If you play jazz with a band, you’re going to need a suitable drum kit. There’s a certain sound that is required from a jazz kit that lends very well to jazz ensembles. That sound comes from the drum sizes and the shell types.
While any standard kit will work, a properly equipped jazz kit will always sound better in the context. So, I’m going to help you figure out how to find the best jazz drum sets. I’ll explain everything that makes them fit so perfectly in the style and give you a few of my favorite kits as recommendations.
What Does a Jazz Drum Set Look Like?
A jazz drum kit will typically look a bit smaller than a standard kit. While standard kits have two rack toms, jazz kits normally only have one. The reason for this is that most jazz drummers prefer the simplicity of having two toms. It also opens up space to bring the ride cymbal closer, and the ride cymbal is one of the most important cymbals in a jazz setup.
Another big aspect of a jazz kit is the bass drum. Most jazz setups will have a smaller bass drum than standard drum kits have. The biggest bass drum you’ll find in a jazz kit will be 20” while they can also be as small as 14”. The sweet spot for bass drum size with jazz kits is mostly 18”, though.
Finally, a jazz kit will be surrounded by cymbals. You’ll have the hi-hats, a crash, and a ride. When I play jazz gigs, I usually opt to have two ride cymbals on each side instead of a crash cymbal. I know many jazz drummers that play with a similar setup.
Choosing a Jazz Drum Set
There are a few things that you need to put your focus on when choosing a drum set for jazz. A good jazz drum set will have optimal features and benefits in all these areas.
The things you need to look out for are:
- Shell sizes
- Wood type
- Tuning range
Let’s take a deeper dive into what all of these things mean.
Your choice of shells is the most important aspect of choosing a good jazz drum kit. If the shells are too big, they’re not going to fit nicely in small jazz ensembles. If they’re too small, they might not feel comfortable or have a wide enough tuning range.
If you’re wanting to have a small jazz setup, make sure the toms and bass drum are small and light enough to move around easily. If you want a slightly larger setup, make sure that the drums aren’t too big.
I mentioned earlier how 20” is the largest bass drum size you should go for with a jazz kit. A 22” bass drum will be too big and booming in most cases.
When it comes to the toms, your rack tom should be either 10” or 12”. You’ll see some smaller drum kits having 8” toms. I’ve found 8” toms not to resonate enough to get that singing jazz tom tone. Stick with a 10” or 12”!
The most common floor tom sizes for a jazz kit are 13” and 14”. Standard drum kits have 16” floor toms, but that booming low-end tone is often a bit too low and gets lost in the mix.
Anything goes when it comes to snare drum sizes. Most snare drums are 14”, so you don’t need to worry too much about that. You’ll occasionally find a 13” snare that comes with a kit.
All the different types of wood used for making drums would work perfectly fine in jazz settings, but it’s important that you know what qualities each wood produces so that you know how the drums are going to sound.
Here’s a brief breakdown:
Maple – Gives the drums a balanced and warm sound.
Birch – Gives a strong sound that brings more articulation out of the drums.
Poplar – Used in cheaper drum kits. Gives a full tone with a medium attack.
Mahogany – Very warm sound. Not as popular as it was a few years ago.
Drumheads are incredibly important in getting a good jazzy tone from your drums. A jazz drum kit will need to have resonating toms that sing with a bass drum that bellows a bit more than a standard bass drum would.
To achieve this, the kit needs to have single-ply heads. These will allow maximum resonance from the drums as opposed to the slight muffling that two-ply heads have.
Thankfully, all the drumheads that come with jazz kits are usually single ply, to begin with. However, you should look to get some higher-quality single-ply heads if you want to get the best possible tone from your jazz drum kit.
The final thing to think about with a jazz drum kit is the tuning range. When playing jazz on the drums, the toms usually need to be tuned much higher than when you’re playing other styles of music. So, a good jazz kit will sound excellent when the drums are tuned very high.
You’ll also muffle the drums a lot less on a jazz kit than you would on any other kit, meaning the kit should sound great with little to no muffling as well. This is especially true for the bass drum.
Best Affordable Jazz Drum Kits
The Pearl Midtown is a compact drum set that is well-suited for playing jazz. The small drum shells can be tuned to sound quite resonant, especially with single-ply heads.
The shells are made of poplar, making this kit a lot more affordable than many other compact kits available. The kit comes with a 10” rack tom, a 13” floor tom, a 13” snare drum, and a 16” bass drum.
I’ve personally owned a Midtown kit for a few years, and it’s been my go-to option for playing in small venues. It fits right in wherever you place it on a stage. The sparkle finish looks excellent under lights as well.
Unfortunately, the snare drum isn’t amazing. I found myself replacing it very quickly, especially when I needed a good snare for professional gigs. However, the toms and bass drum are excellent.
You have the option of getting this kit in either a Black Gold Sparkle or Cherry Glitter finish.
Another thing I love about the Midtown is that you can buy two bags that the whole kit fits into. These bags can easily be carried over your shoulder, allowing you to carry the whole kit at once. That’s crazy!
