Top-Tier Timekeepers: High-end Drum Kits Sales in 2018

by Christian Wissmuller • in
  • February 2018
  • Roundtable
• Created: February 16, 2018

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MMR checks in with representatives from five major players in the design and production of high-end drum sets to learn about trends in that market segment, technical innovations, and the strategies of successful dealers who do particularly well with these instruments…

How are sales of truly upper-tier, high-end drum sets doing for your brand, compared to this same time in 2017?

Scott Donnell: This a relative question at DW. We’re fortunate to enjoy market share at this price point, and we have a breadth of product produced at our California facility that would be considered high-end. Drummers can choose from our high-quality Performance Series production sets at an exceptional value, or go custom and sky’s the limit! I think we have a very unique value proposition as compared to our boutique competitors. With so many shell configurations now available, customers can sonically customize their sets, as well visually personalize them. They’re willing to save up to build their “dream kit.” Our independent dealer network has broken records this year and they know how to service the “dream kit” customer.




Terry Bissette: They are stable and sales are a constant. Not our top selling series in units sold due to the price point, but sales are quite steady and growing.

Stephen Fisher: Yamaha sales have improved with our high-end sets compared to last year, mainly due to the launch of the new Recording Custom sets in 2016 and, most recently, our 50th Anniversary sets in 2017. Both have been selling well. Our recent Yamaha Drums 50th Anniversary event in Los Angeles, where customers had the opportunity to try all of our series of sets, brought attention to our other high-end series of drum sets like the Absolute Hybrid Maple, Live Custom, and PHX lines.

Kevin D. Packard: We are having an exceptional year for high-end sales. Pearl offers more custom options for high-end drums than any other drum company with our Masterworks series. We can also deliver hand-customized Reference, Reference Pure, and Masters Maple Reserve series drums with the strongest delivery promise in our industry (14 business days, to be precise) through our Music City Custom Shop. These may sound like two very bold statements, but the significant investments we have made in expanding our USA workshop facilities and making our high-end programs better suited to the boutique dealer have set the stage for some really stunning instruments. We have also increased our outreach to the drumming consumer and made them part of the process, and more players are taking notice as a result. Increasing options and decreasing the wait time have given us a significant increase in these kits and components over the previous year.


Gary Ingrafia: We have seen a considerable sales increase in high end drum sets this year.

Of these elite drum kits, what model is your “hottest” seller at the moment?

TB: Legacy series. Legacy series drums are offered in Maple or Mahogany version shells. They are faithful recreations of the design and sound characteristics we offered in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. They are the same type of shells played historically by Joe Morello, Max Roach, Ginger Baker, Mitch Mitchell, John Bonham, Ian Paice, and Ringo, to name just a few.

GI: Our SQ2 Custom kits and snares have proven to be or hottest seller over the past year.

KDP: With so many options to choose from in our Masterworks series, we tried to narrow the scope a little by introducing five different performance-specific drum shell formulas in 2017 called the Sonic Select Shell Recipes. The Studio Formula, comprised of heavier hardware elements on a thin Maple/Gum shell, has been particularly popular with players and dealers. The kits have a classic Pearl look and the sound they produce is punchy, immediate, and powerful. This seems to be the most popular of the Sonic Select Recipes, so we have actually been designing kits in this formula (and others) for stock and getting them out through our Concierge Drum Dealers so players can experience them first-hand.

SF: The Recording Custom sets have done very well. Due in part to the popularity and name, so has the Recording Custom line of snare drums.

SD: Whether it’s our flagship Collector’s Series, or our more esoteric Jazz, Classics, or other series, they’re all built-to-order. Drummers that save for a custom set often take it to the limit with an exotic wood finish. They’re steady sellers, and 2017 was no exception. Again, this is something that is synonymous with DW, and we invest in offering our customers a level of customization that is second to none.

What factors, specifically, make these sets worth the price? What are end-users looking for?

KDP: A high-end drum set is like a luxury timepiece – it’s a personal investment in precision, performance, and prestige. As such, it is also a lifetime investment and not one you really want to take chances on or make exceptions for. The player that makes an investment in a Masterworks or Reference drum kit knows the sound they want and the look they want to be represented by. With this in mind we have made the selection process something very personal, and we work with our Concierge Dealers to interact with the drummer so they know these drums were made specifically for them. The instruments we select are not only a reflection of our playing, but our personalities as well, so making sure the player’s voice is heard in the design of these drums is paramount.

