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    Categories: Drums & Percussion

The Best Shell Packs

Drummers are the keeper of the beat, and they keep the rest of the band in line and on time. It’s important that they have quality instruments to help them with this important task, and there are a lot of options out there to choose from.

When choosing a new drum shell pack, it’s important to know which shell packs are good for the type of music that you play, and that fit all of your preferences. Here are a few tips on what to look for in a quality shell pack, and a few reviews to help you start shopping.

Drums sets vary greatly from quality, number of drums in the kit, types of woods, accessories, and the list can go on and on. A lot of these decisions are not based on what is best necessarily, but on what you prefer to play on.

After thirty years behind a kit, I have a definite idea of what works for me, but that also doesn’t mean I’m not open to trying out a different wood or sound to see what a new shell pack is like.

A shell pack usually consists of only the toms and the bass drum. This lets you pick the main drums, so that they will all match, and that they will all have the same type of hoops. This also allows you to purchase the other parts of the drum kit separately, like the cymbals, stands, pedals, and snare drum.

Top Pick: Pearl Crystal Beat Shell Pack

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Just the slightest hit with a stick will cause a long and sustained sound. All the toms are very warm and rich, which will surprise you coming from an acrylic set. 

The bass drum gives a well-rounded punch, and it also gives you a decent rebound from the pedal. 

Parts of a Drum Kit

If you are just starting out, or a parent that wants to get their kid their first drum set, you will probably need to know what the basic components of a drum kit are.

You need to make sure you have a bass drum, one floor tom, one mounted tom, and then you need to pick out a snare drum, snare stand, and hi-hats. This is a basic configuration that will be enough to get you started rocking out. There are tons of other accessories and hardware that you can add later.

Normally, if you are either a beginner, or you play out a lot, especially jazz, it’s nice to keep the set a four piece set. This is so you don’t have as much to carry around, and to transport in a vehicle.

If you are jamming with your friends, or you are doing some recording, adding more drums may be your preference, and it is also a lot of fun to add new sound to your set.

Choosing a Drum Set

Depending on what style of music you play, your drum set will require different pieces and accessories. Larger kits that may have five, six, and even more pieces in it are great for contemporary, heavy rock, and metal musical styles.

Standard or Fusion style drum kits have a set configuration. Fusion drums kits usually have mounted toms that are 10” and 12”, a floor tom that is 14”, and a bass drum that is 22”. These are smaller sized drums that give a Fusion kit more punch and tone. Standard kits use toms that are 12” and 13”, a floor tom that is 16”, and a bass drum that is 22”.

The larger drums in the standard set give you bigger tone and more volume. Again, all of this is preference, and you should choose sizes that you like and that work with your sound.

Buying a Shell Pack can save you some cash, as the shell pack only comes with the drums, there is no hardware outside of the tom mounts and the rims. This is a great option if you are starting out, or if you are trying to expand on an existing kit.

Types of Wood Drum Woods

Choosing the wood is one of the more important choices you will make with your shell pack purchase. There are a lot of woods to choose from, and they all have different sounds to them.

Maple – This is the most popular type of wood for a drum set. It gives the drum a warm and balanced tone.

Falkata – This is a wood that is sometimes used instead of maple. It is cheaper, and it has a similar sound to maple, plus it is great for using finishes on.

Birch – This is a very tough and dense wood, so it gives a set of drums a bright and harder sound than mahogany or maple. This is a great option for recording, as it is really clear in the mix. Birch will give you drums increased highs and lows, but is lessened in the midrange.

Mahogany – This wood has increased low end and midrange with lessened highs. It has a little warmer sound that maples has, and it also has a vintage feel to it.

Poplar – This is a low-cost alternative wood to birch or maple but has a similar sound to both of them.

Basswood – This a good, inexpensive wood that is a great alternative to both birch and maple, and it has a nice grain that is good at taking lacquer finishes well.

Lauan – This is often called “select hardwood,” and it can be used as a cheap alternative to birch.

