There are many different ways to make a drum shell. Years ago, drum makers like Radio King, Leedy, and many others used steam bending to make their shells from a single plank of wood, tapering and gluing the ends together, then adding reinforcing rings to keep the shells round. Drums from that era constructed this way remain highly collectible. Today, the most common shell-making method uses plies.
In ply construction, individual thin sheets of wood are staggered within a mold and glued together. The advantage of this method is that drums are easily and quickly made and the resulting drum is stable and unlikely to go out of round. Plywood construction is also the cheapest way to make a drum, which accounts for its ubiquitous use in the industry. Odds are you own drums made from some variety of plywood.
Johnny Craviotto prefers the old way. Craviotto started his career as a professional drummer in the ’60s but gradually became fascinated with the steam-bent shells from the jazz era. When he began building drums he dedicated himself to crafting shells from a single plank of wood, but still utilizing modern methods and adhesives. With a growing profile thanks to collaboration with Drum Workshop, the Craviotto name has become synonymous with steam-bent high-end shells and has helped revive this waning art form. The Craviotto Drum Company now offers a wide variety of steam-bent drums, including hybrid shells made from different varieties of wood stacked on top of one another in rings.
Craviotto sent me a 5-piece set of black cherry wood “solid-shell” drums that were absolutely flawless in fit and finish. The drums were finished in a natural satin oil that allowed the natural beauty of the cherry wood to come through. The finish gives the drums a beautiful sheen and will gradually darken with age. There was a thin inlay around the center of each drum with small diamonds of lighter wood that the diamond-shaped badges are centered on with a matching inlay on each of the lighter colored maple bass drum hoops. This contrast between hoop and shell color and the tasteful inlays added a very understated and elegant touch. I ran my finger across the inlay and it felt as smooth as glass. Stunning workmanship. So good, in fact, it seems a little wrong to hit the things.
The shells were about a 0.25" thick with a similar reinforcing ring at the edges resulting in about a 0.5" total thickness at the ends of each shell. The drums had smooth 45 degree bearing edges top and bottom. The interior of the drums seemed to have a similar satin-oil finish and each drum was signed and dated.
Since Craviotto makes drums, not hardware, the kits come as a shell pack. Each drum had short tube lugs with a pair of small diamond-shaped pieces at the base of each lug. The mounted toms featured Gauger’s lightweight aluminum R.I.M.S. suspension mounts and each drum has 2.3mm hoops top and bottom. The snare comes with Trick’s GS007 strainer, which worked silently and smoothly as always, though I would have preferred the Trick GS007 Multi-Step model that has indentations for separate degrees of wire tension.
The snare is a 10–lug design and comes with a 20-strand set of Craviotto wires underneath. The other hardware included was all chrome-plated and included Craviotto’s “diamond” brackets, memory locks, bass drum spurs, floor tom legs, and “retro” claw hooks. The bass drum doesn’t have a mount, as few boutique kits will, so you’ll have to mount the toms off other hardware, like cymbal stands.
The Remo Powerstroke Fiberskyn solid logo head resembles calfskin and added an appropriate old-school touch. The drums have an upscale and expensive yet classic look. I think of them as “modern vintage,” if you’re willing to forgive an oxymoron. Their look would be perfect for jazz, indie rock, or retro bands, or any form of subtle, introspective music. At a death-metal concert they’d probably stick out like a tuxedo in a bowling alley. Of course, the price tag of these drums alone would probably keep them unkown to the black T-shirt crowd.
It’s a small thing, but I think Craviotto goes a little overboard with all the diamonds. While I like them on the inlay and badge, the spurs, claw hooks, butt plate, brackets, and lugs also have diamonds on them — everything but the vent-hole grommet, oddly enough. At normal viewing distances it’s not too noticeable, but up close it was sort of like playing a game of “try to spot the non-diamond-shaped detail.”
The drums came outfitted with a selection of Remo heads that suited the kit well. The black cherry wood shells are reportedly a bit brighter than regular cherry and offer more tonality with a wide tuning range. I didn’t find them especially bright, though. Sometimes descriptions of the tonal properties of various species of wood get uncomfortably close to a sommelier discussing wine. “This shell has a pure tonality, with dank hints of the forest and fruity overtones.” Let’s just say these drums sound very good.
The bass drum has 16 mini-lugs, eight per side, and as mentioned, no mount for the toms. When the drums arrived the kick drum sounded just plain awesome straight from the box. Deep and low with a good initial punch but without much ring afterward. I didn’t have to tune the drum at all for general-purpose playing. This 20" drum is a good versatile size that could work for any style of music. You could tune it up for jazz or leave it low for rock. While I like the Powerstroke 3 head combination for rock, I’d probably switch to a single-ply head for jazz. The drum offered plenty of everything I like.
The toms came out of the box tuned so high they could have passed for bongos. I’m thinking someone used a power drill and drum key bit prior to shipping them. As I brought the pitch down from the stratosphere they gradually got a fatter and richer tone. After detuning, the toms revealed they had a pretty balanced but slightly bright tone with clear pitches and ample sustain. They had a nice even decay, held their notes well and didn’t detune quickly.
Craviotto built its reputation on its exquisite snare drums. And this one is every bit as gorgeous as the rest of the kit. To keep it looking good, Craviotto ships the drum in a cordura drum bag, though I wouldn’t bring a $2k snare drum to a gig in just a soft bag. Come to think of it, if this were my kit, I might consider transporting them in an armored car!
This snare sounded every bit as good as it looked. It had a nice wide tuning range capable of articulate work at higher tunings and faster tempos or beefy tones when tuned in the ballad range. The slightly brighter tones of the black cherry worked very well here. I usually tune my snares pretty high and this drum had lots of projection and great sensitivity at lower volumes. I could hear quick very soft triple strokes clearly. The drum was lively enough that it could use a little Moongel to tame the ring, which took several seconds to decay. Its explosive rimshots sounded incredible and it offered solid, clear rim-clicks. This is an excellent drum and it’s easy to see why Craviotto snares are so coveted.
Craviotto makes absolutely exquisite drums. If you’re lucky enough to snag one of these beautiful and collectible kits, you’ll be getting more than a superbly crafted set of drums — you’ll be gaining the envy of every drummer you know. Just be sure to put the diamond-shaped Craviotto drum key in the center on your key ring. Move over, Porsche.
100 percent black cherry wood with 45 degree bearing edges.
20" x 14" bass drum, 12" x 8" and 10" x 7.5" stand-mountable toms, 14" x 14" floor tom, and 14" x 5.5" snare drum.
Natural satin oil with diamond inlays in the center of each shell and on each bass drum hoop.
Trick GS007 throw-off; 2.3mm stainless steel hoops; Craviotto’s “diamond” mini-tube lugs, butt plate, bass drum spurs, brackets, claws, floor tom legs, and memory locks.
Remo Powerstroke 3 Fiberskyn resonant and clear Powerstroke 3 batter bass drumheads; coated Ambassador batters and clear Ambassador resonant heads on snare and toms.