I like Mike Strickler. He’s a big dude with a big voice and a big beard (for reasons that should be clear from my videos, I like that), but more importantly, he makes beautiful drums. After starting his company, Avenue Custom Drums, out of “boredom and a love of drums”, he’s developed a sizeable following among drummers all over the country – something that can be easily attributed to his extreme attention to detail, high-quality craftsmanship and personal investment into each buyer relationship. After stumbling on to the Avenue website and learning a little more about what sets this company apart from other custom builders, I reached out to Mike to see if he was interested in a review. He immediately responded with a yes, offering up not just a snare drum he’d produced, but his very own snare drum. That’s a stand-up guy.
14×7 8 ply Keller maple shell
Chrome over brass tube lugs
2.3 triple-flanged hoops
Dual 45 degree bearing edges
Trick 007 strainer
When I picked the drum up from Mike near his Charlotte, NC based shop, I was immediately struck by the dynamic, almost animated orange glass glitter finish, which really came alive in the sun light. The slim tube lugs and extra shell real estate really gave the wrap room to shine, producing an equally elegant yet extravagant look. The appearance received a lot of compliments from fellow musicians, and looked surprisingly nice against my walnut-stained drums (that said, this kind of finish would be particularly effective against a drum set finished in high-gloss black or white).
When I was finally ready to stop staring and start listening, the drum very much exceeded my expectations. I say exceeded because I’ve played many Keller maple shelled snares over the years, and truthfully, I thought there was only so much that could be done with that template. Most of the Keller shells I’ve played have an easily identifiable sound that seems pervasive no matter that kind of edges and hardware are in place (again most). The Avenue model, however, was an honest exception from the norm.
Surprisingly crisp for such a deep drum, the snare was very effective in a variety of different playing situations (note: this gets a little lost in the video because of the two rooms in which I recorded). I used the Avenue in a couple of rehearsals: with a very stripped-down three piece pop group (seen at the end of the video), and with a super loud, super dramatic post-rock group.
Tuned just above medium with the wires nice and loose, the snare gave me everything I needed for the minimalist pop group. A strong smack in the middle with no rim produced a fat, round splat that perfectly supported an acoustic guitar; while a rimshot in the lower left quadrant gave me a bright, ringing “crang” that really brought a reggae-inspired groove to life.
With the louder band, I brought the head tension down a bit and moved the wires a little closer to the bottom head. The result was a very dynamic, crisp bark that had loads of low, throaty body to support each note. Finding the right space between arena and studio, the drum gave me a lot of options to better navigate the music.
One other situation in which the Avenue snare really shined was under brushes. Equipped with a Remo Coated Vintage Ambassador (Mike’s preferred head), the drum offered up plenty of lush tone with each swipe and slide. With or without the snares, the drum gave my brushes a lot to say, supporting even the lightest playing with a very rich, woody note. Super enjoyable.
After spending some time with the snare, I was very intrigued by the Avenue building process, so I asked Mike for a little more info. The one thing he pointed out that really made me think twice was that both the inside of the shell and the edges are finished. To my ear, this made all the difference in the world. That extra bit of bright tonality created by the lacquer inside and on the contact points surely helped the drum come alive.
Alright, I’m going to use this review to point out something that’s beginning to bother me a bit. This is the third snare I’ve review for this website that used the Trick 007 Throw Off. Initially, I was very impressed with the easy functionality and adjustability of the Trick throw, but after running into the same problem on THREE different drums, I’m finally willing to start pointing fingers.
In using the Trick throw, I’ve noticed a consistent issue with getting the snares exactly where I want them. Because the unit’s tension knob moves between notched increments (as you turn the knob, you can feel it come to rest at points along the rotation), you end up kind of locked between just a hair too tight and a hair too loose. While you can bring the knob to rest between the notches, I’ve found that it usually slips one way or another under heavy play. While this is an incredibly small nuisance, and shouldn’t reflect Avenue’s building at all, it’s still something that proved bothersome and became my only issue with this snare drum (fortunately, Avenue is a custom drum builder and will likely accommodate any requests for a different throw off – for me, I’d have to ask about something different because if a throw is going to add $70 to the cost of my snare drum, I want flawless action).
Barring my burgeoning hip-hop style beef with the Trick 007 throw, I enjoyed the hell out of this drum. Not only was it capable of navigating a number of different musical settings, it was also a joy to see sitting up on my drum set. Boutique builders are a dime-a-dozen these days, but Avenue Custom Drums sets themselves apart with a few interesting construction ideas and a great customer rapport – and that really means something.
If you’re in the market for a custom snare or kit, I’d definitely head over to Avenue’s website and see what they can do for you. And, while you’re at it, check out Mike’s band Ryan I, and get to know the guy behind this great young company.