Modern musicians are so spoiled with choice that it can feel a bit overwhelming at times to make an informed gear decision. This is especially true with drum sets because the problem is amplified because there are so many different components to a kit. You have cymbals, shells, different heads, and different choices in hardware and accessories. Kits are also modular, so you can settle for a kit with some flaws and upgrade it later.
So rather than trying to decide on your own, why not let us help? This guide is going to give you all the information that you need in order to figure out how to select the best drum set for you, as well as giving you a few great recommendations to aid you in your search.
- Drum Sets 101: What to Look For In A Drum Kit
- Drum Set Configurations
- The Top 5 Drum Sets
Drum Sets 101: What to Look For In A Drum Kit
The first thing you’re going to want to decide is how much you’re willing to spend as well as what type of music you’d like to play. We can’t tell you how much you should pay without knowing your situation, but generally a well-made full size beginner to intermediate kit is going to cost between $250 to $700 new. The price is going to depend on the quality of the components and the amount of pieces in the kit. You can buy used to save some money but if you go this route you may have to make a few repairs or invest some extra cash replacing worn out or damaged hardware.
As far as genre is concerned a general rule of thumb is that the thicker the head and the bigger the shell (the cylinder) the darker the sound. A dark sound is well suited to jazz or blues while a brighter sound is more suited to more aggressive and/or more lively genres. Think metal, punk, country, or funk.
Just like stringed instruments, the type of wood the shell of your drum is made of is going to affect your tone. Generally, maple gives a bright and resonant sound while birch has a punchy but dark tone. Your sound is also going to be affected by factors such as your technique, the sticks you use, and the head on your drum.
Cymbals are very diverse, and the topic is so large that it really needs an article of its own in order to be well explained. However, there are a couple things we’ll discuss about the topic so that you at least have a base level of knowledge to work with.
Cymbals are made from casting metal or by cutting sheets of metal. Casted cymbals require an intense amount of labor so they’re much more expensive than their sheet metal counterparts. Casted cymbals do offer a more complex and musical tone, but many beginning drummers aren’t going to really be able to take advantage of this until they develop more proficiency on their instrument.
Some cymbals are also lathed (lathing removes metal in a circular pattern) to give them a different tone. The effect of this process varies from cymbal to cymbal. There are a wealth of kits available the come with cymbals included, and while they aren’t going to sound as good as higher quality aftermarket options they’ll perform adequately until you’re ready to upgrade.
Drum Set Configurations
For entry level kits there are two main configurations available: a standard five-piece kit and a “fusion” kit. Both of these configurations are available with and without cymbals. There are also six and seven piece kits available. Just make sure to double check whether or not your kit comes with cymbals, because some kits are pictured with cymbals but they may not actually be shipped with the kit.
A standard five piece kit will come with a 22” bass drum, a 12”, 13”, and “16 tom, and a 14” snare. Cymbals may be included as well, but even if they are the kit will generally still be referred to as a five piece kit. This configuration offers a lot of flexibility but it isn’t generally as punchy or bright as a fusion kit.
A fusion kit includes 10”, 12”, and 14” toms, a 14” snare, and a 22” bass drum. Fusion kits are geared towards livelier genres.
The Top 5 Drum Sets
As always, our recommendations are selected with widespread applicability in mind. Ideally, everyone reading one of our articles should be able to find an option that applies to them (so long as they have reasonable expectations of course) as we make an effort to pick kits that perform well at a variety of price points. So while we recognize that a higher priced option is generally better, it doesn’t matter how good a kit is if you can’t afford it. Just try to keep in mind that the best option for you may not be the best option for your neighbor, and vice versa.
Pearl Roadshow Drum Set
The Pearl Musical Company (generally just referred to as “Pearl") is a Japan-based multinational corporation. Founded in 1946 by Katsumi Yanagisawa, Pearl actually started as a manufacturer of music stands. The company focused solely on producing stands for the next four years, but by 1950 the company changed its course and started focusing on producing drums and other instruments (the company manufactured marching drums, cymbals, and Latin percussion instruments) and accessories for percussionists.
