There are many, many options available when it comes to buying the best drum kits available. Whether you’ve saved-up for the dream kit your hero played, or you’re new to drumming and want to skip from ‘the rest’ to ‘the best’ while you get started, buying a new drum set that you know will last you for years to come - or possibly forever - is one of the greatest investments you can make in your hobby.
But ‘the best’ doesn’t have to mean ‘most expensive’. If you’re just starting out in the drumming world, you should be on the lookout for a reliable, moderately-priced drum kit that will last the first few years of your drumming life, and hopefully see you through your first live performances. Most drum sets under around $/£750 will happily get you there, with some of the more expensive models breaching intermediate territory with upgraded shells, hardware and features.
As you work your way through your drumming journey, you’ll start to figure out what your musical goals are. At this point, you’ll likely develop opinions on the types of drums and features you prefer, which will in turn help to narrow down your choices when it comes to something more specific both in terms of style, finish and budget.
If you do hit pro drummer territory, a) well done, and b) you'll probably have a pretty clear idea of the drum tone, shell sizes and kit configuration you’re now looking for. At this level you'll be choosing between premium quality drum shells, properly resilient, road-worthy hardware and maybe even a range of custom options to really make the drum kit of your choice your own.
If you'd like to read some expert buying advice to help you choose the best drum kit, we've included some at the end of this guide. If you'd rather get straight to our recommendations, keep scrolling. We've arranged them in price order to make finding a killer drum set just that bit easier.
Best drum sets: Our top picks
For sheer value for money we really have to give high marks to the Pearl Export , while Yamaha’s long-esteemed Stage Custom drum kit is a leading contender for both build quality and tone. Each of these kits come with all the hardware you need to get started, without feeling like you’ll need to upgrade quickly. In fact, we'd be happy to deploy any of these kits on the stage or in the studio, too.
Tama's Starclassic Walnut/Birch is a great new entry in the mid-range, offering top-notch sounds, a massive array of configurations and some fresh finish options for drummers who want to stand out.
Best drum sets: under $/£750
This small drum set has been considered by many as the king of mini kits for portability, small stages and even for younger players since its launch in 2013. It comprises a 16"x14" bass drum, 10"x7" rack tom and a 13"x13" floor tom, with a standard 14"x5" snare. The chromed shell hardware feels solid in our hands, 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 we found that it’s possible to coax a fat, clean, sustained note from them at the mid-tension sweet-spot. Originally offered in the Azure Blue Sparkle finish pictured, Ludwig has since introduced Black, White and Red sparkle finishes, as well as the all-new Sahara Swirl. For the money, the Breakbeats is a hard kit to fault.
Read the full Ludwig Breakbeats kit review
The Yamaha Stage Custom has been a staple mid-priced kit for over almost three decades, and the brand has continued to evolve the setup to maintain its relevance. 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. This is a kit that you won’t outgrow in a hurry.
Read the full Yamaha Stage Custom Birch review
The Catalina Club is one of Gretsch’s most affordable and popular kits, and with a slew of beautiful finish options, some seriously cool shell configurations and bags of vintage style, we can’t say we’re too surprised.
Blending these vintage elements with reliable modern hardware is one of the Catalina Club’s most enticing features. Every configuration, whether you’re playing be-bop or Bonham, is centered around a 14” deep bass drum - offering up smooth and punchy tones to build the rest of your sound upon. Coupled with a 30 degree bearing edge, we found that, during testing, these drums provide warm, rich resonance to help your playing transcend.
Unfortunately, we also found it quite difficult to nail the tuning on these drums - especially the 5-lug rack toms. As there’s quite a distance between each lug, the tension of the head is rarely the same all the way around. Still, these drums do sound great when you can get it nailed - even with a slightly pitchy rack tom - and honestly, if you’re going for a fat, dry sound then it may even work in your favour.
Read the full Gretsch Catalina Club Rock review
Tama’s Imperialstar range of kits has been a beginner/intermediate staple since what seems like the dawn of time. Its versatility and good looks are quite routinely overlooked - so we’d like to shed a little light on the Imperialstar.
Like we said, the Imperialstar’s impressive versatility is possibly it’s strongest selling point. With 100% solid 8-ply poplar shells, we got loads of crisp attack and powerful high-end while reviewing this kit.- With Tama’s precision bearing edges in tandem, tuning was a piece of cake too. With two main configurations and three bass drum sizes to choose from, the versatility stakes are heightened further, meaning that your Imperialstar feels at home in coffee shops or crowded venues.
Our only gripe is that, while pretty affordable, poplar shells can sometimes lack the ‘personality’ you might find in a birch or maple shell. They still sound perfectly fine, and are musically relevant in most scenarios, but there’s just something missing. That being said, they’re still great value for money.
Read the full Tama Imperialstar Rock review
Best drum sets: $/£751 - $/£1,500
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 on this EXX model are Chinese-made transparent Remos and deliver the requisite blam with plenty of depth and authority.
Within the world of the Pearl Export, there are a couple of different models - the EXX (pictured) and the EXL. There's not much that separates the two, other than the EXX being covered in a coloured wrap, and the EXL having a gloss lacquer finish. Both look equally nice, but it's worth considering whether you want something more subtle, or something with a bit of 'wow'.
