Because we’re at the low end of the drum spectrum here there are inevitable compromises between price and quality. It’s unavoidable. After all, a decent Zildjan cymbal could cost as much as an entire cheap drum kit. Something’s got to give somewhere.
We feel your pain. Trying to find a cheap drum set that’s decent quality and fun to play without vexing the bank manager is challenging. Luckily we’ve done all the legwork for you and unearthed seven of the best drum kits around aimed squarely at the beginner.
Can’t wait? The overall winner is: the Pearl Roadshow New Fusion five piece drum set
Cheap drum kits exist mainly for one specific purpose: to establish if you like drumming or not. All the kits in this review can be upgraded relatively cheaply so once you’ve had a taste and you’re hooked, you can spend a few extra bucks and prolong the shelf life of the kit.
If not, you can take up the cello!
The observant among you will see a common thread with all the kits in this review: they’re all a bit lacking in cymbal and drum head quality – and there’s the compromise folks. The good news is that this can be easily remedied pretty inexpensively.
- First we had to establish what we considered to be a ‘cheap drum set’? We decided on an upper limit of $500
- Another requirement was that all kits needed to be complete packages comprising everything you need to start making some noise – drums, cymbals, sticks, stools, hardware and pedals
- We focused on the drums rather than the cymbals which is a known Achilles heel with beginner drum kits. The winners in this review actually sound pretty decent
- Following on from this, can the kits be upgraded comparatively easily and cheaply?
1. Overall Winner: Pearl Roadshow New Fusion
With the Peal Roadshow 5-piece we’re stepping up a notch in terms of quality and even the horrible cymbals that have blighted practically all of the kits in this review are a bit less horrible with this drum set. This means for the beginner it’s totally usable.
The Pearl is an all-in-one solution for wannabe drummers comprising bass drum, two toms, a floor tom, snare, two cymbals – crash/ride and hi-hat – all hardware and pedals, stool and sticks. Nice touches include dual-reinforced stands, double-braced legs and interlocking tilter adjustments to keep everything where it should be.
9-ply, 7mm bonded hardwood shells have been used to produce this kit so it’s tough enough to square up to hard hitting drummers. The drums sound crisp and deep and the kick in particular features an extended tuning range for an altogether trouser wobbling low end.
As with all the other cheap drum sets in this review, you will, at some point want to change the cymbals and heads but we reckon the Pearl will give you a bit longer before that time arrives. That’s a definite positive.
Staying with positive, there’s some excellent videos on YouTube covering all important aspects of getting the best out of the Pearl Roadshow, like assembly, hardware assembly and tuning. The presenters are no slouches either: Nate Morton, drummer for the house band of NBC TV’s The Voice, and Korn’s drum meister Ray Luzier.
- A well-constructed, solid kit with good hardware
- Properly tuned, It’s a very nice sounding kit
- Mediocre rather than dire cymbals. Yes this is a positive
- Really helpful YouTube videos for assembly and tuning advice
- Good value for money
- For the money hardly any. You’ll outgrow the cymbals and skins at some point
The Pearl Roadshow is a little more expensive than the really cheap drum sets included in this review, but as we’ve emphasized, everything has its place. This is a definite step up and the extra outlay is totally worth it.
We think this is the best beginner kit currently available.
2. Recommended: Mapex Rebel
The Rebel is targeted at the budget end of the market you get a fair old bang for your buck: drums, cymbals, stands, sticks, stool and pedals for hi-hat and bass drum. This is a relatively cheap drum kit that’s not short on quality. And it won’t break the bank.
The shells are manufactured from 7.2mm thick, 9-ply poplar so they’re impressively substantial offering good tone and resonance. It’s a conventional five piece kit – with two toms, floor tom, kick drum, snare, 14” hi-hat and 16” crash/ride. Double braced stands for rigidity are a nice touch.
The bass drum/pedal combo works especially well – the poplar bass drum shell paired with the soft muffling Remo bass drum head provides loads of bottom end.
The Remo drum heads aren’t the best but they’re adequate. They’re easily (and cost-effectively replaceable). It’s the same story with the cymbals. This tends to be the area where compromises are made but cymbals on the Rebel are much better than many we’ve seen on budget kits.
Properly tuned, there’s not much to choose between the Mapex Rebel and the Pearl Roadshow. On sound alone we’d say the Pearl has the edge – but only just. The cymbals are marginally (but not crucially) a bit better on the Pearl.
