Whitney Drums’ Nesting Penguin 16 Kit

Great sound and playability with unreal portability

Improving kit portability, an issue of real value to working drummers, has been an ongoing quest for manufacturers. When JT Whitney introduced his Nesting Penguin Series in 2002, he presented an intersection of form and function that continues to dominate among travel-friendly drum sets (or, for that matter, all drum sets). If you live in an apartment, have limited trunk space, often play cramped venues or just enjoy excellent-sounding drums, you need to check out Whitney’s work.

The SoCal-based drum maker, who also invented DW’s Sidekick pedal for what used to be called “cocktail” kits, has tweaked and refined his Nesting Penguins over the past decade, especially in the area of hardware, but the m.o. remains the same: preserve the warm sonic purity of wood while combining distinctive visual appeal with compact ease in cartage. Each of the five available Nesting Penguin kits is striking, and together they form a uniquely synergistic vision. I reviewed the Nesting 16 ($2,123 direct-to-consumer) with an add-on 7×8-inch tom ($275).

The Penguins’ Maxi-shells are European birch, but there ends the resemblance to any other drums I’ve come across. The thin end sections where the heads are seated join nine-ply collars with metal inserts to internally accept the tension rods. The shells then maintain these “fat-in-the-middle” diameters, making each drum respectively two inches larger around than its actual head size! (The center sections of the drums are constructed from three plies totaling 1/8 of an inch in thickness.) Of course, this approach makes them sound bigger, too, depending on the tuning. My 16-inch bass drum could mimic an 18-inch, 20-inch or even the thunder of Bonzo. Both the deepest tom and the bass drum’s resonant heads are mounted on removable Stay-Tuned collars via round, knurled knobs. The smaller tom “nests” inside the larger one, and with the separate snare, all fit inside the bass drum for transport-without altering your tuning. A padded carrying bag is included, as are scratch-preventing blankets for the nesting drums.

Due to the elimination of the heavy metal added by lugs and other external mounts, my four-piece set in its single case weighed about 30 pounds, or less than many bass drums. The toms employ Whitney’s ISIS 2, or Internal Suspension Isolation System. Before the Nesting Penguins, I had never been able to discern any audible difference between drums mounted with external bracket holders or those equipped with rim-mounting devices. These 10-inch and 13-inch toms sang with a perfectly sustained ring and natural decay, and I believe ISIS 2 is responsible-another example of how Whitney’s design makes a notable difference in sound while maintaining a clean, elegant look.

But the bass drum just might be Whitney’s ultimate masterstroke. As explained, there are no lugs, external mounts or spurs, so Whitney cradles the bass drum with two threaded rods near the batter side that slide and tighten into slots on his hinged wooden Quickstand. This eliminates the pedal riser necessary for smaller bass drums, since the pedal attaches to the stand rather than to the drum itself. With the exception of the tension rods and rims, there is absolutely no metal impeding the projection or causing unwanted vibrations, and wooden hoops are available for an additional charge. The bass drum appears to “float” above the stage, flanked on each end of the Quickstand’s base by two sturdy clamps, each securely grasping 22 1/2-inch tall, 1 1/2-inch thick metal tubes. These tubes supported a cymbal and two tom-swivel arms to my right and, on my left, a cymbal, tom-swivel arm and, yes, even the snare-drum basket. Remarkably, everything was rock steady.

This absence of tripods or weighty stand bottoms makes for the smallest footprint of any set, rewrites the book on rack systems and eliminates the need for an emergency drum rug. Finally-and this is the crucial part-it allows the folded-up three-section Quickstand, along with all the remaining heavy-duty DW and Pacific hardware provided (minus your own throne, pedal and hi-hat), to conveniently fit into a second included bag. The 5×13-inch Q Model snare, with reinforcing dowels at the tension-rod points, PDP strainer and DW True-Tone snare wires, sounded great right out of the box. (The WorldMax S-3 strainer is also available.) My “natural finish” drums-there are 11 colors to choose from-were supplied with requested Aquarian Texture-Coated Satin heads, and the bass drum heads were from Aquarian’s Force line. All of the drums possessed that elusive, funky, “wet” quality reminiscent of Rudy Van Gelder recordings.

This is a drum set as fine as any major manufacturer’s, and I’ve played them all. Most important, it plays and sounds better than most cumbersome “normal” kits.