Music Gear Central: Pearl’s new line of drum kits defies logic

Pearl, one of the world’s leading drum manufacturers, has a hit on its hands with its new line of drum kits: The Reference Series.

Even non-drummers know the instruments themselves are not complicated. A drum is a hollow wooden shell with a skin stretched across the ends to create a musical note when struck. Simple, right? To many, the answer to that is a resounding, “yes.” That is, however, pretty much what a drum is. On the other hand, one might have to wonder which notes are being created when the drum is struck. Are they short, punchy notes, highlighting the attack of the head? Do the drums ring well enough to cut through stage noise when played with other instruments? Do they produce a warm tone that many recording studios love? This may not be so simple after all.

In their infancy, drumsets were primarily made of various woods and metal. As time passed and genres of music evolved, and the technology rode along with it, drum manufacturers began using select woods in the construction of drum shells, mainly birch, mahogany and maple.

As the 1950s became the 1960s and so on, drum companies like Rogers, Ludwig, Slingerland and Gretsch battled by using mahogany and maple in their lines of drums, many of which are still used today.

In sales, consumers are blitzed with marketing. This often produces theories, misconceptions and notions. The food industry, for example, splatters the marketplace with non-fat crazes and low-cholesterol rages just to get us to buy, whether what they are selling is actually good for us or not. Although not as blatent, the musical instrument industy is somewhat the same. In regard to materials used, many drummers still believe that most, if not all top-of-the-line drum shells are made of maple. It is true that maple is a fairly expensive wood, and constructing drums from it can be quite tedious, requiring keen craftsmanship and technology. But what about birch and mahogany? Confused yet? That’s all right for now.

Mahogany is a soft wood that allows for low tones with loud bottom end punches. For the most part, mahogany is fairly affordable and is commonly used to build drums that are sold at mid to low price points. However, that does depend on the type of mahogany used.

Birch shells create snappy tones that tend to ring very nicely and can create very loud notes, perfect for most live settings. Birch drums are also easily tuned for studio recording environments.

Maple has become the mainstream favorite among drummers who desire the tone of birch and the punch of mahogany and the ability to deliver higher and warmer notes.

With that, it seems like all drums that make up a set should all be made out of the same wood, correct? But which of the “Big 3” woods is the best, you ask? Answering that question could spawn thousands of answers, so I won’t attempt to do so. But Pearl has made huge strides in the effort. It seems like the company has been listening to what most modern drummers want: variation.

Why not combine all three woods? Pearl sees nothing wrong with that, as it has defied most trends with its new Reference Series.

Sitting behind this kit was fun, to say the least. Although I was in a controlled setting, I was able to fire off some loud notes that shocked me for as softly as I was playing. Here’s the reason.

The 22-inch by 18-inch bass drum is made out of six plies of African mahogany and two outer plies of maple. The small 10-inch by 8-inch rack tom tom has two inner plies of birch and four outer plies of maple. The 12-inch by 9-inch tom is constructed of six plies of maple. The 14-inch and 16-inch floor toms have two inner plies of African mahogany and four out plies of maple. I won’t include the snare, as the snare drum is an entirely different story, to be told in its own review.

So there you have it: five different drums with five different specifications. Where’s the consistency? Surprisingly, it’s there. How can that be? Let’s look at the bearing edges.

With the new Reference Series drums, the bearing edges are meticulously constructed. Tom toms from 8 inches to 13 inches all have 45-degree bearing edges with a rounded center cut, which produces a strong point of contact. This allows for punchy mid to low notes.

The floor toms and the bass drums all have rounded bearing edges, making strong low-ended sounds inevitable and strong. Rounded bearing edges were quite popular in early drums; however, as amps got louder and guitars began to scream, drums needed to be heard, and many companies began sharpening up the edges to keep the drummer loudly in the mix.

So, what’s my take on this “hybrid” line of drums? Well, it certainly is the real deal. If you are a serious drummer who is concerned at all (and all should be) about clarity, tone and the ability to cut through stage and studio noise without sacrificing sound quality, give this set a close look.

Offering all the qualities of birch, mahogany and maple, the Pearl’s Reference Series drums have taken the guessing game out of how to bring out the characteristics of each tub in the set. This is a fun kit to play and will work well for any playing style. As with kits at this price point, Reference Series drums contain stainless steel die cast hoops and mounting hardware. I recommend Remo-coated heads; however, Evans makes a clear bass drum head that will make the Reference bass drum sound like a cannon.

The one thing that a player will have to face when choosing this kit is its price tag. It lists for around $4,300 for a five- or six-piece shell pack; however, you will surely get what you pay for. Keep in mind that most retailers, depending on their buying power and the hardware packages selected, may be able to do better than the manufacturer’s list price.

Jim Hagerty is a staff writer with The Rock River Times. He’s also a guitarist, singer/songwriter and drummer. He can be reached at 703-7383 or

From the Nov. 22-28, 2006, issue

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