September 2003

Paiste Signature Bronze Snare Drum

There are a select number of instruments that qualify as Holy Grails, either by virtue of the people who played them, the people who built them or some combination thereof.

For instance, on Paganini: After a Dream (Verve), Regina Carter performs on "Il Cannone," an enormous sounding violin crafted in 1743 by the famous builder Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu and later owned by the legendary performer Niccolò Paganini (who bequeathed it to the city of Genoa upon his death). Doc Cheatham used to get all blue and sentimental when extolling the qualities of the older Vincent Bach Stradivarius model trumpets, while tenor saxophonists stubbornly hang on to their old Selmer Mark VI models, despite the countless advances the Selmer company has introduced over the past 30 years. And the ongoing creative renaissance at Gibson and Fender was precipitated by the perception amongst players and collectors that the output of both companies was for many years demonstrably inferior to those guitars made in the 1950s and early '60s.

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Paiste Signature Bronze Snare Drum

For discerning jazz and studio drummers, there was nothing quite like the sound and feel of vintage, hand-hammered K. Zildjian cymbals from Istanbul or the seamless brass-shell, ebony-lacquer snare drums Ludwig first introduced in the 1920s-the Black Beauty. Thanks to fanatical collectors here and in Japan, well-kept Black Beauties are fetching anywhere from $5,000 on up-if you can find one.

However, seekers of perfected sound may find solace in the news that the folks at Paiste-who recaptured the classic sound and vibe of the very best of the old hand-hammered cymbals with their critically acclaimed Traditionals series cymbals-have introduced a snare drum for the ages. Following up on the success of their Spirit of 2002 snare drum, the new Paiste Signature Bronze snare drum (S-Bronze for short) also features a cast bronze shell fashioned from cut-up cymbals, though the additional tin content of Paiste's patented Signature Bronze confers a warmer upper bass and lower midrange quality to the S-Bronze's sonic signature, while the Spirit of 2002 evinces more brilliant highs and a brassier upper midrange quality.

The creative by-product of a collaboration between Erik Paiste and the innovative drum builder Jeff Ocheltree (whose steel-shell snare is a staple amongst top pros such as Steve Smith), the S-Bronze snare drums are available in 4 by 13-inch and 5 1/2 by 14-inch configurations that begin life as sand-castings, which are then meticulously lathed down to 3/16-inch thick shells that are perfectly round and ring just like a friggin' bell. Big gold-plated die-cast hoops further extend the resonance and purity of that huge bell-like note, while polished brass lugs and a whisper-smooth, ergonomically refined snare strainer mechanism offer quiet control and subtle tuning control. I found that the 4 by 13 loves to be tuned down for a fat, visceral backbeat crack, while the 5 1/2 by 14 offers incredible midrange-top end sensitivity for extra crispy rolls and accents, but both drums have such a seemingly limitless tuning range, that they can be cranked way up or drop tuned to fit any style of music, making them particularly valuable adjuncts to any top-flight recording studio application-where their immense projection, purity of tone and quiet stability preclude lame engineering "enhancements" such as EQ and compression.

Both of these drums are magnificent instruments; the 4 by 13 piccolo design fills a very specialized niche, while the Paiste 5 1/2 by 14 S-Bronze is hands down the finest snare drum I have every played. Outside of the most primo vintage Ludwig Black Beauties, the depth of tone, dynamic range, transient speed and textural sensitivity of this drum are unequalled in my experience. What's more, there's a dimensionality to the tone, a subtle resonant aura suffusing every stroke in a deep amber glow that mirrors the golden beauty of the drum itself. I could never make this drum bottom out; there were such ample reserves of dynamic headroom and tone, I could instantly actualize any idea or emotion into music-from an elemental crack to a buttery press roll and all points in between. You can make this baby bark like a dog or purr like a kitten.

Yes, the Paiste S-Bronze snare drums are quite heavy, and at $2,400, a considerable investment, but they're far cheaper than a 1920s Black Beauty. Go audition a Signature Bronze, and when it dawns on you that these cast Paistes can replace just about every snare drum in your studio menagerie, then like me you'll bite the bullet, sell off your snare collection and discover the joy and contentment of percussive monogamy-the Paiste S-Bronze snares are that good.

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