By Brad Schlueter Originally published in DRUM! Magazine's July 2010 Issue
In case you haven’t noticed, Ludwig has been revamping its product lines to appeal to today’s younger drummers unaware of Ludwig’s 101 years’ worth of contributions to drumming. No longer just for collectors and classic rock aficionados, Ludwig 2.0 seeks to once again conquer the drumming world, winning over new hearts and minds as it goes. Judging by the new offerings of late, the company has everything it needs to move forward in today’s increasingly competitive drum market – namely, high-quality, innovative products with great style and modern sizes. Ludwig’s new Epic X-Over kit embodies this design philosophy in just about every way. Plus, it comes in at a price point that won’t scare away the kids.
OUT OF THE BOX
I was sent a 4-piece shell pack (that means sans hardware) in a gorgeous Natural/Black Burst finish. This kit comes in two other attractive finishes: Red Burst and Purple Passion. While I always recommend buying from a shop for the extra service and answers they can provide, if you’re going to mail order one of these kits, budget extra time for assembly. Beginners or parents who purchase kits this way are often quite confused by the collection of brackets, tension screws, and claws that must be assembled and attached to the shells. This shouldn’t confuse experienced players, though somehow I managed to assemble the kit without noticing I’d neglected to put the separately packaged Vibra-band (R.I.M.S.-style) suspension mount under the tom hoop. Whoops. Redo!
The Epic X-Over comes in a contemporary selection of sizes and includes a 20" x 20" kick drum, 13" x 6.5" snare, 12" x 8" tom, and a 16" x 14" floor tom. There are two other slightly more expensive configurations available with either 22"- or 24"-diameter kick drums, and these both include 14" snare drums. Ludwig calls the review setup the Groover, and the two others are named the PowerDrive and Arena.
It seems that every decade or so companies create a new style of drum, sizes, and shells to market to the current crop of up-and-coming drummers if only to clarify that these are different from their dad’s drums. We’re in the midst of one of these marketing cycles now. Remember the terribly inconvenient square-sized toms (13" x 13") of the ’80s, or the thuddy-sounding single-headed concert toms of the ’70s? This kit looks backwards and forwards at the same time. The rack tom is an old school 12" x 8" while the bass drum is a very modern and extra deep 20" x 20". I can’t help but wonder if an extra deep kick drum’s style-to-benefit ratio will stand the test of time, especially with their shorter sustain, need for deeper cases, and continually shrinking vehicle sizes.
APPEARANCES AND BEYOND
The calling card of this kit is its unique hybrid shells, which feature an inner core of poplar sandwiched between two walnut outer plies, all held firm by two 3-ply birch reinforcement rings. Blended shells are becoming all the rage, perhaps because consumers have become overly familiar with standard 100 percent maple and birch shells and may already own a few. Regardless, I’m glad Ludwig is exploring other wood combinations simply for the added tonalities they might offer.
Walnut has a darker, richer low end than maple or birch, and The Epic X-Over shells are said to offer a lower register sound but with added focus due to the birch reinforcement rings.
In terms of appearance alone, this interesting combination of woods creates drums that are about as appealing on the inside as they are on the outside. The drums have a rich brown interior with striking pale reinforcement rings. If you like this look, Ludwig also offers the Epic X-Over Striped kit with a dramatic striped exterior with a different shell composition that also includes maple. (The Jazette configuration of that kit is just too cool!)
The X-Over drums also feature a stylish badge and use Ludwig’s Classic Micro Lug, which resembles Ludwig’s lugs of the past, but in a smaller footprint that on paper at least might help resonance. They also feature a new Keystone bracket for rack and floor toms that’s smaller and further drives home the point that these are none other than Ludwig drums. The mounting plate on the Vibra-band suspension mount has been shrunk, too, revealing a little more of the finish. The floor tom legs helpfully include memory locks. I like all these little touches and the thoughtful attention to style and design.
The kit is very affordable, especially when you consider the unique shells, but note that it only includes two toms and no hardware at this price. I like that Ludwig is offering this kit as a 4-piece, since it doesn’t force minimalists to purchase a drum they don’t need. The choice of 12" and 16" toms is certainly in line with current trends. Two additional tom sizes (10" x 7.5" and 14" x 13") and the L3H hardware pack are available if you prefer a larger kit complete with hardware.
