Our ex­perts get hands on with the lat­est gear

Rhythm - - CONTENTS - Words: GE­OFF NI­CHOLLS 1/8th"

It is a rare com­pany in­deed that can boast of mak­ing a cam­paign drum for Abra­ham Lin­coln in 1860. No­ble & Coo­ley ac­tu­ally started mak­ing drums in 1854, and right up to 1980 it was best known for mak­ing toy drums. The first Cus­tom De­sign (CD) Maple sets were seen in 1983. But it was the in­tro­duc­tion in 1984 by Jay Jones (a di­rect de­scen­dant of James Coo­ley) of a pro­fes­sional snare drum with a solid maple shell that in­spired the now-wide­spread cus­tom drum in­dus­try. N&C re­vived the spirit of the 1920s with steam-bent sin­gle plank drums with vin­tage tube lugs. Since then dozens of small com­pa­nies have tried hand-build­ing cus­tom-or­der drums, but N&C was the trail­blazer and con­tin­ues to main­tain ex­em­plary stan­dards, as il­lus­trated by the mag­nif­i­cent kit you see here, hand-crafted in Granville, Mas­sachusetts, the his­toric base of this spe­cial com­pany.


While N&C’s mod­ern rep­u­ta­tion was made by re-in­tro­duc­ing solid steam bent snares and kits (which are still avail­able), the CD Maple se­ries has been a main­stay since 1983, al­though its pres­ence in the UK has been spo­radic. Fea­tur­ing re­cent mod­i­fi­ca­tions, the CDs are once more avail­able over here via Dru­ma­zon, based in Cardiff.

Our re­view kit sizes are 22"x18", 16"x15", 12"x8", 10"x7½", with a 14"x6½" snare fea­tur­ing op­tional wood hoops. Shells are North Amer­i­can maple, stan­dard cross ply, made to N&C’s spec­i­fi­ca­tions by Keller. That spec in­cludes vari­able ply lay-up; so 8" to 13" drums are 7ply and 4.5mm thick; 14" to 18" shells are 8ply and 5.5mm thick; while 20" to 24" bass drums are 9ply and 6mm thick.

Bear­ing edges are hand-cut and fin­ished at 45 de­grees on toms and snare, 30 de­grees on the bass. Snare beds con­sist of a ta­pered 5½" dip reach­ing a max­i­mum depth. All edges have a slight out­side round-over to the out­side.

The fin­ish is Honey Maple Gloss, su­perbly ap­plied, rich and bur­nished. Of course, N&C is a cus­tom com­pany, and that in­cludes fin­ishes. So you can choose from in­nu­mer­able hand-fin­ished oils, stains or paints in gloss or matte, just a se­lec­tion of which are up on the web­site. N&C is se­ri­ous about res­o­nance, so no wraps are of­fered and no heavy metal badges, just a sten­cilled logo.

That’s the ba­sics, but N&C has al­ways gone its own way and done things dif­fer­ently. Dif­fer­ently for good rea­sons, based on long con­sid­er­a­tion fol­lowed by ex­per­i­men­ta­tion to de­ter­mine the ex­act way any mod­i­fi­ca­tion to drum de­sign al­ters the sound.

For ex­am­ple, N&C was the first com­pany to dis­cern the ben­e­fits of nodal point mount­ing. Its tube lugs raised eye­brows back in the 1980s be­cause they had just sin­gle point fix­ing at the lower nodal area of the shell.

"It loo ks and feels hand-crafted, it has id­ios yn­crasies and it ta kes some coa xing to get the best out of it"

The CD Maple has its own pro­pri­etary CD bridge lugs, which have two-point fix­ings. They are cast from zinc and use a del­rin (ther­mo­plas­tic) in­sert for silent op­er­a­tion. But the nodal prin­ci­ple is not for­got­ten. Which is where the con­cept of Sym­met­ri­cal Vent­ing comes in. While drums usu­ally have sin­gle vent holes drilled into the shell (of­ten cen­trally with a grom­met for fix­ing the metal badge), N&C em­ploys mul­ti­ple holes. These holes are tiny – less than ¼" in di­am­e­ter – and are con­cealed un­der the bridge lugs. They are drilled un­der ev­ery other lug on the lower side of the shell, again around the nodal cir­cum­fer­ence. So there are three holes in the six lug 10" drum, five holes in the 10 lug snare, and so on.

The (op­tional) die-cast tom hoops are also atyp­i­cal, be­ing 1¼" high, which is taller than nor­mal. Thus they pro­trude higher above the bat­ter head than usual, rather like Gretsch, but more ex­ag­ger­ated. They also slope in to­wards the cen­tre of the drum quite no­tice­ably.

