Jazz can be one of the most technical and complicated styles to play on the drums. It relies on a heavy sense of coordination and musicality, making it a style that mostly intermediate and advanced drummers play.
Top 3 - Jazz Drum Sets
Jazz drums typically sound very different from standard drums. They’re tuned higher and have more sustain across the set. For this reason, many drummers have drum kits specifically for the purpose of playing jazz.
Luckily, every drum kit company produces what they call “bop” kits. So, we’re going to look through some of the best jazz drum kits.
Best Drums for Jazz Drummers
Table of Contents
1. Sonor AQ2 Bop
Sonor was one of the first companies to push their compact kits. These came in the form of the Bop, Safari, and Martini. Each kit had small sizes and was purposely designed to fit into tight spaces.
Sonor recently did a complete redesign of these kits and rereleased them under the AQ2 series. Without sounding too dramatic, the AQ2 kits are some of the highest-quality compact kits on the market.
I’ve put the AQ2 Bop shell pack on this list as the sizes are perfect for most jazz setups.
This kit has an 18” bass drum that packs a heavy punch. It can sound boomy and jazzy with no muffling, but it can also produce a solid thump when some pillows have been placed inside. It’s the perfect size for a versatile jazz musician.
The rack tom is 12” while the floor tom is 14”. The maple shells along with these standard sizes give the drums a warm tone that is fairly earthy. They’ll sound great in whatever musical context you put them in.
A standout feature of this shell pack is the snare drum. Typically, snare drums in compact kits are always the weak point. The 14” AQ2 snare has a tight crack and controlled buzz.
You could use it in any style and it would fit right in. Its wide tuning range and musical overtones make it a vital part of the AQ2 setup.
The stock drumheads that come with the kit aren’t the greatest. If you’re going to play jazz, you’ll need to replace them with some higher-quality single-ply heads.
I love that the snare drum has 10 lugs. The higher number of lugs allows you to fine-tune it a bit better than snares with fewer lugs, making it a versatile snare drum to use. This is especially true in jazz settings.
I’d also say that compared to any other kit with the same specifications, the Sonor AQ2 Bop has the highest-quality hardware. It’s one of the most rigid compact kits I’ve played on. Rigidness is an excellent quality when talking about drum sets.
Since the kit has so many great features, it’s a bit more expensive than the other popular compact kits such as the Ludwig Breakbeats and Pearl Midtown. It’ll set you back a bit, but I feel that the Sonor AQ2 is one of the best kits you can get if you’re looking for something small.
2. Yamaha Stage Custom Bebop
Stage Customs are famous for being affordable with professional sound qualities. They’re one of Yamaha's most sold kits and for good reason. The Stage Custom Bebop is a 3-piece shell pack that includes a 12” rack tom, 14” floor tom, and 18” bass drum.
The shells are made from 100% birch wood. This wood gives them a warm tone that is extremely clear. The toms start to sound punchy when you put thicker drumheads on them. Their sizes are great for most jazz scenarios and will emphasize all your fast notes because of their clarity. These qualities make it perhaps the best bop kit for drummers on a budget.
The rack tom is mounted with Yamaha’s YESS mounting system. This system makes the tom extremely easy to set up and comfortable to play. It doesn’t move around thanks to the heavy-duty quality of the tom arm.
The Bebop kit comes with a rod that can mount one tom. However, you can buy a separate rod to mount two if you ever need to.
The kit doesn’t come with a snare drum which is one of its only downsides. However, the shell pack is extremely affordable, so you’re getting some high-quality equipment at a low price.
I’d suggest getting a kit like this if you’re looking for something that is great for jazz as well as other styles. The Stage Custom kits fit excellently in every situation. The only difference between this one and the regular ones is the size of the shells. So, the sound of the kit is great for everything while the shell sizes are great for jazz.
I’ve had a Stage Custom kit in my teaching studio for years. My favorite part about it is how great it sounds when being recorded through microphones. Something about the birch wood translates incredibly well.So, I’d also say this would be a fantastic jazz drum kit to get for recording purposes. Whether you’re recording jazz albums or just casually making videos for social media, the Stage Custom Bebop is going to sound superb.
3. Gretsch Renown RN-2 E-604
The Gretsch Renown kit sits somewhere between intermediate and top-level. It’s a bit more expensive than the other kits on this list thanks to the high-quality construction of its shells and hardware. Included in the shell pack is a set of 10” and 12” rack toms, a 14” floor tom, and a 20” bass drum.
The drums produce a vintage tone that is reminiscent of drums from the 50s. That tone is mixed with a sense of punchiness that makes the kit a good modern option.
