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Drumsets are finely crafted instruments using wood shells and metal hardware. Even cheap drumsets can be quite expensive. Not only do the raw materials factor into the cost, but the construction of drums is another significant factor.
Drumsets cost on average from a range of $250-5000. Typically the higher the cost, the higher the quality. Most drum companies have models in all price ranges.
|Cheap Drumset for Adults||$250 – $500|
|Cheap Drumset for Kids||$150 – $300|
|Beginner Drumset||$500 – $1000|
|Intermediate Drumset||$1500 – $2500|
|Advanced Drumset||$2500 – $5000|
|Jazz Drumset||$1000 – $5000|
|Portable Drumset||$250 – $1000|
|Electronic Drumset||$500 – $6000|
Cheap Drumset for Adults: $250-500
A Cheap drumset is usually in the price range of around $250-$500. Cheaper drumsets typically include hardware, which makes them a great choice if you’re just starting, or if you’re buying a drumset for a music room or rehearsal space.
If you’re looking for a cheap drumset, I recommend SPL’s Unity 5 Piece Drumset. This model of drumset was the first I owned. The nice thing about this set is the inclusion of all hardware.
If you buy this set, I would recommend changing out the stock drum heads with better drumheads. The stock heads don’t sound very good, but if you tune the drums well with good heads, these drums will sound just fine.
Cheap Drumset For Kids: $150-300
Say you have a kid who wants to learn how to play drums. It can be challenging to find a good drumset, as many professional models are designed for older children and adults. Often, the child drumsets on sale at department stores are of inferior quality and lack even such basic things as snare wire on the snare drum!
The good news is there are some excellent options for children too. These kits vary from around $150-$300. I recommend Pearl’s Roadshow Jr. Drumset. Pearl is a renowned drumset manufacturer, and their roadshow Jr kit has all the necessities included.
Beginner Drumset: $500-1000
Let’s say you’ve started taking drum lessons, or you’re just starting to jam with other people. You’re going to want something a little higher quality, but isn’t going to break the bank.
Most well-established drum companies have what I like to call an “entry” model. These are drumsets made for cheaper, but still offer the unique features that each brand offers.
These kits are often in the $500-$1000 price range. One set I can recommend is the Tama Superstar Classic. They have maple shells, which is pretty rare at this level.
I have a vintage set of this model, back when they used birch shells. I like this kit; it has a great sound.
Here’s a great product demonstration and review of the set here:
Beginner Drum Hardware
At this price range, the hardware is usually no longer included. You can often buy hardware in packs for cheap, though. One of the most affordable options is the PDP Z5 Hardware pack.
This set of hardware is great for beginners, as a lot of the features offered by more expensive kits are not of much utility to beginning drummers.
Intermediate Drumset: $1500-2500
At the intermediate range, you’re going to see a fairly substantial price jump. This level of kit involves a lot of the same craftsmanship of high-end kits but often consists of using different products and construction methods to expedite the manufacturing process. It includes such things as using different types of lacquers, or different types of shell construction.
The one I own at home in the Boston area is the Gretsch Renown set. I am VERY PLEASED with the sound.
These types of drumsets are in the $1500-$2500 price range, and also can make great drumsets for gigging and touring. Another model I recommend is Canopus drum sets. They have groove and bop models.
You may recognize the Yaiba II as the house drumset of famous clubs in New York, such as Smalls and Smoke. A lot of great drummers endorse Canopus. You can hear Fransico Mela demonstrate these drums here:
Intermediate Drum Hardware
At this level, I recommend DW’s 3000 Hardware Pack. The 3000 series hardware is durable and dependable and was the first model of professional cymbal stands I bought.
As far as bass drum pedals, I recommend the Tama Classic Bass Drum Pedal. Not only is this pedal affordable, but it offers levels of customization that rival high-end bass drum pedals. I own this pedal and like it a lot.
Advanced Drumset: $2500-5000
I recommend advanced drumsets for musicians who are regularly gigging and recording and want an instrument that reflects their sound. Drumsets at this level are a serious investment and typically are in the price range of $2500 to over $5000. I recommend putting serious research into the different brands at this level to find what sound suits you.
Advanced: $2500 and more
A great high end set that is adaptable to all situations is the Yamaha Recording Custom series. Co-developed with the legendary Steve Gadd, these drums are an industry standard. They come in all sizes, from bop to rock, and sound great in all types of playing situations.
