How important are high-end/expensive shells?

rrv24

Member
I know this is a slightly tricky topic to discuss without getting into specifics, but as I'm looking up recording equipment I'm wondering - how much better are "high end" shells than mid-range ones that share the same wood, and seeing it's easier to make a mid-range drum kit sound "better" with good heads and tuning, how do you find the best balance between investing in drums vs microphones?

For ex: The Gretsch Catalina Maple and the Pearl Music City Custom both use maple shells, but they're clearly in different tiers - can someone explain to me what the value of more expensive shells is?
 
Well, some drums use maple, others use "maple" (aka some cheaper alternative). But to be fair the bigger difference in terms of the shells will usually be in the quality of the bearing edges (which affect how the heads sit on the shell and have a big impact on how easy the drum is to tune, how wide the tuning range, as well as having an effect on how many and what kind of overtones you get). Cheap drums can have really bad edges sometimes (they just CNC them in batches and hope for the best), but on high-end kits typically they will take the time to ensure they are true and consistent.

If you get the Catalina's edges touched up by a reputable drum shop, you'll have a solid kit.

Also, better drums might have better hardware on it, which can help stay in tune better. Cheaper drums will have thinner counter hoops (1.6mm instead of 2.3mm), which they will sell as being "more open sounding" but on toms I mostly find them to subdue the attack and loosen the focus. Pearl is also know to cheap out and put only 6 lugs a size on cheaper 16" floor toms (namely the Decade series) which is just not enough lugs for this large of a drum, especially combined with the thin hoops.

But the biggest difference when talking about truly high end kits is the customizability. When you buy a Catalina, you have a specific limited selection of sizes and colors (e.g. I like a 22x14 kick, they don't make that in Cat). With high end kits you can start having way more options, even being able to choose different lug styles, as well as fancier exotic finishes. You can custom order something truly to your liking, something one of a kind (if you're patient). That does not mean it will sound better though.

The mid-range is where it's at. Limited options but great quality.
 

rrv24

Member
Well, some drums use maple, others use "maple" (aka some cheaper alternative). But to be fair the bigger difference in terms of the shells will usually be in the quality of the bearing edges (which affect how the heads sit on the shell and have a big impact on how easy the drum is to tune, how wide the tuning range, as well as having an effect on how many and what kind of overtones you get). Cheap drums can have really bad edges sometimes (they just CNC them in batches and hope for the best), but on high-end kits typically they will take the time to ensure they are true and consistent.

If you get the Catalina's edges touched up by a reputable drum shop, you'll have a solid kit.

Also, better drums might have better hardware on it, which can help stay in tune better. Cheaper drums will have thinner counter hoops (1.6mm instead of 2.3mm), which they will sell as being "more open sounding" but on toms I mostly find them to subdue the attack and loosen the focus. Pearl is also know to cheap out and put only 6 lugs a size on cheaper 16" floor toms (namely the Decade series) which is just not enough lugs for this large of a drum, especially combined with the thin hoops.

But the biggest difference when talking about truly high end kits is the customizability. When you buy a Catalina, you have a specific limited selection of sizes and colors (e.g. I like a 22x14 kick, they don't make that in Cat). With high end kits you can start having way more options, even being able to choose different lug styles, as well as fancier exotic finishes. You can custom order something truly to your liking, something one of a kind (if you're patient). That does not mean it will sound better though.

The mid-range is where it's at. Limited options but great quality.
This is all good to know, thanks!
I have a friend who works at a shop who said he'd be able to check all the edges on a kit I buy before shipping it out, which is something I was quite tempted by...

The reason being, I'm looking to make a big upgrade, but I'm not super fussed about custom lugs or finishes, and if I can find the right sizes for the drums, I'd much rather save money on the kit and invest in higher quality microphones, since I plan on doing a lot of recording. The customizability of each drum would be nice for sure, but again, if I find the right configuration at a lower cost, it sounds like I don't really need to spend big on an expensive kit.

I've certainly been keeping an eye on hardware, that's probably what I'm the most picky about over anything else haha, but Gretsch seems fairly alright in that regard. I'm not fixed on the Catalina specifically, but I'm pretty confident that I'll be able to find what I need without needing to order a custom kit.
 

lefty2

Platinum Member
Yes what SnickSound said. I like the mid rang kits just as well as the high end kits. Right now I own a 1988 Yamaha Tour Custom kit, a 2003 Tama Starclassic Performer kit and a 2019 Ludwig Club Date kit. Over the yrs I've put good heads on some really cheap drums and made them sound great.
As mentioned earlier they might not stay in tune, and have a smaller tuning range but they can sound real good. The current mid range drums are much much better than they were in 70s and early 80s. It seems like it was the mid 80s when the mid range drums started getting better, and now they're real good IMO. So unless you go really cheap I don't think the shell maters much, good heads tuning and mics will make the difference.
 
