The Best Beginner Drum Sets - Acoustic Mostly Under $500

Beginner drum sets - Pearl & Gretsch

If you go to many of the major online retailers you'll find well over 100 options priced under $500 listed in their drum set categories which can be very confusing if you're just starting out.

This guide simplifies the process of buying a beginner drum set and tells you what you need to know to avoid some of the pitfalls in buying drum kits online.

NB: This guide is specifically about acoustic drums, we have a separate guide for beginner electronic drum sets.

Best Beginner Drum Sets - Quick Guide

Gearank Sources Street Price
Pearl Roadshow RS525WFC 86 70+ $529
Pearl Roadshow RS525SC 88 90+ $499
ddrum D2 85 125+ $399
Ludwig LC175 Accent Drive 87 40+ $399
Gammon Percussion SP5 86 550+ $260

Things to Know Before You Buy a Drum Kit

  • Does it have everything you need?

    One of the things that catches some people out is that they get a bargain price only to find they hadn't bought a complete kit with all the hardware - often the really low prices for a particular model are because it's only a shell set - that means it only contains the drum shells and nothing else.

  • What does the word 'Hardware' mean in acoustic drums?

    You may have seen listings or advertisements that say "all hardware included". What they are referring to is the hardware necessary to hold cymbals, hi-hats, snares, rack-mounted toms and any other percussion items in the kit. Many kits are sold without things like cymbal and snare stands because they're intended for drummers who already have that hardware and it's just the drums by themselves that they want to buy. Sometimes you'll see the phrase 'double braced hardware', this means there are two pieces of metal adding extra strength to the bracing.

  • What does the number of pieces mean?

    Traditionally with acoustic drum kits we count the number of drums as the pieces - cymbals and other items are not included in the count. So when a drum set has a snare, kick drum and 3 toms, this adds up to 5 pieces. This tradition isn't always followed by makers of electronic drum sets who often count any triggering device as a piece including electronic cymbals.

  • Why didn't we include 4-piece or 3-piece kits?

    The standard configuration of a basic drum kit is to have 1 snare, 2 mounted toms, 1 floor tom, and 1 kick drum. This is the best configuration to start out with when you're learning because it's the setup many other kits will have that you'll have to play at times. This is important because drummers often have to share kits at places like drum lessons and in some live performance situations because drums take longer than other instruments to set up and to mic up when that's needed. EG: Many 'battle of the bands' type competitions require bands to share back-line equipment and drum kits.

  • Are tonewoods important?

    Yes, but no. You may have heard things like 'mahogany is better than poplar wood' on the shells of your drums - but the distinctions in tone are subtle and when you're just starting out you probably won't notice much of a difference. Don't go spending extra money on a beginner drum set just to get 'better sounding' wood - just get the best kit you can afford for now and a couple of years down the road you'll develop the ears you need to tell what kinds of wood suit your style of music best.

  • Drum Sticks

    Often these are included when you buy a drum set but not always. They're not very expensive so I recommend buying a couple of sets of different weights - you can get them at Amazon.com.

  • Cymbal Quality

    One of the ways manufacturers are able to produce drum sets at these low prices is by providing only very basic cymbals. The vast majority of people who have bought a beginner set and continued playing drums on an ongoing basis will get new cymbals including hi-hats, crash and ride - this is probably the most common point made in verified customer reviews. You won't find any brand name cymbals such as Zildjian or Sabian included with cheap kits.

  • Drum Sizes

    In this guide we state the diameter first, then the depth. So a 14" x 5.5" snare is 14" in diameter and 5.5" deep. I point this out because sometimes manufacturers and retailers state the measurements the other way around.

Some Helpful Drum Terminology

  • Ply - a ply is a single layer of wood. Drum shells are typically made from multiple layers of wood so a 9 Ply shell means it has 9 layers.
  • Drum Kit vs Drum Set - these terms are essentially interchangeable and mean the same thing at music retailers.
  • Drum Throne vs Drum Stool - drummers sit on thrones, pianists sit on stools - other than that they mean the same thing.
  • Kick Drum vs Bass Drum - in terms of drum sets these terms are also interchangeable and mean the same thing. Technically a kick drum is designed to be used with a kick pedal but there are bass drums not designed for that purpose such as ones you might see played in an orchestra or marching band.
  • Cymbals - Crash, Splash, Ride, Hi-Hats... Hi-hats and Ride cymbals are often played continuously through parts of a song while crash cymbals are used for accent and in fills. Splash cymbals are just smaller, higher pitched versions of crash cymbals. For a basic standard set up you'll want to have hi-hats and at least 1 crash cymbal. Most budget drum sets only come with a single crash or a single combined crash/ride cymbal.
  • Drummer's Key - These are used to loosen and tighten the lugs on your drum heads in order to tune them to the pitch you want. Drum tuning advice is beyond the scope of this guide but here are some helpful references: What You Need to Know About Drum Tuning by Ben Meyer at Modern Drummer, and Drum Tuning by Gene Okamoto of Pearl Corporation. The drum skins often come loose or detached on a new kit so you'll also need the key to properly install/tune them when your kit is delivered.

