BY BRAD SCHLUETER
Originally published in the January 2016 issue
Sonor has gained a reputation as one of the finest drum companies in the world by creating consistently great sounding drums and percussion instruments, as well as robustly engineered hardware. To celebrate its 140th anniversary, Sonor looked to its legacy and created the Vintage Series, a drum kit that bridges the past and present and sets out to offer the best of each.
German woodworker and leather tanner Johannes Link created the company in 1875 and manufactured military drums, heads, glockenspiels, bass drum pedals, and accessories. The company has faced greater adversity than most, yet still managed to survive factory fires, relocations, and wars throughout its history. Sonor is responsible for many innovations we take for granted today. Created 90 years ago, the company’s Duplex bass drum pedal was a forefather of our modern double bass drum pedals. In the mid ’70s Sonor began making drum shells with sharper 45-degree bearing edges that offer longer sustain and greater sensitivity, and the company continues to do so in its SQ2, Prolite, and Force series drums.
However, there has always been a contingent of drummers with a fascination for vintage drums. Perhaps it’s the sound, or the vibe, or just nostalgia, but this interest is apparently contagious, since the vintage bug bites many younger drummers, too. Most don’t want to scour pawn shops, deal with frail hardware, or face the possibility that the deal they found online might have cracked shells that have gone out of round. So Sonor created the Vintage Series for players who are looking for a vintage sound and vibe along with the benefits today’s manufacturing offers.
A DAY AT THE BEECH
The Vintage Series is handcrafted in Germany just like Sonor’s uber high-end SQ2 line. The shells are made from nine plies of 100-percent German beech and are a relatively thin 6mm, constructed using Sonor’s CLTF (cross laminated tension free) method. I’m a fan of thin shells like these since they tend to have a lower fundamental pitch than thicker shells do.
These shells have rounded bearing edges like Sonor drums from the 1950s and ’60s. Rounder edges create a slightly dampened sustain and drier tone that is less likely to require muffling, creating a warmer sound, since it has fewer high frequencies. The edges were all evenly rounded and quite smooth to the touch.
3-PIECE & BEYOND
These kits come in just two basic 3-piece configurations, but 12 sizes of available add-on drums allow you to create a much larger kit if you desire. Ours was the Three22 Shell Kit that comes with a 22″ x 14″ bass drum, 13″ x 8″ rack tom, and a 16″ x 14″ floor tom. I’m glad they also offer matching snare drums for the series, and these include a 14″ x 5.75″ drum and a 14″ x 6.5″ drum. I was sent the shallower model.
Sonor also sent a full set of 600 series hardware and the Jojo Mayer Perfect Balance pedal (previously reviewed). While this review focuses on the drums, Sonor’s hardware is without peer in terms of ruggedness, engineering, and strength.
There are two useful features I wanted to mention for those unfamiliar with them. Each of the stand’s tripods has one leg that can be moved independently of the other two. This can be very helpful when trying to position several tripod bases next to each other, since you can easily shift a leg a little to make room.
Another clever feature is that the cymbal tilters have both a wing screw and a large round nut above the two felts. The purpose of this is to let you to set the degree of cymbal motion you want to allow and then tighten the wingscrew and nut together securing it in place. It slows down your teardown at the end of a show, but is useful for controlling cymbal wobble, and keeps your wing screws from flying off during gigs.
Only three finishes are available, but all are very attractive and have a distinct vintage vibe. I’ve seen all three in person and, frankly, it’d be hard to pick a favorite. Our review kit came in Sonor’s Vintage Pearl, which is a classic white marine pearl wrap. Rather than have a faint bluish color as some modern WMP’s do, ours had the slightly yellow-tinged hue that many vintage kits acquire after years of use in smoke-filled clubs. (Fortunately, ours didn’t have the residual odors those same vintage kits often do.) Our bass drum had a wide matching inlay strip that sits flush into the routed hoop.
There is also a very nice Vintage Natural finish (a rusty wood color) and a Vintage Onyx (black). Both of these have an external wood veneer, a semigloss finish, and are absolutely gorgeous. These two lacquer finishes come with matching bass drum hoops.
Perhaps the most striking visual aspect of these kits is the teardrop lugs. Rather than merely duplicating the lug from Sonor’s past, the company reengineered it to include Sonor’s TuneSafe technology that prevents the drums from detuning. Inside each lug is a plastic insert that helps hold it at its desired tension, which you may detect only as a slight resistance as you tune the drums.
