The best drum kits 2018: our pick of the best acoustic drum sets for beginner, intermediate and pro drummers

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Whether you’re a beginner or professional drummer, finding the best acoustic drum set for your playing style and ability can be a minefield.

If you’ve just started learning to play the drums you’ll be looking for a reliable, budget-friendly drum kit that will last the first few years of your drumming life. As you progress you need to decide whether your next drum set will be used for recording, gigging, or both, and go shopping with this - and a specific budget - in mind.

Once you venture into pro drummer territory you should have a specific idea of the drum tone, shell sizes and kit configuration you are looking for. At this level you’ll have access to the best quality shells, road-worthy hardware and even custom options.

Here, we’ve recommended the best acoustic drum sets for all styles and levels of player. Whether you’re just starting out, you play in a band or you’re a professional session drummer, these kits should help you get the job done.

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1. Ludwig Breakbeats

A compact drum set that’s ideal for beginners

Launch price (pictured model): $612/£459/€520 | Shell material: Poplar | Shell thickness: 7-ply | Configurations available: 16”x14” (with riser), 10”x7”, 13”x13", 14”x5” | Finishes: White Sparkle, Black Sparkle, Azure Blue Sparkle and Red Sparkle

Supremely portable
Great sound for the price
Oozes style
Bass drum riser has a tendency to shift with heavy playing

This compact drum set comprises a 16"x14" bass drum, 10"x7" rack tom and a 13"x13" floor tom, with a standard 14"x5" snare. The chromed hardware feels solid, with a weighty tom-holder, smooth hoops and a sturdy bass drum riser. The standout piece is the bass drum. It's unlikely to replace a larger kick in a conventional rock set-up, but given the shell construction and size, it’s capable of acting like a small cannon. The Breakbeats snare holds a lot of character too – a slight trashy, grittiness, and even at lower tunings it finds a good combination of crisp response and full-bodied overtones. Cranking it results in a distinctly vintage funk sound. The small tom diameters don't really lend them a 'power-tom' sound, but it’s possible to coax a fat, clean, sustained note from them at the mid-tension sweet-spot. For the money, the Breakbeats is a hard kit to fault.

Read full review: Ludwig Breakbeats kit

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2. Natal Arcadia

A versatile, affordable drum kit for your first gigs or recording sessions

Launch price (pictured model): $612/£459/€520 | Shell material: Birch | Configurations available: 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" | Hoops: Triple-flanged | Finishes: Black Sparkle, Purple Sparkle, White Sparkle, Red Sparkle, Grey Strata, Black, Gloss White

Excellent value for money
Premium features borrowed from Natal’s top-end drums
Range of finishes available
Chinese heads will need replacing fairly quickly

Shells are Natal's own 100 percent birch construction and feature the same Natal 'Sun' design lugs as on the top-end 'Originals' series, but cast in a lower-mass form to reduce weight for the gigging drummer. All of the drums feature a crisp 45° bearing edge with Remo UT heads and triple-flanged hoops. The UFX Plus configuration (pictured) comes with a full hardware pack with straight and boom cymbal stands, hi-hat stand, snare stand and kick drum pedal. Remo heads do a good job of letting the drums sing cleanly and across a broad range of tunings. That means the bass drum punches through and articulates well, while the snare drum boasts a wide tuning range and copes with heavy hitting as well as light ghost notes. Toms speak quickly with a strong fundamental tone and no unwanted overtones. With premium features from Natal's high-end lines, adapted for the working drummer, the Arcadia series sets a stunning standard for entry-to-mid-range drum sets.

Read full review: Natal Arcadia

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3. Yamaha Stage Custom Birch

A great budget all-birch drum set that’s most at home on stage

Launch price (pictured model): $848/£636/€721 | Shell material: Birch | Shell thickness: 6-ply, 6.6mm | Configurations available: 22”x17”, 16”x15”, 12”x8”, 10”x7”, 14”x5.5”; 20”x17”, 14”x13”, 12”x8”, 10”x7”, 14”x5.5” | Hoops: Triple-flanged | Finishes: Pure White, Raven Black, Cranberry Red, Honey Amber, Natural Wood

Great value for money
Typically high-quality Yamaha build
Powerful, focussed sound
Less appropriate for softer players

Yamaha's track record of building birch shells speaks for itself. The Stage Custom’s 6-ply shells are 6.6mm thick, straight-sided and butt jointed with Yamaha's distinctive diagonal seams, while bearing edges are carefully cut at 45°. Wide open, the bass drum is right on the money, delivering a massive wallop of low-end. It's an unashamedly resonant kick with a breathy decay. The toms are equally full-on, delivering quick, fat notes at amp-beating volumes. Birch shells generally make for focused-sounding drums and the toms quickly tune to a point where this is achieved. The snare turns in a typically bright and birch-like performance – tuning variations are taken in its stride, whether tightening to a funky crack or relaxing to an expansive clonk. Yamaha's credentials run through the Stage Custom Birch like the words in a stick of rock. It's beautifully made; solidly engineered to take the knocks of real life and produces a quality of sound that defies its price tag.

