BY DAVID LIBMAN
Mapex’s Black Panther snare series currently includes 14 drums. Trying out that many snares would be awesome, but documenting them all in one review could get unruly. So Mapex sent four snares that cover a varied palette of shell materials and sizes: a 13″ x 6″ Nomad brass snare; a 14″ x 6.5″ Machete steel snare; a 14″ x 5.5″ Retrosonic walnutsnare; and a 14″ x 7″ Phat Bob maple snare. That’s a lot of backbeats to cover, so here it goes.
According to the Internet (which, of course, is never wrong), Black Panthers hunt alone, not in packs. There’s an analogy to be made there to the Black Panther snares, because each one I tried was unique. Nevertheless, these snares do possess some common traits. Each comes with Mapex’s Sonic Saver hoops — a 2.3 mm steel hoop that flanges inward at the top in similar fashion to the old Slingerland Stick Saver hoops.
Frankly, I think these hoops improve on Slingerland’s because Sonic Savers round all the way over at the top of the hoop, which makes them feel much smoother when playing rimshots. With their engraved “Sonic Saver” logos, these hoops look classy and do a fine job of holding the drums in tune while preserving drum-stick integrity.
Another common feature is Mapex’s Cylinder-Drive strainer: essentially, a lever that folds inward toward the shell to engage the wires, with tension knob adjustments on both the strainer and butt end. The tension knob features what Mapex calls “microlock technology” — a fancy way of saying that you can feel refined clicks as you turn the knob. These clicks felt so smooth that I questioned whether they would hold the snare wire tension. I never seemed to have the tension slip on any of the four drums’ strainers, so the “micro-lock” technology lives up to its name. Overall, this is a quiet and smooth strainer system that looks elegant. Plus, when the strainer is disengaged, the snare wires fall far enough from the bottom head to avoid unwanted snare wire slapping.
Remaining common features on each Black Panther include Remo USA coated Ambassador batter heads and clear Ambassador snare side heads, attractive rectangular black and chrome Black Panther badges, and premium stainless steel snare wires. While certain snare wires have too many overtones for my taste, these avoid that problem. They give a nice amount of buzz even at lower volumes and produce just the right amount of white noise in the midand high-range overtones.
THE VERSATILE NOMAD SNARE
Will Calhoun designed the Nomad snare; it features a 13″ x 6″ seamed 1.2 mm brass shell with 45-degree edges. Aesthetically, the drum contrasts an aged looking Sirocco Burst weathered finish against eight modern chrome tube lugs. By David E. Libman Black Panther Snare Roundup Mapex Variations On A Theme DRUMmagazine.com August 2014 DRUM! 81 These lugs are gorgeous, with a slight hourglass curvature in their design. Indented African Adinkra “Sesa Wo Suban” symbols adorn the shell. I’ve seen this symbol defined to mean “change or transform character,” which seems appropriate for this drum.
From what I can tell, the weathered finish on this brass shell affects its sound, because I have never heard a 13″ brass shell that sounds quite like this one. Unlike so many 13″ snares I have played, the Nomad sounds neither harsh nor too thin. Rather, it’s warm, open, and bright, with a clear crack and tremendous snare sensitivity throughout the entire dynamic range. Whether tuned tight, medium, or loose, it never seems to choke. Plus it manages to retain a combination brass/woody character that’s very musical. I can see why Calhoun would design a drum like the Nomad, because he plays loud with Living Colour, and soft when he plays jazz. The Nomad is a chameleon in terms of the sound qualities it could produce at different tunings, making it versatile enough to cover such varying styles. Furthermore, despite its smaller 13″ diameter, I was perfectly comfortable using the Nomad as a main snare.
Will Calhoun’s promo vid for his Nomad snare drum.
