BY DENDY JARRETT
Drum Workshop has added the beat of a different drum – or more specifically, a different drum shell. This doesn’t seem too far-fetched coming from a company that has such an eclectic selection of wood in their Exotic Collection. But those great wood finishes are all finish-plies laminated to Drum Workshop’s mainstay: the maple shell. Now DW has introduced a 100-percent birch shell, which made us wonder if this marriage is made in heaven.
My UPS driver loves deliveries to my home. I always get little packages full of drum doodads, and he is one of those people who always wanted to be a drummer. “You must have hit the jackpot,” he said excitedly, as he raised the back door of the familiar brown truck. “Big packages today!”
I explained that it was a drum set for review, and he asked for a peek. Not wanting to deny him the thrill (and the fact that I was busting to tear into the boxes), I opened the 12″ tom. “Wow,” he said, as the tom broke from the package like sun on the shore. We both stood there in awe.
As the UPS guy wiped the drool and climbed back into the truck, he shouted: “Man you got a great job!”
I had to agree.
What arrived in the massive (and well-packed) boxes was a seven-piece setup comprised of a 22″ x 18″ kick drum, 14″ x 5″ snare, 8″ x 7″, 10″ x 8″, 12″ x 9″, 14″ x 11″, and 16″ x 13″ toms.
All of the drums were outfitted with the classic DW lug (turret-style for you old-timers) and flanged steel hoops. The toms were equipped with DW’s STM (suspension tom mount) system. In other words, the hardware is identical in every way to DW’s Collector’s Series Maple counterparts, except that the badge notes that these are all-birch shells.
The drums came standard with DW’s Coated/Clear (manufactured for DW by Remo) heads on the batter side of the toms with a clear Ambassador as the bottom head. The bass drum had the same coated/clear head on the batter side with an Ebony front logo head that was vented with six small holes at the edge of the drumhead’s circumference. The bass drum also came with an acoustically designed and adjustable bass drum pillow pad, which is a standard feature. This device adjusts via Velcro and can be placed more towards the front-head or rear-head depending on the sound you prefer.
The snare drum came with a DW Coated Ambassador batter head that is stamped with tuning guide numbers. The bottom head is a clear snare-side Ambassador head. These heads worked for me because I typically use this combination or Remo Powerstroke 3’s. I would have also liked to hear these drums with all Coated Ambassadors on the batter side, as this is a popular choice, as well.
I expected to see the Nickel Piston throw-off on the supplied snare, but was actually glad to find the DW drop-style chrome throw-off instead. So many other manufacturers have used the Nickel at this point that it has almost become generic. (Gone are the days when you could identify a snare from a distance by the throw off!) I thought I had seen a press release claiming that most DW snares would be shipped with TrueTone snare wires by Puresound, but I could find no marks identifying these as such. On a side note, this snare drum could one day be a special sought-after collector’s item since it was produced with an air-vent plate signifying it as an all-maple drum while the logo badge reads “All Birch Shell.” Yet I digress!
Why birch? We discovered that the idea had been on DW’s drawing boards for some time. After searching for just the right tree, the company finally settled on a strain called Heart Wood birch, which comes from Wisconsin. DW chose this particular birch due to the wood’s resonant quality, density, and inconsistent grain streaks. Be forewarned – not everyone will fall in love with the wildly figured grain characteristics, but I did. It clearly makes a statement and elevates the drums into the realm of artwork (if you are into that sort of thing).
Our review kit was born on December 6, 2001, and each drum was stamped with that date on the inside of the shell. This is a great detail that I appreciate and liken to drum companies of yesteryear. It also helps with warranty issues and with the collectible value of the drums in the future.
The 100-percent birch shells are ply-configured with the 8″, 10″, and 12″ toms being 6-ply; the 14″, and 16″ toms, as well as the 22″ bass drum are 7-ply; and the 14″ snare is 10-ply. The important thing to note with the Birch series is that there are no reinforcement hoops inside the drums. (Incidentally, DW now says any of their drums in the other lines can be special-ordered without reinforcement hoops.)
Bearing edges for these drums are just like those on their maple brothers: toms are 45°, while the bass drum and snare are 60°. All cuts are from the outer edge of the shell tapered toward the inside of the drums, although the edge on these drums was not quite as sharp as the edge on my DW Collector’s Series maples.
All of these shells underwent the infamous and trademarked DW Timbre-Matching process. Utilizing a digital tuner as part of DW’s patented “pitch identification” procedure, each of these shells is stamped on its “sweet spot” with the shell’s relative note-value. The notes on our toms were F for the 8″, A for the 10″, F# for the 12″, C for the 14″, and G# for the 16″. The note on the 22″ bass drum was G# and the 14″ snare was assigned an F#.
Man-oh-man, the finish was S-W-E-E-T! This drum set features a DW Specialty Lacquer finish called Candy Black Fade over birch (with chrome hardware). Basically, the finish is a black lacquer mist at the top and bottom of each drum that fades gradually towards the center to reveal the natural color of the birch, which is similar to maple, but with a warmer, more mellow or aged appearance. This color combination screams class. Drum Workshop raised the bar with this one.
These drums were buffed to a mirror-like finish that really grabs the eye. Unless you were bothered by the pronounced grain characteristics of this birch, you would be hard-pressed to find a flaw on this drum-set’s finish. The inside of the drums had a natural finish without an over-spray mist or rough feel like other drum sets I’ve test driven.
Now came the time to test drive these bad boys! I shifted things around in my drum studio (making room for another set of drums has its own challenges) and was chomping at the bit to get a groove on.