This is all good to know, thanks!
I have a friend who works at a shop who said he'd be able to check all the edges on a kit I buy before shipping it out, which is something I was quite tempted by...

The reason being, I'm looking to make a big upgrade, but I'm not super fussed about custom lugs or finishes, and if I can find the right sizes for the drums, I'd much rather save money on the kit and invest in higher quality microphones, since I plan on doing a lot of recording. The customizability of each drum would be nice for sure, but again, if I find the right configuration at a lower cost, it sounds like I don't really need to spend big on an expensive kit.

I've certainly been keeping an eye on hardware, that's probably what I'm the most picky about over anything else haha, but Gretsch seems fairly alright in that regard. I'm not fixed on the Catalina specifically, but I'm pretty confident that I'll be able to find what I need without needing to order a custom kit.

If I needed to go out today and buy a solid and good sounding kit that will last me a while, and I didn't care about brand or how it looks, I would pick up a Yamaha Tour Custom in a heartbeat. Unlike the Stage Custom, it has maple shells, 2.3mm hoops, 10-lugs a side on kick, etc. It's just better all around. The downside is very basic satin finishes in limited colors... and I don't like how their tom holders look (but will never doubt their quality or range of motion).

In fact, you can watch this video that goes through all the Yamaha range so you can hear for yourself what the differences are:
You'll notice the biggest jump is from the Stage Custom to the Tour Custom, and to be fair it's probably mostly because you jump from cheap heads to proper Remo heads (the Tour Custom ships with "real heads").
I do like the added "weight" to the sound of the Live Custom (and the really cool finishes), but would never be able to justify the extra cost.

I gigged with a friend that has a brand new Recording Custom recently (3-4 times the price of a Tour Custom), it... sounded like a drum. If I'm honest though, I was impressed at how loud and powerful it sounded unmic'd even outside (many quality drums sound fairly weak outside until you mic them).

I found that the biggest difference with quality kits, soundwise, is the "envelope" of the sound. The clarity of the attack, the consistency of the decay. With a cheap drum, you need to do a bit more studio trickery (compression, transient manipulators, sample augmentation, etc) to get them to sit right in the mix. A good drum, you just put mics to it and bam you have "that" sound.
 

Vintage Old School

Gold Member
I have to agree that if the shell is in round and they have quality bearing edges then the single biggest factor in quality of sound will be head selection and tuning.

The second factor in sound comes from the way you hit the drum. I remember reading a story about Matt Chamberlain being in the recording studio for a project. Jim Keltner was down the hall at the same studio and popped in to shoot the breeze with Matt. Jim asked Matt if it would be okay if he played his kit to which Matt responded "Sure!" The one thing that Matt immediately noticed was hearing his own drums an octave lower by the way Jim was hitting them.
 

RichFaulk

Active Member
Exactly what kind of shells you're looking for in terms of dimensions and materials will make a difference, especially if you're looking to build out a large shell bank. If you want to go maple, try Sonor AQ2 (yes, I'm shilling for it again). They offer 3 rack tom sizes, 3 floor tom sizes, 3 snares and 5 kicks and is an unbeatable value for the build quality, hardware, etc. Limited finishes tho.
 

mikyok

Platinum Member
In terms of quality control the bearing edges on the budget kits offered by the big companies are very good nowadays. Just tends to be quality of the wood but good heads on a cheap kit work miracles.

As for mics get a good kick mic as standard. How you mic the rest of the kit up is entirely up to you and a rabbit hole you have to go down yourself.
 
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DrummerJustLikeDad

Active Member
Your question asks after 'importance' related to price. What real value comes with the expensive kits? And I think as with most things, that's to be found in the human component rather than in the materials themselves.

The craftsman's precision and care in his drum-building is where dollars will buy you the important things in drums. I'm speaking of true edges, I'm speaking of zero wobble or daylight on the table top, I'm speaking of finishes if that's important to you.

From there, price justification comes in (Again, as with most things) with the degree to which you're able to customize, getting exactly what you want: finishes, sizes, groupings, etc.

