Not long ago, we took a look at the Canopus Yoshihito Eto signature snare drum (go check out the review and watch the video – excellent drum). In that same shipment, the good people at Canopus were nice enough to ship over two drums from their Neo Vintage series. Each of the snares in this series recalls a notable vintage drum design or aesthetic, but updates it with modern appointments. Really, they all seem a little outside the box conceptually – in a cool way.
I’m going to split these drums up into separate reviews to make sure they get their due attention. Let’s start with the M4, an instrument with two very distinct design elements.
Name: NV70-M4 (4th of Neo-vintage series)
Shell: 5ply Maple + Poplar 9mm
Finish: Superior Maple Lacquer
Size: 6.5 x 14
Top Hoop: 12 hole 2.3mm steel round edge hoop with interior top flange
Bottom Hoop: 6 hole 2.3mm steel round edge hoop with interior top flange
Snare Wire: Non-plated Canopus vintage wire (CPSL-14DR)
Lug: Japanese sword separate lug
Before we jump into the write-up, let me give you some background on the M4 with copy straight from the horse’s (Canopus’) mouth.
“The NEO VINTAGE M4 is based upon the technology and specifications of some outstanding drum designs from the 1970s. Its unique design features 12 tension rods on top and 6 on the bottom. A 5 ply maple and thicker poplar shell construction, and Canopus’ precision bearing edge shaping, combine to create a characteristically “mellow and dry” vintage sound. With these specifications – providing a blend of tight attack and a comfortable, loose reverberation, it is a totally unique instrument. Certainly, this conspicuous sound will be highly prized and sought-after by a great many drummers.”
So, in summary, it’s a 14×6.5” drum with twelve lugs on the batter side, six lugs on the snare side and a thick, 9mm, five-ply shell featuring an alternating layup of three ultra-thin maple plies and two much thicker poplar plies.
Visually, it’s a head-turner for sure simply because of the lug layout. Beyond that shiny chrome hardware, however, it sports a glossy natural maple finish with the tiniest bit of mottling in the wood grain. I’m not sure what that very faint speckling could be attributed to (it might not even be on all models, but it was on our review drum), but it added a nice touch of visual depth to the otherwise conventional exterior.
The drum was constructed beautifully. It was perfectly round at all points, lug mount holes were clean and even, and the edges and beds were smooth all around. Speaking of edges, they were a gently rounded at the contact point with a very shallow and short outside cut, and a long, deep inside cut. A synthetic/steel/synthetic trio of stacked washers on each rod helped the drum tune easily and maintain tension. The inside ply did have a noticeable overlap seam (pictured) – something I’ve not seen often – but if it affected the sound at all, I couldn’t tell.
Sonically, the M4 was a total throwback. Unsurprisingly, it was very warm with a deep, woody core note that stayed consistent throughout all tunings. The drum did surprise me with an unexpectedly dry finish though, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was expecting something more overtone-heavy with lots of rich, sweet sustain. Instead, I was treated to a tight abbreviated note that reminded me a bit of a throatier version of Al Jackson Jr.’s sound on “Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay”. The drum didn’t play like it was muffled, and it had plenty of life, but I was consistently surprised by how concise the notes were.
And, I think a big part of that sound came from the shell configuration detailed above. I imagine the softness of those thick slabs of poplar really help soak up some of the wilder highs coming through the drum like acoustic insulation recessed in wall paneling. The result is a controlled, clear sound that somehow retains the gushy roundness of vintage drums, especially at low to medium tunings. That helped make the M4 an outstanding recording drum. I think microphones will absolutely love it. Mine sure did.
I used the M4 on a recording that called for a chunky Heartbreakers-esque groove with a beefy, sure-footed backbeat. I was going for a tubby, muffled sound on most of the tracks for this record, but kept the gel dampening to a bare minimum when I pulled out the M4. Too much muffling squashed the drum’s rich center, and its innate dryness kept it from ringing over the mics. The compressed result gave me the lively, sensitive response of an un-muffled snare with the pillow-y puff of a studio drum sporting a small wallet on top. That sound persisted when I tuned the drum up high, giving me a meatier, warmer version of the tone on “Mother Popcorn”.
One issue I did encounter with the M4 was that it sounded a little thin in larger rooms. I think the end of the note was so dry that it fell a little flat when played without effective miking in a bigger space. That could have been a situational issue, but the reduced depth really jumped out at a show in a 3-500 person capacity room.
Additionally, tuning the drum to a near floppy low tension was more difficult than I expected. I’m not sure where the problem was exactly, but as I would approach the near-wrinkle zone, the rods would lose tension all together. I’m not sure if the rods were a hair too short or if the extra rigidity of the 12-hole hoop simply kept the head tension more even until the rod fully backed out. Either way, it didn’t really prove to be that much of a problem, as that same rigidity helped the drum sound lower and fatter even when the head felt fairly snug at every lug point.
Elsewhere, the added dryness of the CPSL-14DR wires helped contain the drum’s response even further. The throw – the same unit found on the Eto drum featured in our last Canopus review – was simple and reliable despite looking a little flimsy at first blush. Stock Remo heads made the drum ready to go right out of the box. I didn’t change either head before recording with it.
The Canopus Neo Vintage M4 snare drum might look unconventional, but it produces a very familiar sound. The dry, fat tone of a hybrid maple and poplar shell is bolstered by the extra beef of its 6.5” depth, and the result is a fat, 1970’s rock sound that kills in the studio. I think it works best with a microphone on top as it came across just a bit thin without one in a medium to large sized room, but it performed beautifully through a PA or mixing board. Like, really, really beautifully.