Superdrum12 Snare Drums Tested!
By AJ Donahue
August 27, 2013 5:47 am
You could really say this about anything, but it seems especially true in the world of drum set design: New or different ideas are often met with skepticism and mockery. Whether it’s a truly novel innovation, or a refined update to an old standard, each change usually elicits a chorus of “Why would I need that when mine is already the best, bro?” responses from the general public (read: the Internet).
Thankfully, that kind of attitude hasn’t stopped builders all around the world from trying to break the mold a little bit. This is especially true of the boutique market, where there seems to be a never-ending supply of updates, modifications, and inventions, ranging from the “Why didn’t someone think of that before?” practical, to the “What the eff is that?” bizarre. The subject of this review, Superdrum12, certainly falls closer to the former, although maybe not at first glance.
Why So Super?
The entire Superdrum12 line is built around a very simple concept – every drum the company makes has 12 lugs instead of the usual eight or ten. But, the company isn’t trying to attract new eyes and ears with gimmickry. Instead, it has thrown all its eggs into one very effective basket, because, at the end of the day, it’s pretty awesome.
“Hold on, now. How could adding extra lugs to my snare drum be awesome? More mass on the shell means less freedom of movement and less resonance, right?”
A valid point, and possibly the exact reason these drums sound so nice. We’ll get back to that, but for now, let’s take a quick look at the three drums we’ll be reviewing.
League Of Their Own
The good people at Superdrum12 shipped over three snare drums from the company’s current lineup, including 14″ x 4″ and 14″ x 8″ chrome over steel models, as well as a 14″ x 6.5″ brass. Right out of the box, the drums looked surprisingly unremarkable. That’s not to say they were aesthetically unappealing, but rather, that they were very plain in appearance.
Each model used the same small rectangular lug, chrome parts, and simple, practical appointments. I know some drummers may want a little more visual flare from their set centerpiece, but I actually found this look refreshing. Superdrum12 isn’t trying to fool you with eye-popping looks. Instead, it’s totally focused on making the most effective 12-lug drum possible.
“So, if the looks aren’t doing the trick, how do they sound?”
Well, that’s where these guys shine. Superdrum12 founder, Dave “Bedrock” Bedrosian, told me that the unique sound of every snare the company makes comes from the extra tuning precision afforded by additional lugs. Many people will tell you that a ten-lug drum is more easily tunable than a similar eight-lug model. Makes sense, but I think there may be something else going on here.
I’d be willing to bet that some of that Superdrum12 sound comes from the extra weight on the shell. Because each of the snares I reviewed had a total of 24 lugs, it could be said that at least part of the snares’ character is a result of the impeded resonance mentioned above – but in a really good way.
Alright, that’s two paragraphs about the “Superdrum12 sound” with no mention of what the drums actually sound like. So, let’s break it down.
Steels So Good
Let me start by saying that, I love steel drums. That bright, cracking character with a little pinging wildness on the end always kills me. The steel snares I received from Superdrum12 were truly unique, however. Both drums had all the cutting presence I expected, but with an added warmth and focus that just baffled me.
Again, these were both highly polished, flat steel shells, but they didn’t have any of the unwieldy over- and under-tones that I expected. With the right tuning, I could bring a little of that sweet ring out to back up rimshots, but for the most part, these were suspiciously clean and controlled drums. They almost sounded as though they’d been very, very effectively muffled by a studio engineer – lively but microphone-ready.
Additionally, whereas most steel snares I’ve played in the past seem to almost hyperbolize the shell’s depth – deeper steel drums trend toward huge, booming cannons while shallower models usually pack even more ear-piercing crack than other shells of the same size – the chromed Superdrum12s both played a little more toward the middle.
The 14″ x 8″ had all the crisp responsiveness of a 6″ shell, but still offered the fat, meaty body you’d expect from such a burly behemoth. Even when I swapped the single-ply head for a double-ply, the drum was crisp and alive at every dynamic level.
