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As a musician and an avid reader of history, it was inevitable that I would eventually mesh the two and become interested in both learning about the history of drumming and acquiring vintage pieces.
The good news for me is that vintage drums are often less expensive than vintage guitars. However, that does not mean they are necessarily cheap, and the price will vary depending on the brand and condition.
Being an active musician in multiple bands, I am not the type to collect vintage drums and then just have them sit around without being used. Nothing is wrong with that, but I like to use the music equipment I purchase.
Since I play live music, it would not do me any good if the drums I bought did not sound very good. If you are reading this article, it is likely because you’re wondering if buying an older drum kit is worth it.
So, what is the deal? Do drums sound better with age?
The short answer is yes. As long as an older drum set is of good quality and has been well taken care of, you can expect the sound to be very high quality. The primary reason is that as wood ages, it tends to dry out, which increases the resonant and tonal qualities.
Below I will discuss some of the reasons why drums tend to sound better with age. After that, I will discuss if used drums sound better than a brand new, never played kit.
I will also talk about some of the factors that could cause old and used drums not to sound good, which will help you make a more informed buying decision.
Why Do Old Drums Sound Better?
If the short answer to drums sounding better with age is yes, the full answer is a bit more complicated and nuanced. If you read through drum forums online, there will be some debate about whether drums sound better as they age.
As with any discussion on this type of topic, be it drums, guitars, basses, or whatever else, there can be strong opinions on either side of the issue.
However, many musicians agree that older instruments (especially those built primarily of wood) will sound better as they age.
Let’s talk about a couple of potential reasons why many drummers agree that older drums sound better than newer kits.
Reason #1: Changes in Wood
The first reason which supports the idea that old drums sound better is that wood changes over time, which will change the tonal properties.
As wood ages, it will dry out, which has been shown to increase the resonant properties, which will alter the tone.
Many drummers claim that the older, vintage kits will have a warmer tone than the newer ones.
Although the concept of “tonewoods” in general is a hotly debated topic in the music world, there does seem to be some merit to this idea, as demonstrated in a 2012 research paper by Takunori Noguchi and colleagues.
Drums are made from many different types of wood such as maple, birch, and mahogany, and each wood will produce different tonal variations and characteristics.
Reason #2: Nostalgia
Could it all just be in our imagination?
There is the idea that vintage kits sound better because they remind us of the sounds and tones we hear on favorite albums and records.
This could partially be explained by recording processes, too, as well as how the drums were tuned, the types of heads used, and other factors.
So just because you have a vintage kit that your favorite drummer used doesn’t mean you’ll get the same sound out of it.
In fact, if we adhere to the notion that wood will change as it ages, you might have a hard time reproducing the tones of songs from decades ago as the drums were not as aged at that time of recording.
With that being said, using similar kits that your idols used will bring you closer to achieving that vintage sound.
If nothing else, it may inspire you to develop new techniques and ways of playing. Purchasing new (or vintage) equipment won’t magically make us better or sound like our idols, but it can inspire and spark our creativity.
Further, using a kit with a different configuration than you are used to can help you become a better drummer by forcing you to adapt to the new layout.
Check out the video below between a vintage and modern kit.
What About Metal?
I only played wood snares for years, but recently I purchased three metal snares and fell in love with the sound, especially my 1980s Slingerland Snare that I bought for $50.
The consensus is that metal snares change their tone as they age, much like cymbals. Metal will respond to changes in climate over the years like wood does, but it will not be as pronounced as the wooden shells.
Do Used Drums Sound Better?
If the consensus is that old drums sound better (or at least really good), then used drums would also sound great. This can be true in many situations, but we cannot assume that used drums will sound good.
The quality of used drums depends on how well the drums have been taken care of. While that should make intuitive sense, let’s dive deeper into what to look for when purchasing used drums.
These factors will apply to vintage drums in general unless you are buying vintage drums for collection or display purposes only. If that is the case, the sound quality might matter less to you.
For practical purposes, the factors below will be written assuming you want to purchase used drums to play them, not just to collect and put them on display.
Factor #1: Overall Appearance
A quick glance over the basic condition of the drums is a good first step. The initial inspection doesn’t need to be too intricate. Look for large dents, scratches, and scuffs to the finish and if there are any glaring signs of deformation of the drums.
Be aware that there is a very good chance that you won’t find a pristine kit. There are likely going to be cosmetic blemishes, dings, and scratches. Most of these will be superficial and likely won’t impact playability.
Factor #2: Cracks in the Shell
The most important consideration is the condition of the shells. Your first inclination might be to look at the heads, but in my opinion, I don’t think you shouldn’t worry about that. Drum heads are easily replaced, but the shells are not.
Now, one thing to be aware of is that if the heads are severely damaged, it might be hard for you to get a good idea of what the drums sound like.
When looking at the shells, pay careful attention to both the inside and outside of the shells. If the drumheads aren’t clear, it is not a bad idea to ask if you can take the heads off to examine the inside of the shells. A crack in the shell can cause serious issues.
This doesn’t mean that all cracks are devastating. Some are simply due to the normal effects of weathering as the shells expand and contract with temperature changes. Often, these smaller cracks don’t go through all of the layers of the shell.
Also, there will inevitably be some scratches and scuffs due to normal wear and tear. For example, my early 2000s Pearl Export Kit has some significant cosmetic damage on one side of the bass drum, where one of my toms has damaged the finish quite a bit. It doesn’t impact the sound, but it should be noted if you are a buyer.
Factor #3: Warps in the Shell
The shells of the drums should be perfectly round. If there are any visible signs of warping, it might be a good idea to look at other options to buy. Warping means that some significant weathering has taken place, possibly due to incorrect storage of the drums.
Another good idea is to set the toms, bass, and snare flat on the ground to see if they wobble. If they do, it might be a good idea to look elsewhere. However, this could be due to the damaged rims, not the shells themselves.
I will note that I buy quite a bit of used music equipment from places like Reverb and Facebook Marketplace, and I don’t try out the equipment first. I am not saying this is the right way to buy used gear from places like Facebook marketplace, but I have had no issues with this method.
However, with places like that, you should always use caution while buying, as many scams exist, as Gaetano DiNardi on the Aura website warns.
Sometimes pictures won’t give you the complete picture of the condition of the drums, so if you are buying from places like Facebook Marketplace, it’s a good idea to carefully look over the equipment in person before committing to purchasing it.
In my experience, the descriptions and pictures are accurate on sites like Reverb, so you know what you are getting.
Factor #4: Damage to the Hardware
The last consideration is to look at the hardware of the drums. Hardware can often rust and can be dinged and dented due to years of playing or even potentially how they have been stored.
The good news with hardware is that the hoops can be replaced and will not cost you a lot of money. Missing or damaged lugs might be more complicated, but it is usually doable.
Although some issues might need professional intervention, many hardware issues can be solved at home, such as fixing loose lugs. if you’re not sure then check the video below!
Finding the drums that fit your playing style and musical needs is essential. Thankfully, whether you are looking for a vintage kit, a used kit, or a brand-new kit, you will likely be able to find the perfect kit for you.
You should now understand why old and vintage drums tend to sound better (or at least really good) and some of the factors you should consider if you plan to purchase used drum kits.
Hi everyone! I have been involved with music most of my life, beginning in grade school with the trumpet. I am a largely self-taught multi-instrumentalist (drums, guitar, bass, and starting the piano and violin). I currently play drums in two bands and write and produce many genres of music in my home recording studio. I am also an avid guitar and drum collector.