Whether you're starting your drumming journey, have reached the intermediate uplands or broken into the world of professional playing, securing the absolute best drum set for your ability and individual playing style is crucial to your development and, most importantly, the amount of fun you can have behind your drum kit.
If you’re a beginner, you should be hunting for a reliable, moderately-priced drum kit that will last the first few years of your drumming life, at the very least. Then, as you improve your next step is to work out whether you need a drum set for recording, gigging, or both, and then go shopping with this specific goal - and a definite budget - in mind.
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. Click the 'buying advice' tab above, and you'll go straight there. 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.
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Best drum sets: Our top picks
For sheer value for money we really have to give high marks to the Natal Arcadia and 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, 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. 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
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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, these drums provide warm, rich resonance to help your playing transcend.
It is, unfortunately, 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, you get loads of crisp attack and powerful high-end - and with Tama’s precision bearing edges in tandem, tuning is a piece of cake. 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
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Natal’s Arcadia range offers incredible value for money, with The UFX Plus configuration (pictured) including six drums and even a full, great quality hardware pack with straight and boom cymbal stands, hi-hat stand, snare stand and kick drum pedal. 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. 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 the full Natal Arcadia 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, 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 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
PDP’s Concept Maple Classic, with its old-school styling and tone is a dream kit for any retro drummer. This classic vibe extends from the truly massive bass drum sizing options to the chunky wooden hoops and solid maple shells - making this a truly great kit for anyone who wants to roll back the clock a little.
PDP is a company owned by DW - and the influence shows in the impressive attention to detail, among other things. The gorgeous satin finish and the dual-turret lugs are just a couple of the myriad examples of this - along with the warm, punchy, sophisticated tone that these resonant shells produce.
The only minor issue is that, due to the fairly bulky wooden hoops, your drum placement and the angle of each drum may have to be reconsidered if you prefer things to be flat. Coincidentally though, the wooden hoops are also what help to provide that staggeringly fat tone - even from the smaller sizes - so it might not be so bad after all.
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 the full Mapex Saturn V review
As we move on up into the ‘intermediate’ price bracket, competition hots up slightly. The level of quality increases, and we come to expect more from our drum kits. Luckily, Natal’s Cafe Racer series goes the distance.
With 7-ply tulipwood shells providing some thunderous low end, these drums sound fat and punchy, while still retaining some control. These shells speak smoothly at low volumes, and really bark when you dig in, so you should get the sound you’re looking for out of these shells. Coupled up with the signature Natal sun lugs and near-contactless tom mounts, the Cafe Racer is ready for shows, studio work and more.
In all honesty, we’d love to see the Cafe Racer offered in a straight-up ‘rock’ configuration with a 24” bass drum, but if that’s a deal breaker for you then Natal’s Originals series could be worth a look.
Read the full Natal Cafe Racer review
Since the 2003 addition of Tama’s flagship Star range, the once-top-of-the-Tama-tree Starclassic is still an extremely serious choice for gigging and touring professionals. 2019’s revision to the Starclassic series comes in the form of the Walnut/Birch, effectively ousting the Birch/Bubinga and sitting below the Starclassic Maple price-wise as Tama’s entry-point into the Starclassic family. Tonally, these drums pack the warm punch of walnut, combined with the cutting attack of birch for a modern drum sound that will work across genres from rock and metal to funk, pop and fusion.
The toms are six-ply: four birch and two walnut, while bass drums feature an extra ply of birch. Tama has included a range of features, trickled-down from the Star series, including a streamlined Star Cast mounting system, super-handy quick-release tom holders, suspended/cushioned floor tom legs to avoid resonance transferring to the ground.
The finishes are mostly lacquer, with Tama even managing to achieve some striking bursts, fades and oysters using paint rather than wraps, however there are currently five wrapped finishes available in the line-up, with an increasingly-expanding range of finishes still being added. The Starclassic Walnut/Birch represents a killer pro-level drum kit that is a must-try if you’re in the market for punchy, modern-sounding drums.
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 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 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, 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.
Available in virtually any configuration you can think of, the 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, 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 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 – 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 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. 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 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
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. Most of the time, 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.
