10 Drum Shell Wood Types (Full Guide & Which Is Best)

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  • Learn the characteristics of drum shell woods
  • Find out which one is right for you!
  • Learn what the most popular wood is!
  • Also, check out our post on the best TAMA drum kits.

There’s a huge range of drum wood types on the market, ranging from well-known favorites like maple and birch to exotics like bubinga. Which one is the right choice for you, though? 

Today’s lineup includes all the common choices for wood drum shells: Ash, beech, birch, bubinga, cherry, mahogany, maple, oak, poplar, and walnut. You’ll find the woods (and descriptions) listed below alphabetically.

We’ll discuss the wood types based on tonal characteristics, hardness, and projection. At the end of the article, I’ll give my opinion on what the best drum shell wood type is.

All 10 Drum Shell Wood Types

The many different kinds of drum shell wood available today include:

  1. Ash
  2. Beech
  3. Birch
  4. Bubinga
  5. Cherry
  6. Mahogany
  7. Maple
  8. Oak
  9. Polar
  10. Walnut

1. Ash

Ash is a hardwood with an average low-end and smooth mids and highs. This wood is commonly used for guitars and basses but is less common for drums, as it is somewhat challenging to work with.

Ash is quite dense, but despite this, it is also lightweight and presents a medium to long sustain with warmth and solid projection. 

2. Beech

Beech is a hardwood found in high-end drum kits, although it is not all that common. Beech has a focused sound, with a solid low-end punch paired with present mids and highs. 

Beechwood drum shells hit a middle ground between birch and maple. Beech is bright and powerful like birch but has a touch of the warmth of maple. 

3. Birch

Birch is the second most popular wood for drum shells. Like maple, birch drum shells have been a mainstay for many years. This medium-weight hardwood is strong and durable.

Tonally birch presents prominent highs, a punchy low-end, and a somewhat recessed mid-range. It’s a good choice if you want a loud, powerful sound that cuts through the mix. 

The fast vibratory pattern of birch means that in the studio, you may be able to get away without using gates or muffling.

4. Bubinga 

Bubinga is an expensive and high-density hardwood found on high-end kits. It is harder and heavier than common tonewoods like maple or birch.

Bubinga has a lot of projection and presents even mids and highs, with a rich and prominent low-end. It has a darker sound compared to maple or birch. 

5. Cherry 

Cherry is an expensive hardwood that can be found in high-end drum sets. Cherry drum sets present solid lows and mids and a boost in the highs, with medium sustain. 

The bright sound of cherry makes it quite sensitive and responsive to playing dynamics. 

6. Mahogany

Mahogany is a heavy wood that is highly resonant. It presents muted highs, a warm mid-range, and a rich low-end.

Mahogany is classified as a hardwood, although its hardness varies greatly between different types. Cheaper drum kits are often made of a softer mahogany variety. 

7. Maple

Maple is the most common choice for drum kits, and it’s a great all-rounder. Maple drum shells are durable and very strong. This hardwood provides a balanced spread of lows, mids, and highs. Maple also adds a touch of warmth to the low end. 

This wood has a long-lasting vibration pattern that can be manipulated in various ways, making it a popular choice for manufacturers, as pointed out by DW Vice President John Good. 

Maple drum shells have remained popular for decades in the industry, and the hardwood has its place in any style of music.

8. Oak

Oak is strong, heavy hardwood that is very durable. When used for drum sets, it’s an all-purpose performer with quick decay.

Tonally oak has a focused, punchy low-end with a solid mid-range and bright highs. It has a loud and powerful sound that projects well without being overpowering. 

9. Poplar

Poplar is a light and resonant wood that presents a balanced frequency range. It has a smooth tone with tamed highs and mids and boosted, warm low end.

Poplar grows quickly, is easy to work with, and is cheaper than many other kinds of wood. As a result, it’s often found in budget drum kits. Its mellow tone also lends itself to vintage-style kits.

10. Walnut

Walnut is a hardwood that provides a balanced spread of lows, mids, and highs. This even frequency spread makes walnut similar in tone to maple drums. Overall the sound of walnut is big and warm while retaining a good amount of projection.

So, What Is The Best Drum Shell Wood Type?

Maple is the most popular drum shell wood type, prized for its strength and balanced response across the lows, mids, and highs. Birch is the second most popular choice, and it’s known for strong projection and prominent highs and lows. 

As far as the market is concerned, maple and birch are the best tonewood choices. To learn more about all the options, keep reading as we break down their characteristics.


Hardwoods vs Softer Woods: Which Should I Choose?

In broad terms, hardwoods cut through a mix well due to their presence and volume, while softer woods are more mellow, putting out a softer and smoother sound. 

Hardwoods include ash, beech, birch, bubinga, cherry, maple, and oak. The softer woods used on drum sets include poplar and some varieties of mahogany. These two are technically hardwoods, but they are softer than the other hardwoods listed above. 

You’ll often see softer woods used in kits made in a vintage style due to their more mellow tone. Softer woods can also be found more often in budget kits as they are less expensive to process for manufacturers.

Does Drum Shell Material Make A Difference In Tone?

Every element of the construction of a drum makes some difference to the tone; yes, the drum shell wood affects the drum tone. As DW’s John Good explains:

“I’ve spent a lifetime comparing drum woods: maple, birch, oak, mahogany, exotics, etc., and I can tell you, point-blank, that yes, all those different materials have a different character.”

That said, the differences in tone between wood types are not the biggest factor in how a drum sounds. Other factors can make much more drastic differences to drum tone, such as how you play, drum skins, tuning, hardware, and construction choices during manufacturing. 

Are Thicker Drum Shells Louder?

All other things being equal, a thicker drum shell will be louder and provide more attack than a thin drum shell. Typically a thinner shell will put out less volume, but you will hear more of the tone of the drum as opposed to the initial attack.