Tama vs Pearl vs Ludwig – Whose Drum Kits are Ideal for You?

Author: Joseph Scarpino | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

Believe it or not, the drum kit you choose to play says a lot about you. Before a single drum or cymbal is struck, onlookers can get a good sense of what they’re about to hear based on the brand of drum kit you use.

You’re bringing out a Tama kit? You are probably a hard rock or metal band. 

Or maybe you’re setting up a Ludwig kit? You’re probably a fan of the more classic-sounding rock genre a la’, The Beatles or The Who. 

Or you’re playing a Pearl kit, most likely you need a kit that can produce punchy quick grooves for styles that can fit in a tight pocket required by funk music or a more progressive style of metal or rock.

There is a long history of reasons why drummers of certain genres gravitate toward specific drum manufacturers like Tama, Pearl, and Ludwig. 

Let’s jump in and find out which of these legendary drum makers has the right kit for your style.

Who Plays These Kits?

Tama

I don’t know about you but, when I see a drummer setting up at a gig with a Tama drum kit I’m expecting to hear some loud rock n’ roll or some brutal heavy metal music.

Tama is basically synonymous with louder forms of music. Maybe because Tama kits do very well at filling the rhythmic space.

Metal throne dwellers like Anthrax’s, Charlie Benante, Trivium, Alex Bent, and metal maestro of Mastodon Brann Dailor push their kits to the limit regularly.

In the early days, Tama became well known for its superior sturdy hardware, and non-intrusive hardware. Tama’s development of hardware did not enter the drum shells therefore it didn’t interfere with the drum's natural tonal quality and was a game changer in the industry.

The advent of non-intrusive mounting led to not just louder sounding drum shells but a better overall quality of sound as the shells can now ring out unencumbered.

Tama has a diverse selection of beautifully designed kits at a price point for all who are interested in purchasing a Tama kit.

Pearl

Pearl has been helping drummers keep the beat since the 1940s. When you’ve been around for as long as they have, you tend to get very good at making drums. 

Pearl drums are largely known for the consistency in the quality of their shells. This is in large part due to a process used in their shell manufacturing used in their mid-tier level kits like the Pearl Export to top-tier level kits like the Pearl Session Studio Select.

Pearl boils the glue used in the shells and then presses it with 1,000 lbs of force. This method causes the glue to fill any would-be gaps. The glue seeps into all the nooks and crannies while eliminating air pockets.

You’ll find the result of Pearl’s process of creation to be an easily tunable drum shell that can be dialed into your desired pitch with ease. 

The sonic profile of Pearl's drum shells makes them a popular choice for drummers who play the music that sounds best with high attack, moderate decay, and skew toward lower frequency resonance with moderate-to-higher tones.

The late Joey Jordison of Slipknot famously played Pearl drums. As does the famously funky Dennis Chambers, prog-metal drummer Matt Halpern, and Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Chad Smith.

Ludwig

Drummers with a penchant for the classics often find themselves seated behind a Ludwig. 

Ludwig’s drums can be distinguished by their classic booming tone, vintage finishes, and that retro-stylized logo right on the front. 

Ludwig drums can be dated back as early as 1909. 

Though Ludwig had been making drums for some time it wasn’t until 1964 that their popularity exploded! This was all because The Beatles drummer Ringo Starr played a Ludwig kit on the Ed Sullivan show. 

Ludwig became an overnight sensation becoming the drum kit drummers around the world had to play.

Then in the 70s people went wild for Ludwig’s plexiglass-shelled drums made famous by the legendary drummer, John Bonham. This particular drum kit line from Ludwig is called the Vistalite line. It’s very expensive, but currently both DW and Pearl offer much more affordable acrylic kits that have become quite popular of late.

Ludwig continues to create drum kits that honor their heritage, as well as the drummers that made them so well known in the first place. For example, the Ludwig Classic Maple kit.

Ludwig’s Classic Maple line is available in a number of retro-style finishes that would get fans of the 60s and 70s feeling nostalgic. Finishes like vintage black oysters and the psychedelic-looking mod citrus. 

In keeping with Ludwig’s endeavors to maintain a more retro style, the shell sizes of their drums do vary a bit from the norm. 

You’ll find that fans of Ludwig love these little details as they are what makes Ludwig stand out on its own.