Mov­ing on to the snare, the N&C throw-off is an­other rare bit of kit. It em­ploys a beefy chrome-plated brass pull-away bracket, which is quite stiff (in a good way). The brass ten­sion knob it­self is small but works eas­ily and ef­fec­tively. Each throw-off seems lov­ingly hand-made to suit the cus­tomer. There’s the in­scrutable vibe of a work­shop run by the sort of oil-rag char­ac­ter who re­stores steam en­gines and knocks up won­drous ob­jects by hand with a lathe and file. Yes, I know, this is get­ting misty-eyed, but it’s a red let­ter day when some­thing ar­rives that is so tac­tile and sin­gu­lar.

The snare wires are also un­like other man­u­fac­turer’s. They can only be at­tached by tra­di­tional strings to the end plates, which have two small gaps in the 20 wires (grouped six-gap-eight-gap-six) es­pe­cially for the at­tach­ment of the strings. This sim­ple but ef­fec­tive de­sign en­sures the wires lay flat on the res­o­nant head.

Also smart is the Cool Mount quick­re­lease small tom sys­tem. This is a mod­ern ver­sion of those old clip-on style hold­ers that were wide­spread up to the 1960s. The tom is sup­ported by a RIMS style bracket, which has a cast hook (rather stur­dier than the clip plates of old) that slots snug­gly into the alu­minium re­ceiver block. The lat­ter clamps to your stand via any ‘L’ style tom bracket. The great ad­van­tage is that once you have set your an­gles the toms lit­er­ally slip into the alu­minium re­ceiver block with no drum key or wing nut tight­en­ing in­volved.

Hands On

This is not your every­day kit that comes straight out of the boxes sound­ing like most ev­ery other kit. No sir, here we have a Rolls Royce kit – and a vin­tage Roller at that. It looks and feels hand-crafted, it has idio­syn­cra­sies and it takes some coax­ing to get the best out of it. Which is my way of say­ing I have to work to get the sound I’m hop­ing for and in­deed ex­pect­ing.

So while the 10"x7½" tom sings its lit­tle heart out straight­away, the 12"x8" pulls up short at first and feels a bit stunted and

boxy. It comes de­tuned and putting ten­sion on the top head the re­sponse is a lit­tle choked and up­tight where I’m ex­pect­ing it to res­onate mer­rily. Those high-pro­file cast hoops are tight on the shell and – rather like Gretsch – they wrap around and fo­cus the sound. So you have to ex­per­i­ment with the tun­ing, top and bot­tom, to get the drum to break free, which pretty soon it does. And as a bonus, with those high-pro­file hoops there are fan­tas­tic rim shots to be had off the small toms, if that is your thing.

By con­trast, both the 22"x18" kick and 16"x15" floor tom feel spa­cious and full throt­tled im­me­di­ately. With the front head in­tact and a pil­low in­side the bass drum is deep and warm. The at­tack from the 30 de­gree edges is rounded, and the over­whelm­ing feel­ing is of a rich dark thud that swells for a sec­ond or two and then closes shop tidily. The shell is thin and re­ver­ber­ant, the sym­met­ri­cal vent­ing al­low­ing the drum to breath eas­ily. These two big drums work con­vinc­ingly at a va­ri­ety of tun­ings from low to high.

Fi­nally, the snare. Ex­pect­ing woody warmth from those (op­tional) stout wood hoops I’m taken aback by the sheer bravado of this drum. It’s sharp edged but with a wide open cen­tre, and those cam ac­tion snare wires are cut­ting and metal­lic, al­most abra­sive to the ears. Add in the nat­u­ral bright­ness of maple also and you could say the drum is too lively! It’s not easy to get a con­trolled sound and again some per­se­ver­ance is nec­es­sary to get the bal­ance right. Iron­i­cally, I find my­self try­ing to soften the at­tack and qui­eten the tone. Grab­bing a tiger by its tail springs to mind. Then again, this is a cool prob­lem to en­counter when so many drums are tame by com­par­i­son and just don’t cut the mus­tard.

On the plus side, this snare def­i­nitely slices right through. Rim shots ric­o­chet around the walls. Side sticks have a pierc­ing wood block tone, which is what you’d ex­pect as the wood hoops are ¾" across. The ten­sion­ing bolts are re­cessed and out of harm’s way. But you might have a prob­lem get­ting a stand that is big enough. With the chunky wood hoops (an op­tional ex­tra, re­mem­ber) the drum is 15¾" across and many stand arms don’t ex­tend that far. Dru­ma­zon sent us a Sonor 400 stand that opened up just enough.

This is a big sound­ing kit and a unique in­stru­ment. It takes a bit of wheedling, a mod­icum of thought and ex­per­i­men­ta­tion. My guess is if you have a kit like this for a few months you grad­u­ally get to know it and fos­ter the best from it, a truly per­son­alised sound. It has in­di­vid­ual char­ac­ter, un­like the mass-pro­duced sound most kits read­ily serve up.

BRASS THROW-OFF N&C snares are fit­ted with the com­pany’s own de­sign and man­u­fac­ture solid brass cam ac­tion strain­ers and wires CD MAPLE LUGS The spe­cial bridge lugs con­ceal the mul­ti­ple small vent holes that N&C pi­o­neered un­der its Sym­met­ri­cal Vent­ing con­cept

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