Yamaha drums are the house drums in many venues, and for a good reason. They are great sounding drums. I always have a positive experience playing when a Yamaha is on the backline.
Check out this clip of the master himself, Steve Gadd, playing these drums.
Advanced Snare Drum
At this price range, Snare drums are often not included with the shell pack, as professionals tend to like to mix and match snare drums with their various drumsets. A quality snare drum will typically cost anywhere from $500-$1500
A great all-around snare is the Ludwig Classic Maple Snare Drum. I own this drum, and it is incredibly versatile, sounding great in all tuning ranges.
Advanced Drum Hardware
My favorite hardware on the market for professionals is the DW 6000 series flat base stands. These are another industry standard. Personally, I use the 6500 flat base Hi Hat Stand, and the DW 6710 Straight Cymbal Stand (they offer Boom models as well).
For a bass drum pedal, I recommend the Tama Iron Cobra. It is a very popular bass drum pedal for all types of drummers.
Jazz drumsets are a particular subset of drums. While you can play jazz on any style of drumset, there are specific sizes popularly used called bop sizes. The typical diameter for jazz drums are 12” and 14” for the toms, and 18” for the bass drum.
Jazz drummers tend to prefer smaller drums because they tune them very high compared to other drummers. Most jazz drummers look for an articulate, melodic sound that has a good sound at quiet dynamics.
Gretsch for Jazz: $3500
I recommend the Gretsch USA Custom line of drums. They are maple drums with a 30-degree bearing edge and die-cast hoops. These factors give the drums the classic “Great Gretsch Sound” that you hear on so many great Jazz recordings.
Most of my favorite drummers have used or endorsed Gretsch at some point, including Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, and modern players like Nate Wood and Mark Guiliana.
I own a pair of USA Customs and love them. The toms are warm and sound great in the higher tuning range I generally use, and I can get the sound I like out of the bass drum.
Check out Drummer Steve Langone playing a USA custom bop kit here.
Jazz Drum Hardware:
Another popular choice in the hardware market is what’s called ultralight hardware. Ultralight hardware is great for gigging musicians, as the trap case where you store your stands is the heaviest part of your load in.
Tama Drums has been making head waves with its Classic Series Hardware. These stands are some of the lightest on the market but are just as sturdy compared to some heavier stands.
Jazz Bass Drum Pedal:
For Jazz drummers, I recommend the Jojo Mayer Perfect Balance Pedal made by Sonor.
The perfect balance pedal is different than most pedals on the market. The design emulates the way vintage bass drum pedals were constructed.
The main feature is the action of the pedal is balanced; meaning the speed of the pedal going toward the head is the same as the speed of while returning from the head. This gives it a more responsive feel.
You can watch Jojo Mayer discuss the pedal here.
My Experience with the Drum Pedal:
I use this pedal and gig with it, but it takes some getting used to. The action feels very different compared to other pedals. It’s almost invisible, which can throw you off if you’re not comfortable with it. Again, it’s important to use your judgment and find a pedal that feels right for you.
Regular sized drums can be a hassle to carry around, as the sizes are quite large and cumbersome to carry around. A lot of manufacturers are starting to offer sets in sizes that are much more portable, and are often called travel kits. They are in the cheaper range, from $250-$1000.
These types of drums are smaller in diameters and are much shallower than standard sizes. It affects the sound of the drum, as a shallow shell is less resonant, creating a shorter sound with less sustain.
A great kit in this style is the PDP Daru Jones New Yorker. They are made of poplar and maple shells and have a cool sound.
It’s a great deal too because there is some hardware included with the drumset. It’s an excellent drumset for kids too. Check out Daru Jones discussing the drumset here.
Make Your Own Portable Drum Kit
If you’re on a budget, you can make your own portable drumset. If you have an extra snare drum lying around, try tuning it like a floor tom, and see how it sounds. Not only is this a cool sound, but it is also more portable than a regular floor tom.
I have an old Premier field snare that is 14”x10” that I have tuned low as a side snare/floor tom hybrid. I’ll use it on gigs where I either need to travel light or have to do a quick setup.
14 Inch Bass Drum:
I once saw a touring drummer who had a 14” bass drum and three snare drums as his drum kit setup. I was talking to him about it, and he explained that he found it helpful to have smaller drums when commuting on the subway in New York City.
