BRING ON THE BEAT
A typical drum kit comes with drums (also called shells), cymbals, pedals and stands, and sometimes a seat, or throne. Five-piece kits are most common — bass drum, snare, floor tom-tom, and two rack toms — but sets with as many as eight pieces or as little as three are also available. Expect to pay $250 to $300 for a starter drum set that won't disappoint and double that amount for a kit that will actually be good enough for gigging once your skills develop. For a child, figure on at least $150 for a decent beginner or junior drum set. Electronic drum kits may also be an attractive option to some, especially since they offer the primary benefit of allowing users to pop on a pair of headphones and practice for endless hours without inspiring noise complaints. Quality electric drums tend to run on the pricier side, but we were able to find a set for less than $350 that should satisfy not only novices but advanced players armed with an arsenal of synthesizers and mixing software.
To determine the best cheap drum sets for adults and kids, we relied on a variety of sources. Unbiased, hands-on reviews of drum sets in this price range aren't terribly abundant, but we found feedback at enthusiast sites like Kickstart Your Drumming and MusicRadar to be pretty helpful. User reviews at retailers like Guitar Center, Musician's Friend, Amazon, and elsewhere also played a major role in our selections.
Prices and availability are subject to change.
DRUM KIT ANATOMY
Before we get into our picks, here's a brief look at some key components:- The snare drum is what a beginning musician learns to play first. In a drum kit, the stand-mounted snare usually sits in front of the drummer between his or her knees. The snare provides snappy backbeats and accents.
- Rack toms add texture and detail to the rhythm, especially during drum solos and percussive flourishes. They range in size and usually are mounted on or above the bass drum.
- The bass (kick) drum establishes the rhythmic foundation. Smaller kick drums produce a tighter sound than larger ones, which tend to be big and boomy, but all pack a punch. The bass is mounted on its side, front and center, and is played with a foot pedal.
- A floor tom complements the rack toms, but has a lower register. It looks like a smaller bass drum, mounted upright on a stand.
- Cymbals accent and punctuate the rhythm of the drums, either mounted individually over the drums or paired on a pedal-operated floor stand (called a hi hat).
PEARL ROADSHOW 5-PIECE DRUM SET
Best Value Drum Set
Est. Price: $479 | Buy it on Amazon
- Includes everything needed to start playing immediately.
- Quality construction, solid hardware.
- 2-year warranty.
- Challenging to assemble for some.
- Stock drum heads might not satisfy more advanced players.
Takeaway: For an absolute beginner, this Pearl 5-piece set makes an outstanding first drum set. This kit includes everything, down to a throne and the drum sticks. The shells are made of poplar wood only (as most inexpensive shells are), yet sound quality is pretty good, reviewers say. The stock drum heads are perfectly fine for beginning drummers, but can be upgraded as needed for a custom sound. While the stock cymbals are a sticking point for some — they're said to be on the chintzy side and they certainly can't compare to third-party add-ons — according to experts they're still better than those included with most starter drum sets. Quibbles aside, for a drum set under $500 most users say the Pearl Roadshow delivers a rare combination of performance and value.
Kit includes: bass (22" x 16"); 2 rack tom-toms (10" x 8" and 12" x 9"); floor tom (16" x 16"); snare (14" x 5.5"); crash cymbal (16"), 2 hi-hat cymbals (14"); mounting hardware, stands, kick pedal, drum throne and sticks. Model RS525SC/C
PEARL EXPORT EXX 5-PIECE DRUM SET
Best Drum Set
Est. Price: $649 | Buy it from Sweetwater
- Comparable in build quality to drum kits twice as expensive, reviewers say.
- Hardware, especially the kick pedal, is top-notch.
- Lifetime warranty.
- Cymbals sold separately.
- Snare drumhead needs to be upgraded for best sound.
- Relatively expensive.
