The drum industry is huge, having multiple companies producing different types of drums and pieces of equipment. There are so many brands out there that put out high-quality instruments.
However, there are 9 main drum brands that most people know of. They’re the top brands because they’re consistent and accessible. Let’s have a look at the finer details that make them so successful.
Best Drum Brands / Kit Manufacturers
The Pearl company started making drums in 1950. Originally a company that made music stands, they shifted their focus to drums very shortly after being established. Based in Japan, Pearl has continued to produce some of the highest-quality drum kits on the market.
I’d say that Pearl is arguably one of the most famous drum brands to non-drummers. I’ve met so many people that ask if I play on a Pearl kit once they find out I’m a drummer. While Pearl drums aren’t as popular as they used to be in the early 2000s, the brand still sits near the top of the drum industry.
Pearl holds the record for having the most sold drum kit of all time with their Export Series. That drum kit accurately represents what Pearl brings to the table. They provide great quality drums at affordable prices.
I think the reason they’re so popular is that Pearl Export kits used to be seen all over schools and universities, so people started getting very familiar with the Pearl name.
They also have some fantastic pro-level kits. Whether you’re playing live or in the studio, Pearl has a huge range of drums for every situation. The shells on all their kits are made with Pearl’s ‘Superior Shell Technology’ which makes the them incredibly strong.
One huge strength of Pearl drum kits is that you get solid and durable hardware, no matter what the price of the kit is. You can take the hardware that comes with their budget Roadshow kit and use it with their pro Reference kit.
Several notable drummers endorse Pearl. Some names that come to mind are Dennis Chambers, Ray Luzier, Calvin Rodgers, Casey Cooper, and Mike Mangini. Each one of these drummers has played a significant role in encouraging other drummers to buy Pearl products.
The company originally started as a drum teaching studio in 1972. The founders, Don Lombardi and John Good, eventually started making drum equipment to cover costs and that grew into the huge business that it is today.
DW drums were at the top of the food chain for the longest time in the drum industry. Only the best drummers were seen playing them. However, they’ve become more accessible in recent times and I’ve seen plenty of casual players with DW kits.
I also feel that the other drum companies have caught up and are producing fantastic kits that can compete with DW. So, the drums from DW don’t seem as exclusive anymore. With that being said, there’s nothing quite like playing the drums on a top-end DW Collectors Series.
DW drums are known for two things. The first thing is their immaculate tone and construction. The second is their price. The high-quality aspects of DW drums don’t come cheap.
The company puts a big focus on their Collector’s Series drums. These are drums that are highly customizable by the customer and include a wide variety of shell types. Naturally, these drums are the most expensive on offer by DW.
However, they do offer more streamlined products for cheaper. Even though the Performance and Design Series drum kits feature many of the same design qualities, they’re just not as customizable.
The Design Series kit is aimed at intermediate players while the Performance Series kit is a great choice for pros who don’t want to spend as much as you would on a Collector’s Series.
DW drums are incredibly popular, meaning a lot of famous drummers play on them. Tony Royster, Chad Smith, Thomas Pridgen, Dave Grohl, and Eric Moore are all world-famous drummers who play DW.
Tama is a company that is mainly based in Japan. However, they have a few other branches where their drums are made and distributed from.
Their hardware and less expensive drum kits are manufactured in China while they have several offices around the world for marketing and wholesale distribution.
Tama drums cover a wide span of styles and settings. However, I’ve seen a huge trend of metal drummers playing Tama kits. It’s arguably the most popular drum brand in the metal scene. I think it’s because of the punchy tones that the drums are well-known for.
The only jazz drummer I’ve seen use a Tama kit is Peter Erskine. While he’s one of the most famous jazz drummers around, I remember people questioning using Tama drums to play jazz. That just tells you how the brand seems to cater more to the heavier styles of music.
One of Tama’s strengths is their production of heavy-duty hardware. They were actually one of the first companies to produce heavy-duty hardware in the 20th century that didn’t impact the construction of the drum shells, allowing them to keep their tone.
At current, Tama has 4 main lines of drums that they sell. The Imperialstar is their entry-level drum kit aimed at beginners. The Superstar line of drums are slightly improved and aimed at intermediate drummers.
The Starclassic drums are their most famous line of instruments. The Star is their flagship drum kit. It has the best sound and is the most expensive out of all their products. Within all these lines of drums, they have different types of shell constructions and designs.
A very popular product from Tama is their Iron Cobra bass drum pedal. Many drummers use this pedal even if they don’t play on Tama drums.
The most famous drummers that endorse Tama are Lars Ulrich, Peter Erskine, Billy Cobham, Stewart Copeland, and Mike Portnoy.
Mapex is arguably the smallest drum brand on this list. Their drums are not the most well-known, yet they're popular enough that most drummers have heard of them. The company was established in 1989 and is based in Taiwan.
One huge strength of Mapex is that they have quite a few drum kits on offer that are affordable, yet exhibit features that you’d typically see on higher-end kits. Things like having toms that mount to the cymbal stands instead of the bass drum are common in their lower-priced products.
