Alphonse Mouzon died on December 26, 2016. Another in a long line of musicians that passed last year whose contribution to the medium would be impossible to calculate. There have been plenty of great pieces about the legacy he left behind, and I’d encourage you all to read as much as you can if you’re unfamiliar with his music.
I was in my twenties by the time I first heard Mouzon. It was his Mind Transplant record. I was immediately floored by his snare drum sound. That flat (appropriate for the era) “plap” on the accented beats with the chattering, papery ghost notes carrying between was so exciting. It was almost the complete opposite of what I like to hear in a snare drum, but I loved it. I remember trying to mimic the shape of his hand when he really brought the stick down for one of those pressing backbeats. Then I raised my cymbals up way too high for my own comfort, and went through a pretty legit “phase.”
I’m not trying to lay it on thick here like I was the biggest Mouzon fan that walked the planet. Not by a long shot. But I got a lot out of my excursion through his catalog. He was a captivating player that made me want to run to the drum set. And from what I’ve read, he made a lot of people feel that way. Go buy some of his records.
I wanted to include this at the top of the review because it’s worth mentioning that I got a little sentimental while wrapping this up. I hope it reads honestly (I think everything here is pretty well on the level), but forgive me if it’s a little waxy.
Canopus Alphonse Mouzon Signature Snare Drum
14×6.5”, 9mm thick 11 ply wenge and birch shell, 45-degree inside bearing edge cut with a very slight counter-cut on the outside edge, 8 solid brass tube lugs, Gold-plated (!) die-cast hoops, Canopus Vintage Snare Wire, Natural low-gloss finish over wenge exterior
- Beautiful look
- Excellent craftsmanship all around
- Crisp sound with a top-heavy, punchy presence
- Built-in lows add extra body at higher tunings
- Records beautifully
- Doesn’t project as well tuned low
- Throw is installed over outside ply seam, placing two holes on or near the weakest part of that ply (not sure about this one, see note in review below)
This drum is a looker. The great folks at Canopus were nice enough to send over three snare drums for review last year (look for the other two reviews soon), and of the set, the Mouzon drum was far and away the most striking.
The 14×6.5” shell comprises nine interior birch plies sandwiched between two plies of beautifully figured wenge. Wenge looks a little bit like a mix of mahogany and maple in that it has a dark, rich coffee color and deep grain lines throughout. The outer wenge ply was sealed with a low gloss natural finish that left the wood looking and feeling very organic. In fact, some of the wood’s texture was palpable even under the thin topcoat.
That coffee brown/black exterior of the drum was balanced beautifully by gold-plated shell hardware, including die-cast hoops and solid brass lugs. A gasketed brass badge bearing Mouzon’s signature capped off a gorgeous and stately look that would feel right in just about any room.
Like all of the Canopus drums I’ve checked out, I found the build quality of the Mouzon signature snare to be top notch. All of the fittings were secure and straight. The shell hardware screws were small and unobtrusive. I sometimes worry about screws like these (see pictured) stripping after months of regular use, but I’ve been playing another Canopus drum as my main snare for more than a year now with no issue, so I think the metal quality is strong here.
Both of the wenge ply joints, inside and outside, were scarfed and on a diagonal. I know scarfing adds some stability, but I’m not sure about the reason for angling the joint as whole (see pictured). That said, the joints were extremely clean and not immediately noticeable. The outside joint was tucked nicely behind the throw which worked well visually, but did give me some concern about a pair of mounting holes so close to where the ply ends met. That made me a little uneasy, but I’ll happily defer to the Canopus craftspeople’s knowledge when it comes to things like that.
The edges were beautifully cut, extremely smooth, and appeared to have at least a light finish application. The nine birch plies, only visible at the edges, appeared evenly cut and clean. Medium-sized beds cleared enough room for 24 or maybe even 30 strand wire sets, but I think a 42 might struggle on this drum.
The Mouzon snare shares the same lug as several other Canopus drums I’ve reviewed, and I think it’s such an efficient and elegant piece. The single solid post is anchored to the shell by one screw to limit shell penetration and evenly distribute tension. Speaking of, were there any splay at all in the rod receivers, the lug might actually create some problems with tension distribution, but all of the rods looked perfectly aligned at each node.
Finally, triple-stacked washers – two synthetic with one metal in between – helped maintain tension during heavy play. Always a great touch on Canopus drums.
If you visit Canopus’ dedicated page for the Mouzon signature drum, you’ll see a log line that reads “Loud, Snap, & Crack.” Having seen that, I was expecting a very aggressive drum with a lot of cutting sharpness up top. That’s not what I got.
While the Mouzon snare was punchy and popping, it was much more controlled than its description would imply. Actually, if I had to sum up the drum in three words, I’d probably use punchy, controlled, and focused.
At a medium tension, playing the center of the head brought out a dry-ish pop that highlighted some of the inner wenge’s natural lows. I read a little about wenge before completing this review, and saw it frequently referred to as a kind of maxed out bubinga – crackier cracks and lower lows. Maybe that’s true with some wenge drums, but here, likely owing something to the birch core, it reminded me much more of a punchier mahogany. There was a subtle warmth in the mids, and the central note was pretty succinct.
It had some of that papery high-end quality I remember from Mouzon’s recordings, but it was bolstered by a huge low end punch when played hard. I really liked that sort of scooped balanced created by the wenge and birch as it helped the sound stay out of the way of other instruments, frequency wise. It sounded right at home with a loud rock band and with a low-volume country band when I brought it to rehearsals.
That snapping attack really showed up when I started hitting rim shots. The hefty crack of those gold-plated (damn, that made me nervous) die-cast hoops made the drum cut tremendously, and kind of flattened the note out. Throw on a little muffling, and you’ve got that quintessential fusion sound. Very satisfying.
Given the size and presence of the drum, I think it could easily handle anything. That said, I’m not sure I’d reach for this drum if I was looking for a big, gushy, arena rock-style sound, because I think I’d end up missing some of the soft mids necessary for that kind of thing. It also didn’t love going down low. It got a little flappy past a certain point, and just lost some of it’s magic. Even in the video, you can see that I just didn’t take it as low as some other drums I demo.
Up high, on the other hand, this drum was a killer; cracking, crisp, full, and responsive at every volume level. It really put some guts behind the normally pinging attack of a cranked batter. I don’t love tight tunings at all, but I found myself leaning into them with this drum.
No matter the tuning, I think the drum is best utilized in situations where ghost notes need to cut and backbeats need to boom. It projects well, but produces a clean and even sound that blends nicely with whatever’s around. Even at low volumes where the sharpness would normally overwhelm some of the more delicate complimentary voices in a live band setting, I thought fit very well and never dominated.
I think Canopus’ Alphonse Mouzon signature snare drum is a very fitting tribute to the man who helped create it. I felt closer to his sound when playing it. It was controlled, lively, and powerful when needed. And on top of that, it was absolutely beautiful to look at. I really hope that Canopus continues to make this drum available. It’s a great testament to a true artist.