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Learn what makes the top 3 drum manufacturers so popular
Discover which drum brand is best for you and why
Find out what makes Tama, Pearl, and Mapex drums so distinctly different
Not all drum kits are made equal – certain manufacturers go above and beyond to ensure their products are a cut above the rest, investing fortunes in advanced manufacturing technologies, the best woods, and professionals that can put these assets together in the best way possible.
That’s what Tama, Pearl, and Mapex have in common. They’re rightfully regarded as the best drum makers in the market, even though their drum sets are considerably different.
Dubbing one brand the “best drum creator” may be pointless since all drummers have different preferences, budgets, and play in different styles and genres. A friend of mine started with a Tama kit, and to this day, he swears this is the ultimate drum brand; anyone who played Mapex or Pearl longer than Tama may tell you a similar story.
Tama vs Pearl vs Mapex: Who Wins?
If you’re looking for quality low-to-mid-tier drums that offer an exceptional price-to-money ratio, Mapex is the way to go.
Pearl has been in the game longer than Tama or Mapex and is the best drum brand for musicians that prefer more traditional kits and sounds.
All three brands offer various drum sets at different price ranges, so the answer to the question “who wins?” mainly depends on your preferences and budget.
Best For Professional and Semi-Pro Rock And Metal Drummers: Tama
Best For Drummers Of All Skill Levels and Playing Styles: Pearl
Best For Beginners and Intermediate Drummers: Mapex
Tama vs Pearl vs Mapex: Breaking it Down
In the sections below, I’ll dive deeper into the build quality, sound quality, playstyle versatility, catalog diversity, and price & value of Tama, Pearl, and Mapex respectively to give you insight into what makes them different from each other.
Drums are usually more expensive than other musical instruments; wasting hundreds of dollars on a kit that’ll be destroyed in a year or two spells “wasted money” in my book. Fortunately, Tama, Pearl, and Mapex are yet to make a flimsy drum kit.
Tama drums are critically acclaimed for their robustness, so it shouldn’t be surprising that metalheads love their kits so much. Pearl drum sets are highly durable, although practicality is valued above sturdiness in their case. Most Mapex drums aren’t sturdy enough to endure a long-legged metal tour, but they’re easy to set up and decently sturdy in all other cases.
To illustrate why Tama’s drum sets are among the sturdiest on the planet, I’ll take one of their cheapest kits as an example. Imperialstar drum kit costs about $799 and rocks strong poplar shells and lightweight yet robust hardware.
The brand’s long-standing flagship STAR drum set is regarded as one of the most durable drum kits ever made, featuring 5-ply maple shells reinforced with 5mm focus rings.
Following the same pattern, Pearl’s Midtown features a durable poplar construction and robust chrome hardware. Relative to other brands, Pearl’s entry-level drum kits are considerably more durable, especially its Masterworks-series models.
The company’s proprietary Superior Shell Technology often referred to as “SST,” ensures all of its drums are outstandingly strong without the need for extra weight.
If you’re looking for a strong drum kit but can’t afford Tama, Mapex should be your second stop. All of the models this brand made from 2009 onward are almost as sturdy as an average Tama kit, featuring birch of maple shells and excellent-quality hardware. Saturn-line kits boast 6-ply maple & walnut construction, while Mapex Orion drums are built like a brick house, boasting 7-ply maple shells and premium chrome or gold hardware.
The sound of each drum kit is different, but for brands that have been around for decades, creating a recognizable “signature” tone is a breeze. Using the best woods available, all three brands are making uniquely-sounding kits.
Most Tama drum kits are made of thick poplar, birch, or maple. I’d best describe their sound with the words “pure power” since the extra thickness makes these kits sound ocean-level deep. That’s not always a good thing, as you’ll probably have difficulty controlling a Tama kit until you get accustomed to it.
I wouldn’t necessarily say Pearl drums sound better than Tama kits, but they are “tamer” and easier to fine-tune to your preferred sound. Like Tama, though, Pearl mainly used poplar and maple shells on their drums while primarily sourcing cymbals from the iconic Sabian.
While most Tama and Pearl drums sport top-of-the-line wood and hardware, that’s only true for the Mapex Saturn series and higher. This company offers a broad range of customization options for most of its drum kits, meaning that you can find quite a few unique-sounding sets, but only Orion Series maple kits can come close to Pearl and Tama in terms of sound performance.
One of the first things most musicians consider before buying any instrument is whether or not it will fit their playstyle and preferred genre. There’s not much sense for a rock or metal player to buy a pop drum kit, which will not only sound poorly in such settings but will also break considerably faster.
Regarding the criteria for this bout, I also looked into which professionals prefer playing which drums, following a simple logic – if Dream Theater’s drummer knows what’s best for metal, and if Sting’s drummer knows what’s good for jazz, who am I to say anything different? Let’s check out the rankings.