They even launched a line called ‘MyDentity’ which allows you to custom order intermediate drums. Other companies only offer this sort of customization in their high-end lines of drums.
One thing that I really appreciate about Mapex is how they sell a fair amount of mixed wood drum sets that are affordable. Typically, drum brands will only mix woods for shells with their top-end drum sets. You can find a few different intermediate kits from Mapex that have a mixture of birch, maple, or mahogany woods.
Having a kit with mixed woods gives you a fantastically unique sound. Mapex has made those sorts of sounds more attainable for many drummers out there.
The most famous drums from Mapex are their Black Panther snare drums. These snares have a great tone and are very versatile.
It’s not uncommon to see a drummer using a Black Panther snare along with drums from another brand. Mapex capitalized on their popularity and produced Black Panther drum kits, which are now their highest-end kits.
The most notable drummers who endorse Mapex are Dom Famularo, Chris Adler, Claus Hessler, and Aquiles Priester.
Ludwig forms a big part of the history of drums as we know them. The company was established in 1909, making Ludwig the oldest drum brand on this list. Based in the US, the company has been producing drum kits for over 100 years.
Although their drums were somewhat successful in the beginning, their popularity increased dramatically, thanks to Ringo Starr and the Beatles. Everyone wanted to play on a Ludwig drum kit after seeing Ringo do it.
They’re not as popular in the modern day. However, they still have some products that are played by many drummers around the world. Their drums range from the affordable Element Evolution all the way to the pro-level Legacy Series.
With the help of Questlove, Ludwig was one of the companies that paved the way for compact drum kits. Small club kits are highly popular, and Ludwig was one of the first companies to jump on the bandwagon with their Breakbeats kit.
If you love vintage drum kits, Ludwig is one of the best companies to look at. With 100 years of drum manufacturing experience, it’s guaranteed that there are some old classic Ludwig kits out there.
Unfortunately, Ludwig drum kits also have a bit of a reputation for not staying in tune as long as the drums from other brands. This will only negatively impact drummers like me who hate to tune their drums all the time.
If you’re someone who tunes your drums before every gig, you’ll be having no problems with a trusty Ludwig drum set.
My favorite thing to come from the Ludwig brand is the Supraphonic snare drum. These snares have stood the test of time and they’ve been used by drummers for decades. A tightly tuned Supraphonic produces one of my absolute favorite snare drum sounds.
Some famous drummers who endorse Ludwig are Nate Smith, Questlove, Ian Paice, and Carmine Appice.
Sticking to the topic of vintage drums, Gretsch drums have been around even longer than Ludwig. The Gretsch company was founded in New York in 1883 and Gretsch Drums is the division of the company that sells drum kits. Gretsch also sells other musical instruments.
Gretsch drums are known for having beautiful tones and exhibit classic American-made hardware. They offer several lines of drums from the entry-level Energy Series all the way up to the USA Custom Series.
I can’t even describe to you properly how many Gretsch drum sets I’ve seen at all the jazz festivals I’ve been to. I’d comfortably say that the majority of jazz drummers in the world primarily play on Gretsch drum kits.
I think it’s because the drums produce sounds that are quite musical and blend with the jazz style incredibly well. This is especially true for Gresch bass drums. Most of them are quite boomy, and you need a booming bass in jazz settings.
The most famous line of drums is their Catalina Series. These are affordable drum kits that work in a variety of settings from rock to jazz.
The drums were very popular in the early 20th century when jazz music started to take shape. It’s for that reason that Gretsch kits are still popular options for jazz drumming today. Similar to Ludwig, there are a lot of vintage Gretsch kits that you can find around the world. Some of them are over 50 years old.
For me personally, Gretsch’s downfall comes with the tom mounts on all their kits. I can never seem to position my toms comfortably when I’m setting up a Gretsch kit. It’s always easier to mount the toms onto cymbals stands. I also sometimes use another snare stand for the rack tom if there’s only one of them.
The most notable drummers that endorse Gretsch drums are Mark Guiliana, Mike Johnston, Vinnie Colaiuta, and Keith Carlock.
Yamaha is arguably the most famous name on this list. This is thanks to the fact that they sell all kinds of musical instruments as well as engines and motorcycles.
Yamaha Drums were established in 1967 in Japan. They’re the only brand on this list that specializes in making acoustic as well as electronic drum kits.
The company has several acoustic drum lines available. The cheapest is the Rydeen kit which is aimed at beginners and anyone on a budget. The most expensive is the PHX kit which is Yamaha’s flagship drum set.
Although the tonal difference between every drum kit is huge, the quality of the construction is very similar.
I’ve taught drums on a Yamaha drum set for several years. It’s quite old, but it’s handled being played on frequently by hundreds of drummers. I feel that it perfectly represents all of Yamaha’s drums.
Every Yamaha kit I’ve played on has felt incredibly sturdy and durable. It’s one of the only drum brands I’ve played that never has wobbling toms, no matter what type of kit it is.
Yamaha also has a fairly successful line of electronic drums, making it one of the best and most diverse brands in my book.
