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While any decent drum kit will work well for playing jazz, there are certain sizes and setups that jazz drummers tend to prefer. Most of the jazz drumming you hear comes from setups like these, so it’s suggested that you get one if you’re looking to play jazz.
I’ve compiled a comprehensive list of some of the most-loved jazz drum kits on the market. Check them out and see which one fits your budget.
Gretsch USA Custom – Best Overall
The Gretsch USA Custom (compare price on Sweetwater and Amazon) is the highest-quality drum kit in Gretsch’s product range. It has all the best features that the brand has to offer, and it’s an incredible little kit to use in a jazz band setup.
The shells are made from a mixture of maple and gumwood. The maple gives them balanced tones, while the gumwood gives the drums a rounder and more vintage appeal. All the popular Gretsch kits in the 50s and 60s were made with gumwood, so the kit uses that as inspiration.
The shells also have Gretsch’s iconic 30-degree bearing edges. These bearing edges are a lot rounder than typical ones, drying the tones out a bit. It’s the second feature that makes this kit sound resemblant of the Gretsch kits from years back.
You then get superior modern construction with the shell hardware. These drums have the Silver Sealer interior finish, which protects the shells and strengthens the tones slightly. They also have 4mm die-cast hoops that control the overtones and make the toms feel incredibly durable.
It’s a pricey drum kit, but it’s an incredible option for jazz that you can use for many years to come. It even comes with Remo Permatone heads, which I think are a great option for jazz tunings.
Shell Material: Maple/Gum
Shell Sizes: 12” rack tom, 14” floor tom, 18” kick drum
DW Collector’s Series Jazz Exotic – Premium Option
The DW Collector’s Series Jazz Exotic is one of the most premium drum kits that DW offers. It’s designed specifically for jazz drumming, so it has all the tones and build features that work best in that style.
Before getting into the details, note that this is an incredibly expensive drum set. You could buy five good drum kits for the same price, but none of them would be dream drum kits like this one.
Like the Gretsch USA Custom, the shells are made from maple and gumwood. The maple and gumwood combination is a classic option to go with for high-end drums that are made for jazz music. You get the versatility of the maple mixed with the vintage tonal appeal of the gum.
The difference with this kit is that it has DW’s SSC shell optimization for each tom. This means that the number of plies differs depending on the size, and each shell is created to sound as good as possible through that process.
The end result is one of the most beautiful-sounding kits on the market. The kit also has die-cast hoops to further add to the quality. Not many DW kits have die-cast hoops, which is what makes this kit one of my favorites.
Shell Material: Maple/Gumwood
Shell Sizes: 10” & 12” rack toms, 14” floor tom, 20” kick drum
Sonor AQX Jungle – Best Budget Option
It even comes with a ride cymbal arm that mounts to the bass drum. This allows you to place your ride cymbal without having the stand sit on the floor, decreasing the overall size of the kit’s footprint.
The shells are made from poplar, so they don’t have the most musical sounds out there. However, I found that this kit sounds best when tuned anywhere from medium to high, with the snare drum sounding fantastic when cranked tightly.
Compared to other affordable compact kits, I think this is one of the better options. Sonor kits are always very well designed, and the die-cast lugs are a small hardware feature that proves that.
You only have three finish options, but they all make the kit pop under lights. The finishes are Black Midnight Sparkle, Blue Ocean Sparkle, and Red Moon Sparkle.
I wouldn’t recommend getting this kit if you’re an experienced drummer. Sonor’s AQ2 compact kits would be better options. I strongly recommend it for beginners, though.
Shell Material: Poplar
Shell Sizes: 13” snare, 10” rack tom, 13” floor tom, 16” kick drum
Gretsch Catalina Club
The Gretsch Catalina (compare price on Sweetwater and Amazon) is an incredibly popular drum kit option for jazz drummers. While it’s not the highest-quality drum kit, it’s one of my favorite kits to use in jazz gig settings.
It has mahogany shells, which give the drums boosted low-end tones. However, the kit sounds incredible when you tune the rack tom and floor tom quite high. The boosted low-end gives them a lot of depth in that tuning range.
