Editor’s Note: Subsequent to our Spy’s visit, Brown’s Music closed and it’s now been replaced by Stan’s Music. The description that follows is of a store visit that preceded that changeover.

It’s always a thrill when The Chief calls me on the Spyphone to let me know he has another assignment, if I choose to accept it. This one, I couldn’t pass up, though. (Not that I’ve ever refused an assignment, mind you.) Not only did I have to sharpen my spy skills for this one, but I also burned a hole in my gas card.

Palm Springs CA is home to palm trees, wind farms (they plant windmills), movie stars and a history of famous people, such as Bob Hope, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Elvis and so many more. For those of you who are younger, Leonardo DiCaprio just bought a home in “the valley,” as the locals call it.

I was excited to do this mission for several reasons: warm, sunny weather; mountains; palm trees; and, if I didn’t take it on, The Chief would have been a little mad at me.
With Palm Springs having entertainment and so much to offer, you would think there would be many music stores to add to my spy list. However, even though there were quite a few listed, they were either closed or far, far away. So, I had my work cut out for me driving around looking for a music store with a drum set—more specifically and even more difficult to find: an intermediate-level drum set.

My goal was to shop for the kind of drum set someone might use to step up from the beginner stages. It might sound easy, but not so. There were not a lot of drum sets to be had in this town of many palms.

My first stop was interesting. After a quick “drive by” of Joshua Tree National Park, I located my first music store just outside of the famed park.

I was greeted immediately by both of the saleswomen who were working in the store. I had called ahead to make sure they had an intermediate-level drum set. After a pleasant exchange of “How are you?” and “How can I help you?”, I mentioned that I had called about the intermediate-level drum set and, immediately, the saleswoman said, “Yes, it’s sitting right there.”

We walked over to the drum set to check it out. It was a CB-700 kit, she said, and consisted of five pieces. She told me she had some used cymbals, as well. And that, more or less, was the end of that. At that point, she drifted over to the drumheads and took a quick inventory to let the other woman know what they might need to purchase for stock. She then directed her to make a phone call to ask a customer if he or she wanted something that had come into the store. I, meanwhile, continued to stand at the drum set.

The saleswomen continued their work and really had nothing else to say about the drum set. After waiting several minutes, I decided to go to the counter and ask if they could order a drum set for me. I was told they could order some of the prominent brands. “I think we can order DW, Peace Drums, Gretsch…and that’s about it,” one saleswoman said. I asked if she knew about what those would run me, cost-wise. She said the retail price for Peace Drums was about $895, but I could get a kit on sale for $495 “or somewhere in there.” She looked up in a catalog how much the Gretsch would be and, while doing so, said, “Percussion Plus makes one for $699. That’s a retail price, and we do give you a discount. A PDP is $849, and they go up from there.” I asked what level of player the sets she was looking at were suited for, to which she replied, “Entry level.” (When I had called, I’d specifically said I was looking for an intermediate-level kit.)

At that point, I said, “The person I am shopping for is looking for an intermediate-level set.” She replied, “What exactly does he mean by an ‘intermediate type set’? Because, when you get into the higher end, it basically depends on whether the wood you want is birch or maple.” She added, “They can be pricey.” I thought that, perhaps, she would try to up-sell me to a “pricey” one.

I continued by saying, “He wants something he can build from.” She replied, “They all do that.”

While flipping catalog pages, she said DW is a high-end brand with good hardware. She also mentioned some things about how one company did away with one line of drums and how it’s hard to sell when you get into those upper price ranges. “PDP goes all the way to a $1,000, but that’s it,” she said. At that point, I sensed she was basically done in terms of helping me further. There was no attempt to explain what came with a set or why one would be better or worse than another would be. No real sales job at all. I don’t want a pushy salesperson, but, when going into a store and wanting to buy something, I do expect a little explanation and education on the product.

In my attempt to get a better understanding of what the main function of the store was, I began to ask general questions. “Do you mostly do school music?” I asked. She replied, “School music as in…?” I responded, “Rentals.” She said, “Not for percussion. Students usually just buy a practice pad for class. Some of the band directors want them to have a snare kit.” She then explained a snare kit was a backpack that, for $259, had what students needed to play.

“Normally, they don’t require kids to buy drum sets unless they get into high school, really get into drumming and the parents buy them a set or something,” she explained. I asked if the store rented band instruments. She responded by saying they don’t do rentals because you can buy a flute for $159, a trumpet for $189 and a clarinet for $159. She added that things are different now, as many of the corporations are overseas, adding, “Hardly anything is American-made anymore.”

