By Brad Schlueter
Make no mistake: It’s a fine time to be a drummer. Because so many different woods are used to make high-end drums today, we have more choices than ever. And Gretsch has recently added to the options by introducing a Renown Purewood limited-edition shell pack in African mahogany. Having played and been very impressed with previous Purewood sets (one in walnut and one in cherry), I was eager to get my sticks all over this new African mahogany version. And I didn’t come away disappointed.
OUT OF THE BOX
There are two configurations you can slobber over. I was sent the 6-piece model, which included 10" x 8" and 12" x 9" mounted toms, 14" x 14" and 16" x 16" floor toms, a 14" x 5.5" snare drum, and a 22" x 18" bass drum without a tom mount. The other available configuration is a 4-piece rock-style set, with a 24" x 16" bass drum, 13" x 9" mounted tom, 16" x 16" floor tom, and a 14" x 6.5" snare drum. All the drums feature 6-ply African mahogany shells with 30-degree bearing edges. The drum kit comes as a shell pack (without stands), though it did include two ball-and-socket tom arms and multiclamps so that I could hang the toms from stands I already own.
I immediately noticed how gorgeous the drums are. The mahogany shells have a rich natural-brown color topped with a smooth natural-gloss finish. The large and swirling grain striations in the wood quickly catch the eye and enhance the beauty of these drums. The finish is so much like a fine piece of furniture you may be tempted to leave them in your living room (but I do recommend whacking them more). Wisely, the snare drum and bass drum hoops match the kit’s finish. All the chroming was equally flawless – from the die-cast hoops and die-cast bass drum claws to the simple and attractive lug design.
AND THAT’S NOT ALL
There are even more great features, many of which are the direct result of Gretsch’s affiliation with Kaman Music’s Gibraltar hardware. The toms boast Gibraltar’s GTS suspension system, which suspends the drums from the top rim for added sustain. The floor tom legs are thick and sturdy and, like the tom arms, include memory locks that blend into the mounting bracket, creating a one-piece look. Another small but thoughtful feature I almost missed was that the rubber floor tom feet have hollow tips that decouple the drums from the floor, thus adding sustain by allowing the drums to “float.” The bass drum had telescoping spurs with extendable spikes, and all the claws and lugs had rubber gaskets to prevent marring the finish. As with most high-end Gretsch drums, the 10" and 12" toms feature five lugs per head, rather than the more conventional six-lug design. This saves a bit of weight, shows off the shells a little more, and may result in a larger “sweet spot” when playing them. Evans’ excellent heads grace the tops and bottoms of the drums, while Gretsch’s classic Silver Sealer is used on the shells’ interior.
According to Gretsch, the African mahogany used for these drums offers 20-percent more low end than maple does, though with similar mid- and high-frequency content. I’d have to agree with that assessment. While playing the kit, I noticed that the bigger drums definitely had bottom but that overall the frequencies were balanced. The drums’ attack and sustain were both moderate, due in part to the 30-degree bearing edges, which is exactly what most players desire.
The 22" x 18" bass drum included an Evans EMAD batter head (with two interchangeable muffling rings). I liked the sound I got from the smaller of the two batter head rings the most, since it enhanced the low end while bringing out the beater sound without completely killing the drum’s resonance. Frankly, the drum sounded absolutely great, with ample low end for rock/pop gigs or for recording sessions. While the bass drum’s probably too big for most jazz applications, if you’re open to using a 22" bass drum for big band drumming, the drum could work in that context as well.
Sporting Evans’ G2 batter heads, the rack toms sounded good with an even balance of frequencies that didn’t strike me as much different from those of a maple drum. They had enough low end but didn’t sound overly dark. I usually like toms to have enough sustain to carry through a slow, sparse fill, and these drums gave me what I wanted to hear. The floor toms, like the bass drum, had just the right amount of attack and rich low end. Again, these toms produce a great sound for rock gigs or recording.
The 14" x 5.5" snare was a 10-lug mahogany beauty. It came equipped with a coated Evans G1, die-cast hoops, and a very nice Gibraltar throw off (one of those heavy-duty side-throw designs that was smooth and quiet to use). This drum had a good meaty voice, but it won’t be mistaken for a bright metal snare. The mahogany shell produces the sound of a drum miked with a Shure SM57 – lots of midrange frequencies whether tuned low or high, making it a good snare for rock playing. The drum’s die-cast hoops give a good clear rim-click. And if played dead center, the drum is dry but gives a lot of ring the closer you get to the rim, making it a good choice for drummers who like getting more than one sound out of a snare.
ON THE JOB
I took the snare to a gig before I’d had a chance to unpack the rest of the set. It was my first time playing with this particular band, and the drum didn’t let me down. At first, I wasn’t sure if it would sound too dark, but the snare proved versatile and sounded sharp without being painfully loud or overly bright. Later during the gig, when a friend sat in with the band, I got to hear it from the audience’s perspective and, though minimally miked, the drum had plenty of cut and a full tone. A couple days later, I finally got the entire kit onstage, and I found that it had plenty of low end but still enough cut and sustain to work well unmiked.
I’m still shocked. I had been under the impression that Gretsch’s new Renown Purewood kit cost twice as much as it actually does. Even then, though, I thought the drums represented a good price-to-quality ratio. The set looks and sounds absolutely first-rate, and it can be yours for an extremely appealing price. These limited-edition drums won’t be available for long, so if you want one, get in line. And put your drool bib on.
Gretsch Renown Purewood Mahogany
100-percent African mahogany Shells
Review kit included:
22" x 18" bass drum
14" x 5.5" snare drum
10" x 8" and 12" x 9" mounted toms
14" x 14" and 16" x 16" floor toms.
Available 4-piece kit includes:24" x 16" bass drum
Both configurations include two tom arms and multiclamps. Available finishes: Natural Gloss
$2,999 (6-piece shell pack)
$2,118 (4-piece shell pack)
FeaturesGMS suspension system, Evans heads