The bass drum also sounds like a cannon if you don’t put any muffling inside. While that can be a bit distracting for other styles of music, and large booming and resonating tone fits just perfectly into jazz.
The only thing I’m not too fond of with this drum kit is the rack tom mount. I’ve always struggled to position the rack tom in a comfortable position, and it typically takes a few tries to get it right. That can be very frustrating for drummers that need to set up quickly for a gig.
Other than that, this is a fantastic intermediate drum kit option that is well-known for being a jazz drumming favorite.
Shell Material: Mahogany
Shell Sizes: 14” snare, 12” rack tom, 14” floor tom, 18” kick drum
Yamaha Stage Custom Bebop
The Yamaha Stage Custom Bebop (compare price on Sweetwater and Amazon) is the jazz configuration version of the classic Stage Custom kit. The Stage Custom Birch is one of my favorite drum kits to recommend to people, and this version just has one less rack tom and smaller shell sizes for the rest of the drums.
The drums have birch shells, making them sound a lot livelier and more vibrant than most of the other kits on this list. When you strike the drums, they give tones that are very quick. Those tones are then followed by shorter decays. However, you can tune the drums high to allow them to resonate a fair amount.
This is another drum kit with a seriously affordable price tag. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with a snare drum, but that exclusion is what keeps the price so low.
The one thing I really enjoy about this kit is the YESS mounting system. Yamaha uses this same tom mounting arm on most of their kits, and it makes it very easy to angle the rack tom nicely. This specific arm only allows you to mount one rack tom, but you can always get a dual tom holder to replace it if you have another rack tom to use.
Shell Material: Birch
Shell Sizes: 12” rack tom, 14” floor tom, 18” bass drum
The Gretsch Renown (compare price on Sweetwater and Amazon) is another fantastic drum kit option from Gretsch. All Gretsch kits work fantastically for jazz drumming, and the larger sizes on this kit make it a bit more versatile than the previous options we’ve looked at.
It has 7-ply maple shells that are incredibly sensitive to different dynamic touches. I also found these shells to be a bit softer than other maple shells, which makes them suitable for lighter jazz playing. The sensitivity is further boosted by the 30-degree bearing edges.
This kit hits a sweet spot in terms of cost. It’s a professional kit that you could easily use in any setting, but it doesn’t cost anywhere near what the USA Custom or Broadkaster kits cost.
If you want something a bit better than a Catalina Club, this would be your next best option in Gretsch’s product line. I also find the tom mounts on this kit to work far better than what you get on the Catalina.
The only downside of the kit is the stock drumheads that Gretsch provides. They really don’t do the shells justice, and you’ll be surprised at how much better the kit sounds when you put higher-quality drumheads on.
Shell Material: Maple
Shell Sizes: 10” & 12” rack toms, 14” floor tom, 20” kick drum
PDP Concept Maple Classic Bop
The PDP Concept Maple Classic Bop (compare price on Sweetwater and Amazon) is one of my favorite kits regarding aesthetics. The natural wood finishes with the wooden hoops are so beautiful to look at. It helps that the kit sounds incredible too.
There are a few different configuration options with this kit, but I’m recommending the one with the 18” bass drum.
The toms sound very round and resonant, while the smaller kick drum has a tighter thump than you’d expect.
The wood hoops make this kit sound quite natural, giving a nice change of pace compared to other kits with metal hoops.
I also found this kit to be quite versatile, sounding fantastic in both low and high tunings. You just need to pair it up with a good snare drum and you’ll be sorted for a small jazz ensemble.
The only thing that may stop people from getting this kit is its price. A standard 5-piece PDP Concept Maple costs the same, so you end up paying more here to have the wooden hoops.
Shell Material: Maple
Shell Sizes: 12” rack tom, 14” floor tom, 18” kick drum
Yamaha Stage Custom Hip
Yamaha’s Stage Custom Hip (compare price on Sweetwater and Amazon) is another version of the standard Stage Custom Birch. This is one of the more unique kits on this list, and it’s an excellent option for drummers that play the styles of jazz that blend with hip-hop.
