Ford Drums Organic Catalpa Drum Set Reviewed!

Ford Drums Organic Catalpa Drum Set

A Showroom-Ready Custom Cherry

Ford Drums is one custom drum maker that simply refuses to cut corners. The company started out as a repair shop, which gave owners Jimmy Ford and Jay Gaylen plenty of opportunity to grow disillusioned over how many highly regarded drum companies did, in fact, cut corners to increase profit. As a result, they decided to make a better drum using only the best materials and techniques available.

Ford drums often feature unique woods made into thicker shells than you’re used to seeing. That’s because the company insists that the heftier shells sound better, project more, and offer a greater tuning range than their thin-shelled brethren. While the physics of drum making may be beyond the scope of this review, I can say Ford drums definitely deliver on the promises of look and sound.

Ford offers custom drums in more than 40 different species of wood, far more than almost any other boutique manufacturer. The Organic line features steam-bent shells, while the Ply series uses ten plies of maple or birch. And for those looking for a more affordable kit, Ford offers the practically indestructible Maverick series drums covered in the proprietary BTS elastomer (a thick, textured coating impregnated with Kevlar). The company also makes a range of drum thrones, instrument cases, and hardware, so you can get everything you need under one badge.

Ford sent me a 5-piece kit sans hardware, a set of DrumVee cases, and one of its Smart Ass thrones. The first thing I noticed is the unique and hip styling of all the company’s products. There’s a refreshingly anti-corporate attitude at Ford that often shines through in products imbibed with a healthy dose of wry humor. The Smart Ass (and Phat One) thrones and “Fubarproof” DrumVee cases are good examples. But all joking aside, beneath the hip exteriors lay carefully designed, very high-quality pieces of gear.

IN CASE YOU’RE INTERESTED. To keep dealer inventories simpler and consumer costs down, the DrumVee cases come in select sizes with removable padded inserts that can be used to fit different depth drums. So, a 12" case can accommodate toms with 8" to 10" depths. Very handy if you want to use the same cases for different kits.

The cases are made to offer the most protection you can find in a bag, with lots of thick padding and super-strong nylon webbing. They are even water resistant, with a lip that covers each big zipper in case you ever have to haul your drums through a downpour. They also have nice comfy handles. The snare case isn’t perfectly round. Instead, it sticks out to leave room for your throw-off and butt plate. Very clever!

Best part is, all Ford Organic series and Ply series kits come parked in DrumVee cases.

HAVE A SEAT. The Smart Ass throne is one of the coolest looking thrones I’ve seen, with styling straight out of a 1950s railroad car diner. The thrones are available in a variety of colors and in either round or bike-style seats. Either way, you won’t mind rocking through a two-hour set on the throne’s Swedish memory foam padding. Mine came with a backrest that’s shaped similar to the Ford logo (an inverted teardrop), though I’d have preferred a wider backrest for more lateral support. The seat is available as a top alone, or in a pack with a seat, base, and case. Ford even offers “Phat One” seats with extra padding for drummers carrying a little extra padding of their own.

THE DRUMS. The kit I received was from the Organic line, and it featured steam-bent solid shells made from catalpa wood from Michigan. It consisted of 10" x 8", 12" x 9", and 16" x 16" toms, a 22" x 18" bass drum, and a 14" x 6.5" snare drum.

Ford’s preference for thicker shells even extends to the steam-bent Organic series, which are 0.375" thick. By way of comparison, that’s about 50 percent thicker than Craviotto’s steam-bent shells. Since these shells are made from a steam-bent board, reinforcing rings (0.25" thick) are used on both ends of the shell. Even with all this extra wood, the catalpa drums I received weren’t very heavy, which gigging drummers will surely appreciate. Note that other wood species may weigh more or less. The bearing edges are cut to 45 degrees, with more gradually rounded edges used on the larger drums, similar to Pearl’s Reference series.

THE FINISH. The drums had a natural to cognac fade under a perfect high gloss, with a very light dusting of Root Beer metal flake that was really only noticeable upon close examination. It was an absolutely flawless finish. It should be, considering what a laborious and expensive process it is to create it. The $300 a gallon lacquer on the outside of the drums is very strong and has a glasslike appearance. Ford claims it used more than $1,000 worth of lacquer on this kit. If that seems like a lot, note that there are several coats of sealer, followed by several coats of pure polyester, finished off with as many urethane clear coats as needed to create that crystal-clear shine. The shell interiors have also been carefully sanded many times and finished with nitrocellulose lacquer.

