Electronic drums are becoming more popular than acoustic ones in recent years. Don't believe me? Just go to your local guitar center and ask the people in the drum department which one they're selling more of. I think this mostly has to do with one main thing.... volume.
I started on acoustic drums, and they will always be my first love. However, I've gained a real love for electronic drums as well in recent years. After I had my first electronic kit for a year or so, (an Alesis Nitro) I started thinking how I would like to convert an acoustic kit into an electric one and started experimenting with ways to do this myself. I made a lot of mistakes, but through trial and error have come up with a lot of tips to help you do your A2E conversion successfully.
Essentially converting acoustic drums to electronic drums consists of 5 things
- the drums
- the triggers
- hi hat controller
- the module
- the cymbals
1. Picking your drums: Though technically you can use just about any drum set. I have some tips on ones that will give you an easier time than others.
Smaller drums work better. When converting your drums to electronic, you're going to be using something called 'triggers'. More on this later, but these are the sensors that pick up you hitting the drums and sends those triggers to the module. They sense vibrations, but drums that vibrate too much can be a problem and cause double triggering, or just a general bad response. Larger drums vibrate more than small ones, so it's harder to get a good response out of them (not impossible, but definitely harder). The kit you see above is my tiny conversion kit made from a Tama Club-Jam Flyer, which is one of the smallest adult drum sets being produced today.
I actually made a video about what I think are the best kits to make into e-drums, you can watch that below.
4. Picking the module: The module (sometimes called The Brain) is the electronic thing that actually makes all the sounds. You plug all of your triggers into the module, and when you hit the drum, the trigger tells the module you just hit it, and the module makes a sound. If you want to make your life easier, I highly recommend using a Roland drum module! Not because I think they sound better, but they have all kinds of fine-tuning adjustments that really help you dial in the trigger to make it work correctly with your drums. They also are the most compatible with 3rd party drums and triggers. There are other options out there such a Alesis, Yamaha, ATV, Simmons...etc... but if this is your first conversion, Roland will be the easiest and give you the least amount of headaches.
Another option is to use a computer trigger interface, and have your module basically be your computer, but for the sake of simplicity, and to have a stand-alone electronic drum set that does not require a computer I will not be covering this topic in this document.
Depending on your budget, you can usually find a Roland module that you can afford. But if you have a decent chunk of change to spend, why not get the best? The TD-50X is Roland's Flagship module. It is not cheap, but it is the only module you'd really ever need to buy for all applications. But if you're thinking "Are you nuts Justin? I'm not going to spend $3000!!!" Don't worry, there's a lot more options out there.
If you want to spend a lot less, The Roland TD-17 is an absolutely fantastic module for the money. You get sound quality that nearly rivals the TD-50 and a smaller footprint. One step down from that is the Roland TD-07. This is a great module still, just barebones as far as features and has less input and output options. If that's still too much money for ya, head to the used market like Reverb or Facebook Marketplace. There's some real gems of older Roland module that you can find for fairly cheap. The TD-5, this thing is old as dirt, but is still awesome. I regret selling mine. The TD-6, is less old, but still old, but also awesome. TD-9, TD-11, and TD-15s can be found at various prices, but all mostly cheaper than any current Roland Module (except the TD-07).
5. The Cymbals: I can't really think of any better electronic drum cymbal as far as bang for your buck goes, than Lemon Cymbals. If you want to get them at the best price, then you need to go through Alibaba. But these things are really good. Not just good for the money, they're just good. Go ahead and YouTube them, you'll see many people raving about them. The reason they're so good is they work nearly as good as Rolands but are like 1/5th of the price, it's insane. I've been using a Lemon Ride and two crashes for well over a year now, and they're all 3 still as good as they were new. Another option if you want to go dirt cheap and only have single zone cymbals, you can go with Pintech Cymbals. They make dual zone too, but those aren't as reliable, nor do they trigger as accurately as their single zone cymbals from my experience. But if you're using an older module, you might only have single zone inputs anyway. "Zones" refers to the place on the cymbal that can be struck to produce a sound, for example "bell zone", "bow zone", "edge zone". Some cymbals have 1 "bow zone", or 2 "bow and edge zones".
*6. Cables: This will totally depend on your module, because some of them will use cable snakes, some will need individual cables. If it's a module that needs a snake, make sure you get one that includes it. Replacement snakes can be pricy and they're specific to every module that uses them. Some trigger packs include cables like the one posted above in the trigger section.
*7. Mesh Heads: If you really want your drums to be quiet, you're going to need some mesh heads. You can get some Remo silent stokes, or something similar. But as I said before, there's ways around this. You can still use mylar heads, but if you do, I recommend removing your resonant heads, and taking off the batter head off and reseating it over some fabric from an old t-shirt or something to totally deaden the head. This still won't be as quiet as mesh heads, but will function fine and if you don't need to be super quiet, it's a really cheap way to go.