The first thing to say is that today’s starter kits are incredible bargains. It seems to be a feature of the Oriental way of doing business that each year the product gets better and has more features while the price is maintained or even reduced. This is something we see in Oriental goods from electronics to cars. Budget and starter kits today are almost all made in Taiwan or China, where labor costs are less.
This includes kits bearing the name of the famous American, European and Japanese drum companies. Leaving aside any political or moral considerations, the fact is that Oriental factories churn out drum kits that get better every year, at a fraction of the cost possible in North America, Europe or Japan. The budget market we have today started very early in the 1980s with the first Pearl Export drum kit.
Many current starter kits still have the same Pearl-style double-post tom-tom bracket and Pearl-style tension lugs. Pearl has kept the Export name and year-by-year improved its specification. And as Pearl’s model has improved so the benefits have passed down the line. Dozens of Export clones have been marketed with all sorts of names worldwide, like Active, Aria, Cannon, CB, DB, Diamond, Dixon, Groove Percussion, Hohner, Peace, Percussion Plus, Performance Percussion, Pulse, Session Pro, Sunlite, Stagg, Thunder and Virtuoso. Sometimes they bear the names of established musical instrument importers/distributors like Hohner; at other times the names are just made up to sound appealing.
The list can never be complete, as names have continually changed over the years and occasionally dealers have gone out of business. There is always this risk, so if you can locate a kit from an established company, so much the better. Pearl’s Export became the biggest selling drum kit in history while continually being upgraded. Thus it gradually moved away from the beginners’ market towards the middle, semi-professional, club bracket. This left the beginners’ market open to the generic kits that followed in the Export’s wake.
The problem for Pearl and the other dedicated drum manufacturers was that they were now losing their important introductory market. So in order to build brand loyalty they introduced starter kits again. At first some of these were simply generic kits emblazoned with the names of the illustrious drum companies. And a rather sad sight they made in some casesOe However, the big names soon started to get their act together, imposing their own characteristics and style on cheap kits made under license in Taiwan, etc.
In doing so they created a new upper end for the beginners’ market. Hence in the mi-1990s we welcomed Pearl’s Forum kit, which undercut its own Export and placed Pearl in the beginner market once again. The end result of all this activity is that we still have generic kits with various levels of sophistication, but on top of those are kits like the Forum, bearing the names of the dedicated drum companies. The Forum has, of course, been followed by equivalent kits from the other top names n thus the Gretsch Blackhawk, Ludwig Accent, Mapex V, Peavey Radial Pro 501, Premier Cabria, Remo Bravo, Sonor Force 1001, Tama Swingstar, Yamaha YD and Rydeen, and so on.