So whilst we toyed with including the best jazz drum kits for beginners in our drumming top 10 article, it didn’t last long. Jazz drumming is a different beast and as such has different requirements. The drums aren’t specifically ‘Jazz drums’ they are just an acoustic drum set with a different configuration and normally a smaller setup. For a start, the shells will often be 4-piece packs, not 5-piece as you will not have 2 mounted toms. As you can see, it would have only complicated things to include them and jazz is tough enough as it is. It is hard not to fall in love with jazz and if you here it means you want to be a slick hide-hitter. We have assumed that you may well have drumming or percussive instrument experience and are looking to branch out to jazz. If not and you are picking up the drumsticks for the first time but have your heart set on jazz then that’s fine, we will be walking through the various aspects that make jazz drumming and reviewing the options out there.
Table of Contents
For a rock drummer, everything is set-up to send reverberations down your spine. Heavy sticks, big toms (up to 18″x18″), a booming bass drum (all the way up to 28″) that you feel in your bones, a thick snare and heavy cymbals with a loud crash and defined ping. The object is power and projection. You will see rock drummers hitting hard and sweating profusely, whereas jazz is about minimal action and conservation of energy. Achieving a dynamic range whilst keeping the movement limited to your wrists as much as possible. Jazz is all about a smooth subtlety, a gentle whisper in comparison. Whilst timing is integral with any sort of drumming, jazz has a host of complex beats. This genre will lead you to explore your kit completely, such as aiming off center or holding the hi-hats fractionally open. What makes a jazz drummer is not just speed, but mastering techniques like hi-hat patterns or learning how to feather the bass drum (which is playing a note very lightly where a less advanced player might just miss the note entirely). These ghost notes can be extremely difficult to get the hang of but are impressive once mastered.
You will see many jazz players setting up with an 18″ or 16″ bass drum or even a 14″, as opposed to a 20″ or 22″ which is common for heavier styles of play. This is because it is easier to moderate the volume and blend the low tones. That being said you could use anything from a 14″ kick to a 22″. If you do see a 20 or 22″ with the jazz kits they will usually not be as deep as their rock counterparts. As a jazz rookie you may want to stick with the traditional 16″ or 18″. 14″ wood snares are common as well as 12″ rack toms and 14″ floor. Again this will depend on your style if it is power jazz or fusion. When it comes to importance, the drums pale in comparison to the most defining piece of equipment for jazz drumming – the cymbals (LINK to lower down). The ride cymbal and hi-hats are at the heart of jazz. A great jazz drummer could play a whole piece without ever leaving the cymbals. In fact, the cymbals will replace the job of the snare and tom drum, which are now for the most part just for accents. We will explore what makes good cymbals further down, as well as looking at the drum heads themselves. As well as the equipment you buy, the tuning is incredibly relevant to the sound you will produce. We will not go into details but this video explains the process in a very digestible way. It also demonstrates a technique for ‘closing’ the toms.
These kits are all well-made quality drums with great shells and well tuned. As you progress you can change the set up for your desired sounds but you will get a great sound without tampering too much and so these are great for beginners, not to say that they are ‘beginner’ sets. There are a few cocktail (or bop) sets in this list, but we have tried to avoid any mini bass drums that sound like a glorified box. We have really put emphasis on affordability with this list as these are only shell packs so you will still need to buy the hardware and cymbals! So for any jazz drum enthusiasts, sorry you won’t see any Sakae, Yamaha Hip gig, or Sonor Vintage. For a first time player, this list should be perfect to get you into the swing. So without further delay here are what we consider the best jazz drum sets for beginners.
|Model||Name/ Rating||Summary||Check Price|
Sound Percussion Labs Street Bop
Score: (4.35 / 5)
|Best budget jazz shell pack for beginners|
Ludwig Breakbeats by Questlove
Score: (4.70 / 5)
|Affordable funky 4-piece designed by renowned Ludwig and funkmaster Questlove|
Gretsch CT1J484SWG 2014 Catalina Club
Score: (4.45 / 5)
|Immaculate craftmanship. Stunning finish and sound. Can be used professionally.|
Score: (4.60 / 5)
|Small kit with a big sound. Eye-catching finish. Perefct low tomid-range jazz kit|
Score: (4.40 / 5)
|The boppiest bopper. Small configuration allows for complex and sublte jazz playing|
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|Hardware and cymbals:|
Coming in at the top of our list is the unfathomably affordable jazzy 4-piece bop kit from Sound Percussion Labs. Whilst it may not be able to compete with some of the others on this list when it comes to quality of sound, it is still up there and with a change of heads could easily be used for gigging. As a shell pack, you will still need to buy the cymbals and stands (as with all jazz sets) but factoring that in you still aren’t going to be breaking the bank. At this price you aren’t going to be expecting DW or Sonor Vintage quality, but you are still getting a lot of drum all for under $300! High quality at a low cost.
