Are you looking for the best professional drum set?
You’ve come to the right place!
In this guide you’ll learn the following:
What Makes A Professional Drum Set?
What Do I Need To Gig With A Professional Drum Set?
What Are The Top 5 Best Professional Drum Sets?
And much more!
Yamaha Stage Custom 5-piece Birch Drum Set
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Pearl Export 5-piece drum set
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Alesis Command Mesh Electronic Drum Set
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PDP Concept Maple 5-piece drum set
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Gretsch Catalina 6-piece Maple Drum Set
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My Overall #1 Rated Pick
The Yamaha Stage Custom Birch series drums have been the go-to gigging and recording drum kits for thousands of drummers around the world for decades.
The pure birch shells provide a lovely punchy and refined sound, whilst Yamaha’s excellent build quality and ‘bomb-proof’ hardware means they’ll perform night after night.
You’ll struggle to find a better kit at this price range anywhere else. If I turn up to a venue and this is the house kit, I know I’m going to have a good night!
So you’ve been playing drums for a while and that cheap beginner/entry-level kit you’ve spent all those hours slaving away on just isn’t cutting it anymore.
It’s time to upgrade!
However, with hundreds of drum manufacturers all clamoring for your business it’s hard to not feel overwhelmed when looking for the perfect professional kit.
A professional drum kit not only needs to look, feel, and sound great...it also needs to be ready to be taken on the road.
Don’t worry, in this essential guide I’m going to cover everything you need to know before pulling the trigger on your next new partner in drumming, I’ll also give you my rundown of the best of the rest...making that crucial decision even easier!
Top 5 Best Professional Drum Sets
In a hurry? Check out my top 5 picks below! Keep reading to learn more about these professional drum sets.
What Makes A Professional Drum Set?
The main difference between entry-level/starter drum kits and professional kits is that pro kits are designed with the working musician in mind.
They tend to be sturdier built with better hardware, better wood, better finishes, and the most important thing...a better sound!
With all these improvements comes a massive amount of choice in terms of sizes, construction material, and kit design, it can often be incredibly confusing to work out what’s right for you.
Let’s have a look at some of the main variables in professional drum sets:
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Shell pack Vs Full set
Most entry-level drum sets come with everything the aspiring drummer would need to get started. However enter the world of professional drum sets and things get a little more specific.
Professional drummers are very particular when it comes to the specific parts they use, from their favorite type of bass drum pedal and cymbals, all the way down to the type of wingnuts they use on their cymbal stands.
For this reason, you will generally never see a professional drum kit advertised as a whole complete set, with drums cymbals and hardware all bundled together.
Cymbals, pedals, and hardware are all interchangeable but the drums themselves are usually purchased as a ‘Shell Pack’.
A shell pack is the most common way you will purchase a professional drum kit. At its core it consists of the bass drum and toms (as well as any hardware used to mount the toms). However, some shell packs will also include a snare drum too.
Shell Packs can range from a 3 piece kit (kick, rack tom, and floor tom) all the way up to 7 or 8 piece kits and beyond.
Some companies offer hardware included too, so you’ll often see a shell pack that also has all the cymbals stands and pedals you need. Basically it gives you everything but the cymbals (which tend to be a very personal choice).
As an example, the Pearl Export Set comes with a hardware pack included. Meaning all you need to do is find some cymbals that you like that fit in your budget and you’re ready to rock!
There are a variety of different standardized shell pack size options available with most professional acoustic drum sets.
The music you play, your individual playing style, the space you have available, as well as the size of your car, will all have an influence on the kit sizes you should choose. Here’s a rundown of the main shell packs available.
NOTE: All sizes are in inches and refer to the diameter of the drum. Drum depths vary but are usually pretty standard for most shell packs so I haven’t included them.
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A standard rock shell pack will consist of:
22” bass/kick drum
12” Rack Tom
13” Rack Tom
16” Floor Tom
14” Snare Drum (optional)
Sometimes the pack will only have one rack tom instead of two and may not come with a snare drum.
As the name suggests ‘Rock’ shell packs tend to have bigger drums that cater to the demands of louder rock music.