Leon Parker, who notably played in pianist Jacky Terrason’s trio in the 90’s, would only bring a cymbal around to play with people, Parker said:
“I was fascinated by the cymbals. When I was 22 years old and used to go to Bradley’s all the time and carry only a cymbal with me. Kenny would let me sit in”. And then when Riley was unavailable to make the gig for one week, “I took the drum chair,” he said with a laugh, “but still played on just the one cymbal,” causing a rumble across the jazz community.
Just the Bare Essentials:
Limiting what you bring to a gig can be a great exercise in creativity. Think about bare essentials you would need to get through a gig.
Sometimes I’ll just bring a bass drum, snare drum, hi-hat, and ride cymbal to a gig. Not only is it less stuff to carry, but it forces you to approach playing differently as well. Just use discretion, as some people might not dig you bringing fewer drums on their gig.
Electronic Drum Kit: $500-6000
Electronic sets are a popular option on the market today as well. These are useful if you live in an apartment or with roommates. They can range anywhere from $500-$6000.
Electronic kits have also made great strides in improving the quality of samples they have and have a more wide dynamic range than when they first came to popularity. They can also be a helpful augmentation to your acoustic kit, as electronic kits have a wide array of sounds that can be programmed.
Roland Electronic Drum Kit
I recommend the Roland TD-1DMK drumset. This is a good middle of the road electronic drumset for drummers of all levels. The distinguishing features here are the mesh heads, which give a good rebound and stick response.
This is a great demonstration and review of the kit.
Knowing the Cost – Knowing What Affects a Drum’s Sound
When researching what kind of kit you want to buy, I think it’s essential to go into some factors that affect how a drum sounds. Four main factors influence how a drum sounds, which are:
- Bearing Edge
These different parts impact the price of a drumset too.
Drum Wood Types
The type of wood a drumset uses affects the frequency response of the drum, which affects the tonal quality of a drum. Here are several common kinds of wood used and how they affect the sound.
Maple drums have a reasonably even frequency response in highs, mids, and lows. They’re an excellent wood for any style of music and are very warm sounding
Birch drums have a pronounced high end and a punchy low end. They are loud and cutting.
Mahogany drums have a more robust mid and low end. They are resonant, and a lot of vintage drums consist of this wood.
Bubinga drums have an intense low end. They are very resonant and have a huge sound.
There are also a lot of kits on the market today that feature a combination of woods , as well as drumsets made of metal and synthetic materials. You can read this Modern Drummer article that goes more in-depth about these types of shells, as well as other types of wood shells here.
The Drum Bearing Edge
The Bearing edge is the part of the drum that the drum head rests on top of. It is cut, so the head rests evenly on the drum, creating a uniform sound. There are three main types of bearing edge:
A 45-degree bearing edge is the most common type used on drumsets. They create a bright tone with a shorter sustain.
A 30-degree bearing edge is a little smoother and is used primarily by Gretsch. It gives the drum a warmer sound.
A roundover bearing edge is like a 30-degree bearing edge taken to the extreme. It creates a warm sound with fewer overtones and less sustain.
If you’re curious to learn more, you can read this article about bearing edges.
There are three common types of drum hoops:
Flanged hoops are the cheapest and most common type of drum hoop. They are light and have the most sustain out of any drum hoop, which is great for lower tuning ranges.
Die-cast hoops are sturdier than flanged hoops. They are focused with less sustain and are great for rimshots. I find they also sound better in higher tuning ranges.
Wood hoops are the weakest and most expensive type of hoop. They are the warmest of all hoop types and have a distinct rimshot.
If you’re interested in learning more, check out this great article written by Russ Miller about the different types of drum hoops.
The drum head has a significant impact on how the drum sounds. Understanding drum heads is an integral part of purchasing a drumset, as the heads can make or break the sound of a drumset. If you put the right drum heads on a cheaper kit, you can get a great sound that rivals more expensive drums.
While there is a bevy of heads on the market today, there are two main factors that affect a drumhead’s sound. These are the ply, and use of the coating.
The ply is the number of sheets of plastic used to construct the drum head. Single-ply heads have more sustain and sensitivity, whereas double-ply heads have less sustain and sound warmer.
Whether or not a drum head uses coating affects the sound too. Coated drum heads have a warmer sound with less sustain. Clear heads tend to be brighter and more resonant.