- Very affordable
- Option of buying two bags that the entire kit fits into
- Very light and portable
- The 13” poplar snare isn’t great for professional settings
The Gretsch Catalina Club is one of the most popular affordable jazz kits out there. I have been to so many jazz gigs where I’ve seen drummers playing this kit. The Gretsch brand is fairly popular with jazz drummers, and this kit is one of the biggest reasons for that.
The shells are made from mahogany, giving the drums a fair bit of low-end. When you tune the toms high, that low-end rounds out the sound beautifully. The end result is a very musical kit that sounds great in jazz settings.
The bass drum is 18”, the rack tom is 12”, the floor tom is 14”, and the snare drum is 14”. Those sizes feel really good to play on, especially when the drums are tuned nicely.
The bass drum on this kit is very boomy. It takes a bit of getting used to as it resonates much more than most 18” bass drums do. However, that booming tone works well in a jazz environment.
One of my small gripes with these Catalina Club kits has always been the tom mount. It’s not the easiest thing to work with as it doesn’t seem to lock in the place you want it to. You need to do a bit of adjusting and fiddling for the angle to be right. You’ll eventually get it, but it can be frustrating if you’re trying to do it quickly.
Other than that, this is one of the best jazz kits to have, especially if you’re on a budget.
- Very popular kit amongst jazz drummers
- Beautiful low-end tone thanks to the mahogany shells
- Booming bass drum
- Tom mount can be difficult to position comfortably at times
If you’re looking for something similarly priced with different shell material, the Sonor AQ2 Bop is the best option. The drums on this kit are made from 7-ply maple shells that give it a warm and balanced tone.
I’ve always seen the Sonor AQ2 Bop kit as one of the highest-quality compact kits on the market thanks to its immaculate hardware design. Sonor is a luxury drum company. All their kits are incredible, and this kit is a pure reflection of that.
The drums have die-cast lugs. These are pristine lugs that make tuning the drums incredibly easy. You’ll have no problem raising the pitches of each drum to get a beautiful jazzy tone. The lugs also ensure the drums stay in tune for extended periods.
The other great hardware feature is the Sonor SmartMount. While the Catalina mount was a bit questionable, this Sonor mount is nothing but amazing. It’s so solid and maneuverable, allowing you to place the rack tom in the exact position you want very quickly.
The kit includes a 14” snare, 12” rack tom, 14” floor tom, and an 18” kick drum. The shell sizes are the same as the Catalina, so the kit is a direct competitor.
The last thing I have to say about this kit is that the snare drum is fantastic. It sounds top-quality, especially when you crank the tuning quite high.
The one downside is that the stock drumheads that come with the kit are fairly weak.
- High-quality hardware design
- Excellent snare drum
- Warm and balanced maple tone
- Stock drumheads aren’t good
The Yamaha Stage Custom Hip is the final affordable jazz kit that I’m going to recommend. This kit has birch drum shells, making it sound a bit punchier and more energetic than the previous kits. It also has a fairly unique design, making it a good alternative choice.
The kit comes with a 13” snare drum, 10” rack tom, 13” floor tom, and 20” bass drum. Although the bass drum is quite big, it’s very shallow. This makes it not sound as dominating as most 20” bass drums do.
The most unique aspect of the kit is the floor tom. It has snare wires and a throw-off, allowing you to use it as a snare drum as well. When the snares are turned on, you get a very deep snare sound that has become popular in modern jazz music. Bands like Snarky Puppy have brought it to light.
This is the type of kit that you’ll want to have in a modern jazz gig that has hip-hop and electronic elements. It may not be the best option for a straightforward traditional jazz band.
- Floor tom acts as a second snare drum
- Punchy birch tones
- 20” bass drum feels great to play, doesn’t sound as big as normal 20” bass drums
- Not the best option for traditional jazz settings
Best Pro Jazz Drum Kits
Moving onto the top-quality pro kit options, the Gretsch Broadkaster is the first one that I’m going to suggest. The design features of this kit are what make it so pristine and expensive.
Firstly, it has incredibly thin shells. Each drum has a 3-ply mixture of maple and poplar. The outer layers are maple, while the inner one is poplar. The sound produced from this is a very wide-open vintage sound. These drums sound incredibly in a jazz setting.
The attack of the drums is quite quick thanks to the 30-degree bearing edges, and the open tones are accented by the 3mm double-flanged hoops.
In terms of sizing, the snare is 14”, the rack tom is 12”, the floor tom is 22”. This is the only time I’m going to break the 22” kick drum rule. The reason for this is that this larger bass drum sounds great when tuned slightly higher than normal. It’s also great to use in a big band setting.
This is a top-quality kit made in the USA that perfectly encapsulates everything about Gretsch drums. If you want one of the best kits they offer, this is it.
- Wide-open tones thanks to the poplar and maple shell mix
- One of the top kits from Gretsch
- Immaculate design details
The Pearl Masters Maple kit is a more affordable drum set that is suitable for professional settings. The Masters Series is a fairly extensive line of drums from Pearl, but you can find one of these kits in ideal jazz sizes.
The drums are made from 6-ply maple shells that have a balanced attack and tonal response. I’ve always found the Masters drums to sound quite smooth. The best thing about this kit is that it’s a fantastic recording kit. If you’re going to be doing session jazz work, this is a good option to go with.