The bigger sizes give a lower fundamental tone of the kit too. If you’re into powerful music and need the extra ‘oomph’ then a rock shell pack is the way to go.
The name ‘fusion’ comes from the ‘fusing’ of two different styles of music ‘rock’ and ‘jazz’. Jazz drum kits tend to be much smaller in size and stature, so a fusion kit will sit directly in between the two.
A fusion shell pack will usually include:
20” bass/kick drum
10” Rack Tom
12” Rack Tom
14” or 16” Floor Tom
14” Snare Drum (optional)
Fusion shell packs are probably the most versatile.
They have the punch associated with a rock set up, however the smaller and wider ranged sizes allow to cater for more funk, Latin, and jazz styles too.
(That’s not to say you can’t play that stuff with a rock kit though, just look up Tony Williams and you’ll see what I mean!).
If you’re looking to play a wide variety of music then a fusion kit is probably the way to go.
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Jazz drum sets tend to be much smaller than rock or fusion kits as the demand for overall volume is much less. Also jazz kits tend to be tuned much higher in pitch than other kits, so the drums need to be small to accommodate.
They usually only come as a 3 piece shell pack (or 4 pieces inc a snare):
- 18” bass/kick drum
- 12” or 13” Rack Tom
- 14” or 16” Floor Tom
- 14” Snare Drum (optional)
The type of wood used to create the drum shells of a kit will have an impact on its overall tonal character and sound.
There are heaps of different woods used for making drum kits, however the most common two are Maple and Birch.
You’ll also find mahogany, Oak, Beech, Bubinga, Poplar...the list goes on and on. For the purpose of this article we’ll stick with the most common you’ll find on most pro-level shell packs.
Maple is probably the ‘warmest’ sounding wood. It has a very balanced sound with an even spread of low, mid, and high frequencies. Maple is great all-round wood for drum kits and has a very pleasing rounded tone.
Birch is a little more focused, with more high frequencies audible, less mid-range, and punchy low end.
Birch drums are often preferred for recording situations as they have a very mic friendly, almost pre eq’d sound. I’ve found Birch drums work well in loud environments as they’re slightly louder and more cutting.
Hardware refers to the metal components of a drum kit. This includes the cymbal stands (including hi-hat stand), bass drum pedal and mounts/legs to attach the various toms to the bass drum or stands.
Some professional shell packs will also come with a hardware pack included. This usually means all you need to do is source some cymbals and you’ll have a full drum kit.
However most shell packs only come with the drums, leaving you to buy your own hardware.
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Single Vs Double-braced
Cymbal and snare stands come in two varieties, single or double-braced.
Single braced stands only have one piece of metal for each ‘leg’ of the stand. This makes them less stable/robust, however it does mean that they are much lighter in weight.
If you don’t hit super hard or are doing loads of touring then single braced stands are the way to go.
If you need extra stability and durability then you’ll want to go for double-braced stands (two connected pieces of metal for each leg).
These stands will add a considerable amount of weight to your cymbal bag but are generally more durable and stable when loaded with cymbals or drums.
The added material means they tend to be more expensive too.
Drum heads, in my opinion, have the biggest impact on how your drums sound than anything else.
Often the top (batter) drum heads that come as standard with a new shell pack aren’t necessarily the best quality, or might not be the sound you’re after.
(Basically, the first thing I’d do when after buying a new kit is to replace the batter heads with good quality ones, don’t worry about the bottom/resonant heads, they’ll be fine).
Single Vs Double Ply
Drum heads come in either single or double-ply varieties.
Simply put, single-ply heads are going to sound more ‘open’, with more overtones and will resonate longer. Whereas double-ply heads will be more focused, have fewer overtones, and a slightly shorter decay.
Double-ply heads will be more durable too.
So if you’re a heavy hitter or want more longevity out of your drum heads then go for double-ply.
If you play lighter styles of music (such as jazz or Latin) and you want your drums to ring out more then go for some single-ply heads.
You can’t go wrong with the most recorded drum head in history, the single-ply Remo Coated Ambassador.
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Clear Vs Coated
Clear heads are just that, they’re made of completely see-through plastic (mylar). They tend to have more attack (initial stick ‘slap’!).