Maybe it’s because I’m 43, but naming a snare drum after a weapon seems a bit antagonistic. I’m happy to report, however, that you won’t find a “Machete” logo on any part of this snare. So call it what you may, such as a “14″ x 6.5″ steel snare with a 1.0mm shell and traditional 45-degree bearing edges in a brushed black finish.” Wow, that’s a mouthful. Almost every manufacturer makes some version of a 14″ x 6.5″ steel snare, many that sound overly harsh or ringy to my ear. The Machete is more refined. It’s not warm, and retains the slightly harsh bite that I would expect from a steel snare. At the same time, stick strokes produce a dry, focused sound that has enough of an EQ’d quality to make me wonder if there’s some aluminum in the shell. (Hmm, maybe Mapex should add an aluminum shell to the Black Panther line.) With that said, because the Machete has a steel shell, backbeats cut through with plenty of volume and a decidedly crisp, aggressive quality. At lower volumes, the Machete’s snare sensitivity was more expressive than I had expected.
RETROSONIC SNARE: NEW AGED
I reviewed Mapex’s Retrosonic drum set a while back. Because the kit was the focus, I couldn’t provide as much detail about the snare as I can here, so it’s nice to meet again. True to its name, this snare has a “retro” vibe. In terms of looks, it oozes elegance with ten tube lugs (the same used on the Nomad) and a gorgeous satin-finish outer veneer to complete its 9-ply walnut shell. Walnut gives this snare an aged sound that is full, breathy, and woody, with plenty of mids and lows. I happened to take this snare to a gig I played at the Baked Potato Jazz Club in Los Angeles.
It worked quite well in a fusion setting because it has enough sensitivity to sound good at low volumes with brushes, but it also has plenty of body and cuts through with a fat wallop when played at high volumes with sticks. This drum was very comfortable to play because, when struck, it responds with a bouncy, almost spongy, quality. If you’re a collector of wood snares, this walnut shell beauty offers a nice contrast to maple or birch options.
PHAT BOB IS PLENTY ARTICULATE
Phat Bob’s transparent black gloss finish is the obvious starting point: a gorgeous mirror-like lacquer that can be best described as a true black (without any hints of purple, blue, or anything else). By combining the finish with brushed black hardware, Phat Bob looks downright ominous, if not sinister.
Phat Bob is a 14″ x 7″ maple snare with ten Black Panther lugs on top and bottom (20 in total). But this drum is unique, in that the shell is a rather thick ten plies with semi-rounded outside-cut 45-degree bearing edges.
A drum that is 7″ deep can sometimes be a one-trick pony that sounds good for backbeats but mushy for anything else. That’s not the case with Phat Bob. This drum’s shell thickness makes it sound articulate and raises its pitch to something more akin to a 6.5″ or 6″ depth. However, at 7″ deep, this drum sounds noticeably more “phat” than most shallower snares.
Snare response from Phat Bob was impressively sensitive — enough so that I was able to get a breathy, wispy sound even when playing it with brushes. I attribute this sort of snare response to the fact that the snare bed is rather deep. Furthermore, the tone of this drum is very focused on the fundamental (without too many overtones), which I attribute to its rounded bearing edge on the batter side.
Overall, I found Phat Bob to be an incredibly full sounding snare that is quite versatile. Frankly, if it weren’t for the fact that I already own a 14″ x 7″ maple snare, I would likely have purchased this drum.
COMMON FEATURES2.3 mm steel Sonic Saver hoops, Cylinder- Drive strainer and butt end, premium stainless steel snare wires, Remo coated Ambassador batter heads, and clear Ambassador snare side heads.
LUGS Nomad and Retrosonic = tube; Machete and Phat Bob = Black Panther single screw lugs.
SHELLS/BEARING EDGES Nomad = 13″ x 6″, 1.2mm brass shell with traditional 45-degree edges; Machete = 14″ x 6.5″, 1mm steel shell with traditional 45-degree edges; Retrosonic = 14″ x 5.5″, 9-ply walnut with sharp 45-degree outside-cut edges; Phat Bob = 14″ x 7″, 10-ply maple with 45-degree semi-rounded outside cut edges.
FINISH Nomad = Sirocco Burst shell with brushed black and chrome hardware; Machete = brushed black steel shell and hardware; Retrosonic = natural satin shell with chrome hardware; Phat Bob = transparent black gloss with brushed black hardware.
PRICE (MSRP): Nomad ($729), Machete ($539), Retrosonic ($759). Phat Bob ($699).