Takeaway: Whether you're a beginner or an experienced drummer, the Pearl Export is one of the best five-piece drum sets you can buy, according to reviewers. Unlike many lower-priced drum kits that use only poplar wood, these shells are made from mahogany and poplar, giving them a brighter high end and a richer low end. A cymbal costs extra (no real loss, because third-party cymbals are superior to kit models), but the kit does include stands for cymbals and toms, which are praised for being sturdy, stable, and highly adjustable. The only component that could be improved, users say, is the snare, which needs a better drumhead for ideal performance. Still, MusicRadar calls this set the "undisputed king of entry-level all-rounder drum kits." Pearl's Export line has been around since 1982, and the overwhelmingly positive reviews from consumers and pros alike support its status as the best-selling drum set of all time.
Kit includes: bass (22" x 18"); 2 rack tom-toms (12" x 8" and 13" x 9"); floor tom (16" x 16"); snare (14" x 5.5"); mounting hardware, stands, and kick pedal. Model EXX725/C31
GAMMON PERCUSSION FULL-SIZE COMPLETE SET
Best Cheap Drum Set
Est. Price: $260 | Buy it on Amazon
- Complete set comes with everything a beginner needs.
- Fairly good sound quality for the price.
- Mediocre build quality and materials.
- Reports of wobbly, uncomfortable stool.
- No warranty.
Takeaway: If your budget is limited and/or you're not sure of your commitment to drumming, it's tough to find a better choice for a beginner drum kit than this Gammon Percussion 5-piece drum set. True, there are some drawbacks: The bass drum doesn't have much heft to it, something some users try to remedy by using pillows as dampening, and like most inexpensive drum sets it would benefit from upgraded drum heads and cymbals. But reviewers insist sound quality is actually quite good for a kit at this price — more than good enough that it won't discourage beginning drummers, something that cannot be said of many other cheap alternatives. Some owners do complain that assembly can be frustrating, and some tell of parts that were either missing or broke soon after purchase, but for a drum set under $300 these Gammon drums are still a solid deal that should last for several years.
Kit includes: bass (22" x 14"); 2 rack tom-toms (12" x 10" and 13" x 10"); floor tom (16" x 16"); snare (14" x 5.5"); crash cymbal (14"), 2 hi-hat cymbals (12"); mounting hardware, stands, kick pedal, drum throne and sticks. Model SP5
ALESIS NITRO MESH KIT
Best Electronic Drum Set
Est. Price: $349 | Buy it on Amazon
- Suitable for beginners and intermediate players alike.
- Solid build quality.
- Mesh heads for a feel more like traditional acoustic drums.
- Huge slate of onboard samples: 385 drum and percussion sounds and 60 play-along tracks.
- USB MIDI as well as in/out MIDI ports to connect to virtual instruments and drum software.
- Stool not included.
- Drum pads are on the small side.
- Takes up more space than an acoustic drum set.
Takeaway: This Alesis Nitro electric drum set has several big advantages over traditional sets for beginners. With a wide menu of preprogramed drum, cymbal, and percussion sound effects, drummers can explore and find the sounds that best fit their style. The control center also includes a metronome and play-along tracks to make practice sessions more engaging, and users can even connect to a mobile device, CD player, or MP3 player to play along with their personal music collections. There's also a recorder onboard to capture the results. And perhaps the biggest boon: The kit can be played with headphones, meaning you can practice day or night without worry. The Alesis Nitro Mesh 8-piece electronic drum kit is among the least expensive electronic drum sets on the market, but the sound quality, construction quality, and the quality of the software module draw praise from both experts and owners. A handful of users complain that setup can be challenging, but most say it's an excellent purchase for the price. Comes with one-year warranty.
Kit includes: Nitro drum module; kick pad; 3 tom-tom pads (8"); dual-zone snare pad (8"); hi-hat, crash, and ride cymbal pads (10" each); aluminum mounting rack, kick pedal, and drum sticks.
LUDWIG JUNIOR COMPLETE DRUM SET
Best Kids' Drum Set
Est. Price: $299 | Buy it on Amazon
- Superior construction quality for a kids' set.
