Buyers' Guides

Should you buy a used electronic drum kit?

Buying a used electronic drum kit can be a tempting way to save some cash. But what should you know before purchasing a second-hand kit?

If you’ve been tempted by the lower prices of used electronic drum kits, modules and pads on eBay, then you might be wondering if buying second-hand is a good investment. Here, I’ll share my thoughts on buying used, having bought and sold a range of drumming gear over the years.

Pros and cons of buying a used electronic drum kit

It’s important to be realistic about what to expect from buying a used eDrum kit. Below are the main pros and cons as I see them:

Lower upfront costRisk that an older electronic drum kit may be less reliable
If you’re triggering VST drum software, you don’t need to use the internal soundsDrum sounds are generally not as good as on newer modules
Some older kits have MIDI-in, allowing you to add extra pads via a second module or MIDI interfaceOlder drum modules may not have a USB interface to connect to your computer without using a MIDI interface
eDrums are modular, so pads can be swapped out if they breakOnly the most recent drum modules tend to have Bluetooth for playing along to songs
eDrums from reputable brands can last many years if looked afterUsed kits don’t come with a warranty

What should you look for when buying a used electronic drum kit?

If you’re in the market for a used eDrum kit, then it’s important to know what you want from it when starting your search. As we saw above, older kits won’t have all the same features as newer ones, so not doing proper research may lead to disappointment. Here are some of the main things to consider:

Will you be triggering VST software?

Many eDrummers these days trigger eDrum software such as Superior Drummer or Steven Slate Drums, which sound more realistic than the onboard sounds on most electronic kits.

If you’re looking to trigger drums, you don’t need to worry about how the onboard drums sound, as you’ll turn them off. Instead, look for a USB interface, or failing that, a MIDI interface, though you will need a MIDI to USB interface if you use the latter.

If you aren’t looking to trigger drum software using a computer, then it’s a good idea to try and find some sound clips or videos of the drum sounds of the module you’re considering. That way, you can go in with your eyes (and ears!) open on what to expect.

Do you have any drum pads already?

If you already have some drum pads that you want to integrate into your new kit, then make sure they’re compatible. As a general rule of thumb, there are two types of pads when it comes to compatibility – Yamaha, and Roland. Roland modules typically support a wider range of third-party pads and peripherals.

One reason for this is that brands like ATV and EFnote were formed by ex-Roland staff, so they’ve typically taken their know-how with them, resulting in compatible pads.

Do you want any modern triggering features?

Older electronic drums may miss out on more advanced triggering features, especially in the lower end. Looking at Roland drums specifically, two features you’re likely to miss out on are digital pads and positional sensing.

Roland’s digital snare, ride and hi-hat pads are only supported on the TD-50 and TD-27 modules, so it goes without saying, unless you’re buying either of those drum modules, you won’t be able to use this technology.

A slightly older Roland technology is called positional sensing. This is where the drum can detect how far your strike on a drum or ride cymbal pad is from the edge and alters the timbre of the sound generated to reflect this. Drums with positional sensing are characterised by having a centre-mounted trigger cone.

Positional sensing is by no means necessary though, and modules that lack this can still be played dynamically and without sounding robotic, when in the hands of a skilled player.

What ports does the module have?

Be sure to check out what ports the module has. Most importantly, does it have the right number of trigger inputs that you need? Does it have a dual-socket ride input, supporting bell, bow and edge zones?

It’s a good idea to think about expandability, and whether the module has enough ports for what you need. If you really need more pad inputs, you can consider using drum input splitter cables, though these do have some limitations.

It’s also worth thinking about other connections the module has aside from trigger inputs. Specifically, does it have a headphone and master out, and can their volumes be set independently if you need this?

Is there a USB or MIDI interface? Is there a MIDI-in, and if so, would you want to use this to add extra pads in the future via a second module or midi interface? Does it have a metronome? And finally, does it have Bluetooth or an audio-in port, so you can play along to songs?

Are used electronic drums less reliable?

As with many electronic devices, electronic drums can become less reliable over time. I have experienced this with an old Roland TD-10 module that had seen heavy use, causing the drum’s trigger cones to become worn and trigger less accurately. Some parts of the module can fail too, for example, screens can stop working over time. It’s a good idea to search drum forums for information about the specific drum module you’re buying, for any known issues or weak points to look out for when you buy.

That said, one of the good things about electronic drums is that each component is modular. If a single pad breaks, it’s easy to replace it. It’s even possible to repair them with a bit of know-how, as the underlying technology within a drum pad is actually pretty simple. Even with some basic knowledge of electronics, you may be able to repair a broken pad and return it to full use.

How do you inspect used electronic drums

If you’re buying a used electronic drum kit in person and the seller has allowed you to inspect it before purchasing, then there are a few things you can look for. It’s a good idea to ask for the kit to be set up for you when you arrive to check this.

