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Canopus Zelkova

Canopus 6.5x13 Zelkova snare drum

 

Nick Amoroso

~or~

"you want to spend *how much* on a WHAT?"

 

long! go figure!

-highs

  • extremely sensitive and articulate
  • "fat" sound for its sizeReview Canopus Zelkova
  • resonates for days
  • huge tuning range
    "bolt tight" washers do their job superbly

 

-lows

  • butt end of throw-off rattles when snares are turned off
  • mad at mark. bastard made me give the drum back

 

okay, so i think i'm going to spend $1,500.00 on a snare drum at some point in my life.

i have come to a point in my playing where i am in search of "the" snare drum. i have been involved in more and more recording situations as of late, and i have decided that i have too many superfluous snare drums. it's time to thin out the stock a bit. get rid of the 4 or 5 snares that are very "specific" in their sound, and get one or two that can cover the whole spectrum. basically, a drum that says "anything you can do, i can do better." la la la.

the canopus zelkova snare drum was introduced in 1978, as the flagship instrument of the company, founded that same year. its shell is hollowed-out from a single, solid piece of a TREE TRUNK. According to stuart mcconaghy, a canopus endorser and dealer, "zelkova is an asian member of the oak family. it's pretty common in japan and across parts of china. very popular bonsai, too. it's a very dense wood, much denser and harder than european oak, but not quite as dense as those australian hardwoods that brady [or spirit] uses, for example. it’s harder than maple and birch, but not as hard as ironwood, jarrah or wandoo."

from the time i first heard of it in the mid-to-late 1980's, the zelkova has always been on my list of "top 5 snare drums to own before i die." for years and years, i had heard about how utterly amazing this drum was. that it was THE drum to turn all my other snare drums into dust receptacles. that it was the best snare drum ever made. that it was the last snare drum i would ever want. or need. blah. blah blah blah. Review Canopus Zelkova

marketing hype, all marketing hype. right? possibly, but consider the fact that since their inception, the canopus company has never had much of a marketing campaign in the united states. in fact, the company almost called it quits at one point a few years ago (i thought for years that they were out of business), but a fellow named robert dotto encouraged them to give it another go outside of japan.

i would hear about the drum's attributes primarily from other drummers, who'd heard one in the studio or live, had a friend of a friend who had one, etc. inevitably, the thing i'd ALWAYS hear from everyone was that it was also one of the most *expensive* snare drums ever made.

thing is, in all that time, i've never had the chance to actually *play* one of these drums. i never saw one in a store, and the drum tech service that i worked for didn't even have one. so, i figured i'd probably never play one. that no drum could be *that* great anyway. if anything, i'd hopefully play one at some point someday, and cross it off the list.

well… nope.

but enough'a my yackin'. let's boogie. this drum came to me from mr. mark polis, in exchange for my spirit 6.5x13 ironwood snare drum. he recently posted a review of said drum here.

the drum

the drum's shell is stained in the one-and-only finish offered for the zelkova: "ninja black stain." this finish is very rich and deep, and it allows the unique qualities of the wood grain to show through beautifully. the lugs are chrome-plated brass, quite similar to spaun's double-ended lug. the lugs can be ordered in natural brass or chrome. the hoops are chromed die-cast. i have begun to tire of die-cast hoops on snare drums (especially on wood snare drums), but this drum seems to benefit from them. more on that later.

there is one badge on the drum, a very simple, square green and gold number. the inside of the shell is perfectly-smooth, with a paper tag that indicates the build date and the purchaser's name. the shell has one air vent hole, with no grommet. this is for cosmetic purposes, only. according to stuart, company president shinichi usuda just prefers the look of an air vent without a grommet. i would be concerned about the edges of the vent being marred or scratched, but i'm also the type that would be concerned about having left the gas on when i'm a thousand miles away from home.

the snare wires are canopus' (canopusses? canopi? canolli?) model, and the drum is also equipped with their "bolt tight" washers. these are leather washers that go on either side of the tension rod washer, effectively "sandwiching" it. all hardware is isolated from the shell by way of larger versions of the same, as are the screws that attach the throw-off and butt to the shell.

speaking of the throw-off, it's easy to see from whom canopus got their design. the unit is basically a carbon copy of the ludwig p-85. it works well and holds its tension, but i would think that on a drum that carries this high of a price tag, the throw-off would be of a proprietary design, if not at least a unit comparable to that of the nickel drumworks throw. it could be just a cost thing, which is understandable; exporting from the u.s. to japan is fairly expensive. but this doesn't really matter in the long run - the throw-off did its job just fine.

