Jazz drum sets are a different beast to the standard kits you see. For a start, they tend to be smaller and often use wooden shells, with maple and birch being popular choices for their tonal qualities, as well as other differences which we cover in this post.
In this article, we review the best jazz drum sets on the market and give you some pointers on what to look for.
At a Glance: Our Choice Of The Best Jazz Drum Sets On The Market
Buyer’s Tips: Key Considerations
Compared to your average rock or metal drum set, there’s quite a bit of difference with a jazz drum set.
- Smaller in size and relatively easy for transporting about (compared to full-size kits at least).
- The best cymbals for jazz tend to be thinner, with rivets being a common feature in crash cymbals.
- Toms and snares drums will tend to be 14”, although the depth of the drums will depend largely on personal preference. Bass drums are likewise smaller, topping out at 18”.
- Tunings tend to be tighter to encourage more stick response for sensitive playing, and drum pieces that are conducive to this are a good choice. However, as jazz drummers will often find themselves being in the company of instruments such as horns, trumpets and acoustic double bass in the same setting, it’s necessary to be able to play under the lower volumes and penetrate over powerful lungs.
- Crash cymbals and bass drums are less of a driving feature in jazz compared to other styles (although there are no unbreakable rules!) and play more of a supporting role to the toms, snare drums, and hi-hats. When in doubt, it is better to prioritize shells over cymbals for jazz kits.
Ok, let’s look at each product in more detail.
Product Round-Up – Best Jazz Drum Sets
Pacific Drums PDCM2217PW 7-Piece
The kit has plenty of good choices for jazz. There are five toms of differing sizes, a 14” x snare and a 18” x 22” bass and it’s among the best, although you will need to be prepared to invest seriously if this is the drum set for you.
- Drum shells come with good Remo heads, making them sound great without needing to be swapped out
- The hardware such as hoops, mounting, etc are extremely well designed and are very reliable
- The plethora of toms are exactly what you need for your main rhythm work
- Not exactly what you’d describe as affordable, these are definitely not entry level drums
- No hardware except from the standing tom mounts are included
- The bass drum is 22” which can be too large for jazz
The Sonor Safari is a 4-piece shell pack, which makes it a much more travel-friendly option and perfect for cramming onto a tiny stage. The set includes a 16” x 16” bass, 14” x 12” floor tom, 10” x 8” mounted tom and a 14” x 5” snare.
- The more economical set up gives you space to add in cymbals as you need them and allows you to more easily carry your gear from place to place
- Shells are reinforced making them firmer and contributing to an overall better tone
- The bass drum has no ringing or unwanted overtones, making it a good option when you can’t hide mistakes behind a wall of sound
- The stock drum heads are quite poor – you might want to consider getting some aftermarket drum head replacements.
- As a 4 piece it lacks the flexibility of a larger kit, but an established drummer can still produce complex and pleasing music
- As a shell pack, no hardware or cymbals are included
Gammon Percussion 5-piece (Budget Choice)
Compared to the others mentioned so far, the Gammon Percussion is much more affordable making it ideal for beginners and those who might have need of an additional practice set. It performs well during gigs if modified slightly, but otherwise is a solid drum set with a budget-friendly price tag.
- A complete kit including all hardware, throne and two cymbals (hi-hat and crash) in addition to the 5 shells (bass, snare, 2x mounting toms and floor tom) makes it the accessible for beginners
- Low price point makes it an affordable option with reasonable sound quality
- An instructional DVD for learning is also included
- The pedal supplied for the bass drum is chain driven, and it can lose it’s shape on the up-stroke which causes a loss of control over the pedal. A slip in this way can wreck your timing, especially if you’re just starting out with complex jazz time signatures
- The cymbals supplied are low quality, but with jazz style playing are able to hold up longer than under the kind of pacing a rock or metal drummer would use
- The stock drum heads should be upgraded as soon as possible, as high quality drum heads are quite cheap
Yamaha Stage Custom Birch 5-Piece Shell Pack
An upper-mid range shell pack, which although not designed for jazz has the right tonal qualities thanks to its 6-ply birch construction.
- Choice of materials gives the shells the right levels to suit jazz
- High responsiveness allows the sticks to “play for you” when tuned correctly
- Bass is available in two sizes, 22” and 20”. The smaller size is more ideal for a jazz set up
- As a shell pack, no hardware or cymbals are included, so you will need to spend extra money to acquire these if you don’t already have any
- These drums are often packaged and shipped without due care to the contents, so care should be taken to record any damage upon delivery for refunds and replacements
- The snare has a problem with overtones, and might need to be swapped out if you can’t find a DIY fix
So, Which is the Best?
As you can see, there’s a huge range in quality and price. If you’re a professional simply looking to get the highest possible quality, then the Pacific Drums set is a clear winner thanks to the outrageous quality.
On the other hand, if you’re more restricted financially then the Sonor Safari represents the best trade between affordability and quality. The Yamaha set is roughly equal, but the higher price means it just loses out.
Of course, if you’re only just starting out and need a serviceable jazz drum set, the Gammon Percussion set is a great way to get into the world of jazz drumming.
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.