From the February 2016 issue of DRUM! | By Brad Schlueter
Everybody loves a good story, and DW’s is a page turner. Rising from a humble drum lesson studio to boutique pedal maker to custom drum builder to full-line drum company and, finally, last year’s ascendance to one of the biggest powerhouses in the industry, DW now houses some of the most iconic percussion brands under its ever-expanding roof.
There have been plenty of subplots along the way — Timbre Matching, Specialized Shell Configuration, and True Pitch tension rods among them — but drop-dead gorgeous wood has long been the life’s blood of DW’s drum design and reputation. Late last year we learned that DW had introduced its latest creation with the Pure Oak Collector’s Series kit and, like so many other drummers, were eager to put some sticks to them. We got the chance. Here’s what we discovered.
Pure Oak drums are offered in a wide range of sizes ranging from 8″ toms up to 24″ bass drums. Like a kid in a candy store, I tried to narrow my options for our review kit and settled on a 22″ x 18″ bass drum, 10″ x 8″ and 12″ x 9″ rack toms, 14″ x 12″ and 16″ x 14″ floor toms, and a matching 14″ x 6.5″ snare drum. In order to undergo the full DW immersion, I also received a set of the company’s 9000 professional level hardware to support the drums.
Our kit’s shells were flawless, inside and out. Each was machine sanded and finished by hand in a natural hard satin, which was smooth to the touch and provided a slight matte effect. Dozens of finishes are available, but DW recommends this particular one to bring out the grain patterns, which were dramatic and unmistakable on our review kit. My wife and others commented that it looked beautiful and expensive and, frankly, I’d expect nothing less from DW. The inside of the snare was finished with a coat of lacquer, which not only seals it, but also creates a denser, more reflective, and lively surface to boost higher frequencies. All nickel-plated hardware was mirror perfect, adding to the kit’s beauty.
DW drums are handmade in the US with the aid of custom CNC machinery that ensures perfect snare beds and drilling. The creation of each shell takes a couple dozen steps, while numerous craftsmen check each stage of manufacture to maintain the highest quality.
Those familiar with DW know the company checks the pitch of each raw shell with a TC electronic tuner (the aforementioned “timbre matching”) to group together complementary sounding drums into matched sets. A label inside each shell indicates its pitch, so you can tune your bottom head to that note to bring out its natural resonance.
These drums use DW’s HVLT shells, which have no reinforcement rings, and alternate horizontally and vertically arranged plies to create a strong frame. The HVLT shell has an attractive horizontal outer ply of oak (vertical exterior veneers can look a bit like wall paneling) and a vertical inner ply that enhances low-end frequencies.
Using a new type of glue that reportedly makes shells even harder and more resonant, Pure Oak drums are constructed with slightly thicker 1/32″ sheets of oak compared to the 1/36″ wood plies DW typically uses. Rack tom shells (8″ through 13″) are 7-ply, bass drums and floor toms are 8-ply, and snare drums are 11-ply.
Bearing edges also vary by drum type: toms have inner 45-degree cuts, and bass drums and snares have 60-degree inner cuts. DW inspects the trueness of the edges three times while laying the shells on perfectly flat granite slabs. The 6.5″ tapered snare bed (the depression in the bottom of a snare drum that allows the wires to sit snugly against the head) is machine cut for consistency. Unlike most manufacturers, DW maintains its edge profile across the snare bed, rather than cutting and sanding a flatter bed.
Our bass drum had ten single-sided lugs per head, rack toms had six, and floor toms had eight. The snare drum’s ten double-sided lugs were set in the center of the shell. Gaskets isolated DW’s familiar turret-style lugs and all other installed hardware from the wood.
Our snare came with DW’s very nice Mag throw-off and 3P Butt Plate, which held 20-strand DW Truetone wires under the drum with mylar straps. The Mag throw includes a magnet that holds its lever lightly but securely in place. It’s easier to release than many throw-offs, but remains engaged while playing. Its fine tension knob is more accessible than many others since it’s located on the side of the throw rather than the top. I also love the 3P butt plate, which has three preset positions, so it’s easy to quickly change tension settings. Also included were DW STM tom mounts, which supported each mounted tom from four lugs.
