You probably think you know what hot feels like…but, unless you’ve experienced a summer in Phoenix AZ and the surrounding areas, you might want to reconsider. Driving to any destination is basically a nightmare. As hot as it is outside, the inside of your car is worse. It feels as though you are trapped in a mobile oven. Yes, even with air conditioning. The sun beats through your windows and, as you are baking, you, like all the other drivers on the road, get progressively grumpier. Tensions run as hot as the oppressive sun, and all drivers and passengers whine simultaneously.
Having a fun destination can make traveling in the brutal heat a little better. So, when The Chief said it was time for a mission that would take me to some Phoenix-area music shops, my ears perked up. I was to investigate what happens when an undercover agent shops for a beginner drum kit…something appropriate for a person who’s just getting into beating the skins. Given that the Phoenix metropolitan area is pretty large, I had a lot of ground to cover. I decided to try to pick a spot on the city’s east and west sides, as well as two spots in central Phoenix itself. The area has a really active music scene, with musicians in need of gear in all directions. Read on to see how the stores fared, and whether I won the war between the desert sun and me….
3562 W. Cactus Rd.
Phoenix AZ 85029
I started my journey by heading to the destination furthest from my home base. Non-descript strip malls are a prevalent part of the Phoenix landscape, so, needless to say, I missed this one on my first pass. I checked my location and swung around to find the little spot just a few blocks back. Though all the shop’s listings seem to refer to it as just Boogie Music, the sign outside read “Boogie Music and Drum Alley.” Given my mission that day, the latter addition gave me a hopeful jolt. There was only one clerk onsite when I walked in; he didn’t greet me, as he was busy with someone and seemed pretty immersed in a conversation. I lulled around for a minute near the front to see if we’d converse, but it didn’t happen.
So, I made my way over to the Drum Alley. That, incidentally, is a good name for it: not so much its own room but, rather, a small section of the shop. As I was perusing a selection of used boom stands ($39 and up) by brands that included Mapex and Yamaha, the clerk made his way over to me with a friendly greeting and asked, “Is there something special that you’re looking for today?” Communication having now been established, I replied, “I am helping a friend buy a starter kit for their teenager’s 17th birthday. I’m doing some research and taking some notes.” I added, “I know a little bit about drums, but I could definitely use some expert advice.”
The selection of kits was small. The salesman pointed out the Ludwig Accent Combo ($599), which included all the hardware. He directed me to the used kits on a shelf above and said that, if the purchaser just wanted drums and wanted to buy used hardware separately, a Royce Pro-cussion D555PD drum set would be a good option for a beginner. There was a small selection of cymbals—most of them Zildjian and Sabian—and some other drum gear. But, with no drums set up to sit down and get a feel for, there wasn’t much left to talk about.
So, the salesman went about his business while I took another quick look around. I stopped at the counter on my way out and inquired about layaway plans. The gentleman told me the store offers a 40-percent-down, 30-day option, and he let me know that I could always check the Web site for drums. The store’s site is a little livelier than the shop itself is. Boogie is kind of like the small, mellow shopping center in which it resides: not flashy or fancy, but a place that’s there if you need it. And the employees do treat you nicely.
38 W. Main St.
Mesa AZ 85201
When I was finished on Phoenix’s west side, I headed over to Mesa, in what is called the city’s East Valley, to Milano Music. The shop is located on the main strip in downtown Mesa, amid a variety of shops, museums and restaurants. It’s been going strong since the 1960s. There was ample street parking in front of the shops, but I slipped around the back parking lot and immediately heard Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” coming out of the back door’s outside speaker. Despite the 115-degree heat, the music got me in the mood to do some instrument shopping.
Going through the back at Milano’s, you have to walk down a hallway whose walls are filled with pictures of the shop and its patrons from over the years, giving you an immediate sense of the store’s history and commitment. Once inside, I discovered the place was bustling. There are retail counters throughout the store, and I had to walk by one of them to get to the drum section. The vibe in the shop was upbeat. It was nice and bright and, just looking around, it made you feel like it would be hard to leave without buying a little something. No one stopped as I walked by; everyone was in the middle of some kind of transaction.
When I started investigating the drums, the clerk in that area, who had previously been occupied, came over and asked if he could help me with anything. I told him that I wanted to see what drum kits might be good for someone just starting out. He asked, “Are you that someone?” I replied, “I could be. Plus, I have a friend who’s looking, so I figured I’d check things out and take some notes.” He said that was fine with him. I asked him for his take on new versus used, and he said that there were advantages to both. But, he explained, for a newbie, “a used kit is good because, generally, they’re cheaper and it can be less of an investment than a brand new kit.” He added, “And, there’s always the chance the person might not be as into it as they thought.” I asked him which used kits he might recommend, and he directed me to a used Ludwig Element Series kit, which included all the hardware and was selling for $688.