They’re great for live settings as they tend to cut through a little better than coated heads.
Coated heads have a sprayed-on coating (usually white) that makes them a little warmer sounding.
They have less attack but a slightly more rounded tone and they tend to be favored for recording more because of this.
What Do I Need To Gig With A Professional Drum Set?
Purchasing a well made and great sounding shell pack is great to start, however to complete your kit so it’s ready for gigs, rehearsals, or recordings, you’ll need some more equipment!
The last thing you’ll want to happen to your sparkly new drum kit is that it gets scratched or dinged when you’re transporting it.
There are two main types of cases: ‘soft’ or ‘hard’.
Soft cases are usually made of ‘soft’ shell material with a padded interior. My soft cases of choice are ‘Protection Racket’.
They are incredibly well made and will last you ages. Soft cases have the benefit of being lighter and easier to store than hard cases, however they won’t provide as much protection.
Hard cases are made of a hard plastic outer shell that’s excellent at protecting your drums.
They are heavier but will do a much better job of protecting your drums if your dopey bass player accidentally drops one! Hardcase are pretty much the industry standard in hard shell drum cases.
Don’t forget you’ll also need a case for your hardware!
I’d strongly suggest a case with wheels, as hardware cases can get extremely heavy once you’ve loaded all your stands into them. This Protection Racket wheeled hardware case is what I use and it’s excellent.
As I’ve already mentioned, most professional drum kit shell packs don’t come with stands or pedals (but they do usually come with tom holders).
A great solution to this is to buy a hardware ‘pack’ that includes everything you need. Something like the Gibraltar 5700 Pack would be a great option to get you started.
Remember you don’t have to match the brand of hardware to the drums.
Keep in mind that hardware packs often don’t include a drum stool/throne.
It may seem like the most boring part of a drum set but the drum throne is probably the most important part, as it houses the heaviest part of the kit...you!
A poor drum throne is going to give you very little support and can create back problems. Something like the Roc-N-Soc original saddle seat, or the PDP PDDT 700 throne as a more affordable option, are both great choices.
Also don’t forget those drumsticks!
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Cymbals are incredibly personal to each drummer depending on the style of music they play, their sonic preferences, as well as their budget!
Pro drummers handpick every element of their cymbal set up, picking each cymbal individually to create the sounds they have in their head.
If you’re not very experienced in the world of cymbals then starting with a cymbal ‘pack’ is probably your best bet. You can always upgrade/change individual elements as you go.
Most cymbals packs come as a standard set up:
- 14” Hi-Hats
- 16” Crash Cymbal
- 20” Ride Cymbal
My absolute favorite cymbal pack is the Istanbul Xist pack. These are advertised as mid-range cymbals however I use them on everything and they sound incredible, as well as being a fantastic price. They even come with their own hard case!
If your chosen shell pack doesn’t include a snare drum then you’re going to need to pick one up.
There is a massive amount of variety available in the world of snare drums as they can be both made of wood and metal (with huge variations of each), and also come in a variety of sizes. All of which will affect the sound.
Here’s a quick guide:
Most snare drums will be either 13” or 14” inches in diameter. 13” inch snare drums tend to be higher pitched and ‘poppier’ than 14” drums and are great for modern pop, funk, soul, and worship styles. 14” drums will have a lower fundamental pitch (although depends massively on your tuning) and are the most common and versatile of snare drum sizes.
The depth of the drum will also have an impact on its sound.
The most common depth is 5.5” however it can go all the way up to 8” deep.
The deeper the drum the more ‘body’ or resonance it’s going to have. Shallower snare drums will have a shorter and sharper note.
Snare drums are most commonly made of wood or metal.
The same rules apply to wood snare drums as mentioned in the section above about shell materials for your drum kit shell pack.
However, my personal favorite snare drums are made of metal. Here’s a quick guide to some of the most common metals used for snare drums and the effect they have on the sound quality of the drum:
Steel: Loud, cutting, great for rock and louder musical environments
Brass: Warm, satisfying overtones. Less harsh
Aluminum: Light, crisp/dry sound, and sensitive.