Therefore, getting your value out of high-dollar expenditures means knowing first what you really want.
 

classikdrummr

Active Member
Yes what SnickSound said. I like the mid rang kits just as well as the high end kits. Right now I own a 1988 Yamaha Tour Custom kit, a 2003 Tama Starclassic Performer kit and a 2019 Ludwig Club Date kit. Over the yrs I've put good heads on some really cheap drums and made them sound great.
As mentioned earlier they might not stay in tune, and have a smaller tuning range but they can sound real good. The current mid range drums are much much better than they were in 70s and early 80s. It seems like it was the mid 80s when the mid range drums started getting better, and now they're real good IMO. So unless you go really cheap I don't think the shell maters much, good heads tuning and mics will make the difference.
Agree. I have a very old Tama Superstar Birch kit and Put Evans EC2's and a Remo Black Dot head on it and Wow it sounds great! Good Heads are huge help. My New Kit is a Starclassic Walnut /birch kit and it sounds killer with Evans heads.
 
In terms of quality control the bearing edges on the budget kits offered by the big companies are very good nowadays. Just tends to be quality of the wood but good heads on a cheap kit work miracles.

As for mics get a good kick mic as standard. How you mic the rest of the kit up is entirely up to you and a rabbit hole you have to go down yourself.

I bought a brand new Sonor AQX Jazz kit this year that had the worst factory edges I've ever seen. My older Sonor SE Player was custom shop quality in comparison. We're talking wrinkles in the floor tom head you can't get out unless you tune ridiculously high, and a visibly inconsistent edge placement (the peak part moving in relation to the shell itself, and placing the shells on a flat surface you didn't need a light to see that it wasn't true).

Maybe it was a dud, I don't know, it turned me off the budget offerings of the brand and I just returned it. I have the tools to fix bearing edges, but I figured if they messed it up that bad, what else did they mess up?

I remember seeing a thread over here of someone who bought a different size AQX kit and had a similar issue.

The fit and finish and wrap job were superb though, kit looked killer!

I hear the issue is they are cut on a CNC instead of by hand on a router table. In theory a CNC would ensure perfect consistency, the problem is we're working with wood here, which is anything but consistent. You rarely get a perfectly round shell, computers are not so good at dealing with the randomness of natural material.
 

Kodeus

Junior Member
High end shells are not nearly as important as high end or pro level cymbals in my opinion. Mid level kits have come a long way, especially in todays market. With the technology used in todays manufacturing it is easier to get a good product for less money. Mid range kits are the bread and butter of most local music scenes and I have seen a lot of them in action with fantastic results. Under a decent mic sometimes it is near impossible to tell it is a mid range kit. Live or on a studio recording. Nice heads, good tuning and decent technique go a long long way.
 

T_Kauff

Member
The quick answer is, If you are a studio drummer that records on a professional level, it matters a lot. if your kit is in the garage or bedroom, not so much.
 
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harryconway

Platinum Member
Well, what do the pro's use ...... you've probably heard these drums ...... not saying you need to buy THIS shell pack, but ..... these drums have been used by ......

"Tony Williams, Charlie Watts, Jeff
Porcaro, Vinnie Coluata, Phil Collins, Steve Ferrone, Bernard Purdie, Gerry Brown, Steve Jordan, Mickey Curry, Harvey Mason, Jim Gordon, John Guerin, Russ Kunkel, Carlos Vega, Andy Newmark, Mick Fleetwood, Narda Michael Walden, Cindy Blackman Santana, Denny Carmassi, Richie Hayward (Little Feat), Joe Vitale, Ricky Lawson, Michael Bland, Chad Cromwell. David Northrup (Travis Tritt), Larry London,Chris Layton, Alex Gonzales (Mana), Nick Mason, (Pink Floyd), Mitch Mitchell, Rolling Stones, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Lady GaGa, Mark Ronson, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Guns & Roses, Prince, Toto, Steve Wonder, Lionel Richie, Santana, Boz Scaggs, Huey Lewis & the News, Doobie Brothers, George Duke, Frank Zappa, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Mariah Carey, Chicago, Rod Stewart, Joe Cocker, Bob Seger, John Mayer, Cheap Trick, Return to Forever, Ray Parker jr, CSN&Y, Brian Adams, Bob Clearmountain, Alan Sydes, The; Academy Awards, Emmy Awards, Grammy Awards, Don Kirschner's Rock Concert, Midnight Special, Tonight Show, Jimmy Kimmel, Oprah, The View ......" and many more ....

 

mikyok

Platinum Member
I bought a brand new Sonor AQX Jazz kit this year that had the worst factory edges I've ever seen. My older Sonor SE Player was custom shop quality in comparison. We're talking wrinkles in the floor tom head you can't get out unless you tune ridiculously high, and a visibly inconsistent edge placement (the peak part moving in relation to the shell itself, and placing the shells on a flat surface you didn't need a light to see that it wasn't true).

Maybe it was a dud, I don't know, it turned me off the budget offerings of the brand and I just returned it.

