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Dixon Artisan Snares Tested!

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Who here wants a hand-made, exotic wood, well-appointed snare drum made by the hands of a real artist? I see all hands are raised. Good. Boutique snare drum fever has gripped many drummers, and we collectively drool over works by Dunnett, Craviotto, Brady, Rembrandt, Picasso, etc. But such drums can easily push the $2,000 retail mark, so let’s try another show of hands: Who among you has enough dough to run out and buy one or two? Not too many hands in the air now, I’m afraid. Cry not, drummers-on-a-budget. Some manufacturers are figuring out how to trickle that boutique flavor down to the masses. Dixon Drums is one.

The good folks at Dixon U.S.A. and drum smith extraordinaire Chris Brady of Australia’s Brady Drums have joined forces to produce three rose gum wood versions of the Dixon Artisan snare. These drums are available in three sizes: 14" x 5.5" in Natural finish, 13" x 6" in Reverse Vintage Burst, and 14" x 6.5" in Vintage Burst. I’ve been gigging on the 14" x6.5" for a few weeks, and it is some good stuff!

Chris Brady, as you may know, is a master drum smith and purveyor of his own handmade, expensive drums. He’s picked out the Australian rose gum wood for this drum and had a hand in designing all the details. Rose gum is a very hard wood, harder even than maple. Dixson finished the drum in a glossy, smoothly gradated Vintage Burst, which is a glossy mocha brown color even while the inside of the drum shows a faint pale reddish-pink color. The grain of the rose gum swirls and curves beautifully. Tube lugs brace the deeply chromed die-cast hoops for stable and even tuning and a drier, crisper cross-stick sound. The boutique feel is much enhanced by the inclusion of a Dunnett throw-off. The Dunnett is lustrously chromed, and the indented tension knob makes fine tuning easy. Also, it swivels, so you can place the throw-off lever to left, right, or center. Very fancy, very high-end.

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Rose Gum Goodness

I’d describe the Dixon Brady Artisan snare as crisp and clear. The 14" x 6.5" model reviewed was fat, but not fundamentally low in tone. The mids and highs were never lost even as I tuned the drum throughout its range. I especially liked a medium tuning that gave me whisper-soft and evenly distributed snare response, fatly centered backbeats, and a nice, woody rimshot. Playing off-center was full of ring – but a good, “second-line New Orleans” ring, not a cheap, dissonant ring. In my experience, cheaper drums only have a “semi-sweet” spot in the center, and “sour spots” off-center. The Dixon Brady is sweet in the middle and sings at the edges, always gently reminding you of the hard and bright characteristics of the rose gum wood. From descriptions I’d read, I’d expected a brighter tone, more like fiberglass. But the gum wood is not at all harsh – just insistently cheery. It speaks from the top rather than from the bottom.

My only complaint with the drum so far is the lugs. While they look lovely, they are a little bit tight, and the tension lugs don’t spin freely. Once I realized this, I tuned carefully, with my eyes open to see the contact of rods and hoops and the subsequent revolutions of the tension rods. My tuning experience quickly went from frustrating to rewarding, and the drum did great duty on several gigs both loud and quiet.

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