SHOOTOUT: Drum Machines for Guitarists (Winners Only)

Drum machines offer a host of advantages for guitar players. First, you can use them to spice up your live performances. Whether you’re looking to have a groove going while you play a song or want to just enhance what your drummer is doing, these machines can deliver the goods.

Secondly, these tools are outstanding for practice. By now, we all should know how important it is to work with a metronome extensively. A drum machine makes that process a lot more fun, since you get a complete groove instead of just a click (which they can also do if need be).

Working on your rhythm and sense of time (also known as “pocket”) is perhaps the most important step toward becoming a good musician. A programmable drum unit can help you zoom in on specific areas that relate to your time feel.

Manufacturers know just how much value these digital drummers can bring to musicians. Therefore, the market is flooded with all kinds of different models and choices. In this guide, we’ll help you sort through some of the best there are, so you can make a wise choice. Keep reading.

Read more about our review process.

Editor's Choice
Elektron Analog Rytm MKII

Elektron Analog Rytm MKII

Features: 8 Voicings, Analog distortion, Cast aluminum enclosure

Benefits: Rock solid build, Easy to read screen, Huge built in storage

Best Value
Alesis SR-18 Drum Machine

Alesis SR-18 Drum Machine

Features: 32MB Sound set, Battery power option, Integrated effects engine

Benefits: Drum tracks for every genre, Highly customizable, Super portable

Best Budget
Singular Sound BeatBuddy Mini 2

Singular Sound BeatBuddy Mini 2

Features: 16-bit sound, 9 Drum kits, Visual metronome

Benefits: Ultra compact, Easy to use, Hands free operation

Our Top 3

The Alesis SR-18 is our Top Pick. This is a complete unit with plenty of features and options that can serve guitarists well. With a convenient jog wheel in the upper-right corner, 12 trigger buttons at the bottom and over 500 sounds, this is a complete solution for guitarists.

The Singular Sound BeatBuddy Mini 2 is our Budget Choice. It comes with an excellent variety of sounds, styles, and features at a small size. It’s a more compact and affordable version of the popular BeatBuddy drummer pedal.

Finally, the Elektron Analog Rytm MKII Black is our Editor’s Choice and features an eight-voice analog/digital sound engine that works seamlessly with a 13-track sequencer. This is an ideal choice for dedicated guitarists who like to get into the nuts and bolts of their gear, with plenty of editing and operating options.

Individual Reviews

Top Pick
Alesis SR-18

Alesis SR-18

An intuitive drummer for the stage and the practice room.

Alesis has produced rhythm modules for over three decades, and they keep on raising the bar with each model they release. The SR-18 gives guitarists plenty of options for both practice sessions and live work, with an intuitive design.

The Alesis SR-18 is a complete programmable drum unit with plenty of features and options that can serve guitarists well. The first thing we liked about it was the big jog wheel in the upper-right corner, as it works seamlessly with the 12 trigger buttons at the bottom. 

With 32 voices, over 500 sounds, and 200 drum kits, the Alesis SR-18 also comes with a tap/tempo button, which allows it to easily detect and dictate the tempos we were searching for. This fantastic module also allowed us to do silent practice thanks to its 1/4″ headphone jack located on the back. 

We also loved the functionality embedded in the pads. We chose Pad Play mode where buttons would function like any other digital drummer and were able to fire different sounds with each pad, which is perfect for adding percussive elements on the fly to live performances. 

However, our favorite was Pattern Play mode. Here we were able to program each pad to trigger a pattern instead of a sound. This was fantastic for having specific patterns to play along with. From straight 4/4 funk patterns to odd meters, we were able to program a variety of options to practice along, in order to work on our time in a fun and effective way.

The SR18 also allowed getting very specific with the sounds we were using. We browsed through 71 kick drums, 99 snares, 89 hi-hats, and over 150 different percussion voices.

Another feature we loved was the inclusion of 50 different bass sounds, a great addition to enhance our practice sessions, and even creating detailed parts for use during specific live situations. In short, a fantastic option for guitarists, with intuitive operation for both the stage and the practice room. 

Verdict: The Alesis SR-18 is a complete drum machine with a bunch of features for live work and practicing. You can use it to trigger a vast amount of drum or percussive patterns, and can also use it as a tool to work on your time.

Budget Choice
Singular Sound BeatBuddy Mini 2

Singular Sound BeatBuddy Mini 2

Stompbox-sized unit for ease and convenience.

