If you’re new to buying acoustic drums, you may be wondering what the best brands are. Drum sets as we know them are about 100 years old, so countless brands that sell them have come and gone in that time.
Over my drumming career, I’ve been lucky enough to play kits from most of the popular drum brands available. Each brand has something special to offer, making it good to inform yourself about all of them.
In this guide, I’m going to explain each popular drum brand and breakdown what kinds of kits that they offer.
Bottom Line Upfront: The most popular drum brands are Tama, Pearl, Yamaha, Mapex, Gretsch, Sonor, Ludwig, PDP, and DW. Each brand has a product list that includes kits of varying prices.
The best way to identify the kits according to their prices is to view them as entry-level, intermediate, or pro drum kits. Apart from that, these brands make a few specialty options such as compact drum sets.
How Drum Kits are Organized
While drum kits can cost anywhere from $100 to $10 000, it’s helpful to know why they come with the price tags they have. So, before we look through the different drum brands, let me explain a few categories of drums first. After that, I’ll show you what each brand offers in these respective categories.
Entry-level drum kits are the most affordable kits you’ll find on the market. They’re typically designed with new drummers in mind, but I know plenty of experienced drummers who have bought entry-level sets because of their cheap price tag.
They can range anywhere from $200 to $1000, and one of the best things about them is they often come with cymbals and hardware. So, an entry-level kit gives you all the tools you need to start playing immediately. No extra purchases need to be made.
The drums are more affordable because companies use cheaper woods and hardware to make them. Most entry-level kits are made from poplar as that’s an incredibly affordable wood to use when making drums.
While entry-level kits come with cymbals, they’re not always the greatest when it comes to sound. However, they’re perfect for a beginner drummer who hasn’t learned what high-quality cymbals sound like just yet.
My favorite aspect of entry-level kits is the hardware they come with. You’ll get cymbal stands that will last ages, and you can easily use those stands along with a better drum kit if you ever upgrade to one.
Entry-level kits are what I suggest all my drum students get. They create a solid platform for learning without having a scary price tag.
Intermediate kits have a broader range of descriptions. There are countless drum sets available in this category, and not all of them share similar qualities. So, I’d say that an intermediate drum set can be identified whenever a kit costs between $800 and $2000.
You may find a few intermediate kits that come with hardware and cymbals, but most of them come as shell packs. When you buy a shell pack, you only get the drums themselves. You need to buy hardware and cymbals separately. Many shell packs don’t even come with a snare drum.
You’ll see more types of wood being used with intermediate sets such as maple, birch, mahogany, and beech. However, I’ve come to know that most of the popular intermediate sets on the market are made from maple.
Intermediate drum sets are perfectly usable in professional settings. I’ve found that they can sound incredible when equipped with the right drumheads and tuned properly.
Drummers will often buy an intermediate drum kit and then spend the money saved on better cymbals. It’s arguably more important to have good cymbals than it is to have a good kit, so this strategy works wonders when it comes to sound.
Professional kits are the cream of the crop options from each drum brand. These kits will cost anywhere from $2000 and upwards. When you buy a pro kit, you’re getting the best design quality, most luxurious wood choice, and strongest hardware build.
Pro kits will always be sold as shell packs. If they weren’t, most of them would become too expensive for most drummers. Because of this, most of them also don’t include snare drums in the shell packs.
At the stage where someone is buying a pro drum set, it’s assumed that they already have one or two snare drums to use. So, it’s often quite helpful that their cost is lowered by removing the snare drum from the shell pack.
The peak version of a professional drum set would be a custom drum set. This is when a drum company makes a drum set according to your preferences. You get to choose what wood is used, how many plies there are on the shells, and what hardware you want on them.
Some of the major brands have custom drum programs, but there are also dedicated custom drum companies that specialize in doing this. I’ll talk a bit about those later!
Compact kits are drum sets that have smaller shell sizes than average. The idea with these is that they’re easier to move around and set up, making them ideal for drummers who gig often. I bought a compact drum set back in 2016, and I’ve used it for every single gig since then where I’ve had to bring my own kit.
Some compact kits are priced quite low, making them almost entry-level. Other compact kits are luxuriously made, pushing them to the pro category.
A compact kit will always come as a shell pack, though. I don’t know any drum brand that sells a small drum kit that includes a set of hardware and cymbals.
These kits work excellently for children and drummers who gig a lot. Because of this, I wouldn’t recommend getting a compact kit as your primary set. Instead, they’re better to be used as a secondary kit that you can pull out when you need it.
