Five Complete Kits Under $1,000
As drummers, we are obsessed with numbers. We endlessly practice in groupings of 1, 2, and 3 — often on 4- and 5-piece kits. Once we reach age 16, we load our drums into our cars for gigs. By 18 or 21 (depending on where we live), we start playing at bars and clubs — or at least stop sneaking in through the back door. The speed demons among us aspire to play double bass at 200 bpm (good luck!) and 1,200 single strokes with our hands in 60 seconds (again, good luck!).
In the year 2012, industry insiders say there is a new magic number on drummers’ minds: 1,000 — in particular, the $1,000 price point. This number represents the barrier below which many drummers are willing to hand over the cash for a new kit. At NAMM this year, I had an “I can’t complain about this” assignment that involved another number: five. The pages that follow consider five newly available sub-$1,000 (street price) drums-plus-hardware offerings from Gretsch, Sonor, Pearl, PDP/DW, and DrumCraft that, while lacking many full-professional-level features, are real-live instruments, not toys.
These kits all have a few things in common. They are made in Asia. They use poplar and/or birch — poplar shells (Gretsch and Sonor); birch/poplar hybrid shells (Pearl); or 100 percent birch shells (PDP and DrumCraft). They all come with single-chain bass drum pedals but no drum thrones. They’re all outfitted with Asian-made (not quite professional) drumheads. For the latter reason, these reviews focus more on specs and features than sound, which can alter substantially with head choice. For the most part, these kits already sound good or very good with cheap heads, but they would almost certainly sound better with professional heads. But that might tip them over that magic number.
Gretsch Energy Series
The Energy series comes with Sabian SBR cymbals and Gretsch’s iconic teardrop lugs.
The Gretsch Energy series kit is the logical starting point to begin these reviews because, in many ways, it’s what you’d expect for less than $1,000: A fully outfitted 5-piece beginner-quality kit with hardware. At a $699 MAP price — meaning the price you could actually purchase this kit for at most stores — you can take this kit home for well below $1,000. Plus, it’s the only kit that comes with cymbals.
If you’re a beginner, this kit should appeal to you for many reasons. Among other things, a 5-piece configuration will generally work for most styles of music you would ever play. Better yet, this kit comes in the most popular standard sizes: a deep 22" bass drum; 10" and 12" mounted toms; a 16" floor tom, and a matching 14" wood snare.
When I was a kid, almost all inexpensive kits came with cheap chrome-colored metal snares that sounded like tin cans. This wood snare sounds much better than those tin cans, and it’s nice that it matches the rest of the kit both visually and sonically. Also, when I was a kid, inexpensive drum sets made by major manufacturers typically bore different brand names on the bass drumheads. I can remember when Gretsch sold a Blackhawk series with only the “Blackhawk” logo on the front head. This Energy series kit, on the other had, proudly displays the same “Gretsch” logo on the bass drumhead that you would see if you purchased the most expensive Gretsch kit.
Gretsch also intersperses several other unique-to-Gretsch features throughout the Energy series. For example, toms are cut with 30 degree bearing edges and receive five lugs (instead of the standard six found on other brands). All drums are adorned with the beautiful teardrop-shaped Gretsch lug, which, in my opinion, is still one of the prettiest lugs around.
The hardware on this kit is pretty decent for this price. You get double-braced chrome stands that are medium weight and sturdy enough to take some abuse. Toms are mounted from the cymbal stands — one boom and one straight — via ball-mount tom holders that clamp to the stands. This allows for infinite positioning possibilities, as opposed to merely mounting toms off the bass drum. The snare stand is simple and easy to use; that’s a good thing. The single-chain bass pedal and hi-hat stand seem sturdy enough. At least as first impressions go, they had a smooth, easy action. However, if you’re looking for more speed or power, you may want to replace these pedals sooner rather than later.
With a price this low, the Energy series necessarily makes concessions to cost by abandoning features found on Gretsch’s higher-end kits. For example, the Energy series has 1.6mm flanged hoops on the toms and snare instead of the famous die-cast hoops found on Gretsch’s Renown, New Custom, and USA Custom series. The bass drum hoops are metal (not wood). The shells are made from poplar (not the maple or maple/poplar combo of Gretsch’s higher-end kits), and there is no Silver Sealer on the interior shells. The toms are mounted with brackets attached directly to the shell, not the suspension-type mounts found on professional kits. The Gretsch heads on this kit are “acceptable,” but they do not sound nearly as good as professional heads. Still, the kit — even with these lesser features — is quite nice.