Setting up your drum kit
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.
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.
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How to tune your drum kit
Tuning up your drum kit is an often overlooked task, but it is super important. You can have the best drums and the best drum heads, but if you can’t tune them properly you might as well torch the lot.
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 whole or half 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 to 6, to 11, to 5, and so on. Once that head is up to tension, give it a hit and see what you think. If the pitch needs to go up, keep adding tension; if it needs to go down, remove tension. Simple.
Shell packs vs ‘All-in-One’ package kits
If you’ve been doing a bit of your own research, you’ll have no doubt heard the term ‘shell pack’ bandied round a fair bit. You’d usually only buy a shell pack if you’re purchasing a higher-end intermediate or professional drum kit.
Plainly, buying a shell pack means just that. You’re buying the toms and bass drum - just the main shells. Obviously, the hoops, lugs and other hardware are included, but that’s it.
This is because cymbals and snare drums are very personal items, so most people prefer to buy these separately to make sure they get exactly what they want. Also, the snare and cymbals can change the entire personality of a kit, so it’s good to have a few different snares and cymbal sets that you can marry with your shell pack for each gig or session.
‘All-in-One’ package kits mostly occupy the lower end of the spectrum. At the very least, a snare drum will be included, and sometimes even a set of cymbals and cymbal stands. Granted, you don’t get the opportunity to mix and match from the very beginning, but these sets are absolutely spot on for anyone who’s not quite sure what they’re after.
There is definitely something to be said for these kits though. They’re usually cheaper, and come with more stuff - so that’s a tick in the ‘value for money’ box at least. Also, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t like the extras that come in the set, as you can always upgrade your snare or cymbals if and when you need to.
What should I expect to pay for a drum kit?
On the whole, beginner-friendly kits should set you back anywhere up to about $/£750. You might be thinking that it seems like a lot of money, and to be honest it is - but there are so many different parts needed to get playing. It’s not like an acoustic guitar or beginner keyboard where you don’t need any extras to start off.
You need a set of drums, cymbal stands, a bass drum pedal, cymbals, a drum throne and sticks at the very least, and that can add up. In terms of materials and tones, budget kits will feature cheaper, unfussy shell material such as poplar. Although it may be cheap, it can sound genuinely killer - so there’s no shame in rocking some poplar tubs.
If you’re an intermediate-level player, then chances are you might have found a snare and cymbals that musically speak to you. If that’s the case, then you can expect to spend up to around $/£1,500 to get a worthy upgrade from your starter kit.
For these prices, you’ll have a larger choice of tonewoods - options like bubinga, walnut and mahogany will start making an appearance, as well as potentially some more exotic choices. You’ll still have your ‘standard’ birch and maple kits at this price point, so no worries if you’re not a wild one. Those woods get used an awful lot - and it’s because they sound killer.
For the experts (or the financially well-endowed) you’ll be looking at kits north of $/£1,500. The possibilities are virtually endless here. This price bracket encompasses some properly sophisticated, exceptional drum making, using some of the finest materials, and flawless finishing in the paint booth.
For those people where money is really no object, you can really go all out. Companies like Drum Workshop, British Drum Company and Yamaha will particularly satisfy your needs for some truly staggering drums, both tonally and visually. For this money, you can also start creeping into the world of custom-made drums.
Custom drums? Like, made just for me?
You bet! More and more custom drum companies have started popping up over the last couple of decades, making the task of finding your perfect drum set even easier than you thought – whether you want oversized pink hoops, or a crazy Back To The Future-inspired finish. Only if you’re ready to part with some serious bank, though. Now giant companies, Truth and SJC both started out producing custom drums in small batches for specific artists, before growing and taking over the drum world - with SJC now even producing certain lines of kits for general retail.
Another custom heavyweight (literally) is Q Drums - who have been promoted and endorsed by artists of all styles and calibers, although most notably by company co-owner Ilan Rubin (Nine Inch Nails, Paramore, Angels & Airwaves). They are known worldwide for their monstrous metal shells that create some truly lung-puncturing tones.
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