After an exchange of pleasantries, I said thank you and left. The saleswoman was pleasant enough…just not very informative, nor did she really act as though she wanted to sell a drum set. I would have liked to get more information on the sets she was looking up in the catalog; she just didn’t readily give it to me. However, I was given the scoop on the backpack drum kit, even though I had said—both in the beginning and on the phone—that I was looking for a intermediate drum set for a high school student.

Brown’s Music is a small store size-wise, without a lot of room for display.

Musicians Outlet was the largest store I could find in the area. The showroom carried a good-sized display of drum sets, as well as other instruments. I was greeted immediately and asked what I was looking for. I explained I was interested in an intermediate-level drum set. The salesman asked if it was for me, in response to which I said I was scouting them out for a friend who was looking for her son.

He asked if I knew how many pieces I wanted, to which I replied, “Not really.” I explained that the student wanted something better than a beginner-level set…something that, perhaps, he could add pieces to over time. The salesman explained that intermediate kits might not be easy to add pieces to in the same color, saying, “Some you can, some you can’t.” He continued, explaining that the colors change all the time, and some have sunbursts and sparkles. He suggested black as the way to go if the young drummer might want to add pieces later. However, he stressed, it was no problem to add items such as additional cymbals, tambourines, cow bells, etc.

Then, he began to educate me by saying that, when shopping for drums, some things can be misleading. A kit, he told me, means it comes with drums, cymbals and stands. At the intermediate level, he had a PDP kit, which he said was a great kit for $709. He also showed me a ddrum kit for $599. He said he had one kit that was a fantastic deal. It was a consignment kit, brand new. The man who was selling it had won it on “The Price is Right.” A Sunlite set, it had everything with it and, at $750, it was a steal.
Then, the salesman continued to educate me on all things drum. He showed me that one of the great things about the Sunlite kit was there were no pipes that went into the drum. It had floating mounts, which allowed for a little more resonance. All the beginner-level drums would have those pipes. He said he wasn’t sure, but he guessed the price of the Sunlite would normally be about $1,300. So, he told me, it was the deal of the century.

Then, the salesman told me about shell packs. They came with the drums, mounts, legs and all that, but the cymbals and stands had to be purchased separately. He showed me a PDP Concept Maple for $899, a six-piece set. He said it’s difficult to price things out for people when you have to add the cymbals and stands to a shell kit. “The problem is, when you get into cymbals, you get into a variety of prices,” he explained. The salesman showed me a Zildjian cymbal that lists at $250, but that they sell for $159. Then, to show me the price range, he pointed and said, “That one sells for $300 and that one for $455.” Those prices were without the stand or hardware. “Cymbals themselves can be expensive,” he elaborated. “In the kits, the cymbals are adequate but very basic.” The gentleman proceeded to explain the difference in cymbals is what they sound like. Generally, the thinner they are, the better they sound. The salesman added that, in essence, the kits have practice-type cymbals. They don’t have the greatest tone and they don’t last as long. He pointed to the PDP kit, which had step-up cymbals that were pretty good.

The very helpful man continued by showing me thrones, remarking that complete kits come with them. However, he emphasized, shell kits do not. “Drums are a personal situation, as you can see with the thrones,” he explained. “Some want the motorcycle seat; some are real padded; some have hydraulics…there are so many parts and pieces.”

As we walked toward the door, he gave me his card. That’s when I asked whether drums came with a warranty. He said, generally speaking, no, because you beat on them. “I’ve never been asked that,” he said honestly. He continued by remarking that, if there were a structural problem, he assumed the manufacturer would work something out. “I would imagine, on drums, it would be very hard because you’re hitting them and it could be the difference of where somebody hits it,” he continued. “I can’t ever remember having a drum break.”

He walked me back to the drums and, showing me the hardware, said it would take a lot for it to break. He said he had seen—in the less-expensive kits—the wrap get wrinkly from them having been left to sit in the sun. However, he said, that doesn’t hurt the drum or sound; it just looks funny. He pointed to a section of the hardware and said, “That could strip out. But, if someone brought it in, we would just replace it. Most of the stuff that happens is player error.”

He added the better cymbal companies, most likely, would replace a broken cymbal in the first year. It would just be a case of sending it back. On the other side, he said, you have the guy who has played the same cymbal for 20 years. “It depends on the style of drumming,” the salesman explained. “Sticks and heads are what break the most. When used correctly, we don’t see problems.”