If you’re hip to DW, you’re familiar with the unique True-Pitch lugs that use 32 threads per inch, instead of the more common standard of 24 threads per inch. More threads allow for finer degrees of tuning and help hold your tunings longer, since the additional threads increase contact friction between the tension screws and the receivers. But apparently, it still wasn’t enough for DW’s design guru John Good, who upped the ante with True-Pitch 50 stainless steel lugs that use 50 threads per inch, and came installed on this kit.
Personally, I don’t feel as if I need those extra threads. I often change heads on the fly during a gig, and don’t want to take even more time loosening and tightening each tension rod several extra turns. I’ve also never had much of a problem with rods detuning during gigs, although, conceivably, other types of drummers probably experienced that issue more than I did. With that said, I did find that the lugs turned very smoothly and allowed for microtuning adjustments with what felt like less resistance than standard lugs.
Pure Oak drums come outfitted with various thicknesses of DW True Hoops (a variation of triple-flanged hoops, with a rounded, fold-over top edge), which are designed to maintain your tuning and feel good. Toms from 8″ to 10″ head sizes have 1.65mm hoops, 12″ to 13″ have 2.0mm, 14″ to 18″ have 2.3mm, and snares have 3.0mm.
Pure Oak drums feature DW’s new AA Smooth 2-ply heads (made by Remo), which is a departure from the single-ply heads once favored by the company. AA heads are more durable and offer more low-end than single-ply heads. Appropriately, our snare head was coated and suitable for brush playing, with DW’s “tuning for newbies” numbers circling the outside. The bass drum batter head was premuffled with an interior ring, and the black logo head had small holes around the perimeter, but was otherwise solid without a mike port.
At first glance, the bass drum claws appear to be unlined, but if you remove one you’ll discover there actually is a thin lining under the curve of the claw that protects the edge of the hoop from marring. The floor tom brackets aren’t hinged, but instead grip the rod with ridged metal plates that I fear might scratch or mark the legs over time if overtightened. DW floor tom legs have a slightly different shape from other designs, with a couple right angle bends and thicker areas on the rods that enhance the drum’s sustain without needing hollow and bulky rubber feet.
While inspecting the drums I noticed a tag indicating that DW plants a tree for every kit sold, and has planted over 33,000 as of this review. That’s nice to know.
Even though each drum was inscribed with a pitch, I still used my ears instead of a tuner to tune these drums. After all, I believe that’s how most drummers would tune up this kit. Even so, I was very impressed by the sound while using my normal tuning procedure.
Pure Oak toms were warm with rich low end, produced nice even pitches, and had a smooth decay. The 2-ply heads seemed to dampen the attack a bit, and were a good choice for this shell material and makeup. These toms would sound great under microphones.
Our snare drum had a lively, warm sound with more mids and lows than high frequencies, giving each hit a powerful punch. It had a ringing decay that really opened up with rimshots, reminding me of a metal snare. Some drummers might want to dampen it a touch, though I liked it wide open. Rim-clicks were nice and loud with those thicker 3.0mm hoops.
You don’t see this every day. The bass drum arrived with a pillow nesting at the bottom of the shell. The drum sounded so good with it (a punchy, deep thud; every rock drummer’s dream) I left the pillow in place throughout my test. In fact, I didn’t even have to touch the bass drum’s tuning. It sounded great straight out of the box.
A coveted drum brand, DW has earned its reputation through years of creative designs, innovation, and attention to detail. Kits at this level aren’t inexpensive, but these are handcrafted instruments of the highest quality with many unique and clever features. Better still, it sounds every bit as professional as you would expect it to.
Review Kit Sizes & Prices
22″ x 18″ bass drum: $2,801
10″ x 8″ tom: $1,176
12″ x 9″ tom: $1,254
14″ x 12″ tom: $1,490
16″ x 14″ floor tom: $1,734
14″ x 6.5″ snare drum: $1,122