5 Best Drum Machines For Guitarists (All Budgets)

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As a guitarist, at some point, you’re likely going to want some percussive accompaniment to go along with your playing.

While finding a drummer or percussionist is generally desired, they’re not always easy to come by, and musical compatibility is not always a given.

So if you find yourself in this situation, you may want to turn to a drum machine to get the job done and fill that role for you.

While it may seem easy enough to find something that can play a beat for you to jam along with, there are a vast amount of choices to draw from and various features to consider.

Most guitarists aren’t initially aware of these and might get bogged down between all the choices.

We’re here to help with our list of the 7 best drum machines for guitarists.

Things to Consider

  • Cost
  • Types of drum sounds or music genre
  • Playability
  • Connectivity
  • Sound design capabilities
  • Performance features

What Are The 5 Best Drum Machines For Guitarists?

  1. Alesis SR-18 (Our Pick!)
  2. Boss DR-01S (Best Value!)
  3. Elektron Octatrack MKII (Premium Option)
  4. Arturia Drumbrute Impact
  5. Roland TR-6S 

1. Alesis SR-18

OUR PICK!
Alesis SR-18 Drum Machine

The Alesis SR-18 is packed with the sounds you want and need, from totally electronic to totally acoustic drums and hits! 

Why We Love It:
  • Full of powerful features
  • Extremely versatile
  • Huge value for money
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The Alesis SR-18 is our top choice here for its value, versatility, connectivity, portability, and overall usefulness in a guitar accompaniment setting.

This drum machine is one of the most popular in the world and with good reason. A broad range of useful sounds, easy programming, and Song Mode make this a great choice for any guitarist.

Features

  • 32MB sound set with percussion bank and bass synth
  • Built-in effects including EQ, reverb, compression
  • 24-voice polyphony
  • Portable (takes six AA batteries)
  • Song Mode
  • Pattern Play Mode, so you can trigger patterns from pads directly
  • 175 preset patterns and 100 user patterns
  • MIDI In/Out/Thru
  • Stereo output, 2x 1/4″ mono, 1x 1/4″ Stereo, and a Phones output for headphones
  • 1 1/4″ instrument input
  • 2 Footswitch outputs

Out of the wide range of drum machines available, the Alesis SR-18 may not be the sexiest choice, but in my opinion, it offers the most for a guitarist looking to jam without a partner.

To start, the 32MB sound bank is full of highly versatile, realistic drum sounds, as well as effects to help you tweak them to your liking.

The EQ and compression are very helpful in this regard. More often than not, guitarists in the market for a drum machine are not looking to get into the nitty-gritty of drum synthesis or sample mangling.

The SR-18 takes the guesswork out of the sound design and lets you start jamming quickly to a rhythm section. Pick a sound that sounds good to you and get going with sequencing.

Playing folk music? Maybe a nice brush snare and light ride cymbal go best with your new tune. More into metal? Load up some punchy kicks, reverb-soaked drums, and sizzling open hats.

Whatever your playing style, there’s likely a sound you can punch in to get going fast with your new song or jam.

Polyphony is also a great feature here. While many drum machines are limited to anywhere from 4 to 12 drum sounds that can be played at once, the SR-18 allows for a staggering 24-note polyphony.

While I couldn’t see myself using 24 tracks of drums at once, the ability to do so if you desire is a nice option.

The SR-18 also features a song mode, which is a huge factor for accompanying a guitarist.

A drum machine lacking song mode is not a deal-breaker by any means, but when you can program a whole song with different movements or parts to play without having to change the pattern manually, it’s a game-changer because you can just focus on playing.

Additionally, not all guitarists gel with loops and static patterns, so a feature like this can really move a song along.

Add to this their easy to use bass synth, and you have the makings of a 3-piece band sound very quickly. Whether for inspiration or full-fledged writing, these are two very powerful features.

The SR-18 has all the MIDI connectivity you would want, so if sequencing from external gear is more your speed, you’re well covered.

Lastly, the SR-18 can be powered with batteries, making it portable for the musician on the go.