Then, he said, “I didn’t think about this until you asked. Drums give us probably the fewest problems of any of the instruments. For the abuse they take, you hardly ever see anybody experiencing a major problem with drums.”

While I was shopping, I heard another salesman explaining guitars to someone in the same manner: seeking to educate the prospective buyer. The store was very busy, especially for the middle of the day on a weekday.

My trip to Music Proz began with a dog barking at my heels, but, since I like dogs, I didn’t act afraid. He just followed me around the building to the front door and then went on his merry way. I opened the door and, before I could get it all the way open, I was greeted with, “Hello! How’s it going? How may we help you?” I told the salesman I was looking for an intermediate-level drum set. He asked if I had a budget. I said I wasn’t sure, because I was scouting them out for a friend who wanted to buy a set for her son. She had not mentioned a budget, I explained. He showed me the set he had: a used piece for $399. (He said he would be able to sell it to me for $350.)
It was a five-piece set with cymbals and a bar to hold the toms, but no hardware. He added that it was in really good shape and that he could give me an awesome deal on hardware. The store had a lot of used hardware. He could also order sets for me; he let me know that intermediate level would run between $600 and $1,200.

The salesman said he could get me a good new PDP drum set for $599. He could add new Sabian cymbals for about $200, and a better set for more. “We are a large cymbal dealer, and I will get you a good price for better cymbals,” he emphasized. I would also need hardware. He had plenty of used options; they would be about $100. If I wanted new, it would be about $200. That would be Gibraltar and, he said, I would get better hardware from Gibraltar for a better price. He mentioned he could also get me a Gretsch drum set. He would discount it, too, because he’d want to make sure I bought from him, rather than online. “I would rather make a little money and keep the customer,” he said. “Our priority is customer service. We are a small family business.”

He recommended Gretsch for a new drum set, saying they are affordable and sound amazing. “This is the thing,” he said. “I’m a musician myself, and I teach music. I don’t perform live…I’m a recording musician. When I teach someone to play guitar, I tell the parents to get a good guitar for him or her. I find that the students who have the ‘cheapy’ guitars quit; the ones with a better guitar tend to stay. Giving them a good instrument shows support. If you give them a nice instrument, they feel more committed and love the instrument more.”

He said he would go with the Gretsch drums and the Gibraltar hardware. The salesman took me back to the computer in the office to get online, so he could show me a variety of sets. He showed me a Gretsch Marquee Shell Pack that he would sell me for $1,200; it had a free eight-inch tom. Then, we looked at a Catalina Maple; it, too, came with a free eight-inch tom. He said it was a really good drum set; it had a 22-inch bass drum, which is good; and that it was a six-piece shell pack that would sell for under $1,000. He added that maple was a better quality wood.

There was a PDP set for $599 and a Gretsch for the same price. He viewed several at that price, comparing the details, and concluded that, as an intermediate-level drummer, the young man would not be happy with those sets. He did, however, find a Gretsch CMT shell pack ($699) that was nice.

He said the advantage right now on the Gretsch was they were giving away that eight-inch tom with the sets. They run about $150 and, so, the deal saves that money.
He then looked up the PDP Concept Maple Seven-Piece Shell Pack for $899. He suggested that would work best for the 17-year-old for whom it was ostensibly being purchased.

I asked about a warranty and he said there were warranties on drum sets. Some had one year, but they went up to five years. The salesman added he has never had a problem with a drum set or had a person complain about one.

The gentleman was pleasant, spent plenty of time with me and gave me a lot of information and suggestions. As I left, he thanked me and gave me his card.

The Sale
So who “beat” whom this time around? I would most likely purchase a set from Musicians Outlet; however, I would also strongly consider Music Proz. It’s really a tossup. They both had product knowledge; they both spent plenty of time explaining each set; and they both noted what the differences were.

The salesman from Musicians Outlet was very knowledgeable and explained everything that I’d need to know to inform my friend who wanted to buy a drum set. I was impressed by the conversations going on in the busy store. All the salesmen sounded knowledgeable and each was courteous to the customers. The same goes for the interactions I saw with the salesman at Music Proz, as he also spoke with a couple other customers. I believe customer service is a high priority for both stores. Musicians Outlet, however, probably has more help available and more items in stock.

The main difference was this: Musicians Outlet had the sets on site, where you could see them. Music Proz didn’t have the room to have them there, but the business hopes to move to a larger storefront over the next year.

So, Chief, what’s next? I look forward to shopping ’til I drop for another musical instrument!


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