Oak – This wood has a similar sound to maple, but it is more porous with a bright, powerful sound.

Drum Construction

Plies – Drums are made of several layers of plies or wood, and the more plies that a drum has, the brighter it will sound. Fewer plies give a drum a warmer and fatter sound.

Bearing Edge – The bearing edge can make a difference in the sound quality of a drum depending on the angle at which a drum shell’s bearing edge is cut. If it is a sharper angle, you will get a brighter sound. More rounded edges will give you a mellower and softer sound.

Finishes – There are all types of finishes that can be used on a drum shell, which is great when you want to personalize or customize your drum kit. Inexpensive finishes include vinyl wraps and give you a ton of color and patterns to use. Transparent lacquer finishes will improve the look of the woodgrain giving a lovely natural look. Finishes also make the drums more durable and able to resist scratches.

The Competition

After hours of testing and research, here's the final competition.

InstrumentRatingCurrent Pricing
Pearl Crystal Beat Shell Pack
Very easy to tune, and the consistency of one drum to the next does not disappoint$929.23
Mapex Saturn IV Shell Pack
High-quality construction drum shells, and the gorgeous finish gives a stunning impactOut of stock
Yamaha Gigmaker 5-Piece Standard
Great starter set that comes with a burgundy glitter finishOut of stock
Tama Superstar Classic 5-piece
interior is silky smooth, and drums are covered with a light sealer$699.99
Gretsch Drums Brooklyn 4-piece
Great sounding drums with great looks and a great vibeOut of stock
PDP Z5 5-Piece
great for practicing, live shows, and playing in a school bandOut of stock
Gretsch Catalina Maple 5-Piece
warm and explosive sound with lots of projection on the low end$830.71
Ludwig Centennial Zep 4-Piece
Vibraband Suspension Rims guarantees great resonanceOut of stock
Yamaha 3-Piece Bebop Recording (Custom Birch)
a warm clear tone with an open resonant sound quality$649.99

Our Top Recommendation:
Pearl Crystal Beat Shell Pack

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The Pearl Crystal Beat Shell Pack has a configuration of two suspended toms measuring 10” x 7” and 12” x 8”, a floor tom measuring 14” x 13”, and a bass drum measuring 20” x 15”. This is often referred to as a two up and two down formation. The bass drum is undrilled, and the suspended toms will need hardware to mount them that is not included in the shell pack.

All the drums do come with Pearl branded heads including two-plies for the toms and single-plies on the resonants. The bass drum has clear heads that include a dampening system around the edges. This set is marketed to the intermediate players.

Each of the drums in the Pearl Crystal Beat Shell Pack is crystal clear, reminiscent of the ‘70’s version, and they have no seams. Dual-cut 45 degree angle cut bearing edges have a little bit of a rounded apex, which gives the drums a very mellow tone.

They are fitted with Pearl’s non-bridged plane tail-style lugs, which are isolated from the shell with a thin nylon gasket, and they are held in place by two Phillips-type screws. The legs of the floor tom are bridges which increase resonance, and they also feature ‘Air Suspension’ rubber feet on each of the legs.

The mounting hardware is standard Optimounts found on the tom shell which give the drum a solid while lessening shell contact to increase resonance. Acrylic drums are different from natural wood, as they do not absorb as much of the energy that is transferred by the sticks.

The drums in the Pearl Crystal Beat Shell Pack are stunning. They are very easy to tune, and the consistency of one drum to the next does not disappoint. Be prepared that each of the drums is a lot heavier than wood shells, and they are loud.

The floor tom projects well, and there is just the slightest hit with a stick will cause a long and sustained sound. All the toms are very warm and rich, which will surprise you coming from an acrylic set. The bass drum gives a well-rounded punch, and it also gives you a decent rebound from the pedal.

The shell pack delivers a solid punch, while having very little overtones. It has a clear distinct thump that is silenced quickly, so you do not have hardly any perceptible overtone left.

