Rocket Shells manufactures high-end carbon fiber snare drums and drum sets, having built its first carbon fiber drum shell 20 years ago. The company just released some new snare models and a premium snare throw-off called the Ngage that you’ll soon see on other brands of boutique snare drums.
I’ve been eager to check out Rocket Shells snares ever since hearing the company’s impressive kits on several occasions. I was sent two snares; one was a shallow 14" x 4" Pure Carbon model and the other was the Carbon Port limited-edition snare, which is a much deeper 14" x 7" that has four large ports in the shell. Both these drums are such favorites of Incubus drummer Jose Pasillas that when flying, he makes his tech hand-carry the ported drum, storing it in the carry on compartment of the plane.
Carbon fiber is lightweight, very strong, and temperature tolerant, but it is expensive compared to materials like fiberglass. Another advantage of synthetic shells is the remarkable consistency from drum to drum compared to natural materials like wood.
Rocket Shells offers four different types of carbon fiber shells that vary in thickness and are designed for specific applications ranging from drum sets to the snares in Scottish pipe bands.
The review drums have shells created from Rocket Shells’ C-1200 line and have a slightly higher fundamental pitch and fewer overtones than its C-900 line, which is used for its drum sets. While these shells are otherwise identical, the C-1200 has a higher pitch despite its slightly thinner shell (0.19" versus 0.25") because it’s manufactured using more compression resulting in a denser and higher-pitched shell that’s perfectly suited for snares. For this reason, Rocket Shells “tune the drums” as they’re made.
These shells aren’t 100 percent carbon fiber (which tends to be bright with lots of overtones) but instead are made like a sandwich, with carbon fiber on the inside and outside of different core materials. The core material of the C-600 shells is fiberglass but the core material used for the C-900, C-1200, and C-1600 (thicker version for marching) is proprietary company information. Rocket Shells’ Paul Hewitt explains it was chosen to add strength and to warm up the tone. Hewitt is an engineer and went into an interesting and very involved explanation of how sandwich construction adds strength to the shell. (He had me at “moment of inertia.”)
Since carbon fiber is impervious to temperature, drummers can leave these drums in their garages in the winter with no effect on their sound.
The drums have perfectly smooth but sharp 45 degree bearing edges, resulting in lively drums with great sensitivity.
Incidentally, Rocket Shells makes a limited number of drum sets each year as well.
These drums have a glossy black and charcoal woven carbon fiber finish inside and out that’s quite futuristic and aggressive looking. Perhaps it’s the resemblance of carbon fiber to snakeskin that makes these drums strike me as masculine looking. Regardless, the finish was superb and absolutely flawless. The drums have matching black hardware that looks great against the shells.
Our shallow drum had one small air vent and a black grommet. It’s easy to miss since it’s located beneath the butt plate near the head collar. Hewitt said they chose that location to maximize the drum’s sensitivity.
The 14" x 7" drum’s ports aren’t just holes drilled into the shell but are instead molded into it flawlessly with a rounded lip around the circumference of each hole that creates a very unusual look. Rocket Shells is a division of Rocket Composites Inc., which uses carbon fiber and other materials to manufacture aerospace, military, and automotive-racing products. Interestingly, these ports were made using the molds for the intake trumpets used for Indy racecars. I told you they were masculine!
The Rocket Shell name and a small, discreet version of the company’s logo is printed vertically on the shell in two places.
I like the cutting-edge look of these drums, though traditionalists may wonder if they were brought back by a time traveler from the future.