Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Good Reason for Another Build - Part 2

Although my last post was ostensibly about the DW Mag throwoff and 3P butt, it quickly turned into a snare drum design to mount them on.

This post will tie up a few loose ends regarding the rest of the specifications. First, I finally settled on the lugs. I thought long and hard about using turret style lugs to keep the spirit of DW in the design elements, but just could not bring myself to do it. To me they are ugly.

One supplier I often use is Best Drum Deals. Their prices are reasonable, they ship fast and provide excellent service, so I checked their catalog and found the AG-1 Chrome Double Ended Snare Drum Lug shown below:

That lug has a vintage look that will compliment the throwoff design, and will also let more of the beautiful veneer I discussed in my last post to show through.

The snare bed I am opting for is going to be wide and shallow like modern Ludwig snare beds. That design will accommodate a wide range of snares. For more about snare beds see this post. For snare wires I usually go with 12- or 16-strand. When I use 12-strand I use Puresound Concert wires. However, for this drum I am going to use 16-strand Worldmax German Steel Wires. I have found these wires to be equal in all respects to the Puresound 16-strand Custom series, and at a fraction of the price.

Head selection is fairly straightforward: a Remo Diplomat for the snare side will give me maximum sensitivity to take advantage of the 3P butt, and a Remo Coated Ambassador on top makes for a perfect combination.

While I often have snare drums built with single-flanged, chrome over brass hoops with clips, a set runs close to $140. To keep costs down I am going to go with 1.6MM triple flange hoops. They provide nearly the same open, resonant response as the single flange hoops, and will allow a lot more sensitivity than 2.3MM hoops. For the same reason - achieving an open, resonant sound - I am going with eight lugs. In fact, all of the drums I have custom made have eight lugs because I personally think that ten lugs are not required on a snare drum. And certainly not on a snare drum that you want to be resonant and open-sounding.

Although it sounds trite, I have a strong preference for Pearl tension rods. Unlike other tension rods with a thin chrome plate on the threads, these rods are more substantial in weight and look to be better machined. Since they cost the same or less than generic rods I always use them for new snare drums, and when I have to replace bent rods on drums that I restore.

As the project progresses I'll provide updates.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

DW Mag Throwoff and 3P Butt: A Good Reason for Another Build

I recently stumbled across the DW MAG throwoff and 3P butt combination. Aside from the price, which is considerably lower than many boutique throwoffs, this model has features that I find appealing.

First, I have always preferred the Gladstone style strainers where the engagement and disengagement of snares are via a sideways lever. I also like the easy-to-reach fine adjustment knob that is horizontal, and the fact that it employs a magnet to hold the throwoff bail in the engaged position. That feature alone eliminates friction mechanisms that stick or bind. Here are photos of the throwoff on a snare drum, and with the bail in the disengaged position. There is no doubt that when disengaged the snares are completely off the snare side head:

What truly got my attention, though, is the 3P butt. You can preset snare tension in three steps with the flick of a lever. This feature is similar to the tension adjustment system built into the Trick GS007 throwoff. It allows you to quickly change from a higher tension setting that gives a fairly dry sound that works well in rock or louder music, to a medium tension that is better suited for press rolls and a more defined snare response, to a wet sound that works well with second line drumming. Here is a photo of the 3P butt, showing the adjustment lever:

As mentioned in the title, this throwoff is a good reason for another build. Let's start with the shell. I want to base the drum on a versatile size, and you can never go wrong with a 5"x14" form factor. Second, I want the shell to be a Keller VSS 6-ply with reinforcement rings. I selected the 6-ply because the thinner shell will more freely vibrate relative to the more common 10-ply shells, which will result in a fuller sound, higher resonance and far greater sensitivity. The tradeoff is loss of projection and volume compared to a 10-ply shell, but I prefer quieter drums. For more information on how shell thickness affects a drum, Mike Radcliffe's discussion in his excellent Tuning Drums article titled Drum Shells is essential reading.

Beauty enters into the equation too. I intend to procure the shell from Drum Foundry's pre-veneered shell selection. I have long lusted after a shell finished in Carpathian Elm, so I now have an excuse. Here is what that wood looks like:

A final, and important, technical decision is selecting the best bearing edge. I normally prefer 30 degree edges with a fat roundover. That reflects my preference for vintage sounding drums. However, since this drum will incorporate the 3P butt and the ability to quickly set tension, I am going to go with a double-45 degree edge that is slightly rounded over. This will give the drum maximum sensitivity that will leverage the features of the 3P butt. For more information about bearing edges see my post titled Properities of Drum Shells and Bearing Edges and the bearing edge video in my post titled My Approach to Tuning.

I have not decided upon the lugs I intend to use. In the spirit of a theme I should select the "turret" style of lug DW uses since I am using a DW throwoff, but I dislike that style immensely. Indeed, I have disliked it since the 1960s when it was called the Aristocrat lug by Camco

The easiest decision is contracting with a builder. My first choice is Kevin Smee of Bowie Custom Drum. Kevin has built a few snare drums for me in the past and his workmanship is first rate, his turnaround time is faster than any other custom builder I have used, and his prices are below market.

As this saga unfolds I will post updates.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

New arrival: 4x14 vintage wood snare with no markings

It sometimes takes a simple event to overcome overwhelming grief and start writing in this blog again.

The event is my acquisition of a snare drum type that I had long wanted, but somehow had eluded my best efforts to get one at a reasonable price. Thanks to AuctionSniper I managed to grab this baby for $81.00:

There are no markings, and it could very well be made by Walberg & Auge, Lyon & Healy, or any number of early 1900s drum companies. I am guessing the shell was made by Leedy because it appears to be walnut and U.G. Leedy had a marked preference for walnut and maple as drum shell tone woods. Leedy also provided shells to other manufacturers.

Regardless of who made it or the brand under which it was sold, the drum is the early single-tension, free floating design that was the norm in the early 20th century. The reinforcement rings inside the four inch deep shell are the same species of wood as the shell itself, and the hoops are maple.

I particularly like the throw-off design, which foreshadows Billy Gladstone's design:

The drum itself arrived in dire need of a cleaning. There were 90 plus years of dust, dirt and gunk covering all of the parts. I followed my process for cleaning and restoring, and in two days got the drum to a clean (but not pristine) and playable state. The throwoff works perfectly, the tension rods now move freely, and the snares provide a sound that only wound, cable snares from that era can provide. Here is a shot that shows the snares more clearly:

One risk of obtaining these old wood snare drums is too often modern heads will not fit them. I was fortunate that I was able to achieve a perfect fit to the shell and the hoops with modern Remo heads. I had a pair of heads laying around that I threw on it, but my long term goal is to have a set of calfskin heads made for it. In the interim, I am going to order a Remo Renaissance Ambassador snare side head, and a Remo Fiberskyn FA for the batter. This is a departure from my normal head selection, where I always use a thinner Diplomat weight on the snare side, and, when I am using Fiberskyn heads for batter sides I use a Diplomat weight also (when I am using normal coated heads, I usually go with Ambassador weight.) The reason I am planning to use heavier heads on this snare drum is it is extremely lively. That is partly due to the shallow depth, but I am pretty sure the old growth woods used back when it was made is a factor as well. The wood on both the shell and hoops are extremely heavy and dense compared to the same shells from the same species today. All of the old growth wood is gone.

The drum is surprisingly snappy sounding considering the cable snares and the single tension system. One thing is certain: this drum will get played. It sounds too good to spend its remaining days in a display case.