The shells on this kit are very shallow, so the drums sound even punchier than the Stage Custom Bop shells that we looked at previously. You don’t get as much resonance from the drums, so they work well for playing quick patterns.
The other key feature of the kit is that the floor tom also acts as a second snare drum. With snare wires attached to the bottom, you can turn those on to get a very deep and flat snare drum sound. This snare drum sound is commonly used in modern styles of jazz.
The final thing to mention about the kit is that it has a 20” bass drum, but it has a shallow depth. So, you get the feeling that you’re playing a larger bass drum, but it’s still small enough to keep the kit as compact as possible.
I wouldn’t recommend using this as your main drum kit, as the shell sizes and tones are quite niche. It works fantastically as a secondary kit to pull out for certain gigs where the tones fit.
Shell Material: Birch
Shell Sizes: 13” snare, 10” rack tom, 13” floor tom, 20” kick drum
DW Design Series Frequent Flyer
DW’s Design Series Frequent Flyer (compare price on Sweetwater and Amazon) is one of the brand’s more affordable drum kit options. It’s called the Frequent Flyer due to the shells being a bit smaller than normal, and that makes it a perfect kit for jazz drummers to use.
While this kit doesn’t offer the same sound and build quality as the high-end Collector’s Series drums, it’s still a professional option that sounds fantastic.
The maple shells are warm and versatile, and the included snare drum sounds the best out of all the included snare drums that we’ve seen on this list. It has a tight cracking tone with plenty of body.
One thing to note about this set is that it’s a bit heavier than what you’d expect. A lot of other compact kits are light and easy to travel with. This one has slightly heavier hardware, making it a bit more cumbersome to carry around. I think that it’s worth it to get the better tones, though.
The two finish options are Tobacco Burst and Black Satin, and I think the latter of those two looks incredible.
Shell Material: Maple
Shell Sizes: 14” snare, 12” rack tom, 14” floor tom, 20” kick drum
The Ludwig NeuSonic (compare price on Sweetwater and Amazon) is a larger kit that would work very well in big band settings. When playing in a big band, you need to compete with multiple horns in every section, so you typically need to play a bit louder than you would in a small ensemble.
Big band drums also need to be tuned a bit lower, especially with the bass drum. So, the NeuSonic is a great option to go with, as it has larger drum sizes.
It’s Ludwig most affordable professional kit, making it most comparable to DW’s Design Series drums.
The shells are a mixture of cherry and maple. The maple gives the drums versatile tones, while the cherry plies add a lot of projection. I love this combination, as it makes the drums sound warm and punchy at the same time.
The kit doesn’t come with a snare drum, so it’s actually a bit pricier overall than the DW Design Series drum kit.
Shell Material: Cherry/Maple
Shell Sizes: 13” rack tom, 16” floor tom, 22” kick drum
Ludwig Classic Oak Downbeat
The sizes make this a great compact kit to play on small stages, but the drums produce a surprising amount of tonal goodness for how small they are.
The shells are a mixture of oak and maple plies, making them sound very punchy and articulate. Ludwig claims that they sound like how recording engineers like to EQ drums, and I think that’s a fairly accurate description.
There’s something very special about high-end Ludwig drum sets, and you really feel that when playing this one.
It’s also quite a versatile kit option, as the 20” bass drum makes it fit well in other styles of music as well.
Shell Material: Maple/Oak
Shell Sizes: 12” rack tom, 14” floor tom, 20” kick drum
What To Look For In a Jazz Drum Kit
The first thing you may notice about all the kits I’ve suggested is that most of them are quite small. Jazz drummers tend to prefer using compact kits for a few reasons.
The first and biggest reason is that most jazz gigging venues are quite cramped. Only a few jazz drummers are lucky enough to be playing on big stages, while the rest of us have to gig in small jazz clubs and bars.
When you need to fit a whole band on a small stage, it helps to have a kit with a small footprint.
The other reason for small kits being preferred is that they produce tones that are more suitable for jazz styles. When playing most styles of jazz, you usually want to have your drums tuned high and resonating.
You can get those sounds a lot easier with smaller shells.