This set is great for any musical style from jazz to rock, these will definitely respond well, and they will give you an impressive sound for an affordable price of $929.22.

Pros:

  • Awesome looking drums, visually exciting
  • Flexible for a range of different music styles
  • Very playable and responsive kit

Cons:

  • Need better quality components in some places

Runner Up: Mapex Saturn IV Shell Pack

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The Mapex Saturn IV Shell Pack is a four-drum pack that has a Deep Water Ash Burl finish. These drums are part of the Mapex MH Exotic Edition that includes black-chromed hardware, as well as the exotic looking ash burl veneer.

The set includes two rack drums measuring 10” x 8” and 12” x 9”, a floor tom measuring 14” x 14”, and bass drum that is undrilled measuring 22” x 18”. Mapex does include resin-type mounting clamps to suspend the toms, plus it offers a “free-floating” bass drum option with a mounting kit that lets the bass drum sit on special rails that hang on the very top of the drum.

The Mapex Shell Pack has its well-known maple and walnut hybrid construction that is used in the Saturn series, and it includes a redesign of metalwork that was also enhanced and re-engineered.

The lug size is now sleeker and thinner, and the edges have been smoothly contoured, much like the Black Panther kits and snares. They no longer have steel straps that sit on the floor tom lugs and suspended toms, but use rubber feet on the floor tom legs.

The new SONIClear rack tom mounts are a huge design improvement, so that the drum is suspended from tension bolts, unlike the normal rims type. A ‘T’-shaped die-cast bracket that has a steel insert actually attaches under two specifically designed lugs, but the bracket has stayed the same for each of the drums with only the insert length changing, which is decided by the distance between lugs.

These are high-quality construction drum shells, and the gorgeous finish gives a stunning impact. The metalwork is also beautifully designed with no sharp edges. This is an easy to set up kit, and tuning them is extremely smooth and fast. You can even tune or change the heads without having to remove the suspended toms.

There are minimal overtones, and just a clear and rich tone that is produced. The toms are powerful and robust, and the bass drum packs a powerful punch without being very boomy. The resonance is very well-controlled, which is surprising with very little dampening included in the kit.

This is a great set for playing live or studio work, and they are offered at a great price of Out of stock.

Pros:

  • Packs a real punch
  • Excellent build and playability
  • Great enhancements, awesome design improvements

Cons:

  • None

Other Options to Consider:

Yamaha Gigmaker 5-Piece Standard

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The Yamaha Gigmaker is a shell pack with five pieces including a mounted tom that measures either 13” x 9.5” or 12” x 9”, a floor tom measuring 16” x 16”, a bass drum measuring 16” x 20”, and a snare drum measuring 14’ x 5.5”. This is a great starter set that comes with a burgundy glitter finish, with other colored finishes also available.

Even though it is a starter set, the sound that is produced is much better than average. This is a very affordable kit for the quality of the drums and it currently will run you Out of stock.

Pros:

  • Comes with matching wood bass drum hoops
  • Mount system is easy to adjust and easy to use
  • Superior tone and playability

Cons:

  • Color options are limited, and they are all glittery

Tama Superstar Classic 5-piece

Credit: Amazon.com

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The Tama Superstar Classic 5 piece shell pack has a great reputation among collectors, and they are well-known for their punchy tone and full sound. The configuration includes rack toms that measure 10” x 8” and 12” x 9”, a floor tom that measures 16” x 14”, a bass drum that measures 22” x 18”, and a 14” x 6.5” snare drum.

The shells are made of maple with the toms and snare drums made with a six-ply shell, and the bass drum an eight-ply shell. They include 1.6 mm triple-flanged steel hoops, and the Tama Power Craft II clear one-ply heads.

The Tama Superstar Class shell pack include a Midnight Gold Sparkle wrap finish, Starclassic bearing edges, low-mass lugs, Star-Mount suspension mounts, low-mass die-cast bass drum claws, a double tom holder, and folding retractable spurs with graduated positioning markers.

