Rocket Shells: Snares & Throw-Offs

rocket shells

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.

Out Of The Box

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.

Shells

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.

Industrial Chic

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.

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Hardware

All the hardware was well thought-out and high-end. Both drums had 20 individual carbon fiber lugs with brass inserts (ten per head). The lugs swivel and adjust for different hoops should you wish to experiment with another type. The deeper drum had them placed above each other while on the shallower drum they were located next to each other in a slightly offset design creating a modern double-lug look.

These drums have professional, thick 2.3mm black triple-flanged hoops and handsome black lug casings and each snare features Rocket Shells’ new Ngage throw-off. Looking beneath each snare I found a set of PureSound’s excellent 16-strand wires. They were secured with PureSound’s blue cable snare string that’s quite durable and resists stretching.

Ngage Throw-Off

This new throw-off has been in development for a couple of years, designed using CAD/CAM technology and CNC machined out of aircraft-grade aluminum and stainless steel. It employs a roller-cam and sealed bearing design for smooth snare wire tensioning. It’s designed to be ergonomic, user-friendly, and sleek looking. It’s all these things and more.

The handle is easy to grasp and feels good in your hand. The fine-tuning knob turns very smoothly and uses a ball bearing–and-spring design and has indentations every quarter turn to help it hold your setting and give you tactile feedback. While you could just hit the drum and listen to it while making adjustments, this feature might prove useful if you’re tweaking the drum in a situation where you don’t want to make any extra noise, such as during a speech at a corporate gig.

It includes a matching butt plate for drummers who want to upgrade from their current snare strainer. There is a lifter kit available for shallower drums and our 4"-deep drum had it installed, though the 7" drum didn’t need it. The Ngage without the lifter extended 1.875" from the shell, and with the lifter extended 2.5". The shallower drum still fit in my hard-shelled SKB case with the Ngage placed in a corner.

The models on these snare drums were all black but it’s also available in black and silver and a completely silver model.

I think this throw-off will immediately earn a place next to the other high-end tensioners on the market. It is a completely professional design, looks great, and worked flawlessly. Thumbs up!

Sound

Each drum featured coated Remo Ambassador single-ply batter heads and Ambassador snare-side heads.

Carbon fiber is somewhat warmer and drier than metal shells and has been compared to birch, yet it boasts metal’s articulation, volume, and projection. In general, these drums were much warmer than I expected and very wood-like. Rock drummers should love these.

The 4"-deep drum had a nice crack when smacked and showed lots of sensitivity under lighter playing. It was easy to play and felt good and quite lively under my sticks in part due to the shallower air column inside the drum that seemed to make my sticks bounce as if I were playing on a mesh-headed electronic snare. It was quite fun to play. My rim-clicks were clear and cutting and rimshots rang out loudly. At times I wanted to muffle it a touch. Rocket might consider outfitting the drums with a different batter head to reduce the ring or consider a slightly more rounded bearing edge. Hewitt explained Rocket likes to ship the drums “wide open” because it’s easier to muffle a drum than unmuffle it. Fair enough.

The deeper Carbon Port model was louder, drier, and had a slightly deeper pitch with a fat and surprisingly “woody” sound, though a bit less sensitive due to the ports. The rim-clicks cut and the rimshots were deafening ... for those of us who aren’t already a bit deaf. This may be the coolest snare a rock drummer can own.

Details

Finish Natural carbon fiber with gloss finish; black glossy hardware
Features Ngage throw-off; matching carbon fiber lugs with swiveling brass inserts; PureSound snare wires; 2.3mm triple-flanged hoops
Shells Carbon fiber C-1200 shells
Model List Price
14" x 4" Pure Carbon $850
14" x 7" Limited Edition
Carbon Port $1,050
Ngage throw-off $135
Contact
Rocket Shells
rocketshells.com
916-334-2234

Verdict

These two new Rocket Shells snare drums project well and are surprisingly warm-sounding drums that are still very sensitive and lively. They include Rocket Shell’s new high-tech Ngage throw-off, which I believe will soon become a staple of custom snare makers. I think these two new Rocket Shells snare drums will appeal to any rock drummer wanting a great-looking and -sounding snare drum.