Thrust Exile Drum Set Tested!

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Sex, drums, and rock and roll. That’s the motto of Thrust Custom Drums, and it’s an attitude that permeates every facet of the company’s image. Thrust creates high-performance drum sets that positively ooze rock star cool. But the big news is that Thrust has reinvented itself for 2009. The company will continue to offer a variety of custom drum options, but with the focus on six kits.

Thrust’s SS Performer series kit made quite a splash at last year’s Hollywood Drum Show. The Performer is an all-stainless-steel kit that has a surprisingly rich tonality but is such a weighty beast that a team of Sherpas may be required to move it. While I was interested in checking out the SS Performer set, my back is grateful that shipping costs prevented that as an option. Instead, it’s Thrust’s initial offering from this new series of six kits, the all-maple Exile kit, that’s the subject of this review.

Out Of The Box

The Exile kit is clearly designed for hardcore rockers who want to make a simple, no-nonsense statement about their drumming. And there’s no way it’ll be mistaken for a jazz, jobbing, or otherwise general-purpose drum set. Its one-up-two-down configuration and oversized drums scream rock – think Guns N’ Roses, Mötley Crüe, or AC/DC. But it’s not a kit made for kiddie bashers. It’s a kit made with all the high-quality features and painstaking attention to detail that make custom drum makers stand out from the pack.

The Exile kit features 100-percent North American maple shells. The toms and bass drum utilize dual 45-degree bearing edges, but differ in their numbers of plies: The toms use six plies while the bass drum uses a ten-ply design that’s sturdy enough to mount a tom or two on. Thrust doesn’t usually put tom mounts on its bass drum, but the shells are certainly sturdy enough if you’re so inclined.

Larger sized drums offer the lower pitches and extra volume to meet rock demands, and the Exile kit delivers. The kit comes with a 13" x 10" tom, 16" x 16" and 18" x 16" floor toms, and a 24" x 18" bass drum. The snare drum I received was a 14" x 6.5" with an 18-gauge stainless steel shell that’s fully capable of keeping up with the volume requirements of this kit.

The Finish

The kit has a no-frills look, right down to the hand-rubbed matte-black lacquer finish, which was attractively smooth. It was apparently inspired by the spirit of old-school hot rods and choppers. Geezers will remember Big Daddy Roth’s “Rat Fink” hot rod cartoons and the era when matte-black hot rods meant no-frills muscle-car performance. These were the ones that might not look as expensive as the candy apple green model, but could probably blow its doors off. The aesthetic is made complete with matte-black powder-coated 2.3mm triple-flanged hoops on the toms.

One advantage that high-gloss finishes have is that they offer drums a little bit more protection from unfortunate nicks and dings. The gloss both protects the drums a bit and masks any accidents better than a matte or satin finish will.

The kit I received had already seen a bit of playing (perhaps it was the same kit shown at the Hollywood Drum show) and the hoops had a couple of small pinpricks and a mark where the pedal had been clamped on. If these were my drums, I’d probably just take a small black marker to them to hide these minor blemishes – a no-frills repair for a no-frills kit.

The Sound

These drums sound amazing. The two floor toms use Pearl-style air-suspension feet to add sustain. Playing them lightly was a bit like hearing distant thunder. Hitting them hard added an explosive crack, letting you know you’d better take cover. The floor toms had no shortage of low end, but didn’t ring for days in a misguided timpani impersonation, either, as some 18" toms will. The decay was smooth and even. The tom’s sheer size pretty much tells you how to play them. They offered punch and low end that demanded I play for long stretches riding the floor toms and playing jungle-type grooves. A few minutes of Louis Prima’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” even flowed out of my sticks in a thunderous homage to the late, great Gene Krupa.

The mounted 13" x 10" tom comes with a Pearl-style isolation mount. This is a meaty drum, and has tons of low end balanced with a nice clear attack. Tuned low (how else would you tune a kit like this?), I got a punchy sound that was perfect for the single-stroke patterns that drums like these demand. This isn’t a kit you’d choose to play softly, since the drums’ diameter needs at least a medium-volume strike for ideal performance. Hit hard, they offer everything a rocker would want: punch, volume, and ample low end with a controlled decay.

