A while back I reviewed some of Ronn Dunnett’s snare drums for this magazine, and those snares impressed me immensely. So when I learned Dunnett had acquired the George Way Drum Company name and had plans to produce another line of snares under it, I was very intrigued. Would these be a cheaper line of student or semi-professional drums? Would they be exactly like Dunnett snares? Would they be a line of generic snares imported from Asia and then stamped with the George Way name? Having now had the opportunity to review three of the George Way snares, I can report that all of those questions can be answered with a big fat “no.” But I should also admit to one other question I had when I learned that Dunnett acquired the George Way name: “Who the heck is George Way?”
According to a history published at waydrums.com, George Way had a lucrative career in the percussion industry from the 1920s to the late 1960s. During that time, Way’s various employers included legendary American drum companies such as Leedy, Slingerland, and Rogers. Way started his own company in the 1950s and produced some snare models called Aristocrat and Spartan, which collectors still enthusiastically seek out to this day. Eventually, Way lost control of his company to a 51-percent stockholder who asked for Way’s resignation and renamed the company Camco (as in the famous Camco Drum Company, whose pedal and lug designs were eventually passed on to DW). In 1962, Way started the GHW drum company, which he held onto until his death in 1969.
Resurrecting the George Way name, Dunnett has introduced a new line of snares that includes maple ply, solid shell, aluminum, and chrome-plated brass models. All of the new George Way snares come in either 14" x 5" or 14" x 6.5" sizes. I received three different 14" x 6.5" models: a 4-ply reinforced maple shell “Studio” model; a seamless spun-aluminum shell “Aero” model; and an extra-heavy AAA chrome-plated brass shell “Hollywood” model.
Dunnett has tried to keep the new George Way snares as similar to the original models as possible, while at the same time improving on certain perceived deficiencies they had. For example, the original George Way snares had a “beer tap” snare throw-off that was known to be simple and efficient, yet with some flimsier parts that had a tendency to bend or break over time. Dunnett knows a little something about snare throw-offs, given that he designed the legendary Dunnett snare throw-off found not only on his snares, but also on those of several other custom drum companies. Fittingly, then, Dunnett modified the original George Way “beer tap” snare throw-off to make it tougher (it’s now die-cast) and easier to use, while still maintaining the aesthetic of the original design.
The new 845 throw-off looks like a plus sign (+). The plus’s bottom is hinged, and moves up and down from a channel in a metal cylinder, throwing the snares on or off. The plus’s horizontal stem has slits on each end that allow snare wire string to slide in and out. No screws are used to tighten the snare wire strings, which are held in place with simple knots at each end. With this slit design, snare wire changes can be achieved in mere moments. And if you take the time to string a few different types of snare wires, you can swap one from another in order to change the character of any snare drum’s sound. Uniquely, the 845 throw-off has no snare wire tension adjustment. Instead, the butt end, which looks like an upside down T, has a tension adjustment for the snare wires. Like the throw-off, this tension-adjusting butt has slits to accept snare wire string.
The rest of the hardware, like everything else about these snares, exemplifies understated elegance and simplicity. Each new George Way snare comes with eight single-piece lugs that are an original George Way design: a lovely rounded rectangular shape with indented stripes reminiscent of Gretsch’s and Slingerland’s single lugs. Each snare sports a George Way badge with an art deco-looking cloud shape that contains the snare’s single air vent in its center. And each snare comes with triple-flanged hoops. Typically, I don’t like the look of triple-flanged hoops as much as die-cast because the flanged hoops typically expose unattractive-looking tension rod threading. The George Way triple-flanged hoops, however, fold down over the tension rods, which gives them a look more similar to die-cast hoops.
All metal parts on the George Way snares receive what Dunnett calls “AAA Chrome Plating,” which is not a technical metallurgical term, but it’s also quite obviously more than just an advertising term. A few drum manufacturers have explained to me that there can be tremendous variations in the quality of chrome plating depending on how it’s applied. The George Ways’ chroming looks and feels like it was done the expensive way. It reveals no pockmarks, no streaking, no discoloration, and a look that is creamy, smooth, and gleaming. The chrome-over-brass Hollywood snare, for example, shines so much that you almost don’t see the drum itself. Instead, you see everything that its surface reflects. The other two snares similarly wear lustrous yet simple finishes. For example, the Aero model, with its anodized aluminum shell, gleams with a grayish hue, while the natural maple finish on the Studio model is as smooth and shiny as any lacquer finish I’ve ever seen.
Additionally, these snares maintain a subtle classiness to their look due to a welcome lack of superfluous black rubberized parts on the snare throw-off or under the lug casings. There are black rubberized washers under the snare throw-off and butt, but that makes sense, given that those items have moving parts that need a buffer between them and the shell. You hardly see those black washers, but still, if Dunnett could figure out a way to eliminate them all together, I’d like that look even better.