Without doubt, the 2018 Winter NAMM show was the best in recent years when it comes to drums. There was a renewed fire amongst the industry mainstays and a surprising amount of new blood entering the field. For drum companies, (and all companies for that matter) displaying at the NAMM show is an incredibly large expense. It’s a major investment for them to bring their brand to California for a week, put the staff up at hotels, ship all of the instruments, deal with the logistics of artist coordination and dealer visits, and all of the dinners and drinks. This investment shows the world that they are interested and engaged. The displays and booths have been trimmed down a bit in recent years, the pre-2008 displays revealed a heady industry with extra cash to throw at flashier, well, everything.
I believe this was my 14th show, and there was something different this year; the entire layout was completely changed. For a number of years, the drum hall was hall D (fitting) and hall C was largely filled with guitar makers and distribution companies. The best way to describe this is that many of the companies have been in the same location for several years, and as a guy attending the show for as long as I have, I just knew where everything was. The NAMM show, like a mall, or a neighboring town is something I go to once a year, and I’m quite thrifty at navigating the trade show waters.
My bearings were completely lost this year and I’m incredibly grateful for that. It was nice to re-calibrate and shut the auto pilot off. It was also nice to see some newcomers to the show. As I write this, I’m on an airplane running on about 3 hours of sleep but I can’t wait get back to work and start receiving the beautiful instruments and accessories we have procured.
We have SO much to tell you about, I’m sure we won’t get to everything but before we give the highlights of the 2018 NAMM show, we have some announcements to make regarding new members of our family.
British Drum Company
The British are coming!
I’ve kept a close eye on the British Drum Company since their launch in 2015. Their story is an interesting one, one that exemplifies taking the “long way around” to get to where they are. Keith Keough is one the leading drum builders in the world, he has an incredibly keen eye and attention to detail which led him to start his own brand of drums, called KD drums. A few years back, his company was purchased by the Premier drum company and Keith was tasked with continuing to make his world class instruments, only now with a Premier badge on them.
When this happened in 2011 (or was it 12?), Premier had a booth at NAMM that made me completely drunk on drum awesomeness. The woodwork, the sounds, the history of the brand, everything ticked my boxes and I grabbed my wallet and went in full force.
Premier has a sullied legacy here in the USA. Their history goes back to 1922, started by the Della Porta family. The family made incredible innovations for many, many years, and they filed for an incredible amount of patents. If you want to test the level of commitment of a drum enthusiast, ask them about Premier. If they light up or if they appear sad; you know you have a bona fide, long suffering drum nut on your hands. There are things Premier brought to the marketplace that were so incredibly ground breaking and timeless; many of them going largely unnoticed by the uninformed public. The beauty of their chrome plating, the art deco everything, and the undisputed British elegance made them an absolute favorite of mine. The Resonator, Signia, Genista, and Soundwave kits are still drool-wothy drums.
Following the tradition of excellent instruments and poor management, the partnership with Keith (as well as UK production of Premier drums) ceased abruptly in 2014-15ish, leaving me unsurprised but accepting. The original iconic Premier drum factory, a place I was never able to visit, was torn down this year to make way for a grocery store. I followed the photos of it, and tears came to my eyes. There was so much history there. In a world of faster and cheaper, I sometimes find myself ogling at the Lok-fast hardware and wondering why no one has carried on this torch.
I was happy to see the launch of the British Drum Company and I’ve tracked their progress. I recall visiting the booth last year and feeling that we weren’t ready for them yet. They were nice, but at this point, I have enough ‘nice’. I need outstanding. For a grisly, well traveled drum nerd, ‘outstanding’ becomes increasingly difficult to find.
I stopped by the booth this year with an incredibly noncommittal,indifferent approach. As a long suffering European drum enthusiast in the United States, I’m accustomed to disappointment and self imposed sighs. This year, I found FIRE. I found INNOVATION, I found a group of people that share the same passion to improve the lives of the drummers that support them whilst being able to humbly nod to the art deco stylings of the Della Porta ethos.
At a quick glance, the Lounge series, or the Legend series appear to be a sharp, well made kit in a crowded marketplace. Upon closer inspection, the similarities end there. The shells are layed up in a cold press, completely opposite of the majority of other drum makers. The thicker plies are pressed into a thinner shell that remains a bit undersized, creating the intoxicating stick attack. The “B” in the British Drum logo is reminiscent of the “P” in the Premier logo and the “B” in the Beverly drum logo. (Beverly was a lower cost line of Premier drums for a spell, like PDP is to DW). Like the George Way drums, the lugs have a fresh look with a warming familiarity. This is not easy to execute, yet they have brilliantly. The mounting system is VERY good, a no mess, no fuss direct to shell contact that also proves shell to hardware isolation. Maximum tone, minimal hardware/head change frustration= Happy Shane.
