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The 8 best beginner drum sets 2021: top choice acoustic drum kits for beginners

Best beginner drum sets: top choice acoustic drum kits for beginners
(Image credit: Gretsch)
Acoustic vs electronic drums

(Image credit: Future)

Which is best for new drummers?

So, you’ve just started drumming and you need a new kit. But what assets does a kit need to qualify for a spot in a guide to the best beginner drum sets? For starters, you’ll likely have a smallish budget, so you’ll want something that’s affordable. It should also be easy to play, sound good and be durable enough to last through your learning journey (and maybe even play the odd gig or two). There’s no harm in it looking nice either, right?

You’ll be pleased to learn that beginner drum kits today are surprisingly well-balanced in all of these criteria. With mammoth drum brands such as Gretsch, Yamaha and Ludwig offering high-quality entry-level drum sets at low prices, the race to corner the market is very much on and that means loads of fantastic options for budding new players.

All of the kits listed in this guide are excellent options, so it’s hard to go too far wrong. It’s making the final decision that’s the hard bit. To help you decide, we’ve outlined our top choices, and included tips on which styles each kit will best handle.

What is the best beginner drum set right now?

In our opinion, the best beginner kit here is the Gretsch Catalina Club. If you want a kit that will do everything, look no further. This is the very top end of entry-level drum kits; it’s high quality, sounds fantastic and is available in sizes to suit any style. To call this a ‘beginner’ kit is to do it injustice, you could very well tour with it

If you’re more concerned with value for money, our suggestion would be the Ludwig Breakbeats. These kits are smaller, designed to be easily transportable, but they pack a serious punch. The combination of quality build and low price point is an absolute winner, and the smaller sizes make it easier to play for younger drummers.

Best beginner drum sets: buying advice

As you will quickly learn once you begin your rhythmic journey, there is one downside to the instrument: the sheer amount of parts of a drum set. A drum kit usually consists of a kick drum, snare drum and two toms. Along with this you’ll need hardware (the metal stands that hold the drums in place, plus cymbal stands and a bass drum pedal), and cymbals. Not all kits include the hardware and cymbals, so you might need to account for a little extra budget to accommodate for this, but there are plenty of brands who offer beginner drum kits that offer everything you need to start playing.

The cumbersome nature of the drum kit is something that drummers have always struggled with and are constantly trying to tackle. Over time, manufacturers have gotten better at producing high quality equipment in smaller, lighter variations. These are known as compact kits, and with the current resurgence in jazz and the dominance of hip-hop, they have become increasingly popular.

Before purchasing your beginner kit, there are two important questions to ask yourself. Firstly: what will you be using it for? Will it be casual practice, generally staying in one place, or will it be used frequently and potentially carted around to gigs or rehearsal rooms once you’ve developed your playing and you’re ready to play with others? In this instance, a more portable kit will be easier to transport. 

Secondly, do you have a particular style in mind? That is to say: different drum kit configurations will be better suited to different styles. If you think you’d like to start with jazz, a smaller kit (based around a 16” or 18” kick drum) will react better to softer and more subtle playing. If you’re more into rock or metal, a bigger kit (22”, 24” kick drum) would give you a heavier, fuller sound. A 'fusion' kit generally sits somewhere in between, with a 20” kick.

The best beginner drum sets you can buy right now

Best beginner drum sets: Gretsch Catalina Club

(Image credit: Gretsch)

1. Gretsch Catalina Club

The best beginner drum set, offering outstanding longevity and versatility

Price: $699/£695/€769
Available configurations: 18”x14", 12”x8”, 14”x14”, 14”x5”, 20”x14”, 12”x8”, 14”x14”, 14”x5.5”, 24”x14”, 13”x9”, 16”x16”, 14”x6.5”
Ideal for: Anything
Tones: Natural, Warm, Clear
Available finishes: Walnut Glaze, Antique Satin Fade, Gloss Crimson, Blue Satin Flame, Bronze Sparkle, Piano Black, Yellow Satin Flame
Hardware/cymbals included: No
Reasons to buy
+Highly durable. Could easily be a touring kit+Beautiful sound, at any tuning+Gorgeous finishes available
Reasons to avoid
-High quality heads included

For almost 150 years, Gretsch has been synonymous with supreme quality drums. For the last decade, they have offered the Catalina Club as a beginner-sized slice of this history, at an affordable price. Of the many beautiful finishes available, we love the Blue Satin Flame (pictured), but there will certainly be something for all tastes.

