I’m about to reveal to you the greatest set of drums I’ve ever played. Without a doubt I know these drums will “blow away” any other drum kit out there. Don’t even try to change my mind on this, because I’ve played every kind of set of drums made in the world. All of the greatest drummers play them too. OK,,, READY?!,,, The best drums ever are $#@!#!#@#!$. What!,,,  you say you couldn’t hear me. I said, $#@!#@!$#@!$#. They really are amazing. You must get them or you’re just not the most hip, cool, “up to date”, stylin’ cat out there; like all of the other really happenin’ drummers who play these drums.

OK, OK, STOP!!! For those of you that know me, you know I don’t get into these kinds of discussions. There is no “greatest drum set ever.” I’ve even worked in several drum shops through the years, and this was always part of the common shoptalk. “Oh, man, you should really get these!” or  “What!,,, you’ve never played those drums? They’re the best! You’re really missing it, dude.” It didn’t take long for me to realize that the art of drumming is much more than what drum set you play.

My favorite equipment recommendation is to play what you love and what inspires you. It doesn’t matter if it’s Yamaha, Pearl, Tama, DW, Gretsch, or any of the other great drums out there. Play the drums that make you want to play! When you play “that” drum kit then you’ve found YOUR instrument. And don’t let anyone “mess with your head” about it.

What makes drums sound great is a great player making great music with a great team when everything technically comes together. Now that can be a very complicated thing, but let’s stay focused on the drum issue. We could also talk about cymbals, sticks, drumheads, etc. etc., but again, we will stay in drum world for this article.

In all drum making, even with custom-built drums, there are some elements that apply to everyone. I know there are a thousand variations in the small details, but we’ll focus on the big issues.  Types of wood, the sizes, the rims, and the tom mounting system of the kit are probably the biggest factors of drum sound. And this isn’t even discussing the electronic and engineering options.

First, all maple drums will probably be the first item in every company’s catalog. I happen to play a Yamaha Maple Custom Absolute series kit with aluminum die cast hoops. A 22” kick; 10”, 12”, 14” & 16” toms (all standard depths); and a 14”x5” snare. (I do have other kits and about 15 snares, but this is my primary set up.) Yes, I think they’re awesome, and have been thrilled with the sound they create. But every maple kit has very similar characteristics. They all sound “BIG!”

Maple in general is a very hard wood, but it is also very resonant. I don’t know all of the technical reasons, but they are “punchy” and have a lot of tone.  In some settings maple drums can be a little too big sounding. I’ve heard some people say the sound spreads out too much, and that they keep ringing too long. So if you want a more focused, tight sound maybe you should try birch or other drums.

Birch drums, like the classic “Yamaha Recording Custom” series, are amazing too. These drums were the early sound of Steve Gadd, Dave Weckl, Paul Leim and others. They have a little more mid-range in tone and have a little tighter punch. Now, does that mean better? … No, it’s just different. Especially when it comes to the sound of the toms. Many players like Gadd and Leim are using maple kick drums with birch toms. This would give you a huge, fat sounding kick, with toms that are a little more punchy in the mid range.

All the drum companies would advertise and price their maple & birch kits as the top of the line drums. Beyond that they would start to use other types of wood, and combinations of them. Perhaps combining these popular woods with mahogany or oak or others. If you are reading drum magazines and catalogs you probably find the variations pretty overwhelming. But honestly, what I’ve observed is that when you get into the less expensive drums they all sound more controlled and not as resonant. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. In some settings you don’t what the drums to sound so huge. If you play in smaller venues all of the time, a less resonant kit might work better. I’ve used Yamaha Oak drums or other inexpensive kits that sounded awesome, but they just didn’t sound as big. The key in most settings is tuning and head selection, which I’ve written about in other articles.

You could really put together whatever kind of drum kit you could imagine with the current list of options that are available.  Although I personally like to hear a drum kit with the same tonal characteristics across all of the drums. Of course next week I could change my mind. Remember, this is art!

Besides types of wood, there are also variations in size and thickness of shell we could choose from.  Deeper drums will sound fatter and maybe darker. Shorter drums will be punchier. Thinner shells will sound brighter than thicker shells and so on. If the drums have die cast hoops rather than machined steel they will probably have more of a snap or cutting sound.

The best way to tune your ear to these variations in sound is to go to a shop and try a lot of different drums. Don’t be a pest, but ask the store sales people if you can take some time to try things out. Try out everything and take mental note of what make & model your playing. Be sensitive to the workers and customers and try to do your testing in minutes and not hours of playing in a store. I think you’ll get excited as you discover what sounds inspire you. It’s amazing to play drums and feel that connection to a sound.

Always keep in mind what you’ll be using the kit for. Are you recording? Are you playing in mostly large rooms or small? Is the music more rock, pop, jazz, or is it a combination of everything. Of course you may feel you need more options, but you don’t have the budget or space to own several sets of drums. So how can you pick out a kit that will work for everything? In general the standard kit I mentioned earlier really does cover all of the bases. It’s a big investment up front, but it will last a lifetime if you take care of it.