The Lounge series is the “Club Date” style kit with the round, tubby sound that is popular these days. The Legend is 10 ply Scandinavian birch that is compressed down to a 6mm shell. 2 ply rings help support the shell, and it’s geared for the drummer who needs articulation.
The industry is to blame for telling drummers that maple is king. It’s simply not true. The Yamaha Recording Custom is birch, and it’s called the “Recording Custom” for good reason; microphones absolutely love birch drums. For live use, I prefer birch drums because of the clarity they provide to the front of the house. I never ascended past the small/medium club gigs in my touring days, and the sound systems (and the people operating them) were of varying degrees of quality/ability. Birch shells made life easier for all of us and the audience had a better sounding band.
One may say that “There are birch kits for $500, birch must be cheaper!” It’s important to note that the lower the cost of the drum, the lower quality of the material used. This does not mean the Mapex Mars or Yamaha Stage Custom is bad, it’s just a different experience. A professional level Birch drum kit is as good or better than anything out there. And maple drums, they are great too. But you know that already.
Wow - I’m all over the place here. It’s a five hour flight.
The Legend series is gorgeous, it’s sharp and microphone ready. The special edition Etimoe Lounge set was an absolute stunner. It has the Lounge shells, plus the outer veneer of Wild Etimoe that gave it an upper echelon appeal. The “Imp” is their Breakbeat/Jungle/Safari/Midtown type kit, but at a pro level. A quirky kit with a quirky name, I think the Imp is going to be popular.
The “Duke” Snare drum is so full of snobbery I salivate at the opportunity to get this into my hands so I can learn every stinking bit of awesome about it. I’ll refrain from the full details here (as I don’t want to mess up) but it has a shell with wood that is older than Stone Henge.
BDC has the Chrome over Brass “Bluebird” shell which maintains the elegance, the “Big Softy” which has air bubbles in the shell. The porosity of these shells reduce the attack and bring out the thud. The “Merlin” snare drum has the opposite approach; multiple plies creating solid crack, and a crisp attack that is favored by rock and funk drummers. I like the minimal approach to their snare drum program, the 3 drums seem to cover the bases very well. I’m sure there will be more to come but the core foundation of their lineup is rather steadfast.
Rack toms on snare stands is very popular these days, but the snare stand can choke the sound of the toms. British Drum Company has brought these small clips that they call the “Tomspring” that sit on the bottom of the tom,allowing the toms to resonate more freely. Mark my words, we’ll see no less than four variations by various companies at this time next year.
I couldn’t help it, I bought the entire British Drum Company booth this year. All of these are coming to DCP and I can’t wait for people to see them. I don’t suspect they are going to set the world on fire sales-wise, but to the discerning, discriminating drummer who likes different sounds and experiences, these are a perfect fit; and those are the drummers who happen to be part of our extended Drum Center of Portsmouth family.
I remember the first time I met Bruce Hagwood, owner of RBH Drums, it was his first NAMM show, I believe it was 2010 or 2011. He chased me down as I walked by and wanted my opinion on his drum shells. He was aggressive and confident, but humbly eager to know what I thought of his shells. I’m one of those people that does not like something before I like it; and I wanted to have that approach with Bruce. Right away I could tell that he knew what he was doing, and he was doing it well. He made nice shells, I remember making some suggestions (I can’t recall what they were) but I do remember suggesting that pursuing the OEM shell manufacturing route for established brands may be a more fruitful endeavor for him.
He didn’t listen to me. He wanted a brand, and he hasn’t stopped trying.
Each year I run into Bruce and his drums look and sound better each time. He has not given up. He is determined and I admire that in people. Playing musical instruments is a romantic, emotional experience, and I’ve long attested that the instruments sound much better when you like the person or people you bought it from. I liked Bruce from the word ‘go”, I just wanted to feel that his snare drums were prime time.
They are. We’re going to get a solid ply Cherry, a Maple, and a Walnut shell, all 6.5x14. I’m looking forward to putting these on the stands next to the Longo, Noble and Cooley, and Unix drums. I feel that these will be a good fit and I hope you do too. Bruce makes lovely 3 ply shells too.
