Deciding what’s the best jazz drum kit for you personally is not an easy decision!
In this article we’re rounded up the key considerations when it comes to getting a great sound, and reviewed 8 different drum sets that are commonly used in the jazz world.
When it comes to jazz drum kits, there’s an iconic image of the classic set up. Usually a small bass drum, two toms, two quality ride cymbals, a hi-hat and a slanted snare drum.
The best of these help with highly dynamic playing, with the various surfaces reacting equally well to sticks, brushes and mallets. And the sound, of course, should be warm and resonant, to blend with the band and the acoustics.
But when it comes to actually choosing the drums themselves, how do we decide what to get? You’ll find the full round up below but, in case you’re in a rush, here’s the quick round up from all of our research…
|Yaiba Bop Kit Red Sparkle Lacquer||Check Price on Amazon|
|Ludwig Questlove Breakbeats||Check Price on Amazon|
|Pearl Midtown||Check Price on Amazon|
So read on for a look at the evolution of jazz drums, what parts make up a standard jazz set up, the various factors that can affect the sound and, of course, which specific models and brands might be best for you.
In order to give you a broad picture of what’s available as a drummer, we’ve picked out eight drum kits suited to playing jazz. The first four are pro-level instruments, and the last four are more affordable and more transportable.
We’ve not even confused things but getting into cymbals, but you can find our complete roundup of the best jazz cymbals here.
Best Jazz Drum Kits (Pros)
Gretsch USA Custom
This is a high-end instrument which will stand the test of time and continues a lineage of design which, for over 65 years, has been known as ‘That Great Gretsch Sound’.
|Gretsch Custom Standard Maple||Check Price on Thomann|
Buying the Gretsch USA also give you the option of a custom build.
For instance, the bass drum can come with no tom mount, a standard mount, vintage-style rail or vintage-style cymbal holder. The hoops come as die cast, or you can swap them for single flange.
There is an enormous selection of drum sizes and finishes, meaning you can truly put together a drum kit to suit your personal needs.
However, you might consider buying hardware such as stands and bass drum pedal separately; Gretsch’s reputation as a superior drum maker does not necessarily extend to the ironwork.
DW Jazz Series
Drum Workshop is normally associated with rock drummers and pop sessions, but their contribution here shows no naivety of the jazz drummer’s needs.
|DW Jazz Series||Check Price on Thomann|
Each drum has a big tuning range, making it stylistically flexible and there are plenty of shell size options. You can choose your finish from a huge library or even have them match a colour to exact specifications.
Buying a DW Jazz Series drum set also gives you access to DW’s first-rate hardware. This includes innovations such as an additional rod inside each floor tom leg which, when adjusted, will fine-tune the resonance of the drum.
This offering from Gretsch not only attempts to recreate the sound of drums from the past, it also tries to look like them!
|Gretsch Broadkaster||Check Price on Thomann|
The Gretsch Broadkaster also come with the option of 1950s-style hardware components, including double-ended tension rods.
Double flanged hoops are also a more traditional choice, encouraging a more ambient resonance from the drum. A combination of thin shell and roundover bearing edge results in a clear tone and sensitivity to lower dynamics.
However, this range comes with limited shell size options, so it is not possible to personalise as with other models.
Canopus Yaiba Bop Kit
Canopus is a small, Japanese company which prides itself on custom products for its endorser artists.
|Yaiba Bop Kit||Check Price on Amazon|
Although their catalogue for the consumer is small, each drum receives bespoke treatment: they do not have a rigid bearing-edge policy, instead preferring to find a made-to-measure angle for each drum.
The Yaiba Bop Kit is usually cheaper than other models from Canopus, and this has led to some cost-cutting, such as the direct mount in the rack tom.
However, the tuning range is wide, and each drum’s ‘sweetspot’ covers more of the compass of the head than many competitors.
Best Affordable Jazz Drum Kits
Gretsch Catalina Club
The Gretsch Catalina Club kit is small, light and relatively cheap – and yet takes advantage of the trickle-down effect of good technology and engineering which can only happen at a big company.
|Gretsch Catalina Club Jazz||Check Price on Thomann|
The Gretsch Catalina’s Mahogany wood gives it a great vintage sound, and triple flange heads won’t eat up your sticks.