This is an ultra-convenient and practical programmable drum unit for those that value simplicity. With a stompbox form factor and straightforward interface, the BeatBuddy Mini 2 offers fantastic value for the money.

The Singular Sound BeatBuddy Mini 2 comes with a nice choice of sounds, styles, and features at a small size and an even smaller budget. With nine drum kits, 24 genres, and over 200 available styles, the BeatBuddy Mini 2 is a more compact and affordable version of this company’s popular BeatBuddy drummer pedal.

The first thing that we loved about this drum module is that we could set it on the floor and operate it as a pedal. Although technically a drum machine, this stompbox factor felt comfortable and very familiar at all times. We also liked that it comes with 16-bit sound quality. It worked great plugged into our Yamaha TRS amp as well as with headphones.

We were able to operate the Beatbuddy Mini 2 conveniently via the unique footswitch provided on the top. To start the chosen rhythm, all we had to do was step on it once, and then twice to stop. With a quick tap, we would get a drum fill, perfect for the end of phrases for both live performance and private practice.  

We were even able to switch patterns on the go by pressing and holding down on the footswitch. A sturdy knob on the right-hand side allowed us to browse through the different options for Genre, Sound, and Tempo. On the left side, there is an identical knob that controls the volume of the unit. 

Additionally, there is a screen on top that displays various parameters and how they are being affected in real-time. In short, a fantastic digital drummer that is very guitarist friendly and affordable. 

Verdict: The Singular Sound BeatBuddy Mini 2  comes with an excellent choice of sounds, styles, and other features at an affordable price. With a stompbox format, nine drum kits, 24 genres, and over 200 available styles, this drum machine is a more compact version of the BeatBuddy drummer pedal.

Editor's Choice
Elektron Analog Rytm MKII 8-voice Drum Computer

Elektron Analog Rytm MKII 8-voice Drum Computer

A superior option with extended features.

The Elektron is for dedicated guitarists that like to go in deep. With an impressive amount of features, sounds, possibilities and overall superior quality, this unit is a great choice for those that value full control and superior performance.

The Elektron Analog Rytm MKII comes with an eight-voice analog/digital sound engine that works in tandem with a 13-track sequencer. Each track is selected by pushing the track button and the corresponding pad.

The first thing we liked about the MKII was the backlit pressure-sensitive rubber pads on the front panel. We enjoyed playing around with some finger drumming, and even creating some patterns to save them. This process proved to be not only tons of fun, but very intuitive, allowing us to come up with our very own custom beats, perfect for specific parts of a live performance. 

Another one of our favorite features of the Elektron was the global analog compressor. It allowed us to enhance our beats by giving them more punch and texture for different vibes. This is great for live shows and inspired practice. 

Besides the vast number of features and various modes of operation, another aspect that sets the MKII above most is the sound. It is full, with powerful low-end, punchy mids, and beautiful high-end. 

This digital drummer is ideal for folks who like to spend time with their gear in order to get the best possible results. And with 1 GB of onboard storage for the user’s own sample library as well as an abundance of storage for patterns, kits, and drum sounds, this drum module gives you enough space to create everything you need to enhance your performance via rhythms, textures, and more. 

Verdict: The Elektron Analog Rytm MKII offers superior sound and an eight-voice analog/digital sound engine. With seemingly endless features, a variety of ways of operating, and tons of space, this drum machine is a great choice for dedicated professionals that like total control and superior quality.

Also Consider
Alesis SR-16 Portable Electronic Drum Machine

Alesis SR-16 Portable Electronic Drum Machine

A proven classic that is still popular today.

First introduced in 1990, the SR-16 remains one of the most popular models out there. This is a testament to the quality and usability of the SR-16, as users keep buying it making it relevant today.

The Alesis SR-16 Portable Electronic Drum Machine has been around for well over thirty years thanks to its fantastic 24-bit sound engine, intuitive interface, ease of use, and other features that remain quite useful for the modern guitarist. 

The first thing we loved about this classic digital drummer is that we were able to access 50 preset patterns played by professional drummers without having to program anything. We just plugged in and started playing along with some of these patterns. Switching patterns was as easy as turning the big wheel on top of the unit. 

To add some variety, we took advantage of the included A and B variations and two fill sections that come with each preset pattern. These features make for a simple yet powerful operation, and the SR-16 can be a great tool for the stage or for practicing. We even used it to get songwriting ideas and come up with a few cool riffs!

We also loved the fact that we were able to create our very own patterns, just the way we wanted. Using the 12 velocity-sensitive drum pads, we created different grooves and saved them easily. This is a great feature not only for gigging but also for practicing specific time-related aspects of your playing, like a funk pocket or odd time signatures.