Since this is a budget friendly kit, it was surprising to see such high-quality in this shell kit. The interior of the drums are silky smooth, and they are covered with a light sealer. It also has a more generous edge than expected, and contributes to how fat the drums sound.

All the seams are clean and staggered, and there aren’t any gaps or roundness on any of the shells. The gold sparkle wrap is gorgeous, and the glossy maple finish of the hoops really pops against it. You can also upgrade to a lovely lacquer finish for a few more dollars.

Assembling the kit is very easy with simple threading of the tension rods, but it may not stand up to constant touring if you want to take it out on the road. The Star-Mount suspension brackets and the mounts between the lug and counterhoop function well.

It also includes a bass drum mounted double tom holder that is strong and versatile. With the awesome Star-Mount system, you will not have any problem putting the toms right where you want them.

The Tama Superstar Classics sound unbelievable with a huge sound that has a woody, rich type of tone. They are easy to tune, and they all worked well through the range. The bass drum has no internal muffling besides the edge rings inside the head.

The bass drum is perfect for live shows with a huge punch and massive bottom end. The head on the snare drum needs to be replaced for something a little more substantial.

The Superstar Classics are very versatile, and they have a full, fat sound that does not act at all like a budget kit. They have a lot of great features, and they sound insanely good no matter what they are priced at. No matter what type of music style you play or what your budget is, this is a great kit for $699.99.

Pros:

  • Very versatile, great sounding drum
  • Doesn’t seem at all like a budget drum set
  • Has a huge punch and big bottom end

Cons:

  • Snare drum isn’t as great as the rest of the set

Gretsch Drums Brooklyn 4-piece

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The Gretsch Brooklyn 4-piece shell pack includes shells with a six-ply maple/poplar wood that have bearing edges of 30 degrees. Included in the set are rack toms measuring 7″ x 10″ and 8″ x 12″, a floor tom measuring 14″ x 16″, and a bass drum measuring 18″ x 22″.

Included with the kit is hardware that is the same as what is available on the Gretsch USA custom drums featuring USA Custom lugs, 3 mm double-flanged metal “302” hoops, and the GTS tom mounting system.

Inside the drums, you will find the classic Gretsch Silver Sealer, and on the outside of the drums, you will see the very cool Cream Oyster wrap.

The Gretsch Brooklyn shell pack gives off that vintage feels, and the tone you get definitely takes you back in time. Gretsch started in Brooklyn in the 1800’s, and it is awesome how the company has survived and continued to produce incredible sounding drums.

These are great sounding drums with great looks and a great vibe. They are one of our higher priced shell packs listed running about Out of stock for the pack.

Pros:

  • Fit and finish are first-rate
  • Durable and holds the tone for the road during bad weather
  • Awesome kit for the money

Cons:

  • It is one of the most expensive sets on the list

PDP Z5 5-Piece

Credit: Amazon.com

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The PDP Z5 5-Piece Shell Pack five-piece shell pack is the perfect set for any aspiring drummer looking for a new kit. It features fusion size drums with three toms measuring 10” x 8”, 12” x 9” and 14” x 12”, plus a 22” x 16” bass drum and a 14” x 5” snare.

The shells are made with all wood, and they include a bearing edge of 45 degrees, plus a FinishPly wrap available in a variety of colors. Also included are traditional mounts, triple-flange hoops, and standard lugs and heads.

These drums are great for practicing, live shows, and playing in a school band. They are also extremely affordable at Out of stock.

Pros:

  • Drums sound very powerful in ton and attack
  • Hardware is pretty good for the price
  • Great sound, very responsive with a huge tone

Cons:

  • It is set up for a fusion kit which is a problem if you play a different style of music

Gretsch Catalina Maple 5-Piece

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The Gretsch Catalina Maple Series includes shells with a seven-ply 7.2 mm maple shell. Included in the kit are a 14” x 5.5” snare drum, two toms measuring 10” x 7” and 12” x 8”, a floor tom measuring 14” x 14”, and a 20” x 16” bass drum. They also include the classic Gretsch hardware, and they have bearing edges of 30 degrees.