They’re also known as portable drum sets, and you can read a full article mentioning some of the best ones here.
Most Popular Drum Kit Brands
Moving on to the drum brands themselves. For each brand, I’ll give a brief history with some personal opinions. Then, I’ll provide their current drum kit product line and identify their best entry-level, intermediate, pro, and compact kits.
Pearl has been one of the leading drum brands for decades. Their Pearl Export was one of the most popular drum sets in the world at a stage. I had one, my friends had one, and every music school seemed to have one as well.
Here is their current drum set lineup:
- Pearl Midtown (Compact Set)
- Pearl Roadshow (Entry-Level Set)
- Pearl Export
- Pearl Decade Maple (Intermediate Set)
- Pearl Crystal Beat
- Pearl Session Studio Select
- Pearl Masters Maple (Professional Set)
- Pearl Reference
- Pearl President Series Deluxe
- Pearl Masterworks (Custom Set)
The Midtown is the compact kit I bought back in 2016. It’s made of poplar shells, and it has a surprisingly large sound for such a small kit.
The Roadshow is the entry-level kit that I recommend most to beginner drummers. Although it has undesirable cymbals, it’s one of the most affordable kits and it has excellent hardware, making it quite valuable.
If you’re wanting an affordable maple drum set, the Decade Maple is a worthy option. You can get it in a 7-piece setup which is fantastic.
The Masters Maple is a higher-quality maple drum set. I know a few studio producers who use it as their recording kit of choice.
Tama has gained a lot of popularity over the past few years. I’ve always seen their Starclassic kit as one of the best drum kits on the planet. I use a Tama kit as my main kit, so I love the brand and everything that they offer.
Here’s their lineup:
- Tama Club-JAM (Compact Set)
- Tama Rhythm Mate (Entry-Level Set)
- Tama Cocktail Jam
- Tama Imperialstar (Intermediate Drum Set)
- Tama Superstar Classic
- Tama S.L.P.
- Tama Starclassic
- Tama Star (Professional Set)
When it comes to compact sets, the Club-JAM is one of the smallest. You can get it in a few size options, but the smallest sizes are the most attractive as I feel that no other drum brand offers that. It’s quite interesting to play on a 14-inch bass drum with the Club-JAM Flyer.
The Rhythm Mate isn’t anything to write home about. I’ve found that most drummers I know gravitate toward other entry-level kits.
The Imperialstar, on the other hand, is a wonderful intermediate drum set. It also comes with a relatively decent set of Meinl HCS cymbals.
Not much beats the Tama Star kits in my eyes. It’s my dream kit, and get to choose between a bubinga, maple, or walnut version.
Yamaha is a powerhouse brand in both the electronic and acoustic drumming world. Their acoustic kits are particularly impressive, and the YESS tom mounting system is one of my favorite things whenever I play on a Yamaha kit.
Here is what Yamaha offers:
- Yamaha Stage Custom Hip (Compact Set)
- Yamaha Rydeen (Entry-Level Set)
- Yamaha Stage Custom Birch (Intermediate Set)
- Yamaha Tour Custom
- Yamaha Absolute Hybrid Maple
- Yamaha Live Custom Hybrid Oak
- Yamaha Recording Custom (Professional Set)
- Yamaha PHX
The Yamaha Stage Custom Hip is a fairly unique compact kit thanks to its floor tom that also has snare wires. You get a deep snare drum sound when turning those snares on which leads to some interesting ideas.
Similar to Tama’s entry-level kit, the Yamaha Rydeen isn’t the most popular option amongst beginner drummers. I do appreciate its firm hardware, though.
The Yamaha Stage Custom Birch is a gem amidst the brand’s lineup. I think it’s the best-sounding drum kit on the market that costs less than $1000. The birch shells punch like nothing else, and the kit feels like a pro kit.
The Recording Custom is the kit I’ve seen around most from Yamaha in the pro category. While it also has birch shells, the overall tone of the drums is far superior to the Stage Custom Birch drums. Also, the Surf Green finish is iconic.
DW has a reputation for being one of the most luxurious brands in the drum world. Some drummers swear by their drums. Others think that they’re overpriced and overhyped. Whenever I’ve played on a DW kit, it has sounded amazing. So, I love the brand!
They don’t offer as many drum set options as other brands. However, all their kits come with multiple configuration options, so we’re spoiled for choice.
Here are the main three lines of drum kits that they offer:
- DW Design Series
- DW Performance Series
- DW Collectors Series
All three of those kits can be considered professional drum sets. The Design Series is the most standard of them, having smaller lugs and slightly inferior tone quality.