Those looking to jam with friends or play their local open mic will have a lightweight portable option to bring their rhythm section with them wherever they go.

All the above comes in at around $270…pretty hard to beat for the price.

Cons

The Alesis SR-18 is not without its drawbacks though. For one, if you’re not looking for realistic drum sounds, you may find the Alesis lacking in character.

Many drum machines allow for much more sound sculpting capabilities.

While the song mode and roll features are powerful for songwriting, the sequencer is fairly barebones and does not have any parameter locking or motion recording to automate modulation.

2. Boss DR-01S

BEST VALUE!
BOSS DR-01S

If you play acoustic music and want to jam along with acoustic grooves, then the BOSS DR-01S Rhythm Partner belongs in your toolbox.

Why We Love It:
  • Excels as a fast and easy drum partner
  • 45+ instruments available
  • Quick and convenient to use
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The Boss DR-01S is our best value pick. This little jamming wonder is perfect for guitarists who want to play along with percussion without the programming and design hassle.

It features many conventional instruments and shines as an acoustic guitarist’s best friend.

Features

  • Over 45 different percussive sounds
  • 24-voice polyphony
  • Sounds are curated from Boss and Roland gear
  • 4 Metronome time signatures
  • 3/4, 4/4, 6/8 time signatures and a tempo range of 40-300
  • Aux input and output to integrate external gear
  • Footswitch controllable
  • Flexible patterns with variations and the ability to mute or add sounds
  • 50 user presets

The Boss DR-01S is monikered as a “Rhythm Partner Performance Groove Machine“, and with good reason.

The DR-01S excels as a fast and easy drum partner for jamming on guitar, whether you’re a beginner or seasoned musician.

The DR-01S has acoustic guitarists mostly in mind here, with very natural sounding instruments like congas, shakers, and cajon.

However, it also includes more standard drum set sounds. Boss draws from their extensive library of top-end music gear to curate the 45+ instruments available on the DR-01S.

The patterns are flexible and offer multiple variations and the ability to add or subtract instruments from the pattern during playback.

If the standard patterns are not to your taste, the DR-01S features auxiliary in and out, so you can plug in external gear.

This also means you can use the DR-01S as a speaker for your backing track or to output into a PA for a live performance or recording situation.

The DR-01S is compatible with foot controllers as well, to enhance your experience without having to take your hands off the guitar.

In any event, you’ll have a quick and convenient way to jam on your guitar with reliable results.

Cons

The DR-01S is not exactly a deep drum machine and isn’t really billed as one.

It’s excellent for jamming out on an acoustic guitar, but if you’re looking for more of a songwriting or beat-making device, the DR0-1S is not the right choice.

Also, if you’re looking for non-organic-sounding drums, you’ll have to go in another direction.

3. Elektron Octatrack MKII

Elektron Octatrack

Elektron's premier performance sampler and sequencer are better than ever with the Octatrack MKII. It packs everything you need at the heart of your electronic music rig.

Why We Love It:
  • Loaded with effects
  • Extremely powerful and flexible
  • Ultra-smooth contactless crossfader
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The Elektron Octatrack has a reputation for being a powerful sampler and performance mixer with a steep learning curve.

While its reputation as a complex piece of equipment is warranted, the Octatrack MKII can also serve as a drum machine, effects box, sampler, and looper that can take you places you didn’t think were possible with your guitar.

Features

  • 8 stereo audio tracks
  • 16-track sequencer (8 internal, 8 MIDI)
  • 4 x 1/4″ outputs (2 main, 2 cue), 1 Headphone input
  • 4 x 1/4″ inputs
  • MIDI in, out, thru
  • MIDI arpeggiator
  • Unlimited compact flash drive storage
  • 2 Effects per audio track, including 3 types of reverb, delay, phaser, chorus, flanger, lo-fi, compressor, 2 types of EQ, 3 filter types, comb filter, spatializer, and distortion
  • Ultra-smooth contactless crossfader
  • Each project has 16 banks and 16 patterns per bank (256 patterns total)
  • 256 sample slots per project
  • Live/real-time and dynamic sampling and playback
  • Parameter locking per step
  • Sound locking per step
  • Live looping
  • 3x LFOs per audio and MIDI track

The Elektron Octatrack has some of the most diverse capabilities of any sampler out there, along with live performance controls that are difficult to measure up against to this day.

