10 key things to consider when buying a used electronic drum kit

Selection of screen grabs of electronic drum set searches from online marketplaces
(Image credit: eBay/Reverb/Facebook)

The demand for electronic drum sets has never been so high - they’re convenient, quieter than an acoustic kit, often space-saving and offer heaps of integrated features such as built-in metronomes, computer connectivity, and possibly even recording and sample playback. 

While brand new electronic drum sets are more affordable than ever, there are still differences in quality as you step up the price ladder, and there are definitely savings to be had - particularly when it comes to the big name brands - by buying a used electronic drum kit instead of new. But as with any second hand purchase, you need to be clued-up as to what you’re buying and how to avoid the potential pitfalls. In this article, we’re going to walk you through what to look for when buying a used electronic drum set.

1. Set your budget

Let’s face it, there’s a reason you’re thinking of buying used - whether it’s to protect your investment against ‘forecourt loss’ or simply stretch your money as far as possible. But the first rule of buying anything where there’s a vast array of price options is knowing how much you want (and can afford) to spend. We’ve all been there - you start off with a price in mind, then very quickly you’re looking at things that cost 50% (or beyond) more. If you’re on a tight budget then you need to stick to it, but it’s handy to build in a little bit of wriggle room. Be realistic and keep your list of ‘must-haves’ vs ‘ideal scenario’ features in mind before you let the cost run away with you. which brings us to point No. 2…

2. Do your homework

Before you start looking at eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Reverb or any other listings for a used electronic drum set, it’s worthwhile thinking about exactly what features you require. A beginner looking to start playing the drums is likely to have a different set of requirements (ease of use, playing/coaching tools, a broad range of sounds) to a semi-pro drummer who wants an electronic kit for triggering software, recording or playing live (deeper editing, advanced triggering functions, expandable inputs etc.), for example. Take a look at what’s out there on the brand new market to get an idea of the types of features that are included on a new kit right now. From here you can get an idea of what features you might expect to see on a used kit within your budget.

3. Think about the future

This point doesn’t only apply to used gear, but it is more important when you’re buying something that is already a few years old - particularly in the case of an electronic kit where technology moves faster than it does with our B20 bronze cymbals. Try not to dismiss certain functions and spec points by thinking “I’m never going to use that”, because you never know. Where you are with your drumming right now is hopefully not where you’ll be in five years, and while you might not feel like Bluetooth capabilities, USB connectivity, or the facility to add extra pads is massively important to you at the moment, you don’t want to be kicking yourself at the limitations of your kit in 12 months.

4. Start looking

Unless you have only one specific electronic kit in mind, start searching for more generic terms such as ‘electronic drum set’ or ‘electronic drum kit’. This will garner plenty of results, and you’ll quickly see which kits come up time and again. The fact they’re for sale doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t any good and nobody wants them - indeed, the more there are the more popular they were/are to begin with. Sites such as eBay will allow you to see the sold (rather than asking price) of a kit, which should in turn give you a good idea of how much their current market value is.

5. Go back in time

If you’re looking at used kits, they could well be out of production and are being sold due to the previous owner upgrading. The benefit of the internet is that you won’t have to search very far to look at kits from the last 5-10 years to find out what functionality and configuration they came with. Reviews such as our own here on MusicRadar, YouTube videos and more can help you uncover a wealth of information on the specs, pros and cons of the kit models you’re likely to come across frequently. A big part of getting a great deal on used gear is knowing what you’re looking at, and being quick off the mark. So doing your homework and setting up alerts for new listings of the models you’re interested in is likely to help you secure a kit at a decent price.

6. Explore your options

Many electronic drum modules have at least one spare trigger input. It’s also common for companies to share pads through their various product ranges which often get split from kits and sold-off individually if they’re surplus to the owner. So by knowing what pads and cymbals are, and are not compatible with the kits you’re looking at, you can get a clear picture of how expandable your potential set will be. It also means that if you see a version of the kit you’re interested in, but perhaps not your ideal configuration (say, with a rubber rather than a mesh snare, or with only one crash cymbal), you have some flexibility to add extra pads either straight away or further down the line (again, there’s a very healthy secondhand market for additional pads).