A&F Drum Company
We brought A&F drums on late in 2017 and they’ve sold like buttermilk flapjacks. I have a very weird, almost intimidated feeling about A&F because their equal parts marketing and manufacturing approach is unlike any other drum company I have seen. I happened to witness the NAMM police shut their booth down for noise violations which essentially closed their business down for the remainder of the day. Many exhibitors would view this as a death blow, or contest the violation like a Baseball manager hurling sand at an umpire with their foot. Instead, A&F filmed the shutdown in realtime. This type of maverick approach is new, and I like that. Renegade behavior? I’d say so. it makes Ronn Dunnett look like Roy Burns by comparison. For the record, I hope that they, or any other company refrains from using noise violations as a marketing tool, as one of the pitfalls of NAMM is the noise levels.
While we are on that topic, if you are one of the drummers reading this that happens to attend NAMM and wants to seek an endorsement from one of the companies, getting on a drum kit and showing off your chops at a loud level is NOT the way to do it. This is actually the worst possible thing you could do. The company, and the people doing business with them want you to stop. The best way to seek an endorsement is to understand the levels of endorsements, which is explained very wellin a great doc by Bermuda Schwartz which is on the link below.
Ok, back on topic. A&F invited us to their compound the night before NAMM to watch a video which I suspect is out now that illustrates their ethic and practices. It was very well done and I have a hunch that it will be very effective for them. I had the same feeling watching this video that I had when I watched the DW American Dream video 20 years ago. This is a brand that is doing things differently and people are starting to take notice. The drum sets have explosive, robust tone with unique appointments. They have a vintage flair. These drums are not for everyone and I think they like that. I know I admire the individuality. We bought nearly every snare drum in their booth and I cannot wait for them to show up. We had a great time with the A&F family and shared our growing pains stories. There are many good things to come.
I’m no stranger to Dream cymbals, I just haven’t gotten around to bringing them on board here. Dream cymbals have a great approach; really well made cymbals that cost less and sound great. I feel the Bliss and Dark Matter series are geared towards finesse type drumming, as they open up easily. We will all be familiarizing ourselves with their lineup as we get their cymbals in in the coming weeks and they will be going up on the site here. Watch this space for more!
No, they didn’t display at the NAMM show, but they are coming on board at the shop and it’s important that I make it known. Kevin Feeney is one of the most talented innovators I know. He invents a lot of problem solving products. We sell his rods that he produces, which are made of superior materials and they last longer. I’ve tried dozens of his bass drum beater prototypes that are incredible. He’s got hardware stuff that I’m likely not at liberty to discuss so I won’t, but I’m happy to say we’ll have his rods and the Drum Taco on hand soon. Kevin is also a New Hampshire local and I’m glad we’re able to finally partner up.
Ok, perhaps not the most exciting news, but these are popular, affordable mic stands. These will be arriving very soon.
I did a studio session 20 years ago with Earthworks overheads. They were awesome then and they are now. I’m not an audiophile, I simply know what sounds good and what doesn’t. I can say that Earthworks captures a sound authentically unlike any other microphone I have ever experienced. It’s dare-I-say perfect. We brought them on at the end of 2017 and we have the drum packs available here. We’re going to be moving over to Earthworks for our drum set demos as well. And have I mentioned they are made in New Hampshire?
Ok are you still with me here? Pardon my uber-nerdery. I just really freaking love this business.
Drums at the Winter NAMM show - Highlights, notes, mumblings
One thing is for sure; innovation is driving this industry. There are a lot of talented people bringing new sounds and new solutions. This year was FULL of them. Here’s some that come to mind.
Ufip 1931 cymbals.
Hands down, my favorite sounding cymbals at the show. Darker sounds that open up, it’s a new sound for Ufip. Due to their roto-casting process, they had to make molds just for these cymbals. We’ve long trumpeted the Experience series Blast crashes, and now they’ve got the extra dry treatment. They sounded awesome.
The DW quick release wingnut thingie there. (I forget what it's called)
Ok, surprisingly, DW doesn’t have a quick release topper yet. It seems they were waiting until they got it just right. This is AWESOME. And then, there’s one with a drum key at the end of it. When (not if) you lose your drum key, you can simply grab it from the stand. Bravo, these are great. As of now, they only work on DW stands.
Sabian FRX cymbals
These are very forward thinking cymbals. I’ve been calling for quieter cymbals for some time now. As stages shrink, drums are getting smaller and drummers are asked to play more quietly. We now have cymbals with a 70 or 80 percent noise reduction, why not 30 or 40? Please note, the FRX are frequency reducing cymbals, not quiet cymbals. These are designed for what I had mentioned earlier but they are also for churches and other houses of worship that have the sound shields in front of the kit. It allows the drummer to hit the crash as hard as he or she wants, and certain frequencies are not paralyzing the front of house system. In order for these cymbals to be appreciated, like anything, they need to be understood. I tip my hat to the risks Sabian continues to take.