SF: The Recording Custom is an iconic, well-established name as a premium drum set with unique features. With the new Recording Custom, the set retains the essence of the famous Recording Custom “sound,” but with an improved tone we developed that works well not only with today’s music aesthetically, but also with how music is recorded today. When you collaborate for three years with Steve Gadd, and then combine that with additional evaluations by a host of our top artists, you create a drum set that is desired by just about every drummer.

GI: The SQ2 line of drums is a true custom drum-building experience, allowing the customer to choose between four shell materials, four shell thicknesses, hardware finishes, and thousands of outer and inner shell finish combinations. The SQ2 line represents the best the SONOR has to offer. End users are looking for a great sounding high quality drum kit. They are also looking for the ability to customize their purchase. End users will not hesitate to pay a premium for this experience.

SD: Drummers want their set-up their be their fingerprint. It’s a symbol of their creativity and musical expression. They like to choose sizes and finishes that are a reflection of their personality. To that end, having five drum hardware color options is a plus. They can mix and match with a multitude of finishes to create a truly unique visual statement. We’ve also continued to upgrade features such as our tuning systems, throw-offs, counter-hoops, head selections, et cetera, so that the drums remain state-of-the-art. Innovation is a huge part of the DW brand image.

TB: Simply put? The sound! For many years people have been looking for the “classic drum sound” that defined jazz and many facets of rock and roll. For a lot of folks, this was the sound they grew up with, the sound that defined their formative years as a player. A few years ago Ludwig decided to recreate the thin three-ply shells that delivered the sound and feel consumers were pining for. Prior to this, the only way to get those sounds was to buy a used vintage kit. But as we all know, many of those older kits are no longer in the best of shape. Many have been abused or stored improperly and age has taken its toll. Drummers back in the day liked to take the bottom heads off, so the result now is a vintage kit with chipped up bearing edges that aren’t suitable for tuning. We spend a lot of time and effort in the recreation process, using similar, period-correct raw materials to produce the sound. This includes the installation of maple reinforcement rings inside the three-ply shells. This is a key ingredient in relation to how the shells vibrate and also provides a “sweet spot” for the head placement while tuning. The shell design also provides a “feel factor” that you don’t typically find on many modern day drums. The stick-to-head rebound is softer to the touch, and some folks say the sound produced is “warm and buttery.”


What strategies have you observed to be successful for dealers who do especially well in terms of marketing and selling high-end drums?

TB: I find those dealers typically have a very well trained and educated staff. They can talk the talk and they know their stuff. Many of them offer tutorial videos that demonstrate the sound of the drums in a variety of tunings and applications. And their business flourishes as a result.

GI: Dealers who provide the most useful end user content seem to be having the most success selling high-end drums. Product videos that include detailed information as well as sound samples and performance. We have also seen that dealers who stock high-end drums are outselling those who do not at least 4 to 1.

SD: The dealers that understand their audience always have the edge. They know what we do and can communicate that to their customers. We’re also proactive about keeping them educated on our latest upgrades and innovations. In fact, we recently launched the “Book of Plies” that outlines our shell making process in detail:

We also work hard to train our internal sales staff so they can pass on the information whenever possible. These days, we’re adding new options at a rapid rate, so it’s a challenge to get the information out to the public, but it’s an exciting time for consumers, to be sure!

KDP: Every drummer can relate to looking at their “dream drum kit” in a catalog or on the web and imagining what it must be like to play it. It’s one thing to watch a video of someone playing a kit or hear one in a concert setting, but it’s entirely different to see it in person to see if the hype and “marketing speak” is really worth the price tag. This is why we work with the stores in our Concierge Dealer Program to not only assure that there is a kit on their sales floor that consumers can experience, but that there is HD video and audio content backing it up on the web. We are consistently adding new content produced at our state-of-the-art in-house studio facility, to make sure dealers have the tools to help drummers make an informed decision in crafting the kit of their dreams.

SF: We see success with high-end drum sets among dealers who have an exceptional buying experience online and/or instore, and most importantly those who have skilled salespeople. Being knowledgeable is necessary for sales staff, but it’s not enough; they must also be able to develop relationships with customers that can add value during and after the sale.






