BY AJ DONAHUE
The folks over at Doc Sweeney Drums are doing work. Earlier this year, we ran a review of a one-of-a-kind steam-bent Myrtle drum set and matching snare drum produced by DSD. That Oregon Dunes kit completely blew us out of the water, but it may not have been the most impressive instrument Doc Sweeney sent in that shipment.
Also included in the big boxes from Carlsbad, California, was one of the shop’s new Legend series snare drums. Sweeney’s Legend series is a collection of single-ply, steam-bent snare drums designed to replicate some of the look, sound, and feel of the old, single-ply Radio King drums. The current lineup includes Maple, Myrtle, and Walnut models, but for this review, we received a limited-run Elm Legend drum with matching reinforcement rings.
In line with expectations, the Legend snare has a classically elegant aesthetic that recalls the drums on which it’s based. For the most part, this drum looks at home alongside the rest of Sweeney’s offerings, but the inclusion of beavertail-style lugs really seals the vintage vibe. Our drum shipped with stick saver hoops, but buyers can opt for straight-top-style stick chopper rims if preferred.
The Elm Legend came finished with a hand-rubbed oil seal over a proprietary dye treatment that allows the wood’s heavy-lined, mahogany-like grain to shine. The red-burgundy exterior has a natural look, but is a mostly a result of the added dye, and not the Elm’s pale brown hue.
To further the throwback appeal, DSD included a Remo Fiberskyn batter and Canopus Vintage unplated snare wires. The folks at Sweeney’s shop did a great shop equipping this shell with all the requisite vibey accessories needed to pay tribute to those iconic Radio King snare drums.
SOFT, BUT SWEET
The real connection to the Radio King build is the shell. At 5/16”, the shell is just a bit thicker than many modern single-ply shells. That extra bit of meat makes the wood a lot harder to bend, but results in what I hear as a, well, thicker tone.
On the Janka hardness scale, Elm comes in at 860, which is just a little softer than the common mahogany species often used in drum building. In a ply shell, that would likely result in a dark, dry-ish tone with a fat finish. But here, with the added density of a thicker shell, the Elm has a surprisingly sweet bite up top.
There’s still plenty of that mellow fatness in the mid-range and below, but it’s balanced by a full but not overly sharp top end. It’s sort of like that softer, more controlled, ambiguously “vintage” sound but with some extra horse power.
Also like the old solid Radio Kings, the DSD Legend is a fantastically sensitive unit. The included Canopus Vintage unplated wire set has a crisp, tight response that leans on the dry side. I think that sound really fits a drum with this much tone. The Legend drum has an incredibly wide and resonating sound under which a set of brighter, livelier wires would probably feel overly active.
I also think the 45-degree interior cut edges helped the snare speak a little more quickly. The current batch of Legend drums come cut with a 30-degree interior edge, which likely fattens them up a hair, but in this case, I feel the steeper cuts helped balance the softness of the elm.
The drum tunes up and down easily. There are no weak or dead spots when going from high to low, and the rod action is very smooth (shout out to my MMA pseudonym, Rod Action). The tone gets a little thin under very high tensions, but I think that’s partially due to the Fiberskyn head. I imagine a regular, single-ply coated batter would help maintain more body when played tight.
For me, the Elm Legend snare delivers all of the thick, woody richness of a single-ply maple drum, but with a slightly softened upper range and some puffy fatness around the middle. This is a really beautifully made instrument that I couldn’t wait to sit down and play while it was here.
Doc Sweeney’s Elm-shelled Legend is a beautifully constructed snare drum with a mountain of built-in vibe. It’s the kind of full-toned, expressive dynamo that can give you pretty much whatever you’re looking for. And coming in at $900, it feels very reasonably priced for the balance of performance and craftsmanship on display here.
- 14” x 6”, 5/16” thick steam-bent, single-ply Elm shell with 1/4” matching reinforcement rings
- 45-degree interior cut bearing edges with outside roundover counter-cut (current Legend series snare drums are cut with 30-degree interior and outside roundover edges)
- Eight chrome-plated, beavertail-style lugs
- Steel, triple-flange, stick-saver-style hoops
- Three-position DS1 snare throw
- Remo Fiberskyn batter and Ambassador snare side heads
- Canopus 20-strand Vintage wires
STREET PRICE: $900