Spirit Drums Custom Kit #3
'drums for a lifetime'
"Still Awesome in 2007"
I feel that I must again state for the record that this is an independent objective review, I have purchased these drums based purely on my own judgement and opinion and largely because of how impressed I was with the 14 x 6.5 snare I had previously purchased. I had to haggle over price as will you and I am not connected in any way with the company apart from having struck up a firm e-friendship with Matt during the last few months whilst the kit was being constructed according to my specifications. What I have written below is my opinion and my opinion only, your reliance on any of the below if considering purchase is your responsibility, however this is my truth and I firmly believe that drummers across the world will echo my sentiments when they get the chance to experience Spirit Drums custom kits for themselves.
This kit was only the third ever made by Matt & Jim at Spirit drums and bears a brass commemorative plaque to evidence that. It was custom made for me in sizes 20x16, 10x8, 12x10 and 14x12. I had already purchased a 14x6.5 snare in October 1999, and I have one of their wonderful 14" Spirit Djembes which unfortunately are no longer made.
This is a 100% solid shell kit turned from solid logs of Cooktown Ironwood which have been carved with a scalloped pattern on the inside for acoustic enhancement . The lugs are turned from Solid brass and are hand-tapped. The 10" & 12" toms each have 6 lugs, 4 of which are mounted to the shell at a single point, two of which are mounted at two points to facilitate the use of RIMS. The 14" tom has 8 lugs, each fitted to the shell at a single point and uses the RIMS floor tom mount which is wonderful apart from the fact that it takes a 16" case to contain it.
Tension rods are also brass and the die cast rims on mine are to be 24k gold plated as are the bass drum spurs and bass drum claws. The Bass drum has 10 brass lugs each fitted to the shell at a single point. My kit currently has chrome flanged hoops on the toms and chrome claws on the bass drum as the gold ones are currently being finished off in the USA. The kit came with clear ambassadors all around at my request and with a Remo Powerstroke 3 (PS3) / coated ambassador combination on the kick drum. I am 100% muffle free (if you excuse the PS3).
Construction and materials
The kit is made from Cooktown Ironwood which is one of the densest woods on the planet, it is twice as dense as maple and more dense than African Ebony. The density of the wood, the grain characteristics, plus the solid shell construction combine to give one of the most significant advancements in contemporary drum design and manufacture, this kit sounds like no other I have ever owned or played (I also own a Maple Pearl Masters Custom in the same sizes and a 6 piece birch Pearl BLX as well as a couple of lower end student kits).
Each tom and the bass is turned to 12mm (1/2") thick from a single log of wood, a 20" bass drum log will also produce a 14" and a 10" tom I believe. Because of this construction method, there are no seams, no joins, no glue and no large amounts of heat and pressure involved in the construction. The grain of the wood is akin to having tight bunches of microscopic straws running vertically down the length of the drum. The wood is so dense that a bare shell sinks in water.
Because of the density of the wood and the solid construction, the shells are extremely resonant, my own further theory being that the 'straw' grain helps this resonance as each straw has the same fundamental, being of the same length and bore, and these therefore resonate in harmony with each other and in harmony with the fundamental of the shell which is a tube of a uniform length and bore itself. There currently are no other manufacturers anywhere in the world constructing drums this way, although once people hear these kits, copycats will not be far behind I am sure.
As with my snare, the bearing edges are a single cut to a 40° angle and again each shell sits flush on a flat surface. Bearing edges are sharp but not a fragile knife edge.
As with the snare, each shell is guaranteed for life, if it breaks, you get a new one.
Tuning and Tunability
Because of the resonant characteristics of the shells, the drums are very clear in their projection of fundamental tones, overtones and harmonics, this is both good and bad, if you are fussy about tuning and head condition then this is a good thing as the drums do really sing loud and proud, if on the other hand, you are a lazy tuner or procrastinating head replacer, then this is not the kit for you as it will show up your failings equally loudly and proudly.
These are extremely sensitive instruments to tune and, depending on your tuning experience or abilities this is good or bad for you. These drums will teach you how to tune out of necessity, similar to tuning a guitar using harmonics, the drum facilitates the tuner by expressing clearly all its harmonic waveforms which can easily be heard to go from a modulating tone to a solid tone as the drum comes into tune with itself a feature common to all drums and a common enough indicator of tuning accuracy, but especially clear here. Given this sensitivity in tuning, I expected it to be ultra sensitive to de-tuning with playing also, however starting with fresh Ambassador clears all round, this past weekend I played 2 full-on RnB gigs and, bar a couple of minor tweaks, the kit stayed perfectly in my tuning, I was seriously impressed!