In short, a great drum module. That being said, as good as it is, it may seem a bit outdated for folks who like to stay on the cutting edge of technology. 

Verdict: The Alesis SR-16 Portable Electronic Drum Machine has been a beloved tool since it was released in 1990. It comes with a powerful 24-bit sound engine and an intuitive interface. You can either go deep with editing features or just use the 50 preset patterns with great sound! 

Also Consider
Behringer RD-9 Analog Drum Machine

Behringer RD-9 Analog Drum Machine

An affordable version of an iconic drum unit

Behringer is known for providing practical and affordable solutions for musicians of all genres. With the RD-9, you get a complete digital drummer and step sequencer based on the legendary Roland TR-909, but at a fraction of the cost.

The Behringer RD-9 Analog Drum Machine is a classic analog/digital digital drummers modeled after one of the most iconic drum machines ever, the long-discontinued Roland TR-909.

The first thing that struck us about the RD-9 was its looks and feel. Everything from the knobs to the buttons all the way to the vintage-looking chassis has a unique and classic vibe to it. But make no mistake, the RD-9 is built to last and felt great once we started using it.

It comes with two modes of operation: Authentic and Enhanced. We loved playing around on Authentic mode, as this is the closest we could get to a Roland TR-909 without spending thousands of dollars. In this mode, each drum sound was closely tied to how it would feel and sound like the original 909, and it was a unique experience to play along with some of these. 

We loved creating some grooves with the 11 available sounds from the iconic Roland drum module and then saving them for later use. It was a blast playing along with some unique-sounding grooves and would love to even try them in live situations. 

We also tried the RD-9 in Enhanced mode. Here, we had three extra controls that factor in. For instance, we were able to tweak our bass drum via the P. Depth and Pitch knobs, which gave us a modulation range to play with. We also got a kick out of the Hi-hat Tune control, which allowed us to manipulate how the hat sat in our mix.

In essence, a nice step sequencer and digital drummer based on a classic. However, it feels a bit bulky and is not for folks looking for a modern option.

Verdict: The Behringer RD-9 Analog Drum Machine is an affordable homage to the iconic Roland TR-909 step sequencer. In essence, this classic analog/digital module gives you two modes of operation, so you can use it like the original it’s based on or add some more features to alter your sound.

Also Consider
Singular Sound BeatBuddy Drum Machine Pedal

Singular Sound BeatBuddy Drum Machine Pedal

A stompbox drummer that makes practicing a lot more fun.

The BeatBuddy Pedal gives you hands-free control and allows you to operate it much like you would any stompbox. Because of this, it excels in conveniences as it can fit in a pedalboard, and does not need extra stage space, stands, or other accommodations like most.

The Singular Sound BeatBuddy Drum Machine Pedal is a convenient and easy-to-use tool that is very intuitive. We were able to control the most important parameters via the footswitch. From starting the loop to stopping it, as well as inserting fills and transitioning, the footswitch allowed us to conveniently operate the unit. 

Although it’s small compared to other drum modules, the BeatBuddy pedal gave us 10 different drum kit sounds and over 20 music genres. We were able to work on our guitar chops based on genre thanks to the nice-sounding patterns included. Some of our favorites to jam along to were rock, jazz, pop, Latin, metal, and Brazilian. 

Naturally, we also took advantage of the available odd time signatures and spent some time working on our time feel on 5/4 and 7/8. This is a great tool for practicing, and can also be used on stage or in jam sessions.

One of its most important features is the large LCD screen. Here we were able to always know the beat, section of the song, genre, and other important info to help us navigate through this digital drummer. 

The Beatbuddy comes with its own power supply and fits easily in a pedalboard. As convenient and well-built as it is, it may be a bit limited in features for folks who like something more complete.

Verdict: The Singular Sound BeatBuddy Drum Machine Pedal comes in a stompbox form factor and is intuitive and easy to use. You can control the most important parameters via the footswitch, and easily switch between the useful patterns and genres included.

Also Consider
Boss DR-01S Rhythm Partner Performance Groove Machine

Boss DR-01S Rhythm Partner Performance Groove Machine

An elegant practice tool.

Boss needs no introduction among guitar players. For decades, this company has been providing quality pedals, effects units, accessories and more, always with durability and quality as the main pillars. The DR-01S is no exception and gives the user a flexible practice companion for keeping time.