It’s shallow bass drum – at 14” depth – delivers a fast, incisive tone.
It’s perfect as a house drum kit in a jazz club, or a good second kit you can fit in the back of a car with passengers.
There isn’t the range of shell sizes and finishes available with more expensive kits – in fact, they’re sold as pre-set three- or four-piece combinations.
Yamaha Stage Custom Bop Kit
This is a great resonant kit and, as with the DW Jazz Series, Yamaha pays close attention to the hardware on their drums.
|Yamaha Stage Custom Bop Kit||Check Price on Thomann|
A suspension mount on the rack tom is attached to the side of the shell (as opposed to on the hoop like with Gretsch drums) and rubber gaskets separate any two surfaces which might cause a rattle.
The Yamaha Stage Custom Bop Kit does not come with a snare, which makes it slightly less value than its competitors in this price range.
There is also only one configuration of shell sizes.
This jazz drum kit is specifically designed with city living in mind!
|Ludwig Questlove Breakbeats||Check Price on Amazon|
The Ludwig Breakbeats set has a tiny bass drum (16” diameter) which is on a riser so the pedal doesn’t hit off-centre.
The drums can be tuned low, so that the kit sounds bigger than it is, and the ride cymbal can be easily mounted on the bass drum if space really is at a premium.
Created by drummer Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson, this is designed by a drummer, for a drummer.
If you’re looking for a highly portable and compact drum kit for playing jazz, the Pearl Midtown is an excellent low-budget option.
|Pearl Midtown||Check Price on Amazon|
Like the Ludwig kit, the bass drum for this kit is a mere 16” (it includes a riser) and is limited in configurations and finishes.
However, the snare drum is a smaller 13” diameter which, with the 13” floor tom, fits into the case more neatly. And the shell thickness is one-ply less than the Ludwig, making it slightly lighter too.
The hardware on the drums are not the highest quality in this list, but at this price and convenience these drums are hard to beat!
The complete guide to choosing a drum kit
The evolution of the drum kit began when someone in the late nineteenth century had the idea to play a bass drum with a pedal, thereby reducing two percussionists (snare drummer and bass drummer) to one.
Throughout the twenties and thirties, drummers experimented with different set-ups to include small cymbals, Chinese tom-toms, temple blocks and gongs to name a few. The present-day drum kit was consolidated in the 1940s, and the basic functions and usage of each part of the kit has not changed much since.
The identity of the jazz drum set
The shell of the drum is the drum itself, without hardware or heads. It can be broken down into individual parts, with each one having an effect on the overall sound.
Drum kit sizes
- Commonly but not universally described in inches as diameter × depth
- The diameter will govern the tuning – how low or high the drum sounds
- The depth will determine the volume and resonance of the drum, with shallow drums performing better at softer dynamics in small rooms
Different Materials for jazz drum kits
- Maple is the most frequently used, and has clarity with a good overall balance of frequencies
- Mahogany used to be the industry standard, but has fallen out of favour with a lot of the industry due to the expense – a nuanced and warm timbre
- Oak gives a clear sound as well, but is also very durable and looks great
- Beech is a hard wood, and emphasises the lower end
- Birch is a thick and heavy material which lends itself to precision and power
- Poplar grows quickly and so can be distributed at a cheap price, and has become a good alternative to maple on budget sets
- Snare drums can also be made out of aluminium, bronze, brass, copper, steel, or a combination of metals
- Thin (e.g. 3–4 ply) shells have a more natural sound which favour dynamic and refined playing, but are compromised by a volume limit
- Thicker (e.g. 6–7 ply) shells are not so good at absorbing vibrations from the head, but don’t sound as strained when played loudly
When we talk about ‘bearing edge’ we’re thinking about the angle of the cut of the rim:
- 45° is common in modern drums, and produces a focused and bright sound
- 30° means there is more contact with the head, delivering a slightly drier sound with a more clarified tone
- A round over has even more contact, leading to a sound which favours the fundamental much more than the overtones
There’s lots of choice when it comes to the ‘finish’ of your drum kit.