Methodology

We went through the entire lists of sub $500 drum sets at most of the major online retailers in the USA and selected only the full-sized kits that were complete with all the hardware, including the throne, needed to set up and start playing the moment your new drum kit is delivered. We then narrowed that down to a short list of the most promising 5-piece or larger sets based on their reviews - that came to 12 drum sets we processed using the Gearank Algorithm (at the time of writing 11 sets were available in our public gear database) to produce the independent Gearank scores you see below. To summarize; the criteria for inclusion were that it had to have all hardware necessary and a throne, had to be full-sized which in this case means a 22" Kick/Bass drum, and it had to have a minimum of 5-pieces. For more information about our methodology see How Gearank Works.

The Best Beginner Drum Sets

Pearl Roadshow RS525WFC

86
GEARANK

86 out of 100. Incorporating 70+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$529
Pearl Roadshow RS525WFC 5-Piece Drum Set

Most 5-piece kits have 2 mounted toms and 1 floor tom - the point of difference with the RS525WFC is that it comes with 1 mounted tom and 2 floor toms - the smaller of the two floor toms has a greater diameter than most mounted 2nd toms so it allows for lower tones.

Items Included in this Drum Set:

  • 14" x 6.5" snare
  • 12" x 9" rack tom
  • 14" x 14" floor tom
  • 16" x 16" floor tom
  • 22" x 16" bass drum
  • Cymbal stand w/ 16" Crash/Ride
  • Hi-hat stand w/ 14" Hi-hats
  • Throne
  • 2 pairs of Maple Drum Sticks
  • Pearl Stick Bag
  • Limited 2 Year Warranty

Specifications:

  • 9 Ply 7mm Shells made from Poplar on all drums
  • Double Braced Hardware
  • 1 Ply Coated Snare Drum Head
  • 1 Ply Clear Tom Drum Head
  • 1 Ply Clear Bass Drum Heads with Self-Muffling Rings

Pros

The positive customer reviews say this is a good drum set for the money. The quality of sound from the drums was consistently praised in positive reviews.

Cons

The cymbals got a bit of criticism in both positive and negative reviews with many saying that you'll probably want to change them as you get more experienced.

Overall

If you're looking for something slightly different in terms of tom sizes, and want to stick with a major drum brand, then this is for you.

Pearl Roadshow RS525SC

88
GEARANK

88 out of 100. Incorporating 90+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$499
Pearl Roadshow RS525SC 5-Piece Drum Set - Wine Red

The Pearl Roadshow RS525SC is the highest rated drum set currently selling for less than $500.

This is different from the other Pearl Roadshow kit above having a shallower snare and a higher pitched tom - this kit is more traditional than the other one.

Items Included in this Drum Set:

  • 14" x 5.5" snare
  • 10" x 8" rack tom
  • 12" x 9" rack tom
  • 16" x 16" floor tom
  • 22" x 16" bass drum
  • 16" Crash/Ride cymbal
  • 14" Hi-hats
  • All hardware
  • Drum throne
  • 2 pairs of Maple Drum Sticks
  • Pearl Stick Bag
  • Limited 2 Year Warranty

Specifications:

  • Double Braced Hardware
  • 1 Ply Coated Snare Drum Head
  • 1 Ply Clear Tom Drum Head
  • 1 Ply Clear Bass Drum Heads with Self-Muffling Rings
  • 9 Ply 7mm Shells made from Poplar on all drums

Pros

The quality and sound of the drums were repeatedly praised in customer reviews with many reviewers being drummers themselves rather than parents who bought the kit for a child. The quality of the kick pedal, which is sometimes lacking on budget kits, was cited positively by several reviewers.

Cons

The cymbals were often cited as very basic or low quality - a common complaint with drum sets in this price range. Many people said they replaced the hi-hats with better quality ones after a few months or longer. One person even said the hi-hats were flattening out after only a few months of regular play.