The drum shells are 7-ply, 100 percent mahogany and the kit comes topped with Remo Ambassador heads. Right out of the box, the tonal depth is rich and consistent. The drums will hold tuning, even when being bashed heavily. This allows beginner drummers to focus on their technique and playing, without having to worry about frequent re-tuning.

The various configuration options will cater to all types of drummers, but the 20” set up is a true rhythmic chameleon. If you’re looking for an all-rounder, look no further. The Catalina Club is a go-to for beginners, intermediates and prospective touring drummers alike. For this reason, in this price range, it’s hard to recommend anything else above it.

Best beginner drum sets: Ludwig Breakbeats

(Image credit: Ludwig)

2. Ludwig Breakbeats

The go-to mini kit that offers style and tone in spades

Price: $429/£459/€515
Available configurations: 16”x14”, 10”x7”, 13”x13”, 14”x5”
Ideal for: Jazz, hip-hop, funk
Tones: Crisp, punchy, surprisingly full
Available finishes: Black Sparkle, White Sparkle (pictured), Wine Red Sparkle
Hardware/cymbals included: No (but bags/mutes are included)
Reasons to buy
+Great mix of defined tone and compact size+Comes with bags for dampening/carrying+Beautiful finishes
Reasons to avoid
-Bass drum riser can be tricky

Designed in collaboration with The Roots drummer Questlove, the Ludwig Breakbeats is much more than a beginner drum set. The ethos behind the sleek, compact design was to offer city drummers a kit they could throw in the back of a taxi and gig with. It is definitely fit for this purpose, so you could consider it something of an investment towards a musical future.

The small sizes sound much bigger than expected, and allow for easy ergonomic movement around the kit, which is perfect for beginners. The shells are made from hardwood poplar and have an excellent tone, especially for Hip Hop and Jazz. They also come with bags which - although a little thin for safe transportation - are perfect to throw over the drums as dampeners.

If you’re looking to focus on heavier Rock or Metal drumming, you might want to consider something larger, but for anything else: don’t disregard this entirely. It has a surprising amount of punch for the size, and could definitely be used for gigging! The only gripe - which only really pertains to a gig situation - was the fiddly kick drum riser. Having to re-adjust the pedal onto the riser every hour or so is not ideal, but I believe pedal problems are a right of passage for any gigging drummer! In fact,  on a very recent tour, I had to do the whole first song without any kick drum. I’d failed to tighten the beater properly, so it fell out of place within the first 4 bars!

Read the full Ludwig Breakbeats review

Best beginner drum sets: Pearl Export EXX

(Image credit: Pearl)

3. Pearl Export EXX

The most popular beginner drum kit, ideal for pretty much anything!

Price: $999/£785/€880
Available configurations: 20”x16”, 10”x7”, 12”x8”, 14”x14”, 14”x5.5”, 22”x18”, 10”x7”, 12”x8”, 14”x14”, 14”x5.5”, 22”x18”, 10”x7”, 12”x8”, 16”x16”, 14”x5.5”, 22”x18”, 12”x8”, 13”x9”, 16”x16”, 14”x5.5”
Ideal for: Most things
Tones: Warm, defined, loud
Available finishes: Smoky Chrome, Jet Black, Black Cherry Glitter (pictured), High Voltage Blue, Matte White
Hardware/cymbals included: Yes
Reasons to buy
+A classic drum kit+Highly durable+Hardware included
Reasons to avoid
-The stock heads will need changing

The Pearl Export is one of the most popular drum kits ever. We have fond memories of working away at rudiments on a classic Chrome finish Export back at school. The modern re-issues feature poplar/mahogany shells, which are supremely playable and deliver a pronounced tone. The stock heads sound okay, but an upgrade here would really help achieve the kit’s full potential.

The EXX kits come complete with the sturdy Pearl 830 Series hardware – including the excellent P-930 Demonator kick pedal – and the Sabian SBR cymbal set. In theory, this should be everything you need to get going, but some retailers will sell the kits separately, so be sure to check. The wrapped finishes are eye catching and classic-looking.

Overall, this is a beginner drum kit which is hard to fault. It is perfect for most styles and the inclusion of hardware and cymbals makes it a very easy purchase. The lack of an 18” kick in the line-up might make prospective jazz drummers look elsewhere, but for the rest – especially rock, gospel and R’n’B – you can’t go wrong with a Pearl Export.

