Shell: Seamless with top and bottom interior beads
Hoops: Triple-flanged 2.3mm Righty Halo
Lugs: 10 double-ended, bridged
Wires: 20 strand steel coil with bronze clips
Heads: Sakae by Remo Ambassador Coated, Sakae by Remo Hazy resonant
Other: Smooth, simple throw; two air vents
Aluminum snare drums are something of a staple among working drummers. Favored by studio and stage musicians for their combination of quick, dry crack and fat, punchy bottom, aluminum drums are often regarded as ideal backup snares or safe alternatives. They don’t quite have the woody warmth of brass or the wild bark of steel, but they kind of ride the middle, which is why they’re some of the most recorded drums in history.
That said, I think medium- and high-end aluminum drums are a little undervalued outside of the studio stalwart Ludwigs. While models from the big L have earned (dutifully) reputations as indispensable assets for record work, aluminum snares from other manufacturers don’t seem to get as much shine. (As always, this is just what I’m picking up when talking to other drummers – I could definitely be wrong.)
Thankfully, that hasn’t stopped other expert tub-turners from giving it a go, and the subject of this review is an excellent example of why they should keep doing it.
Sakae’s seamless aluminum snare drums are available in 14×5.5” and 14×6.5” models. They were nice enough to ship one of the 5.5 inchers out for a write-up, and I had an absolute blast checking this thing out.
The drum is extremely light – a total one-hander. In fact, I could probably hold the thing in my hand over the top and bottom rim (like a sandwich), and gesticulate in conversation like Joy Behar on The View with no problem. All that to say that it’s very light.
Aluminum is already a fairly light-weight metal, and it’s made even more manageable here by application in a pretty thin shell. I didn’t get an actual spec from Sakae, but I’d venture a guess it’s in the 1-2mm range. The drum’s load is also lightened by its simple, classically styled throw and ten specially designed bridged lugs. Sakae’s R&D squad apparently put a lot of time into these lugs, touting their minimal mass as a major benefit to overall resonance. 2.3mm triple-flanged hoops round out the operation.
The shell also features top and bottom interior-facing beads like the old metal Dynasonics (or similar alternatives). On vintage drums, those beads were said to add strength and rigidity to the shell, but I really think they offer a bit of sound management here.
The drum strikes an intriguing balance between the dry focus of aluminum and the open tones of such a lightly equipped build. Couple that with a beautifully polished (chrome-like) finish and a tightly folded interior edge, and it seems like this drum would skew a little closer to the wild side. But, while the drum does have a lot more character than other aluminum snares I’ve played, it’s still very controlled and manageable. I can’t be sure, but I think some portion of that is owed to those beads.
Now, I mentioned control, and that’s definitely a great part of this drum’s sound profile, but it shouldn’t be confused for any kind of weakness or lack of character. The Sakae aluminum drum has that trademark dryness one would expect, but it’s also a bit brighter than I expected, and it’s got a sneaky little growl coming off the bottom.
This thing is faaaat, and it can get a little dirty if you muck around with the tuning. Keeping things even gave me a wide spread with a sharp, barking attack. It’s crisp, sensitive and chattering tuned up high, and bumping, if a little wobbly, down low. But, if you detune one or two lugs, the drum opens up with a great, ring-y, New Orleans kind of spread that would kill in a funk band. It has surprising depth, but it still plays like a 5.5” drum. It’s lively, quick, and punchy, and while it’s got some surprising beef, it’s never over-burdened by lows from the middle of the head.
And this drum is loud too. I brought it to a couple of rehearsals with a variety of heads (Coated Ambassador, Coated Super 2, Coated and Clear Powerstroke 77s), and was repeatedly told that when I really laid into it, the volume was off the charts. That’s not to say it’s incapable of low-volume sensitivity. It certainly is in the right hands. However, I think it’s just a bit more suited to meaty backbeats than it is left hand comping in a piano trio.
Now that I’ve raved for so long, I’ll admit that I wasn’t totally in love with this drum from day one. I thought it was giving me a bit too much wire response and not enough shell note no matter what tuning I tried. But, after a few days, I really found it. I guess I had to figure out how to play it. Or maybe the heads settled in. I don’t know. Either way, once it made sense to my ear, I couldn’t get enough of it.
I also have to say that the build quality on this drum, much like on the Trilogy series, was spectacular. The edges were flawless, the shell was perfectly round at all points, the throw was simple and offered effortless operation, and every moving part was smooth as silk. The steel wires were dry, but not overly so, and I think the bronze clips may have added a touch of warmth to tight buzz rolls. And an added positive: the lug nuts were lubed with something that wasn’t overly greasy and didn’t appear dirty. That’s a really nice touch that I don’t see very often.
Finally, the drum just looked gorgeous. The design of each component was so sleek. Every piece was built for utility first, but constructed with smooth curves and pleasing lines to add more eye appeal. It was really a knockout from top to bottom.
This isn’t some run of the mill aluminum snare drum. Sakae’s entry into the aluminum world is a little brighter and livelier than other comparable drums I’ve played. It’s surprisingly fat, full, and rangy. Under my hand, it was a little too excitable for low-volume play, but it simply killed backbeats. Rimshots played right over the middle just ate up entire rooms. They were monstrous. I think this drum would be a knockout for everything from tight, Meters-esque funk to modern country to fusion to rock. And it would make a great studio drum because it’s so easy to control. Don’t let its depth fool you. This snare has some real meat to it.