BY DAVID LIBMAN
For more than a decade, the Black Panther series has been Mapex’s flagship snare line. Mapex currently offers 14 Black Panther snares, many of which feature unique shell materials, sizes, and/or other various quirks that make the Black Panthers something more than just run of the mill. More recently, Mapex has begun introducing drum set configurations that take an individual Black Panther snare drum and expand it into an entire kit.
So far, the Black Panther drum set configurations have included a Velvetone kit and a Blaster kit. Both kits are comprised of shells made from different mixtures of maple and walnut. I happened to have the pleasure of receiving the third drum set in the Black Panther series, the RetroSonic. This is Mapex’s first 100 percent walnut drum set. For now, at least, Mapex is releasing the RetroSonic kit as a limited edition, with only 25 sets available in the U.S., and only 100 available worldwide.
The RetroSonic kit includes a 22″ x 16″ bass drum, 12″ x 8″ mounted tom, and a 16″ x 16″ floor tom. Because the new mounted tom has no mounting hardware, Mapex also includes its new S1000 snare stand for the tom. The 14″ x 5.5″ Black Panther RetroSonic snare drum is surprisingly not included with the shell pack but is, of course, included in this review. The snare completes the kit.
Are These Drums Or Furniture?
My first impression out of the box was that this is an extremely elegant-looking set of drums that will likely have tremendous appeal to drummers who are a bit older. Yes, this is your father’s drum set, but it’s also the one that you want to borrow all the time. Two aspects of this kit make a tremendous visual impression: its lovely walnut burl veneer (in a satin finish) and its tube lugs. The walnut burl veneer has a luxurious brown swirl that reminds me of some of the kits I loved from the 1980s: the bubinga-finish Sonor Signature series and the cordia-finish Tama Artstar kits. If you loved those kits, the RetroSonic will be right up your alley.
I’ve always liked tube lugs, but in the last decade or so, several purportedly “custom” drum makers have outfitted their kits with straight tube lugs that have very little styling. Not so with the RetroSonic. Its hand-tooled stainless steel tube lugs have an attractive hourglass shape. Furthermore, the RetroSonic bass drum has wooden hoops (also with walnut burl veneer) that are complemented by Mapex’s classy-looking chrome (rather bulbous shaped) bass drum claws. The combination of gorgeous wood veneer and long chrome pieces makes this set look like a really expensive piece of furniture.
Other chrome parts on the RetroSonic drums include the Sonic Saver hoops on the snare and toms. In lieu of the chrome-colored stickers that some manufacturers apply to their flanged hoops, these hoops actually have the “Sonic Saver” logo engraved on the side — a subtle yet nice touch. Like the old Slingerland Stick Saver hoops, the Sonic Saver 2.3mm steel flanged hoops curve inward at the top flange. This rounded over edge is smooth and helps save wood sticks from chipping. I also think that it looks a lot better than normal flanged hoops, which typically flange outward at the edge.
Mapex completes the “retro” look of this kit with white batter heads and bass drumheads. Snare and toms receive Remo Suede Ambassador batters and clear Ambassador resonant heads. The bass drum comes outfitted with Remo Suede Powerstroke 3 heads on both batter and resonant sides. The resonant head has a stripe and shield, à la Buddy Rich. The only visual feature that does not look particularly “retro” to me is Mapex’s rather modern-looking panther image that fills the shield on the bass drumhead. Still, the set has a consistent and well thought-out visual theme.
New Drums That Sound Old
Tuning these drums was a breeze. I had no trouble getting an even pitch at each lug in a matter of minutes. Mapex cuts the edges with tremendous accuracy with what it calls a 1:9 rounded bearing edge. What this means is the edge is cut at the ninth outer ply of these 9-ply shells. This allows more surface area of the head to vibrate, but it also, theoretically, means the shell could vibrate less than it would if the edge was cut more near one of the center plies. For example, Mapex’s Blaster set (another kit in the Black Panther series) has a 5:5 rounded edge that comes to a peak at the center plies.
Once I tuned the RetroSonic, it quickly became evident to me that walnut has characteristics that make it quite different from the usual suspects (i.e., maple or birch). To my ear, walnut emphasizes mostly mids and lows in the sonic spectrum without that many highs. It has a lot of warmth and breathiness, a good amount of tone, but not that much bite or attack. As a consequence, these drums sound old or, dare I say, “retro.”