Vater Stick Shield
If you break sticks, you need these. End of story.
Big Fat Snare Drum
Several new items, all doing different things. Boundless creativity.
Paiste Swiss Crash 20” and new Masters series cymbals.
Paiste is the cymbal company that is universally respected by all other cymbal makers and drummers alike. Whether it’s your sound or not, their exacting techniques and demand for excellence is undeniable.
Tama is relentless in their pursuit of perfection. I have such a love affair with the Star series drums, and the Star hardware. This year, the focus is on the flat based, classic hardware, and the SLP drum sets. The SLP (Sound Lab Project) has been a wildly successful snare drum program that is about bringing the drummer a well specced drum with a sound required by microphones and audiences alike. We’ve got all of the kits in now, or they are on order. My fave? The fat spruce kit. It’s a Gretschy vibe with a slightly wider mid range. There’s also the Club-jam kit, which is also like the Midtown/breakbeat, whatever drum kits out there. There’s nothing groundbreaking, it’s a different option in a crowded category. The Superstar kit though is something else. This is really the first of it’s kind. I feel it will do really well or it will fall flat on it’s face. It’s hard to say. But my heart loves the concept and I think it’s a sign of things to come. Drummers want more snare sounds. So why not have more snare drums on your kit? And for cripes sake, why didn’t I consider this first? I am the “snare drum guy” aren’t I?
We have them in stock too, check them out here.
This kit is inspired by Anika Nilles and Robert “Sput” Searight. What appears to be a two up, two down kit is a bit deceiving. The first floor “tom” actually seconds as a snare drum. You can flip the wires on or off to get a big booty snare sound or turn them off to get the aforementioned floor tom sound. Tama has also brought out accessory holders that are effective and inexpensive. You can put a Big Fat Snare Drum on the floor ‘tom’ (or any other drum) and have it be held in place by this mount.
Remo Colortone Heads
Ok, these are not for everyone. But man do they look cool. A Colortone head is ideal for an acrylic kit like the Pearl Crystal beat or the Ludwig Vistalite, but they’ll look good on wood drums too.
There’s a new line with a thuddier, softer feel and it’s awesome. The first one coming on will be going home with me. I’ve been using the Blue Lightning pad since Mike Johnston suggested it, and it’s really allowed me to improve my technique, as the pad provides less rebound, and it’s also quieter, so I can have it in the living room and practice and not completely annoy my wife.
Pro Logix also introduced a practice pad set, where the toms are of different density, what this means is the first rack tom is a tighter feel, and the last floor tom is a more loose feel. They really nailed this, the feel was spot on. I predict this technology will spill over into the electronic drum pad world at some point.
Speaking of Electronic Drums...
I received a quick back story which I’ll likely screw up, so I’ll condense it here briefly. Essentially, when Mr. Kakehashi, the inventor of the modern drum machine, and founder of Roland, retired at the spry age of 85, he decided to keep going. He hired ex-roland renegades, and now we have ATV drums. There’s no board or committee, just free thinkers trying to make the best electronic drums. It’s too early for me to comment on the drums as I didn’t have a lot of time to evaluate them but I will say that the cymbals FEEL great, a sore spot for other E-cymbal makes. I’m going to be keeping an eye on them.
Zildjian Sweet Cymbals.
The 21” Sweet Ride, and the 23” Sweet ride are two of the most popular Zildjian rides that we offer. It just makes sense that Zildjian makes them darker. We tested the prototypes of these last year and quickly sold through them. We also tried some Sweet Cluster Crashes that are not being released for now but will likely be released later.
Vic Firth Bass Drum Beater
This thing looks goofy as all get out but there is a very noticeable difference in the feel.
Kentville Drum Heads
I’m afraid these heads are going to create a controversy at first as they are made from Kangaroo hide, so I encourage people to suspend any feelings and read about the process.
These are coming from Australia so they won’t be inexpensive, but there’s a lot more life for the brush player as there is no coating to come off.
Are you familiar with Trick? If not, you should be. There are knock off companies and then there are knocked off companies. Trick’s designs are copied and borrowed by so many, yet they are appreciated by so few. We sell a lot of Trick Hardware but barely any replacement parts. It’s because the stuff doesn’t break. Trick hardware and drums are made in the USA out of superior materials. The Trick Throw off is the most solid, stout, and smooth throw off on the market. But there’s more…
Trick snare drums are awesome. We’ve quietly been selling the copper snares but we’re bringing in more. There’s an 8x14 Aluminum with a red finish that Chuckie and I both slobbered all over.
