Is it Worth Buying Custom Drums?

custom drum set

If you’re looking to upgrade your drum set, you might be wondering if it’s worth shelling out for a bespoke drum set instead of a mass-produced ‘off the shelf’ kit.

Every musician seeks a unique sound and a personalized touch that reflects their style. While off-the-shelf drum sets offer a wide range of options, some drummers turn to the world of custom drums in search of an instrument that perfectly matches their vision.

In this article, I’ll share everything you need to know about custom drums to help you make an informed decision about whether or not they are worth buying. We’ll explore the pros and cons, and delve into the realm of customization options too.

What are Custom Drums?

Custom drum manufacturers offer bespoke products to customers that have specific requests for shell sizes, shell depths, wood types, lugs, bearing edges, hardware options, and colors, not to mention many more.

Custom drums are individually designed, built, and tailored drum sets created to meet the specific preferences of a drummer.

Because custom drum companies make individual drum sets based on someone’s specific requests; there will generally be a fairly long production process. They often take a long time to hand-make, and therefore are also expensive to order.

What Can Be Customized With Custom Drums?

When it comes to custom drums, there are various aspects that can be customized:

  • Shell Construction: Drummers can choose the type of wood, such as maple, birch, or mahogany for the drum shells. Different woods produce distinct tones and characteristics.
  • Drum Sizes: Custom drums allow musicians to select the dimensions of each drum in their set, including the diameter and depth. This customization can affect the overall sound and playability of the drums.
  • Finishes and Wraps: Drummers have the opportunity to select the finishes or wraps that adorn the drum shells. From classic lacquer finishes to vibrant wraps, customization options are extensive.
  • Hardware and Components: The hardware components, such as lugs, hoops, tension rods, and mounts, can be personalized in terms of design, material, and finish.
  • Branding and Artwork: Custom drums provide the option to add personal branding to the drum shells or drum heads, making them unique and visually striking.

What are Off-the-Shelf Drums?

Off-the-shelf drums refer to drum sets that are readily available for purchase from manufacturers or music retailers without any customization. These drums are pre-designed, mass-produced, and come in standard configurations that cater to a wide range of drummers’ needs.

Large drum manufacturers such as Pearl, Drum Workshop, Tama, Ludwig, and Mapex are multinational corporations that produce a huge array of products, not only drums, but also percussion, hardware, and more.

These companies produce such a diverse range of products, and within each separate category, they offer drums to cater to different budgets and ability levels.

We’ll make a direct comparison between custom drums and the flagship ranges of large drum manufacturers.

How Expensive are Custom Drum Sets?

Custom drums for the most part are going to be very expensive. Even the largest custom drum companies such as Craviotto and Q Drum Co are going to cost you well over $7,000 for a 5 piece drum set shell pack with a snare drum. This price can be significantly higher if you opt for enhanced extras such as wood hoops or reinforcement rings.

The flagship ranges of top mass-produced drum manufacturers such as Pearl, Tama, Drum Workshop, Mapex, and Ludwig will also be expensive, but not quite as much.

A professional 5 piece drum set shell pack will set you back around $4500 (including a snare drum) new. Examples of high spec drum sets are the Pearl Reference, Tama Starclassic, and DW Collectors that will set you back this money.

Are Custom Drums Worth It?

Ultimately, whether or not purchasing custom drums is worth it for you depends on many factors including your budget, playing preferences, and and the significance you attach to customization and uniqueness.

Pros of Custom Drums:

  • Personalization: Custom drums offer the opportunity to tailor every aspect of the instrument to your preferences. From selecting the wood type for the shells to choosing the finishes, sizes, and hardware, customization allows you to create a drum set that perfectly suits your style and sound preferences.

  • Unique Sound: Custom drum sets can provide a unique and distinct sound that sets you apart from other drummers. The choice of materials, such as unique wood types or shell constructions, can influence the tone and overall sonic characteristics of the drums.

  • Visual Appeal: Custom drums not only sound great but can also be visually stunning. With options to choose custom finishes, wraps, and artwork, you can create a drum set that reflects your personality and stands out on stage.