HEAVY METAL. The lugs, badge and “f” logo all have a look that strikes me as retro, cool, and utterly unique. The standard hoops are 2.3mm triple-flanged hoops, which I prefer on toms. The lugs are made from solid aircraft-grade aluminum (or solid brass), with a floating insert for true axial alignment and smoother tuning. By comparison, most companies use stamped steel or die-cast pot metal lugs, which are far cheaper to produce. Ford even uses stainless-steel screws to attach the lugs to the shell.

Before getting into the hardware’s effect on the sound, I should mention the drums came outfitted with Aquarian single-ply coated-over-clear heads with a Superkick and logo resonant head on the bass drum.

The toms have a suspension mount and were easy to tune and had a rich tone, with ample highs and lows. All three toms sounded very good. There was a punchy initial bite from each drum with a deep tone lingering afterwards. Each drum had just the right amount of sustain, and none required any additional muffling. Even though there was a larger drop in pitch from the 12" to the 16" floor tom, the drums blended well together. Very nice!

The ten-lug 14" x 6.5" snare came equipped with 2.3mm hoops, the always wonderful Dunnett/Gibraltar throw-off (that rotates to accommodate lefties or righties), a solid butt plate, and cloth snare tape appropriately labeled “Ford Timing Belt.”

THE EARS HAVE IT. The snare had a warm, woody tone due in part to depth, but also thanks to the catalpa wood. The drum retained this warmth at even higher tunings, and I’d classify it as a good all-purpose wood drum. Rim-clicks were loud and clear, and rimshots were bright enough for me, but not painfully so. However, the drum had too much ring and would require some external muffling for most gigs or recording. I’d suggest Ford consider a more rounded bearing edge bead, or at least a more muffled head.

I find snare drums that require additional muffling to be a bit of a P.I.T.A., after all, who wants Moongel on their snare head if they suddenly have to play brushes? I can’t help but wonder whatever happened to internal mufflers? Sure, I know the logical reasons given for their abandonment, but they were so practical and simple to use. Okay, end of rant.

The bass drum emitted a deep and punchy timbre that had everything you’d need to anchor the low end at rock and pop gigs. The hoop protector for the pedal clamp is actually the same material used for the finish on Ford’s Maverick line, proving how durable this material is. After a couple of months of use, I noticed only minor marks on the protector. The bass-drum hoops are ash, which sounds similar to catalpa but is harder and more resistant to dings.

I was surprised and slightly disappointed that Ford’s bass-drum claws don’t use a rubber gasket to further help protect the hoops. This is surprising, since gaskets are in found between the metal and wood throughout the rest of the kit (under the lugs, etc.) I switch the resonant head on my bass drum every week to change logo heads between the different bands I work with and noticed the hoops had dulled where the claws contacted them. That small feature could make a lot of difference in keeping the hoops looking new.

VERDICT. Ford’s Organic series kit is an all-around winner, with exemplary workmanship that’s well worth the price of ownership. Frankly, these drums were capable of a more modern sound than I expected from a solid-shell kit, having both a warm tone and punch. And, since each kit is custom, Ford can even put your signature on the badges. Bonus!

SHELLS Organic series: 0.375"-thick solid steam-bent catalpa wood shells with maple reinforcing rings (toms and bass), catalpa reinforcing rings (snare), and ash bass-drum hoops.
CONFIGURATION (Reviewed) 10" x 8", 12" x 9", and 16" x 16" toms, a 22" x 18" bass drum, and a 14" x 6.5" snare drum. (Pictured with additional 14" x 14" tom.)
FINISH (Reviewed), Natural to Cognac fade with Root Beer metal flake; hundreds of other finishes available.
FEATURES Tom suspension mounts; a selection of more than 40 wood species; unlimited finishes and options; solid aircraft-aluminum lugs with true axial alignment; solid steam-bent shells; die-cast grommets; Gibraltar/Dunnett swiveling snare throw-off or Ford/Trick Multi-Step throw-off; DrumVee cases included with all Organic and Ply series kits.
LIST PRICE (Reviewed kit) $9,380; (as pictured) $11,010; Smart Ass Pack (case, base, seat) $522; back rest $149; DrumVee cases for shell pack $855.
CONTACT Ford Drums,, 714-744-2467

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