Sometime back in the heady, spandex-constricted days of the 1980s, a couple of crazy kids named Johnny Craviotto and Billy Gibson (the drummer for then-popular Huey Lewis And The News) started the Select/Solid Drum Company and began making solid-shell drums for the commercial market. Later, Craviotto continued to hone his skills building solid-shell snares for DW, while Gibson followed Huey and the rest of The News into the bowels of obscurity. Now Craviotto is on his own and, in addition to continuing to make premium-quality, solid-shell snare drums, he now offers entire solid-shell drum sets, which he appropriately refers to as “one ply.”
In the past, owning a solid-shell drum kit meant paying a small fortune to a rare drum collector for a kit made during Gene Krupa’s era. Of course, you probably wouldn’t dare play the kit on a gig for fear of damage, or the sad discovery that the hardware was pathetically flimsy by today’s standards. Drums from that era have not only suffered from the ravages of time, but due to uneven construction materials and methods, they often possess widely varying sonic qualities. Craviotto drums conquer both of these difficulties by bringing modern, high-quality construction methods to the prized, solid-shell design, resulting in drums that are roadworthy, beautiful, and truly unique.
You may be wondering exactly what the difference is between a solid-shell drum set and the drums you own. Let’s take a look. Most drums are made from plywood, which involves thin sheets of wood staggered, covered with adhesive, and then formed into a cylindrical drum shell. These drums are the most common because they’re the most inexpensive to make. Critics of plywood drums point out that too much of the shell is comprised of glue since most drums use between six and ten plies of wood. Solid-shell drums, on the other hand, are made from a single board of high-quality wood that’s steamed to the point of pliability, bent to form a cylinder, and then allowed to dry. Each end is cut into a tapered or beveled shape and then overlapped and glued together creating what is known as a scarf joint. Usually, the area of overlap is eight to twelve times the length of the thickness of the board being used, so much less glue is needed for this style of drum.
Sonically, solid-shell drums are said to possess subtleties and nuances plywood drums simply lack since the acoustics in solid shells are allowed to vibrate uniformly throughout a single piece of wood. Plywood drums are also considered to be brighter sounding than solid-shell drums, which is a byproduct both of glue quantity and of a more rigid shell.
Craviotto sent me a 4-piece kit comprised of a 22" x 14" bass drum, a 13" x 9" rack tom, a 16" x 16" floor tom, and a 14" x 5.5" snare drum. All of the drums are composed of North American hard rock maple and feature solid shells with matching one-piece (again, not plywood) reinforcing rings on the tops and bottoms. The purpose of the reinforcing rings is to add strength and maintain the shell shape. Most plywood drums don’t need them because the staggered wood plies and adhesives result in a very strong, stable shell. The rings affect the drum’s tone by raising the shell pitch and increasing the attack and projection. The shell thickness of the drums is a little under a quarter of an inch, while the hoops are a touch thicker than that. The snare drum and its hoops are thicker than the other drums to add a bit more high-end crack.
Let me just add, Craviotto cut no corners on this kit. The drums I received featured a gorgeous, perfectly rendered Silver Sparkle lacquer finish imbedded with small crystals that subtly deflect the light. At the gig and recording session where I used them, I heard endless compliments on the drums’ appearance.
The mounted tom features Gauger RIMS aluminum suspension mount for less weight and added sustain. The snare drum is outfitted with Trick’s wonderfully smooth, cam-operated GS007 throw-off and is strung with custom Craviotto wires underneath. All the drums use 2.3mm triple-flanged hoops and have chrome-plated brass tube lugs that enhance the vintage look. The diamond-shaped badge sports classy, raised chrome over black lettering, with the vent hole reinforced by a die-cast piece of metal. The base of the tube lug posts are shaped into small square feet that are angled at 45 degrees to the lug, echoing Craviotto’s diamond-shaped logo. Even the butt plate on the snare drum is die-cast and is similarly shaped with a letter “C” stamped into its surface. Another tasty detail worth mentioning that indicates the relentless quality of these drums is the sparkle finish applied in the groove where the bass drum hoops were routed out, helping to complete the vintage finish look — minus the cheap plastic covering that most vintage drums have.