As ever with budget drum kits, we found the snare to be the weakest 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 the full Pearl Export review
Sonor’s AQ2 series is one of the most versatile options you could choose, if you want to treat yourself to a beginner-friendly drum kit that can do a bit more than the rest.
The seven ply shells are crafted from four plies of Canadian maple and three plies of Asian maple, delivering punch by the pound. When combined with the 45 degree bearing edge and Sonor’s very own ‘SmartMount’ system, the AQ2’s resonant bright tone brings a modern edge to some very classy looking drums.
One of the AQ2’s biggest selling points is also, unfortunately, one of its only flaws. While available in preset configurations, it’s also possible to purchase AQ2 drums individually - meaning the possibilities are virtually endless. All of the hardware used on each drum is the same, so there’s no need to adjust your setup. The downside here is that you can definitely fall down the ‘add-on’ rabbit hole, and it can get pretty expensive.
Read the full Sonor AQ2 Bop review
The Saturn centres around hybrid shells comprising plies of 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 we found it also helps 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 what we feel is a great sound. The Mapex Saturn is a fantastic all-rounder kit which is equally happy on stage or in the studio, whatever the style.
Read the full Mapex Saturn V review
Tama brought its Starclassic Performer series back to market for 2022, this time with the pairing of maple and birch for the shells. Sitting as the entry point on the Starclassic ladder, you get a lot of Tama’s iconic Starclassic hallmarks including the Starcast mounting system and die-cast hoops throughout.
The shells themselves are 6mm thick for toms and snares, or 7mm on the bass drums. There are four plies (five on bass drums) of birch giving projection and clarity, while two inner plies of maple add warmth to each drum’s tone. Tama offers the Starclassic Performer in two shell pack configurations - 22/10/12/16, or the five-pice 22/10/12/14/16 dual-floor tom setup, but you can order individual drums in sizes ranging between 8” and 24” in diameter, with multiple depths in many sizes.
As well as the fact that Starclassic series drums have proved their tonal worth since they launched nearly 30 years ago, one big factor in choosing a Starclassic Performer is the finishes. They look, frankly, amazing with a choice of Sky Blue Aurora, Molten Steel Burst, Caramel Aurora, Deep Cherry Fade, and - if you’d prefer to keep it simple - Piano Black. With a street price that’s lower than we expected, it’s a choice that will stand up to heavy gigging from a name you can trust.
As we all know, Pearl is one of the biggest names in the drum world. You'd expect then, that they'd produce some of the best drums. In every price bracket, Pearl makes a drum set which is a true contender for the title of 'best' - the most iconic being the Export. With this - the Masters Maple Complete - they've thrown a 6-ply all-maple hat in the high-end ring too.
Speaking of 6-ply all-maple, the shells that give this series its name are truly impressive. Constructed from reduced thickness (5.4mm), cross-laminated North American maple, the 'EvenPly' shells - during our testing - proved themselves to be resonant, responsive and have a great punch and projection - assisted by the 45 degree bearing edge, as well as the 2.3mm SuperHoop II hoops and bridge-style CL lugs.
The available configurations offer up a Masters maple Complete kit for any style of playing, with any of the 22" bass drum toting options offering the best versatility if you're looking to spend a bit more on a drum set that will cover all bases. These are just shell packs, mind - a snare is an optional extra. You'll probably want one, though - they sound awesome.
Read the full Pearl Masters Maple Complete review
Best drum sets: $/£1,501+
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 the full Gretsch Renown review
British Drum Company might be a relative newcomer to the drum world, but it has already gone down in history as one of the very best. Creeping up into the ‘professional’ price bracket, we want our drums to be pretty much flawless - and if that’s the case, you’ve come to the right place.
The Legend series brings power, projection and sophistication to the table in spades. The 6mm Scandinavian Birch shells are punchy and present without taking your head off, and with a 45 degree bearing edge these drums are brilliantly versatile - perfect for both studio and stage. Two ply reinforcement rings help to just tone down those lairy overtones, achieving lower tunings and a gorgeous controlled sustain.
In all honesty, we’d love to see a Legend series option with a mahogany or maple construction. Birch is a very popular choice for some high-end kits, and some variation on that theme would be a treat. All in all though, we haven’t been left wanting more from the Legend series. Well, maybe more time playing it.
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 kicked out a clean-cut, gutsy sound during testing. 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 the full Sonor SQ1 review
If you’re a Gretsch fan, you’ll have heard the ‘That Great Gretsch Sound’ saying get thrown around. Well, this is the kit that created that sound. You’ll be pleased to know that the bones of the Broadkaster are the same nearly 100 years later, with a few modern touches.
Broadkaster shells are crafted from North American maple/poplar/maple formula that screams vintage vibe and creates tastefully punchy and warm tones for all to enjoy. With a set of clear heads, you can expect to embrace a bright, present top end that’ll cut through the mix, and with a coated set, you’ll be enveloped in warm, vintage thuddiness.