Pearl went on to become a bit like the Harmony of percussion instruments in the 1960s. Like Harmony, they manufactured inexpensive drum kits for more than thirty different companies. For a time Pearl was even distributed in North America by Norlin, who was at the time the parent company of Gibson Guitars.
Though the company is still based in Japan, currently the vast majority of the products they produce are manufactured across five factories of Taiwan. The original factory in Chiba, Japan caters to the company’s domestic market, manufacturing high-quality drum kits, marching drums, timpani, and symphonic chimes.
A fun fact about Pearl is that they were actually the first company to make shells made of wood that featured a fiberglass lining to enhance durability. Peal also pioneered shells made of “Phenolic”, a composite that is more resistant to changes in temperature and humidity than more traditional wood shells.
Given Pearl’s track record, it’s no surprise that they’ve developed a cult following among beginner and intermediate drummers. The company produces great kits at a very affordable price, and the Pearl Roadshow Drum Set is no exception to this trend.
The Pearl Roadshow Drum Set is available in four different configurations, all of which have their own pros and cons. However each configuration available includes cymbals, all the necessary stands, a throne, and a bass pedal, so no matter which you decide to go with you will have everything that you need to start playing. These kits also come with a stick bag, maple drum sticks, a welcome pack, and a poster.
The main difference between the different versions of this kit is the size of the shells. Larger shells will give you more volume and a more complex tone but they won’t cut through a mix quite as well. Each of these kits use a different drum size for the toms, snare, and bass drum, so make sure to keep this in mind before you decide which kit you choose to purchase. The cymbals for each of the four kits are the same.
This kit is one of the best received drum sets currently available due to it being both durable and an extraordinary bargain. However, this is a kit designed for student drummers. It’s not going to be an ideal kit for drummers who are already proficient with their instrument and are looking to upgrade to a kit suitable for gigging or recording. It will work just fine for small gigs however, it’s just not going to be suitable for professional level studio work.
This kit is described as having a “controlled volume”, which while this is ideal for young drummers (and a godsend for their parents and/or siblings we’d imagine) it does limit the utility of the kit somewhat. The tone is also described as being a bit restrained, but this isn’t surprising considering that the kit is a budget option and it features shells made from poplar. Think about this kit like an Epiphone acoustic guitar vs. something like a Gibson Jumbo. The Epiphone is going to be serviceable and it’s going to hold up well, but the Gibson is obviously going to be a better fit for a more seasoned musician who doesn't mind paying higher prices.
Surprisingly for a kit in this price range all of the hardware is of a suitable quality for consistent practice. The throne is sturdy (though it’s obviously not going to be as nice as an aftermarket $200 throne) though there are some reports of it being a bit small and the bass pedal performs well enough.
An added bonus of this kit is that Pearl has a setup video for this exact kit on their website, which will go over initial assembly as well as more advanced topics like tuning your drum heads.
While the Pearl Roadshow Drum Set may not be a great fit for intermediate drummers looking for a kit suitable for paying gigs or recording it does offer a great value for drummers looking for an affordable drum set that they can use to learn on and grow into as musicians.
Yamaha Stage Custom Drum Set
Established in 1887, Yamaha is arguably one of the most prodigious manufacturers of instruments that the world has ever seen. Though the company may now be known more for its other endeavors (motorcycles, sound equipment, audio equipment, golf carts, sporting equipment, and a record company) they actually started life as a manufacturer of pianos and reed organs. The company’s origins are reflected in their logo, which is three interlocking tuning forks.
The instrument arm of Yamaha tends sometimes is ignored by a lot of musicians, but the company has won dozens of awards for different instruments. The Yamaha YPG-625 was actually given the “Keyboard of the Year” award as well as the “Product of the Year” award in 2007 from The Music and Sound Retailer Magazine. Yamaha also established the Yamaha Music Foundation in 1966 as a way to promote musical education for residents of Japan, which was a continuation of the program of music classes that they began in 1954.
Given the company’s history, it’s no surprise that their recent products have maintained an extraordinary level of quality. The Yamaha Stage Custom Drum Set is no exception to this trend, and offers an excellent value to any drummer on the hunt for an affordable kit.
