If you’re looking to get into the exciting world of drumming, you may be asking the question – what is the best option for me when it comes to electronic drums vs acoustic drums? There are a number of arguments for and against each choice, but ultimately it comes down to your environment and personal preference.
In this post we’ll take a look at some of the reasons you might go for an electronic kit, or whether a traditional acoustic set might suit you better.
Benefits of Acoustic Drums
When you think of your dream drum setup, I’m fairly confident that a full on acoustic drum kit comes to mind, with half a dozen cymbals and a monster kick drum.
Obviously, this image will vary from person to person, but the fact remains. Acoustic drums are truly something to dream of. They look amazing, and there’s a perfect kit out there for everybody.
An acoustic drum set gives you no limitations in your playing style (providing everything is setup nicely of course). Dynamics are a big part of playing an acoustic set, and you’re in control. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to adapt your dynamics for any musical style.
There are a lot of musical styles which sound great using tools other than plain old drumsticks. They open up a whole world of different sounds. Acoustic drums don’t hold you back when using any of these tools.
There’s something magical about the sound of brushes on a coated snare head, for example. Felt mallets on cymbals give you a beautiful mellow sound, and rods are great for reducing volume when you’re playing in an intimate environment, or you just want the unique sound they give.
Acoustic drums are ready to rock (so to speak) right out of the box. By this I mean you don’t need any amplification in most cases, as they’re plenty loud enough! So long as you maintain good heads and tuning, then you’ll be ready to play right away, while the guitarists are fiddling with their amps and fancy electronics.
Downsides of Acoustic Drums
To balance all the great advantages of a full-on drum kit, there are of course a few downsides. These may or may not be a problem for you, it all depends on the situation.
Acoustic drums are noisy. Really bloody noisy. Take this into consideration before you buy, to save your sanity and everybody else’s. I always recommend talking to your neighbours before making a purchase. There’s a lot you can do to reduce the sound heard outside the room, check out my article on soundproofing for drums.
Please use hearing protection at all times when playing your drums. They’re loud enough to cause you permanent hearing damage over time and nobody is immune to this.
They take up a load of space. You’ll need to have a decent sized area free to set up the kit as the drums and all the associated hardware – cymbal stands and boom arms, the feet of the floor tom etc, all take up a decent chunk of space.
Tuning can be a bit of a hassle. A brand new drum kit will require you to spend some time tuning the heads to get the most out of each drum. Even an expensive kit can fall victim to poor tuning and ruin the sound. Temperature changes can have an effect on tuning, as can the wear and tear on the heads as they get older.
You’ll need to make sure that you replace the drumheads sometimes to keep your kit sounding great. Check out my article – Beginner’s guide to choosing drumheads, where I go into some detail about tell-tale signs that you need to replace your heads. This can get a little expensive, depending on how often you need to change them, and the type of heads you choose.
When it comes to transporting acoustic drums, you’ll soon see that this requires a bit of thought and manpower. If you’re planning to use them for gigs, or carting them to a friend’s house, you’ll need a vehicle with a decent amount of space, and potentially some protective cases, depending on how careful you want to be. Make sure you enlist the help of your bandmates, because you don’t want to hurt yourself lugging everything up and down sets of stairs on your own.
Benefits of Electronic Drums
When it comes to a practice solution, electronic drums are loads quieter than acoustic drums. If you have to be careful about making too much noise, they might be a good solution. It’s important to note that while they’re quiet, they’re definitely not silent.
If you have only limited space to play in, they tend to have a comparatively smaller footprint and can often be at least partially folded away when you’re not playing, if not completely.
Most electronic drum modules come with a built in metronome and a range of built-in songs. This can be a good way to open yourself up to a range of musical styles at the touch of a button.
The wide variety of drum kit sounds available with an electronic module lets you completely change the sound of your set in seconds, and depending on the module, you’ll be able to customise and save your own custom kits with a range of tweaks and unique sounds.
If you’re not happy with any of the built in sounds, or want a certain sound, you can hook up to a PC or laptop with a single USB midi cable and trigger virtual drum instrument software such as Addictive Drums 2, or EZdrummer 2. Both of these packages have a huge number of expansions available which offer realistic, studio quality sound samples in every conceivable style.
Downsides of Electronic Drums
You’re fairly limited in what you can use to play electronic drums. A stock standard drumstick is fine, but more specialised tools like brushes and rods won’t work very well and will likely cause damage to your electronic pads.
It’s not always the case, but many electronic kits have a layout that is not realistic compared to acoustic drums. Smaller pads can be placed closer together, which is great for saving space, but not so good for a nice, comfortable and realistic layout.
Some higher end electronic kits work around this by using larger, more true to life drum and cymbal pads, and can be set up very like an acoustic set.
Electronic kits have a certain look. Some people love it, others not so much. You could say that they’re lacking a certain something which is brought home with an acoustic kit. This isn’t a problem for everybody, and there’s a number of great looking electronic kits which bring their own unique style to attention. The Alesis Strike Pro SE is a great example of this.
Depending on who you ask, the sound samples given by e-drum modules is fantastic, or utter rubbish. Two people can listen to the same sounds and have polarising opinions.
The sounds from cheaper setups will definitely leave something to be desired, but some of the higher end kits are getting really good, however they’re not going to match the real thing for some time to come.
Best of Both Worlds
In the sections above, I make out like there’s a black and white decision. A vs B, acoustic vs electronic. But it’s not quite the case. There’s a great alternative.
Hybrid acoustic-electric drum sets give you all the look and layout of a full acoustic drum kit, with the flexibility and low volume of an electronic kit.
Each drum is a genuine acoustic drum shell, but it is fitted with a quiet and responsive mesh head on top (there’s no need for anything on the bottom) and an electronic trigger.
The triggers are connected to a drum module which could be any brand or model, and with a bit of tweaking, they let you have the best of both worlds.
The British manufacturer Jobeky produces top-quality hybrid kits with a range of options to customise a kit to make it your own.
As you can see, the route which you might choose depends on a number of factors, but there’s an option for everyone.
If you’ve got the all-clear to make noise, and you don’t mind a bit of tuning and maintenance – there’s nothing more satisfying than playing an acoustic set. If you’re limited for space, your neighbours are grumpy, or you want the freedom of being able to customise and create your own sounds, electronic drums will be great for you.
If you can’t decide, definitely check out a hybrid kit. You can even make your own, all the components are available online and you’ll get a great sense of accomplishment.
What’s your personal preference? Let me know in the comments below.