The snare comes in the both trendy and practical size of 13" x 6.5". I think this size can give a standard 14" diameter drum a run for its money in lots of situations. The smaller diameter is perfect for pop and rock styles, and the smaller diameter gives you a little more legroom behind the kit, which is especially appreciated if you use a double pedal. The only trade-off is the rim-click sound. Finding the perfect wood block simulation on a 13" drum can be a little harder, and as expected this drum had a smaller sweet spot than a larger drum would. It might not be my first choice for gigs that require a lot of ballads, but otherwise it’s wonderful. If you need a little more versatility, substituting a die-cast top hoop should help bring out your rim-clicks even more.
The snare is an eight-lug design that looks good, has a nice, simple side throw-off, and a clean high-pitched sound. The drum has body and a nice high pitch. I don’t know how much of the woody tone was due to the wood combination and how much to the drum’s depth, but whatever it was, the combination works! The drum sounds lively, and has a touch of ring after centered strikes with a lot more following rimshots. Many a drummer (and engineer) will want to dampen that ring, however, so Ludwig might consider a slightly more rounded top bearing edge. In any case, this drum would a great choice for pop, punk, and modern rock.
The 12" x 8" and 16" x 14" toms sounded just as good as the snare. I like the 4" difference in diameter between each of the toms and bass drum. I often choose a 10" and 14" for my kits since they’re easy to find the right pitches when tuning and provide enough melodic difference during fills. The larger drums on this kit work even better than the smaller sizes I often use for rock, and the 12" doesn’t feel as hard as a 10" drum does when you lay into it.
I may have to upsize my drum choices in the future! The walnut interior helped bring out the low end of these drums even with the coated Remo Ambassador heads up top. I expect drummers who buy this kit will tend to be young heavy hitters, so Ludwig might reconsider offering a two-ply Emperor head for added durability and a slightly deader sound in place of the thinner, livelier, and admittedly excellent-sounding Ambassador-weight heads that are currently offered with this kit.
THE BASS DRUM
The bass drum features 16 lugs and foldout spurs with retractable spikes. It also comes outfitted with a solid, smooth white Remo Powerstroke 3 reso head with a cool, retro Ludwig—script logo, and a clear Powerstroke 3 batter head. There are three things I’d ideally like to see included with this bass drum: a hoop protector, impact patch, and lined claws. A hoop protector is just a few dollars at a shop, and with modern pedals boasting rubber clamp pads admittedly they aren’t as necessary as they once were. But my modern pedal managed to create an indentation in the hoop even after wrapping it with corrugated cardboard. Bummer.
An impact patch is likewise very cheap and helps your heads last longer. In the eternal battle of metal against wood, metal always wins. For that reason, I wish the claws were lined to remove the metal-to-wood contact and help protect the beautifully lacquered hoops. Take a little care realigning any marks in the hoops with your claws during head changes and hopefully this won’t matter.
The bass drum emitted a low pitch with lots of attack but without very much sustain. It had more attack than tone to my ear, so I retuned it several times and reseated the batter head. Still, the kick seemed to cut off a little too quickly for my taste, which surprised me since the logo head wasn’t ported and that usually creates a boom-y drum. Then I remembered that extra deep drums usually lack the sustain that shorter drums have since the air has to move further to vibrate the heads, losing energy as it goes.
I’ve got a strong foot, so the volume of my playing wasn’t the issue. As it is, the sound would work for very busy bass drum grooves, but that big, ringing, Bonham-esque thing wasn’t going to happen. A larger diameter drum might offer more of that sound, but of course Bonham played a 14"-deep bass drum. If you want a more versatile sound, I’d suggest substituting less muffled heads, at least for the resonant head.
The Ludwig Epic X-Over is one sweet kit. It’s a modern powerhouse 4-piece with unique shells, lots of low end, and three great finishes. If you don’t need to expand the kit with a lot of toms, it’s a great-looking and great-sounding option. Plus, it’s a Ludwig. With 101 years of experience under its belt, it’s nice to know the company is still making drums right.
SHELLS Walnut inner and outer plies, poplar core plies with birch reinforcing rings.
CONFIGURATION (reviewed) 12" x 8" and 16" x 14" toms, a 20" x 20" bass drum, and a matching 13" x 6.5" snare drum. Two other configurations available.
FINISH (Reviewed), Natural/Black Burst. Two other finishes available.
FEATURES Keystone tom mounts; Vibra-band suspension mount with smaller
plate; Ludwig Classic Micro Lug; unique composite shells; contemporary sizes.