But there were 2 other things I could not over look; the new VMT drum set line, and the pub kick. The kit sounded so darn good, we bought it. It’s coming back and we can’t wait. What is special is that there are some cost-cutting measures (not quality-cutting) employed that allow the price to come down. So here’s an opportunity to grab a new sound, an all aluminum kit that is made in the USA at a lower price. What’s not to love? The pub kick is a nice little 20x4.5” that sounds deep and weighs little. Grab your snare, and the pub kick, and you’re off!
There’s a real push on George Way this year. The new kits in the new color are just what the doctor ordered. These are coming with the Dunnett designed and Remo made Res-o-tone heads, and they are fluffy sounding. The George Way drum kits are, simply put, foxy. They seem to motivate people slow down and circle them, as if it’s some sort of pre-historic mating ritual. I’ve seen it happen with people in the store too. The new Dunnett R-Class mic mount is also a crowd pleaser; it allows the drummer to mike their bass drum but not have an ugly bass drum mic stand that is apt to get kicked over by your ego-maniac lead singer, creating a tear in your new $50 bass drum head.
Acoutin Snare drums are owned by 6 out of 7 people here at DCP. That statement alone should say something. There’s a new all Stainless model that is crisp and cracking. If you’ve come to love the Acoutin aesthetic, this is a great addition to your collection.
Keeps getting better. We snagged the lions share of the snares at the show. They were gorgeous. Just gorgeous.
More Rogers drum parts, like the beavertail lug, and the pedal are now available to order.
Bill Ludwig is the only Ludwig in the drum business. After his father sold the company in the early 80’s, Bill stayed on for a few years before departing the business altogether.
With a new factory in place, WFL has now begun to manufacture drum kits. We saw the prototype kits at the show and the results are promising. 3 ply Mahogany shells for that “Thwomp” sound.
Speaking of Ludwig
Ludwig keeps pushing and pushing. Many are aware that Ludwig has enjoyed an amazing resurgence in the drum market. I’ve long said that there were people out there wanting to buy Ludwig, but Ludwig wasn’t giving them any reasons to buy! A reinvestment in the brand about 9-10 years back was merely a seed that has now sprouted. Ludwig’s booth was dominant this year. There are a lot of new finish options and the is Neu-Sonic kit is cool! Made in the USA and under a grand? Nice. The spurs may draw some ire from people. They work just fine, but they are not very adjustable. The new Vistalite colors are great too. The raw brass supraphonic gets my vote as the best for Ludwig though.
The new Pearl Session Studio Select is my favorite drum set release at the show. I’ve been asking for Birch/Mahogany shells for a long time. (I seem to be getting what I ask for!)
These have the right price, the right finishes, and a free floor tom. This kit is cooking. I think it’s going to be big. Oh, and you probably saw the picture of that double bass CZX inspired Masterworks kit with the power toms. Yep. That’s coming back to DCP.
Yamaha was showing the recently released EAD10 which we have featured in the video here. They also had their new Tour Customs on display. The TC kits are very impressive, however, 8” toms or 16” floor toms are not available at this time. I’m hoping that changes.
I’m polyamorous with drums, however, my heart beats Sonor. They have a place in my heart, and I just love the sound. Coincidentally, my favorite band is Iron Maiden. So having Nicko McBrain’s Sonor SQ2 kit that he used on the Book of Souls tour was quite a moment for this guy. I was able to catch up with Charlie Charlesworth, Nicko’s tech, who was kind enough to let me up behind the kit at Madison Square Garden a couple of years ago. Keeping the gold hardware is no easy task and Charlie is a total pro.
Oh, back to Sonor. They are launching the AQ2 line, which has higher quality Jungle, Martini, and Safari setups. I’m eager to get those in. 2 new lush One of a kind snare drums made their debut as well.
Canopus had some some cool stuff this year. A special finish Zelkova, the only one of it's kind, and some Harvey Mason snare drums too! They were showing a Jeff Hamilton signature cymbal stand which is like the flat base with a few modern features.
Mapex showed some new finishes for Armory but the real talk was the Black Panther Design Lab snare drum which are designed and developed by Russ Miller. Russ is incredibly mindful with design and his Versatus snare drum lived on my stand for a spell. It’s a darling of a drum. Now, these design lab snares are Russ really stretching out to create the ideal sound. We’ll be bringing all of these on board.
Ok, the plane is descending. I’d like to say I’ll finish this tomorrow but I’m sure the day to day stuff will prevent that from happening. I’m sure I left out some stuff so if I failed to mention anything, it’s certainly not out of disrespect. I feel so charged up and excited; I can’t wait for you all to see what we’ve picked out for the shop.
2018 is going to be a great year.
Thank you for spending your drum money with us.