When I recently stumbled into an opportunity to spend a few weeks with a killing all-birch stave snare drum from North Carolina-based Salem Street Drums, I knew I wanted to feature it here. Britt from Salem Street is doing some really cool work, and I’d highly encourage you to check it out.
Speaking of, let’s get to it.
14×6.5″, 1/2″ thick all-birch stave shell; Low-gloss natural finish; Rounded edges with a steep inside cut; 2.3mm steel triple-flanged hoops; 10 single-point lugs; Trick throw and butt combo; Puresound wires; Evans and Aquarian heads; deep, wide snare beds
Starting at $600 direct from Salem Street Drums
- Strong starting price for a custom, hand-crafted instrument
- Extremely sensitive
- Incredible crack with a focused middle and controlled bottom
- Classic, simply appointed look with a beautiful finish
- Light weight
- Customizable features
- Doesn’t love low tunings
- Minor finish issue near batter-side edge
I loved the look of this drum. The diminutive single-point lugs left plenty of room for the beautiful low-gloss, natural birch finish to show through. Visually, it’s just a classy instrument. Very slim gaskets under each lug, and a simple tin badge reinforce the modern feel of the drum, but on the whole it has a timeless look.
At 14×6.5″ with a 1/2″ thick birch shell, Salem Street should bill this behemoth as a Super-Birch snare drum or something. What an animal. It’s big and punching and crisp with an even, straight down decay that doesn’t create too much rumble in front of microphones. I think that added meat on the shell helped make this drum a really effective instrument for both live and studio play. As you can hear in the video, it’s got a lot to offer in the high range, but that was very easily controlled with a single piece of gel muffling.
At a medium tuning, the drum led with loads of crack and then settled quickly behind a meaty middle and a brief low-end spread. The included Evans reverse dot head added some extra beef to the middle of each note. The thickness of the shell and the hardness of birch brought the drum’s tone much closer to the bright end of the spectrum, but there was a hearty, woody note at the center that made the drum feel much more comfortable than a something like a metal shell.
I brought the drum on a rock gig where I was in need of some extra volume to handle an un-miked room. The top-forward response of both backbeats and ghost notes ensured that every tap was audible throughout the performance. I normally prefer drums with a much darker character, but I had a lot of fun hammering away behind the punchy, direct sound of the Salem Street tub.
The drum didn’t seem to love going down low. The highs produced by the thick shell were still very present, so it was difficult to get a nice meaty “whumpf” even with the head near wrinkle-loose. That might be rectified with a single-ply head and some extra muffling, though.
It was happiest up high. The depth and woody character of the middle bolstered the cracking, ringing attack of the taut batter head, offering up a sound that had me wishing I could play any reggae or Afro-Cuban grooves with a lick of authenticity.
In addition to the shell material and thickness, I think the other two major factors in the drum’s sound were the round-ish bearing edges and the broad, deep snare beds. Those soft edges took some of the bite out of the note and let the drum breathe more comfortably. Meanwhile, the big beds seemed to bring the wire sound and response up a little bit without building in too much buzz.
At medium tunings and above, the Salem Street snare would be right at home on a variety of modern rock, pop, R&B, hip hop, or funk gigs. I think it would be a fine choice for medium-volume jazz as well if played with a delicate hand. It was a little lacking down low, so I probably wouldn’t make it my first call drum for a Nashville studio job, but it still had a lot to offer.
I found the overall build quality of the birch drum to be quite nice. The stave joints were thick enough to be noticeable, but clean and even to the touch all the way around. The shell was round and even at each lug, and presented no tuning problems. The edges were even, if a little rough, but perfectly comfortable against the head.
The only issue that stood out was a small section of flaking clear coat on the outside of the shell where the head collar meets the drum just below the batter-side edge (see above). I spoke with Britt at Salem Street about it, and he said that he doesn’t like to bog down the shells with too much lacquer, and that more of the finish is soaked into the wood by the open-grain of the edges. That could have created a very minor weak spot in the finish. I sent the drum back to Britt and he’s correcting it now.
Salem Street really produced a great drum here. It’s powerful, punchy, and assertive, but woody enough to retain some versatility. And because these drums start at only $600, they make a pretty good bargain for a hand-crafted instrument.
Learn a little bit more about Britt and the Salem Street operation here: