I used to play metal snare drums. When I was 18, my dad bought me an early-model Pearl free-floating brass snare, a deep 7" monster that was whacked to death in my basement along to Tommy Lee in the headphones. It was a powerhouse that I cherished and even took along with me on my first tour of Europe (ultimately being damaged in a stunningly stupid Keith Moon—esque act of onstage destruction). But as I matured and moved from punk bands to alt-country, more and more I settled into playing old wooden snare drums, the latest being vintage 1937. So when Pearl sent me their new Sensitone Elite line, I approached the drums with a bit of built-in skepticism: The words new and metal instantly turned me off. Well, let me tell you, after running these snares through the paces, I’m at least 50-percent less snooty about new gear, and I am definitely back on the metal.
Pearl sent me all ten models from the new Sensitone Elite line, so now my UPS guy no longer speaks to me. It was a bit overwhelming, but what fun it was to crank on ten brand-new snares — my inner drum geek bubbled up. I received snares from all five metals used in the Sensitone Elite line — aluminum, phosphor bronze, brass, stainless steel, and steel. Each metal drum was also sent in 14" x 5" and 14" x 6.5" sizes. I’ll go over each model individually, but first, let’s talk about the drums’ shared features.
The Sensitone Elite snares are priced relatively low, but they look and play like a million bucks. All the drums are beaded, featuring a raised bump running around the middle of the shell, and all are fitted with Pearl’s Super Hoop II, CL-55 Masters Bridge lugs, SR-017 strainer, and 20-strand UltraSound snares. They all sport coated Remo Ambassador heads on top and Ambassador snare-side heads on bottom. The drums all had ten tension rods per side, with plastic washers.
Pearl’s Super Hoop II is very strong and made to be beaten. If you’ve got your drum in the back of the car and have a flat, I’d wager you could drive on a Super Hoop II. I took some of these out on the road (well, not that way), and I can attest to their durability. I also cranked each of the snares to ridiculously tight tunings as part of my testing, and the rims had no problems.
The CL-55 Masters Bridge lugs are attractive pieces of hardware. These bridge-style lugs are open in the middle, as to contact the shell only on either end. The contact points are buffeted by black plastic spacers. They are chrome-colored and look nice in a classic, elegant sort of way.
Pearl’s SR-017 strainer is a simple yet effective piece of hardware. As I mentioned, I took a few of these drums out on the road, and the set I was playing each night required a lot of switching between the snares-on and snares-off position. The strainer functioned smoothly and was easily adjusted. Its knobby handle was easy to grab for fast gear changing. The screws that hold snare cords in place are adjusted via drum key, eliminating the need to keep a screwdriver lying around. In an age where strainers seem to get more and more complex, the simple functionality of the SR-017 was welcomed relief. Connected to these simple gems are 20-strand UltraSound snares that complement the drums’ sounds.
Another nice, small touch is the rubber lining on the back of the drums’ badges. This tiny but wonderful detail makes the badge certain not to loosen or rattle. The badge itself is a classy, understated ornament, each featuring the name of the particular drum’s metal.
So they look good and are built well, but how do they sound? All the drums came tuned fairly tightly and sounded great right out of the box, in a modern-rock way. I took three of the drums out on an extended tour and tested the rest in a rehearsal space.
Pearl describes the sound of the aluminum models as a “natural EQ sound, dry.” Aluminum doesn’t ring or produce as many overtones as its metallic brethren, nor does it have quite the volume. The aluminum models produced a tight, punchy sound when tuned up, but lost their definition when loosened too much. The dry pop of the drums would certainly be a welcome sound in an atmosphere that demands restraint yet a steady 2 and 4. The aluminum models on the whole, however, are essentially one-note wonders, in that they sound good at one tuning but don’t offer much of a range. The cross-stick on both drums was also rather thin, and the snares-off sound wasn’t a peach either. That said, when in their tuning comfort zone, the drums had a punchy pop (not so much a crack) that was definitely pleasing. I think these snares would do well in low-volume settings. The clear lacquer finish on these drums allows the understated hue of the brushed aluminum to speak for itself. These drums were by far the prettiest looking of the bunch.