BY ANDY DOERSCHUK
Nothing screams “jazz” like an 18″ bass drum. For some bebop jazz drummers, it’s all they ever play. Gretsch has created a new line of kits that feature small bass drums, matching wood snares, covered finishes, and entry level pricing. They call it the Catalina Club series. With their classic styling and fine sound, they should prove popular with drummers looking for an affordable, dedicated kit for jazz, drum ’n’ bass, or other gigs requiring portability and low volume. Let’s take a look at them.
Two versions of this kit are available. One includes a 16″ x 16″ bass drum, 8″ x 6″ and 10″ x 7″ rack toms, 13″ x 13″ inch floor tom, with a 12″ x 5″ snare, that seems geared towards drum ’n’ bass or hip-hop music. The kit I reviewed is definitely the jazz version of the set. It comprised an 18″ x 16″ bass drum, 12″ x 8″ mounted tom, 14″ x 14″ floor tom, and a matching 14″ x 5″ snare, with a full complement of Gibraltar hardware.
There are some similarities and differences between these drums and the traditional Gretsch jazz drum sets you may know. These Catalina Club drums have 6-ply 100-percent mahogany shells, and not maple/gum shells for you Gretsch purists. Like many, but not all of their recent kits, these drums have Gretsch’s classic 30-degree bearing edges. The rounder bearing edges increase the size of the contact area between head and shell, and transmit more vibration to the shell, increasing the drum’s resonance. No silver sealer was on the interior of these shells.
Mahogany is known for its warm rich tone, and these drums have those characteristics in spades, but without sounding muddy. They didn’t lack brightness and attack though. I found the sound balanced and appropriate for jazz or rock.
All these drums have center-mounted, low mass lugs. The mounted tom uses a GTS suspension mount for added sustain. The rims are 1.6mm stamped steel hoops rather than the die-cast hoops Gretsch made popular. Regrettably, there are only three Nitron covered finishes available to select from, White Marine, Black Marine, and Silver Sparkle. The kit I reviewed had the classic White Marine finish.
There is a “Made In Taiwan” sticker on each square Gretsch badge, like you might find on the bottom of a curio. This is a tacky, but legal requirement. If these were my drums, I’d peel them off at the first opportunity.
Evans manufactured the Gretsch Permatone heads on the set. The bass drum comes with a set of pre-muffled heads that have a ring around their circumference. The bass drum batter head is clear while the logo head is white with no port. There were coated single-ply heads on the snare and tom batters, with clear resonant-side heads underneath.
The single-lug, center-mounted design on each of these drums adds to the retro look of the kit. Reducing the amount of hardware on the shell should also increase the resonance of each drum. On the bass drum, which has much longer tension rods, this design requires that you take a moment or two to make sure the tension rods are completely straight. Once I put the heads and hardware on the bass drum, I found I had to redo the placement of the bass drum claws to keep the rods aligned. Otherwise, it looks a little … well, goofy. I noticed that one of the bass lugs in the catalog photo could have benefited from a little more placement care. All the other drums have hoops, which obviously keep the screws straight.
The bass drum was equipped with telescopic spurs and retractable spikes to adhere it to any type of flooring. The maple bass drum hoops have a smooth satin finish that looks very nice. The drum had a nice sound when tuned high that would work well on a jazz gig. Tuned lower the drum had a decent depth but being so small, it obviously didn’t put out a lot of volume. At this tuning, it would work nicely in a pop group at a quieter gig. I didn’t have the opportunity to try porting the head or miking the drum, but the heads have an internal muffling ring which did a good job of balancing the drum’s attack-to-ring ratio. No additional muffling was needed.
It’s remarkable that they include a matching wood snare at this price point. The snare strainer is a side throw-off model seen on many Gretsch snares. It worked quietly and well, holding the 20-strand Gretsch wires in place. The snare drum had a wide tuning range. Tuned low, with the snares looser, it sounded like a much larger drum, with a tubby tone that would work great on a ballad. As I raised the pitch, the crispness increased. Up high, the drum had good sensitivity. Overall, the snare had good rimshots, crispness, and a woody tone. The rim-click was a little subdued for my liking. The drum doesn’t have die-cast hoops, so the best rim-click was found by striking the hoop directly over a tension screw. I found the drum responded nicely to brushes too. I liked this drum and think it’s a fine sounding, yet inexpensive wood snare.
