BY JOHN NYMAN
Who here wants a hand-made, exotic wood, well-appointed snare drum made by the hands of a real artist? I see all hands are raised. Good. Boutique snare drum fever has gripped many drummers, and we collectively drool over works by Dunnett, Craviotto, Brady, Rembrandt, Picasso, etc. But such drums can easily push the $2,000 retail mark, so let’s try another show of hands: Who among you has enough dough to run out and buy one or two? Not too many hands in the air now, I’m afraid. Cry not, drummers-on-a-budget. Some manufacturers are figuring out how to trickle that boutique flavor down to the masses. Dixon Drums is one.
The good folks at Dixon U.S.A. and drum smith extraordinaire Chris Brady of Australia’s Brady Drums have joined forces to produce three rose gum wood versions of the Dixon Artisan snare. These drums are available in three sizes: 14″ x 5.5″ in Natural finish, 13″ x 6″ in Reverse Vintage Burst, and 14″ x 6.5″ in Vintage Burst. I’ve been gigging on the 14″ x6.5″ for a few weeks, and it is some good stuff!
Chris Brady, as you may know, is a master drum smith and purveyor of his own handmade, expensive drums. He’s picked out the Australian rose gum wood for this drum and had a hand in designing all the details. Rose gum is a very hard wood, harder even than maple. Dixson finished the drum in a glossy, smoothly gradated Vintage Burst, which is a glossy mocha brown color even while the inside of the drum shows a faint pale reddish-pink color. The grain of the rose gum swirls and curves beautifully. Tube lugs brace the deeply chromed die-cast hoops for stable and even tuning and a drier, crisper cross-stick sound. The boutique feel is much enhanced by the inclusion of a Dunnett throw-off. The Dunnett is lustrously chromed, and the indented tension knob makes fine tuning easy. Also, it swivels, so you can place the throw-off lever to left, right, or center. Very fancy, very high-end.
ROSE GUM GOODNESS
I’d describe the Dixon Brady Artisan snare as crisp and clear. The 14″ x 6.5″ model reviewed was fat, but not fundamentally low in tone. The mids and highs were never lost even as I tuned the drum throughout its range. I especially liked a medium tuning that gave me whisper-soft and evenly distributed snare response, fatly centered backbeats, and a nice, woody rimshot. Playing off-center was full of ring – but a good, “second-line New Orleans” ring, not a cheap, dissonant ring. In my experience, cheaper drums only have a “semi-sweet” spot in the center, and “sour spots” off-center. The Dixon Brady is sweet in the middle and sings at the edges, always gently reminding you of the hard and bright characteristics of the rose gum wood. From descriptions I’d read, I’d expected a brighter tone, more like fiberglass. But the gum wood is not at all harsh – just insistently cheery. It speaks from the top rather than from the bottom.
My only complaint with the drum so far is the lugs. While they look lovely, they are a little bit tight, and the tension lugs don’t spin freely. Once I realized this, I tuned carefully, with my eyes open to see the contact of rods and hoops and the subsequent revolutions of the tension rods. My tuning experience quickly went from frustrating to rewarding, and the drum did great duty on several gigs both loud and quiet.
When you first see the very attractive Dixon Equator snare drum, please don’t make the mistake I made. I looked at the black nickel hardware and the mod Matrix Green finish and said to myself, “Oh, Another nice-looking drum – yawn – and set it aside. Wrong answer! When I finally put the drum on the stand I was shocked at how good it was.
The Dixon Equator snare is a bit tricky. It’s a 4-ply oak drum with reinforcing rings and a steel ring that encircles the inside (like the Equator encircles the earth … tricky, eh?). Mixing wood and metal is not a new innovation, but man oh man does it work well in this combination. The entirety of the drum includes die-cast, black-nickel finish hoops and black-nickel hardware, a decent throw-off (sorry, no Dunnett here), tube lugs, and the very nice Matrix Green finish. The drum will probably sell in stores for less than $600, and I am shocked at how good it sounds.
Dixon should have named this the Sonic Sandwich Snare Drum! First off, you get the sound of steel via the internal band. Steel has a nice sonic point to it, a strong jab that articulates your exact notes in space and time. There’s also a warm tonk here, kind of like the infamous Alex Van Halen/Bill Bruford tone, but just a little. Then there’s a sandy, harmonious speaking of the wires, like a fat, even attack. Maybe it comes from the oak plies, I don’t know – but it’s in there, and it sounds really good.
All this sound grabbed me at once and by surprise after I swept up this drum, in its shipping box, on the way out the door to a gig. Driven by guilt, I was. I’m supposed to play these things out in the world because that makes for a better review. Here’s my review: I loved it. Furthermore, I recorded the gig, and on hearing the performance back, I still loved the Dixon Equator snare drum, much more so than my recorded performance.
I found, on the inside of the bottom hoop, a little tiny sticker that reads “Made In Taiwan.” And it’s true. And I’m willing to set aside my own prejudices about mass-produced import drums, and willing to embrace the realities of my limited budget, and say in a loud, clear voice, “This drum rocks!” If you press me for a complaint about the Dixon Equator snare I have two: It’s very heavy, and there’s no boutique name to brag about. Boo. Hoo.
Both of these drums offer great sounds, laudable innovation, and noteworthy value. If you are aching for a boutique snare drum but can’t quite afford it, the Brady-tagged Dixon Artisan drum, at a street price around $600, provides a high percentage of the performance and details you crave. If you love both metal and wood snares and wish you could meld the two, check out the Dixon Equator drum. It does just that with both great sound and good looks at a street price close to $500.
Models & Finishes
Dixon Artisan Chris Brady Rose Gum Snare Drum: Vintage Burst, Reverse Vintage Burst, Natural.
Dixon Artisan Equator Snare Drum: Matrix Green or Charcoal Black.
Model, Size, & List Price
Dixon Brady Artisan Snare 14″ x 6.5″ $919.99
Dixon Brady Artisan Snare 13″ x 6″ $845.99
Dixon Brady Artisan Snare 14″ x 5.5″ $889.99
Dixon Equator Snare Drum 14″ x 5.5″ $845.99
Dixon Equator Snare Drum 14″ x6.5″ $889.99