BY BRAD SCHLUETER
Many close-minded drummers may think there is no reason to reinvent the wheel, but fortunately for the rest of us, JT Whitney of Whitney Drums has gone ahead and done so anyway. The Nesting Penguin kit is an innovative drum set and hardware package that throws conventional drum design out the window, and gives gigging drummers something to smile about.
In essence, this is a nesting drum set with an integrated hardware package that’s designed to answer a working drummer’s needs. You may wonder, “What’s a nesting drum set?” Think of those Russian Matryoshka dolls that sit inside one another, or if you prefer just think of the recently discontinued Yamaha Hip Gig kits, where the drums all sit within each other, from snare to bass drum.
SHELLS AND DESIGN
Whitney has managed to do away with a lot of the weight associated with conventional drums by doing away with lugs and traditional tom mounts and other hardware like bass drum spurs, badges, and vent hole grommets. In place of lugs, the drums have the tension screw receivers set directly into a 9-ply birch collar that’s vaguely similar to the old Peavey Radial Bridge drums. Whitney’s design takes advantage of the collar and expands the shell size to the outer diameter of the hoop, creating a drum with a straight cylindrical shape, dubbed a Maxi-Shell. This allows each drum to have a larger interior volume than the head diameter would suggest. Penguin drums are so named because they’re “fat in the middle,” like a penguin. They’re designed to sound bigger and deeper than either their diameter or depths might indicate.
In an effort to reduce weight and promote tone, all the shells are handmade from three plies of a European birch, resulting in an extremely thin 0.175″ drum shell. This is the thinnest wood drum shell I’m aware of on the market. This effort has paid off since the bass drum weighs about 10 lbs. In their bag, the shells weigh just 30 lbs. total, and the hardware is about the same. In real-world terms, I took the kit to a gig while it was raining and rather than set the hardware bag down on the wet pavement to open the door, I transferred it to the same hand holding all the drums. I can’t think of another pro kit that I could carry in one hand.
The bearing edges are sharp like many modern drums and this too adds to each drum’s sensitivity. One feature unique to the snare drum is the six internal 0.375″ dowel rods used for additional support that allow high tunings with such a thin shell.
I received Whitney’s standard Nesting Penguin kit with an 18″-diameter bass drum, 13″ snare, 10″ and 14″ hanging toms and the hardware package with the folding Quickstand and two nice Protection Racket bags for the nested drums and hardware. My kit had the optional wood hoops, which look great and also warm up the tone. There are five different Nesting configurations available or you can order yours à la carte with bass drum sizes ranging from 16″ to 22″ in diameter. There are also a variety of tom and snare sizes offered.
My drums had a rich reddish-brown mahogany stain finish that revealed the birch’s swirling grain striations and contrasted nicely with the blond maple hoops on the drums. There are a variety of colors certain to appeal to a wide variety of tastes, including some beautiful exotic wood veneers, but no sparkle or crazy painted finishes. These drums look expensive and classy, like something you’ll keep forever rather than something hip and trendy you’ll eventually tire of and sell.
HARDWARE AND ASSEMBLY
There is hardware to mount two toms, the snare, and bass drum on the Quickstand, and two cymbal booms for a ride and crash. As a result, this kit has a remarkably small footprint. Many drummers may choose to add one or two more clamps and booms to the basic hardware package for extra cymbals. Wisely, the hardware package doesn’t include a hi-hat stand, bass drum pedal, or throne — items many drummers have strong preferences about.
Here’s how the drums “un-nest.” The bass drum has four black thumbscrews that loosen to release the resonant head and collar assembly. The snare drum is wrapped in a cloth blanket and sits on top of the floor tom that has the small tom nested inside of it. Repeating the process and reassembling the resonant heads on those two drums was quick.
Since you’ll be removing the bass drumhead at every gig, you can easily put a microphone inside the drum, placing the cable through a groove cut into the bottom edge of the collar labeled “mic cable.” Nice!
The folding Quickstand is an ingenious and well-executed idea that serves several very useful functions. When setting up the drums the Quickstand folds open easily and smoothly. The first step in assembling the kit is to set the bass drum onto this cradle, where it sits securely via two bolts into slots in the cradle. The front of the bass is suspended in the air a few inches so your beater will strike the center of the drumhead, which helps the drum resonate freely. The Quickstand has two clamps bolted to it for the two vertical rack bars that support the cymbal boom arms, tom clamps, and snare stand.