  • Inspect the drum pads for any damage, for example, cracks to the plastic or rust on the lugs holding the mesh heads on
  • Inspect both sides of the cymbal pads for damage to the rubber or cracks in the plastic underside
  • Check the headphone and master out work correctly
  • Test each of the drum and cymbal pads to ensure they trigger correctly. Remember to play each zone including the drum head and rim, or bow, edge and bell zones on cymbals. Listen out for any ‘inaccurate’ triggering where the sound doesn’t match the input
  • Check the kick drum tower for wear or fraying where the beater has made contact. Depending on the model, the bass head might be harder to replace than on a tom or snare pad
  • Check the mesh heads for wear, especially in the centre of the drums. If they are worn they can be replaced, but you might want to negotiate on price
  • Find out when the drums were purchased and consider whether the wear and tear reflect the age of the kit
  • Check that everything you expect from the product listing is included in the sale if you choose to buy!

What alternatives are there to buying a used electronic drum kit?

One consideration before purchasing a used kit is whether to try finding a cheap kit from a lesser-known brand. I have always recommended against these no-name brands for most electronic drummers, however, if you’re in the market for a used kit, it probably means you need something cheap.

If this is the case, then there are some benefits to choosing a new kit. Yes, some cheaper brands don’t have a great reputation for reliable and long-lasting gear – Alesis springs to mind. But, if you’re buying from a store, the product is backed by a warranty, which you don’t get when buying used. The product’s lifespan may be similar too, as the used product will have had some years of use under its belt already.

If you’re interested in a cheap new electronic drum kit, make sure to try it out in a store first, and see whether the build quality and playability live up to your expectations.

Alternatively, if you already have an acoustic kit gathering dust, you could consider converting it to electronic. Find out how in our guide to acoustic to electronic drum conversions.

What are the best used electronic drum kits?

Below are some used electronic kits you might like to consider if you’re just starting your search. I have focussed on Roland kits only as I am most knowledgeable about this brand:

  • Roland TD-30: This is THE module to get if you need lots of inputs. As a former flagship, this module has individual sockets for each pad input. It also has a USB interface so can be used for drum triggering. Used pricing is around the same as a new TD-27, with the extra inputs and flagship status likely commanding that price despite the more outdated sound engine
  • Roland TD-11: The predecessor to the TD-17 can be had for around half the price and still has modern features like a USB interface. Read our TD-11 review here.
  • Roland TD-15: Essentially an upgraded TD-11 but less common. Only purchase if you find one at a comparable price to a used TD-11. Read our TD-15 review.
  • Roland TD-9: An older kit that lacks a USB audio interface (the USB socket is only for WAV/MP3 playback on the module) but has a MIDI in port, which allows you to connect a second module or midi interface for additional pads. This is a rare feature and as a result, the TD-9 tends to be a similar price to the newer TD-11 on the second-hand market
  • Roland TD-25: The replacement to the TD-15 and predecessor to the TD-27. Has features like positional sensing but no support for digital pads, and uses an older sound engine. Prices are still quite high, so only buy if you can get a significant discount compared to a new TD-27 or TD-17 kit, or significantly less than a used TD-30 and don’t require the additional expandability of that flagship model
  • Roland TD-20 and TD-12: The TD-12 is essentially a cut-down version of the TD-20, which itself is the predecessor to the TD-30 flagship. These are quite old now and lack new features like USB, but do have MIDI and individual trigger inputs like the TD-30.

What brands should you steer clear of when buying used?

It’s best to stick with well-known premium brands like Roland or Yamaha when buying used electronic drums. These companies have built a strong reputation for quality over the years, which typically means their used gear is likely to last a long time if looked after well.

There are plenty of cheap brands out there too which mainly cover the low-end market, and as a result, the quality isn’t as good, since they are designed around a low price rather than to be a dependable and long-lasting musical instrument. As a result, only consider these low-end kits used if you want to have a taste of electronic drumming, and consider that you might only get a couple of years’ use out of them.

I am often asked if Alesis drums are good, as they have moved a bit more upmarket in recent years with their Strike Pro drum kit. This is still a relatively new kit that has only been out for a few years and so hasn’t yet built a reputation on the used market. Unfortunately, Alesis is generally known among drummers as being on the lower end of the market, lacking the dependability and reliability of Yamaha and Roland drums.

If you do choose to look for an Alesis kit, just be aware that the bulk of their range tends to be at the very low end of the market, so research extensively to ensure you’re getting a reasonable price. As with other cheap brands, expect only one or two years of use out of them, either because you’ll want to upgrade or because of a lack of reliability.

By Seb Atkinson

Seb has been a drummer since 2004 and an eDrummer since 2008. He founded eDrumHub to provide information on electronic drums for other drummers who can't justify an acoustic drum kit for practice at home.

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