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Gretsch Snare Drums

That "Great Gretsch Sound", once again? Yes, that's right folks, more snare drums from Gretsch. Up for review on this occasion, we have four relatively new drums.

New Classic Black Brass Snare Drum NC-6514-BG

This snare is probably the most visually stunning and impressive of all of the drums I am looking at.

This 14 x 6 ½ black nickel over brass shell model comes with gold plated hardware, a Nickel Drumworks strainer and again gold fittings on the 10 double ended tube lugs.  The drum also has 20 strand gold plated wires with gold screws and washers too.  The die cast hoops are also, surprisingly enough, gold plated.  What I guess I''m trying to say is that there is plenty of bling here. The small round badge adds to the look and overall impact of the shell.

The heads are standard Gretsch Permatone - a coated batter head, (Ambassador weight) and a clear snare side head (Diplomat weight).  There''s nothing really special to note about these heads – they’re fairly generic in every way and sounded fine to my ears.
Looking inside the shell, the bearing edges are bent over at each end.  Again, this is a fairly standard feature of most metal shelled snares, both past and present, so why not stick with something that works? All in all, it’s a very nice shell that''s been well made.

Possibly unsurprisingly, it’s quite a heavy drum.  It''s bright and ringy and the depth of shell can be felt as well as heard, which to me is a promising sign.  The drum provides a cutting rimshot so there is little chance of not being heard even in an unmiked higher volume situation. 

Even though this drum comes with an RRP of £579, which makes it more high end than anything else, it''s fairly clear why the price is what it is - all the gold is quite obvious after all.  However, when all is said and done, I think this drum is quite well rounded and is worth the fairly hefty price tag.

Classic Light Maple (NC-0514-CL)

This 14x5” drum has a thin 6-ply maple shell, eight double ended tube lugs and another Nickel Drumworks throw-off mechanism.  Unlike the other two larger drums, this one has triple flanged hoops which afford the sound a bit more overall ring and openness.  Physically, this is quite a light drum (hence the name?) and the shell looked to be nicely made.  Again, in keeping with the other two larger drums, this one also had a small round New Classic badge with the year of manufacture. This is the larger of the two Classic Light maple drums as there is also a 14x4” version available.

The bearing edges appeared to be slightly sharper than the bigger drums, which gives a more focused attack.  To this end I got a useful and well-rounded sound that would make it a good choice for a general purpose drum.  Not overly loud, not quiet, just a good all round drum.

The RRP of the 14x5” is £435.

Classic Plus Maple (NC-6514-CP)

Now, this one is a looker although it may take some getting used to.

It has 20 (count ''em - 10 per head) single tube lugs which make the 6 ply shell look somewhat cluttered when you first look at it.  However, you do get used to the look of the drum and lugs very quickly and then you realise what a nice piece of gear this is.

As a snare, this 14 x 6” drum has many similar features of its brass sibling, including a key holder hole in shell and an impressive Millennium Maple Gloss Lacquer finish.  Taking the heads off, I found slightly rounded bearing edges and a very gradual and shallow snare bed.  The heads are again Gretsch Permatones.

Sound-wise, the drum has presence and versatility, although it’s obviously deeper in tone than the shallower version.  The die-cast hoops dry the sound out a bit and I didn’t find it to be the most cutting drum of the group, but that’s not to say it was quiet.  It definitely had a potential to be a nice fat drum when tuned a bit lower.

This is also available in a 14 x 5 ½ version.

The RRP is £579.

12x5½ ” Free Floating (FFS55X12)

I have loved 12” snare drums, especially as a main option, for a long time, so I was looking forward to having a look at this particular ‘free floating’ drum. Free floating snare drums have been around for a while but rather then this drum being a ‘shell within a frame’, its more ‘shell on a shell’, but both method work under the same principal i.e. removing the hardware from the main shell of the drum.

If you look at the picture, you’ll see the shell has a darker bottom section and a maple upper section. Now, unlike some ‘other’ free floater snares, the bottom section is made of maple too, rather then die cast metal. This bottom section takes all the hardware (in this case, eight tube lugs and the Gladstone-style snare strainer) and all the stress, and the top section (which just rests on the bottom section – it isn’t stuck or mechanically attached in any way) just acts as a resonant shell. When you take the top head off the drum, you can just lift out the upper shell which presumably can be replaced with other sizes or materials although it doesn’t appear that Gretsch make any replacement shells of their own.

I picked this snare up from Mike separately from the others as he had been ‘enjoying’ it himself.  Having heard him play it in his studio (the only time I’ve ever heard Mike play, by the way), it sounded very cutting and quite ‘drum & bass’-ey.  When I gigged the drum myself, albeit as a secondary snare to a 14”, it provided a nice, crisp contrast the main drum.  It cut loudly, a combination of the size and elements of the shell I think, however, I actually preferred the sound when I was listening to it as opposed to playing it. However, that may have just been physical positioning to the instrument - I would imagine it would record quite well in that respect.

The other thing I noted was how solid the drum felt when played.  Sometimes with some shallower 12” snares you’ll find that while they might sound good, they feel a bit less substantial than a larger drum.  Obviously, there is a clear explanation for this, but at the same time, some drums suffer from this and some don’t.  This one didn’t, thankfully.

I liked this drum a lot and would definitely recommend it especially at an RRP was £219 for this model.  There are four models in the series - 10”, 12”, 13” and 14” models, all with a 5 ½“ depth.

I have to say, I liked all of these drums but my favourite was the New Classic Black Brass drum.  They’re all good though and I enjoyed playing them and I would quite happily own any of them.

David Bateman
February 2007

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