The Broadkaster is a seriously versatile instrument - and although it may be built using a design from the early 20th century, we know from playing one that it can certainly keep up with modern demands. Yes, it’s expensive, and yes, you only get a shell pack. However, for a piece of art, hand-crafted in Gretsch’s custom shop? You can’t really put a price on that.
Read the full Gretsch Broadkaster review
Think of an acrylic drum set. You’re thinking of a Vistalite, aren’t you? There’s a reason why drummers like John Bonham chose the Vistalite over other kits, and it’s not just because they look awesome.
50 years since it first launched, Ludwig’s fantastic plastic set is still going strong. Available in Ludwig’s preset Fab (22”/13”/16”), Pro Beat (24/13/16) and Zep (26”/14”/16”/18”), with Bonham’s favourite 14”x6.5 Supraphonic snare), as well as plenty of toms and snares available individually, Vistalite’s versatility is one of its most underrated values. The acrylic shells naturally deliver a brilliantly fat, beefy tone which, when coupled with the right heads and right tuning, can make the Vistalite a kit for all occasions.
Although some other acrylic drums are criticised for sounding too dry, the Vistalite shells have an inherent liveliness to them. They’re also significantly more predictable than wooden shells, as they don’t react to humidity and temperature changes - making them a perfect choice for travelling drummers. Yes, they’re a bit pricey, but you’re not just buying a great drum kit. You’re buying a future classic.
Read the full Ludwig Jellybean Vistalite review
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, we found tuning to be as 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 the full Yamaha Recording Custom review
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 – we approached them softly and they still articulated clearly - with the tone opening up immediately once we laid into them a bit more.
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 the full Drum Workshop Collector’s Series Cherry Mahogany review
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. During our review process, we found that the rounded edges- which are designed to allow the shell tone to make more impact - warmed up the sound delightfully, 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 Bubinga and Walnut options - is another step towards Drum Heaven... at an eye-watering price.
Read the full Tama Star Maple review
Best drum sets: Buying advice
Buying your first drum kit
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If you’re just starting out on your drumming journey, then you’ll most likely start off with a five-piece kit - consisting of a bass (or kick) drum, two rack toms, a floor tom and a snare drum. The exact setup will vary at different price points, and as a rule-of-thumb, the more ‘professional’ the kits you’re looking at are, the less likely they are to include a snare drum.
Likewise - unless you’re buying a beginner friendly, all-in-one setup - you’ll need to factor in a set of cymbals and stands (sometimes known as hardware) into your budget too, so keep that in mind when browsing.
The vast majority of brands or retailers will offer packages though, which will consist of literally everything you need to get started - they’ll even usually throw in a pair of drumsticks or a drum stool (also known as a drum throne). For some more beginner-specific insight, it’s worth taking a look at our best beginner drum sets guide.
How should I set up my drum set?
Setting up your drum kit in the most ergonomic way possible from the start is arguably the most important thing you’ll ever do as a drummer. It lays the groundwork for everything you do, every sound you make and every song you rip on - so it’s worth spending the time to make sure you’re as comfortable as can be.
The first step is to get the bass drum sitting level, and adjusting your stool height so that you’re sat correctly. From here you can start placing your drums and cymbals so that everything is within easy reach, allowing you to hit them without needing to twist or become uncomfortable.
Think about how the angles of the drums will influence the way you hit them. Are your toms or bass drum miles away from your throne? Is everything easy to reach and to play? It’s all about ergonomics and efficiency at the end of the day. If something very simple feels uncomfortable, then the chances are you need to move stuff around a bit.
At best, a poorly set up drum set could be harder to play. At worst, it could lead to long-term injury.
How to tune your drum kit
Tuning up your drum kit is an often overlooked task, but it’s a skill that you’ll develop over time, and one that will become extremely valuable as you progress. There are no ‘correct’ pitches for a drum in the same way that there is on a guitar, but the tuning and tension on each drum head will affect the way that your stick rebounds, as well as how your drums sound.
In a nutshell, every time you turn a tension rod with your drum key, you increase or decrease the tension of the head in that spot. For this reason, it’s crucial that you turn each tension rod equally.
When you put a new drum head on a drum, tighten up all the tension rods with your fingers first, as much as you can. This is what we call ‘finger tight’ - and it’s a great approximation of equal tension all over the head.
From here, you can use your drum key to add tension, usually a quarter, half or whole turn at a time. It’s best to do that in a ‘star’ pattern, so the tension is always equal at every point on the head.
Think of it like a clock face - and go from 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock, 9 o’clock, to 5 o’clock, and so on until you reach the pitch and feel you’re looking for. Once the head is up to tension, give it a hit and see what you think. If the pitch needs to go up, keep adding tension evenly and in small increments; if it needs to go down, remove tension. Simple.
As you tune, you’ll start to understand the relationship between the top and bottom heads on your toms. With the bottom head tuned equal to the top, you’ll get a pure note that sustains. With the bottom head looser than the top head, you’ll produce a thinner sound with more ring - great for jazz with additional overtones. With the bottom head lower than the top, you’ll start to introduce a slight bend in the pitch after you play. This tuning also