Entry Level Kits

The good news is each of these reputable brands makes a more affordable kit for beginners. 

The Tama Imperialstar, the Ludwig Accent, and Pearl Roadshow lines are considered the entry-level sets for these manufacturers. 

Though I have to mention these beginner-tier kits aren’t usually made in the same fashion or using the techniques that give these drums their specific tonal qualities. 

You’ll notice all these kits are made from select hardwood or poplar wood. Meaning they’ll have a similar tone.

There will be differences in terms of the aesthetic, the number of wood ply used, maybe the hardware, and the size of the shells that can affect the sound.

The great thing about beginner kits from these reputable companies is they will give you the benefits of better build quality, good hardware, and a company that will stand behind their product.

Intermediate Level Kits

The intermediate kit level is where you’ll start to notice the real differences in build and sound from each of these drum makers. 

Tama’s contemporary drum kits like the popular Superstar Classic model continue to service drummers who desire power with maximum resonance.

A Superstar Classic kit has thinner shells and lighter hardware for maximum resonance. If you’re a drummer who needs to cut through some thunderous bass and shredding guitar licks a Superstar Classic would fit you well.

The Pearl Export drum kit comes with shells that possess an evenly balanced tone thanks to their mix of hardwood and mahogany.

Being that, the Export’s balanced mix of lower and high tones makes it a more well-rounded kit for multiple genres of music.

Still, due to the presence of poplar in the shells, many drummers would be a bit skeptical about considering it as a proper intermediate kit. For them, a much better option would be a slightly more premium Pearl kit, the Decade Maple.

For the cool cat who likes to play with a little swing and enjoys the boomier classic tone, the Ludwig NeuSonic would fit your style.

You’ll notice if you look that Ludwig’s kick drums are about 2” more shallow than most contemporary drum manufacturers. You’ll notice Ludwig’s kick drums typically measure 14” x 22” rather than 16” x 22”. 

The shallower kick drum gives off a more retro tone that packs a real wallop!

Flagship Kits

A flagship kit will have it all. Every innovation, the best of the best wood, hardware, you name it. Flagship kits will also have more options for customization so you can get it just the way you want it.

For players who prefer a superior dynamic sound, the Tama StarClassic Walnut/Birch hybrid is an exceptional choice. 

Pearl’s Session Studio kit, just as the name suggests, is right at home in the studio or on the stage. The Session studios come in some gorgeous lacquered finishes that are as warm and inviting looking as the tone of the drums themselves.

A couple of other popular high-end Pearl kits are the Masters Maple kit and the President series kit featuring synthetic (phenolic resin) shells.

Ludwig offers stunning-looking kits that are a sublime marriage of retro stylings and updated technology in the form of the Class Maple Fab line.

The Fab line comes in a humble 3-piece configuration with loads of potential. Sometimes less is in fact more.

Which Brand is Right for You?

Taking into consideration what I said earlier should help steer you in the right direction but, I don’t want this to be misconstrued.

I’m not saying you can’t play Metal music on a Ludwig or you can’t use a Tama for your folk rock, jam band, or whatever you may play.

I’m simply pointing out that certain brands attract certain types of drummers for a reason. It could be because of their heritage, like in the case of Ludwig. 

It could also be from word of mouth perpetuating certain expectations for drummers who play a specific genre of music to play kits made by a specific manufacturer.

In any case, it goes without saying that there are in fact drum kits with qualities that are better suited for one genre over another.

Finding the right brand for you starts with knowing what you’re trying to achieve within the realm of your music. 

What Kind of Drummer Are You?

You may resent the question, “what kind of drummer are you?” and say to yourself with great confidence; “I can play any genre of music, it doesn’t matter what it is!” I’d be inclined to believe you. It’s good to learn multiple genres, no disagreement there.

The fact is that if you’re a gigging drummer you need a kit that best supports the style of music you play. Both in sound and in configuration.

If you told me you want to focus on punk rock or pop punk music, I’d probably point you toward a Pearl kit like the Decade Maple. I’m sure you’d ask, “why?” and I’ll tell you.

Pearl’s Decade Maple kit is a tonally well-balanced kit with quick and easy configuration. You can set it up easily as a 3-piece or keep that extra rack tom if you’d like. 

