Maryland Drum Company Timepiece Drums
My personal variation on Dexter Gordon's line in the film 'Round Midnight extolling "a nice, wet Rico reed" would be "happiness is a '60s Gretsch 14-inch floor tom." As evidenced by Maryland (ne Baltimore) Drum Company's Timepiece Series kit, founder/product specialist Keith Larsen and partner/woodworker John Coale apparently concur.
Drummers searching for that esoteric combination of vintage appearance with modern playability need no longer haunt pawnshops and used-instrument music stores, because Maryland Drum Company has taken care of all that for you.
Dark, dry and definitely jazzy, the 100 percent maple Timepiece Series set consists of a 14-inch x 18-inch bass drum, 8-inch x 12-inch and 14-inch x 14-inch toms (each with six-ply shells), and a 6-inch x 14-inch snare. This snare drum, reminiscent of an old Slingerland Radio King, has a 10-ply shell, with six-ply reinforcing rings and 10 tuning lugs on each side. The drums come outfitted with Earthtone goatskin heads on the batter sides (the bass drum is equipped with them on both ends). The insides of the shells are antiqued as well as the outer finish (more about this later).
Retro is the look indeed, with "stick chopper" nonflanged snare and tom rims that are nickel-plated-as are the entire set's claw hooks, tension rods and distinctive, small-as-possible triangular wedge-shaped aluminum lugs and all the hardware, down to the smallest screw. The bass drum spur assemblies continue the triangular aesthetic of the lugs. Sensibly, the bass drum spurs have no rubber tips, although a pair is included should someone want to place them over the metal spikes.
Ultimately, no matter how impressive the amount of care and attention to detail by the manufacturer, the only true measure of a drum set's quality is its sound. Told that this series "was specifically made for East Coast jazz guys," I interpreted that to mean the kind of full, round, woody sound that blends perfectly with upright bassists in specific acoustic environments (read: seedy dives). After playing them on several gigs, my opinion is that Larsen and Coale have hit it right on the head (bad pun fully intended).
Although I love the sound of a wide-open jazz bass drum, this one rang just a bit too much for me, with the harmonic overtones obscuring the fundamental. However, that minor distraction was easily solved without even changing heads-nothing that a moleskin pad at the beater strike-point and a strategically placed piece of electrical tape couldn't cure. The toms are remarkable, evoking that great Gretsch sound with just a hint of the more controlled quality of the old Sonor Phonics. The snare drum, though, is simply incredible.
Keep in mind, I've never really met a drum I didn't like (well, maybe a few). But excuse me while I rant and rave about this particular snare, which possessed the most evenly crisp response over its entire diameter of any I have ever encountered. The sheer ease in playability of this drum, with its expressive voice speaking clearly and cleanly at all volume levels, enabled a sense of articulation that I have only rarely experienced. Suffice it to say this is the best-feeling snare drum I've played in a long, long time.
The pain of my all-too-brief affair with Maryland Drums has been assuaged somewhat by holding onto its MAC series 6-inch x 13-inch snare for a while longer. This drum has the same shell as above but in gray gloss with a unique embedded sparkle effect and chrome plated aluminum hardware, which brings me to an important point. Besides its top-of-the-line drums I'm reviewing here, Maryland Drums custom-build other less expensive ones as well: The MAA, DC and SL Series, 20-ply and Black Brass snares, additional options of anodized silver hardware for jazz, rock, fusion-they do it all. Buy American! (And check out marylanddrum.com for more info on the other models.)
Since I've never understood the concept behind prewashed jeans, the distressed look of these drums eludes my personal sensibilities. An otherwise nice hand-painted cinnamon satin finish has been purposely gouged, poked and scratched to make the set look like it survived being thrown down a flight of stairs in the 1940s. But that's just me. The Timepiece Series also comes in striped wheat-a harvest gold that also features the same distressed effect, which does give me an idea, though: How about preused drum cases? With airline tags, regional stickers and broken straps held together with old belts and duct tape, an aspiring drummer could convince his friends he'd been on the road for years without his kit ever leaving the basement. If you're interested, contact me via JazzTimes. I'm sure we can work something out, because one of these days, I've got to clean out the garage.