Wednesday, July 23, 2014

New drum day

OK, my rig just got about 40 pounds heavier.

Mainly, my new late-80's Sonor Phonic jazz set has finally arrived. I've been coveting a set of these since I played one, loaned to me by a great drummer, Teun Verbruggen, in Belgium in 2012. I did a tour with my own jazz quartet, and made a rock record with my girlfriend Casey Scott, and also did a loudish gig with her, unmiked, and they performed exceptionally well in all those settings. I haven't been that excited about a set of drums in a long time. This one has the black wrap, as opposed to the more coveted rosewood finish, but that's fine— no need to get greedy. And these are totally mint.

The Phonic line were Sonor's standard pro drums through the 70s and 80s, with very fat 9-ply beech shells. Their ad campaign at the time featured a large German man squatting on a Phonic shell to illustrate their strength, stoutness, heavy-duty-ness. And they are heavy— clearly they didn't go out of their way to compensate for the very robust shells by slimming down the hardware. At that time way-too-heavy hardware was all the rage, and I suspect they actually wanted to communicate their seriousness on this point in a visceral way, by making their drums way too damn heavy.

But then around the late 80s suddenly everyone decided that thin shells were really what it was all about, and the line fell out of favor... I don't think it helped that many of the Phonics floating around were sized-up; lots of 24" bass drums, 13/14" mounted toms, lots of drums with the absurd super-power-tom depth— with the depth greater than the diameter. And a lot of their hardware was kind of goofy. Suddenly Sonor Phonics were to drums what the 70s Buick Riviera was to cars— big, outlandish, and in rather poor taste:

Happily, they also made a fair number of bop sets— with 12/14/18" drums in standard depths— the drums I played in Belgium. A few of those made it to the US, which brings us back around to where we are today, to me unpacking MY NEW SONOR PHONICS...

...sorry, I've been using a lot of all-caps lately, and I'm excited...

...and testing them out. They're absolutely ridiculous. I have them tuned down, and the sound is just gigantic— the bass drum, and everything... stay tuned...

The other new item is a custom snare drum built by Johnny Craviotto back in the late 80's. It's a 7x14", with a thin birch Eames shell (1/4", 6-ply, “Finetone”), finished with that classic Eames finish you see on a lot of these drums— a light brown stain— with triple-flanged hoop on top (which I like for rim shots), and die cast on the bottom (not sure why that choice, but it's fine with me). The lug casings are from a 1930's Slingerland Radio King bass drum, and it's got a Radio King badge, which is just atmospheric; Slingerland never made a drum like this, and they're obviously not meaning to pass it off as one. I already own one early Craviotto drum, from his company Select (also briefly called Solid, or vice-versa), so I kind of had to have this one.

If you don't know about the Eames company, they've been making high-end custom drum shells for many decades. For some reason they never broke through with the little custom drum builders in the same way as Keller did, but they've hung around, and have maybe preserved their brand mystique a little better. Keller makes great shells, and always have, but maybe with success has come a little bit of overexposure, and their name doesn't inspire people that they are getting a unique, custom product, the way it used to.

Anyway, I needed a drum for a session in Los Angeles next month, and guessed correctly that this would be the right one for it. Right out of the box it sounds great. I don't think I'll even take off the moleskin the previous owner installed on the batter side. Just a perfect, refined, moderate-volume backbeat drum. Also a great concert snare drum, which I'll be using in lessons.

By the way, to pay for these suckers, I am selling a number of items, including an excellent Keller-shell(!) Slingerland bop set. Checkum out.

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