Longo Snares: It’s All In The Shell
I’ve often noticed the advertisement in drumming magazines for Longo’s snare drums that quotes Vinnie Colaiuta as saying, “For over 14 years people have been asking me, what is that drum?” I always felt confused about the fact that Colaiuta’s quote didn’t actually tell me what he thinks about Longo’s snares. In my mind, however, if the great Vinnie Colaiuta has been using a Longo snare, it must be worth checking out. Therefore, when DRUM! asked me to review three Longo snares, I was more than happy to oblige — if only to relieve my confusion. I received three solid shell Longo models: a 14" x 5" cherry, a 14" x 6" walnut, and a 14" x 6.5" maple shell drum. Before getting into specifications and sound, however, a little background is in order.
A Longo Time Ago. For the past 16 years, Neil Longo has specialized in making solid shell snare drums. He and his three sons — all of whom are skilled wood workers, seasoned sound engineers, and musicians — now constitute the Pennsylvania family business known as Longo Drums. Longo makes the steam-bent wood shells that eventually come to musical life as Longo Custom Solid Shell snare drums. As is the case with many custom drum builders, Longo doesn’t make hardware and instead opts to give you a choice of other manufacturers’ various snare strainers, flanged or die-cast hoops, and assorted lug types.
Apparently there is an unofficial law somewhere that states: “95 percent of all custom snares made shall be outfitted with chrome tube lugs.” The drums I received came with, you guessed it: chrome tube lugs (ten per drum). They also came with Remo Coated Ambassador batters and clear Diplomat snare side heads. Each snare has an attractive chrome framed air vent over the snare butt. Longo tricked out the snares with Trick’s solid machined aluminum GS007 snare throw-offs.
The cherry and walnut snares sport 2.3 mm chrome flanged hoops, while the maple shell received die-cast hoops. Longo’s shell interiors have wood reinforcement hoops on top and bottom — in this case, cherry hoops for the cherry shell, and maple hoops for the walnut and maple models. Longo finished the interior of the shells I received with oil (not lacquer). These are custom drums, so although I am giving you specs on what I received, presumably, you could order whatever you want.
The Look Of Longo. Longo’s shell exteriors prominently display a classy-looking circular brass badge with the “Longo Custom Solid Shells” logo and a stamped serial number. As with the shell interiors, Longo finished the shell exteriors I received with oil, which gave these snares an organic and refined quality. Unlike a shiny, or glass-like, urethane lacquer finish, the oil reveals to both the eye and the touch the actual texture of the wood graining of the shell. Visually, the Longo family’s skills as woodworkers cannot be ignored. The cherry shell has what Longo calls a Paprika stain, which extracts a lustrous orange/amber color from the cherry wood. The maple and walnut shells weren’t stained, but each has gorgeous graining and color. I’m particularly fond of the milk chocolate brown hue of the walnut, which is complemented by a blackish colored graining. As a nice touch, Longo chose the black-colored Trick strainer for this drum, which helps to bring out the blackish graining even more.
Differences & Similarities. Lots of snare drum builders make gorgeous looking drums. What sets these Longo snares apart is their unique feel and sound. To give some context, I had these snares for more than a month, during which time I took them to almost all of my gigs (which, fortunately, was a lot of gigs). I played them with brushes, multi-rods, sticks, with snares on, and with snares off. I even played conga patterns on these drums with my hands during some Latin songs. I also drooled all over these snares several times, but I wiped them off, I swear. (Thankfully, that oil finish is not saliva-soluble.)
Each of these shells is perfectly round, which was proven by the way these drums tuned up. When a shell is made correctly, it will tune to the same pitch at each lug with relative ease, minimal tweaking, and no dead spots. In this case, tuning each of these Longo snares took less than a minute apiece, and the head rang evenly and fully from lug to lug.
Snare response on each of these models is incredible. I got dynamic and sensitive snare buzz from center to edge with very soft or very loud playing. Because the Trick strainers allow for quick changes from loose, medium, to tight settings, I could adjust the length of that snare buzz from song to song. I ended up using this feature all of the time. For example, if I played a fast jazz tune with brushes, I would use the tight setting for more articulation. On the other hand, when playing a louder slow rock ballad with sticks, I would use the looser snare setting for more length in the sound.
