BY DAVID LIBMAN
A while back I reviewed some of Ronn Dunnett’s snare drums for this magazine, and those snares impressed me immensely. So when I learned Dunnett had acquired the George Way Drum Company name and had plans to produce another line of snares under it, I was very intrigued. Would these be a cheaper line of student or semi-professional drums? Would they be exactly like Dunnett snares? Would they be a line of generic snares imported from Asia and then stamped with the George Way name? Having now had the opportunity to review three of the George Way snares, I can report that all of those questions can be answered with a big fat “no.” But I should also admit to one other question I had when I learned that Dunnett acquired the George Way name: “Who the heck is George Way?”
According to a history published at waydrums.com, George Way had a lucrative career in the percussion industry from the 1920s to the late 1960s. During that time, Way’s various employers included legendary American drum companies such as Leedy, Slingerland, and Rogers. Way started his own company in the 1950s and produced some snare models called Aristocrat and Spartan, which collectors still enthusiastically seek out to this day. Eventually, Way lost control of his company to a 51-percent stockholder who asked for Way’s resignation and renamed the company Camco (as in the famous Camco Drum Company, whose pedal and lug designs were eventually passed on to DW). In 1962, Way started the GHW drum company, which he held onto until his death in 1969.
Resurrecting the George Way name, Dunnett has introduced a new line of snares that includes maple ply, solid shell, aluminum, and chrome-plated brass models. All of the new George Way snares come in either 14″ x 5″ or 14″ x 6.5″ sizes. I received three different 14″ x 6.5″ models: a 4-ply reinforced maple shell “Studio” model; a seamless spun-aluminum shell “Aero” model; and an extra-heavy AAA chrome-plated brass shell “Hollywood” model.
845 SNARE THROW-OFF
Dunnett has tried to keep the new George Way snares as similar to the original models as possible, while at the same time improving on certain perceived deficiencies they had. For example, the original George Way snares had a “beer tap” snare throw-off that was known to be simple and efficient, yet with some flimsier parts that had a tendency to bend or break over time. Dunnett knows a little something about snare throw-offs, given that he designed the legendary Dunnett snare throw-off found not only on his snares, but also on those of several other custom drum companies. Fittingly, then, Dunnett modified the original George Way “beer tap” snare throw-off to make it tougher (it’s now die-cast) and easier to use, while still maintaining the aesthetic of the original design.
The new 845 throw-off looks like a plus sign (+). The plus’s bottom is hinged, and moves up and down from a channel in a metal cylinder, throwing the snares on or off. The plus’s horizontal stem has slits on each end that allow snare wire string to slide in and out. No screws are used to tighten the snare wire strings, which are held in place with simple knots at each end. With this slit design, snare wire changes can be achieved in mere moments. And if you take the time to string a few different types of snare wires, you can swap one from another in order to change the character of any snare drum’s sound. Uniquely, the 845 throw-off has no snare wire tension adjustment. Instead, the butt end, which looks like an upside down T, has a tension adjustment for the snare wires. Like the throw-off, this tension-adjusting butt has slits to accept snare wire string.
The rest of the hardware, like everything else about these snares, exemplifies understated elegance and simplicity. Each new George Way snare comes with eight single-piece lugs that are an original George Way design: a lovely rounded rectangular shape with indented stripes reminiscent of Gretsch’s and Slingerland’s single lugs. Each snare sports a George Way badge with an art deco-looking cloud shape that contains the snare’s single air vent in its center. And each snare comes with triple-flanged hoops. Typically, I don’t like the look of triple-flanged hoops as much as die-cast because the flanged hoops typically expose unattractive-looking tension rod threading. The George Way triple-flanged hoops, however, fold down over the tension rods, which gives them a look more similar to die-cast hoops.
All metal parts on the George Way snares receive what Dunnett calls “AAA Chrome Plating,” which is not a technical metallurgical term, but it’s also quite obviously more than just an advertising term. A few drum manufacturers have explained to me that there can be tremendous variations in the quality of chrome plating depending on how it’s applied. The George Ways’ chroming looks and feels like it was done the expensive way. It reveals no pockmarks, no streaking, no discoloration, and a look that is creamy, smooth, and gleaming. The chrome-over-brass Hollywood snare, for example, shines so much that you almost don’t see the drum itself. Instead, you see everything that its surface reflects. The other two snares similarly wear lustrous yet simple finishes. For example, the Aero model, with its anodized aluminum shell, gleams with a grayish hue, while the natural maple finish on the Studio model is as smooth and shiny as any lacquer finish I’ve ever seen.
Additionally, these snares maintain a subtle classiness to their look due to a welcome lack of superfluous black rubberized parts on the snare throw-off or under the lug casings. There are black rubberized washers under the snare throw-off and butt, but that makes sense, given that those items have moving parts that need a buffer between them and the shell. You hardly see those black washers, but still, if Dunnett could figure out a way to eliminate them all together, I’d like that look even better.
