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Home Reviews - Snare Reviews Spirit Drums 14"x6.5"Solid Shell Snare
Spirit Drums 14"x6.5"Solid Shell Snare

Spirit Drums 14"x6.5"Solid Shell Snare

Paul Marshall January 2000

This is a 14"x6.5" snare drum made from Cooktown Ironwood which only grows in one part of Australia.  It was hand made by Spirit drums in Cairns Australia by Matt Bowden, Jim Hall and a small dedicated team consisting of Fred and Graeme - This is the first Spirit Snare in Europe.

This is a review of the above snare drum, however I feel that given the significant expenditure on one single item, it is important that in addition to descriptive information and my own personal opinions on the construction and sound of the instrument,  other 'side' issues are considered which reflect on the makers of the instrument, their customer relations and the general ethos of the company.   I believe that these factors are of extreme importance when considering the purchase of a hand-built and individual snare, it is a big decision to purchase a snare at this cost, and these are factors which I had to consider when deciding to buy or not.   As a professional percussionist and drummer I have for years dreamt of having one snare that would be of good enough quality to negate the need for any other snare.   Read the review to find out if I got it!

Physical description

The drum has 10 stainless steel tension rods screwing into polished hand-tapped lugs turned from solid brass each having a single point of contact on the shell.  The 14" hoops are die-cast and are gold plated, as is the snare throw-off and butt.  External interference with the resonance of the shell is minimal and there are only 13 points of 'external' contact on the shell, contact at these points is minimal, 12 x 1.5cm circular footprint for the lugs and strainer and one 2.5" x 0.75" footprint for the snare butt.  The Snare throw off is of a Gladstone type (although the more recent drums have an hydraulic system), it is extremely smooth and the tensioning mechanism is extra-sensitive.   It came with 25 strand snare attached to the butt and strainer with black fortified cloth-type material.  When released from playing tension the snares fall cleanly away from the snare side head by approx. 1cm at the snare beds and approx. 1.5cm at the centre of the head.

The Shell of the snare is constructed from one single log of Ironwood, which is amongst the most dense and resonant woods on the planet, somewhere in the region of 2x as dense as maple.  Conventional wooden shell drum making techniques 99.9% of the time involves the slicing of wood lengthways into thin strips that are heated (steamed) and shaped around a template, several layers are added under pressure building up the drum to the desired thickness, occasionally snares are also constructed by staves which are stuck together under pressure to form the shell .  The Spirit snare construction technique involves taking a log, turning it to the correct external diameter and then removing the internal material to leave a shell that is 12mm thick (approx. 0.5").   The shell has no joins, uses no glue nor does it expose the bare wood to large levels of heat and humidity.  The remainder of the log goes to making other drums keeping waste to a minimum.  AND READ THIS,... The shell is guaranteed for life!

The bearing edges were perfect, cut to approx. 40 degrees (so I read) and the drum sits perfectly flat top and bottom on a level surface.

The shell colour and grain is stunning with tight 'wavy' grains running from top to bottom, it is dark in colour, but not as dark as mahogany.  I have noticed the colour becoming slightly darker over the months that I have had it.  Each drum shell is very visibly unique as it displays the characteristics of the tree that it came from, when looking at the drum the grain is viewed at a 90 degree angle from the normal grain because of the way in which the drum is constructed  from a log cut across the tree instead of the long thin sheet laminate cut lengthways up the tree (if you see what I mean)

The interior of the drum is carved in a scalloped manner, this apparently is acoustic enhancement, I haven't a plain shell to compare, and given that so much about the drum makes it sound unique, I cannot comment on the effect this has on the sound.

The drum is heavy! it weighs just under 12lbs on my bathroom scales which is just about double the weight of my 14x5 Black Beauty.  The bare shell would sink in water apparently, although I'll take their word for it!.

The finish on my drum is a low sheen gloss and the simple Spirit Drums logo has been burned into the drum, this is an aesthetically stunning drum, even non-drummers who have visited me at home make a bee-line for it and to a man (person) have described it as a piece of art which, if it wasn't primarily a practicable instrument, is exactly what it is.