The Performance Series is a maple drum set, and it’s an incredible kit to play on. I know so many drummers who play on Performance Series kits, and they combine immaculate hardware with well-constructed drum shells.
The Collectors Series is the main player in DW’s lineup of kits. These kits are extremely expensive. While some of them are custom-made, you can also find many standard ones that are sold in music stores. These kits are where DW go all out and put all their innovative ideas to the test.
PDP is a relative company to DW. They use many of DW’s design techniques and ideas, but PDP kits are a lot more affordable. Getting a PDP drum set is a good way of getting the DW feel without paying the DW price. The kits are made outside of the USA, making the production a lot cheaper.
The lineup of PDP drum sets isn’t as extensive as the other popular drum brands. The two important kits to mention are the PDP Center Stage and the PDP Concept Maple.
The Center Stage is an entry-level drum kit. I’ve always found it to be very similar to the Pearl Roadshow. It has poplar shells that give you booming tones. However, the hardware that comes with the kit is inferior to the Roadshow hardware, making the Roadshow a better option for beginner drummers.
The real star of PDP’s lineup is the Concept Maple. I love this kit, and I’ve seen it being used in more churches than I can count. It’s a punchy maple drum set that can be bought in a 7-piece setup.
It has the best parts of DW hardware such as the True-Pitch tension rods and MAG snare throw-off. In the intermediate drum kit category, it’s a strong contender.
Mapex isn’t as popular as the other brands on this list. However, their drum kits have come a far way in recent years, and they thrive in the intermediate drum set area. They sell some of the most affordable kits that have hybrid drum shells, meaning those kits have a mixture of woods.
Here is Mapex’s drum kit product lineup:
- Mapex Storm (Entry-Level Set)
- Mapex Mars
- Mapex Armory (Intermediate Set)
- Mapex Saturn
- Mapex Black Panther Design Lab (Professional Set)
My favorite aspect of all these Mapex sets is that you get a wide variety of configuration options. Even the entry-level Storm kit has four different size options to choose from. While it may not be the best sounding entry-level kit, it wins in the area of choice.
The Armory is an excellent intermediate kit. It’s one of the few that has the rack toms mounted to cymbal stands instead of to the bass drum. It’s also one of the few intermediate sets on the market that has hybrid drum shells.
The Mapex Black Panther kits are works of art. Mapex puts a lot of pride in these kits, and it shows by how good they sound and how awesome they look.
Gretsch drums have a long history behind them. The brand started in the late 1800s, making it one of the oldest on this list of popular drum brands. If you look at performance videos of drummers through the past 100 years, you’ll see many of them with Gretsch kits in the mix.
I’ve found that Gretsch kits are mostly loved by jazz drummers. Their kits have such sweet tones that steer on the side of vintage, making them beautiful options for jazz environments.
Here is the Gretsch kit lineup:
- Gretsch Energy (Entry-Level Set)
- Gretsch Catalina Club (Compact Set)
- Gretsch Catalina Maple (Intermediate Set)
- Gretsch Renown
- Gretsch Brooklyn
- Gretsch Broadkaster (Professional Set)
- Gretsch USA Custom
The Gretsch Energy is yet another entry-level drum kit that I don’t think matches up to the Pearl Roadshow. It’s fairly decent, though. It just doesn’t share the same solid hardware.
The Catalina Club is one of the most popular jazz drum sets that I know of. I’ve been to a few jazz festivals where this kit has been the favorite of most drummers there.
In the intermediate section, we have the Catalina Maple. It’s incredibly similar to the PDP Concept Maple, Tama Superstar Classic, and Pearl Decade Maple. However, the benefit this kit has over those is its tonal warmth. This makes it an excellent studio kit.
The Gretsch Broadkaster is an iconic professional drum set. It used to be the flagship kit from Gretsch in the 20th century, and they reintroduced it with a few upgrades in the last decade or so. It has a mixture of maple and poplar in the shells. The plies are thin, giving it an extraordinarily vintage tone.
Ludwig falls under many of the same lines as Gretsch. Also seen as a fairly vintage drum brand, their drums were made extremely famous when The Beatles came onto the scene.
Ringo Starr played a Ludwig set, boosting their sales dramatically. John Bonham was also a Ludwig player. With two of the most famous drummers of all time backing their products, you can imagine how new drummers flocked to buy their kits.
