As a drum teacher, I exclusively teach adult students, and one of the first questions I’m always asked is – what drum set should I get?
There’s an overwhelming amount of choice out there – and to be honest, it’s impossible to make a comparison as a new drummer.
That’s why I wanted to write this article as a how-to guide for buying a great drum set.
In the article below – I’ve brought together a list of my top recommendations of drum sets for adults.
But just as importantly, I’ve also written you a handy guide so you can understand the differences between different drum sets, and what it is that you’re actually buying.
So let’s get started!
Buyers guide to getting a drum set for adults
There’s a few key things to understand when buying a drum set as an adult.
The main choice you’ll have to make is the following – do you buy an electronic drum set or acoustic drum set?
Acoustic drum set.
Acoustic drum sets are ‘real drums’ – these are the drums you’ll see at almost every gig you go to.
Electronic drum set.
Electronic drums are ‘drum pads’ – these drum pads trigger a computer signal that plays a drum sound in your headphones.
While it might seem obvious that you would go for the acoustic drum set, because this is what you’re used to seeing with live bands – in fact, both varieties are very popular.
The KEY difference between electronic and acoustic drums is the noise level each one produces.
Electronic drums are MUCH quieter than acoustic drums. This is probably the main reason why electronic drums have become so popular in recent years.
An electronic drum set is by no means silent (you can check out my guide ‘how loud are electronic drums’ to find out more) – but they are a league apart from acoustic drums in terms of volume.
Both are totally fine for learning to play drums – I used an electronic drum set for the first 5 years of my playing, and went on to play professionally.
If you’re going to choose an acoustic set – make sure you’re able to make a significant amount of noise without driving the neighbours mad – and get yourself some hearing protection!
Acoustic drum sets are really cool in that they look and feel more authentic than electronic drum sets – but the most important thing is choosing the right kind of drum set for the environment r.e. the amount of volume you can make!
The next important thing to know is that acoustic drum sets have to be tuned and set up in order to sound their best.
The sound you get with an electronic drum set is pre-packaged, straight out of the box.
But with an acoustic drum set – you’re responsible for tuning each drum head. It’s a fairly simple process to learn the basics of, but it can get quite complicated if you want your drums to sound truly professional.
Be aware that your drum set isn’t going to sound exactly the same as the video you watched on Youtube demoing the drum set.
Watching the demo videos gives you a good indication of how good your drum set could sound – but it’s REALLY important to know that a HUGE amount of a drum set’s sound comes from good tuning, dampening and drum head choice.
When you first get your drum set out of the box, it won’t be set up in any way at all – so don’t worry if it’s not sounding how you think it should.
A few important things you should know:
1) When you get your drums, if you can afford to replace the drum heads, you absolutely should.
When you buy a drum set, you’re really paying for the drum shells (the wood or metal parts).
The heads of the drums are often not of the best quality and a far better sound can be achieved if you can replace the top and bottom drum heads.
I would highly recommend coated drum heads as a starting point. They provide a softer, warmer sound and it’s often easier to get a nice sound out of them without as much experience.
Make sure you choose the correct size heads for the drums you have.
2) If you can get someone experienced to tune your drums, do.
Learning how to tune your drums is part of learning to be a drummer – but it’s way more inspiring to sit down to a great sounding drum set to learn to play.
3) Drums often sound a bit ‘pingy’ and wild without any muffling. Consider putting a pillow in your bass drum and moon gel on the top of your snare drum and tom-toms.
Drum sets also come in different sizes.
Larger drum sets are better suited to rock and heavier styles, whereas smaller drum sets tend to more appropriate for softer styles like jazz.
In a standard drum set, you’ll have a bass drum, snare drum, high tom, medium tom and low tom. This is known as a 5 piece set.
Sometimes, drum sets are also sold without the medium tom. This is known as a 4 piece set.