The drum came fitted with Ambassador coated batter head and clear ambassador snare side.

Tunability

I tune in a similar manner to that which Mike Radcliffe advocates in his excellent article on this site, viz. tune to bottom of low tuning range, tune pitch high maintaining tune around drum, seat, de-tune, re-tune. 

The first thing I noticed in tuning is the complete ease and precision of the tuning mechanisms, stainless steel tension rods turned absolutely effortlessly in the brass lugs, with consistency at all lugs, top & bottom.  I tuned the top head first, it achieved the low tuning range under finger tightening, with minimal tuning effort required, I stepped up the tuning by 1/4 turns and at each stage the drum maintained tune without further adjustment, 2 1/4 turns later it was still in tune without adjustment, I seated the head, it remained in tune, I detuned and re-tuned and the drum almost tuned itself, which is testament both to the trueness of the bearing edges and the accuracy of the lugs.

The snare side was equally keen to please, although personally I like tuning bottom heads significantly less than top heads, an extra 1/4 turn at the lugs immediately adjacent to the snare beds just breathed extra life into it.

Playing

I have played this drum in many situations since receiving it, mostly live alongside my Masters Custom (10, 12, 14, 20, clear ambs all round, no muffling on toms & 2 unported PS3s on an unmuffled kick), and some recording in my own basic studio.  Like any drum it reflects the variances in the environment and in its appropriateness to the accompanying musicians and playing styles, but I have played everything from hip-hop loops to jazz to RnB to latin on it and it responds, to my ear, in all those arenae with a simple adjustment to the pitch tunings.

The 6.5" shell gives great depth and incredible presence whilst the density of the shell gives it a crisp bite, this is the overall sound of the drum for me and these two factors are apparent at all tunings with an inverse relationship, i.e. at lower tunings there is BIG growl and some bite, at the upper end of the tuning range which is into the lower end of my personal piccolo tuning range, there is a wonderfully clear and crisp tone but with some of the bottom end remaining.

It is billed as the most sensitive and responsive snare in the world at any point on the head, I haven't tried all the snares in the world, but certainly from PPP to FFF it delivers a uniform crispness with snares tuned just above mushy where I normally tune them, even lightly laying a fingertip on the head delivers a quiet snap.  I did find a slight decrease in sensitivity towards the extreme edges of the head but certainly within the normal playing area and substantially outside that, it delivered the goods impressively.

Personally I have never come across a drum with so wide a practical tuning range and with a degree of consistency in sound across that range.   I can only give my own personal opinion here but the sound that I have always sought is a balance between that growl/bite, my aspirations were always to have a drum that could negate the need for me having to cart around extra cases with additional snares, which invariably is the case when other snare drums deliver the sound I want only under certain tuning conditions or within a limited range.

Dealing with Spirit Drums.

This may be regarded as off topic because it looks at dealing with Spirit drums when purchasing, rather than the product itself, personally it was Matt's obvious passion and complete belief about his instruments that sold me the drum I have, much more has been written on the NG about these drums since, however if you are considering buying you may find my experiences relevant.

At the point in their development that I first contacted Matt at Spirit, I hadn't heard the drums, nor had I seen any reviews, I visited their website following a post from him on this NG mid 1999.  The concept intrigued me and I mailed Matt to talk some about what they do.  From that first post, I could see that he cared passionately about what he and his partner Jim did best.  After a couple of mails I inquired about the price if I were to be interested (after all no-one here pays list do they?), plus I was interested in buying one of their Djembes (which they don't sell any more, more's the pity) Matt & I did a bit of horse trading & stand offing & we eventually arrived at an agreeable sum for the snare & the djembe that was not insignificant but was the price I'd have to pay to find out what I believed to be true.

I don't think it is appropriate for me to say what I paid because I bought the two drums as a package and also because that was several months ago and there are many factors affecting the cost of production never mind R&D which is on-going.  I will say that the 50% that some shriners may receive from other machine-line manufacturers is not an option at all, if around 20% is on the table you should probably seriously consider making the stretch or bowing out, but as I said there are factors affecting cost of production which may give more or less flexibility to Matt.

