This is a cool one. The subject of today’s review comes from a company called Jenkins-Martin Drums. JM’s history is fascinating, heartbreaking, and inspirational. But, I’m not going to run the tale down here because I just finished writing about it for DRUM! Magazine. That article should be available in print sometime in the next couple of months. Please keep an eye out for it (I’ll post about it here too), and while you’re waiting, head over to the Jenkins-Martin site to learn more.
Additionally, this drum came to me as part of a very exciting initiative from JM. Rather than rely solely on web media, word of stick, and local retailer availability to showcase their fine instruments, the team at Jenkins-Martin launched a short snare tour. Co-founder Dave Martin is footing the bill to ship three of the company’s wound fiberglass drums to a group of select participants, all of whom are members at Drum Forum Online. I think it’s a rad plan, and I’m thrilled I got to be a part of it.
Quick sidebar: I think drum forums (I read DFO and Cymbalholic most often) and drumming magazines (DRUM! above all else) are some of the greatest info wells available to us as players today. They were immensely important for me as formative influences. To me, lengthy discussions and long-form article content have a much greater impact on the way I digest music, learn about gear, and discover new drummers than marketing material. I’ve lived most of my life in smaller cities with limited access to great touring acts or gear retailers, so collecting information has always been a big part of how I learn. That’s essentially why I started this site.
If you are somehow nerdy enough to be reading this right now, but aren’t reading magazines and trolling forum posts, I feel like you’re missing out on something. Obviously, that’s just an opinion, but I’ll stand by it.
Alright, enough soap boxing.
Shell: Wound Fiberglass
Heads: Evans Power Center Reverse Dot Coated Batter and 360 Snare Side 300 Resonant
Hoops: 2.3mm steel
Wires: Puresound Super 30 Series
Features: Dunnett R-Class Throw and Butt-Plate; Split Two-Point Lugs; Cutout Metal Badge
Price: Can you put a price on dreams? (Seriously, contact JM for pricing info – they’re affordable)
Jenkins-Martin builds fiberglass drums in the style of those made by a small shell maker named Allen Blaemire whose most notable tubs were those used in Hal Blaine’s oft-photographed concert tom kit. Founders Jerry Jenkins and Dave Martin invested a lot of time into replicating those old shells as faithfully as possible, and if player feedback is any indication, they’ve effectively nailed it. To fess up, I’ve spent no time with Blaemire shells, so I don’t have any point of reference. I’m just basing that on what I’ve read which has been overwhelmingly positive.
Really, I didn’t know much about fiberglass drums at all before I worked on this review. I still don’t know that much, but I certainly know more than I did before. As a hard synthetic, I’d always assumed fiberglass to be similar to acrylic in sound response. Spending a few days with the JM snare made me realize how wrong I was though.
But, before we dig into sound, let’s talk looks. Jenkins-Martin offers their in-house branded shells in a near-infinite variety of colors (they also produce a Blaemire reproduction line that’s available exclusively in the namesake company’s pale green). The drum they shipped for this review features a 14×6.5”, roughly 3.25mm shell in what I would call electric Gak green. They have a much nicer name for it: Green Machine.
The color is absolutely striking. It’s a green that’s so vibrant that it might actually be emitting light. And the spun fiberglass has just a little bit of texture to it which keeps the shell from looking flat. Split, modestly sized lugs leave plenty of room for that color to really pop.
As far as I could tell, the shell construction was equally impressive. I found no flaws with the edges or any holes, and the drum was as perfectly round as I’m capable of measuring at all points. The snare tuned beautifully, and the Dunnett R-Class throw and butt combo were expectedly smooth and reliable.
Sonically, the JM had a much gentler tone than I was expecting. Don’t get me wrong; it’s got plenty of bright, cutting crack, but I think the spun construction might let the shell breathe a little more than other synthetics, mellowing the note just a bit. That, combined with the rounded edges that come to a very modest point at the Apex, yielded a fat, punchy middle that was further bolstered by the drum’s depth. It’s a big, potent sound that can easily hang with loud accompanying instruments in an unmiked environment.
I was only able to test the drum with the included Evans Power Center Reverse Dot coated batter. The head surely enhanced the fat, mid-heavy center of the shell note which I found really enjoyable. At lower tunings, the green monster had a great modern country sound with some floating edge notes that added life to low volume strokes. Up high, the drum was chattering and insanely loud, but still maintained enough of that beefy character to keep it from sounding thin or papery. In the middle range, it proved to be a wonderfully dynamic instrument that was lively enough to remain present at super low volumes while being equally capable of handling heavy backbeats without choking.
One thing that really stood out to me was the strength of each note throughout the dynamic range. Personally, I hear a kind of hollowness in the middle of many drums deeper than six inches. I didn’t notice any of that with the JM snare, even with the Power Center head installed. Each stroke produced a note that kind of hit all over the sonic spectrum. I found that to very cool and very rare.
I also really enjoyed the installed 30 strand Puresound wires. They added a little extra buzz and just a bit of resonant head muffling that helped fatten up center-stroke notes even more. The snare beds are just wide enough to accommodate 42 strand wire sets, but I think the drum would be happiest with no more than the included 30.
Let me couch my two very minor grievances with the following: I only had a short time with the drum, so these issues might have been resolved during the course of a longer review period. However, there were two things that I didn’t absolutely love about the drum I received from JM.
First, this is a bright and cutting shell, so head flaws or tuning errors that create shrill overtones can be kind of magnified – much in the same way they are with certain metal drums. They just stick out more to my ear. There are plenty of drummers who really appreciate that extra wildness – in fact, I used to. But, as I find myself spending more time recording, I’m starting to prefer a more contained sound. Thankfully, the JM snare is exceptionally easy to dial in, so if you put the time into tuning, it’s a very easily solved “problem”. It can also be managed with a tiny bit of gel muffling. Really, it’s hard to call this a complaint. It’s just part of playing drums that have brighter shell tones.
Second, the drum has a very uniform central tone throughout the tuning range. Again, this is one of those things that’s normally a strong selling point for high-end snare drums. But, I like a drum that can be pushed in different directions with a couple of turns. The big green bruiser has plenty of tension and dynamic range, but it doesn’t stray much beyond its thing. Again, that’s purely a matter of personal preference, and not at all a knock against Jenkins-Martin build technique. They did an outstanding job with every bit of this drum.
I’d love to try one of these drums in a shallower depth as I think the inherent fatness would be very much benefitted by a slightly faster response. I think the result would be akin to something like a brass drum with less pinging sweetness up top.
This Jenkins-Martin drum had so much to offer. The wound fiberglass shell had a much mellower tone than I expected, but the drum had more than enough bite to hang with high volumes. I think this would really excel as live performance drum in just about any setting, and especially louder performances with or without the support of microphones. With some attentive tuning, it recorded beautifully. I could easily see this as a kind of be-all, end-all snare drum for plenty of players, and it’s not particularly expensive. That’s hard to find.