This isn’t a set rule, though. There are so many subgenres within jazz, and some of them sound better when the drums are tuned low and booming. You’d benefit from having a larger kit, in that case.
If you’re heavy into playing jazz, I’d actually suggest owning two drum sets. One of them should be small and compact, while the other one should be a standard size that you can use for other styles of music too.
Take note of the depths of shells as well. The shallower a shell is, the less it will resonate. That means you’ll get tighter sounds from the drums.
When looking through different drum kits, you’re going to see that they’re made from various types of woods. The type of wood used will affect the tones that the shells produce. The sound will also be affected by how many plies of that wood there are.
Thinner shells tend to sound more musical, but they’re not as durable. Thicker shells don’t vibrate and resonate as much, but they’re far stronger in their construction quality.
Here’s a brief list of wood types that you may see, along with the tonal qualities that they bring out of the drums.
Poplar – The most inexpensive wood type to use. You’ll see it in beginner kits, and it brings out balanced tones from the drums. They just don’t have too much musical depth.
Maple – The holy grail of drum woods. You get the most versatile tones from maple drums, as they sound fantastic in live and studio settings.
Mahogany – Mahogany drums have boosted low tones. They sound big and booming when tuned low, but the boosted low-end also sounds incredible when the drums are tuned high.
Cherry – Cherry wood adds a bit of projection to drum shells. You won’t commonly see shells with only this wood, though. They’re typically hybrid shells.
Gumwood – Gumwood drums typically have open and less controlled tones. It’s exactly the kind of sound that jazz drummers want most of the time.
Birch – Birch drum kits are explosive and punchy. They have an added bit of aggression that makes them great for live shows. They speak very quickly, and then they have slightly shorter decays than most other shell types.
When you buy a set of drums, they always come with what are known as stock drumheads. Depending on the overall quality of the kit, the stock heads may be good or very poor.
Typically, and drum kit that costs less than $1500 comes with poor-quality stock drumheads. The best thing you can do is change those as quickly as possible so that you get higher-quality drum sounds.
Your choice of new drumheads is very important within the context of jazz. For other styles, it’s recommended that you get 2-ply heads, as they make it easier to tune the drums and control the overtones.
For jazz, it’s better to get single-ply heads. These will bring more tone out of your drums, and they’ll make your kit sound better when you’re using brushes.
Just make sure that you get drumheads that are coated. Coated heads sound a bit warmer, but the main benefit is that they articulate very nicely with brushes. A lot goes missed if you use brushes on clear heads.
Remo, Evans, and Aquarian all have fantastic single-ply heads on their product lines. Do a few listening tests to see which ones you’ll like the most.
If you buy a high-end drum kit, you most likely won’t need to change the drumheads as you get the kit. You may just need to change them if the stock heads are double-ply.
A drum kit finish refers to how the shells look. It’s a combination of the colors and potential patterns that you may see, and all drum kits have multiple finish options that you can choose from.
The finish of a drum kit has no effect on how it sounds or performs, so it’s just an aesthetic choice that you need to make.
I still think it’s an important feature to talk about, though, as every drummer should love how their drum kit looks when set up.
Cheaper kits tend to have basic finish options, while higher-priced kits have far more variety. Many of them even have different shell hardware colors that match the shell finishes.
When you’re choosing a drum kit, there are two questions to ask yourself regarding the finish options. How will the kit look in your practice room? How will the kit look under lights on a stage?
Every drummer will have color preferences, so you need to ask yourself those questions to see what you’ll personally prefer. I know some drummers that tend to stick with certain brands purely due to the better finishes that they offer.
I don’t particularly agree with that, but I do think you should love the finish you get, especially after paying so much for the kit.
Shell hardware refers to the counterhoops, lugs, tension rods, tom mounts, and all the snare drum components if a snare drum is included.
The hardware doesn’t affect how the drums sound too much, but it affects the playability of a kit. Different counterhoops change how the shells feel when you strike them, and the tension rods and lugs affect how the drums can be tuned.
High-end drum kits have unique construction processes to achieve better tone quality, while lower-quality kits have streamlined construction processes.