7. Ask questions

So far we’ve offered general buying advice that can be applied to most things. But when it comes to electronic drums, there are certainly some things you need to be mindful of. First is condition. We’re not suggesting that you should automatically be suspicious that used gear isn’t going to be functioning properly, but you’re buying something that has been played in conditions that you can never be 100 percent sure of. The benefit of time means that common faults with particular gear will have reared their heads on forums and Facebook groups, so have a quick check to make sure there are no issues with your prospective kit that could be costly to fix. Check out as many photos of the actual item as you possibly can, if you need to see more, just ask the seller. Similarly, don’t be afraid to ask questions - if the kit is genuinely in good working order, they shouldn’t mind you asking for reassurance.

8. Try before you buy

Electronic drum kits are portable, but if you’ve ever unpacked one you’ll understand why sellers will probably be reluctant to send a used kit in the post, particularly if the original boxes are long gone. This means you’ll probably be looking at kits that are local (or at least within a fairly easy drive) to you. This is a good thing, because it also serves as an opportunity to try the kit out. At this point, you’re probably long past judging the sounds and features, and more towards the purchasing end of the journey - assuming everything is up to scratch.

So, arm yourself with another checklist (even if it’s just a mental one) of things to test out. A visual inspection of the kit will allow you to see if any fixings are missing or spot any damage. Now, you might not be able to test every single function (MIDI sockets, auxiliary inputs etc.), but the rack should be sturdy, the sockets, screen and controls on the module should all at least appear or feel like they’re in working order. 

Finally, check the pads - particularly in the case of rubber drums and cymbals. Stick marks and signs of use are to be expected, and mesh heads can be replaced. But any signs of splitting rubber or cloth should be noted and raised with the seller as this could be cause for replacement in the not too distant future. Try out a few of the presets and make sure that every zone of every pad is working properly. You might even be able to negotiate a discount!

9. Extra!, Extra!

A common factor of buying used is that peoples’ perceptions of a kit’s worth are not all the same. While there is a ‘going rate’ for most things, if someone is giving up playing, moving house, upgrading or any other reason for selling their kit, they most likely want to get it gone and move on. The benefit for you as the buyer here is that this often means you’ll see a complete setup for sale. This could include additional hardware (a stool, bass drum pedal), accessories (drum monitoring speakers are common), or maybe extra pads or cymbals. 

Remember when we said to choose your budget and stick to it? Well, if you’re lucky, you might find a deal that includes additional items that you were already thinking of adding-on, or (if your budget allows), that you could sell in order to recoup some of the overall cost. This will require a few more checks of their used value, but it’s worth keeping in mind if you see a ‘job lot’ type sale where the seller wants everything to be sold in one transaction.  

10. Buy from a retailer

Of course, not all used gear is sold on the private market, and not everyone wants to deal with private individuals where there’s little or no comeback. That doesn’t mean you’re forced to only buy new, as plenty of retailers take secondhand kits and components as part of trade-ins, and the benefit of this is that all of the checking should have been done for you by an expert. If you’re in the US, Guitar Center is a great place to start. 

As well as this, you’ll receive some form of warranty (usually around three months) when you buy from a retailer. The price will usually be higher than a private sale, but considering they have overheads, a warranty, after-sales support and - how dare they - maybe even some profit to think about, used prices from retailers are often very reasonable when you throw in the peace-of-mind you’ll get on top.  

Stuart Williams

I'm a freelance member of the MusicRadar team, specialising in drum news, interviews and reviews. I formerly edited Rhythm and Total Guitar here in the UK and have been playing drums for more than 25 years (my arms are very tired). When I'm not working on the site, I can be found on my electronic kit at home, or gigging and depping in function bands and the odd original project.