I placed my order for a 14x6.5 (although I originally wanted a 13x6.5 but it only came with chrome die-casts and I wanted the stunning gold, although I think gold die-casts are available now).

Matt posted on the NG looking for my phone number and that evening I received a surprise phone call from Matt to welcome me into the family of spirit drummers, we talked for about 20 minutes, which isn't long but he's in Aus & I'm in Ireland!  Since then I have spoken with Matt maybe 4 times of his volition and exchanged countless e-mails concerning different aspects of the Spirit drums and construction issues.  Their new site talks about working with the drum buyer to make sure that you get what you want, this is a promise that they keep!

I do have to say openly that Matt & I have become very good friends and indeed I aim to make the trip to Aus this summer June 2k to go & see their facility, hang out, drink some beer, cut an octave of didjeridus, stay up way too late & play some drums, hey Maybe I can even help make a drum for someone here on the NG.  I also want to state for the record that this review reflects my genuine objective opinion, this review is unsolicited, and is in no way conjured up to support a friend, I do wish that I could find a grumble about this drum apart from the price tag so as you'd believe me.  My opinion of this drum is best evaluated in the fact that since receiving and playing my snare I have ordered a kit in 10x8, 12x10, 14x12, 20x16 based on the sound of the snare drum, I can't afford to spend over $4000 on 4 drums just to make a mate look good on the NG!

So there you have it, I said at the start that I was looking for one drum that would do all scenarios, did I get it, well yes and no is the answer, realistically I would also need the 13"x4" to have a session set for the styles I play, although I can see how many drummers who are more focused in their music playing choices would need only one snare, I am convinced that the additional drum will mean I would never need to buy another drum kit snare drum ever again unless I go way specialist in my requirements. 

My kit (#3 and will bear a plaque to mark that) is due to be with me within the next 2 weeks after a 3 month wait, I opted for the gold hardware again to match the snare, this ain't no brass and rosewood!  If there is sufficient interest on the NG, I'll review that too.

The list cost of the drum is $1000 US which includes 3-5 working day DHL air express to your door, it is a LOT of money for one drum, however all my other snares are now defunct and between them there is easily double that in replacement value, Rob Dotto has over 60 quality snares including 3 Spirits of differing sizes, and guess what he takes to every session! He even gets calls from producers looking specially for his Spirit snare sound he told me.

I have no option but to give this snare a maximum smile index of 10 :))))))))))

The only downside that I can see would be the cost and the value for money aspect, value is a completely subjective criterion, it is the buyers' call at the end of the day and I have only my ears as authority;  for me,  I am 100% delighted with my drum, I have definitely received value for money, the financial cost was a small price to pay for the first Spirit snare in Europe and the finest snare drum in the world.  After a while the pain of the cost is forgotten, but the drum lives on, with the shell replacement lifetime guarantee, you have a friend for life.

If any shriners are going to NAMM, I'd highly recommend visiting Matt & Jim at the Spirit Drums stand, Matt has a digital camera he tells me & is going to do a diary of the show with all the shriners photos for his site, I'm sorry I can't make it!.  Maybe next year. 

I wish Matt and Jim every success in their fledgling business, they have a truly unique product, which may change the way you hear drums, it did for me.

Paul Marshall     17 January 2000

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Note: Since writing this review and after visiting Australia in July 2000, I am proud to have become an endorser for Spirit Drums. My opinion has not changed - Paul



Paul Marshall -

Paul is the owner of Drumdojo and the Dojo Sites, He is responsible for writing and collating a lot of of the material that you see here on drumdojo.

Playing drumset since age 5, Paul has been a drummer on and off for most of his life. He plays every drum he can get his hands on. Paul works as an instrument designer, has designed many instruments for the Stomp orchestra and more recently in Holywood Movies. Paul is a prolific web designer and currently has a portfolio of around 40 business and hobby sites.



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