- Great value for money
- High quality shells with lots of lugs. Makes tuning more precise and quicker
- Sounds better than a sub-$500 kit
- Hard to be critical. We expect low quality cymbals and skins with cheap drum kits.
Definitely one of the best budget drum kits in this review. This is one of the top beginner kits around. Our runner-up behind the Pearl Roadshow.
3. Best Value for Money: Gammon ‘Battle Series’
At this price, you’re paying for shells more than anything else. Those used on the Gammon kit are wooden and quite reasonable. You get two toms 12” x 10” and 13” x 10” as well as a 16” x 16” floor tom with adjustable tilt memory locks. A 22” x 14” bass drum and 5.1/2” x 14” snare, completes the drum inventory.
You also get an included instructional DVD to help you get started. Beware though – it’s not the best and is more of a series of still images and text than a video. Watch it all before you start.
At the lower end of the cheap drum kits segment – and we’re talking the likes of Mendini, Best Choice Products and this Gammon five piece drum set, we are talking much of a muchness in terms of quality, but of the three, we’d say the Gammon sounds the best straight out of the box but there’ not much in it. In terms of volume sales, the Gammon wins hands down.
Essentially this is a practice kit – at least with the supplied heads and cymbals which are well, mediocre at best; you’ll either need to upgrade or buy a better kit for gigging. In the early days though, it should be more about having fun than technique so the Gammon ticks the boxes in that regard.
It’s always possible to make a cheap drum set sound better though: this video provides some really good tips – particularly on the sometimes confusing subject of tuning. Oh and put a pillow in the bass drum to tame those harmonic resonances.
- All you need is included to dip a toe into the drumming universe
- It’s cheap without sounding cheap (well apart from the cymbals)
- Pretty sturdy
- Looks the part
- Poor quality stool: mind you don’t fall off mid-paradiddle. And it’s uncomfortable after a while
- Crash cymbal is absolutely terrible. Marginally better as a ride
- Lacking in written instructions. Distinctly average instructional DVD
Of the ‘cheap and then some’ kits in this review, this is probably the one we’d go for. It is immensely popular with beginners, but beyond that you’ll find it lacking. The Gammon doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t. It does what it says on the tin and it does it well.
In terms of quality, the ddrum D120B D series drum set is a step up from the bargain basement cheap drum sets included in this review – but that’s reflected in the price. It kind of occupies that middle ground between complete beginner and intermediate.
Technically, you could call this a ‘fusion’ kit: it comprises 8 x 10” and 9 x 12” rack toms (depth x diameter); a 14 x 14” floor tom; 5.5 x 14” snare and a 16 x 20” bass drum. Shells are constructed from basswood and 14” hi-hat and 16” crash are included along with a stool, sticks and all stands. Pretty comprehensive.
Available in two colors, blood red and black, the ddrum D120B scores well against other cheap drum kits. It sounds decent and it’s sturdily made.
Like other budget kits however it falls down somewhat in the cymbal and drum head departments – although we stress they are much better than those used on the Mendini and Best Choice Products kits and perfectly usable. Acceptable but not great.
There are no instructions included with this kit, but this video is pretty good. It’s for the larger D2 kit but the assembly and tightening instructions are applicable to the D120B.
- Nice sounding and aesthetically pleasing
- Good value for money
- No manual included
- Cymbals, sticks and drum heads lacking a bit in quality – but these aren’t mega expensive upgrades
- Drum hoops look like they’re made from plastic but are actually metal. Cheapens the look of the kit
Little to choose between this and the Mapex. We think the cymbals are less bad on the latter. Nevertheless, the ddrum D120B represents excellent value for money. Quality definitely exceeds the cost with room for upgrades.
Ludwig has been manufacturing high quality drum kits since 1909 so it knows a thing or two about great sounding drums. Perhaps its two most famous users are none other than Ringo Starr and John Bonham of Led Zeppelin.
The Ludwig Accent five piece kit is its entry-level offering. The drum shells are manufactured from five ply hardwood and comprise two toms (8” x 10” and 9” x 12”), a 16” x 16” floor tom, 5” x 14” snare and 16” x 22” kick drum.
All hardware is included along with frying pans (cymbals), a drum throne and sticks.
You’ve probably guessed by now we don’t like the hi-hat and crash cymbals. They’re cheap, sound pretty awful and you’ll need to replace them – but you knew that already. Ludwig could do themselves a big favor by hiking the price by $100 and including some decent cymbals.