THE MANY VOICES OF WAY
As with any snare, even if its looks could kill, if its sound dies, it’s not worth purchasing. I held onto these George Ways for more than a month, which gave me ample opportunity to test them out both at home and on several gigs. With that amount of playing and testing, I can confidently assert that the same quality that marks these snares’ appearance also comes through in their refined sound. Given the similarity in all specs on these snares (same size, same hardware, and same heads), it’s amazing how each snare’s different shell material distinguishes its sound from the others. But let’s start with some similarities.
Each drum produces sensitive and breathy snare response with lots of length to the note. I played each snare with sticks, multi-rods, and brushes, and even with the softest of brush playing, that breathiness managed to sing through. Snare response remains consistent from center to edge on each drum. Notably, although Dunnett’s snares are famous for having rather deep snare beds, the George Way snare beds look much shallower. So, which snare bed – shallow or deep – offers better snare response? The mystery remains. Dunnett has now proven via his Dunnett and George Way models that each bed can work equally well if done right. Beyond snare response, each George Way snare fortunately lacks any box-like sound qualities, or any of those annoying high-pitched ringing overtones that can sometimes shriek through.
As for their fundamental sounds, these snares range from warm to bright, with the maple Studio model anchoring the warm end of the sound spectrum, while the chrome-over-brass model mans the helm on the bright end. Specifically, the Studio model speaks with lots of mids, a few lows and highs, and a dryness that produces a surprisingly balanced and vintage-like sound. The Studio model is not as cutting or profound sounding as a solid shell maple snare would be, but I’ve yet to hear a ply model that is. Rather, the Studio model has similar sonic qualities to a vintage Rogers wood snare I own (which also has a reinforced maple ply shell).
I’m guessing the vintage sound qualities on the newer George Way model have a lot to do with the thinness of the shell, the reinforcement hoops on top and bottom, and the fact that the shell’s interior is finished with white paint. Having now reviewed several snares for DRUM!, I’m convinced that finishing a wood shell’s interior goes a long way toward balancing out the sound because it seals the wood’s pores. Besides its sound, this Studio model has a cushioned bounciness to its feel, which makes it very comfortable to play.
Unlike Dunnett’s metal snares, which have non-flanged simple-cut bearing edges, the George Way metal snares feature more traditional flanged (i.e., fold-over) bearing edges. Does this choke their sound? Absolutely not, but it does allow each metal shell model to retain a nice degree of warmth and focus.
The Aero model offered a welcome opportunity for me to finally review an aluminum shell snare. I’ve long considered aluminum to be an unsung hero of the snare shell universe. Aluminum speaks with more warmth and woodiness than most other metals, and its lack of a wide overtone series gives it a naturally EQ’d quality that’s versatile and perfect for recording. Besides all of that, aluminum is light, which makes it easy to tote around to gigs.
The Aero, I found, stays true to aluminum’s best qualities, producing a pleasing blend of lows, mids, and highs that are very evenly balanced with respect to each other. The Aero, perhaps because its shell is ultra-thin, speaks with a fatter, lower pitch than several similarly sized aluminum snares I have played. Still, the Aero has more liveliness to its sound than the maple-ply Studio model. Overall, the Aero’s lively yet warm metallic sound makes it an incredibly versatile drum.
The Hollywood model sounds more energetic and brighter than the Aero, with a fundamental sonic quality that’s dynamic, full, and enveloped in a beautiful and quickly diminishing overtone series. This drum does everything you’d expect from a high-quality chrome-over-brass snare (i.e., lively response, full sound, tremendous dynamic range) but with a subtleness and lack of harshness that make it particularly appealing. After I played this chrome-over-brass beauty for a few days, I picked out a few snares from my own collection that didn’t compare, sold them on eBay, and then called Dunnett to let him know I’d be purchasing this model and only returning the other two. It’s that good. Just in case you’re wondering, no, I didn’t try to extort a good price in exchange for a good review. I simply couldn’t part with this snare.
Quite honestly, I’m not enough of a vintage snare aficionado to know whether or not these snares replicate the original George Way snares they’re named after, but to me, that doesn’t really matter. From my perspective, these snares are each superb, regardless of whether they’re authentic to the George Ways of the past. Each exemplifies elegant simplicity with simple-to-use throw-offs, classic-looking lugs, attractive fold-over flanged hoops, high-quality chroming, and shells that sound as good as they look. Beyond that, the George Ways are all priced well under $1,000, which, given their quality, seems like a bargain.
MODEL Dunnett George Way Snare Drums
SHELLS Studio: 4-ply electronic-bonded reinforced shell; Aero: ultra-thin seamless spun-aluminum shell; Hollywood: extra-heavy AAA chrome-plated brass shell. Each snare comes with roll-formed bearing edges.
SIZE 14″ x 6.5″ for each snare
FINISH (Reviewed) Studio: natural-maple lacquer; Aero: anodized aluminum; Hollywood: AAA chrome-plated brass.
FEATURES Eight streamline casings, 845 throw-off, triple-flanged hoops, Remo single-ply coated snare batter heads.
PRICE Studio: $659, Aero: $795, Hollywood: $825
The Geo. H. Way Drum Company
4587 57th Street, Delta, B.C., CN