ive played some birch custom absolutes that were amazing drums. ive never been a real big fan of the oak customs, not to say that theyre at all bad, just not my favorites. the maple custom and maple custom absolutes are also supposed to be very nice, but i havent heard them in person. i wouldnt go for the noveau option, from what i hear the lugs are weak.
It depends how much you're willing to spend and what you're looking for. The Yamaha Custom series might be the most popular line of drums for recording musicians. There are also a lot of them out there on the big stages. The Absolute series offers Custom-type woods and performance at a better value. OTOH, Yamahas are also some of the most expensive mass-manufactured kits on the market. YMMV
My suggestion would be to play as many Yamahas as you can. Also, as I would suggest to anyone looking buy something more than an entry level kit, get to know woods and how they impact the market. For example, the more expensive wood (usually maple) does not necessarily mean better sound. Maple is different from birch, African mahogany, oak, walnut, etc., but it is more rare, so market forces drive up the cost of maple kits. Some people just prefer birch, and it is becoming the industry standard because of the belief it has the best balance between the warmth of maple while providing more projection than maple. Once again, YMMV, and the job is to use your own ears. Also, realize the biggest difference mid-range kits, like the Yamaha Absolutes, the high-end kits, like the Recording Customs is almost always hardware. You can always buy a mid-range kit and upgrade the hardware later (ex. replacing triple-flanged hoops with 2.3 MM hoops or even something after market, like Dunnett titanium rolled cold rims).
I would normally suggest buying a used kit. Kits -- especially the high-end kits -- tend to have a 30-year+ shelf life, yet people who own the high-end kits don't seem to care to hold on to one for more than 5 years. Take advantage of depreciation. Know how much a new version of the kit you're looking at costs. However, keep in mind a Yamaha Recording Custom, for example, is going to hold its value better than a mid-range kit of similar wood type, simply because the demand for used Recording Customs are high.
My last bit of advice -- hopefully you know this, but just in case -- is to make sure you know what you're buying. High-end kits don't typically come with a snare, hi-hat stand, cymbal stand, snare stand, etc. Almost universally, you are buying a shell pack. This is because pros tend to not use the snare that comes with a kit -- in fact, pros will likely have many snares in their arsenal depending on the gig. Also, the tend to already have their own hardware, so if they want the hardware that comes with the line of drums, they pay extra for it. Typically speaking, what you're paying for on a high-end kit is top-notch hardware attached to the shells, expensive wood, and your own custom diameter/depth preference for toms and bass drum.
Good luck. Know your budget. Use your ears. Go with your instinct. Best advice I could give.
Decide how much you want to spend, go somewhere and jam on as many kits in your price range as you can (even if it is Guitar Center or some other huge conglomerate), find the kit you like, then track down a similar kit that is used. There are a ton of used for sale out there. Use the money you save for head/hardware upgrades and such. FYI - I love the mounting system on Yams.
I play a 1987 Yamaha Recording custom...one of the best purchases of ANYTHING I have made in my life.
I bought them in 1995. I had a few thousand to spend on a new set up, but couldn't afford a DW (at the time, what EVERYONE WANTED).
I found a used set, 5 toms, 2 snares and a kick drum. These were made of birch and sounded great.
I wanted to buy a quality instrument first and foremost. I had a good skill level at the time, but my gear was crap. I was tired of showing up to gigs and having people see my incredibly low-level gear (in LA people tend to make snap judgements about your playing...especially if you're doing sessions).
And so, just like it's cool to buy an old guitar if it's cool, I applied the same thinking to drums...just get something that was high quality, no matter the year it was made.
As it turns out, I have used the drums on 100's of recording dates. They always sound great. They have a few dings here and there, but when you start playing, producers and audience members alike begin smiling!
And now, I find that a lot of people want this particular kit (because of it's well know reliability and sound). I field questions from people all the time, and a lot of people offer to buy it from me.
Sorry folks, it's not for sale. Buying this kit was like a guitarist buy an 1972 Les Paul Gold Top... a good fuckin' decision!
Boy did I get lucky!
(and thanks to Steve Gadd for being the cat who really sold me on Yamaha). Saw a clinic he did here in LA back in the 80's, and he killed it. What a tight, and clean, full sound!
i love yamaha's, i have had my stage custom for over 5 years and it sounds just so nice and it feels comfortable to play which is much more important to me. i purchased a dw collectors a year ago and after numerous skin changes and combinations i decided to get rid and i used my money to buy a second hand maple custom and it was the best investment i ever made and it cost me a fraction of the dw. Dont get me wrong im not saying yamaha are better i just feel for me the yamaha felt alot comfortable and i personally liked the sound.
Yamaha somehow make great drums considering they are a jack off all trades. Iv played alot of different kits and yamahas have always stood out