Although it’s common with Gretsch toms but uncommon for other brands, the 12″ tom only has five lugs while the 14″ floor tom has just six lugs.
Many years ago, Tama marketed toms with odd numbers of lugs that were said to have a larger sweet spot. I don’t know if that’s one of the reasons Gretsch does this, but reducing the number of lugs is certainly one of the ways they’ve managed to get the pricing so low.
The triple-plated chrome Gretsch GTS suspension system has a slightly “retro” look, but works as well as more contemporary designs. Had suspension mounts been around 40 years ago, they’d look just like these. I found their classic styling to perfectly complement the “old school” look of the kit.
Both toms sounded pretty good out of the box, only requiring a bit of fine-tuning. They were fitted with coated single-ply Permatone heads top and bottom and had a nice full sound with good sustain. There was a pronounced pitch to each. Tuned up high they’d be great on a jazz gig, and in the middle-to-lower range, sounded perfect for rock and pop music. Currently, Gretsch doesn’t offer additional Catalina Club toms (or other drums) for this kit.
Gretsch’s Catalina Club drums are available either as shell packs (drums and tom mount but no other hardware) or with several different Gibraltar hardware packages available to accommodate each shell pack. The hardware with this kit was from Gibraltar’s 8600 line. This series features lightweight snare, hi-hat, and cymbal stands with flat bases that suit the kit’s “retro” look. These stands have tripod bracing close to their center for added stability.
The 8607 hi-hat stand is pretty lightweight, and though it works fine with this kit, it probably shouldn’t be used on slamming rock gigs. This pedal has a key-operated tension adjustment. I played heel/toe splash patterns and it responded pretty well. If I stomped fast eighth-notes, I got a touch of side-to-side wobble, but it was a bit less than what I expected from such a lightweight pedal. The tripod reinforcement probably helped reduce it. One nice feature is the hi-hat clutch has a drum key-operated lock to prevent the top cymbal from dropping during a gig. The hi-hat legs do not rotate; so keep this in mind if you were thinking of using a double-bass pedal with this stand. I can’t imagine using a double pedal on an 18″ bass drum, but if you share your hardware between a couple of kits, it’s worth noting.
I’ve never seen much reason for snare stands to be super heavy-duty, quadruple-braced behemoths. They don’t tip over since they have the drum centered above the base, so they don’t benefit as much as other stands might with added bulk. This Gibraltar 8606 snare stand is very lightweight and will be appreciated by drummers primarily concerned with function and ease of transportation. It has a ratchet-free design, allowing you to fine tune the drum’s angle.
The 8610 straight and 8609 boom cymbal stands were included with the kit. Both are lightweight flat-base stands that work well. I wouldn’t hang large cymbals at the boom’s maximum extension, but with a modicum of common sense, these stands should function without trouble. They don’t include memory locks, which often just slow packing up at the end of the gig.
The Gibraltar 9611SD bass drum pedal has a cam and strap-driven design that plays smoothly. It includes the necessary tools for adjusting the pedal to your playing style. There are a couple of small but nice touches that make this pedal a winner. This pedal has rubber on both sides of the hoop clamp to protect your bass drum hoop. Another thing I really liked about this pedal is that the tension nut fits like a memory lock into the bottom of the frame assembly tab, which prevents it from loosening. The beater’s memory lock not only prevents the beater from slipping down but also from rotating. The pedal comes with its own nylon carrying case. How cool is that? It’s made from lightweight nylon and does the job, while saving you some money too.
I can easily recommend this new Gretsch Catalina Club kit to any drummer looking for an affordable be-bop or low volume jobbing kit. They look good and sound good. If you turn your back you won’t be able to tell the difference between it and a much higher priced kit. The fact that these drums are so reasonably priced makes them impossible to ignore.
Model: Gretsch Catalina Club Series kit
Shells: 6-ply 100-percent mahogany shells and maple bass drum hoops
Model: GCE-S684 includes 12″ x 8″ and 14″ x 14″ toms, an 18″ x 16″ bass drum with single tom holder, and a matching 14″ x 5″ snare drum Hardware Pack: Gibraltar 8600
Finishes: White Marine, Black Marine, and Silver Sparkle
Heads: Evans manufactured heads including coated single-ply heads top and bottom of snares and toms, pre-muffled bass drum heads with clear batter and white solid Gretsch logo head