Wraps and lacquer finishes do not necessarily change the sound, but a badly wrapped drum will have an adverse effect
Drum Kit Hardware
When it comes to the hardware of a drum kit, the goal is to avoid having to change this too often, if at all!
This hardware can also influence not only the timbre of the drum but also the way you play it.
In some cases, rattles can plague a gig or recording session, and in worst-case scenarios bad hardware can make or break the usability of the instrument.
There are a few main things to consider as a jazz drummer…
Tension Rods and Lugs
- If the tension rods don’t fit the lugs, the tuning will not remain intact
- The more lugs there are on a drum, the more accurate you can be when tuning
- Sometimes the tension rods come with claws to attach to the hoop rather than bolting through it. Remember that these should be lined up vertically!There are screws inside the drum holding the lugs in place – these can come loose and should be checked when changing a drum head
- Single flanged (vertically straight) is the least forgiving on your sticks, but will allow the whole head (including the edges) to resonate freely
- Triple flanged (top of the hoop folded over) will chew your sticks up less
- Die cast will reduce the sustain and focus the sound, and are very durable
- Wooden hoops, depending on the thickness will give the shortest sustain, and the rim shot sound is distinctive from a metal hoop
- Rack toms tend to be either mounted on an arm into the side of the drum, or suspended by a free-floating holder which allows for the drum to vibrate more freely. These can either attach to a cymbal stand or the bass drum, or be held by a snare drum stand
- Bass drums are generally more resonant without a rack tom attached to it, but some dispute this as myth
- Floor tom legs and attachments can also have an impact on resonance
How to make your drum kit sound better or different
Once you’ve chosen a drum kit, there are various things you can do to make it sound better, or different.
- Thinner heads (e.g. single ply) are generally used as resonant heads, or as batter heads for a quieter but more natural sound with less durability
- Thicker heads (e.g. double ply) are less resonant but will cope with heavier playing for longer
- Coated heads will generally add warmth and be responsive to brushwork
- You can mute either or both heads in all sorts of ways, or leave to ring uninhibited
- Tune higher for small rooms and ensembles
- Tune lower for large acoustics and bigger bands
- Find a combination of pitches between the two heads which suits the drum and your playing style
Things to consider when buying a jazz drum kit
What’s included in the price?
- Is it a Shell pack? If so, this means you’re just getting the drums (such as bass drum, floor tom, rack tom, and sometimes snare) with only the hardware associated with those parts – rather than a full kit.
- Is it a drum kit with a set of hardware? If so, you are getting everything. BUT, double check the quality of that too and beware knock-off cymbal stands which won’t last long!
- Are cases included? This is rare, but occasionally an option. If you’re planning to be travelling for rehearals, lessons or gigs with your kit, it’s an important consideration! Sometimes, especially with more portable kits, there are uniquely designed cases sold separately.
Do you need a whole set?
If budget is a factor, or you’re happy with some of your current set up, it’s worth considering whether you can mix a few new pieces of a drum kit with some gear you already own.
In this case, buying similar colours can help when substituting in different sized bass drums, for instance.
Will it complement your cymbals?
Of course, another big consideration to your overall sound as a jazz drummer is your cymbals.
Not only do you need to make sure you’ve got the best jazz cymbals for the sound you’re looking for, you need to check they work well and complement the rest of your kit.
So, if you’ve got some great cymbals already, factor this in when buying a new drum kit.
Thanks for checking out this round up of 8 of the best jazz drum kits out there today.
If you have extra questions, or want to share your own experiences with getting a new drum set, feel free to use the comments section.
Looking for more jazz drums? Check out this guide to the best modern jazz drummers on the scene today.
The label ‘Discover Jazz’ is attached to articles which have been edited and published by Jazzfuel host Matt Fripp, but have been written in collaboration with various different jazz musicians and industry contributors. When appropriate, these musicians are quoted and name-checked inside the article itself!