These two tonal qualities make it an overall versatile kit that is suited for any style. However, the vintage sound works wonders in a jazz setting.
The maple shells deliver a balanced amount of cut, warmth, and volume without being overbearing. The bearing edges are slightly shallower than standard kits, making the attack of the drums softer.
The drums use Gretsch’s 302 hoops which are more resonant than die-cast hoops. The lighter weight and extra resonance make the toms sing beautifully.
If you need a top-quality kit that works well for jazz as well as other styles, the Gretsch Renown is a good option. The standard shell sizes work well for rock and metal and the resonant toms work well for jazz. You’d just need to buy a separate snare drum to complete the kit.
One of my favorite YouTubers, ZackGrooves, uses this kit in all his videos. He’s a drummer who makes comedic videos related to jazz drumming and jazz culture. Even though his videos are comedic, he plays incredibly well, and you can clearly hear in every video how well-suited this kit is for jazz music.
If you want to hear just how good and natural this kit sounds, his YouTube channel is the place to go check it out.
I found the toms to resonate heavily without having too many harsh overtones. Under microphones, they sound very authentic without having that over EQ’d sound that so many other drum kits end up with. The best way to describe the kit is to say that it sounds organic. Perfect for jazz!
4. Tama Club-JAM
The Tama Club-JAM is a compact kit designed for easy transportation and to fit into small spaces. It’s the perfect kit for playing jazz in small clubs and pubs where you don’t have a lot of space. It’s the smallest jazz drum kit on this list. So, let’s see if the smaller size is worth it.
The shells are made of 6-ply poplar/mersawa and produce short tones with little sustain. The sound is focused and tends to resonate far even though the drums are small.
The floor tom is 14” with a 7 inch depth. You won’t find many floor toms as shallow as this, giving the kit a unique feature. The rack tom is 10”, the snare drum is 13”, and the bass drum is 18”.
The shells have triple-flanged hoops that give them a fat attack. Overall, you have a seriously small and punchy bop drum kit. Another feature of the kit that is a space-saver is the cymbal arm mount on the bass drum.
You can set up a ride cymbal without needing an extra stand. This lowers the footprint of the kit as ride cymbal stands generally have to be set up with wide legs.
The snare drum has a boxy sound to it. As said previously, snares that come with compact kits aren’t great, so it’s no surprise that this snare doesn’t have the best sound. You may have to swap the snare out if you’re not happy with it.
Considering all the features, the Tama Club-JAM is a great kit for small venues and busking. It may not be the best option to have as your only kit, but it will certainly work well for traveling.
While the kit has a powerful sound, I found it lacks the tonal depth needed sometimes in jazz settings. The toms don’t have as much sustain as most of the other kits, so I wouldn’t use this in places like recording environments where you need rich sounds.
However, since jazz is such a diverse style that involves experimentation and boundary pushing, I feel a kit like this would work perfectly in some modern jazz settings. If you’re playing fusion jazz in a small club, the Tama Club-JAM would be a great kit to have.
I really appreciate how small this kit is. Somehow, Tama has managed to still give it usable sounds and fairly rigid hardware.
5. Pearl Decade Maple
The Decade Maple is Pearl’s intermediate kit. It comes packed with features from higher-end kits but is priced for the everyday casual drummer. This specific shell pack has a 13” rack tom, 16” floor tom, and 24” bass drum.
Those are some pretty big sizes for jazz. However, the kit would do seriously well in a big band.
The maple shells boast heavy low-end and smooth mids and highs, giving you versatile drums with a wide tuning range. The shells are highly reliable, meaning they’re a great option for recording.
The main curiosity point of this shell pack is the huge bass drum. Typically used for rock, 24” bass drums have a massive sound. This massive sound would work well in a setting where there are several horn players, meaning you’d need a big sound to be heard.
It wouldn’t be the most common choice for jazz, but this Decade Maple would be a great option for some very specific scenarios. If you’re wanting a big sound, it’s definitely a kit to look out for.
If you’re not using it for playing in a big band, I’d also suggest using it for studio recording purposes. Decade Maple kits are famous for being fantastic studio drum kits. I’ve found that the maple translates so smoothly through microphones, and they make mixing and EQing a very easy thing to do.
A minor inconvenience I found with this kit is that the rack tom wasn’t easy to set up comfortably. Since the bass drum is so big, you can’t place the rack tom directly above it like you would with most other kits. Instead, you need to place it on a snare stand to the left of the bass drum.