I set up the drums using the provided stands. This allowed three suspended (or mounted) toms with two suspended floor toms. Granted, the stands would have allowed me to be more creative, but I went with this standard setup. I popped in my favorite music-minus-drums CD, cranked the volume, and let ’er rip.
The bass drum … can you say sonic boom? I was stunned. I didn’t expect such a huge sound from a birch bass drum. Perhaps it was because I typically play a maple kick in a 20″ size – I don’t know, but I liked it. Kicked my chest!
The toms were equally powerful. They reminded me of the sound out in “front of house” when you have a great soundman at the helm of the board. The tone was more fundamental with hardly any overtones – pure attack, and immediate warm decay.
I normally use an O-ring on my snare drum, so I automatically slapped one on the birch snare. It really didn’t need it. This was the first snare that I have played in a long time that could be played without the aid of a muffling device.
Equally impressive was the fact that these drums were perfectly tuned right out of the boxes. I did tweak the snare a bit, as I like a pretty high crack from that drum. I really liked the warm d-o-o-m of the toms. These drums just had great tone, thanks in large part to DW’s STM system. I like how DW has stepped away from the common copy of the original R.I.M.S. mounts by incorporating the mount into the design of the lug casings. It is aesthetically pleasing, and more importantly, it works.
Then came the true test: a full-blown rehearsal with sound engineer. I didn’t tell anyone that I wasn’t going to bring my maple DW’s. I wanted to get a true off-the-cuff reaction. Oohs and ahhs abounded as the band mates arrived. “Hey, you got new drums!” “Killer drums!” I had to be the bearer of bad news that these were on temporary loan for review.
THEN I PLAYED
Talk about eyes popping everywhere! The sound engineer didn’t have to use gates on the drums. Ya-hoo! “Dude, those drums sound gorgeous,” cried the engineer during sound check. “Can’t you keep these drums?” my bass player teased after the first tune.
BIRCH VS. MAPLE
Just so happens that I have a DW Collector’s Series Maple kit, so I thought it would be fun to A-B the maple and the birch kits. Both were equipped with the same heads. The main difference – my 20″ bass drum and 15″ suspended floor tom verses the 22″ and 16″ on the test kit.
Still, I was able to get a pretty clear picture of the sound characteristic differences. Maple has a longer, slower sustain with lots of overtone, and birch has a shorter, faster sustain with more pure tone roll-off. The other slightly noticeable difference was volume. The maple drums were just plain louder and projected the sound more.
THE OTHER HARDWARE
The kit came supplied with all the stands necessary to rack and rock. The combination tom/cymbal stands hold one or two toms with a cymbal arm attached. There was a single tom/cymbal stand, a boom/straight combination cymbal stand, and a snare stand, which allowed seemingly infinite adjustments. Personally, I sit low and prefer to mount my toms lower than this set allowed, but my options were limited by the 22″ bass drum’s height.
The real hardware treat was the bass drum pedal and hi-hat stand. I received the Delta II Accelerator Double Pedal that came in its own travel bag. Now, I have seen the ads for this pedal’s elevator heel platforms featuring nine different heel platform positions, but I thought this was just marketing hype. Consider my foot removed from my mouth. This adjustable heel really made a difference. I preferred the heel platform with two elevators. And the heavy duty Delta II two-leg hi-hat was already my hi-hat stand of choice when I play out, except that the new stand comes with two pull rods: one long and one short.
This hardware pays great attention to little details that really makes the professional drummer sit up and take notice. These features may or may not mean much to the hobby drummer, but they aid the drummer who plays out regularly.
Now, I am confused. I love my maple drums, and now I love these birch drums. Oh, the woes of a drummer. So I turned to the good old American Heritage Dictionary for their definitive definition of birch. Here’s what they wrote:
(burch) n. 1. a. Any of various deciduous trees or shrubs of the genus Betula, native to the Northern Hemisphere and having toothed leaves and bark that often peels in thin papery layers. b. The hard close-grained wood of any of these trees. 2. A rod from a birch, used to administer a whipping.
Aha! They took the words right out of my mouth! This DW birch kit administers a whipping!I
Model: DW Collector’s Series Birch
Sizes and Price: 8″ x 7″ Tom ($912), 10″ x 8″ Tom ($977), 12″ x 9″ Tom ($1,068), 14″ x 11″ Tom ($1,221), 16″ x 13″ Tom ($1,378), 22″ x 18″ Bass Drum ($2,387), 14″ x 5″ Snare ($825)
Shell: 100-percent birch
Finish: Candy Black Fade over Birch with chrome hardware
Hoops: Flanged steel
Plies: 8″, 10″, and 12″ toms = 6-ply; 14″ and 16″ toms = 7—ply; 22″ bass-drum = 7-ply; 14″ snare = 10-ply
Bearing Edges: toms = 45°, bass drum = 60°, snare = 60°
Heads: DW Coated/Clear (manufactured for DW by Remo)
Throw-Off: DW’s Drop-Style
Tom Mounts: DW’s STM (suspension tom mount) system
Additional Hardware & Prices: DWCP9999 Heavy Duty Single Tom & Cymbal Stand ($254), DWCP9901 Heavy Duty Low Double-Tom Stand ($198), DWCP9934 Double-Tom Stand w/ 934 Cymbal Boom Arm ($264), DWCP9300 Heavy Duty Snare Stand ($172), DWCP5500TD Heavy Duty Delta II 2-Leg Hi-Hat ($299), DWCP5002ADPB Delta II Accel. Double Pedal w/bag ($599), DWCP9700 Heavy Duty Straight-Boom Cymbal Stand ($198)