Cons of Custom Drums:

  • Higher Price: A significant drawback of custom drums is their higher price point compared to off-the-shelf drum kits. Customization is what contributes to the increased cost.

  • Longer Wait Time: Custom drums are typically made to order, which means there can be a waiting period before you receive your customized instrument. If you’re in immediate need of a drum set, the longer wait time for custom drums might not be ideal.

  • Limited Resale Value: They may not retain their value as well as some mass-produced drum kits. Customization can make it challenging to find buyers who share the same preferences in terms of sound and appearance.

How Do Drum Companies Make Their Shells?

Pearl Drum Set

Large drum manufacturers benefit from many years of experience and are consistently improving their product ranges and features whilst testing and developing new models behind the scenes.

If you are buying a drum set from a music store from a well-known brand like Pearl, Tama, or DW, you are purchasing a drum set that has been engineered and designed to exact specifications and is then produced in large quantities for stock to then be distributed to retailers around the world.

Each of these companies source their own woods, and then design and create their own drum shells to their exact specifications, using their own individual methods. Pearl uses a ‘Superior Shell Technology’ system with over 1000 PSI of hydraulic pressure to bond the plies together and form a quality shell.

Some Custom Drum Brands Outsource Shells

Some of the largest American custom drum manufacturers purchase their shells pre-made from a supplier. They don’t source the wood and the shells themselves. What these companies specialize in is applying unique and vibrant finishes such as lacquers, satin stains, and wraps.

This isn’t to mean that because some custom drum makers don’t make their own shells they don’t sound good. Because they do! The drummers of some of the most popular bands in the world play custom drums that are all sourced from the same supplier – Keller shells. And these drum kits all sound amazing live.

Josh Dun of Twenty One Pilots, Dan Searle of Architects, and Tre Cool of Green Day all play SJC Drums, and you can guarantee that these drummers will blow the crowd away with each live performance!

Large custom drum manufacturers that purchase their shells pre-made from Keller shells are still producing kits to order, but I would class these companies as ‘boutique’ drum companies as opposed to custom drum makers that build their kits from scratch.

What are the Best Custom Drums to Buy?

Many drummers, myself included, believe that the best sounding custom drums are hand-built from scratch with solid shells. There are fantastic drum companies around the world, including Brady drums from Australia, Craviotto from the USA, and Guru drums from the UK, just to name a few.

These handmade instruments are crafted from a variety of exotic hardwoods with lots of skill and precision. I have been fortunate enough to play instruments handmade by all of these companies; and their quality is truly exceptional.

The pièce de résistance of these companies is a solid stave shell snare drum – this will certainly set you back a lot of money. But you will certainly be rewarded with both a magnificent sounding and looking drum. 

Traditional solid shell craftsmanship cannot be mass-produced, and therefore they possess a truly defined quality that cannot be replicated by large drum companies. These are the true custom drums, as opposed to boutique drum manufacturers.

What About Vintage Gear?

Something I haven’t mentioned yet is the huge appeal for vintage drum equipment. Classic drums are rare, desirable, and have a true warmth to their sound. Classic drums have more rounded bearing edges and produce really amazing sounds.

Vintage Ludwig, Sonor, Leedy, and Rogers drums (just to name a few) are collector’s items and are not the most affordable drums around. But you can find some good deals on used markets like Drum Sellers if you know what you’re looking for!

Vintage drums are also particularly interesting because some kits are so desirable and rare, that they can even increase in value – just like classic cars!

Final Thoughts

If you prioritize having an instrument that suits your specific requirements and are willing to invest in a higher-priced, one-of-a-kind drum set, then custom drums may be worth the expense.

If you are looking for an alternative to big brands, and you are looking for a personalized instrument that is lovingly handmade from individually sourced woods and then made to your exact specifications, a true custom drum maker is where you will want to take your money. But just a forewarning, you will need a lot of cash!

On the other hand, if budget constraints or immediate availability are significant factors, exploring reputable off-the-shelf drum kits from established brands can still provide excellent quality and performance.

You are limited to a selection of choices of colors, sizes, and stock hardware. But also offer excellent value, and great customer service, as these large drum manufacturers are upheld by a long lasting reputation, from which you can expect from their products.

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