If I’m playing in smaller venues I might only use the three smaller toms, use a smaller snare, and put more padding in the kick. When I don’t have to worry about the room I use everything and let them ring. I muffle as little as possible most of the time. Drums have a voice and I like to let them speak. Again this is always subject to what the job calls for.

No matter what type of kit I use I look for the tom mountings to be some kind of suspension system. Even on a cheap kit this can make all the difference in the resonance of the toms and how easily they will tune. Mountings that attach to the shell or go through the shell will usually distort the sound or choke them. Quite often I can’t get the drums to tune properly and one or all of the toms don’t “speak” or resonate well. Unless you want that old school tom sound you have to have isolation mounting for the toms. This feature has become very standardized in modern drum building and can be found on even the cheapest of drum sets.

I hope this helps keep your mind at ease if you’ve been wondering if your drums aren’t the “best drums in the world.” Or maybe this will help you in your journey if you have been thinking of a change in kits. Again, test a lot of drums and get your ears tuned in to what’s out there.

You might just add some pieces. Maybe smaller toms or a smaller kick drum would be a good idea in a small room. It could be that a cheaper, less resonant kit is more suitable to your situation. Buying a really loud, top of the line kit and putting a lot of muffling on everything is a terrible waste of money.

If you would like to, let me know how it’s going in your journey in discovering the sound of drums. You can write to my e-mail or the FAQ section at this web site. Happy drum hunting! Oh, and remember, don’t worry about finding the best drums in the world. I think they’re in heaven with Buddy Rich.  Ha!!!!!!!!



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About Carl

Carl has been a professional drummer & percussionist for over 30 years. He has played on over 80 Integrity Music projects; Maranatha Praise Band recordings 7 thru 10, & numerous other Christian, Pop, Country, Jazz, & Commercial projects.


  1. Well said, Carl! I agree with just about everything Carl stated above here. When I was in Jr High and High School, I was privaleged with access to just about every type of classic and modern kit at my home studio. My favorites were Yamaha Maple Custom Absolutes (and Still are), Yamaha Maple Customs and a sweet kit of wood-hooped Ayottes! The Absolutes have been, still to date in all the 17 years of my recording experience, the BEST recorded drum sound hands down. There’s just no comparison. I’ve been trying to sell my DW kit I own now so I can get my hands in another kit of Absolutes. They’re a great drum no doubt.

    But enough of that… From 9th-12th grade, I jammed at my friends’ house in my “fun” band Please No More on a totally starter kit. This thing was IN HORRIBLE SHAPE!!! Dirt, nasty dented heads, grime on the rims, tuning was non-existent. Just about everything you hate in a bad drum set and sound, even the setup and placement of the kit. These all play a HUGE roll in the delivery of the players’ performance and the sound of the kit. Physical limitations of a poor setup can drastically affect and limit your ability to play things otherwise possible with a more natural, comfortable setup, and the sound of a kit inspires a performance.

    What I did, at first I was shocked… I didn’t understand, coming from a son of a life long drummer to takes care of and owns lots of killer drums, hardware and cymbals. So I said, “Scalpel, and we grabbed some serious cleaner and a rag and started going to town. Took the entire kit apart and just gave it some love, seriously love for about 3-4 hours. Dumped out all the dirt and dust from the shells, hoops and heads and started wiping down everything. Then we tightened up all the screws everywhere on all the shells to eliminate unwanted vibrations and make sure everything was tops. Then we went and bought some nice new heads and threw away the 6+ year old dented heads that were on there dying to be relieved from their torture and full of excitement and anticipation, began to put them on one by one and time them. Really tune them! Tuning drums is a whole nother art that takes years of ear training in pitch recognition and also in listening to the actual pitch of the head throw the overtones etc…

    So, we got these things all purty’d up and lastly and secured the New high quality snares properly to get the desired sound instead of the big loose weird twangy sound it had for so long. Side note, bottom heads are just as important as top heads for quality and tuning!!!

    The sound we got was unbelievable! Period! Then in comparison to what they were, incomparable. We couldn’t believe our ears… We ALL over time fell in LOVE with its sound and became a very inspiring kit to play on and record! Some of my favorite tones I’ve come up with are on that kit.

    Moral of the story, whatever kit you have, make the best of it and it will serve you well. Don’t think it’s a waste to buy great heads and snares and symbols for a cheap kit, cuz you still have to buy those for a more expensive kit. Sure the cost of heads and snares will be 2x’s more than the starter kit potentially, but it’s worth it!

