If you’re a drummer, you’ll be familiar with the problem of getting your instrument back and forth between gigs, recording studios, and rehearsal rooms.
A typical kit can contain anywhere from four to a dozen pieces of equipment, including shells, cymbals, and foot pedals. That’s a lot of messing about taking things apart and setting up again.
The good news is that there are some highly transportable, light, and compact options available. In this article, we’ll cover all the essentials of buying a compact drum kit.
Best Portable Drum Sets – Product Guide
Gretsch is an iconic American brand from Ridgeland, South Carolina. The Catalina Club is another tour de force from them.
The 4-piece configuration is built around a 14-inch bass drum that gives a warm and punchy vintage tone, perfect for just about any style of music.
Coming in 5 color tones: Blue Satin Flame, Gloss Crimson Burst, Piano Black, and two shades of Satin, their size makes them relatively easy to transport.
This pack comes with all the components you need too (cymbals, pedals, etc.)
- Mahogany shells have a strong low end, offering a warm, rich tone.
- The bass drum opens up, giving the option of a deeper sound.
- There’s a cymbal arm on the bass drum, keeping the kit compact.
- It comes with all the components you need.
- The positioning of the cymbal can feel a bit odd.
- Only available in two sparkle finishes.
Sonor AQ2 Safari
German manufacturer Sonor’s AQ2 line of drums offers five standard configurations that are all made from 7-ply all maple shell construction.
The minimalistic yet functional design is classy and sturdy and benefits from small, compact shells.
The smallest kit in the range best suited for portability is the Martini set (with a 14-inch bass drum).
The next size up is the Sonor Safari (16” inch), the Bop (18” inch), and the Fusion (20” inch).
While the Martini is the smallest, I recommend the slightly larger Safari with the 16” inch bass drum (the 16-inch is ideal for portability – not too big, not too small).
Also with the slightly bigger drum, you get a better low frequency.
- Maple shells sound warm, resonant, and bassy
- ‘Smart-Mount’ tom mounting system offers optimal sustain with minimal hardware
- Available in five different colors
- Cymbals aren’t included
- Kick pedal isn’t included
Pearl’s ultra-portable Midtown Kit is another lightweight, highly portable kit that’s superb for gigging.
You get the choice of two covered finishes, 6 Ply (7.5mm) poplar shells and a matching 13×5.5 wood snare drum.
This kit comes with Pearl’s OptiLoc Suspension System for easy setup and some of the best drum heads for the price available (coated front Remo heads).
- Poplar shells bring out higher frequencies as well as low ones and offer a resonance similar to birch or mahogany.
- Only available in two finishes.
- It’s a bit quieter than some other compact kits
Ludwig Breakbeats by Questlove
The Ludwig Breakbeat by Questlove is another great little portable kit that’s designed for the gigging drummer in tight spaces: coffeehouses, subways, that corner in your apartment.
Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson is an American percussionist and producer – known mostly as the drummer and joint frontman in The Roots – and this set is endorsed by him.
This 4-piece kit was designed to be “break-able” for a gritty, raw downbeat. The kit is positioned on a riser for optimum reach, and it’s compact 14×16″ bass, 7×10″ tom, and 13×13″ floor tom creates a set-up for sculpting grooves in tight spaces.
Coming in three dope colors: White Sparkle, Black Sparkle, and Red Sparkle, this is one to consider. You’ll need to buy some of the components yourself though (cymbals, etc.).
- Extremely lightweight
- There’s a cymbal arm on the bass drum, keeping the kit compact
- Soft cases included
- Shells are basswood, which is of lower quality than mahogany or maple
- There’s no kick pedal, stool, hardware or cymbals included
Tama Club – JAM Flyer
If you want really small, then this one is worth some serious consideration. In fact its the smallest kit we have on the list. A 10” snare drum, 8” and 10” toms, and a tiny 14” kick drum. As it’s so small, it won’t cut the mustard as a rock set, but for styles like pop, jazz, even electro, it will do just fine.
Its USP is undoubtedly its size. As such, it will fit in tiny spaces with no problem but it equally works well as a junior drum set.
- Tiny, great for tight spaces
- Compact, easy to transport
- It won’t cut it as a rock set
DW Design Series Frequent Flyer
The Frequent Flyer is the compact version of their awesome Design Series kit.
It ships with a shallow depth 14” snare drum, 12” and 14” floor toms, and a 20” kick drum. Because of the quality, the wood tends to weigh a bvit more than budget travel sets.
This is a great set if you want DW build quality in a compact size.
- Superb quality for a compact set
- Can be tuned low for rock, or high for pop
Tama Cocktail Jam
The original transportable drum set, we thought it was worth including a cocktail set. They’re made to be played standing up, but most people just play them perched on a throne or high stool.
As well as their height, their sound is slightly limiting. As they don’t have resonant heads, they produce a short and snappy sound (with almost no sustain) which pretty much rules them out for many types of music. Don’t try them with metal or hard rock music, for example. A little pop or reggae will sound great, though.
- Great for ‘light’ genres e.g. pop
- Won’t cut the mustard for hard rock or metal
Benefits of Portable Drums
Ready for the good news? Portable sets are often much cheaper than their full-size counterparts. If you don’t want to drop a small fortune on a full-size kit, but still want something that sounds decent, a mini drum kit might be just the ticket.
Drums are a total pain in the neck to move about. Most other instruments in a typical band set up don’t have a fraction of the amount of gear needed.
If you play guitar or keyboard the gear required is way smaller. Sure, amps are a pain to move too, but nowhere near as cumbersome as lugging a full-size kit about.
A travel drum kit is designed for carting from gig to gig. For this reason, many of the parts used in them are super lightweight.
Remember full-size sets are designed with quality in mind, not size or weight. Materials used for shells such as mahogany are chosen for tone, not for ease of transporting.
The best portable drum kit is designed to be as lightweight as humanly possible without compromising on sound.
It’s easy to scoff at small drum kits. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by just how good some of these sound though. Portable sets such as the Sonor Safari sound comparable with larger, more expensive models.
As well as regularly gigging or jamming with friends, practice is the key to improving. The big issue with drums is they’re so incredibly loud (admittedly there are ways to make them quieter). Electronic sets have headphone sockets so you plug in and play at any hour of the day and not bother anyone.
So, Which Should You Buy?
Our top pick goes to the Gretsch Catalina Club, the perfect combination of superb quality 7 ply mahogany shells and Remo drumheads, easy GTS mounting system, all at a very reasonable price.
Our budget pick goest to Pearl’s ultra-portable Midtown Kit, another lightweight, highly portable kit that’s superb for gigging. Comes with their OptiLoc Suspension System for easy setup.
At a slightly higher price point, German-made Sonor’s AQ2 Safari kit comes with rich, broadband maple and their SmartMount tom-mounting system for easy mounting.