The stand out feature of this kit is that the shells are made from birch as opposed to a cheaper wood that’s usually found in kits at this price range (like poplar). The great thing about birch is that it has a focused and warm tone which is great at cutting through a mix while still retaining a musical quality.
This kit features five drums, a 22”x17” kick drum, a 10”x7” and a 12”x8” rack tom, a 16”x15” floor tom, and a 14”x5.5” snare drum. The drums are also all made from a 100% birch laminate, as opposed to some other kits which will use a laminate birch layer in addition to layers of laminate made from a less desirable tone wood.
The great thing about birch is that when it’s used in an Asian made kit you end up getting a lot more for your money. Asian drum makers tend to favor birch because they have domestic species available that have great tonal properties, while in order to manufacture maple drums they have to import wood from other countries. So by buying a birch kit you can save yourself a significant some of money because in order to remain competitive in the market place these manufacturers pass their savings on to you.
A great thing about this kit is that in addition to coming equipped with all of the hardware you’re going to need for the included drums the kick drum comes with “stoppers.” Stoppers allow you to lock your kick drum into place and retain your setting while the drum isn’t set up. This saves a lot of time when you’re setting up or tearing down at a gig, which if you gig regularly is going to be a feature that you’re going to come to heavily appreciate.
The Yamaha Stage Custom is available in five different finishes, Cranberry Red, Honey Amber, Natural, Pure White, and Raven Black.
The main thing you need to know about this kit is that it does not come with cymbals. Depending on your budget this may or may not be a good thing. It’s inconvenient to have to purchase a set of cymbals in addition to the kit, but if you’re already established as a drummer you’re sure to have already developed your own taste in cymbals. It doesn’t save you any money if you’d just end up replacing your cymbals anyway, so while it is an inconvenience for beginners it will save intermediate drummers some money because including cymbals with the kit would raise the overall price.
The Yamaha Stage Custom Drum Set is a great value for intermediate drummers as the quality of the shells and hardware are regarded to be on par with much more expensive models. This kit may not be a good choice for beginners as it doesn’t come with cymbals or a throne like the Pearl does, but for drummers who are already knowledgeable the Yamaha Stage Custom presents a great value.
Ludwig Breakbeats Drum Set
Established in 1909 by William F. and Theobald Ludwig, Ludwig drums have maintained a reputation as one of the premier manufacturers of percussion instruments for more than a century. William Ludwig was actually a professional musician before he established the company, playing a variety of gigs including touring with a Vaudeville show, playing circuses, and occasional gigs at skating rinks.
The company was actually established because William’s work as a professional musician was irregular, so they founded the company as an attempt to establish a regular income. One of the first notable achievements of the company was designing the first functional bass pedal, as well as establishing a profitable manufacturing process for the product.
By 1923 Ludwig drums rose to prominence, becoming the largest manufacturer of drums in the world. The company employed 240 employees, which at the time was incredibly impressive. Interestingly enough, William eventually sold the company to the C.G. Conn instrument company. Similarly to Leo Fender, following the sale he eventually went on to create a company to compete with his original business.
Though Ludwig was successful throughout the entirety of its history, its true breakthrough occurred on February 9th, 1964 following the influential Beatles performance on The Ed Sullivan Show. The Ludwig logo was proudly displayed upon Ringo Star’s drum kit, an endorsement which doubled the company’s sales. A fun fact about this is that the reason that Star chose his Ludwig kit was because he liked the finish of the drums. Though Star is the most notable user of the drums, the brand has also been endorsed by Jerry Allison (Buddy Holly & The Crickets), Jason Bonham, Clive Bunker, Eric Carr, Ginger Baker, Eric Kretz, Ian Paice, Neil Peart, and Questlove.
Given the fact that company’s enjoyed preeminence in the market for more than a century, it’s not surprising that the Ludwig Breakbeats Drum Set has quickly become a hit among drummers everywhere.
The configuration of this kit includes: a 16” by 14” bass drum, 10” by 7” tom(s), 13” by 13” floor tom(s), and a 14” by 5” snare. This drum set does not come with cymbals or cymbal hardware, which may be a pro or a con depending on your situation and preferences. The kit does come with storage bags though, which is a definite plus if you plan on traveling with your kit to get to gigs or practice sessions. The bags can also be draped over the drums to help mute the sound, which will come in handy if you share your living space with other people. The kit also includes all of the necessary mounting hardware for the toms and the bass drum.