Tama drums are mainly played by metal and rock drummers. This should not come as a surprise given that there aren’t many brands that make drums as sturdy as this one – layers upon layers of pure grit and robustness ensure all Tama kits can withstand decades of playing, no matter how energetic the drummer is.
From Charlie Benante of Anthrax and John Tempesta of Exodus to Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater and Lars Ulrich from Metallica, what all of these drummers have in common is at least one Tama kit in their touring vans.
The versatility of Pearl drums truly shines when leveraged by seasoned drummers. If we were talking about beginner drum sets, it would be fair to say that such kits do a bit of everything while excelling at pretty much nothing; the range of customization options, premium quality materials, and innovative construction techniques make Pearl drums absurdly flexible.
Some of the biggest names across all genres play Pearl drums. When it comes to classical music, the great Matthew Bassett of the Buffalo Philharmonic plays on the Adams Philharmonic Dresden kit, and Jeff Plate of the Trans Siberian Orchestra plays on the MMP Masters kit.
The legendary Ian Paice from Deep Purple is Pearl’s ambassador for jazz-rock, while Matt Halpern of Periphery represents the brand’s impact in progressive music. Even certain death metal drummers play on Pearl, the most notable being Jordan Mather from Make Them Suffer.
This brand has a certain “x-factor” to its sound and aesthetic. Its drums are not necessarily “less versatile” than Pearl or “darker” than Tama; if I had to guess, musicians who don’t want to sound like other famous musicians often go with Mapex, which, again, does not imply that it’s worse in any way.
Shawn Beamer, the drummer of Molly Hatchet, Tony Coleman, that played in BB King’s band, and Josh Devine from One Direction, for instance, have Mapex kits. I would argue that an average drummer would pick up a Mapex drum set mainly because of superior affordability; there are subtle differences between Mapex, Tama, and Pearl drums in other respects, depending on which models we’re comparing.
Speaking of which, professional musicians could easily tell that Mapex drum sets that belong to the Saturn and earlier series aren’t exactly professional kits and, as such, are preferred by musicians of all play styles and genres, but not veterans that seek a precise, refined sound.
Some brands love to release almost themed series of drums; others focus on building the best kit they can and pay little attention to when they are released and how the customers will perceive the catalog. As a drummer, what matters the most, in this case, is whether or not you have a large selection of different drums or a few models to choose from.
Each kit Tama ever made is available in numerous configurations, usually a combination of differently-sized components, finish styles, and hardware. In that respect, there are plenty of unique possibilities to find and create a kit that perfectly matches your desired tone and price.
However, there are only half a dozen “bases” that you can customize, including Club-JAM, Cocktail-JAM, STAR, Starclassic, S. L. P. Drum Kits, Superstar Classics, Imperial Star, and Rhythm Mate.
According to Pearl’s official drum kit title names, only three of its products belong to specific series, including President, President Deluxe, and Midtown. These “series” aren’t any different from any other Tama kit, as similar setup and finish options are available with all of the brand’s products.
In total, there are over 13 lines of Pearl drums, including Midtown, Roadshow, Export EXX, Export EXL, Decade Maple, Crystal Beat, Session Studio Select, Pearl Masters Maple Complete, Pearl Masters Maple Gum, Pearl Masters Maple Reserve, Reference, Reference Pure, and Masterworks.
As the youngest of the three brands, it’s only natural that Mapex did not have the time to create such a vast catalog as Tama and Pearl. It initially came to the market with Voyager and Horizon models, after which the brand released Mapex M & Meridian Birch, followed by MyDentity and Saturn.
The crowning accomplishment of Mapex and its current flagship resides in the Orion series, although the brand also released the Black Panther series a couple of years ago.
Which brand is best for beginners?
Tama, Pearl, and Mapex are all great for beginners if money is not an issue. If it is, Mapex offers the cheapest drum kits relative to Tama and Pearl, while Pearl’s kits are the most beginner-friendly.
What famous drummers use TAMA?
Loads of professional drummers from all across the globe use TAMA drums. Some of the most notable ones I didn’t mention are Clay Aeschilman from Polyphia, Tim Alexander from Primus, Sam Applebaum from Veil of Maya, Austin Archey from Lorna Shore, Frank Beard from ZZ Top, and Justin Brown from Thundercat.
Which Pearl product is the most popular?
Pearl Masters and Decade Maple are the two most popular products, and for a good reason too. These drum sets are bigger, louder, and considerably better-sounding than most while retaining their tame, well-rounded nature.
It may be difficult to decide which of the three brands is the best without being biased, which is perfectly fine. I encourage all drummers to pursue the sound they want rather than the brand that is more popular among certain communities.
Objectively, Tama is perfect for drummers into heavier music; Pearl’s super-versatile drums are good for anything as long as you have the skills to make them shine, while Mapex drum kits are excellent all-rounders available at highly approachable prices.