The drums are equipped with triple-flanged hoops. These help the tones shine in a mix without sacrificing any of the body of the drums.
If you need a workhorse kit, the Pearl Masters is a fantastic kit to use. I’ve also put it here on the list as a versatile option. While it will work well in a jazz setting, it can also be used for everything else. Not all jazz drummers play jazz exclusively, so it’s good to have something that can be used for everything.
The big downside is that it’s the only drum kit I’ve mentioned so far that doesn’t come with a snare drum. Pearl has an extensive range of Masters Series snare drums. You just need to select and buy one separately from the kit.
- Balanced tones from the 6-ply maple shells
- Very versatile
- Great for recording
- No snare drum included
The DW Collector’s Series Jazz is my final recommendation for this list. I’m in love with this kit. Its aim is to provide a vintage sound with a modern touch of hardware. You get the wide-open tones that were popular in the early 20th century with all the high-quality hardware innovations of DW.
The kit comes with a 12” rack tom, 14” floor tom, and a 20” bass drum.
The shells are made from a mixture of mahogany and gumwood. This unique mix gives the drums tones that resonate much more than any other DW kit. The drums are made with DW’s SSC shell technology, ensuring each drum in the kit has a set sound that can be expected every time you play it.
All the drums are equipped with die-cast hoops. These are the highest-quality hoops you can get on drums, and they give the drums a crisp and cutting tone.
Overall, this is an excellent kit for anyone wanting one of the highest-quality kits to play jazz with. Similar to the previous kit, it also doesn’t come with a snare drum. DW has an incredible range of Collector’s Series snare drums to choose from to buy separately.
- Unique mixture of mahogany and gumwood on the shells
- Vintage tones with modern hardware design
- Top-quality hardware innovations
- No snare drum included
While your choice of drums plays a huge role in a jazz setting, your choice of cymbals is arguably much more important. The reason for this is that your cymbals have the power to make or break your drum sound.
You could play a jazz gig with any drum kit and get by moderately okay. However, playing a jazz gig with an unsuitable set of cymbals may just ruin the experience for the listeners.
To play jazz, you need to look for cymbals that have the following qualities:
It’s better to stay away from bright and heavy cymbals for jazz drumming. They’re going to sound too aggressive in a jazz ensemble.
Answer: There’s no final answer to this question. As there are so many diverse drum brands out there, you’ll find different kits that suit different drummer’s tastes. However, there are a few brands that many jazz drummers tend to gravitate toward.
Gretsch is one of the most popular brands. They offer a few kits that work excellently in jazz settings. All Gretsch kits have a somewhat vintage sound to them that perfectly suits the jazz style.
Many jazz drummers also love smaller boutique drum companies. I didn’t mention them above as all their kits are custom-made for the buyer. These are companies like Canopus, Craviotto, and C&C.
Answer: The biggest difference between a jazz set and a standard set is size. Jazz drum kits are usually smaller. The reason for this is that jazz ensembles mostly play in small venues like jazz clubs and bars.
So, the drum kit needs to be small enough to fit on a stage with a few other musicians. Jazz music started in bars, so the drum kit has always been small enough to fit comfortably in them.
Another difference is that jazz drummers don’t typically play with middle-rack toms. It’s always a 1-up and 1-down setup on the toms.
Answer: Jazz drumming is so diverse. There are dozens of subgenres within the style. So, there are different drummers to watch in all these different subgenres.
If you want to watch some historically famous jazz drummers, check out Elvin Jones, Max Roach, and Art Blakey. These are some of the earliest known jazz drummers that were instrumental in shaping the style.
Buddy Rich is a name that you’ll hear being thrown around quite often. He was known to be an excellent showman and had lightning-fast hands.
For more modern listening, check out guys like Mark Guiliana, Larnell Lewis, Dave Weckl, and Eric Harland.
Answer: Beginners don’t typically learn to play jazz as it’s one of the hardest styles of music to learn on the drums. However, some beginners are born-and-bred jazz musicians, so it’s good to have a cheap kit to buy that would work in jazz settings.
The best option you have, in that case, is the Pearl Roadshow. It’s one of the best entry-level sets available on the drum kit market, and you can get a version that has jazz shell sizes.
If you want to read a full review of the kit, check out this article that we did over here.
Once you know everything that a drum kit needs to thrive in jazz environments, it’s much easier to find a suitable set. If you’re looking to buy one, check out all the options I recommended. They each have their pros and cons, so weigh those up to see which kit will be the best option for your specific needs.
The Pearl Midtown, Gretsch Catalina Club, Sonor AQ2, and Yamaha Stage Custom Hip are all fantastic kits that cost under $1000. Each of them has a different shell material, giving you a diverse range of kits to choose from.
The Gretsch Broadkaster, Pearl Masters Maple, and DW Collector’s Series Jazz are the professional options. They’re the kits you should consider if you’re not limited by a budget.
Whichever kit you choose, make sure to match it with a set of high-quality cymbals that are ideal for jazz settings.
For some further reading on interesting drum gear, check out the following articles: