Gretsch's Catalina drums have become a go-to choice for drummers wanting to wring the most value out of every dollar. And in this economy, that's more important than ever. Plus, the Catalina line comes in so many different varieties you'll think you're in an ice cream shop. The line includes birch, maple, and ash varieties, as well as mahogany kits known as Club Rock and Club Jazz. Other than shell material, the Catalina birch kit has more features in common with the Club Rock and Club Jazz kits than it does with the Catalina maple and ash kits. I'll get to why in a second.
The Catalina birch is a 5-piece kit offered either in Standard or Euro configurations, with or without hardware. The Standard kit has 12" x 8" and 12" x 9" mounted toms, a 16" x 16" floor tom, a 22" x 18" bass drum and a deep 14" x 6.5" snare. "Euro," the configuration I received, is Gretsch nomenclature for 10" x 8", 12" x 9" mounted toms, a 16" x 16" floor tom, a 22" x 18" bass drum, and a 14" x 5.5" snare drum. My kit featured the White Pearl wrap. And while Gretsch seems to have omitted the word "Marine," it's still that same "inside of a seashell" classic finish.
Gretsch also offers this series in a Silver Sparkle wrap as well as Walnut Burst and Cobalt Blue high-gloss UV burst lacquer finishes. The finish on the review model was professionally applied without any bubbles or gaps that can dampen tone. The bass drum hoops were black with an inlay of the same White Pearl wrap material. I thought the drums looked very nice. Unlike many drums, there isn't a price increase for the lacquer finishes, so you can choose your drums based entirely on preference, free from financial distractions.
All the birch drums use the same 100 percent birch 7-ply 7mm shell throughout the kit, while the maple and ash feature 6-ply toms, 7-ply bass drums, and 9-ply snare drums. Unlike the maple and ash Catalina drums, which have 45 degree bearing edges, the birch (as well as the Club Rock and Club Jazz) have more Gretsch-like 30 degree edges which should dampen unnecessary sustain while bringing out more shell tone. While assembling the drums, I ran my hands over the edges and all the drums felt even and pretty smooth. While none of the Catalina drums has the silver sealer that Gretsch's more expensive drums use, I didn't miss it and prefer to see the inner ply of the drums.
Unfortunately, where the maple and ash versions feature 2.5mm triple-flanged hoops, the birch, Club Rock, and Jazz kits have thinner 1.6mm hoops that can have a negative effect when trying to get a good loud rim-click sound out of your snare drum. However, the birch uses the five-lugs-per-head design Gretsch is known for, while the maple and ash use the industry standard six lugs. Because the birch toms have a five-lug design, they also use Gretsch's mini-GTS suspension mounts, which I prefer because their diminished size allows you to position your tom rims very close together. The maple and ash kit, which have six lugs on the rack toms, employ Gretsch's full-sized wrap-around GTS mounts. All the kits use thin gaskets between the hardware and the shells to minimize metal-on-wood contact.
The maple and ash kits have die-cast bass drum claws while the birch uses cheap stamped steel claws. The birch kit and its brethren come with quality single-ply Evans heads, coated for the batter side and clear for the resonant side. The bass drumhead had additional internal muffling around the perimeter. FYI, the maple and ash Catalina kits use inexpensive heads, which I'd probably replace before taking them on a paying gig. Regrettably, while add-on drums are available for the maple and ash kits; they are not for the birch.
In fact, the only difference between the maple/ash and birch kits likely to be noticed by most consumers is that the maple and ash include an extra free tom with the kit while the birch does not. The maple includes a free 16" floor tom and the ash includes a free 8" tom. Since the birch does come with a 16"-diameter tom in lieu of the 14" floor tom on the maple and ash kits, that could possibly be seen as a plus compared to the ash kit, especially if you don't want an 8" tom but still want a deeper-sounding floor tom.
If you're concerned that the five lugs per head used on the mounted toms might cause tuning difficulties, rest assured that the toms tuned up easily and rewarded me with a nice sustain and warm tone. I think lots of drummers might mistake the sound as coming from a more expensive maple kit if they were blindfolded. The toms sounded very good, with enough warmth and low end to deceive you. Their sustain wasn't excessive and the drums had a nice gradual decay. Also, if you prefer even intervals between your toms, the size gap between the 12" tom and 16" floor tom did not create a huge melodic drop. I liked the extra beef the 16" tom offered, and think it's perfect for rock, especially if you don't generally bring out a second floor tom.
The bass drum had enough attack and bottom for rock and pop. The premuffled heads were all I needed to control the boom while maintaining the punchy and relatively deep character of the drum. I often port the resonant head for ease in microphone placement and a deader feel, though this drum sounded good as is, so if I were using these as my primary kit, I might just mount a microphone inside the drum via something like a May or Kelly Shu mount to preserve the tone. This drum has a white logo head, which complemented this finish, and the Maple and Ash kits come equipped with black ones. Incidentally, the drum has eight lugs per head and the fold-out spurs held the drum securely in place while I attempted my feeble impersonation of a death metal drummer (having an off night).
The snare has eight lugs per head, though many drummers prefer ten, especially those who use very high, stratospheric tunings. Eight-lug drums have more of a vintage look to me, reveal more of the finish, and are that much quicker to tune. The throw-off was simple, smooth, and problem-free, though the butt plate was an inexpensive stamped-steel unit. The snare rang a bit, as you might expect from a single-ply head, but not overly so. The drum worked quite well for brush playing, offering the liveliness you'd desire for jazz and Latin grooves.
I generally like birch snare drums since they're usually brighter than maple (or many other woods) and this one was no exception. It was crisp, and cutting but had enough woodiness to keep it from sounding like a cheap metal drum. Birch drums also respond well to soft playing, and this drum retained its characteristic crispness even at lower volumes. I didn't have a problem getting a rim-click with the thin hoops if I flipped the stick over, though a thicker hoop would probably make them a bit louder if you play yours with the shoulder of the stick.
Rimshots were quite lively and cutting. I found this kit to be very versatile and think it would please jobbing drummers who play a variety of styles, especially those who don't want to take their priciest kit to gigs but want to still deliver a high-quality look and sound.
If you're shopping for a Catalina kit you've probably noticed that I liked the birch and wouldn't hesitate to use it professionally. The toms sounded great, the snare was crisp and versatile, and the bass drum was solid. However, I think the maple and ash versions might prove to be more popular since they are priced a tad lower than the birch, and include a free tom. However, the birch Catalina sounds surprisingly professional and just seems more Gretsch-like, which is definitely a good thing.
SHELLS All drums feature 7-ply 7mm 100 percent birch shells.
SIZES 10" x 8", 12" x 9" mounted toms, a 16" x 16" floor tom, a 22" x 18" bass drum and a 14" x 5.5" snare drum with double tom holder.
LIST PRICE $1,200 without additional hardware (as reviewed); $1,520 with 4600 hardware package; $1,685 with 5601 hardware; and $1,785 with 6601 hardware.
FINISHES White Pearl wrap (as reviewed), Silver Sparkle wrap, and Walnut Burst and Cobalt Blue lacquer finishes.
HEADS Evans manufactured heads including coated single-ply heads on the tops of snares and toms, clear single-ply heads on resonant side, pre-muffled bass drumheads with clear batter, and white solid Gretsch logo head.