That 'Spirit' Sound
I don't quite know where to start here, I was very very impressed with each of the drums, however two stood out significantly for me, the first being the kick drum (20x16) and the other being the 14x12 floor tom. Although in saying that, the tunings I have selected for these drums are closer to the actual base fundamental of the shell than is the case for the 10 & the 12, which I haven't examined really closely for tuning to the drum's pitch.
The kick is the most punchy and resonant bass drum I have ever heard, The best likeness is the sound that you get when you are playing through a big PA after having had a drum-knowledgeable engineer beef it up, it is huge! (PS3 batter tuned to just above wrinkles, Coated ambassador resonant head same as batter plus turn per lug, no muffling whatsoever) The bass player I was working with over the weekend just couldn't stop grinning. I have never heard a kick with such a range, bury the beater and you get a full on rock sound with a big punch and lots of growl, rebound the beater, or move your foot back toward the hinge and you have the most stunning warm and resonant sound which would still nail you to the wall at 20 yds, this is an outrageously perfect drum.
The 14x12 floor tom sounds like a smaller version of the bass drum, it easily accepts a low tuning and delivers warmth and attack, I haven't tried elevated tunings yet as I have not yet had the opportunity, but I look forward to experimenting.
The 10 & 12 are beautiful sounding of course, although I haven't yet found their natural optimum tuning because of a shortage of time available for play :)
The gig I was playing at on Friday had half a dozen drummers in the audience, only one of them knew in advance that I'd have the Spirit kit and to a man they were stunned, comments ranged from "such a huge sound with so little effort" down to a simple "F*** me!"
Overall the sound of the kit has by far exceeded my expectations, which were based on the snare drum (read the review on newsgroup site All of the same sound characteristics translate from the snare to the kit, big growl and big bite, warmth, resonance and extreme sensitivity.
Cons - (Grumbles)
Price! Although when you get to play one you can feel / hear the quality plus it’
s not going to depreciate in fact probably the opposite. I would really like to complain about the 3 months it takes to make it, but I can’t, impatience is not a basis upon which to base an opinion, I ordered it and wanted it the next day. Forget that boys n gals, this is craftsmanship not assembly line, wood takes time to cure, hardware takes time to get from all around the world and the boys have to take the odd weekend off. So be patient no matter how hard it is.
I cannot complain about any other aspects of it, Matt is aware of my suggestions and will take them onboard as appropriate in future kits and he would welcome feedback from any future kit purchasers. What I will say is that the shells are perfect, all external hardware, except the lugs, is sourced from outside the company and as such provides options for the purchaser to specify what they want -I would recommend that you do so. It may take a while longer to get the kit that you want but it will be worth the wait to get what you want.
I am absolutely overwhelmed by every aspect of the drums and if you have a dream even remotely close to my own then this is a kit for you to consider very very seriously. The kit does carry a serious price tag, the 5 piece that I have lists for £3,600ish (US$5,500) including a snare of your choice, and delivery to your door (mine took 48hrs from the Spirit drums facility in Aus to my home in Bangor, N Ireland), however this is the equivalent of a 4 yr. old second hand car here and it will not depreciate to the same extent, if at all, plus if you are a pro/semi-pro player it will quickly pay for itself.
In my opinion, this is the reference kit for all kits as we start the 21st century, Pro studios particularly should take note. 30% deposit is payable on ordering although you can pay more (I paid 50% as I had the cash and it lessened future pain!). I suggested to Matt that given the price that he consider allowing snares and kits to be paid off over a period, however you will have to make your own payment arrangements with Matt for now, fewer payments of course will increase your bargaining power.
As I said in the snare drum review, you will not get anything near 30-50% off the list price as you can negotiate with the other main drum companies, if you are able to negotiate anything approaching 10-15% then you are getting a great deal. Just make sure also that you are aware of any taxes and duties that are payable on import.
On my 10 point smile index, I have to give it 10 as I gave to the snare, this has everything I have ever wanted, if you doubt what I say, come hear the kit at my home at a gig or wherever you can hear it, it will change how you think drums should sound and suddenly top-notch laminate kits start to sound positively mediocre by comparison. Some sound samples are available from the Spirit drums website.
Matt & Jim have a fabulous and unique product, they took the plunge and it has paid off big style, I sincerely wish them well in the business, they make 20-30 kits a year, that doesn't sound like much, Pearl/Yamaha probably do that in one morning, but when you get to hear, see and feel the end product, you will see that the time (and money) spent goes into craftsmanship, why the price is what it is and why they are the finest drums in the world (IMO).
Smile index :)))))))))) (10/10)
I'm revisiting this in late 2007 and I stand by my original decision and opinion. This is a superb drumset.