    Good luck, hit me up with any questions you may have,

    • Hey Blash, Great story! And yes, I agree, you do need to have a relatively upper level kit or at least mid-range kit. Student, entry level stuff can be pretty “un-inspiring”, as you say. My thought was not to get hung up on trying to find what other people say is the “best” kit. You have to find what sounds good to you and “inspires” you to play. Although, I’ve played some pretty cheap drums and change heads, tuned up, and away I went… sounded pretty good too.
      Thanks again for your insights and great story.
      Blessings, Carl

  2. Great advice, Carl! I’ve played really good kits and some that were just “good.” After adjusting the kit to the room, I found the biggest factor in the overall sound rests with “the nut that holds the drumsticks!” 🙂

    My favorite kit is a 1964 Slingerland kit that my father purchased for me in 1965. It doesn’t look new anymore; but, to my ears, it still sounds great!!

    • Hi Carl:
      Your article on “The Best Drums Ever” was great. I used to work at a studio in San Francisco, and remember a session once with bay area jazz pianist, Ed Kelly. In came Smiley Winters, an old drummer with what appeared to be an old junky set of drums and cymbals. They sounded terrible…until he played with the group. The drums fit the music perfectly, because he MADE them fit. It wasn’t about the drums; it was about the heart of this old drummer whose passion and “Art Blakey-like” groove made me cry.

  3. Mike Overlin says

    Hey Carl

    Great article and the website looks great. I love that you lead with inspiration as the guiding factor in choosing an instrument. The relationship between an artist and his instrument is such an important one, and you do a great job of bringing that to light.

  4. Hey Carl,

    Good Stuff. I sometimes use my Maple Pearl kick with my Birch DW toms and sometimes the Floor tom from the maple kit also. I always get the question “How come your drums don’t maich?” And I reply “They do, in sound!”

    So if Rich is playing #1 kit, I guess Krupa is on #2 and that battle is still going??? Now I know where thunder really comes from!

    Have a blessed day!!!

  5. Hey Carl,

    This Friday the 31st of March, I am bringing worship with André Favreau. I am sure you know him. He helped Paul make the french cd “Paul Baloche & Freinds” in Montreal a few yrs ago. We are doing a few of Paul’s songs, Like ;
    I was wondering if it were possible for you to send me a video of what you do on “YOU HAVE SAVED US” and “GLORIOUS.” I don’t really read drum parts, the reason why I am asking for a video.

    I hear what you’re doing, but sometimes I miss a few things because of other instruments over powering the drums. I am visual and on live shows, the camera is not always on you, especially when I hear something neat, and I can’t see how you’re doing it.

    Maybe, youtube has something, but if they do I can’t find it.

    Thanks Carl and keep up the good work. May our Lord multiply His special anointing on you my brother in Jesus’ name, amen.

    • Hey James, So sorry there is no video available of what I’m playing on those songs. Maybe that’s something I should work on as a training tool. I agree it’s a little tricky to hear drum parts on recordings sometimes… I sometimes use drum & percussion loops to help fill in the feel of a track. But I always try hear & copy the primary drum part from the recording. Blessings on your work. Peace, Carl

  6. This has everly be my dream, sir with this i have a hope that i will get thier some day and am very happy to tell you that am over whelmed seeing this kind of drums; infact sir you are a great person, please try and bring mor of this so that i can through them creat mine…… More of this are on the way coming from young and talented drumers like some of us. Sir please i need to get more of your tips on this. Please i have written my name and some of my details, sir great is your achievement and all the things i’ve heard about you are too much….. And i need such grace to make things happen and also to creat things………! Please sir i also need some help from you seriousely ‘cos am lagging behind so so much sir… I want to be greater than you sir just have that at the back of of your mind sir…… Love you sir…. More strienght to your able because the lord is your musel….. Bye……….! From ( NIGERIA).

  7. Interesting ……I have been playing for over 40 years, always seem to have to much resonance with maple? Sure would like to have a maple/ popular shell , Just too much drum for most any group I play with. I always go back to the 3 ply Japan luan shell with re-rings. I like play 60’s 70’s pop, and rock. & like to blend with the band and not cut through it. Also vintage Tama imperial stars work well with coated ambassadors top and bottom, but omit the powerline metal snare. using a 60’s Japan stencil with earthtone calf as batter head. Easy on the ears. and piblic. Thank you S/

  8. All 35 year old DW marketing campaigns aside and assuming the drums are the same diameters and depths, the wood that drums are made of is the least determining factor in how drums will sound. The head choices and how they’re tuned account for around 85% of how drums will sound overall. The precision of the machining and workmanship, bearing edge degree, shell thickness, and hoop choice make up around 10% of overall sound. The wood the drums are made of only accounts for around 5% of how drums will sound overall. Rather than spewing old DW marketing and throwing away big bucks for a certain wood type that you will find makes almost no real difference find the right heads that produce the tones you like, put them on your Luan or poplar set, tune them right, and you’ll find they will sound just as good as any set made of maple, birch, or any other wood 😉

    • Hey Jim, I agree head selection and tuning are a major factor. But materials, design, and construction do have an impact. I’m sure it would be debated amongst drummers and builders on the percentages of impact… 🙂 anyway… Yes, play what you love and don’t spend more than you feel is necessary. Peace, Carl

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