BY JON COHEN
To be honest, I’m pretty jaded when it comes to snare drums. At any given time, I have somewhere between 20 and 40 of them in my possession, rationalizing the ridiculous collection by telling myself that I need them for my jobs as a studio drum tech and working drummer. The fact of the matter is that I almost always end up bringing the same five snares to every session and leave the balance at home. I bring three metal-shell drums, usually brass, and two wood-shell drums. In my experience these five more than adequately cover almost any request an engineer, producer, or drummer will have. So whenever I review a new snare drum, I ask myself this question: “Would this make it into heavy rotation as one of my top five working drums?”
Two new snare drums in Mapex’s Black Panther line, one wood and the other metal, have seriously threatened to intrude on that all-star lineup. The 14″ x 5.5″ SS Solid Steel snare drum and the 14″ x 6″ Thick Flamed Maple snare drum are destined to become high-end showpieces of the Mapex line. Both drums are well conceived in design and well executed in construction, and both deliver their own signature sound.
The outside surface of the black-chrome finished SS is tooled in a sleek crosshatched pattern that’s left smooth at the top and bottom to ensure proper head seating, while the inside retains very fine grooves left from the routing process. All the hardware, including lugs, tension rods, throw-off, butt, and heavy die-cast hoops, are plated in the same glossy black chrome. The overall appearance is all business — serious and hi-tech looking.
On the other hand, the look of the 14″ x 6″ Black Panther Thick Flamed Maple snare drum is warm and inviting. As its name suggests, the 15-ply shell is covered with a veneer of flamed maple that appears iridescent in different lighting conditions. The shell is finished in a warm lacquer that Mapex calls Honey Maple Burst. Shiny chrome hardware, including die-cast hoops and adjustable throw-off and butt end, stand in simple contrast to the elegant shell. Not surprisingly, the drum is absolutely stunning with the figuring of the maple, giving it a timeless look.
AN IMPENETRABLE HULL
I was especially impressed with the unique construction of the SS Solid Steel drum, which isn’t just another rolled sheet of metal like many lower end snare drums. Instead, it’s fashioned from a 14″ 5mm thick steel pipe cut to a length of 5.5″. The tube construction gives the solid shell a structural integrity and consistency of sound that even a seamless rolled metal shell can’t match. Once the pipe is cut to length, a 3″ band around the center is routed out to 3mm thick, leaving the steel equivalent of a 1″ “glue” or sound ring on the top and bottom edges. This dual thickness has beneficial effects on the voice of the drum. You get both the positive tonal benefits of a thin-walled shell (tuning range, rich sound) as well as the advantages a more substantial width and weight have on the bearing edges and snare beds (controlled attack, volume, and dynamics).
Mapex also wisely chose to cut a deep and fairly quick snare bed into the shell, making the SS one of the more sensitive “loud” drums on the market. Try as I might, I was unable to get the drum to choke up and lose sensitivity under very hard and loud playing conditions. I played a hip-hop gig with the drum, backing rappers in a small semi-acoustic setting. I was surprised how well the drum responded to multi-rods and brushes. Another surprise was how stable the drum stayed in different tunings. It never got honky or dead sounding when I tensioned it loosely, or brittle when I tensioned it tight.
SAILING IN THE STUDIO
To test the SS in the studio, I put it on the stand for a session with Breaking Benjamin drummer Chad Szeliga, who was recording with former Fuel member Ronny Paige’s new project Forever Oeuvre at The House Of Loud in New Jersey. One song, “I Am,” called for lots of crisp, defined snare work and several dynamic volume changes. Close-miking doesn’t convey volume; that job is left to room mikes, so sometimes drums that are just loud without any real character can sound very flat in the studio. The Black Panther SS drum didn’t have that issue. While it is capable of radical volume, it has a musicality that is more common to brass snare drums. It turned out to be the perfect instrument for the song. There is a focus to the attack that makes it perfect for the under-the-microscope environment of the studio.
While most snare drums need at least a small bit of dampening to remove overtones, I kept the SS wide open. While the drum is very powerful, it was never cover-your-ears harsh or ringy. The snare response was top notch, aided by adjustment knobs on both the strainer and butt end. If you’re lucky enough to play one of these drums, make sure to tighten down your snare stand — at 17 lb. the SS is a pretty heavy drum and could cause serious damage if it landed on your foot.
STOKING THE FLAME
The Thick Flamed Maple is as easy on the ears as it is on the eyes. Mapex opted for a 12mm thick maple shell to give body to the drum, while the slightly rounded bearing edges buck modern trends toward sharp, narrow edges, allowing a warmer, thicker sound to dominate. I noticed that the drum was at its best when tuned to a midrange note, but I was able to go to higher and lower tunings without any problems. Again, the deep snare beds are key to the sensitivity of this drum. I really liked the tone of the rimshots and side-sticks. It reminded me of a vintage Slingerland or Rogers snare — not overly bright, but quick and responsive. I was able to really dig in on backbeats and also play more finesse figures without losing definition.
These two snare drums represent Mapex’s best offerings to date, and signal the company’s devotion to quality design and superior sound. Both drums performed extremely well under different playing conditions, and it’s clear their design and appearance were well thought out. The SS Solid Steel snare drum is one of the finer steel-shell drums available, perfect for the player who wants a musical drum that will stand up to a heavy hitter. The Thick Flamed Maple snare drum is one of the most beautiful drums on the market. It is also a great everyday drum for the professional player interested in upgrading his or her sound.
MODELS SS Solid Steel Snare and Thick Flamed Maple Snare.
SHELL SS: 14″ x 5.5″ 5mm steel shell. Thick Flamed Maple: 14″ x 6″ 15-ply 12mm all-maple shell.
FINISH SS: Black chrome-plated shell and hardware. Thick Flamed Maple: Honey Maple Burst lacquer.
FEATURES Remo Ambassador heads; fully adjustable throw-off and butt plate; die-cast hoops; low mass, single-point-of-contact lugs; both drums come with their own durable zippered hard case with a large embossed Black Panther logo on one side; a soft satchel bag is included to protect the finish.
PRICE SS Solid Steel Snare: $767. Thick Flamed Maple Snare: $690.99