One thing that separates Yamaha’s drums from the competitors is how they mount the toms. Most of their kits use the YESS mounting system which makes the toms very easy to position. Typically, a high-end kit won’t allow you to mount toms onto the bass drum. However, Yamaha has made it possible without affecting the tone of the bass.
Their Stage Custom drum kit is one of the most affordable drum kits that will work in a professional setting.
There are so many highly accomplished drummers that endorse Yamaha. The most famous ones are Tommy Igoe, Larnell Lewis, Steve Jordan, Steve Gadd, and Dave Weckl.
The Sonor company was established in 1875, making it one of the oldest percussion companies in the world.
They only started mass-producing drums somewhere in the 1940s, so their drums aren’t as old as the ones from Ludwig or Gretsch. The company is based in Germany and their drums are highly popular in the modern day.
The biggest thing that differs Sonor from other brands is that they don’t offer any low-priced kits. Instead, they put their focus on constructing high-quality drums that are aimed at intermediate and pro players.
They have several lines of drums with their SQ2 series being one of the most customizable purchase options on the market.
Their AQ2 compact kits are highly popular as they’re arguably the most well-constructed portable kits out there. Since Sonor’s drums are a bit more specialized, you won’t see them as frequently in music stores as you would with other drum brands.
Something that has always caught my attention is how good Sonor toms sound. No matter what kit you’re playing on or listening to, the toms generally sound amazing. A great example of this would be from the drummer, Benny Greb.
If you watch any of Benny’s performances on YouTube, you can scroll down and see how at least 3 people have mentioned how good his floor tom sounds. It’s become a bit of an ongoing joke, but it’s so true.
I’ve played some gigs on older Sonor kits that aren’t being produced anymore, and the toms sounded amazing on those kits as well.
The most famous drummers who endorse Sonor are Benny Greb, Aaron Spears, Chris Coleman, Gavin Harrison, and Jojo Mayer. All these drummers have been instrumental in evolving the craft of drumming, making them highly valuable players to the Sonor brand.
Pacific Drums and Percussion is a drum company that was established by DW Drums in 1999.
The purpose of the company is to take the expert craftsmanship of DW’s drums and use it with drum shells that are more affordable, creating great drum kits at relatively low prices.
Instead of being manufactured in the US like DW, PDP drums are manufactured in China. They use machinery for a lot of the process in order to cut down on costs.
This also allows the company to produce the drums in large quantities, meaning there are a lot more PDP drum kits out there than there are DW.
I love how most PDP kits utilize the design features of DW kits. Things like the True-Pitch tuning rods and the MAG snare throw-offs are more accessible to people who don’t want to spend a large amount of money on a DW set.
I’ve also always found PDP sets to be very reliable when it comes to tuning. The PDP Concept Maple, in particular, stays in tune for an incredibly long time before you need to tune it again.
The most well-known kit from PDP is the Concept Series. Similar to the Yamaha Stage Custom, it offers pro-level use at an affordable cost.
One of the strengths of PDP is their hardware. It’s solid and durable and you’ll find a lot of drummers using PDP hardware even if they’re playing on DW drums.
Since PDP is the same company as DW, a lot of artists using PDP products are essentially DW artists.
This means that you won’t see a drummer exclusively endorsing PDP. With that being said, some artists that are frequently seen using PDP drums are Eric Hernandez, Chad Smith, and Johnny Rabb.
Choosing a Drum Brand
With so many brands to be aware of, it may seem daunting to choose which brand to go with. Drums are quite pricey, so you need to be sure of your decision before buying a kit. There are a few thought processes that you could follow when choosing a brand.
What Do Your Favorite Drummers Play?
One of the best ways to choose a brand is to see what your heroes play. If your favorite drummer likes a specific drum set or piece of equipment, the chances are high that you’re going to like it too. Some brands are incredibly popular thanks to a few key drummers that drove traffic towards them.
Most of my favorite drummers play on Yamaha drums, so I’ve always gravitated towards Yamaha myself. However, that shouldn’t be the main deciding factor. Instead, just use it as a bit of inspiration to encourage your decision.
Try Until You Buy
The best thing you can do is to try all of them. Thankfully, you can very easily do that in most music stores. Most drum departments will have a floor where multiple drum kits are set up. If you sit and play each one of them, you’ll start understanding what the differences are between them and how specific brands share design qualities across all their drum kits.
I personally think being loyal to a single brand is only something that endorsed artists should do. It’s better to get whatever drum set you think sounds the best, instead of getting a kit that is attached to the brand you like.
I have a few drum sets from different brands and I love each one of them equally. They all fit different roles and they perform incredibly well in those roles. If you have the opportunity to have multiple drum kits from different brands, I highly suggest going that route.
If you were to ask which brand out of these 9 is the absolute best, you would never get a concrete answer. Music is a subjective thing and so are the instruments that make it.
Some drummers are faithful to one brand while others like to mix it up. Every drum brand has their strengths and weaknesses. As a drummer, you just need to decide which one is best for you.