Copper: Less high freq, powerful sound
Bronze: Warm and responsive, less hi freq
I would suggest visiting a drum shop to try out a load of snare drums to see which type of sound you like the most.
Then you can start narrowing down your options depending on your budget.
This is something that is often overlooked by drummers. I turned up to play my first gig ever at a water sports center. I was pretty nervous but excited to get drumming, I set up in the bar area which happened to have a laminate wooden floor (I had no rug).
I then spent the next hour and a half having to pick breaks in the song to drag various parts of the drum kit back towards me that had suddenly slid away in all directions. It was impossible and not an enjoyable experience. The next day, I bought a drum rug.
A drum rug doesn’t have to be an expensive carpet designed for drumming. It can be a any rug or carpet cutting that can fit your whole drum kit on, including your throne.
I use a doorway entry matt as they are relatively inexpensive, they have a grippy rubber backing and they can be rolled up to put in your hardware bag. Done!
Our Reviews Of The Top 5 Best Professional Drum Sets
With full birch shells, nouveau style lugs (borrowed from their flagship series drums), and their patented Y.E.S.S tom mounts...you’re getting a lot of kit for your money. The lacquer finishes also look gorgeous.
I have played these kits and they sound magnificent.
The birch shells give a real focus and punch to the sound, and they record beautifully.
This is a kit that’s going to last you are really long time and will take everything you throw at it!
- Fully birch shells
- Excellent Sound
- Not much!
The Pearl Export series has been around since the ’80s and has become a go-to kit for students, music venues, and pro’s alike.
It’s solidly made, sounds great, is relatively inexpensive and will perform night after night.
There’s a reason why almost every rehearsal studio you’ll encounter has at least one of these kits.
The mahogany/poplar shells have a solid punchy tone that’s usable in pretty much any musical environment.
This iteration even comes with a hardware pack, so all you’ll need is a set of cymbals and you’re ready to go.
- Good sound
- Solid Hardware
- Not a pure single wood shell
If an electric kit is what you’re after then the Alesis Command Mesh set is the perfect professional upgrade.
It comes with mesh heads across the board (including the kick pad) which gives a much more natural and realistic feel.
The sound module houses a massive 70 drum kit presets, 60 play-along songs as well as 600+ individual sounds.
It also has mp3 connectivity allowing you to jam along to songs on your computer or iPhone.
If getting a loud acoustic drum kit just isn’t possible, then the Alesis Command Mesh is the best drum set for your needs.
- Fully mesh pads
- Good connectivity
- Large range of built-in drum sounds
- Cymbals can be a little unresponsive
PDP is the affordable little brother/sister of the high-end drum manufacturer Drum Workshop (DW).
This means that PDP kits often have lots of the same design features and manufacturing methods as their more expensive DW counterparts.
One thing I’ll say right off the bat, the PDP concept series drums sound insanely good.
The maple shells provide loads of punch and sustain, but with a rounded warm tone reminiscent of a DW Collectors series kit.
The finishes are also beautiful, with some great sparkle options that really stand out on stage
- Sound great
- Fully maple shells
- Great finishes
- Slightly higher price point
The Gretsch Catalina Maple series drums are some of the most beautiful drums you can buy in this price range.
They have fully maple shells, but unlike the other drums on the list they have more rounded 30-degree bearing edges (where the shell meets the head).
This provides a softer, rounder, and more ‘vintage’ tone to the drums.
They sound full and warm and are very easy to tune, adding to the overall playability.
The finishes include some lovely satin fade options, accompanied by their vintage badges and teardrop style lugs, which makes for a very classy looking kit.
This warmer tone can lack a little ‘bite’ at times however. So if you’re into heavier music the PDP Concept Maple or Yamaha Stage Custom may be a better fit.
- Beautiful warm tone
- Classy Look
- Well made
- Lacking in a little tonal ‘bite’
Final Thoughts On Professional Drum Sets
Understanding all the different components and variables that go into choosing a drum kit can be overwhelming.
However, it’s also an incredibly exciting process, picking and choosing all the different drums, cymbals, snares, and hardware to make your kit truly...yours.
So there you have it! An in-depth guide into the world of professional drum kits. Keep an eye out for more insider knowledge on the best of the rest in the world of professional drums.