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Ludwig have teamed up with the king of groove, Questlove to create this funky 4-piece set at a fraction of the size of their full-size kits, but with all of the kick. This compact kit is great for small apartments or studios and is extremely portable. Ludwig Breakbeats by Questlove is the only set to find its way into our top 10 acoustic kits, jazz and kids (with their junior ‘Pocket’ model) reviews which is a testament to what they have created. High-quality kit at a low-end price. Overall an extremely affordable kit that lives up to its vision (and for only $10 more you get a Tama throne with this combo!)
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It may only have just made into our top 3, but it is number one for sound and style. Gretsch are world renowned for their quality and the Catalina Club Jazz is proof of that. Stopping it from taking the top spot was cost. Whilst it is worth every penny and in fact great value for money, it is a good couple hundred of dollars more than our top 2 and so when you add in the cost of the cymbals and hardware it is not the ideal first-time buyer kit. If you have the budget and the vision then you will be over the moon with what you get in the Gretsch Catalinas.
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Just missing out on our top 3 is a kit by Sonor, who started off the bop and compact kit revolution and since then have been manufacturing quality kits of small stature but big sound. Given the quality of the Sonor Safari and the sound that they produce you will be shocked that they come in under $500. This compact kit is perfect for drummers who are looking to start swinging – easy to move and hard to miss, with a stunning black Galaxy sparkle (our favorite) or red sparkle finish, these eye-catching drums can be used for practice as well as gigging and will easily fit into the back of a car.
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Completing our list is another kit from the creators of bebop, Sonor. Just like buses, you wait for one and then 2 come along at once. The Martini model makes it to this list in its own right being the boppiest of all the boppers. With the bass measuring up at 14″ x 12″ you would be tempted to think this belongs in the junior category, but don’t be deceived by its small size, it’s the real deal. With a bass that produces a controlled complex thud, it brings something new to the table small stature with a rich tone. These drums are smooth, sensitive and subtle….shaken, not stirred. At the same price as the Ludwig Breakbeats, they more than ask the question: What are you looking for in your first kit?
As mentioned above these are the heart and soul of any jazz drum player and in fact played well will get the whole band swinging. They are tough to master so be sure to check out this video.
As we mentioned at the start of this article the cymbals are as important, if not more, than the drums themselves when it comes to jazz drumming. They replace the traditional roles of the snare and toms and become the focal point of any piece your playing, as the rhythm is played mostly on the ride or even hi-hats whilst the drums themselves are mainly for accents. As such it is important to have the right hi-hats and ride/crash cymbals. Just as there is no such thing as a ‘jazz drum’ there is no such thing as a jazz cymbal but there are certainly some that are better than others. One thing to remember is that you want your cymbals to complement the people that you are playing with. If you are playing with a big band then you would want the cymbals with more projection, but if dueting in a softer situation then you would, for example, want to use a flat ride cymbal so you don’t cut through them. Starting out you shouldn’t worry too much about this and just concentrate on yourself.
As a beginner, we would usually recommend trying to pick up a complete cheap pack of cymbals and not spending too much as firstly it is unnecessary at this stage and secondly you may change your mind on what you want. However, with jazz, we understand that having the right ride is critical and so you don’t want any old rock cymbals. You will only need hi-hats and one ride cymbal to start playing jazz, so don’t waste your money at this stage on a crash as often the ride can double up as a crash. Some of these cymbals will be higher end and we have included them on our list to show you the best. If going for the higher end as a learner, we would strongly recommend buying used! Unlike drums, it is easy to buy cymbals 2nd hand as you can easily see their condition. Check out eBay or Guitar Center.
Possibly the most important of all of a jazz drummers equipment is the ride cymbal. Whilst you may change your hi-hats, snare or toms, a jazz drummer will usually stick with their ride cymbal for life once they find one they love, which is why it is so important to find the right one. It should sound clear and colorful and have a good crash. Most importantly for acoustic jazz you will want it to sound dark. As such we would recommend a 22” where possible. A 20” will be absolutely fine as it is a standard jazz ride and it is cheaper than the 22”, but the 22” is darker. Here are some more affordable rides that you can upgrade as you advance.
This solid entry-level ride cymbal, made by world-renowned cymbal makers Zildjian, is perfect for a jazz first timer. The 22″ is only $20 more than the 20″ and the difference in sound is pronounced, the 22″ being darker, so we would recommend the bigger size. Overall its sound is clean with decent definition, fairly precise tones and good dynamics and whilst maybe it produces more overtones than you would like, it is overall a dark, warm cymbal that doesn’t feel too budget. When compared to say the similarly priced Sabian B8 20″ ride which feels cheap and dull, at the same price, the Zildjian ZBT stands out.
