Thin Ply vs Thick Ply Shells
What are your thoughts on thin vs thicker ply shells? Reference Pure are thinner plies but I noticed you playing a Reference kit in the recent Masterclass LCCM video so I'm wondering if you immediately noticed a difference. Todd Sucherman said he prefers thicker because it produces more of a fundamental note. Do you find that to be true, or can you simply achieve the same result with tuning and die cast hoops on thinner ply shells?
Thanks for the great question. I love talking about this stuff - I've learned so much about drum sound and how drums are made over the last couple of years - especially from Chris Heuer. I will be making a video on this talking about my new drums but hopefully this answer will suffice for now.
In short, I much prefer thinner shells. With thinner shells the note is longer and lower. The thicker the shell, the higher the fundamental note. The same with undersized shells (like Sonor and Premier) - if they're slightly undersized it raises the pitch. I could never tune my old Premier drums low enough and that was partly why - Premier were known for their purposely undersized shells.
The old Gretsch drums that everyone raves about were made differently to how any of the big drum manufacturers make drums these days. Mass-produced drums are made slightly under-sized to accommodate wraps etc, so an old Gretsch 14" really WAS 14" which means that all the drums were bigger and therefore able to be tuned lower. The quality of the wood was much better and the same for the glues, hoops and other materials. It ALL makes a huge difference. The big manufacturers cut corners and use cheap materials. The drums look great and the top of the range kits look like they're worth every penny of the 5k price tag, but really, the shells aren't made that well. This doesn't apply 100% to all companies, some are worse than others, but I'm saying this to say that THAT'S why the old drums sound so good - better quality materials (wood/veneers, glues etc). It can also be to do with various glues being banned and wood-types no longer allowed.
So a lot of those old Gretsch's (even up to 80's/early 90's) were thin shells. Thinner than Gretsch makes them now. I love that sound. Thicker shells are louder but it's not worth the trade-off losing resonance and tuning range.
I went for the Reference Pure which is 30% thinner than the regular Reference shell. I love it, it sounds great but interestingly the shells are still thick and thicker than the silver Gretsch that I had. I don't know why companies make such thick shells - surely it's cheaper to make them thinner. I remember Gary Husband saying he convinced Pearl to make him a kit with their 4-ply maple shells but without the 4-ply reinforcement rings. The didn't want to do it for fear of the shells cracking under stress but they did make them for him and he said they sound awesome. (The reinforcement rings also raise the pitch of the shell as they add to the thickness and they make the sound a little more thuddy).
I love die-cast hoops so I had the kit ship with those instead - people say that die-cast hoops reduce resonance and can dry the sound out a little but it's minimal and I much prefer the look and feel of them.
The Reference shells are high quality maple and mahogany so the shells are much harder than the Gretsch that I had. This has meant that head choice has changed and also tuning. The Gretsch is a combo of maple and gum - the soft gum wood totally changes the character and feel of the shell - it's softer and warmer and you hear the shell a bit more (same with Ludwig mahogany/poplar shell). The hard mahogany/maple shell does have a low pitch but the sound shoots straight down to the bottom head quicker than the Gretsch so you hear the heads a touch more. Clear ambassadors didn't sound right to me on the Pearl so I'm using emperors which sound great. Because of how the sound travels a little differently it's meant that my usual tuning method of having the bottom head higher has been changed a little - this is something that Chris Heuer advised - he said when he tunes Pearl drums he actually tends to tune the bottom head LOWER, which is totally foreign to me. That did work for low tunings but I have my rack toms higher than most so I currently have both heads about the same pitch if not very slightly higher on the bottom head.
Hope that answers your question!
Well this is an interesting one too because the Pearl kit I got came from Nashville not from Japan. Pearl do this new thing where they have all the Reference and Masters shells shipped from Japan to the US and then the drums are assembled in Nashville with the various lugs and hoops and shipped to customers in 2 weeks (!) but they only offer wraps. I was a little skeptical as have heard stories of wrapped kits sounding much deader than lacquered kits. But I didn't want to wait 6 months for effectively the same kit if ordered from Japan with a lacquer finish.
It seems to all depend on the type of wrap and how it's applied. The people at Pearl said that a lot of drummers have been saying that the wrapped kits from Nashville actually resonate MORE than the lacquered kits. They say that the wraps are so thin these days and are applied using very thin tape rather than glue and so they don't kill the resonance. Sometimes lacquered kits have so many layers of paint and lacquer that it can be just as thick as a wrap if not more so. And to be honest, if the wrap is a good one, even if you A/B'd two kits next to each other I doubt you'd hear a difference. But, if I had the choice I'd probably still go for a lacquer because they look better!