The Boss DR-01S Rhythm Partner Performance Groove Machine was specially developed for acoustic musicians. However, after our tests, we feel confident that other types of musicians can also use it for working on their time in style.

The DR-01S is not your typical unit. The first thing we liked about it is that it comes loaded with natural-sounding percussion sounds. The basic principle of this tool is that it offers simple patterns to play along with, and the user can then choose to add additional layers to the patterns.  

For instance, we loved playing along to the Bossa Nova pattern and adding or removing some other percussion elements like congas and shaker. Here we were able to practice many jazz standards, both on acoustic and electric guitars. 

We also like the addition of the aux jack, which can be used to plug in a phone and play along with backing tracks. The DR-01S also allows you to connect to a PA via the line-out jack. However, this unit is at its best as a standalone rhythm companion for practicing or just relaxing at home. 

In short, a clever and well-built tool that allows the user to work on its pocket in a convenient and fun way. That said, features like an aux jack feel a bit dated, as Bluetooth is now the way to go for linking smartphones for backing tracks. 

Verdict: The Boss DR-01S Rhythm Partner Performance Groove Machine comes with several rhythms that are organic and originally designed for acoustic musicians. However, it can be used by anyone who just wants to practice at home and have some fun doing it.

How to Choose The Right Digital Drummer for You

In simple terms, a drum machine is a tool designed to sequence drums such as kicks, congas, snare, cymbals, and more into a logical and musical pattern. You can play along to said pattern, whether you use it for live work or at home for practicing.

Guitarists can benefit greatly from the use of a programmable drum unit. First and foremost, they give you a 100% accurate tempo, regardless of the pattern, genre, meter, etc. This makes it a fantastic tool to keep you in check so you can develop a better sense of time, both while practicing and playing live.  

There are a few things to keep in mind when buying one for yourself, below we share some of the most important ones. 

Analog vs Digital

When choosing a drum module, the analog-vs-digital debate creeps in like in so many other questions regarding musical gear. 

Basically, analog drum computers assemble their drum sounds via analog synthesis. Therefore, the controls you get are a bit more limited than digital models. In general, digital models give you more possibilities both for control and for ways to use the unit as a whole.

However, some folks swear by the sound and functionality of analog drum machines, so there’s that aspect to consider.

Practice vs Live Use

What do you want the drum machine for? We’ve already established that working extensively with a metronome is paramount to developing good time. Therefore, you can look at it like a metronome on steroids, able to give you all kinds of options, odd time metering, accenting, and just playing cool grooves with the perfect time to jam along to. 

If you want to use a drum module for live work, then portability becomes an issue. Do you want a stompbox that you can integrate into your pedal board? Or are you willing to increase your gig footprint with an oversized unit that also requires a stand and extra space on stage? 

These questions are essential and lead us to our next point. 

Features and Price

Do you want something that can give you some cool loops to play along to and other options? Or do you need to program your patterns, alter each individual drum sound, and have it operate in different modes? Defining what you expect to get from a drum module regarding its features and functionality is vital

On the other hand, the more features and the better the sounds and overall traits, the more you will likely spend. Like many choices concerning gear, it is important to balance features and cost in order to make the best decision.

Final Thoughts

Drum machines can do wonders for guitarists of nearly all genres and styles. From giving you another fantastic tool to use on stage, to having a powerful ally for practicing at home, they are great tools for guitar players.

To recap our winners, our Top Pick is the Alesis SR-18 for its balance of price and features. We liked the big job wheel, the headphones for silent practice, and the wide range of functionality embedded in the pads. On top of that, the Pattern Play mode made it super easy to use.

For our Budget Choice, we picked the Singular Sound BeatBuddy Mini 2. We loved its stompbox format, and the hands-free nature of its use along with the variety of genres, sounds and tempos made it a no brainer for the price.

Finally, if money is no object, the Elektron Analog Rytm MKII Black is our Editor’s Choice. While we really enjoyed programming our own beats with the pressure-sensitive pads, and the fact that it had a built-in compressor, it had easily the best sounding kits out of any of the models in our test. This marked it as a clear no-brainer if you have the money.

  • Rodrigo Sanchez

    Rodrigo is an award-winning songwriter (Best Popular Song Of 2018 for Ibermúsicas), and has worked with the prestigious EMI Music Publishing Latin America. He has production credits on artists such as Descemer Bueno, and has also composed alongside Grammy and ASCAP award-winners such as Sebastián De Peyrecave and José Luis Morín. For over ten years, he's been an editor/writer for Recording Magazine, and spent a year as head of translation for Brazilian magazine Musica & Mercado.