Fresh from the box, the ten-lug snare drum, outfitted with a Remo Coated Ambassador head on top and a Diplomat head on the bottom, had a rich low end that just wouldn’t quit. As I tuned it up it maintained the full low-end range, with the higher frequencies gradually coming out of hiding. By varying the tuning and the snare wire tension I could produce a wide variety of sounds, with tones equally suitable to a fat ballad, a smoky jazz tune, or a pop-rock song. The drum had a controlled ring that became more noticeable the closer I played to the edge, but all told, the balance of ring to tone really hit the spot.
Like I’ve noticed with a lot of other snare drums with triple-flanged hoops, this one offered an adequate rim-click that seemed somewhat dependent on room acoustics. In two venues the rim-click was simply okay, but in the recording studio it sounded fantastic. Die-cast hoops have the advantage of delivering a prominent, cutting rim-click no matter where you’re playing, though many custom drum makers don’t like the other effects they have on a drum’s tone.
This snare loved it when I played buzzes. I was reminded of a lesson I had not long ago with Stanton Moore. When he switched to his Craviotto snare midway through the lesson, his buzzes really seemed to come alive. I found it fairly easy to get long, loud, dense buzzes from this drum that sounded like one-handed five-stroke rolls, which encouraged me to break out the buzzes more often than usual. With Craviotto’s long history of making exquisite and collectible snare drums, I wasn’t surprised that this one was a definite winner.
The 13" x 9" rack tom sounded deep and fat out of the box, but I decided to tighten the heads a bit to get a broader pitch difference between it and the floor tom. The drum sounded really nice within the range you’d normally tune a drum of that diameter, with plenty of low end paired with a fair amount of attack for more articulate playing. The size of the drum seemed good for playing loud, hard rock, though I prefer a slightly smaller tom for greater versatility on gigs where I only use one mounted tom. When I first played the 16" floor tom in my home, it had a slightly excessive ringing quality that I think was the result of the combination of the clear Diplomat head on the bottom of the drum. I rarely have issues with floor toms, and I think this was more an issue of adapting to a head combination I’m not used to. On the gig, the drum was perfectly acceptable, with plenty of low end to fit my needs.
At first, the 14" depth of the bass drum puzzled me. I wasn’t entirely sure for which style of music this particular configuration was designed. The 13" and 16" drums seemed a little big for most jazz contexts besides big band, and the 14" bass drum just seemed too shallow for modern rock. But then I gave it a kick, and couldn’t believe what I heard. The drum provided a truckload of low-end wallop that absolutely stunned me. Had I been blindfolded, I never would have guessed this drum was just 14" deep. It came with a Powerstroke 3 head on the batter side and a solid Fiberskyn 3 logo head on the resonant side. I was a little concerned about the lack of a port since I was going to use the drums on a gig and a demo session, but decided to go ahead and use it as it was. It worked quite well. However, the bass player mentioned the drum didn’t have the onstage volume and wallop that another review kit’s 20"-deep bass drum had. Since Craviotto can create a variety of drum depths, I’d suggest ordering the bass drum at least 2"—6" deeper, for stage volume if for nothing else.
When I took the kit to the recording studio, the drums sounded outstanding. The bass drum had no difficulty holding its own volume-wise with the rest of the kit. There was a ton of low-end depth coming from each drum, which balanced nicely with its clear attack. The engineer and I had considered replacing the logo head with a ported one, but after hearing the drum we decided it wasn’t necessary.
Model Craviotto Solid-Shell Classic Series
Shells 100-percent, solid-shell North American hard rock maple
Sizes Review kit included a 22" x 14" bass drum, a 13" x 9" rack tom, a 16" x 16" floor tom, and a 14" x 5.5" snare drum. Shell sizes are fully customizable.
Available finishes Quilted Slate Oil, Natural Oil, and lacquer finishes available in Silver Sparkle, Green Sparkle, Tangerine, Burgundy, and Ice-Blue.
Price Review kit: $7,995
Features Matching, one-piece reinforcing rings on all shells, chrome-plated brass tube lugs, and Trick throw-off on the snare.