At this price, this 20″ ride is a bargain. Produced by the reputable Meinl this cymbal is a perfect first jazz ride cymbal. The cymbal has a nice tone and not too many unwanted overtones. The bell whilst it lacks a little in volume is bright overall. Whilst you shouldn’t expect too much from this cymbal, at this price point it is more than adequate to get you going and cheap enough that you won’t mind replacing it in a few months.
Paiste are famous for making class cymbals and are usually higher end. In fact, you won’t be able to get a 22″ of theirs for less than $250-$300, however in the 20″ PST you get a compromise, a quality yet affordable cymbal which is suitable for jazz. It may be a little brighter than you would like, but it is has a big sound and is more than fine for your first cymbal. In fact, a medium 20″ can be easier to control for a first-time player so this may suit you more than the Zildjian, especially if you want to play in big band eventually.
Let us start by saying that this is in no way a beginners cymbal. This is pro level and even used it may be a bit over budget, but this here to give you the idea of what to go for if you want to buy used. With a dark ping, beautifully warm overtones and an incredible bell which is loud and well toned this is the perfect ride for jazz. The definition is incredible and overall a crisp sound with only the desired overtones. Check out Guitar Center where you can usually pick up a good used cymbal that will have been quality tested.
Next up we have another ride that as a first-time player you should not be buying but can try looking around for 2nd hand. Even then it still may be a bit over budget, but if you manage to grab one of these you won’t be sorry. A beautifully crafted high-end cymbal which is wonderfully dark but warm. We aren’t going to say much more than this, but as a jazz player, if you are able to pick this up on the cheap then do it. Again if buying used check out local music centers or online stores such as Guitar Center, (which we mentioned before) where you can usually pick up a good used cymbal that will have been quality tested.
Last up is one last ride to make you salivate. Versatile and great as a crash this wonderfully crafted ride by Sabian is dark, surprisingly heavy and with a bright bell. We won’t go into too much detail with these high-end cymbals but they should give you an idea of what’s out there. If you are looking for just a standard set of cymbals as you want the flexibility of jazz drumming as well as other genres then you may want to pick up a more standard cymbal pack.
Hi-hats are not cheap, after all, you are buying 2 cymbals and so we are not going to review any hear. What we would say is look for a 2nd hand pair of 14″ hats, as we think they are the easiest size to get along with and get a good sound. It can be easy to go for 12″ but we would say avoid them, if necessary get 13″ but aim for 14″ as they will produce a darker sound which is what you will want. The thins are durable and dynamic and you will get a good range out of them. You should be able to pick up a used pair at a decent price.
If you are happy with used, which we would recommend as you get more cymbal for your dollar, then we would suggest: the nifty Meinl 14″ Byzance Jazz thins or a pair from Bosphorous such as the dark, dry and controlled Bosphorus Cymbals K14HD 14-Inch Turk Series Hi-Hat Cymbals Pair.
A video earlier in this article demonstrated closing the tom. This video from Jeff Hamilton does the same but for the hi-hat:
In fact, we would highly recommend you watch a few of Jeff’s videos as they are incredible lessons from a master of jazz.
You may just want to stick with a fully assembled set for the first few months and not start changing the skins until you know what sound you are looking for, but if you are intent on changing them now then you want to by looking at single ply or coated heads. Jazz heads are tuned high and so these heads will best serve this. Stay away from double-layered heads as they will take away the jazzy tonal and quality. Whilst, in general, most heads you get with the shell packs listed above are more than fine, if you really want to change then we would recommend the coated Remo Ambassadors for your toms which you can pick up cheaply, just check that you are getting the right size. Another good pack is the Evans G2 Tompack, Coated, Fusion pack. Both will serve you well.
Finally, this brings us on to the drumsticks. You don’t want to buy all of this incredible gear and then bash away at it with a heavy metal stick. Ignoring brushes, for now, the actual sticks you will use should be 7A. If you want thicker we would suggest not going thicker than a 5A. What you use to play is as important as the rest and we have reviewed the sticks available with all the other drumstick reviews.
So before you buy a set, especially if you a first-time drummer, we would recommend getting yourself a practice pad first just to practice basic techniques and rudiments. You can progress to jazz beats at which point you may then want to look at getting one of these sets. However, start by picking yourself up inexpensive new or used regular set to practice on and just upgrade the ride cymbal and hi-hats as these will be the most important bits. As a complete rookie drummer, you don’t want to start on these, simply because they aren’t cheap! If your heart is set on it then we have tried to include a couple of kits that are pretty affordable and great beginner kits. They are perfect for a beginner as they are compact and portable, two things that are pretty invaluable when you start out in small practice spaces and on the move. When you do progress you should look into this book with advanced techniques.