Read the full Pearl Export review

Best beginner drum sets: Yamaha Rydeen

(Image credit: Yamaha)

4. Yamaha Rydeen

A solid beginner drum kit that delivers classic Yamaha quality

Price: $670/£596/€669
Available configurations: 20”x16”, 12”x10”, 14”x13”, 14”x5.5”, 22”x16”, 12”x10”, 16”x15”, 14”x5.5”
Ideal for: Most styles
Tones: Full, warm, defined.
Available finishes: Silver Glitter, Mellow Yellow, Hot Red, Fine Blue, Black Glitter, Burgundy Glitter
Hardware/cymbals included: Not officially
Reasons to buy
+Perfect for learning the ropes+Great value for money+Attractive finishes available
Reasons to avoid
-Missing a ‘compact’ option

Yamaha is known as a manufacturer of high quality instruments for all skill levels. The Rydeen, named after the Japanese God of Thunder, is an excellent beginner kit, designed to get drummers started off with something fun and powerful. One great thing we noticed is that, although it officially comes as a shell pack, most retailers will offer packages with hardware and cymbals included in the price.

The shells are made from poplar and pack a good punch. They will easily tune to any drum style, which gives young players freedom to experiment and find where their passions lie. There are some wonderful finishes available, too. We particularly like the ‘Mellow Yellow’.

One small gripe is that, as a kit particularly suited to those early stages, a ‘compact’ option would have been great for very young drummers. That said, the two options available are versatile enough for just about any style. Overall, the Yamaha Rydeen feels like a thoughtfully crafted beginner kit. It is an excellent place to begin your journey and, for the price, excellent value for money.

Read the full Yamaha Rydeen review

Best beginner drum sets: Tama Club Jam

(Image credit: Tama)

5. Tama Club Jam

A small, deliciously vintage-styled, perfect for beginner drummers

Price: $619/£549/€615
Available configurations: 18”x12”, 10”x7”, 14”x7”, 13”x5”
Ideal for: Jazz, funk, small gigs
Tones: Light, punchy, open
Available finishes: Satin Blonde, Aqua Blue (pictured), Charcoal Mist, Galaxy Silver
Hardware/cymbals included: No (except one cymbal stand)
Reasons to buy
+Vintage Jazz looks+Bright, open tones+Excellent build quality
Reasons to avoid
-Floor tom won’t be for everyone

The newest addition to the ‘compact’ line-up, the Club Jam kits are really beautiful. The off-colour hoops and classic finishes are eye-catching and stylish. The bespoke ‘Club Jam’ logo is sleek, and looks great with the vintage-style chrome hardware. This kit also comes with a ‘50s style cymbal holder mounted on the kick drum, which is a nice touch.

The shells are a blend of mersawa and poplar and they sing wonderfully. The kick drum is a punchy 18”x12”. This is a perfect size for beginners as it will cut through when needed, but won’t blow the house down while you’re working out how to play the intro to ‘Good Times, Bad Times’. 

The floor tom is 14”x7”, which is quite unusual. While it doesn’t sound bad, some heavier drummers might miss the depth afforded by a traditional 14” or 16”.

Overall, this kit is great value for money and has classic Tama build quality. It won’t do much good for gigging rock drummers, but for those looking to start with the lighter stuff, and even – as the name suggests – gig it at clubs, this is an excellent choice.

Best beginner drum sets: PDP New Yorker

(Image credit: PDP)

6. PDP New Yorker

A great smaller kit for drummers wanting a little more wallop

Price: $499/£399/€449
Available configurations: PDP New Yorker: 16”x14”, 10”x8”, 13”x12”, 14”x5”; Daru Jones New Yorker: 18”x10”, 10”x5”, 14”x7”, 13”x6”
Ideal for: rock, hip-hop, jazz
Tones: Full, heavy, defined
Available finishes: PDP New Yorker: Electric Green Sparkle, Pale Rose Sparkle, Black Onyx Sparkle; Daru Jones New Yorker: Gold/Black Sparkle
Hardware/cymbals included: No
Reasons to buy
+Lightweight and compact+We love the Pale Rose Sparkle finish+Deep, full tones
Reasons to avoid
-Minor build issues

If the Sonor Jungle was the ‘first’ mini kit, and Ludwig Breakbeats is the ‘poster boy’, the PDP New Yorker is definitely the hipster of smaller kits. There are three sizing options available, which is a little more flexible than most kits in this bracket. On top of that, you’ve got some truly beautiful finishes to choose from, such as the super-chic yellow-to-black fade of the Daru Jones limited edition or, even better, the Pale Rose Sparkle. 