The shells of this drum is made from poplar, which while not ideal isn’t a surprise at this price point. Poplar isn’t as desirable as maple or birch, but it isn’t necessarily inferior. This kit in particular produces a punchy and focused sound, with a dry resonance. This gives the kit a very focused sound, which is great for faster, more complex passages.
The Ludwig Breakbeats Drum Set comes with Remo heads, with the toms being equipped with single ply clear heads and the snare featuring a coated ambassador head. The kit also comes in three different finishes: Black Sparkle, White Sparkle, and Wine Red Sparkle.
The Ludwig Breakbeats kit is a beginner drum set built to the standards of an intermediate to professional kit. The acoustic materials (the shells) are made of a less desirable tonewood to cut down on costs, but the hardware itself is made to the standards that you would expect from the company.
The Ludwig Breakbeats Drum Set may not meet the needs of a more experienced drummer, but it is inarguably a great fit for beginners. It’s well made and very affordable, and so long as you remember that you will need to purchase cymbals and cymbal hardware separately you should be incredibly pleased with this kit.
Gretsch Catalina Maple Drum Set
Founded in 1883 by Friedrich Gretsch, Gretsch has established a legacy as one of the most innovative and influential musical instruments in the world. Gretsch has produced some of the most recognizable instruments ever made, such as: drum kits, banjos, mandolins, ukuleles, guitars, bass guitars, lap steel guitars, and guitar amplifiers.
As previously stated, Gretsch was established in 1883. The company was founded in Brooklyn, and in its infancy was focused on producing banjos, tambourines, and drums. It wasn’t until the explosive popularity of the electric guitar in the 1950s that the Gretsch we know today rose to prominence. Some of the more notable models produced around this time include the 6120 “Nashville”, the Duo Jet (used by Chuck Berry to record his first notable hit, “Maybellene”), the Country Club, and the White Falcon. Gretsch guitars were used by extensively by guitarists during the British Invasion (George Harrison and Brian Jones both used Gretsch guitars in their career, as did Neil Young and Pete Townshend).
Like many other guitar companies, Gretsch went through a period where they fell out of favor with the majority of musicians. As harder genres of rock rose to prominence Gretsch’s hollowbody instruments and low (for the time) output pickups failed to resonate with guitarists of the day. However, the brand was revitalized during the late 80s to early 90s when the company received an endorsement from Chet Atkins. The star power of Chet Atkins (who at the time was one of the preeminent guitarists in the country) gave a huge boost to the sale of Gretsch guitars.
Given the fact that Gretsch has a legacy that spans over a century, it’s no surprise that the Gretsch Catalina Maple Drum Set is such a hit with modern drummers. It offers an impressive value for its price point, and a host of great features that any musician will surely appreciate.
The first thing that prospective buyers of this kit need to know is that some configurations do come with cymbals and/or cymbal stands and some do not. If you’re already established as a drummer we would recommend looking at a set that does not include cymbals (the kit is expandable, with extra drums being available from Gretsch’s website) if the included cymbals don’t align with your preferences. If you’re a beginner and you’re not quite sure which cymbals you prefer we would recommend looking at a set that includes cymbals.
Also, be sure to keep in mind that this kit is a vintage voiced piece of equipment. While the kit is capable of covering a wide variety of genres if you plan on playing more modern music exclusively you may want to consider a kit that is voiced for that type of music.
The Gretsch Catalina Maple is available in four, six, and seven piece configurations. These different configurations feature different sized drums and different extras. However, every drum set in this series comes with 7-ply maple drum and Remo Drumheads. Each kit also features the same hardware (tom suspension system, low-profile tom and floor tom leg brackets, Gretsch T-Wing nut/bolt, and a “Gas cap” bass drum mount plate with a memory lock). The kit is also available in four different finishes: Aqua Sparkle, Deep Cherry Burst, Satin Deep Cherry Burst, as well as walnut glaze.