The real strength with the Ludwig Accent however is the quality of the drums themselves. Properly tuned, they just sound good – full and loud. Overall a great beginner set. They’ve got that quality that just makes you want to play them – and they feel really durable and hardwearing.
The now standard pillow stuffed into the bass drum will improve its sound no end. It’s far too clangy and resonant played undampened.
- The price is worth is for the drums alone. Expect to shell out another $100 on cymbals
- The name. Ludwig is an iconic brand
- Those cymbals
- Non-adjustable stool
- No instructions included but some good tutorial videos on YouTube
A pretty good kit let down tragically by you know what. Trash the crash, hoof the hi-hat and you’ve got yourself a good, cheap drum set that’s really fun to play.
OK, so this is a cheap drum set by anyone’s standards but the nice thing is that everything is included. Take it out of the box, assemble and bash away to your heart’s content.
It’s all there – snare, bass drum, two rack toms, floor tom, high-hats and ride cymbal, drum stool/throne, drum sticks, bass drum pedal, chrome plated hardware, sturdy shells, chain-driven pedals and a partridge in a pear tree!
So this is a drum set that was designed with one thing in mind – to enable budding tub thumpers to play a half decent kit whilst they decide if they like it or not. For that, it ticks all the boxes and it looks pretty decent, but don’t get too excited.
At this price compromises have inevitably been made. The drums sound half decent but the cymbals are pretty awful – especially the crash. You’ll want to upgrade before long – and it’s the same with the skins. Consider shelling out (pun intended) on something like Reno Ambassadors – and throw a towel in the bass drum to tame those resonations.
- Ideal for beginners. This is the target market and it’s fit for purpose
- You can spend a little extra on better cymbals, sticks and skins and improve the sound immensely
- It’s actually pretty well constructed and relatively easy to assemble
- Pretty dire sounding cymbals, especially the crash
- The stool. Don’t trust it if you weigh more than a bag of sugar
- We’ll lay money on you outgrowing this drum set sooner rather than later
It’s hard to be over critical about this Best Choice Products drum set because it doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t, but we can’t recommend this unquestionably cheap drum kit for anyone other than a beginner.
However for this target audience it’s fine and it can be improved significantly with better cymbals and skins. Personally we’d rather spend a bit more to start with.
This is a five piece kit with bass drum, snare, two toms and floor tom, plus cymbals, a set of sticks and a stool. It really does represent excellent value for beginners. It isn’t quite ‘try before you buy’ but you do get a fully functional kit for not much money.
Like most cheap drum kits, compromises have to be made and with the Mendini, short cuts have been taken with the cymbals, hardware and drum heads. But that said, for starting out, they’re OK and do the job. Actually, the cross laminated poplar shells actually sound pretty good.
Allow about two hours to assembly the kit, take a deep breath and bash away. If you decide drumming is for you, upgrade the cymbals and drum heads. You’ll then turn a cheap drum set into a pretty reasonable intermediate kit. In the meantime try a bit of strategic damping to get the best sound.
We’ve seen the cymbals likened to sounding like frying pans and like ‘dirty dishes thrown against a wall’ so no prizes about what to upgrade first.
One other thing, when you’re learning, drum tuning can be a bit hit and miss so we’d recommend purchasing a drum tuner like this model from DrumDial. You’ll certainly use it regularly for a year or so while you’re learning your craft, then you may only use it occasionally – but it’s one of those tools that’s always worth having.
- Delivered in one box, containing everything you need to start drumming
- Decent quality toms and construction
- Great for the price
- The cymbals are total pants; but this is relatively cost-effective to remedy. Poor quality skins
For the money, bearing in mind what the Mendini MD 80 drum kit is on this earth to do, it’s hard to complain too much. It’s an all in one solution for all budding drummers without having to remortgage the house.
The Bottom Line
We can’t emphasize enough that all of this drum sets listed in this review will sound dreadful if they’re not properly tuned. Take some time to learn how to do this; it’s a skill that will serve you well throughout your entire drumming life.
This video is a great reference point:
The Pearl Roadshow New Fusion is our worthy winner with the Mapex Rebel in second place, but overall, from a general perspective, we were mightily impressed by just how much you get for your money with any of the contenders on this list.
There’s literally no excuse not to give one of these kits a try.