I’m really excited to share this review. The Carolina Drumworks snare drum featured in today’s piece is unlike most everything I’ve played before, and I really hope you all take the time to watch the video and read the full write-up. We get to check out a lot of great instruments here, but very few have been this exceptionally well-made from top to bottom.
Carolina Drumworks 14×6.5 Solid Walnut Snare Drum
Shell: 1/4” Solid walnut with 1/4” solid walnut reinforcement rings
Finish: Natural gloss with a hand-laid wood inlay
Real, honest-to-goodness craftsmanship is something of a rarity these days. Because there are so many companies capable of creating beautiful instruments in such large numbers, smaller operations that invest countless labor hours into creating products that border on works of art are usually just priced out of the market. It’s simply too hard to compete with industry juggernauts making great drums and offering them at prices far lower than boutique builders can reach (let me say here that I’m not blaming the big guys, that’s just the way the market works).
But, when you find one of those drums – a drum that went through all those hours in someone’s hands, that received the total attention of a single craftsman who wouldn’t put it down until every single detail was absolutely perfect – it feels special. It feels different when you hold it. It’s heavy, and it’s solid. The shell is flawless. The metal is strong and smooth. It just feels different.
That was exactly what I experienced when I first picked up a snare from Carolina Drumworks.
A one-man operation since its inception, Carolina Drumworks is a small company specializing in artisan-quality snare drums. Preferring to work with solid shells and a variety of traditional and exotic tone woods, like maple, birch, bubinga, walnut, cocobolo, canarywood, rosewood, cherry and mahogany, the company offers a unique take on the idea of custom building.
Rather than solicit orders from potential clients and then build drums to spec, most of Carolina’s snares are produced based on the availability of materials. The drums are completed and then eventually “matched” with clients in search of a particular sound. That said, Carolina is more than capable of working with custom orders, but that process usually includes a couple of conversations which allow the owner to get to the bottom of what you actually need from a snare drum. It’s a very cool process.
So, for this review, Carolina handed over one of their solid-shelled walnut drums, as it provided a kind of middle point between a traditional shell material and some of the more exotic options the company offers. Plus, I’m a huge fan of walnut drums, so I just asked for it. That made it a little easier to choose.
The first thing we need to discuss is the appearance. This snare is an absolute stunner. The medium gloss finish brought out the gorgeous walnut grain, and the hand-laid wood inlay (!) was a rare touch that really took the appearance to the next level. Plus, the brass nodes on the combination tube lugs sat beautifully against the dark walnut exterior. I could look at this thing all day.
Now, about the sound; as soon as I got the drum home, I threw it on the stand and gave it thorough workout. I’d heard it before – both at the Carolina Drumworks shop and at the 2012 Nashville Drum Show – but I couldn’t wait to fully experience the snare in a room I was more familiar with.
Damn were my expectations grossly exceeded! When you play a lot of high-end drums, they start to sound pretty similar after a while. It’s hard to find those qualities that truly separate one from another. Not the case here, however, the Carolina drum totally knocked me out.
Now, here’s the hard part: describing what, exactly, made the drum sound so special is a little difficult, but I’m going to give it a shot.
I think the quality that most stood out with this snare was the presence of so much tone in every note. At every volume, every tuning, every spot on the head, the drum produced this incredibly rich woodiness that just felt like hot cocoa and a warm blanket. It was beautiful. It didn’t sound like two heads and wires with some wood in between; it sounded like the shell first. I haven’t encountered too many drums that have that kind of feel.
I have to imagine some of that can be attributed to the singular movement of the solid shell, but I’ve played similar solid drums that didn’t have the same tonal presence. There’s real craftsmanship invested in this drum, and it shows.
The other thing that really blew me away about this drum was the sensitivity. The wires were lively and responsive under every stroke, but more importantly, that deep, dark tone was right behind every touch – no matter how soft. Even when I just gently tapped the batter side head with my finger, I heard the shell first, and then the head. Remarkable.
To put a finer point on that tone: it’s about as dark as you could imagine. There’s plenty of warmth, but absolutely no lack of clarity. Every note is full and crisp with spectacular depth. This was particularly satisfying at medium-high and high tunings, as it provided a beautiful contrast between crack and tone. Really, the drum had no problem handling extreme tunings, and carried that same consistent tone throughout the entire range.
The diecast hoops and combination lugs also helped the drum maintain a clean, almost entirely overtone-free sound, which made it a knockout under microphones. Seriously, this drum would absolutely kill in the studio. It would be equally comfortable in jazz, fusion, country and rock settings.
The only time the snare seemed a little out of place was in a very high volume setting. That’s not to say that it didn’t have the power to cut through, but rather that the magic of the shell’s tone was lost to the din of very loud electric guitars and keys. Otherwise, it never choked or flattened out, even under heavy strokes.
I really can’t say enough good things about this drum. Based on what I’ve seen from this and other snares the company has produced, Carolina Drumworks is absolutely on par with many of the premier boutique builders in the industry.
The walnut snare we received for review offered unbelievable tone and clarity. This is truly an artisan instrument that deserves to be heard by as many discerning ears as possible. It’s not designed to handle super high-volume scenarios, but that’s OK. As Carolina says on their website, “Not every drum is ideal for every player or every musical style.”
It’s that kind of philosophy that helps set the company apart from so many other builders in the industry. They want to create the best instrument for you and your needs. And, after spending plenty of time with this drum, it seems like they’re more than capable.