BY BRAD SCHLUETER
If you haven’t heard of SJC Custom Drums, listen up. This small Massachusetts company has been making drums since 2000 and is creating some amazing-sounding drums with some absolutely sick finishes. Judging by its web site, most of the people working at SJC are in their 20s, which would explain the coolness factor of these drums. Punk drummers from the Atari’s, Powerman 5000, Hawthorne Heights, and Panic! At The Disco, as well as the more mainstream pop drummers for Paul Simon and Hilary Duff all play SJC kits. So if you’re looking for a cutting-edge drum set that pushes the aesthetic envelope, SJC can definitely deliver.
Since SJC is a custom drum company, it offers its customers a seemingly limitless number of ways to customize their kits. The downside is that, for the novice, this range of options might be overwhelming (not to mention expensive given the increased cost of customization). Customers can choose shells in a wide variety of sizes and a wide number of plies, made from maple, birch, or mahogany. SJC toms and bass drums range from five to ten plies, and snares can have as few as five, or as many as 50 plies. SJC also makes segment, stave, and solid-shell wood shells, brass and acrylic shells, and even hybrid shells made from more than one material.
You can have vents put in your drums, have your hardware powder-coated, specify the type of bearing edge you want, or go with the standard double 45-degree edges. SJC offers a variety of hoops too, from the standard 2.3mm hoops to die-cast, wood, or the very striking Butcher hoops, which are thick wood hoops with an awning that completely covers the lugs underneath. The Butcher hoops (inspired by an idea from Andy “The Butcher” Mrotek of The Academy Is…) result in a look that is completely different from any that I’ve ever seen. What I’m getting at here is that there are more ways to customize these drums than I have room to list.
OUT OF THE BOX
I was sent a 5-piece “one up, two down” maple kit with a 24″ x 18″ bass drum, a 12″ x 7.5″ rack tom, 16″ x 14″ and 18″ x 16″ floor toms, and a 14″ x 7″ snare drum. The notable features of the review kit included wood hoops and offset lugs on the toms and bass drum.
The bass and toms had SJC’s white Birdseye wrap finish and the unmatched snare drum had a finish of beautiful glossy Black Cherry Burst over Birdseye maple. I absolutely loved the finish of the snare drum. It was very dark at the edges and slowly opened up to a cherry color in the middle. It had a smooth, high-gloss coating that was immaculate. The 10-lug snare had all the amenities you could want; Trick’s excellent strainer, high-quality snare wires, die-cast hoops, butt plate, and inline mini tube lugs. Even SJC’s badge has a tasteful appearance. Earlier I mentioned that the options for customizing were seemingly limitless. Here’s yet another example: SJC even offers you the ability to customize the badge color, or to have your band’s logo engraved on the badge.
The finish on the toms and bass drum received several spontaneous compliments. The white Birdseye finish is all white, set off with slightly off-white swirls. Everyone’s taste is different, and I can’t say I really liked it, though it was very professionally applied. A perusal of SJC’s web site will give you a clue as to the incredible variety of spectacular finishes they offer.
My kit came with rounded, claw-style wood hoops on the toms, which are similar to Ayotte’s wood hoops in that they stand about 3/4″ above the head, which means you may need to angle your toms slightly more to clear them. These hoops have a unique short lip that hides the drumhead collar and are said to greatly increase the resonance of the drums, which I found to be an accurate claim. It may be a small thing, but I like the look of these hoops more than those where you can see the silver head collar, which may or may not complement the look of your finish. Of course, if you’re not with me on that, SJC also offers drums with shorter, Yamaha-style wood hoops, or ones that reveal the drumhead collar, just like your bass drum hoops do. Speaking of those, another nice feature is that SJC custom cuts the interior of its bass drum hoops so they fit your drumheads more securely.