Read full review: Yamaha Stage Custom Birch 

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4. Pearl Export

Still the undisputed king of entry-level all-rounder drum kits

Launch price (pictured model): $1,047/£785/€890 | Shell material: Poplar/Asian mahogany | Shell thickness: 6-ply, 7.5mm | Configurations available: 22"x18", 12"x8", 13"x9", 16"x16", 14"x5.5"; 22"x18", 10"x7", 12"x8", 16"x16", 14"x5.5"; 22"x18", 10"x7", 12"x8", 14"x14", 14"x5.5"; 22"x16", 10"x7", 12"x8", 14"x14", 14"x5.5"; 18"x14", 10"x7", 12"x8", 14"x12", 13"x5" | Hoops: Triple-flanged | Finishes: Smokey Chrome, Jet Black, Arctic Sparkle, Black Cherry Glitter, High Voltage Blue

Entry-level kit with pedigree
Bundled with excellent hardware package
Asian mahogany/poplar combo sounds great
The snare drum is a weak link

The arrival of the Pearl Export in 1982 set a new benchmark and in 2007 the kit was revived with upgraded shells, new lugs, new tom bracket and a superb hardware package. The new, smaller sculpted lug with a reduced footprint allows the shells to breathe better. The supplied 830 series hardware pack and brushed silver and orange Demonator bass drum pedal are absolutely brilliant for the money. Most budget kits at this price have poplar shells, however Pearl has reintroduced Asian mahogany into the mix and that inner lining of semi-hard red wood adds warmth and depth to the shell tone. The tom heads are Chinese-made transparent Remos and deliver the requisite blam with plenty of depth and authority. As ever with budget kits, the snare is the slightly weak link. It’s lightweight and takes some judicious tuning before it will yield a decent sound. The rest of the kit, however, sounds little different from a kit three times the price.

Read full review: Pearl Export

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5. Tama Superstar Hyper-Drive Maple

A heavyweight drum set choice for intermediate drummers

Launch price (pictured model): $1,625/£1,219/€1,382 | Shell material: Maple | Shell thickness: 6-ply, 5mm (toms and snare), 8-ply, 7mm (bass drum) | Hoops: Die-cast | Configurations available: 22"x18", 10"x6.5", 12"x7", 14"x12", 16"x14"; 22"x18", 10"x6.5", 12"x7", 16"x14" | Finishes: Golden Yellow Metallic, Vintage Blue Metallic, Dark Mocha Fade, Satin Arctic Pearl, Flat Black, Classic Cherry Wine, Bright Orange Sparkle, Midnight Gold Sparkle, Indigo Sparkle, Brushed Charcoal Black, Sugar White

Premium components and top build quality
Huge range of kit options
Versatile sound
With so many finish choices, how will you decide?

Since 2008, each drum in Tama's Superstar Hyper-Drive series has been made from 100 percent maple. This represents a significant upgrade for Tama's best-selling series. Another upgrade which is visual as well as sonic is the Star-Cast suspension mounts, similar to those found on Tama's Starclassic series. Incredibly, given the price, the set up also includes a 14"x5.5" matching maple snare drum and a full set of typically well-engineered and robust double-braced hardware. The portly 22"x18" kick delivers earth-shuddering bottom end, while the 10" and 12" diameter suspended toms and snare bite into the higher end of the sonic spectrum. The pair of floor toms eagerly mop the mid-to-low tonal gaps left somewhere in between. This kit has it all – great sound, excellent build quality and an incredible price; even at its full RRP this kit contradicts its comparatively meagre price tag.

Read full review: Tama Superstar Hyper-Drive Maple

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6. Gretsch Renown

The Renown screams ‘pro’, without the eye-watering price

Launch price (pictured model): $2,042/£1,532/€1,737 | Shell material: Maple | Shell thickness: 7-ply | Hoops: Gretsch 302 | Configurations available: 20"x16", 10"x7", 12"x8", 14"x14", 14"x5.5"; 22"x18", 10"x7", 12"x8", 16"x14", 14"x5.5"; 18"x14", 12"x8", 14"x14", 14"x5"; 24"x14", 13"x9", 16"x16", 14"x6.5"; 20"x16", 10"x7", 12"x8", 14"x14"; 22"x18", 10"x7", 12"x8", 16"x14"; 18"x14", 12"x8", 14"x14"; 24"x14", 13"x9", 16"x16" | Finishes: Copper Sparkle, Turquoise Sparkle, Cherry Burst, Gloss Natural, Piano Black, Satin Tobacco Burst, Silver Oyster Pearl, Vintage Pearl