- Everything needed is included.
- On the pricey side.
- Poor assembly instructions, according to reviews.
Takeaway: When it comes to kids' drum kits, experts say you really do get what you pay for in terms of quality and durability. This Ludwig Jr. drum set, also called the Ludwig Junior Outfit drum set, is one of the few beginner kits that can take a thrashing from young drummers who haven't yet learned how to finesse their playing and still sound okay. It also carries a one-year warranty, something many other cheap drum kits for kids lack. And, unlike some drum sets for kids, although the size is scaled down the drums and cymbals are all in the same places they'd be in an adult set, which can help younger players develop proper drumming technique. As with nearly all drum kits, many owners say the included cymbals are pretty lousy, and we also read a handful of complaints about the quality of the kick pedal. But, for a child who's serious about learning to play drums, this kit from a brand favored by a host of drumming legends is worth paying a bit more.
Kit includes: bass (16" x 10"); 2 rack tom-toms (8" x 5" and 10" x 5"); floor tom (13" x 10"); snare (12" x 4"); crash cymbal (10"), 2 hi-hat cymbals (10"); mounting hardware, stands, kick pedal, drum throne and sticks. Model LJR106
GAMMON PERCUSSION COMPLETE JUNIOR DRUM SET
Cheap Kids' Drum Set
Est. Price: $170 | Buy it on Amazon
- Low price.
- Complete set comes with everything a beginner needs.
- Real wood shells, unlike plastic shells found on some budget kids' kits.
- Easy to setup.
- Mixed feedback on durability.
- No warranty.
Takeaway: There's a fine line between cheap kids' drum kits that are little more than noisy toys and beginner sets that a curious youngster will actually want to learn how to play. For a drum set under $200, this Gammon 5-piece junior drum set is one of the few that sounds like a true kit —though no one will mistake the quality for a kit costing more. The hardware isn't as substantial or sturdy as on pricier models like the Ludwig, and there's no warranty. But for parents who aren't in a spendy mood, or not yet convinced their child will become the next Dave Grohl or Questlove, the Gammon is a more than decent budget pick.
Kit includes: bass (16"); 2 rack tom-toms (8" and 10"); floor tom (12"); snare (10'"); crash cymbal (12"), 2 hi-hat cymbals (10"); mounting hardware, stands, kick pedal, drum throne and sticks. Model BMDJR50
Bonus: Compact Drum Kit
Est. Price: $379 | Buy it on Amazon
- Compact and lightweight, for smaller-spaces and easy transport.
- Great sound; plays like a full-sized kit.
- High-quality drum heads.
- Comes with storage/transport bags.
- 3-year warranty.
- Doesn't come with hardware or cymbals.
- Glitchy drum riser (see Kickstart Your Drumming for a workaround).
Takeaway: Ludwig, like Pearl, is an established name in the drum world, with Ringo Starr and Questlove (who designed this kit for the brand) being two of its best-known proponents. Newbies and experienced drummers alike will enjoy this compact 4-piece drum kit, reviewers say, especially if they're cramped for practice space or need a set that can be easily transported to practices and gigs. Although the shells are slightly smaller than a full-sized kit, they still have plenty of boom to fill a room. Overall sound quality is really quite good, too, according to experts and users, and the drums can be fine-tuned to fit nearly any style of music. On the downside, this kit lacks some crucial hardware, including a kick pedal and a floor stand for the snare. Cymbals and a stool will cost extra, too. But, aside from the fact that fully outfitting the set can add up, few find many negatives with these Breakbeats by Questlove; according to the reviewer at Kickstart Your Drumming, "you can't go wrong with this kit no matter if you're a beginner or advanced drummer (and adult or child)."
Kit includes: bass (16" x 14"); rack tom (10" x 7"); floor tom (13" x 13"); snare (14'" x 5"); bass drum riser. Model LC179X