There isn’t too much difference between a 4 piece and 5 piece drum set. 5 piece is more typical, but I’ve played many gigs on 4 piece sets and they normally do the job just fine!
Finally, be aware that with every drum set you buy – you’ll almost certainly have to buy some extras, and that these can get pretty expensive.
Most drum sets do not include cymbals – you’ll need hi-hats, a crash cymbal and a ride cymbal to complete your set.
Read the fine print of what you’re being sold – drum sets are often pictured with cymbals to give you an idea of what they would look like – but are often sold without cymbals or key bits of hardware.
Depending on the drum set, you may also have to buy the following:
- Various stands for different drums and cymbals (known as hardware)
- A drum stool (also known as a throne)
- Drum sticks
- A bass drum pedal
- A drum key to tune your drums
- New heads to improve your drum sound
- Headphones (if you’re using an electronic drum set)
Make sure you budget for these when making your decision of which drum set you want to buy!
Alright, so without further ado, let’s get into it and explore some of the awesome drum sets that are out there!
Best jazz drum set for adults
If you’re an adult drummer who adores jazz – and you really want to specialise with playing this style, you will probably want to get a jazz-sized drum set so that you can create the most authentic jazz sound possible.
It’s not that you can’t play jazz on a standard rock kit – I’ve found myself doing that many times at various gigs that I’ve played over the years – but if you’re really passionate about jazz and you know that is the direction you want to head in – you’ll want to make a more particular choice.
If you’re going to buy a jazz drum set, there’s no safer bet than a Gretsch drum set. Gretsch drums have a very distinct sound, and they’ve come to be reputed as some of, if not the best jazz drums available.
You can end up paying thousands for a Gretsch set – and while the professionals are prepared to do that to have the richest possible sound and tone – Gretsch offers a lot of different options which are within a more reasonable budget.
The Gretsch Catalina Club Jazz drum set is a firm favourite amongst jazz drummers. At the time of writing, they currently sell a 4 piece drum set (snare, high tom, low tom, bass drum) for around $799. Have a listen to a demo of this particular drum set below.
These jazz drum sets will be smaller than some drum sets you’re used to seeing, which helps to produce a more jazzy sound. If you buy a Gretsch Catalina kit – make sure you choose a jazz-sized drum set – otherwise you’ll end up with a rock drum set, and not a jazz one!
The J484, the particular version of this drum set I’d recommend, has the following sizes:
14×18 Bass drum
8×12 High tom (Rack tom)
14×14 Low tom
5×14 Snare drum
You can find out more about this particular drum set on Amazon by following the link below. The particular drum set we’ve linked to is painted with the Bronze Sparkle finish, though other colours are available.
Don’t forget to check exactly what parts of the drum set are being sold before you make any purchase.
Best rock drum set for adults – Mapex Armory
If rock music has always been your thing – you’ll need a drum set that lays down a big, punchy, powerhouse sound.
To get close to that iconic rock sound, you’ll need a drum set with bigger, rock drum sizes.
You can buy bigger drum sets (for example with a second low tom) if you want to play huge drum fills around the kit – but for now, we’ll focus on a normal 5 piece drum set – set up for a super punchy rock sound.
The Mapex Armory 5-Piece Rock Shell Pack (AR529S) is a fantastic choice for a mid-range drum set with an exquisite rock sound.
Before I tell you more about this particular drum set – check out the following demo of this exact drum set in the video below. The green ‘emerald burst’ drum set in the video below has the exact drum sizes for rock that I’ve chosen to feature in this article.
Of course, other colours are available! A black set is normally the standard choice for rock.
First off, this drum set features a large 22×18 bass drum, which you’ll need to give you the necessary oomph to power your way through a heavy rock tune.
The other most important part of a drum set is the snare drum – Mapex make some of my favourite snare drums ever, and they don’t disappoint here either.
This drum set features a 14×5.5 Tomahawk snare drum – it’s a stainless steel snare drum that will give you a huge amount of projection and power when laying down a heavy groove.
