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