Similarly, the 14″ x 4″ model had way more oomph than any other 4″-deep snare I’ve experienced. This one had no shortage of cutting attack, but it never played too ring-y or out of control. If I had been told to play the drum with my eyes closed, and then identify the dimensions and shell material, I probably would have guessed it was a brass or copper 14″ x 5.5″.
I played both of the steel Superdrum12s at a series of rehearsals and gigs that covered the whole dynamic spectrum (well, just about). Neither snare felt awkward or out-of-place at any point, and they continued to surprise me with their versatility. I would happily use either as a go-to snare for most any situation.
I will say, though, that the 14″ x 8″ eventually proved to be just a bit more enjoyable. Those insane arena-rock backbeats were just too much fun – especially from a drum that had no problem handling whisper-quiet play.
Superdrum12 makes a boutique product that still allows for some customization. Among the additional options Superdrum12 clients can select from is the 3-Way snare throw-off. The brass snare that Bedrock sent over included one of those 3-Way throws, and I think it really changed the feel of the drum for the better.
But first, let’s talk about the brass snare itself. Much like its steel siblings, the 14″ x 6.5″ drum had an incredibly punchy and clean sound, but with the added warmth and woody body expected of a brass shell. The extra depth gave it a ton of beefy tone, and it loved every tuning I threw at it. The snare was also the most versatile of the three, and it was made even more so by the addition of the 3-Way throw-off.
Modeled after those found on orchestral snare drums, the 3-way unit replaced the otherwise sleek and simple throw-off found on the steel Superdrum12s. It featured three separate levers, each attached to its own six-wire strainer, allowing the player to mix and match wire combinations, or use three of the same to quickly switch between tensions.
I found the 3-Way throw-off to be a really exciting upgrade. The Superdrum12 shipped with all brass wire sets, which made it easy to set different tensions for all three, then quickly flip between (even within the course of a song). Engaging all three wire sets was equally interesting, as it gave me a super snare-y sound that approached the realm of an electronic sample. It was really a lot of fun.
Out of the gate, I was very surprised by these drums. However, after a little time (and a few head changes), I realized that there was a teeny, tiny bit of room for improvement. With 12 lugs on each side, tuning and reheading the Superdrum12s was just a little more cumbersome than I would have liked.
Now, most snare drums on the market today have eight or ten lugs on each side, so adding (at most) four more may not seem like that big a deal, but it did add an extra minute or so onto each tuning session. Additionally, the extra lugs created another problem that I didn’t anticipate.
Full disclosure, I’m a huge doofus. So, while tuning each of these drums, I forgot which rods I had already tuned several times. This wouldn’t be a problem for those who tune by going clockwise around the drum, but I’ve always used the crisscross pattern to make sure each head is seated evenly. If the drums had shipped with a head that had tuning sequence numbers or some other guiding tool printed around the edge, the process could have been faster (and easier for dummies like me). This is, of course, an incredibly minor complaint, but I thought it worth mentioning.
My only other suggestion for Mr. Bedrock and the Superdrum12 crew would be to offer some kind of speed-release lug as an upgrade. There are several different models available, and finding the right lug to complement these drums could shave a lot of valuable time off of head changes. Again, it may only be an extra two or four lugs, and it’s not a huge problem by any means, but if you’re trying to swap skins before a gig, every second counts.
These drums, in every room and at every tuning, had a fatness and focus uncommon to most other metal-shell snares I’ve played. The clear, rich tones defied almost everything I’d come to expect from metal drums, but proved even more satisfying in the end. It’s hard to imagine that something as simple as adding a few lugs to a snare would have such a big impact, but all three Superdrum12s said otherwise.
Overall, the concept may be just a little inconvenient, but if the sound is any measure, it certainly warrants some attention. I’m not sure if it’s the increased tuning accuracy or additional weight that makes these drums sound so good, but I’m impressed no matter what.