Do Professional Musicians use Electronic Drums?

Ever wondered if professional musicians use electronic drums? Some drummers posting on popular forums will have you believe that electronic drums are not suitable for professional use. That couldn’t be further from the truth – electronic drums have been used by professional drummers going back many years, including being incorporated into a hybrid acoustic/electronic kit, or even fully electronic. Read on to find out why some professional drummers choose electronic drums and some examples of professionals that use them.

Can you use electronic drums on stage?

One of the biggest myths about electronic drums amongst stubborn acoustic drum players is that they can’t be used on stage. This couldn’t be further from the truth, you can play live with electronic drums.

Professionals use electronic drums on stage for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, eDrums offer the ability to use the exact same drum sounds or samples as on the recording. The majority of pop songs these days use drum samples or drum machines, and it is common for artists to want their live shows to sound just like the original recordings.

Electronic drums can be programmed to play the original sampled drum sounds used in the actual song, either via the module’s onboard SD card or using MIDI and a computer. This is common among both the drummers for the original artists, as well as cover bands who want a truly authentic sound.

Second is the ability to play low-volume gigs. Many venues are subject to noise limits, particularly those in or near residential areas. Personally, I have played a few gigs on my acoustic kit where a decibel meter has been pulled out by the venue staff, forcing me to try and play more quietly. Trust me – it’s not easy to play an energetic rock show behind the kit when your drumming needs to come in under a specific decibel level.

Instead, electronic drums mean I can play live as energetically as I want, while the output volume can be controlled by the sound engineer. If you want to use electronic drums live, read more about using an amp or PA with eDrums, and if you need a DI box for electronic drums.

Some acoustic drummers will be worried about the visuals and stage presence of using eDrums live. However, things have changed in the eDrum space over the last few years, thanks to the introduction of electronic drums that look like acoustic drums. These days, many eDrums actually use real wood shells which under stage lighting, look like real acoustic drums to the layman.

Related: Compare the best Roland eDrum kits

Electronic drums as a tool for the studio

Electronic drums are also popular in the studio among amateur and professional drummers and producers. Somewhat surprisingly, this was not pioneered by pop music producers alone, it is also a common trend in heavy metal music.

In fact, Toontrack, the makers of EZdrummer and Superior Drummer, started out with their Drumkit from Hell drum sampler in 1999, which was designed for metal producers looking to program drums for their tracks.

The extreme drumming found in the metal genre means real drum recordings often need to be heavily edited and quantized to keep the beat. Similarly, it can be hard to consistently keep up the intensity. Even the best metal drummers can struggle to keep up perfectly in time 16th note double bass drum rhythms at full volume.

Which professional drummers use electronic drums?

A number of professional drummers use electronic drums. While there are countless noted drummers who use electronics listed on Wikipedia, here’s a handful of the most well-known ones across a variety of genres:

Niel Peart

The late Rush sticksman has long used electronic drums in his set-up. Peart first incorporated electronic percussion into his set in the 80s, helping to enable the band’s more electronic sound in that era. He later became a Roland artist in 2001, touring with the Roland TD-10 and V-drum pads.

Peart later graduated to the TD-20 and TD-30 modules, using a complex set-up with his module triggering other rack-mounted equipment via MIDI. More details about his kit can be found in this post at

Rob Bourdon (Linkin Park)

Electronics were fundamental to the sound of 00’s Nu-metal outfit Linkin Park, with drummer Rob Bourdon augmenting DJ Joe Hahn. According to Wikipedia, Bourdon used six Pintech pads to the left of his kit to trigger various snare samples and bring the studio sound to the stage.

Josh Dun (21 Pilots)

21 Pilots drummer Josh Dun typically plays a hybrid kit with various pads and a Roland SPD spread around his acoustic kit. But has also used a complete Roland electronic kit on the B stage at large arena shows, taking advantage of an interesting benefit of electronic drums.

As explained in the 65 Drums video below, the 21 Pilots live show called for Dun to be positioned in the middle of the arena for certain segments of the show. The problem with such a large space is that latency becomes an issue, and audience members near Dun’s B stage kit would hear a delay between the drums being played live and that sound being amplified by the speakers at the other end of the arena.

The solution was to use a full Roland kit using acoustic to electronic converted drum shells to maintain the ‘acoustic’ look. Using the full electronic kit, audience members near Dun would no longer hear the drums near them, they’d only hear them from the main arena sound system, eliminating the latency issue.

Rick Allen (Def Leppard)

Rick Allen of Def Leppard is another famous drummer to use electronic drums after losing his left arm in a tragic car accident. While recovering, Allen began to devise a new electronic drum set that would allow him to continue with his passion for drumming, and later go on tour with Def Leppard.

His set is another hybrid kit, this time using acoustic cymbals, fully electronic drum pads, occasionally with an acoustic snare, and a large number of electronic drum pedals on his left to trigger various samples and loops.

A full overview of his miraculous recovery and the genesis of his electronic kit can be found in this Modern Drummer article from 1988, as well as an excellent deep dive into his set-up below by 65 Drums.

Allen’s use of electronics may be an inspiration for drummers with disabilities since acoustic drums did not offer him the flexibility to be able to play his music. Electronic drums can be configured in many different ways and may be a way to help make drumming more accessible for people who might not be able to play an acoustic drum kit.

Zak Starkey (The Who)

Son of Ringo Starr, Zak Starkey joined veteran rockers The Who in 1996 and has been known to use a fully electronic kit live since 2019, similar to Josh Dun’s B stage kit but used across an entire show.

According to this Facebook post, Starkey’s kit is a custom-built DW kit, converted to electronic with rim protectors and mesh heads, plus a full complement of Roland cymbal pads. The post claims he is triggering acoustic drum samples, which likely means he is using a drum VST, which are widely used by electronic drummers to make their kits sound real.

The post also highlights the benefits of this set-up, including much faster set-up and tear down, better control over on-stage volume helping band members communicate and use their preferred monitoring solutions, plus consistent drum sounds across shows.

This kit was used as part of an orchestral show, which is a great example of where electronic drums are beneficial, so as not to drown out other quieter instruments.

The kit can be seen at points in the video below.

It’s true: professionals use electronic drums

As seen above, professionals do use electronic drums, and have done since the early days of electronic drums, whether incorporated into a hybrid kit or a fully electronic kit. 

What is common across all the drummers featured above is a specific need that acoustic drums did not offer. Thinking about electronic drums in this way may help you become more creative with your music whether in the studio or on stage. With the ability for electronic drums to be connected to a whole host of other devices via MIDI or USB, drummers can go beyond the limitations of acoustic drums alone.

Photo credit: Real_Jansen

By Seb Atkinson

Seb has been a drummer since 2004 and an eDrummer since 2008. He founded eDrumHub to provide information on electronic drums for other drummers who can't justify an acoustic drum kit for practice at home.