When looking at different jazz kits to buy, pay attention to what the shell hardware is like.
One of the more important features to look at is how the rack toms are mounted. They’ll either be mounted to the bass drum or to cymbal stands.
Many drummers believe that rack toms mounted to the bass drum don’t produce tones that are as good or clean as cymbal-mounted rack toms. While that’s somewhat true, I don’t think the difference is very noticeable.
The actual deciding point between those two designs is to pick what feels more comfortable to you. You may get more maneuverability from rack toms mounted to cymbal stands, but toms mounted to the bass drum are often just more convenient to have.
None of the drum kits that I suggested above come with cymbals, and cymbals are far more important in a jazz setup than the drum shells. If you don’t already have a set of high-quality cymbals to use, I strongly suggest spending more on those than you do on the drums.
You can easily tune drums to sound great, whereas a poor-quality set of cymbals will always sound bad. It’s better to have professional cymbals with an intermediate drum kit than a professional drum kit with beginner or intermediate cymbals.
You essentially only need a good pair of hi-hats and a ride cymbal to play jazz, but you could easily spend over $1000 on getting just those two cymbal types.
The kits I mentioned above don’t come with hardware either, so you’ll need to get cymbal stands, a drum throne, and a kick drum pedal to have a full setup to play.
Establishing a budget is the first thing you should do before looking at kits to buy. Remember that you need to set aside cash to get cymbals and hardware. You may also need to get a snare drum, as high-end shell packs usually don’t include one.
Any drum kit that costs less than $500 would be considered entry-level. I’d recommend getting one of those if you’re just getting into jazz and you’re not looking to invest too much money right now.
The kits that cost between $500 and $1000 are decent. You can happily use them to play gigs with, but they won’t give you the same tonal quality and playability as high-end kits.
Kits that cost between $1000 and $2000 are professional drum sets. You’ll find several fantastic jazz drum kits in this price range.
Anything that costs over $2000 is a luxury option. You’ll get the best finishes, shell hardware, and overall designs from kits in this price range. I’d only suggest getting kits of that price if you have the funds for it and are a passionate jazz drummer. Otherwise, you’ll be more than happy with a more affordable drum kit.
Best Jazz Drum Kit Brands
There aren’t any drum kit brands that specialize in making jazz drum kits only. You’ll find decent options from every brand out there.
However, here are a few brands that popular jazz drummers tend to use the most. You’ll see these brands being used at major jazz festivals too.
DW is an American brand that only makes high-end drum kits. They don’t sell any kits that cost less than $1000, so they’re not a brand to go with if you’re on a tight budget.
Their product line is fairly simplistic, only offering the Design Series, Performance Series, and Collector’s Series. You’ll find great little jazz kits in all of those drum kit lines, which is why DW is one of the go-to options for jazz drummers.
Gretsch is surprisingly owned by DW, but the brand has a fully independent line of drum kits that are also made in the US.
The best thing about Gretsch kits is that most of them have a sort of vintage appeal. Both in their appearance and sounds. That’s a great combination to have when playing jazz, which is a somewhat vintage style of music.
Ludwig is another US company, and it’s one of the oldest companies in the drum manufacturing world.
A lot of rock drummers love playing Ludwig drums, but I think they’re great for jazz as well due to how rich the tones are of the toms.
Some of the best-sounding and most diverse snare drums available are Ludwig snare drums.
Sonor is a German brand, and I’ve suggested them here due to all their compact drum kit options. Jazz drummers are suckers for small drum sets, and there are several small Sonor kits to choose from.
The brand has two main lines of compact drum sets, which are called the AQX and AQ2 lines. The AQX drums are more affordable and cater to beginners. The AQ2 drums sound and look a lot better, but they’re more expensive.
Top Jazz Drum Kits, Final Thoughts
Remember that it’s your cymbals that establish your overall sound the most. The best DW drum set will still sound awful if mixed with cheap cymbals, so you need to split your budget between a decent kit and high-quality cymbals.
However, there’s no better feeling than using a high-end drum kit to play music, and all the options I’ve listed will serve you very well in jazz gigging settings.