropriate to the kit price. Cymbals can be many shapes and sizes to give different effects from a quick “splash” sound to a long “sizzling ride” effect. Many drummers have lots of cymbals to give the right effect at the right moment. To give you an idea, its not unusual to have 10 cymbals around a single drum kit. Cymbals vary in price and can be “hand hammered” into shape to create a unique sound. Some cymbals can cost more than a full entry level drum kit. Once again the more you spend the better and longer lasting the material will be, meaning it will be less likely to bend or crack.

What about the noise, can anything be done?
You definately want ear protection if you are playing the drums to prevent damaging your hearing. You can get special ear plugs designed to lower the volume but maintain the tone and they really do work!  You can also get silencer pads for the drums and cymbals for the times you cannot play out loud. (see the pictures I have added).

So, what’s
good about an acoustic drum kit?
1. The response time from the skin compared to a digital kit is believed to be faster.
2. The dynamic tones available from hitting the drums in different places gives greater expression and variation.
3. You can expand it by adding cymbals or extra floor toms, or even mingle two kits together!
4. You can put rubber pads on to silence the kit when you are unable to play out loud.
5. Massive variety of colours and personalisation available.

If you are thinking of getting an acoustic drum kit my recommendation would be to get one that has “ball joints” for the tom positioning for better accuracy for you and spend as much as you can on the kit to get the best quality materials as possible. If you buy a drum kit package with cymbals be aware the cymbals will most likley bend as some point, but they will be great for you whilst you save to buy bettter individual cymbals that will be better sounding, as well as more robust.

To view our range of acoustic drum kits

What did I do?
To conclude my story of my son learning drums. He started at 11 years old and is now 14 years old playing in his school rock band, has done a few concerts and loves it! What did I get for him? We started with a digital drum kit (with a bass drum pedal) and after about 18 months got a Mapex acoustic kit (in the garage with silencer pads for when needed). We have the best of both worlds and my son plays regularly to music, both in his bedroom where the electric drum kit is and the acoustic one in the garage when he can. This has worked out great and he loves playing both.

We have great staff who are very knowledgeable at the stores so please call in, email or give us a call if you need help and our staff will give you the time you need and explain everything you need to know in as much detail as you like!

I hope my explanation and personal experience helps you.

All The Best

(Graham Blackledge)
Rimmers Music

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