This kind of drum is perfect for playing loud rimshots – key if you want your snare drum hits to not just be heard, but be felt too!
If you want to find out more about this particular drum set – do check out the link to Amazon below.
Do bear in mind that a shell pack like this one only includes the drums – you would have to buy cymbals and additional hardware separately.
Best cheap drum set for adults
If you need an easily affordable, plug-in and play drum set where you aren’t going to have to pay for endless crazy extras and add-ons, the Alesis Nitro Mesh is a perfect first choice to start your playing.
The Alesis Nitro Mesh is an extremely popular electronic drum set that gives you all the basics you need to play, without breaking the bank.
In fact, what you get for the price is pretty remarkable. It’s a full electronic drum set (a 5 piece drum set with three cymbals), with hardware and pedals included.
Check out how this drum set sounds in the demo video below.
Personally, I wouldn’t buy a drum set that is cheaper than this, as those drum sets sacrifice essential features, and feel unrealistic to play.
If you want a serious drum set that will set you up properly for becoming an awesome drummer – this is the most affordable way that I’ve ever come across to make that happen.
Here’s a run-down of some of the key features on the Alesis Nitro Mesh:
- Mesh heads on each of the 5 piece drums make the drums feel more responsive and enjoyable to play than standard rubber drum sets.
- An aux input allows you to play music directly from your phone or laptop into your drum set – meaning you can play along with whatever tune takes your fancy. If you want to make use of this feature – you’ll just need to buy an aux cable that connects to your phone or laptop.
- There are 40 different drum set sounds that you can swap between – so with the push of a button, you can be playing a different drum set every day.
- There’s also the option to record your playing into your laptop, and even play along with apps like Melodics that help improve your timing and consistency.
Pro-tip: You can use a drum key to tighten up the mesh drum heads – this will give you a different playing feel, and it will even improve the sensitivity of each drum pad (meaning the internal computer will more easily detect your drumming). Tighten the head slowly at first and try and tighten each screw (also called lugs) an equal amount.
If you’d like to read further about this drum set – we’ve attached a link below to Amazon where you can find out more about it.
p.s. You’ll need a pair of headphones, a drum stool, a drum key and a pair of drum sticks to get started with this drum set – plus an aux cable if you want to plug in your phone or laptop.
Individual sellers on Amazon often include many of these things free of charge – so don’t forget to take a look at what bundles are on offer before you buy!
Best beginner drum set for adults
If you’re an adult beginner looking to start playing the drums, there’s no safer bet than a Pearl Export drum set.
It’s widely considered to be the most popular drum set of all time, and with good reason.
I have endless great memories of playing on these drum sets – when you turn up to play a gig at a venue, this is often the drum set they’ll have provided for you!
My first acoustic drum set was a Pearl, and I even recorded my online drum course for beginners on a Pearl drum set too.
The Pearl Export EXX is the ideal choice for a new drummer.
There are a few different sizes and setups available, but the demo below features a big 22” bass drum with 10, 12 and 14 inch tom-toms.
Check out how this drum set sounds below – many thanks to Drum Center CZ for the demo!
As you can hear, this drum set is quite a bright, aggressive sounding set – but it also can be modified to have a warmer, softer tone if that’s what you prefer by changing the heads later on.
So here’s a quick run-down of what makes the Pearl Export EXX an ideal beginner drum set for adults:
- Pearl is one of the most trusted and well-regarded drum brands out there
- It’s the drum set of choice for small gig venues everywhere
- Lovely bright drum tone out of the box, with the option to go warmer later if you prefer
- It really looks the part – there are a number of really beautiful colours and finishes available
- The mounts for the drums are extremely well designed – not only are they very sturdy, but they hold the drums in such as a way that they don’t compromise tone or sustain
- Pearl hardware is very durable and high-quality – I took my Pearl drum set out on the road many times and never had any issues
- Very enjoyable to play and a great choice for most everyday musical situations!