That's just poor from Sonor if they let that slip through quality control.

I had a Pearl Midtown where the bearing edges had no problems whatsoever. Just put some quality heads on it and it went all over the country gigging without one problem at all.
 

Mediocrefunkybeat

Platinum Member
When you consider that the vast majority of drums are plywood and the proportion of glue to wood is significant, the actual wood species is very low on the list of factors that go into the sound of a drum. Much higher up the list are bearing edges, heads and hoops. The parts that are either being hit or directly acting on the bit that's being hit. Construction and species have a bigger impact on non-ply drums but it's still low on the list.

Drummers love to sit there and talk about whether their kit is 'maple' or 'birch', etc. but in reality you may as well be talking about the type of glue in the shell and nobody mentions that, even though it's a proportionally huge part of its construction.

In short, drums sound like drums. Well-made drums sound good when tuned properly. Poorly-made drums are less likely to sound good either way.
 

RichFaulk

Active Member
Well, what do the pro's use ...... you've probably heard these drums ...... not saying you need to buy THIS shell pack, but ..... these drums have been used by ......

"Tony Williams, Charlie Watts, Jeff
Porcaro, Vinnie Coluata, Phil Collins, Steve Ferrone, Bernard Purdie, Gerry Brown, Steve Jordan, Mickey Curry, Harvey Mason, Jim Gordon, John Guerin, Russ Kunkel, Carlos Vega, Andy Newmark, Mick Fleetwood, Narda Michael Walden, Cindy Blackman Santana, Denny Carmassi, Richie Hayward (Little Feat), Joe Vitale, Ricky Lawson, Michael Bland, Chad Cromwell. David Northrup (Travis Tritt), Larry London,Chris Layton, Alex Gonzales (Mana), Nick Mason, (Pink Floyd), Mitch Mitchell, Rolling Stones, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Lady GaGa, Mark Ronson, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Guns & Roses, Prince, Toto, Steve Wonder, Lionel Richie, Santana, Boz Scaggs, Huey Lewis & the News, Doobie Brothers, George Duke, Frank Zappa, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Mariah Carey, Chicago, Rod Stewart, Joe Cocker, Bob Seger, John Mayer, Cheap Trick, Return to Forever, Ray Parker jr, CSN&Y, Brian Adams, Bob Clearmountain, Alan Sydes, The; Academy Awards, Emmy Awards, Grammy Awards, Don Kirschner's Rock Concert, Midnight Special, Tonight Show, Jimmy Kimmel, Oprah, The View ......" and many more ....

I didn't even know Mariah Carey played the drums.
 

averageguy

Junior Member
You're likely going to get greatly varied opinions on this one, but all I can say is I believe you can easily get a great sound in the studio (and live also) with an intermediate kit so long as the heads are top tier and they're tuned properly. I did a demo years ago (probably 2008) with a set of Tama Rockstar Custom Fusion drums. This was by no means a high end kit. I used it for gigging because my high end Birch Tama kit was bigger in size/s and for the demo I didn't want to lug it all in there. This was recorded in a 24 track digital studio mind you. Now, I realize everything has changed much since then technologically speaking, but even then I was blown away by how good the Tama Rockstar Custom Fusions sounded on the demo. I used Aquarian drumheads batter and reso side/s. I still have the demo on cd to this day, and I've let many musicians (including drummers) over the years listen to it. Never once have I seen a weird look on anyone's face that would imply the drums didn't sound good while listening. When I bought this kit around 04' I asked my guitarist/singer how they sounded out front to him in rehearsals shortly after buying the kit, and I'll never forget what he told me. He said that the only real difference he could tell (from my high end birch kit that he had been used to hearing mind you) was the Rockstar Custom Fusion kit was not quite as loud, but other than that he said he couldn't really tell any difference. If you're wondering my birch high end kit had HUGE sized power toms and bass drums as my father (generously) bought if for me in the late 80's when that was what was in vogue. To me the biggest difference between the intermediate kits and the high end stuff is the hardware. This is where the rubber meets the road in my view. I'm not saying a Gretsch Catalina Maple will sound as good as a DW Collector's, but with top flight heads and proper tuning, especially if mic'd in a studio or live, I don't think the difference will be nearly as significant as many might think it would be. My 2 cents.
 

JimmyM

Platinum Member
I have a high end Ludwig kit and a beginner Ddrum set. Other than the snares, I think they both sound good. Different but good. I wouldn’t have a problem recording either, really. And if I had to, I could live with the Ddrum snare now that I have done a little work to it. Still, if I were recording, I would bring the Ludwigs. However the drummer in my current band uses Tama Superstars with a Supra, and gets a fantastic sound.
 
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