I’m paid to nitpick, and one small issue I had was that, since this style of hoop requires bass drum claws for tensioning, the tube lugs have to be mounted a bit off the shell to align with the claws. SJC used standard, hardware-store variety hex nuts under the tube lugs as a spacer, which looked a little too “industrial” for my tastes. I think they could improve on that. Also, the white Birdseye finish was inlaid into the tom hoops as well as the bass drum, but the hoops weren’t stained and felt bare, which initially was a concern since the first gig I used them on was outside on a rainy day. I later learned that the people at SJC use a mixture of oils that they hand rub into the hoops and shell interiors to seal and protect them, which put my mind at ease.
The kit also featured 50-percent offset, mini tube lugs. That means that the lugs weren’t mounted directly above one another, but were offset in an equidistant, zigzag pattern. SJC does offer kits with the lugs inline, or what they refer to as a “7/8 offset,” which works well on snares since it leaves room for the throw-off and butt plate. My kit also featured Gauger’s excellent, attractive, and lightweight aluminum hanging tom mounts for the rack tom, while the floor toms had the mounts attached directly to the shell. I found the floor tom leg mounts to have large and comfortable wing screws, but I had to remove one wing screw and washer to fit the drums into my old foam-lined cases. My advice is to buy the cases after the drums since these mounts stick out a touch further than some.
Now onto the real question: how did the drums sound? The bass drum sounded beautifully deep, which might partly be due to its extremely thin, 5.4mm shell. SJC included a bass drum pillow for dampening, though I didn’t use it at my gigs. The bass drum may have sounded a touch boomy, but not in a particularly distracting way. The drum’s large diameter and depth provided even punchier low end when I muffled it. This is a big, deep-sounding drum that’s perfect for loud rock. I use a MAPA bass drum anchor on my rug, and since the resonant head’s bottom lug is offset on the SJC bass drum, the anchor sits directly on the bottom. To avoid marring the finish, I had to raise the drum up a bit to avoid metal-to-metal contact between the lug and the anchor.
The toms came outfitted with Remo Clear Emperor 2-ply heads and Clear Ambassadors on the bottoms. The drums exhibited plenty of attack, courtesy of the Emperors, but enough sustain and warmth to make me smile. The 12″ tom had a nice upper-midrange pitch and was shallow enough to make placement over the 24″ kick a snap. The floor toms had the low end covered, although I couldn’t fit the biggest tom in my car to get it to the gig. The shells on all of the toms were just 4mm thin – which contributed to their warmth and sustain – and had SJC’s double 45-degree bearing edges.
The snare also sounded terrific. The drum’s depth is capable of providing a good amount of volume, while also adding a little extra meat to the tone. Even when I really laid into it, the drum never choked. The ten maple plies offered enough crack and brightness to balance nicely with the woody tone of the drum. I was also impressed with its fairly wide tuning range. It certainly won’t be mistaken for a piccolo snare, but you can crank the heads and not worry about choking it out.
With the die-cast hoops, the drum’s rim click sound was so loud and clear that I didn’t need any amplification for it at my outdoor “unplugged” gig. Though the snare came with an Emperor head, I didn’t feel any need to switch to a thinner head, as I was perfectly satisfied with the sound it gave me. The ringing overtones were also well balanced. During a Samba-style drum solo, I played near the edges of the head with a lot of rim shots for a livelier “Latin” sound.
With a plethora of options, a bleeding edge aesthetic, and a fat sound, SJC drums have what it takes to give the big boys a run for their money.
SHELLS (Review kit) 100-percent maple shells with 6-ply 12″ x 7.5″ rack tom, 16″ x14″ and 18″ x 16″ floor toms, an 8-ply 24″ x 18″ bass drum, and a 10-ply 14″ x 7″ snare drum.
FEATURES Nearly everything is fully customizable, also comes with floor tom legs and Gauger tom suspension mount.
FINISHES (Review kit) White Birdseye wrap for toms and bass drum, High-gloss Black Cherry Burst over Birdseye maple for the snare drum.
PRICE (Review kit) $3,330 for the toms and bass drum, $900 for the factory-direct snare drum from SJC.
CONTACT SJC Custom Drums
P.O. Box 1314
Dudley, MA 01571