Putting the drums together and fitting them on the Quickstand was surprisingly easy. Once you’ve done it, it’s easy to remember how it works. I timed myself less than seven minutes from bags to setup! That’s fast. Since all the tubing is relatively short, much of the hardware can be put in the bag without removing more than the cymbal booms and snare arm, which helps speed up their assembly.
Since JT Whitney also designed DW’s Sidekick pedal, the clamps and some of the other hardware is DW and PDP. It’s all lightweight stuff, but it held in place throughout my testing without budging at all. The kit uses Yamaha-style ball-and-socket tom arms that slide into the shell and are tightened with a small thumbscrew. You may be thinking “What, no suspension mount?” Actually, there is one but it’s cleverly hidden inside the toms, out of the way. The Whitney ISIS-2 (internal suspension isolation system) was invisible to the eye but seemed to work quite well supporting the drum internally from beneath the collar.
The snare drum had a simple and effective throw-off that I liked, though another model is usually supplied with the kits. Ingeniously, the snare hangs from one of the rack bars and doesn’t have a tripod. I worried that it might bounce around during playing but it didn’t move and felt as secure as a regular stand.
The drums came equipped with Aquarian heads throughout, with single-ply Texture Coated for the snare and toms and a Force 1 pre-muffled bass drum batter and similar black logo head without a port.
The snare was absolutely wonderful. I often like birch snares and this 13″ drum had a nice crack yet still had a woody tone underneath that would work well for any of my gigs. The wood hoops gave a loud and cutting tone for rim-clicks. Rimshots sounded good and the drum was sensitive and responsive at lower dynamic levels. This 13″ drum is versatile enough to work as a main snare, but if you’re a traditionalist, a 14″ model is available.
The toms sounded very nice as well with a warm tone and medium-length decay. They were easy to tune and just sounded good without any fussing.
The small 18″ bass drum arrived tuned pretty low and sounded great. The premuffled heads would work well for most gigs other than a bebop gig and the drum didn’t need any additional muffling, emitting a surprisingly deep sound that had some heft to it. The term Bonhamesque even came to mind.
Frankly, I was a little surprised to hear such a good sound come from such a portable kit.
AT THE GIG
I wondered, Could the 18″ bass drum be used at a rock gig? As it happened, I had four-hour gig in a medium-sized bar where the drums weren’t going to be miked. Ah, the perfect torture test!
Normally, I use the house kit at this club, which has a 24″ bass drum. Volume-wise, this little 18″ kick didn’t put out the same dB level or quite as low a pitch, but overall the tone of these drums far exceeded the house kit. The other two guys in my band happen to play drums, too, so I was able to hear them from the audience’s perspective. The drums really impressed us, and throughout the gig I got nods, smiles, and heads shaken in disbelief at this amazing kit. What more could you ask?
The Whitney Nesting Penguin kit’s clever design does more than answer many drummers’ desires for a lightweight, portable kit; it also provides a warm, professional-quality sound. You could purchase the kit just for its sound quality and look at all the convenience it provides as simply additional bonuses. The final bonus is that the drums are also reasonably priced for such excellent handmade American craftsmanship.
Shells Thin 0.125″ 3-ply birch shells with 9-ply collars with metal inserts to receive tension rods. Snare has six 0.375″ dowels for extra shell strength. Unique “Maxi-shell” design is 2″ larger in diameter than the head size.
Finish Mahogany stain (reviewed); many other stain finishes and exotic exterior ply finishes are available.
Hardware Wood “Quickstand” with mounting hardware for all four drums and two cymbals; Isis II internal suspension system on all toms; Minimal shell hardware to reduce weight. Also includes hardware and bass drum gig bags and blankets for nesting drums.
Configuration 18″ x 16″ bass drum, 13 x 5″ snare, 14″ x 9″ and 10″ x 7″ toms; other sizes and configurations are available.
List Price $2,498 with wood hoops (reviewed); $2,311 with triple-flanged hoops.