Pro Audio

Pearl: from post-war percussion to music royalty

Pearl’s defining sound and eye for quality have allowed the company to build a brand that is synonymous with modern drumming.

Pretty much every drummer at one point in their lives has played a Pearl drum kit. Whether it be at a local bar for their first gig, in a lesson as a wee little hand tapper, or in front of thousands of people at a festival, Pearl has been there, providing them with the necessary tools for gut-busting beats and explosive solos.

Despite being much younger than some of their rivals, Pearl has continued to innovate and stand out in the crowd, forging a legacy that sees their brand name as one of the most recognisable in the drumming world. With their drums played by some of the most famous drummers in the world, it’s hard to see why when many think of drums, Pearl is the name that comes to mind.

Pearl drums
Photo: Drummer’s Review

From humble beginnings

Founded in post-war Japan in 1946, Pearl was the brain-child of Katsumi Yanagisawa. The company started out as a manufacturer of music stands for the Japanese market. However, as their reputation for quality grew, Katsumi’s new business was encouraged to move into the production of drums and began constructing hardware and soon after, snares and cheap kits under the brand names of various other distributors.

Katsumi decided to name the company Pearl, in recognition of the quality and prestige of their products. In 1966, two decades after its foundation, Pearl released their first professional drum set: The President Series.

The President Series was distributed around the US by the Norlin Corporation, the parent company of Gibson at the time. This expansion allowed the Japanese company to continue to innovate, constructing shells made out of a composite known as Phenolic, and creating the Vari-Pitch line of drums.

To compete with its American rival Ludwig and their Vistalite series, they started building clear acrylic drums, which are still manufactured today under the title of Crystal Beats. Possibly their biggest innovation of the time was the invention of the hinged tube tom arm, a design that was copied by countless drum companies and is still used to this day. Today, while their range is drastically different, the quality and reputation remain the same.

Pearl President Series
The Pearl President Series, the company’s first pro-level kit.
Photo: Pearl

Played by the very best

Pearl’s continuous innovation and defining tone saw their name on the bass drum head of many massive artists from around the world, further cementing its credibility and reputation. Chad Smith of The Red Hot Chilli Peppers has waved the Pearl flag for his entire professional drumming career, resulting in a signature snare and drum kit.

Ian Paice of Deep Purple made the leap from Ludwig to Pearl in the mid 80s, and has since had a signature snare and kit developed. Other names like Dennis Chambers, Todd Sucherman, and Matt McGuire all feature on the long and impressive list of Pearl endorsers.

Letting you bang your own drum

Ensuring that every player has a kit that meets their needs, Pearl has developed a broad range of kits, featuring different materials, layouts, and budgets. Each drum is made using their SST (Super Shell Technology), which involves pressing the plies of the shell very tightly together while the glue boils and dries, guaranteeing a durable and quality drum.

The pinnacle of this is the Masterworks. These drums are handmade and custom-ordered, meaning that each kit is unique and specific to the customer’s needs and represents the peak of percussion performance.

On the other end of the spectrum is Pearl’s infamous Export series. The Export is the budget offering from Pearl and is based on their high-end reference series. With a 6-ply shell made of poplar and Asian mahogany, the export series offers excellent versatility, tone, and attack despite the low price tag. This combination has seen the Export series become the best-selling drum kit of all time.

Pearl is a company that is at the top of its game when it comes to making quality drums. While they have branched out into other ventures, flutes for example, drum production is the heart and soul of the company — it’s something that can be heard playing one of their kits. If this classic company continues its proud tradition of innovation and durability, that famous logo will continue to grace the stage.