This is all despite the Octatrack launching a decade ago.

If you’re thinking about using it as a guitarist for accompaniment, there are many directions you can go in.

In its most relevant and straightforward application, the Octatrack can be used as a drum machine. By using samples, you can make it sound as realistic or wild as you want.

With a 64-step sequencer per track and individual track lengths and scales, you can whip up many interesting rhythms and patterns rather quickly.

You can also use drum loops and long samples to back up your playing if programming one-shot drum samples don’t quite do it for you.

The Octatrack features 4 inputs for audio. Of course, these can be used to record and sample your own sounds, but they can also be used directly for live playing.

This means that by converting your guitar signal to a line-level signal, you can then use the Octatrack as an effects box.

Each track has two effects slots, but you can sacrifice an adjacent track to add two more effects for a total of four.

This is practically a small pedalboard’s worth, which in and of itself makes the Octatrack a pretty valuable companion to a guitarist.

Guitarists will also be very attracted to its capability as a live looper.

Not to mention the ability to sample yourself in real-time and immediately play it back pitched up or down, reversed, or pretty much any other way you can think of.

This makes it a very powerful creative tool to take your guitar playing and its sounds into new sonic territories.

Bringing all of this together is the arranger, or Song Mode. Here you can arrange your patterns with repeats, mute groups, and performance scene changes into a full song to play along with and perform.

So while the Octatrack comes at a premium and a bit of a learning curve, it has a lot to offer in terms of performance, songwriting, and sound design for a guitarist looking for a drum machine.

Cons

As we mentioned before, the Octatrack is notorious for having a bit of a learning curve. If you’re looking for a straightforward plug-and-play type approach, this may not be the route to go for you.

Some planning and forethought usually has to happen before you can get going with this instrument.

Additionally, there are some limitations, like the aforementioned 8-track limit, and its 80MB of RAM memory per project.

Getting your head around the Elektron way might take some time, or it may not be your cup of tea.

There are other instruments like the 1010music Black Box or Akai MPC Live that are a bit more linear and traditional in their approach but have similar capabilities.

4. Arturia Drumbrute Impact

Our Pick
Arturia DrumBrute Impact

Just like its predecessor, the Arturia DrumBrute Impact drum machine delivers a big analog drum tone with impressive sequencing and performance capabilities.

Why We Love It:
  • Built-in distortion circuit
  • 64-step sequencer
  • Versatile sync options
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Arturia’s Drumbrute Impact is a pure analog drum machine with punch, character, and fun playability.

The intuitive layout, flexible sequencer, and song mode make this a top choice for anyone looking for a solid drum machine without breaking the bank.

Features

  • 10 analog drum voices
  • 4 banks, 64 patterns each
  • Song mode
  • Analog distortion circuit
  • Drum sounds include kick, 2 snares, high tom/low tom, cymbal/cowbell, closed hi-hat, open hi-hat, and FM percussion
  • 4 states per sound: accent on/off and color on/off
  • Polyrhythm capabilities
  • Roller ribbon
  • 4 individual outs in addition to main and headphones
  • MIDI in/out
  • Global or per sound random and swing

 

The Arturia Drumbrute Impact is the smaller iteration of their OG Drumbrute. Don’t let the smaller size and sound set fool you though; this is not simply slimming down of its bigger brother.

The Drumbrute Impact has tweaked analog circuits that add more punch (hence the “impact”) and a more focused sound set.

The 10 drum sounds are generated with true analog signal paths and offer a nice set of controls for each sound (except the cowbell) to edit them to your liking.

To go along with the punchy yet welcoming drum sounds, the effects department brings us an analog distortion circuit to replace the filter that was included with the OG model.

