What is the Best Wood for Drum Shells

When you’re looking to buy a new drum kit, sometimes the number of options can be daunting. The most confusing of all is what type of wood is the best to get the sound you want.
When looking for the best wood for drum shells, we need to know the qualities of each different type of wood. The standard for American drum makers today is Birch and Maple. Both sound great, and if all else fails, you can’t go wrong buying a kit made with either of those woods.
But what about kits made from other wood types that aren’t as common? Are those kits worth picking up, or are drum makers just using those rare woods as a clever marketing ploy to get you to buy them for a higher price? The answer is both.
Each wood type comes with it’s own tonality and EQ, but due to rarity and difficulty in manufacturing, sometimes they come with a more expensive price tag. So what are these woods, and what are the best woods for you?

Wooden Drum ShellsBirch

Birch drum shells are probably the most common ones on the market today. Birch trees are abundant, which allows the wood to be sold at a lower price. You can find both low-end and high-end birch drum sets, simply because it is an easy wood to find and work with.

Birch wood is especially known for it’s tonal qualities, with peaks in the high and low end frequencies. Birch drums tend to sound full and round, with plenty of projection.

As a standard for wood drum sets, going with birch drum shells is a sound choice.

Maple

Maple drum shells are the typical alternative to birch. Maple trees can be found just as easily as birch, but are sold for slightly higher price.

Maple is a much harder and dense wood than Birch, and is much heavier. For many years, almost all drum kits were made exclusively out of maple. This was in large part due to the Keller Drums company who made most of the high-end drums for all the major drum manufacturers we know today.

Most high-end kits that you find will be made out of maple wood, since it is known for it’s maximum resonance, and it’s slightly higher mid-range. Drums made out of maple will produce a more even sound, and a warmer tone, but won’t project as much as birch.

Overall, buying maple shells is a great choice, but be aware that they will probably come at a higher price.

Wood for Drum ShellsAfrican Mahogany

Mahogany shells are the third most common option for drum manufacturers today. Be wary when looking at mahogany drums since some companies will use cheaper less expensive mahogany, also known as luan, which is much softer and not ideal for drum making.

When looking at mahogany drum shells, make sure that you are buying African Mahogany. Mahogany manufacturing is a little more rare, so kits made from the wood will tend to be more expensive.

Mahogany shells are known to have much more low-end to other drums giving it a lot of “punch” and bottom end. The tone produced from Mahogany will be warm and soft, with less projection than both birch and maple.

If you are looking for a slightly different sound that is still known for it’s quality, go with African Mahogany.

Oak

Oak drum shells are very rare due to the fact that oak wood is not an easy wood to work with. Here, we are talking about Japaense Oak, and not the other types of oak wood which are more readily available. Yamaha drums has a well known to line of Oak Custom drums available, which I personally owned and loved for many years.

Today, more and more companies are releasing oak drum kits with great reviews. Oak drums, much like maple, are dense and heavy, but they produce a much brighter and louder tone due to their boosted high-end.

Oak wood makes great drums, however due to the rarity of oak and how difficult it is to work with, oak drums will be significantly more expensive, and in then end, you may never find one.

Beech

You could consider beech drum shells as another alternative to birch and maple. Beech wood is another hard dense wood that will produce very heavy drums.

Tonaly speaking, it will bridge the gap between both birch and maple, but it identifies closer to the birch sound. Drums kits made of beech wood will have slightly less lows than birch, but slightly more high-end than maple.

Beech is a common wood, and is fairly easy to work with, which should make it slightly less expensive than other rarer woods. Beech is a nice choice if you are looking for an alternative wood that doesn’t stray too far from the standard.

Best Wood for Drum shellsBubinga

Drums made from bubinga wood, or African rosewood as it is sometimes called, is more rare to come by, and as such will come at a much higher price. Currently, Tama makes a nice Bubinga wood drum kit, but there are a few other companies that have other such drums and snares.

Bubinga drums are most related to maple drums in tonality. Drums made of bubinga will feature a much darker sound, with a full, rich sustain, as well as a nice attack. These drums are actually a very nice choice due to their pleasing sound, and it is a wonder why more drums are not made from the wood.

If you are looking for a different wood to use, I would encourage you to check out a line of bubinga wood kits.


In the end, it doesn’t seem to matter what type of wood you are using. The search for the best wood for drum shells is largely a personal one. Some woods are more common than others, and some provide more unique tonal qualities.

The choice of what to buy is always up to you. Take some time to learn about the qualities of each type of wood in order to make an educated decision.

13 Comments

  1. inasays:

    Try this
     – Java rosewood
    – Borneo iron (Bulian)
    – Macassar Ebony​​​​
    – Teak (Jati)​
    Specialy java rosewood and makasar ebony its sound beautifull than 4 above.
    – Tiger borneo rosewood
    – Sungkai​
    – Merbau  

  2. Dennissays:

    Your statement regarding Yamaha Oak Drums not being made is not true and your crit above needs to be edited. The Chinese factory ha been making them for the last two years. Please correct you post. Let alone that DW Drums and a number of specialist/custom drum companies have released Oak kits, which proves its popularity

  3. Mr khansays:

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  4. zawinulsays:

    Very interesting article. Now, what will you end up with when you mix the wood, one ply of this and one ply of that how will that affect the sound of a drum?

  5. William Luesays:

    Do you have any comment on African Wenge wood?

    • Hey Willian!

      I actually don’t know too much about African Wenge. Seems to be kind of rare, and thus will probably yield a more expensive drum kit. It’s a harder wood and I’m guessing will producing a more mid-range tone. Remember that the wood is almost irrelevant if the manufacturing process isn’t stellar to begin with. A bad drum maker can make a beautiful piece of wood sound awful.

  6. To me beechwood is more to the ear than bubinga I don’t like birch mahogany or popular I love sonor drums the best drums around by my choice better than dw

  7. Lee Hantelmannsays:

    Walnut was not mentioned. I have some walnut snares that sound warmer and darker than anything else, including mahogany! If you want a warm tone with a little less projection try walnut.

    • Hey Lee,

      I certainly need to update this page and add a few more woods! Thanks for the comment and information though! I love walnut drums!

      • Michael T DeGenerosays:

        Walnut fairly new think about how many different woods there are then trying to get them to work they say beech wood mostly in sonor drums are very loud they are right I owned a set they were Louie furniture birch luan poplar were all in the beginning of drums today we buying a walnut Cyprus pine hybrids maple they say is like the best overall but then again your set you study the woods I have been for years and it’s still all up to who’s playing before I go we really haven t touched ground on all the woods thank you good magazine I love it drum keep it up

  8. Jeffrey A Krinersays:

    It would be cool if you added your take on vintage and modern American drum companies that mixed and mix map & poplar.
    Thanks.

    • Hey Jeffrey!

      Yes, this page is needing a bit of an update. Lots of new information has come my way, and there are plenty of other wood types to cover! Thanks for the reminder!

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