A versatile, tonal chameleon
Stunning looks
Great price
Some may prefer an undrilled bass drum

Gretsch’s Renown series has been a staple for jobbing drummers since its introduction in the early noughties. Their classic Formula shells, 30° bearing edges and silver sealer interior are present and correct on the Renown, alongside resonance-promoting, double-flanged Gretsch 302 hoops. Flawless looks belie the price and the hardware - from the tapered T-wing thumbscrews to the Gretsch ‘G’ cast into the memory locks - adds a touch of class. Supplied heads include a Remo P3 on the bass drum, clear Emperors on toms and a coated Ambassador on the snare drum. It’s easy to produce a controlled, thick rock tom sound with just a little tension on the batter heads, or a singing, ring-free clarity at medium tension. The floor tom follows suit with a controlled beefy thud at lower tunings, and clarity when pitched up. The undrilled bass drum sounds huge, too. Tuned low, it’s gutsy and sustained, while adding some tension reveals more of a funky punch.

Read full review: Gretsch Renown

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7. Mapex Saturn V

Boosted low-end makes the Saturn V an ideal kit for gigging or recording

Launch price (pictured model): $2,052/£1,539/€1,745 | Shell material: Maple/Walnut | Shell thickness: 7-ply, 6.15mm (toms and snare), 7-ply, 7.5mm (bass drum) | Configurations available: 22"x18", 12"x9", 16"x16"; 20"x16", 10"x8", 12"x9", 14"x14"; 22"x18", 10"x8", 12"x9", 16"x16"; 22"x20", 10"x7", 12"x8", 16"x14"; 22"x18", 10"x8", 12"x9", 14"x14", 16"x16"; 22"x20", 10"x7", 12"x8", 14"x12", 16"x14"; 18"x14", 12"x8", 14"x14" | Finishes: Satin Black Maple Burl, Cherry Mist Maple Burl, Amber Maple Burl, Deep Water Maple Burl, Natural Maple Burl

SoniClear bearing edges enhance the bottom end
Easy to tune
Drums are finished with a sumptuous Natural Burl Maple veneer
Only available with black chrome hardware

The Saturn V centres around hybrid shells comprising plies of American Rock Maple and walnut. One of the most significant features of the kit is the Soniclear bearing edge. While the inner edges are trimmed to 45° for the rack toms and 60° for the kick and floor toms, instead of the usual sharp summit, the edge has a slightly rounded, flattened back-cut which extends out to the shell's outer edge. This allows greater contact between the head and shell which is designed to coax maximum depth out of the drums and help with tuning. Tom batter heads are dual-ply Remo Emperors, partnered with single-ply Ambassadors on the resonant side. The combination of relatively shallow depths, decent twin-ply heads and the rounded bearing edge all contribute to a great sound. The Mapex Saturn V is a fantastic all-rounder kit which is equally happy on stage or in the studio - on a jazz gig or playing rock.

Read full review: Mapex Saturn V

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8. Sonor SQ1

A powerful, clear and reliable drum set for the studio

Launch price (pictured model): $3,444/£2,584/€2,929 | Shell material: Birch | Shell thickness: 7-ply, 7mm (toms and snare), 10-ply, 10mm (bass drum) | Configurations available: 20"x16", 12"x8", 14"x13"; 22"x17.5", 12"x8", 16"x15"; 24"x14", 13"x9", 16"x15" | Finishes: Black, Cruiser Blue, Hot Rod Red, Roadster Green

Incredible build quality
Forward-thinking shell hardware
A great drum set for recording
Hardware may be over-engineered for some tastes

Sonor’s new Sound Sustainer mounts are backed up by science – the drum company has worked with the German automotive industry to create a system based around large rubber gaskets which isolate the toms and eliminate direct contact between wood and metal for greater resonance. Birch offers decent lows and highs with reduced middle frequencies that don’t muddy up the sound, so this drum set has a clean-cut sound with guts – it’s directed and business-like, controllable yet also brilliant. The Remo Ambassador-topped toms produce a long and sweet sustain, while the bass drum has an archetypally modern, tough and present tone. The lower regions - with wrinkles just about tuned out of the batter - bring more depth into the blend. The snare drum is a bit of a contrast as it is deep with a slightly more open and unruly voice.