To what extent does affiliation with a big name drummer or band impact sales of these big-ticket sets?

SD: This is an interesting one. Artists can be a huge asset and, at the same time, they can be polarizing. This has never been more true than in the age of social media. We witness consumer reaction in real time and oftentimes, we can be surprised at what we see. That said, we have some very high-profile endorsers and they certainly move the needle in terms of credibility and public perception.

SF: We find that with high-end drums, it does makes an impact. If the customer sees and hears well-respected or favorite drummers playing a certain brand or series, that will count among the first considerations in a customer’s journey to a purchase.

KDP: There are definitely influencers in the playing field and we are very proud of our growing roster of Pearl drummers. However, I feel the definition of today’s “big name” drummer is changing rapidly thanks to YouTube and other online performance platforms. The right drummer playing the right gear can go a long way in influencing a drummer, even if they aren’t playing to sold-out arena crowds every night. However, there are certain players that just seem to resonate with drummers of all ages, and the drums they play definitely have an impact on the people who are paying attention.

TB: In today’s world, I think it helps. Product credibility is often dictated by high profile players’ visibility and accessibility. You can’t always find top tier offerings in many brick and mortar stores, so the next best thing is to see a touring drummer and decide for yourself. Of course, you need to also consider the amplification involved, et cetera.

GI: Well known artists have a considerable positive influence over high-end drum sales. Through these artists, end users can find a true, real-world representation of these drums through live performances, studio recordings, and instructional videos that most drummers are producing these days.

Do you have any new or upcoming product introductions in this category that you’d like to share with our readers?

KDP: The first five Sonic Select Shell Recipe kits (one of each in the Stadium, Studio, Urban, Heritage, and Modern Dry Recipes) of this year will be featured in our 2018 catalog and were at the Winter NAMM show in January. Each one has a luxurious look and feel, with exotic elements that make them truly special. Each will tie-in with a video series featuring the drums and drummers of these genre-specific kits, and be available through one of our Concierge Dealers at a special price.

GI: Sonor has just introduced our new kit configurator, providing a fully immersive 3D drum building experience that is revolutionary in the MI world. End users and dealers can build their custom drum set and see their choices in real time using photo realistic 3D modeling. We have seen a considerable spike in sales due to this interactive interface.

TB: Not at this point in time. But watch out for 2019, the 110th Anniversary of Ludwig!

SD: For 2018, we’ll be launching some kits that are very much in keeping with the DW expectation: a new, Limited Edition Pure wood kit, some new Collector’s Series hybrid shells, and an offshoot of DW Classics, our vintage-inspired line. We also have something top-secret scheduled for mid-year. Have to keep you guessing on that one.

SF: We will have several new exciting products this next year that will expand the Yamaha drum series lineup.

Expectations for high-end drum set sales in 2018?

SF: Sales of high-end products tend to show some volatility as the economy evolves. Provided the economy stays strong, we expect to keep growing in our high-end series of drum sets.

KDP: We want to continue with these programs aggressively in the Masterworks and Music City Custom lines to maintain the momentum we saw through 2016 and 2017. Additionally, innovations developed for our boutique series kits, and many of the features that make them unique, have found their way into our more player-accessible drum lines. For instance, some of the edge and wood combinations in the Sonic Select recipes have been integrated into our new Session Studio Select drums. These are drums made with marquee materials at a value-centered price, and top Pearl Artists are taking them on tour regardless of the cost because they look and sound amazing. Sales for Pearl’s high-end segment can no longer be traced merely in how many Masterworks kits we sell, it’s also in the Masters, Session, and even Export kits we sell that have many of the same components.

SD: We’re bullish. Not that high-end drums are growing in any significant way, but we’re confident that we deliver a quality instrument, as the economy seems to be headed in the right direction, at least in the immediate future.

TB: Given the growth curve we’ve seen for the last few years, I think it’s safe to say it will continue to grow as consumers discover what we have to offer nowadays.

GI: We feel that high-end drum sales will continue to grow in 2018 as end users are continuing to seek premium products for their needs. Even though the entry and intermediate market leads in units sold, the high-end market is getting more traction as drummers seek to play and be seen playing unique and premium instruments. These instruments are crucial for success as profit centers and brand equity builders.

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