These snares feel bouncy, forgiving, and generally easy to play — no tabletops or choked boxy-feeling models in the bunch. Each also has enough dynamic versatility that I felt I could use them for every style of music that I ever play. (I’ll note that I don’t generally play death metal. If that’s your bag, you might want to check out a cast metal snare.)
Hard maple is heavier than walnut or cherry. Both maple and walnut have a medium hardness. Cherry is the softest and lightest wood of the bunch. In terms of sound, this makes a big difference. To elaborate …
The 14" x 6.5" maple shell barks with lots of lows and mids, a penetrating high-end crack, and a well balanced yet very lively range of overtones. Of the three snares, the maple shell has the most aggressive sounding backbeat with the most crack and the least warmth. I attribute this more forceful sound and feel to maple’s heavier and harder qualities, and also to the die-cast hoops. I could easily control this snare’s numerous overtones with a small strip of Pro-Mark Drum Gum, which I sometimes used at some of my softer gigs. As the volume got louder, however, I took off the dampening to allow the overtones to ring through. The best thing I can say about this particular drum is that I used to own a solid shell maple snare drum made by a well-known manufacturer, which had the same specs as this Longo model: 14" x 6.5" size, reinforcement hoops, tube lugs, die-cast counter hoops, etc. Although my snare sounded good, this Longo model sounded better.
As much as I liked the maple drum, I liked the 14" x 6" walnut more. Like the maple, the walnut shell produces a balanced range of lows, mids, highs, but with just a few less overtones and maybe a few more lows. The walnut shell sings with warmer, drier, and more articulate qualities than the maple shell. Brushes on this drum sound breathy and silky, multi-rods sound crisp but not harsh, and sticks play themselves, producing everything from incredibly articulate patterns to fat-sounding backbeats.
I have purposely saved the 14" x 5" cherry shell for last. As a reviewer, I hesitate to use words like “best” or “perfect,” but to me, this cherry model is the perfect wood snare. Don’t get me wrong, there are other perfect wood snares: it’s just that this is one of them. It’s the combination of everything on this drum that makes it so incredible: (1) It sounds full, warm, crisp, and punchy all at once, at any volume — and with brushes, multi-rods, or sticks. (2) The solid cherry shell is a softer wood, which seems to make it extra responsive and forgiving. (3) The flanged hoops contribute to a generally bouncy and softer feel in this snare’s responsiveness. (4) Sonically, the cherry wood produces lots of lows but not too many mids. (5) The shallower depth of this drum gives a quick response that accentuates the punchy high end that cherry seems to retain despite its softer qualities and lower fundamentals. (6) This snare has that extra, yet intangible, magical quality — like it was made with love. Mind you, most of my gigs range from soft to medium loud settings. If you play loud or very loud, then you might prefer a harder wood like maple or, for example, the bubinga model I noticed in Longo’s brochure. For me, however, this cherry shell is the cherry bomb.
The Verdict. I’ve gushed so much that I feel as though I should say at least a few negative things. In a perfect world, I’d like all custom drum makers like Longo to use their own proprietary, unique-looking lugs instead of standard fare, albeit high-quality, tube lugs. I could also complain that these snares list for close to a grand apiece, but it seems that nowadays, most custom drums of this quality list for slightly below and sometimes well above this $1,500 price range. Therefore, I can mostly only come up with only praise for Longo’s snares. If you’re in the market for a solid shell wood drum that feels incredible to play and sounds even better, and you’re willing to pay for it, then without hesitation, you should give Longo a look. Now I think I finally understand why people have been asking Vinnie about these drums for over 14 years.
Model Longo Maple Snare Drum
Size: 14" x 6.5"
Heads: Remo Coated Ambassador batter/Clear Diplomat snare side
Throw Off: Trick GS007
Reinforcement hoop: Maple
Company Longo Walnut Snare Drum
Size & Price: 14" x 6"
Heads: Remo Coated Ambassador batter/Clear Diplomat
snare side Throw Off: Trick GS007
Hoops: 2.3 mm triple-flanged
Reinforcement hoop: Maple
Finish: Oil Price: $960
Company Longo Cherry Snare Drum
Size & Price: 14" x 5" Heads: Remo Coated Ambassador batter/Clear Diplomat snare side
Throw Off: Trick GS007
Hoops: 2.3 mm triple-flanged
Reinforcement hoop: Cherry
Finish: Oil with a paprika stain
Contact: Longo Drums, P.O. Box 170 — Main Street, Syberstville, PA 18251. 570-788-5820. longodrums.com