Having it in this position may take some time to get used to if you’re not accustomed to it. It may even chase a few drummers away. I personally love having my rack toms directly above the kit and as close as possible to the snare, so the alternative rack tom configuration is something I would deeply think about before buying this kit.
6. Gretsch Catalina Club
The Gretsch Catalina Club is one of the most popular jazz kits on the market. If you’ve ever been to a jazz festival, you would have undoubtedly seen one of these being played at some stage or another. The vintage tone along with the smaller shell sizes make it the perfect fit.
The shells are made from mahogany and have a wide and open tone, especially the bass drum. Their low-end punch combined with some high-quality drumheads makes them sound highly musical and articulate. Although the kit is small, the drums produce a fairly big sound.
The bass drum has a shallow depth, giving you more control over foot patterns. This is great for jazz as you may have to play some fast samba patterns. Having more control means you’ll have a cleaner sound. The bass drum has a lot of boom, so you may need to muffle it a bit.
One great thing about Catalina kits is that there are a huge amount of finishes to choose from. So, you may just find a kit in your favorite color.
Overall, the Catalina Club is a reliable jazz option with relevant shell sizes, warm low tones, and it comes in several finishes. One downside is that Gretsch’s tom mounts in these kits can be difficult to position comfortably.
I’ve always struggled with the rack tom mount on Catalina kits as the mechanism doesn’t seem to lock tightly in place. What ends up happening is that you position the tom and then it drops slightly once you move your hands away. It can get quite frustrating when you have to keep tightening it to get to the position you want.
So, I usually bring a spare snare stand when I know I’m playing on a Catalina so that I can just put the rack tom on the stand. This seems to be something only I struggle with, though. I know plenty of jazz drummers who have no problem with the tom mount. It could bother you depending on who you are. If you’re not too meticulous, I don’t think it will be an issue for you.
7. Pearl Export
The Pearl Export is the most sold drum kit in history. With that being said, this kit obviously offers features that are great for any drummer. However, I’ve put it on this list because it’s a full-sized kit that comes at a seriously affordable price, making it a great choice for any jazz drummer looking for a cheap kit.
The kit makes use of Pearl’s Superior Shell technology, meaning Pearl uses a unique process to construct the shells and make them durable and appealing.
The shells are made from a combination of poplar and mahogany. The poplar gives the drums a smooth and even tone while the mahogany provides resonance.
The kit comes with 10” and 12” rack toms, a 16” floor tom, a 14” snare drum, and a 22” bass drum. These are the biggest drum sizes on this list, but the kit would work fantastically for heavier jazz fusion scenarios.
The toms use Pearl’s Opti-Loc mounting system. It ensures that the drums keep their sustain and fit comfortably in place without moving. This is an improvement on the older versions of the Export models as their toms were tricky to position at times.
Similar to the Gretsch Catalina, the Pearl Export has a good amount of finishes to choose from. If you’re a beginner or intermediate player looking for an affordable kit, the Export should be somewhere near the top of your list.
I’d suggest getting a kit like this if jazz isn’t the only type of music you’re going to be playing. You can tune it to sound fantastic in jazz settings. You’ll need to complete the setup with some jazz cymbals. However, this kit works just as well in other musical settings as well.
I played rock music on my Pearl Export for most of my teenage years. It was the kit that I started to learn how to play jazz on in the later years of my drum development. It worked very well for me. It will undoubtedly work well for you as well.
You just might not get the singing resonance that you would get from the smaller kits. The toms are large, so they sound best when tuned in the low to midrange frequencies.
8. Ludwig NeuSonic
Ludwig has an extremely rich drum manufacturing history and they provided kits for many of the jazz drumming greats in the 20th century. This Ludwig NeuSonic takes all those years of drum-making experience and adds some modern flairs. It might be the best jazz drum set for you if budget isn't a huge concern to you.
It’s a 3-piece shell pack that includes a 12” rack tom, 16” floor tom, and 22” bass drum. The shells are made from a mixture of maple and cherry wood. The maple provides warmth and punch while the cherry wood provides presence and projection. The end product is a drum kit that has some serious authority.
The kit has the classic Ludwig aesthetic thanks to the Keystone badges and the Mini Classic Lugs. These features are present in most Ludwig kits, meaning you’ll be proudly showing off the Ludwig tradition when playing.
This is the only kit on this list that has a virgin bass drum, meaning the rack tom has to be mounted to a cymbal stand. The mounted rack tom means that the bass drum keeps all of its tone without having any obstructions, resulting in a powerful boom.
Overall, it’s a great kit for anyone that loves the Ludwig brand. It will work well for jazz as well as rock or country.