Read full review: Sonor SQ1

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9. Yamaha Recording Custom

The most recorded drum set of all time

Launch price (pictured model): $4,787/£3,603/€4,125 | Shell material: Birch | Shell thickness: 6-ply, 6mm | Shell availability: 24"x14", 22"x14", 22"x16", 22"x18", 20"x16",18"x14", 8"x7", 10"x7.5", 10"x9", 12"x8", 12"x10", 13"x9", 13"x11", 14"x12", 14"x13", 16"x15", 18"x16" | Finishes: Solid Black, Classic Walnut, Surf Green, Real Wood

Incredible build quality
The Recording Custom has been played on countless hit records
Range of sizes available
Better suited to the studio than live

The Recording Custom - commonly called the Yamaha 9000 - started life in the mid-1970s with Steve Gadd, amongst many other drum session superstars, swearing by its focused, punchy, pre-EQ’d tone. In 2016, with input from Gadd, the Recording Custom was revitalised, updated with a fatter, weightier lug, thinner bass drum shells, sharper bearing edges and even greater manufacturing precision. Shells are all six-ply, 6mm North American birch – Yamaha's Air Seal shell technology with angled seams ensure near-perfect shell construction. Most will be happy with the supplied, studio-friendly Ambassador Coated batters. Paired with the perfectly round shells, sharp, level edges, and standard 1.6mm steel hoops, tuning is easy as ever, and the tuning range as wide as it gets. There are also seven new Recording Custom snare drums with stainless steel, aluminium and brass shells should you wish to go all-Yamaha in the studio. A masterful return from one of the most famous drum sets ever made.

Read full review: Yamaha Recording Custom

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10. Drum Workshop Collector’s Series

Piece together your dream drum set

Launch price (pictured model): $5,180/£3,899/€4,464 | Shell material: North American Hard Rock Maple, Rotary-Cut Cherry, Heartwood Birch, Red Oak, Maple/Mahogany, Cherry/Mahogany, Poplar/Maple, Maple/Gumwood, Bamboo/Birch | Shell availability: Toms from 8”x5” to 18”x16”, bass drums from 16”x14” to 28”x20” and snare drums from 12”x4” to 14”x8” | Finishes: Exotic, Hard Satin, Graphics, Lacquer Custom, Lacquer Speciality, Satin, Satin Speciality, FinishPly

Typically premium DW build quality
Plenty of custom options to choose from
Neat design touches like True Pitch tension rods for precise tuning
Too much choice!

Drum Workshop's Collector's Series is all about custom drums built to the highest standard. You can choose from an array of shell materials and configurations, plus a huge palette of finishes and hardware options. Pictured is DW’s Cherry/Mahogany drum set. DW had previously used cherry as an outer veneer, but for the first time includes cherry as the sole wood in its Pure Wood series. This is a precisely constructed kit. The shells are round and the bearing edges textbook. It sounds as good as a modern kit gets. Mahogany has a warm musicality and Cherry has a darker sound, so the two complement each other well. The drums are sensitive too – approach them softly and they still articulate clearly with the tone opening up immediately. DW continues to refine its already awesome Collector's Series. This new hybrid of cherry and mahogany offers a subtle variation of warm, sensitive and concise tones. But if that doesn’t quite float your boat, there are plenty of other custom options to choose from. 

Read full review: Drum Workshop Collector’s Series Cherry Mahogany

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11. Tama Star Maple

Tama’s flagship maple drums are all about resonance

Launch price (pictured model): $7,857/£5,914/€6,770 | Shell material: Maple | Shell thickness: 7-ply | Shell availability: 8"x6" to 18"x16" toms, 18"x14" to 26"x16" bass drums, 13"x6" to 14"x8" snare drums | Finishes: Ocean Blue Curly Maple, Raspberry Curly Maple, Gloss Sycamore, Blue Gray Metallic, Dark Burgundy Metallic, Satin Blue Metallic, Satin Green Metallic, Satin Amber Gold, Satin Antique Brown, Satin Burgundy Red, Satin Dark Mocha, Antique White, Smoky Black, Atomic Orange, Coral Pink, Grand Aqua Blue, Sunny Yellow Lacquer, Vintage Sea blue

Superb construction
Classic looks
Beautiful tones for recording
Devastating price!

The primary goal with Tama’s Star was to enhance shell resonance, making it the ideal choice for both professional drum recording and top-end live work. Tama has opted for vintage-style extra-thin shells with Sound Focus (reinforcing) Rings. Another nod in the vintage direction sees Tama rounding off its bearing edges, allowing broader contact between the head and shell. The rounded edges allow the shell tone to make more impact, warming it, slightly subduing the attack and controlling the sustain. The thin shells also promote resonance of the respective woody timbres and bring out the deeper fundamentals. Toms and bass drum have a new cast lug, a bridged design for minimal shell contact with an attractive curvy shape and four-faced ridges. Hoops are die-cast zinc, more consistent and structurally solid than triple-flangers. Aiding the hoops are Hold Tight washers, which have a stainless steel cup containing a rubber ring. This prevents de-tuning under modern heavy playing. Tama’s Star Series - also including Walnut options - is another step towards Drum Heaven... at an eye-watering price.

Read full review: Tama Star Maple