Author: Ciauro, David
Date published: January 1, 2011
Journal code: MDDR
Staring at this Craviotto solid-shell red birch kit awoke the dormant hepcat in me. I'm mostly a "rock dude," so when I try to play jazz, bebop, or New Orleans second line, it's quickly apparent that it would be best to let sleeping hepcats lie. For review purposes, though, it was fun to explore this more freeform side of my musical self while checking out some of the most coveted drums on the market. Here's how it all went down.
AN AROMA OF DISTINCTION
The natural-finish red birch shells used for these drums were aesthetically magnificent. Through a clear Powerstroke 3 bass drum head I was able to view their true beauty from the inside, but something about the idea of a clear batter head on a jazz-minded 14x20 kick didn't jibe well with me. Normally I approach reviews from the angle that how a product is submitted is how it should be reviewed, leaving my personal tastes and customizations at bay. This time, however, I granted my ego a small victory by swapping out the clear Powerstroke for a Fiberskyn. As I removed the head, the wafting aroma of red birch was damn near intoxicating. The lush wood scent bragged of quality craftsmanship and the sophistication of an antique armoire. This was going to be fun.
CRANK 'EM UP!
I tuned the ensemble three ways: low, medium, and high, and I kept the heads wide open and unmuffled. Of the three tunings, the high-pitched option best mirrored the sound I imagined for this kit. By cranking the resonant heads on the toms and kick and keeping the batter heads a quarter to a half turn looser, I found the drums were openly expressive and full of presence. With the kick, I was able to back off the tuning to a medium tension and still get a tone that blended well with the toms while adding a bit more punch. With the kit tuned this way, I spent an hour repeatedly butchering Joe Morello's "Take Five" solo and loved every minute of it! Side note: I eventually returned to the stock clear Powerstroke batter. The sound achieved with the clear head had more slap in the attack and less warmth than with the Fiberskyn. It was, perhaps, a more universal sound-but it was definitely "de-jazzed."
Playing dynamically on these drums was done with ease. They had a wealthy range of voices and timbres. The responsiveness was quite sensitive too. I never felt as though my stroke had to coerce the drums. I heard what I played; there was always an equal reaction. Medium and low tunings were far from terrible but lacked some of the pep that the high tuning exuded. The extraordinary tones in this high tuning had wonderful clarity, warmth, and focus that truly captured the spirit of the shells. The looser I tuned the drums, the more "ordinary" they sounded.
Tuning the 5½x14 snare was confusing at first, because I typically tune an entire kit using the same basic method in order to achieve what I believe to be the most cohesive sound. The snare sound that I found best complemented the rest of the red birch kit, however, was with a tight batter head and a medium-loose snare side, with the snares set fairly loose. This provided top-end pop with a warm, full tone and sensitive snare response. Craviotto's custom high-carbon snare wires sizzled against the slack snare-side head, making the drum feel great to play while producing an open tone that matched nicely with the rest of the kit.
Like all Craviotto Classic series kits, the red birch set comes equipped with Gauger RIMS suspension torn mounts; matching bass drum hoops; diamond wood inlays; a Trick throw-off for the snare; heavy-gauge 2.3 mm triple-flange steel counterhoops; chrome-plated Craviotto "diamond" emblems on universal brackets, memory locks, bass drum spurs, claw hooks, and floor torn legs; custom high-carbon snare wires; Remo coated Ambassador batter and clear resonant heads on the snare and toms; and a Remo Powerstroke Fiberskyn bass drum resonant head and clear Powerstroke 3 batter.
This is a great-sounding kit for jazzier situations, especially when tuned higher, with an abundance of warm, crisp tonal qualities. In a live setting, the components have a radiant presence that offers a great dynamic range. I did feel that the drums lost a bit of radiance at lower tunings. They never sounded bad, but for the price tag, a kit that's not spectacular in several tunings may turn off some potential buyers.