I asked him whether all the new kits, as well as the used drums and hardware, the store has could be found on its Web site, in case I decided to check later. He laughed and said, “The Web site’s not as good as it could be.” So, he told me to give a call or stop back in if I wanted to see what the shop has, or if I was ready to make a purchase. I appreciated his honesty. Then, I asked if I could go in the cymbal and snare room. He replied, “Absolutely,” opening the door for me. I told him that I liked things with a vintage style and I wanted a snare that would really pop. He pointed me in the direction of a Gretsch Retro-Luxe snare drum ($199). Pewter and black, it was pretty nice looking. I tapped it a bit, and it definitely had a crisp sound.
They call the drum area at Milano’s “Frank’s Drums.” I’m not sure if I had been talking to Frank, but, in any case, I thanked him for his time, wandered about and looked at the guitars, and then headed on my way to find something bizarre. Bizarre Guitar, that is….
4322 N. 7th Ave.
Phoenix AZ 85013
Bizarre Guitar is another strip mall store. Unlike the one that hosts Boogie Music, though, this strip mall is a little bigger, and it features some cool vintage furniture shops and restaurants. Bizarre Guitar just feels like a haven for those who love hard rock ‘n’ roll. Maybe it’s that the employees look like rocker dudes…maybe it’s that the walls are lathered in all kinds of guitars. Who knows? But it definitely has a rocker’s paradise vibe. Drums are the first thing you come to when you walk in. Both sides of the entranceway are loaded with kits that are set up for play. To one side of those are the used kits, along with all kinds of gear.
One of the sales guys came over, said hi and shook my hand. I like a good, old-fashioned handshake. I told him my story about needing a drum kit for a newbie, adding that I’m out and about, shopping around. I asked him what he might recommend. He then walked me over to a new Pearl Crystal Beat kit ($1,399), with the ultralite (clear) shells. I told him I dug the clear style, to which he responded, “Check this out!” He plugged in the LED lights they’d rigged the kit with and proceeded to take me through a tour of the different colors with which the kit can be illuminated: everything from reds and blues to speeds that included a moving-strobe-light option that was hallucination-inspiring and insanely fast.
Although I was impressed by the drums and the light show, I told him that that might be a little too fancy for me, seeing as how I was just getting going. He let me know that the Crystal Beat drums were known for being really solid, along with being nice and showy looking…good for touring. “I have a little time for that,” I said, laughing. I asked to see something less flashy and pricey, and he showed me a used Pearl Roadshow RS525SC 5-piece drum set. That one included all the hardware, whereas the other did not. I told him I had a lot to think about and I headed to the other central Phoenix stop on my list.
3309 N. 3rd St.
Phoenix AZ 85012
Ziggie’s Music occupies a corner spot on a street that’s right in the heart of central Phoenix. Unfortunately for me on that day, I would soon find out that no drums occupied any of the space inside. I probably could have assumed that from the shop’s sidewalk sign, which listed offerings like accordions, amps and guitars, along with lessons and repairs. I figured that those were just some of what was within those red brick walls. So, I went in to find out what was what. It’s a cool space that looks lived in by people who love music. Its green and white checkered floors are complemented by plenty of guitars and almost as many accordions. It was cool to see that many accordions in one place at one time.
There were a couple of people up at the front of the store, but no one seemed to notice that I had walked in. Finally, I offered a “Hello,” and I got a couple back. I waited to see if anything else was coming as part of the exchange and, when nothing did, I asked if the store had any drums or drum gear. “Sticks,” I was told in reply. “And you never have kits come through here?” I asked. The response was, “Nope.” There was a glass case off to one side that looked like it might have had some old mounted toms inside, but there were a couple of boxes in front and I didn’t feel the need to ask to see them, since full drum kits were my mission focus.
I called Ziggie’s the next day, just to confirm the whole “no drums” thing, and I spoke to a super nice person who said that, although the store loves drums, it just doesn’t keep them in the store all the time. But, during the holidays, the shop pulls a couple of kits out of its warehouse and brings them in. He continued, explaining, “That’s usually the time of year we sell a couple of kits. But, if you’re looking before then, give us a call and I will check our inventory.” He added, “If it’s something you want to see, we can bring them to the shop.” That was pretty nice and accommodating for a place that’s not really drum-focused. He also noted, “If you’re looking for a good deal on drums, you could go over to Bizarre Guitar.” It’s always nice when businesses support one another.
I spent some good driving time listening to tunes and watching the temperature gauge in my car show me numbers like 115 and 117, all while I tooled around town comparing places to get a drum kit for a beginning player. And, I must say, after that journey, Milano Music is the winner. I liked the overall atmosphere there the best, and I felt the store’s drum section had a nice presentation and selection of both new and used drums, along with an abundance of other gear. The salesperson was truly kind and he made me feel like he wanted to answer my questions, without pushing hard for a sale. There were a lot of good price points, too.
Bizarre Guitar and Drums makes for a really close second. It had a lot of choices and the salesperson seemed to want to find something to accommodate me. There really wasn’t a bad spot on the itinerary; each shop has its own flair and flavor. But, neither Boogie nor Ziggie’s had as much to offer in the way of drums, although they both boasted some nice, well informed salespeople.
This time, Milano Music, you get the prize: the coveted number-one spot.