the edges are flawless, and sharper than i thought they'd be. i don't know the edge angle (70 degrees, possibly?), but you can see a diagram of the drum's edge here:

http://www.canopusdrums.com/English/HTML/zelkovapolicy-E.html

to me, the most striking feature of the drum, visually-speaking, is the shape of its shell. since a Review Canopus Zelkovahollowed-out shell is more subject to instability (cracking) than any other shell type, canopus has metthat challenge with a "global shaped" shell that is *smaller* in diameter at the edge than at the middle of the shell. the middle of the drum's shell is 13" in diameter, while the edges are a little over 12 ½" in diameter. additionally, according to the canopus website, the shell has a 7/8" taper, top and bottom. it’s 1/2" thick in the middle, and slims down to 1/4" where the taper begins. i can only assume that the same type of size variances apply to their 14" zelkova snare drum. basically, the shell looks like a barrel.

the company also spends three years "seasoning" and drying each shell, so that its moisture content is very low (further-reducing the possibility of cracking). now, all these measures don't mean that the shell will *not* crack - only that the chance of it happening is significantly reduced. in fact, there is so much mention of shell cracking at the company's website that one is inclined to worry about cracking from the outset! (i left the gas on again!) in any case, the drum is covered by a lifetime warranty.

the sound (finally!)

as with any drum, the bottom line is not any finish, gimmick or badge on the shell. the bottom line is the sound that the drum is capable of producing. or that's what the bottom line *should* be, anyway.

in a word: phenomenal. this may be the fattest, most sensitive, most *resonant* snare drum that i have ever played. and it’s *definitely* the fattest-sounding 13" snare drum that i’ve ever laid my sticks on.

i started by playing the drum just as it arrived. the heads were a tad tighter than i’d usually like, but the drum was a joy to play. sensitive at all volumes, at all areas of the head. ghost notes GALORE. they are just sooo easy to play (and sooo audible, too) on this drum.

something i also noticed about this drum was how incredibly resonant it was. pure, clean, fat tone. like i said, even though i’m not really a fan of die-cast hoops anymore, i believe this drum benefits from them. it would ring for days with triple-flanged hoops. not that that’s a bad thing, though! the die-cast hoops simply focus the drum’s sound, just enough.

here’s what amazed me: i started cranking the batter head, and the resonance didn’t disappear. it rang and rang, at even the highest tension. the drum won’t choke. since the drum wasn’t mine, i stopped short of cranking the head so tightly that it might break. you’re welcome, mark.

i brought the head down in small increments, and discovered the true benefit of this drum. it has an *huge* tuning range. every tension, from almost-slack to almost ruptured, yields a fat, musical sound. i cannot think of any musical situation, in the studio or live, in which this drum wouldn’t work extremely well.

the "bolt tight" washers worked great, too. at all tensions and playing dynamics, the tension rods didn’t loosen one bit. nice. and i’ve been known to hit hard.

the "fat" tone of the drum really surprised me. the drum had a sharp attack that would make it great for higher-volume settings, but it also had an underlying fatness that was evident at all tunings. it’s extremely warm, but possesses some of the tonal qualities of a *metal* drum. it’s the dunnett ti thing, in reverse. the drum doesn’t sound like (or feel like) any other 13" snare drum i’ve ever played. i was having a blast playing my pseudo-african rhythms on it, with the snares off, marveling at how fat the drum sounded. that is, until…


remember how i said that the throw-off did its job just fine? well, the same could not be said of the adjustable butt piece. not always, anyway. when the snares were disengaged, the thing rattled loudly enough for me to take notice while playing. the rattling stopped when i put my hand on the butt (!!), and i didn't see anything that needed tightening, to stop this from happening (the butt has a set screw that was already as tight as possible). i've been told by another zelkova owner that his butt doesn't rattle (!!), but since this is the only canopus snare drum i've ever had the chance to play, i have no idea if it's really an isolated problem or not. so, i have to list this as a "low" point. if it *is* indeed a problem with all the butts (!!), a rubber or silicone insert would fix this in a cinch, i think.

can you tell that i'm trying *really* hard to find something wrong with this drum?

the numbers

the canopus zelkova is available direct from the company, in 6.5x13 (tested), 5x14 and 6.5x14 sizes. the drum costs (brace yourself) $1,490.00. the price is the same regardless of the size.

sure, it sounds insane to spend that much on any ONE piece of drum/percussion equipment. heck, it IS insane to spend that much. but when you have a bunch of snare drums that would only gather dust if you owned such a great instrument, it makes perfect sense to sell one or two (or ten) to make room for it… no?

well, it makes perfect sense to me. as far as rationalizing goes, i rock.

if you need more information, to fill in the gaps of my long-winded but inadequate review, it can be found at www.canopusdrums.com, or you can contact stuart mcconaghy at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

thanks to mark polis for loaning me this fine instrument, and to both he and stuart, for answering my eleventy googol questions about it.

Review Canopus Zelkova

Nick





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