They have a warm and explosive sound with lots of projection on the low end. These shells go through a multi-step lacquer process to get that beautiful glossy smooth finish that is also hard and durable.

These drums are in the mid-range that is very affordable at $830.70.

Pros:

  • Rich sounding drum kit
  • Great set for the money
  • Tonal quality is impeccable

Cons:

  • Need to put better heads on it

Ludwig Centennial Zep 4-Piece

Credit: Amazon.com

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The Ludwig Centennial Zep 4-piece shell pack was created to honor the 100th Anniversary of the Ludwig brand. They Centennial Series Drums include three different shell packs that are in tour ready configurations.

Ludwig uses North American Maple shells to create a kit that uses warmth with projection in six different finishes ranging from custom sparkle to natural lacquer. As always, Ludwig gives you reliable and consistent Ludwig sound in an awesome package.

The Ludwig Centennial shell pack also come with Vibraband Suspension Rims guarantees great resonance, and pack also includes the redesign classic lugs and the triple-flanged chrome hoops.

The bass drum comes undrilled, which helps to maintain the natural timbre of the shell, and the telescoping spurs and the die-cast bass drum claws help to guarantee a reliable base and tune.

The configuration from the Ludwig Centennial shell pack includes a bass drum that measures 26” x 14”, a rack tom that measures 14” x 10”, and two floor toms that measure 16” x 16” and 18” x 16”.This is a great set for a rock drummer that will give you all the power you need to perform on stage or in the studio.

This is a great set for a rock drummer that will give you all the power you need to perform on stage or in the studio. It’s also great for other playing styles with the right accessories. The Centennial Series is affordably priced at Out of stock.

Pros:

  • Versatile and responsive
  • Well-built drum kit, sounds great with a nice boom to it
  • Fit and finish of these drums are excellent

Cons:

  • Not enough finish choices

Yamaha 3-Piece Bebop Recording (Custom Birch)

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The Yamaha 3 Piece Bebop Recording Custom Shell Pack has been redesigned to the taste of session legend, Steve Gadd. The Yamaha Bebop are engineered to be versatile, wide open, and comfortable with North American birch six-ply shells that have bearing edges that are 30 degrees for classic focus and attack.

The configuration includes a bass drum that measures 18” x 14”, a floor tom that measures 14” x 14”, and a mounted tom that measures 12” x 8”. The drums come with triple-flange hoops, suspended mounts, and bridge lugs.

The Yamaha Custom Birch drums include weighted and redesigned Hi-Tension Lugs, and lacquer finished shells that have increased lower frequencies and less interference from the adjacent drums that do not require a mute.

The mounted tom includes YESS mounts that were created to lessen the contact between the mount and the shell to give you longer sustain and a wider dynamic range. The bass drum also gives you a more of a punchier sound, and it has a heightened tone in the core of the shell.

Both toms include coated Remo Ambassador Heads that include a warm clear tone with an open resonant sound quality. The bass drum comes with a fitted Smooth White PS3 with Yamaha Logo head, and a Remo PS3 Coated batter head.

This is one easy to set up kit that is also easy to tune, and it is just an overall easy to use drum set. It is perfect for any music style and works in any playing situation. The Yamaha Bebop set will run you $649.99.

Pros:

  • Easy to set up, and easy to tune
  • Great for any music style
  • Very versatile with an open resonant sound quality

Cons:

  • A little on the expensive side
Penni :Hi! I'm Penni. I've been obsessed with playing and teaching music since I was 10 years old. I've had hundreds of students over the years who have at some point asked for my advice on what to buy to support their learning. When you buy certain products from some of the sites which we link to, Hear the Music Play receives a commission that supports our work.Here is an explanation of what we do and how to support our work.