This drum set isn’t currently sold on Amazon, but will be available from most major music retailers.
Best electronic drum set for adults – Roland TD-1DMK
Perhaps you’ve decided that an electronic drum set might suit you best. For adults, I’d highly recommend the drum set that I personally use in my day-to-day playing, the Roland TD-1DMK.
I’ve played on many electronic drum sets over the years, but this is still my favourite after 15 years of playing!
I might recommend a slightly cheaper drum set for general beginners, but for an adult who’s serious about learning to play – the Roland TD-1DMK is my top recommendation.
Put simply, it’s the most enjoyable drum set I’ve ever played on!
The mesh heads on the drums make the drums super fun to play – but the real magic in this drum set lies in the sound.
Put simply, I love how these drums sound through a high-quality pair of headphones. I’ve had endless hours of enjoyment playing along to great music with this particular drum set.
I personally prefer drum set 3 for a super snappy, funky drum sound, but because there are 15 drum sets programmed in, you won’t be at a loss to find a new sound if you want to experiment.
Check out this comprehensive video from Drum Tec for a taste of all the different drum sounds available with this set.
Roland is well-known for its quality in the electronic drum space – it’s the most trusted brand out there and I’ve seen time and time again that their drum sets live up to the hype.
This is a full 5 piece electronic drum set – with all cymbals included. You’ll need a pedal, sticks, a drum stool and some headphones to complete your set.
Key features of this drum set include:
- Gorgeous, high-quality drum sounds
- Very responsive mesh heads with a great range of dynamics (the internal sensors are very sensitive, and much more effectively detect the subtleties of your playing than other electronic drum sets I’ve played)
- You can play music from your laptop or phone through the drum set, so you can play drums and listen to music at the same time, through the same pair of headphones (you’ll need to have an aux cable to do this)
- Roland is the most trusted brand in electronic drums
- Options to upgrade this drum set later if you want to add an extra cymbal, or even a double bass drum pedal
You can find out more about this electronic drum set by following the link below to Amazon.
Bear in mind you will also need a bass drum pedal, stool, a high quality pair of headphones and sticks to get started. You can also grab an aux cable that connects to your laptop or phone if you want to listen to music while you play.
I’ve included a list of my recommendations for all the extra equipment you’ll need on the Amazon link below.
Best mini drum set for adults
Drum sets don’t need to be big to produce a great sound – and if you’re looking to economise on space, a compact drum set could be just what you’re looking for.
While some compact drum sets are honestly more like toys than real drum sets, there are a few brands that create serious drum sets for drummers who want to learn and play for real.
And as an adult looking for a small drum set – one of the most in-demand sets that you should definitely consider is the Questlove Breakbeats set.
It’s made by the iconic drum company Ludwig and it’s very unusual that you can get a drum set of this quality for such an affordable price.
Check out how this drum set sounds in the demo video below.
As a compact drum set, it features smaller drums than you might find on other kits – a small 16” inch bass drum and 13” floor tom being the most noticeable differences to a standard set.
It’s a four piece drum set – so you won’t have a medium tom – instead you’ll rely on the included high tom and floor tom when you go to play drum fills and solos.
For a drummer looking for a more compact set up, dropping the medium tom is almost always an acceptable compromise – as any fill played on the medium tom can be adapted to the other tom toms.
It’s a very light and portable set, originally designed for gigging musicians who were playing in small venues and didn’t want to carry around the typical huge, heavy drums of a full acoustic set.
I’ve been super impressed with the tone you can get out of this set, and for such a small set of drums, it really punches above its weight.
This drum set isn’t currently sold on Amazon, but will be available from most major music retailers.
So there you have it. These 6 choices are some of the premier drum sets out there for any aspiring adult drummer – hopefully there’s at least one choice there that really suits your needs and inspires you to get started!
Wishing you the best of luck in your drumming!