Check out the Dunnett Classic Drum web site (dunnett.com) and you’ll realize that Ronn Dunnett has some strong opinions about how drums should be made. There he sings the praises of low-mass drums, minimal contact hardware, undersized shells, deep snare beds, eight (as opposed to ten) lugs, and nonflanged, simple-cut bearing edges on metal drums.
Indeed, the drums I received — a 14" x 5" steel shell with a raw finish, a 14" x 5.5" solid Milkwood shell with a cream-colored lacquer finish, and a 13" x 6.5" titanium shell with a polished finish — kept true to those concepts and were each built by Dunnett’s own hands. Each had eight tube lugs, 2.3mm flanged hoops, deep snare beds (much deeper than I am used to seeing), 42-strand snare wires (yes, even on the 13" drum), single-ply, coated heads (Remos on the 14" drums and an Aquarian on the 13" drum), and newer R2 versions of Dunnett’s famous snare throw-off. The metal shells had no flanges, but rather, simple cut bearing edges. The Milkwood drum featured a thin, low-mass solid shell with reinforcement hoops.
I had never tried a Dunnett snare throw-off (a previous DRUM! Magazine readers’ poll winner for best accessory) until receiving these drums, but I can now see why they are so popular. The newer R2 throw-offs on all three drums had polished metal parts (no ugly black plastic or rubber) with a simple lever release mechanism that looks as slick visually as it feels ergonomically. The R2 lever swivels to face any direction — a feature I’m not sure I needed, but which was fun to play with. The throw-offs released very quietly and allowed the snare wires to drop far away from the bottom head. As a result, when the snares were off I could hit the drums hard and the wires didn’t bounce back against the bottom head. Also, when the snares are released, the R2 butt ends can be removed by hand without the use of any screws or tension rods. This feature allows for quick and easy snare-side head replacements — a brilliant idea in my humble opinion.
Each drum came with Dunnett’s Hypervent, an air hole with a fancy screw in the middle that allows adjustment of the amount of air that enters or escapes the drum. To my ears, all three drums sounded more choked and tight with the Hypervents closed and more open with the vents open — no surprises there. I preferred the open sound but you may not, so it’s nice to have options.
The 14" x 5" Steel Shell
As I would expect from a steel shell, this drum projected ample high and mid frequencies, but without steel’s typical harshness. I tried this drum at a low-volume trio gig in which I played a lot of brushes, and was pleasantly surprised by its sensitivity and expressiveness, even at low volume levels. A week later, I tried this drum in a completely different situation, a loud fusion gig at an El Torito Mexican restaurant (ahh, the glamour of being a freelance musician). At the louder volume levels, I used sticks and got a fat backbeat and piercing rimshots without having to hit the drum too hard. I found I could tune this drum high or low and adjust the snare wires loose or tight, getting a wide variety of different snare drum sounds, but I could do nothing to make the drum sound bad. If you are looking for a primary snare drum with a lot of versatility, you cannot go wrong with this drum.