Here is their current lineup:
- Ludwig Accent (Entry-Level Set)
- Ludwig Breakbeats (Compact Set)
- Ludwig Element Evolution (Intermediate Set)
- Ludwig NeuSonic
- Ludwig Vistalite
- Ludwig Classic (Professional Set)
- Ludwig Legacy
The Ludwig Accent is a relatively decent entry-level set. It seems to have a deeper tone than most cheaper kits, making it desirable if want big and warm tom sounds. The cymbals that come with it aren’t too good, though.
The Breakbeats is one of the most popular compact sets on the market. It was one of the first compact kits to be sold before the idea of having a compact kit was so popular.
It’s also one of the cheapest compact options, adding to its popularity. It’s incredibly light and it was designed with the intention of carrying it across town to play different gigs.
The Ludwig Element Evolution is another excellent intermediate kit. It closely competes with the Tama Imperialstar. These two kits share many of the same features, the difference being that the Ludwig kit comes with Zildjian I cymbals while the Tama kit comes with Meinl HCS cymbals.
Ludwig Classic kits come with two shell options – oak and maple. The oak kits have a dark presence and are fairly loud. The maple kits have more of a standard sound that you can expect from high-end drum sets.
The last popular drum brand to mention is Sonor. Based in Germany, this brand offers incredibly well-constructed drum sets. Whenever I’ve played on a Sonor drum set, I’ve found myself appreciating the craftmanship of it more than I do with other kits.
Here is Sonor’s drum kit lineup:
- Sonor AQX Series (Entry-Level Compact Drum Sets)
- Sonor AQ1 Series (Intermediate Drum Set)
- Sonor AQ2 Series (Compact Drum Set)
- Sonor SQ1 Series
- Sonor Vintage Series
- Sonor Prolite Series (Professional Drum Set)
- Sonor SQ2 Series (Custom Drum Set)
Sonor’s AQ2 kits are some of the highest-quality compact drum kits available. You have three options with the Safari, Bop, and Martini, giving you a wide variety of small kits to choose from. If someone asked me what the best compact kit was with no budget limitations, I’d recommend one of those.
You can also find standard sizes with the AQ2 Series, and these particular kit sizes make excellent intermediate sets.
The AQX Series is a fairly new set of entry-level drum kits to the market. I’ve found that all the kits in this series sound surprisingly good!
The Prolite Series has been around for years. These maple kits sound beautiful, look incredible, and feel amazing to play on. I’ve had the privilege of playing on one for a few shows, and I would have bought one for myself immediately after if it were a possibility.
Sonor kits are known to be a bit more expensive than other brands. This is especially true for their SQ1 and SQ2 drum sets that can easily cost between $4000 and $6000.
Answer: The two brands that are known to have a large number of expensive drum kits are Sonor and DW. However, every drum brand has top-tier kits available that cost upwards of $5000.
Since the brands often use the same production means, the kits end up costing similar prices. Also, the brands are competing, so their high-end kits all cost around the same.
However, DW is the only drum brand that doesn’t sell a kit that costs less than $1000. They have a reputation for being a luxury drum brand. If you want to get an affordable DW kit, you’d need to look to PDP which is their sister company.
Answer: It’s widely known that the Pearl Export is one of the best-selling kits in history. These kits aren’t as popular as they used to be. But at one stage, you could have easily found them in every city on the planet.
The reason they were so popular was that they were affordable kits that sounded amazing. Pearl was the one drum brand that even non-drummers knew about, arguably due to the popularity of the Export drum sets.
Answer: This question doesn’t have a definitive answer. Each drum brand has a large number of kits available, and each brand makes their kits with different features. Some drummers prefer certain brands because of what their kits offer.
It all comes down to whatever you personally prefer. I’m a huge Tama fan, but I’ve played on every brand that I’ve mentioned above, and I’d be very happy with any one of their drum kits.
Answer: Some brands provide cheap cymbals with their name on them for kits, but those cymbals are always terrible. So, no drum brand makes good cymbals. If you want high-quality cymbals, you’d need to get those from dedicated cymbal brands.
The top four cymbal brands in the drumming world are Paiste, Meinl, Sabian, and Zildjian.
It’s incredibly interesting to compare all the popular drum brands and see how they differ. Remember that you can also become a fan of a brand by looking at factors other than the kits they offer.
Some brands have much better customer support than others. Some of them are more active on social media, allowing you to see more of the ins and outs of what they do.
If you’re looking to buy a new drum kit, I suggest checking out each brand, making the necessary comparisons for kits within your budget, and then choosing whichever kit you find suits you the best. Once you’ve done that, you can follow the same process with cymbals!
For more interesting reading on drum gear, check out the following articles: