BY AJ DONAHUE

The good people at Drum give me a lot of opportunities to check out really, really cool gear. In the past year alone, I’ve written about roughly 60 cymbals, 43 bass drum beaters, 20 snare drums, 10 heads, 3 drum sets, and weirdly, only two sticks. I’m normally a cranky know-it-all, so I came into most of those reviews with preconceived notions about what I was going to hear and experience. Most of the time, my expectations were close enough to the pin, but there were a few products that made me totally reevaluate some long-held ideas about what makes what sound like what. Rather than sweating over a top 10 list of favorite gear goodies I covered this year, I wanted to highlight the items that left me most pleasantly surprised.

5. YAMAHA HW-3 CROSSTOWN 4-PIECE HARDWARE PACK

I didn’t get to write a full review of Yamaha’s Crosstown hardware pack—the company’s entry into the ultra-light hardware arena this year—but I did get to spend some time with a set. I was a little put off by the looks, initially, and I was concerned about the strength of those semi-tube tripod legs. It was all for naught, however. This stuff is great. It’s sturdy, all of the components operate smoothly, and the hi-hat stand is quick and responsive. And to top it all off, a full set (hi-hat, snare, and two straight stands) weighs less than 20 lbs. Many thanks to Yamaha from my back, shoulders, and bandmates. STREET PRICE: $400

4. TAMA SOFT SOUND BASS DRUM BEATER

Tama’s Soft Sound beater might look like an attachment for a bathroom cleaning tool, but it’s actually a really handy little unit. The company put a piece of acoustic foam on a 4″ wide plastic back, slapped all that on top of a beater shaft, and somehow came away with an awesome product. It works great on a low-volume practice kit, but it also fits beautifully next to brushes. The foam cuts almost all of each note’s attack, while the sturdy backing adds just enough weight to pull a real note out of most bass drums. It’s been in my stickbag ever since I finished the piece. STREET PRICE: $25

3. SABIAN 14″ FRX HI-HATS

sabian frx hi-hatsSabian’s Frequency Reduction (FRX) series is the result of an ambitious project to create musical, professional-caliber cymbals with a built-in volume cap. To be clear, they’re not “low volume” cymbals, but normal cymbals with strategically placed holes to help reduce some of the most cutting frequencies that make untreated cymbals sound “loud.” The series as a whole does a decent job checking the targeted boxes, but the 14″ hats really exceed expectations. They’re ticking, tight, controlled, and crisp. The Frequency Reduction treatment mellows the spread a hair which helps them fit snugly with the rest of the FRX line, but they can blend well with just about anything. STREET PRICE: $475


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Natal drums

2. NATAL DRUMS CAFÉ RACER ’59 SHELL PACK

I got to write about the original Café Racer series for Drum a few years ago, and I really enjoyed them. When the British builders announced an update to the line that included satin walnut exteriors (rather than the original wrapped or lacquer finishes), I kind of rolled my eyes. A different name for what amounts to new finish options? That’s a little much. But I was totally wrong. The Café Racer ’59 speaks with big, buttery voices that blend beautifully with other instruments. The tulipwood shells are warm and extremely resonant, which I have to assume is the result of those new walnut outer plies. These are truly sound-great-in-any-situation drums. I couldn’t have been more impressed by such a simple change. STREET PRICE: $1,550

exotic wood CHERRY HILL MACASSAR EBONY 1

1. CHERRY HILL MACASSAR EBONY STAVE SNARE DRUM

John Haddad of Cherry Hill Drums is a miracle worker. He designs almost all of his parts in-house, does the wood and metal work himself, deals with all of his customers directly, and on top of that, everything he produces is just stupid gorgeous. Of course, the drum he sent over for our exotic wood snare roundup earlier this year was absolutely beautiful. I’ll admit I was uncertain about this one, but only because of personal preferences—I don’t often love snare drums with stave builds, extremely hard wood shells like Macassar Ebony, or heavy brass rims, and the Cherry Hill drum features all three. But despite it ticking all my senseless hangup boxes, the thing absolutely knocked me out. It’s fat and sensitive, with a surprisingly tone-rich middle. This snare is an absolute killer, and it made me reconsider a lot of ideas I had about what I generally like in a drum. STREET PRICE: $1,450

 

 

 

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