The poplar shells sound great and – like the Ludwig Breakbeats – give a surprising amount of depth. The tones are heavy enough to satisfy pocket hip-hop drummers and rockers alike.

When setting up, we found the kick drum riser to be a little fiddly and the kick itself a little hard to tune. This didn’t stifle our enjoyment of the kit, and is perhaps just a symptom of the low price tag. The affordability, gorgeous finishes and flexible sizing options make this a stellar – and very cool – choice of beginner kit.

Read the full PDP New Yorker review

Best beginner drum sets: Natal Arcadia

(Image credit: Natal)

7. Natal Arcadia

A beautiful kit for drummers in bands

Price: $600/£499/€559
Available Configurations: UXP (pictured): 10"x6.5", 12"x7", 14"x12", 16"x14”, 14"x5.5", 22"x18"; U24: 13"x9", 16"x16", 14"x6.5", 24"x16"; Traditional jazz: 12"x8", 14"x12", 14"x5.5", 18"x14"
Ideal for: Rock, pop, indie
Tones: Punchy, natural, defined
Available finishes: Black Sparkle, Purple Sparkle, White Sparkle, Red Sparkle, Grey Strata (pictured), Black, Gloss White
Hardware/Cymbals Included: No
Reasons to buy
+Great price+Birch shells offer tonal depth+Eye-catching finishes
Reasons to avoid
-Stock heads will need replacing

The Natal Arcadia was a firm favourite of ours when it was released in 2015, and it remains so now. The philosophy is that no beginner drum kit should suffer in quality; as such, this entry-level offering actually features the same hardware as Natal’s top-end kits. The result is a drum kit that plays and feels like a kit worth much more.

The 100 percent birch shells sing wonderfully at most tunings, which makes for easy playability. With a full tone but sensitive reactivity, it would be perfect in a band setting. This is a kit which – along with some good cymbals and hardware – could very well become a drummers’ trusted rig.

The one small downside is that the stock heads will definitely need replacing. However, this is a small price to pay to get the best out of this fantastic piece of gear. The Natal Arcadia is great value for money and would be an excellent choice for beginner or intermediate drummers alike.

Read the full Natal Arcadia review

Best beginner drum sets: Mapex Mars

(Image credit: Mapex)

8. Mapex Mars

A great beginner drum set for rock and metal fans

Price: $949/£779/€875
Available configurations: Bebop (pictured): 18”x14”, 10”x7”, 14”x12”, 14”x5”; Fusion: 20”x16”, 10”x7”, 12”x8”, 14”x12”, 14”x6.5”; Crossover: 22”x18”, 12”x8”, 14”x12”, 16”x14”, 14”x6.5”; Rock: 24”x16”, 12”x8”, 16”x16”, 14”x6.5”
Ideal for: Anything, especially heavier stuff
Tones: Full, bright, thuddy
Available finishes: Smokewood, Bloodwood, Driftwood, Dragonwood, Bonewood, Nightwood
Hardware/cymbals included: No
Reasons to buy
+Cool ‘wood’ aesthetic+SONIClear bearing edges for better tuning+Great for heavier players
Reasons to avoid
-Snare could be better

The Mapex Mars comes in every size you could hope for. We were actually surprised when we discovered there was a ‘bop’ version available, but that just speaks to Mapex’s dedication to diversity and growth. The various tasty ‘wood’ finishes on offer – of which our favourite is ‘Dragonwood’ - ensure that there’s an aesthetic for everyone.

The shells are 6-ply birch and sound deep, with a rich thud. The patented SONIClear rims are designed to help keep the drums in tune. This is helpful for beginners, particularly those looking to get into heavier playing. Generally speaking, with heavier drumming, the tones tend to be lower and thus lose their tuning quicker, so the helping hand here is very helpful.

During our tests, our only gripe was the flimsiness of the snare throw-off (the bit that turns the snare wires on and off), but overall, we very much enjoyed the sound and power delivered by this kit, especially at such a competitive price.

Read the full Mapex Mars review

Jai Widdowson-Jones

Jai is the drummer for Hannah Williams and the Affirmations, who have worked with Jay Z, Tyler the Creator and more. He has also played for Jaguar Skills, Haelos, Willie J Healey and recorded various sessions. When he's not playing, Jai writes for MusicRadar, specialising in drums, touring and mental health within the music industry. Outside of music he enjoys drinking hipster coffee, collects video games and loves all sports. Oh, and dogs.