Overall

If you're unsure which kit to get then put this at the top of your list because it comes from one of the biggest brands in drums and it's the highest rated drum set currently selling with a street price under $500.

ddrum D2

85
GEARANK

85 out of 100. Incorporating 125+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$399
ddrum D2 5-Piece Acoustic Drum Set - Bllood Red

This is ddrum's full-sized entry level acoustic drum set - you may see cheaper ddrum kits online but they're compact or junior sized kits.

Items Included in this Drum Set:

  • 14" x 5.5" snare drum
  • 10" x 8" rack tom
  • 12" x 9" rack tom
  • 16" x 14" floor tom
  • 22" x 18" bass drum
  • 16" Crash/Ride Cymbal
  • 14" Hi Hats
  • Throne
  • 6 pairs of drum sticks
  • Stick bag
  • All hardware
  • Limited warranty when you register your purchase.

Specifications:

  • Basswood shells
  • 6 ply toms
  • 8 ply snare
  • 8 ply bass drum
  • Double braced stands

Pros

The overwhelming sentiment in positive (and even some negative) reviews was 'great value for the money' and 'great starter kit'. or words to that effect. Some people reported that they've been using this kit for several years and are still happy with it even though they've replaced some of the hardware and cymbals.

Cons

Many reviewers said the cymbals are something you'll want to replace over time. Some people also said that while the drum heads are good enough for learning and practice, you'll probably want to replace them before you start gigging. A small number of verified customers reported that the crash or hi-hats broke after only a few months of regular play. A few people reported problems with the hardware within the first 12 months of use.

Overall

This is a good value kit recommended for beginners - just be aware that you'll probably be buying new hi-hats and cymbals within 12 months if you really get into drumming.

Ludwig LC175 Accent Drive

87
GEARANK

87 out of 100. Incorporating 40+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$399
Ludwig LC175 Accent Drive 5-Piece Acoustic Drum Set

The Ludwig LC175 Accent Drive is the highest rated drum set under $400.

Items Included in this Drum Set:

  • NB: Drum sticks are NOT included
  • 14" x 6.5" snare drum
  • 10" x 8" rack tom
  • 12" x 9" rack tom
  • 16" x 16" floor tom
  • 22" by 16" kick drum
  • 13" Hi Hats
  • 16" Crash Cymbal
  • Drum throne
  • All Hardware

Specifications:

  • 6 ply poplar shells
  • Double braced hardware

Pros

Several people said in their reviews that this sounds like a more expensive kit. One person said that it didn't come with instructions but found it easy enough to set up without them. There was one person who said it sounded so good after replacing the the drum heads that they used it for recording. The quality of the drums were generally well regarded even by people who didn't like the cymbals or throne.

Cons

A common sentiment in customer reviews was that the cymbals aren't great but good enough for learning on, although there were a few who said the cymbals aren't worth using. One reviewer who had bought both this kit and the Pearl Roadshow RS525SC recommended spending the extra $50 to buy the Pearl kit instead.

Overall

If your budget only stretches to $400 then this is the kit to get - remember that you'll also need to buy drum sticks separately.

Gammon Percussion SP5

86
GEARANK

86 out of 100. Incorporating 550+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$260
Gammon Percussion SP5 Acoustic 5 Piece Drum Set - Black

Gammon isn't yet a well known brand in the music community because they mainly sell beginner gear via large retailers such as Walmart and Amazon rather than traditional music equipment stores.

This particular drum kit of theirs made it into our guide because it has a very high volume of sales based on the number of verified customer reviews it has, and because it has a good Gearank score.

Items Included in this Drum Set:

  • 14" x 5.5 snare
  • 12" x 10" mounted tom with adjustable tilt memory locks
  • 13" x 10" mounted tom with adjustable tilt memory locks
  • 16" x 16" floor tom
  • 22" x 14" 16 lug bass drum
  • 12" hi-hats
  • 14" crash/ride cymbal
  • Chain driven hi-hat stand
  • Double braced snare stand
  • Cymbal stand
  • Chain driven bass drum pedal
  • Throne
  • Drummers key
  • A pair of drum sticks

Specifications:

  • The hardware is only single braced
  • We're awaiting response from the manufacturer on the rest of the drum specs.

Pros

Then general consensus in positive reviews is that the hardware, cymbals and drum heads are not professional quality but are perfectly acceptable as your first practice kit particularly given the very low price it sells at. 'Great value for the money' or words to that effect came up frequently in customer reviews.

Cons

The things that were criticized included issues with both the written and video setup instructions, build quality and sound quality. There was a report from a person who said they weighed 180 pounds and stated that the throne bent under their weight.

Overall

If you're on a tight budget then this is the cheapest full sized drum set we can recommend at this time.

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