The Gresch Catalina Maple Drum Set reflects the quality that Gretsch maintains with every instrument they produce. They’re not a company that generally makes mid-tier pieces of equipment or better, which is an important thing to note if you’re just starting out. If you’ve never played the drums before we would recommend investing in a cheaper kit, because it’s always a possibility that you’re going to lose interest in the instrument. However, this drum kit is a good choice for an intermediate drummer looking to upgrade to a better kit.
As far as the overall quality of this kit is concerned you can rest assured that there’s no reason to believe that you’re going to run into any structural issues or defects. One of the highpoints of Gretsch as a company is that they’ve always been really good at ensuring that all of their instruments play well and are structurally stable, which is one of the many things that distinguish them as a company.
The Gretsch Catalina Maple Drum set offers a great value to intermediate musicians, though because it requires a relatively high investment it may not be the best choice for beginning musicians.
Tama Starclassic Bubinga Drum Set
Founded in 1974, Tama is one of the highest regarded manufacturers of percussion instruments and accessories in the world. The company has a world-wide reach, manufacturing instruments that make their way to drummers in countries all over the globe.
An interesting fact about Tama is that the company actually started life as “Star Drums.” The company got its name from its founder Hoshino. Hoshino loosely translates to “Star Field” in Japanese, so the brand name was an attempt to create a recognizable name that would resonate with American consumers without alienating itself from its roots. The company actually manufactured instruments in the same plant where early Ibanez guitars and amplifiers were made.
In 1974 Hoshino decided to make an effort to focus on producing a higher-quality product, so in order to get a fresh start for his company he rebranded it as Tama drums. Tama was the name of Hoshino’s wife and translate to “jewel” in English. The company still uses “Star” in a selection of its drum models in order to reflect the company’s roots.
A fun fact about Tama is that they company actually purchased the Camco Drum Company. Tama utilized the innovations made by the Camco Drum Company, greatly enhancing the quality of their drums.
Tama has been a fixture in the world of percussion instruments for decades, so it’s no surprise that their dedication to quality is reflected in the Tama Starclassic Bubinga Drum Set.
The most important thing to recognize about this kit is that it’s intended for musicians who are looking for a professional level of quality, and the price reflects this. This isn’t a good choice for a beginner drummer, though for intermediate to professional drummers it does offer a host of great features.
Another stand out feature of this kit is the bubinga shells. Bubinga offers a tone that’s more complex than maple, emphasizing low-end and mid-range frequencies while retaining an aggressive punch.
An interesting feature of the Tama Starclassic is the Air Pocket rubber feet. These feet utilize a noise isolating air pocket. This air pocket helps prevent vibrations from being transferred into the floor while you play, which enhances the overall tone and resonance of the drum.
The Starclassic is fitted with Evans drum heads, which are highly regarded by drummers for their rich tone and deep sustain. One thing to note about this kit is that it does not include cymbals, which at this price point is very surprising. It’s assumed that drummers at this level will already have a preference for a certain brand of cymbals, and considering how many different brands are available it’s incredibly likely that the cymbals Tama would choose to include wouldn’t be the preference for certain drummers. The end result of including cymbals at this price point is that increases the overall cost of the kit for a feature that may not be desirable by a wide portion of their consumers.
The Tama Starclassic is a professional level kit, and its quality is reflected in this. This isn’t a kit that’s going to be plagued with hardware issues, and provided that there’s no damage caused by the shipping process it’s going to be a drum set that’s going to last you for decades (so long as you take proper care of it).
The hardware on this drum set is also of a professional caliber. The kit features a variety of patented features designed to enhance both the durability and reliability of the drum set. The Bass Drum Spur Bracket is a die-cast bracket that includes memory locks to make setting up and tearing down your kit a much easier process, which if you’re a gigging musician or you find yourself traveling with your kit regularly is a feature that’s going to invaluable. This drum set also utilizes Hold Tight Washers, which is a type of non-loosening washer that ensures that none of your washers are going to be loosened by the vibrations caused by regular playing. Lastly, the claw hooks on the drum set feature rubber spacers that protect the wood hoops from being marred.
The Tama Starclassic Drum Set is a professional level piece of equipment. So while it may not be a good choice for beginning drummers it does offer a great value for drummers who require a high-level piece of equipment.