The bass drum is a monster. It’s big, black, and beautiful. It has matching wood hoops and nickel-plated lugs, die-cast claws, and retractable spurs. I can’t help but wish the die-cast claws were lined with a gasket to preserve the finish of the hoops, and that the drum had come with a hoop protector for the bass drum pedal. These babies deserve it.

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In any case, the bass drum provided oodles of low-end punch, and it’s big enough to still sound good even when the head is slack. Out of the box the head was quite detuned, maybe even a little wrinkled, but I played it anyway and really loved the dead low thud the drum emitted. Obviously, the bass drum sounds a bit better and certainly offers better beater rebound when tuned to emit an actual pitch.

The Aquarian Superkick II that came installed on it is a very controlled head. On this drum it sounded a bit too dead even when tuned up. A single-ply Superkick would offer a bit more versatility. Projection won’t be a problem with this kit, and it could be used with minimal or no miking in clubs where the PA is less than ideal.

The Snare

The 14" x 6.5" nickel-plated stainless steel snare has a 304 series steel shell with an 18-gauge thickness (about 1.2mm). 304 series stainless is the same basic alloy used for food-processing purposes because it’s resistant to corrosion and oxidation. This drum is nickel-plated and should offer a lifetime of appreciative looks and performance. It’s heavy, but it’s a serious pro snare drum, not some lightweight throwaway beginner model. Like the rest of the kit, it has 2.3mm triple-flanged hoops. It also comes with ten nickel-plated brass tube lugs and a nickel-plated side throw-off and butt plate.

A note about tube lugs: They offer a classic upscale look, but because they don’t utilize a separate receiver nut inside a lug casing like a spring-mounted lug, they don’t offer much shock absorption from heavy hitting and may detune a little quicker. If you’re a powerful drummer, I’d recommend picking up some TightScrew non-loosening tension screws for the top head. They have a nylon-filled slot in each screw to prevent vibration-induced detuning.

Unlike some cheap stainless steel drums, this snare didn’t sound terribly bright. Sure, it was sensitive to light playing and very responsive, but if you expect a ton of treble frequencies, this drum may surprise you with its even balance of top, midrange, and bottom. The head selection and depth of the drum certainly adds to the lower pitch as well.

The German 42-strand snare wires kept the ring from the bottom head to a minimum, and the head selection also dampened the ring a bit while controlling the higher frequencies. I would have preferred a narrower set of wires since 42-strand wires rarely offer a completely smooth decay when loosened. Since they are so wide, one edge is always a bit looser than the other, and will tend to rattle.

The snare came fitted with an Aquarian coated Studio X with a reinforcing dot under the head and a Classic Clear snare-side head. While the reinforced Studio X head is a heavy-duty and very durable choice for hard hitters, if you want a more lively sound that’s a bit brighter, simply swapping the batter head to a less dampened model will noticeably change the timbre of the drum. If you need damage-proof heads but want a higher pitched sound, this snare is also offered in a 13" diameter. Most heavy hitters will probably opt for the lower pitched model.


Thrust Custom Drums may be a relative newcomer to the custom drum business, but it brings a high-quality no-nonsense drum kit perfect for hard rockers wanting a powerful and deep sound. The Exile offers all the features you’d expect from a custom kit, but without taking an unfair swipe at your budget.


Shells Bass drum and toms: 100-percent maple drum shells with double 45-degree bearing edges. Snare drum: 304 series 1.2mm stainless steel.
Configuration 13" x 10" rack tom, 16" x 16", and 18" x 16" floor toms, a 24" x 18" bass drum, and a 14" x 6.5" stainless steel snare drum.
Finish (Reviewed), Matte black lacquer on kit; nickel-plated stainless steel finish on snare; dozens of other finishes available.
Features Pearl-style tom isolation mount; nickel-plated die-cast lugs, claws, spurs, and air grommet; professional Aquarian heads; a variety of sizes, shell materials, and finishes available in their other lines.
Prices Kit shell pack without snare: $3,100; kit shell pack with snare: $3,500; stainless steel snare alone: $595.
Thrust Custom Drums