The Importance of Tuning After You Buy Your Drumset
How you tune your drums has the most significant effect on how your drumset will sound. Buying an expensive drumset won’t mean a thing if you can’t tune them to get a good sound, and a well-tuned cheap kit can rival some costly sets.
Without belaboring too many details, there are two main things to keep in mind while tuning:
- Evenness of pitch between tension rods
- Intervallic relationship between batter head and resonant head
For the first part, make sure the tension rods have a uniform pitch. It helps avoid nasty overtones and improves the feel of the drumhead.
The second tip is incredibly important and is not emphasized enough by people. It took me a long time to learn, but the resonant head has such a significant effect on the overtones of the drum, which affects tone. If the interval between the heads isn’t stable, you get some weird overtones that spoil the sound of the drum.
I’ve also found that the resonant head also affects how the rebound of the drum feels. It’s important to tune for both sound and feel, as the way a drum is tuned also affects the way the stick rebounds.
Sound Comes from the Drummer, Not So Much the Drums…..
An Important caveat I want to make before you buy any drumset is that the way you sound comes from YOU, not the drumset. A great drumset won’t make you a better drummer. Great drummers can play on anything and make it sound beautiful.
For some proof, listen to Benny Greb play a toy Spongebob drumset, and sound incredible:
Bad Cymbals, Great Drummers
I’ve seen the great drummer Fransico Mela many times. I’ve seen him play all kinds of wacky cymbals, including house cymbals, and he always makes them sound like he’s been playing them his whole life. There’s one time I saw him that stands out to me.
I saw him playing at a festival one time about four years ago. He had this tiny riveted cymbal that sounded incredible. I spoke with him very briefly afterward, and he showed me what the cymbal was. It was only of those cheap old Pearl Crash cymbals that used to come included with their beginner drumsets!
Cheap Cymbals Can Work Well if You’re Good:
I’ve had other friends play cheap old beginner hi-hats made by the defunct company Powerbeat to get a different texture.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how expensive a piece of equipment is; what matters is if it helps you to achieve the sound in your head.
An Argument for Drum Quality
Now this by no means is a disparagement of quality drums. The benefit of having nice drums is that you don’t have to fight them to get a great sound out of them. That is not always the case with cheaper drumsets.
When I got my first professional-grade drumset, it was great. It was such a joy to play an instrument that is so responsive and has an excellent sound quality at all dynamics and tuning ranges. It can be inspiring.
But again, that sound comes from your head and heart first. Instruments, like the name suggests, are only a tool. As the saying goes, it is a poor craftsman who blames their tools.
Developing a Relationship with Drums
All drums have a particular sound and feel. It can take a while to get used to. I liken playing a specific instrument to developing a relationship.
Just like when you first meet a person, you’re not entirely aware of their various idiosyncrasies and how to deal with them. As a relationship develops, you gain a deeper understanding of that person and how they function.
Getting to Know Your New Drums:
Drums are the same way. All the different aspects of a drumset affect not only how it sounds, but how it feels to play. I remember when I first got my Gretsch drums, it took me a while to get used to the die-cast hoops on the toms. I would accidentally hit rimshots, or completely whiff it and only hit the rim of the drum.
Whenever you start to play a new set, it’s essential to be patient.
I once was talking with my friend Luther Gray about the vintage Sonor drums he uses. He said that he at first didn’t like the first Sonor set he had bought, but he had to use them as he had sold the Ludwigs he was using before. He said that once he got over the initial hump, he fell in love with Sonors, and they are the main drums he uses now.
Drum Shopping Tips
When shopping for a drumset, it’s important to find a drumset that suits your needs and your sound. You need to use, and most importantly, trust your ears. What you hear and like as a musician is different from what I like and how I hear things.
Go Buy Drums Local:
As always, I recommend going to your local drum store or music shop and see what they have available. Always ask to try out a set. It’s a significant investment, and stores understand that and are often willing to let you try a set out before you buy it.
If that is not as much of a possibility, do a lot of research. Check out reviews, product demonstrations, and performance videos if possible. That way, you can get a real sense of the drums’ sound.
John Dalton is a Boston based drummer, composer, bandleader, and educator. He is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. He performs regularly as both a leader and a sideman. His modular ensemble “Spheres of Influence” has recently released their debut album, Indigo Skyline. You can find out more about him here : https://johndaltonspheresofinfluence.com