RE­VIEW na­tal ar­ca­dia acrylic snares

£149 Na­tal’s keenly-priced Ar­ca­dia acrylic snares bring big beats without spend­ing mega bucks

Rhythm - - DRUM LESSONS - Words: Adam Jones

Back in the 1970s acrylic drums were made pop­u­lar by drum­ming giants such as John Bon­ham and Billy Cob­ham. While the artists’ rep­u­ta­tions grew stronger with each pass­ing year, acrylic drums for­tunes dipped and they slowly dis­ap­peared from view. How­ever, since Lud­wig reis­sued its Bonzo-af­fil­i­ated Vistal­ite range in 2001, acrylic drums have en­joyed some­thing of a re­vival; players as di­verse as Chad Smith, Thomas Lang and Mike Port­noy have all been found in ac­tion be­hind a set of see-through tubs as ri­val brands scram­bled to add an acrylic op­tion to their wares.

Founded in the late 1950s by per­cus­sion­ist Alan Sharp, Na­tal is no stranger to working with man-made ma­te­ri­als; it con­ceived and man­u­fac­tured revo­lu­tion­ary fi­bre­glass con­gas in the 1960s, whose de­signs re­main un­changed today. Since its ac­qui­si­tion by Mar­shall am­pli­fi­ca­tion in 2010, the com­pany has ex­panded its per­cus­sion lines with drum kits, snares and hard­ware.


On re­view are three acrylic snares from Na­tal’s af­ford­able Ar­ca­dia range, which has re­ceived de­served plau­dits for its com­pet­i­tive pric­ing and impressive qual­ity. The trio of snares rep­re­sent the three colour choices: Trans­par­ent, Trans­par­ent Red and Trans­par­ent Orange – and the two sizes on of­fer, 14"x6 ½ "and 14"x8". The first acrylic drums were made by heat­ing sheets of acrylic and bend­ing them into cylin­ders, with a welded seam at the join. They were no­to­ri­ously prone to crack­ing and split­ting. Whilst Lud­wig Vistal­ites are still made this way (with vastly im­proved joins), most modern acrylic drums are seam­less, hav­ing been cast in moulds.This is the case with Na­tal’s Chi­nese-man­u­fac­tured of­fer­ings and the clear, round and un­clut­tered shells make an im­me­di­ate im­pres­sion. All three colours work well – the red is deep and vivid, the clear drum seems al­most naked, whilst the orange,

If the 14"x6½ is Very Loud then its 8"-deep sib­ling is prac­ti­cally off the scale

thanks to its in­sep­a­ra­ble as­so­ci­a­tion with St John of Bon­ham, just looks sooo right.

The shells are a uni­form 6mm thick, have well cut 45° bear­ing edges and gen­er­ous snare beds. Hard­ware comes from the Ar­ca­dia range and in­cludes scaled-down Na­tal Sun lugs – 16 per drum – 2mm triple-flanged hoops and a chrome-plated throw-off and butt end. A coated Remo UT bat­ter head is fit­ted to each drum, while the clear snare­side head is generic, as are the snare wires. At this price point, it’s a truth that sav­ings have to be made some­where and logic dic­tates that if you lo­cate them on the un­der­side they’re go­ing to be less con­spic­u­ous.

Hands On

For rea­sons al­luded to above, the 14"x6½" orange snare is the first drum to be un­boxed and shown the sticks. Acrylic drums have a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing loud, un­com­pli­cated and gen­er­ally less pre­cious than their wooden coun­ter­parts. Well, the loud bit cer­tainly rings true; it’s about as quiet as a Pimms-ad­dled old Eto­nian watch­ing the Grand Na­tional. There is lit­tle in the way of am­bi­gu­ity – the sound is clean and mus­cu­lar with over­tones and un­wanted snare buzz as good as non-ex­is­tent. Tuned down it’s fat­ter than a deep-fried Mars bar and is wait­ing to crash into a rock bal­lad. Higher up, it cuts through with ear-jar­ring ease, de­liv­er­ing some­thing akin to a whipcrack without sac­ri­fic­ing its in­her­ent grunt. Just above mid­tun­ing point is where it re­ally gets into its stride, clout­ing out back­beats yet re­main­ing re­spon­sive to ghost notes and lighter touches. I sub­ject this snare to a two-hour punk re­hearsal and a sub­se­quent gig and the Chi­nese-made UT head holds tun­ing and shows re­mark­ably few signs of its or­deal. Over­tight­en­ing the wires on any snare drum is never rec­om­mended, but for these drums even the slight­est ex­cess seems to have a rapidly detri­men­tal ef­fect on their sound, leav­ing them choked and boxy. With the wires strung a frac­tion looser than nor­mal the drums have room to breathe and the con­trast is huge. Also huge is the 14"x8" model (why no 13"x7" or 12"x6"? If ever a ma­te­rial was suited to such sizes, it’s acrylic). As I slide the snare stand down to its low­est set­ting to ac­com­mo­date the be­he­moth, I feel like an ex­plorer land­ing on Planet Rock. Like such a pi­o­neer, I strug­gle at first to find words to de­scribe what I find; pen­e­trat­ing to the point of loos­en­ing fill­ings is the best I can come up with. If the 14"x6½" is very­loud then its 8"-deep sib­ling is prac­ti­cally off the scale. Un­sur­pris­ingly, the note has colos­sal depth – at lower tun­ings it’s thicker than the cast of a re­al­ity TV show – and cranked up­wards it leaves me with se­ri­ous con­cerns about the struc­tural in­tegrity of the ceil­ing, par­tic­u­larly when (un­wisely) in­dulging in rimshots. There are a few over­tones lurking in this size, but they tend to man­i­fest them­selves away from dead cen­tre and their pres­ence adds char­ac­ter. With the snares off the drum, it will­ingly con­jures up a con­vinc­ing tim­bale im­pres­sion – rais­ing the prospect of a dual pur­pose snare – while cross-stick­ing is re­warded with a juicy ‘clonk’.


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