If you’re a drummer who plays in a 5-piece metal band with loud, fast, and ferocious music, you’d be safe going with something like a Pearl Masters kit or Tama Starclassic Walnut/Birch kit.

Pearl’s Master kit has a tighter lower tone for more groove-focused heavier music. 

Tama’s Starclassic can resonate for days and will certainly bring the thunderous tone where needed thanks to its hybrid walnut/birch shells.

If you’re a fan of the classic rock wide open booming tone or maybe a groovy groover looking to capture that big band style, then you have to look at a Maple or Oak classic from Ludwig.

These kits can sound great tuned up for that more jazzy sound or down low for a more full boomy tone. 

Understanding what you play, how you play, and what you need will get seated on the throne behind the right kit for you.

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About Joseph Scarpino

Joseph is a drummer and lyricist from Asbury Park, New Jersey. When he is not on stage, on tour, or in the studio, you can find him behind a camera, directing, or in front of that camera, acting. Joseph enjoys many genres of music but he most frequently listens to Heavy Metal, Punk, and Hard Rock.

11 thoughts on “Tama vs Pearl vs Ludwig – Whose Drum Kits are Ideal for You?”

  1. I’m not sure I agree with much of this article but it is food for thought. I do appreciate the detail of how the different drums are built. But I’ve been performing for more than 40 years and I always considered Tama a kit for jazz drummers, and Pearl likewise, and Ludwig more of a rock and roll kit. In reality I’ve played a Sonor kit for 30 years and I really love it. It’s a five piece heavy kit with really big drums from 22 inch bass drum and 16 16 15 and 14 inch toms and a 14 inch snare. I’ve also used sonor as a jazz kit. I like how sturdy the drums are and how adaptable they are to my sound.

    Now I’ve shifted more to musical theater and Jazz and folk and religious music and I find I like a very small kit so I play a mongrel drum set including a mapex 14 inch floor tom converted to my bass drum. A 12-inch floor tom a 10 inch and 8-in rack times and a 13 inch piccolo snare. The toms are gretsch and the snare really depends on the sound that I need. Sometimes a pearl sometimes another.

    I know and I was younger sometimes choosing a drum set had a lot to do with the drummers that I liked or what the drums look like. As I got older it was more about how versatile they were and how good they sounded and how adaptable they were to a concert hall as well as a recording studio.

    Now that I’m primarily playing acoustic music and I’m even older it’s a lot about how easily they fit in my car and how easy it is to schlep them around in addition to how good they sound.

    That’s my 2 cents.

    Reply
  2. Buy used for a beginner kit. In fact, buy used for every damn thing. Save yourself some serious greenbacks with Craigslist, offer up, reverb, and ebay. Buy new if you can’t find what you need.

    Reply
  3. This is one is the dumbest articles. Drummers don’t pick brands based on genre. Lots of jazz guys have used and currently use Tama and Ludwig. It’s all based on taste. Finishes, durability and what a particular drummer is looking for.

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  4. I’ve been playing drums in gigging bands for 38 years. I have and still own several kits. Started with Premier, Then Tama, DW, Ludwig, and for the past several years I’ve been playing Mapex pro series. Some are a little louder some are sturdier some are easier to set up, some are easier to mix but I think, no, I know, the quality of sound comes from the drummer and the sound man. I can’t stress enough how much a good sound guy is worth.

    Reply
  5. I like your review. You give good insight to drummer’s just starting out. I personally have two sets one is Pearl a seven shell set of Export. They serve me very well.the Quality is there. My second kit is also 7shell set of Ludwig. I love both kit’s. I’m 72 ,and have been playing for 60 years, and
    God willing. I have no intention of Quitting. I have always loved the music! It’s all about the music for me. My first teacher asked me why I wanted to play. And I said I feel it in here touching my heart. I feel the music.he knew exactly what I was saying. There ya have it. Anyone of those’s drums will serve you well! Just keep stroking! Vinchanzo

    Reply
    • Vincenzo I am with you. I myself am 70 years old and have been playing since I was about 7 or 8 and it is all in the heart ♥ . Keep on it.

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    • Can I join the conversation, that I have a Pearl Masters Maple kit, which is fabulous, and keep it at home where I’ve been doing grades.
      I bought three years ago a Gretsch Catalina five piece kit, and I feel the sound has more depth to all the drums.
      I am very pleased with them.

      Reply

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