The 64-step sequencer is fun and very playable-especially with the roll ribbon, individual mute and solo modes, and polyrhythm capabilities.

As a guitarist though, you’ll mostly be looking at the Drumbrute Impact for its song mode.

Few drum machines in this price range offer a song mode, and for those looking to play along to a “backing track” type of situation, this is a huge feature for such a compact and affordable quality drum machine.

Cons

One thing to note about the Drumbrute Impact is that while the patterns and songs are savable, the sounds are not.

As a pure analog drum machine, what you see on the front panel is what you get, meaning that changes in sound settings do not change with pattern and there is no sound storage either.

There is also no scaling of patterns, so a 64-step count per track is the maximum amount of steps you get per pattern no matter what.

5. Roland TR-6S

Roland TR-6S Rhythm Performer

The Roland TR-6S is the new-school drum machine with an old-school flair you’ve been looking for.

Why We Love It:
  • Loaded with welcomed onboard effects
  • Fun to use
  • Intuitive
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The Roland TR-6S is a fun compact drum machine with classic Roland drum machine sounds and more with the use of samples.

Add to this a fun and intuitive sequencer with sound editing capabilities and live performance features, and you have a very capable, portable drum machine to go with your guitar.

Features

  • 6-track drum machine
  • Classic Roland 32-step sequencer with performance features
  • ACB modeling of classic Roland sounds offers component-to-component authentic modeling
  • Includes classic models of TR-808, and TR-909. TR-707, TR-606, and more
  • FM engine
  • User sample support
  • 8 variations per pattern 
  • Pattern chaining
  • Portable (takes 4 AA batteries)
  • Included effects: Reverb, Delay, Compressor, Filters, Distortion, Fuzz, Phaser, Flanger, Ring Mod
  • Midi in/out, USB
  • 128 user kits
  • 128 user patterns

The TR-6S is a six-track version of the larger TR-8S, so it features the same Roland ACB (Analog Circuit Behavior) digital models of their classic Roland drum machine sounds.

Roland drum machines have a legacy of use in popular music, and you’ll instantly recognize many of these sounds as soon as they play.

Roland’s ACB circuits sound remarkably good, respond very well to changes in settings, and really capture the magic of the original drum machines.

All the classic Roland drum sounds (like the TR-808, TR-909, TR-606, TR-707, etc) are here, along with an FM sound engine, preset samples, and custom user sample support.

In the pattern storage and performance department, the TR-6S sports up to 128 user patterns with 8 variations per pattern.

In addition to this, there are two fill states per pattern and motion recording. The TR-6S also has six faders and three knobs for sound editing.

You can also store up to 128 user kits to draw your sounds from.

On top of the sound editing engine, the TR-6S comes with a load of welcomed onboard effects such as reverb, delay, compressor, filters, distortion, fuzz, phaser, flanger, and ring mod.

In the playback department, while the Roland TR-6S lacks a song mode, it does feature pattern chaining mode, so you can chain a set of patterns to play in succession (much like a song mode).

Again, this is a great feature for guitarists, as you can move a song along without having to stop and change a pattern. Alternatively, you can use external gear to sequence a song.

Cons

The TR-6S is limited to 6 tracks of audio.

While there are plenty of 4-track drum machines out there in good use, 6 tracks can quickly leave you wanting that extra cowbell or tom that you just can’t work in without taking away another important track.

In addition to this, the step sequencer is serviceable at 32 steps, but 64 is fairly standard these days.

If you’re looking to play long samples, the TR-6S is limited to 180 seconds of mono audio and isn’t really suited for this despite its sample playback capabilities.

It sort of makes sense for a drum machine, as you would normally use short one-shot samples for drums, but still a limitation.

Final Thoughts

The world of drum machines is vast, and with a short list we’ve missed out on many other great choices like the Korg Volca Drum, Novation Circuits, Roland, TR-8S, and many more.

While they are all legitimate contenders, we found these 5 to be the best for guitarists of various levels of skill, sound palettes, and price ranges.

Finding the right one for your needs can be tricky, but with the 5 listed here, you have a great starting point.