On shallower drums like rack toms and snares, the lugs are offset slightly, while on the deeper floor toms and bass drums the lugs are inline. Our test kit had 16 lugs on the bass drum, floor tom, and snare, and the rack tom had 12. The bass drum is virgin, so the rack tom mounts to a stand via a hexagonal shaped rod held by a hinged bracket, much like those that grip the floor tom legs. But while that part of the tom-mounting system is modern, the tom doesn’t include a suspension mount, and instead hangs from an old-school tom arm, like a vintage drum.
Vintage Series drums have a redesigned version of Sonor’s original Superprofil hoops, which are 2.3 mm thick and have a round-over design similar to Slingerland’s Stick Savers. The bass drum is anchored by gull wing spurs with retractable spikes that fold outward from the side of the drum. Hardware feet are tipped with large black rubber balls that suggest the mallet motif used in the Sonor logo. The bass drum has traditional T-handled tuning screws on all but the two screws next to the bass drum pedal. The shape of the stamped steel claws has a retro look I like, but I wish they’d gone a a step further into the present and lined the inner claws to protect these beautiful hoops.
I’m glad the designers used the more common modern square-headed tension rods rather than the flat-bladed screwdriver heads used on Sonor’s vintage drums. But if you have a vintage Sonor snare you’d like to use with one of these kits you’ll be pleasantly surprised that the company thoughtfully includes a robust two-sided drum key that works with tension rods from either era.
The matching snare drum features the Super 50 throw-off, which is a redesigned and beefier version of the Sonor 1950s era throw-offs. Unlike many modern throws, this one offers a surprising amount of resistance as you lower or raise the wires, which has its advantages and disadvantages.
If you like to frequently engage and drop your wires it’ll take more effort do so. Yet this design can also hold a variety of intermediate positions securely, rather than just on or off, so if you want a crisp snare response on one song and a looser rattle on the next, it’s easy to dial in either and hold it there. A simple fine-tuning knurled nut is found on the butt plate.
This drum has one of the best badges I’ve seen in years. It’s made of metal and is screwed into the shell, and has that same script look featured on the logo head that originates from the teardrop lug era.
The drums come with Remo drumheads. Toms have coated Ambassador batters and clear bottoms, and the snare has a coated Ambassador on top and a clear snare-side head. The bass drum logo head is a Powerstroke 3 Fiberskyn that complements the vintage vibe with its calfskin look, while the batter head varies depending on the size of your bass drum. The smaller 18″ and 20″ bass drums feature Powerstroke 3 batter heads and the 22″ and 24″ models come with Powerstroke 3 black dot batters, presumably because drummers with larger drums play harder and might require a little more durability from their bass drumheads.
A ROUND SOUND
I wondered how the absence of a suspension mount would affect the rack tom’s sustain. The tom attaches with a ball-and-socket style holder, but in Sonor’s case the tom arm passes through the ball and, as a result, allows you to extend or retract the arm for greater positioning options than designs that have a fixed arm. I discovered that the degree of extension influenced the tom’s sustain, so the closer the bend in the arm was to the ball, the shorter the drum’s decay became. When I extended the arm further out, the sustain lengthened much as if it were held in a modern suspension system. Whether this was intended or not, I found it could be used to control the drum’s decay very effectively without resorting to other forms of dampening.
The 13″ rack tom sounded very good and had a nice warm tone. I’ve always liked beech shells, having found they offer a punchy, fat sound. The round bearing edges lived up to expectations, lending the drums fewer highs and more pronounced mids and lows. Our 16″ floor tom had a similarly warm sound and perfectly adequate sustain. It didn’t ring as long as some of my other drums, but it certainly didn’t sound muffled. Its hang time seemed just about right to me.
Though they’re common on many older drums, I confess I’m not a fan of black dot heads. But in spite of that, I liked the sound of this bass drum. It had a very distinct attack that would work well for rock or funk. When I let the beater come off the head, the low-end was more apparent than if I buried it. The bass drum sounds like it could have time-traveled to the present straight from the 1960s.
I loved the sound of the snare drum. It had a full-bodied character, cut well, was articulate, and capable of great volume. It rang a bit but never got out of hand. My rim-clicks were loud and clear and rimshots sang. I had a blast playing mambo grooves with it and the hoops made playing rim-clicks a breeze.
Sonor’s Vintage Series has done a solid job of capturing the warm tones for which vintage drums are prized. These drums have tons of vibe, a true vintage sound, and embrace retro features without sacrificing reliability. This is the coolest kit I’ve played in quite some time.
Prices Three22 Shell Kit: $4,799; snare $1,279
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