I haven’t seen any other kit in this price range that mixes maple and cherry wood together. So, the NeuSonic is a highly unique kit for anyone looking for some sounds that are slightly different from normal.
The one thing I’m most surprised about with this kit is how much punch the bass drum has with only the single-ply stock drum head. It’s very powerful and I feel it would work well in big jazz band settings.
You only get 3 drums with this pack, and it’s a tad more expensive than most of the others. However, it’s a great kit to consider with my favorite part being the unique mixture of woods.
9. Tama S.L.P Fat Spruce (Discontinued)
Note: As of now, this kit has been discontinued and is hard to find new. I've kept this section up for reference only, in case you fancy buying a used kit.
This kit is truly a unique product from Tama. Spruce wood is typically used for acoustic guitars and is highly unconventional to be used for a drum kit.
Unique woods like this are normally only used for the most expensive drum kits on the market. However, Tama has taken it and put it into a pro-sounding kit at a relatively affordable price.
Included in this shell pack is a 12” rack tom, 14” floor tom, and 20” bass drum. Each drum has a beautiful wooden appearance that is crowned with die-cast steel hoops.
The spruce shells provide a very wide tuning range. The drums can be tuned low and boomy or high and resonant, perfect for jazz. The steel hoops provide cutting tones that balance out the warmth of the spruce wood.
The kit comes in two finish options which are satin wild spruce and turquoise. The biggest selling point for me is the beautiful aesthetic of the satin wild spruce. It just has such a natural vibe to it that it makes me want to display the kit on a shelf.
Unfortunately, the kit doesn’t come with the S.L.P Fat Spruce snare drum. It’s a snare that has the exact same construction and finish, making it a bit disappointing that it isn’t included.
If you pair this kit up with some flat-legged cymbal stands, you’ll get a strong earthy look that I think is quite vintage. It would look amazing in a jazz big band setting where all the musicians are positioned to the side of the drum set for all to see.
A small gripe I have with this kit is that it’s fairly expensive. Most other kits on this list cost under $1000, so getting a kit that costs way over that seems to be a rather tall order. However, the price is understandable because I see this kit as more of a collector’s item than a common drum kit that many people will get.
The spruce wood isn’t something everyone will be a fan of compared to common woods like birch or maple. So, this is a kit for very particular people who are looking for a unique sound and look.
Choosing a Drum Kit for Jazz
Buying a drum kit is a big investment to think about. There are a few key things to factor in and that will help you make the best decision possible.
Since we’re looking at the best drum kits for jazz, checking whether the drum kit will work well in jazz settings is the first thing you should look out for. While most drum sets work perfectly well for all styles, there are certain ones that cater better to jazz settings. This is especially true with smaller kits that have ringing toms.
If you’re playing jazz in a small ensemble with a few musicians, you should get a kit that has a high tuning range and small shell sizes. Smaller kits are easier to fit into small jazz clubs where you’ll probably be playing most of the time.
If you’re playing in a big band setting, a larger kit would work better as it will have more of a presence when being played with several other musicians.
Cost is a massive consideration when looking to buy a drum kit. They don’t come cheaply. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when you’re buying a setup for jazz. Firstly, it’s more important to have high-quality cymbals than it is to have a good drum set.
Cymbals are highlighted in parts of the drum kit in jazz settings, so you need ones that sound good. You should get a good ride cymbal first, and then follow that with a solid crash and a pair of hi-hats.
I’d suggest getting the best cymbals you can. Since you’ll be investing more money on cymbals, you can save a bit on buying a kit. You could have a $400 drum kit that would sound world-class if it was paired with good cymbals.
All the kits I’ve mentioned above come at affordable prices. You don’t need to spend over $2000 on a drum set if you don’t want to. Some of the top modern jazz albums in the world have been recorded with a Gretsch Catalina.
Something that a few drummers miss is the fact that the drums need to have coated drum heads when playing jazz. If a drum kit has clear heads, it won’t sound as good when you use brushes. Since brushes are an important part of jazz drumming, coated heads are always going to be what you need.
When buying a kit, make sure it comes with coated heads. Otherwise, you’ll need to buy those separately, resulting in the kit costing a fair bit more than it originally did.
Remember when choosing a drum kit that it should support the music you play. You’ll find that most jazz kits have small bass drums because a lot of jazz is played in small venues.
If you’re going to play jazz in a bigger venue or studios, a bigger bass drum wouldn’t be too bad.
Jazz is all about technique and feel. So, if you think the drum kit doesn’t sound great, it may be a fault in your playing. Just something to think about. A high-quality drum kit might help though!