“Rare beauties from the mysterious East”
by Rick Mattingly
solid one-piece shell promotes drum projection
unusual contour of shell promotes head resonance
6.5×13 offers piccolo highs with deep-shell body
The subjects of this review owe more to the tradition of Japanese taiko drums, which are made from hollowed-out logs, than to the Western-style snare drums that we’re all familiar with. Canopus Zelkova snare drum shells are bored out of a solid piece of zelkova — a Japanese hardwood prized for its density and resonance. Because the wood has not been bent, the grain runs vertically instead of horizontally. Additionally, the shells go through various drying processes that take approximately two years.
According to Canopus, this process creates a shell with a 9% moisture content, compared to 12% on typical drum shells.
The result is a snare drum with a wide spread of overtones. With the depth and body one would expect from a wood-shell snare drum, it also has the high-end ring that’s more typical of a metal-shell drum — and that helps the sound project. This was true of all three Canopus snare drums that MD received for review: a 6.5×14, a 6.5×13, and a 4×14.
Getting In Shape
The outside of the Canopus shell has a very slight vertical curve to it, making it fatter in the center and slightly thinner at each edge. This allows the head to extend out from the shell slightly, much like the heads on timpani. Such mounting tends to increase a head’s resonance. On the inside, the shell has a 7/8″ taper at each end, culminating in a thin, smooth bearing edge. At its fattest point in the center, the 6.5″ shell is nearly l/2″ thick, gradually thinning to about l/4″ where the sharp taper on the inside of the shell begins.
The single element of the drum that has a somewhat raw, unfinished look is the air vent. It’s simply a hole drilled through the shell. There’s no grommet around it, and the logo badge is attached elsewhere on the shell. But the vent doesn’t have a particularly unsightly appearance. In fact, it’s hardly noticeable at all except close up at certain angles.
The drums are fitted with die-cast rims and classic, double-ended brass tube lugs (with no springs or other parts that can rattle). Each drum has eight lugs attached to the shell with a single screw. Lugs are isolated from the shell by leather washers. Likewise, the tension screws are isolated from the rim by two leather washers with a metal washer sandwiched between them. The snare-release lever is a standard vertical throw-off design. Snare-tension adjustments are located on the butt plate as well as the throw-off. The screws with which the snare unit is attached to the throw-off and butt plate are drumkey operated. The snares themselves are standard spiral wire. The drums came fitted with Remo coated Ambassador batter heads and clear Ambassador snare-side heads.
The drums come finished in a stained gloss over the natural wood (which has a striking grain pattern). This will appeal to some drummers and not to others, but it’ s certainly distinctive.
The integrity of the bearing edges and the rigidity of the die-cast hoops make the Zelkova drums easy to get in tune with themselves. Snare response was excellent: The drums sounded crisp and articulate when cranked up tight, and fat and gutsy when the heads and snares were loosened a bit. Rimshots were bright and powerful.
The 6.5×14 model combined a bright, cutting attack with a warm, full-bodied tone that could work in a wide variety of musical styles. It also had plenty of projection for unmiked settings. The 4×14 version had similar tonal qualities, but the shallower shell gave it a slightly more contained sound with enhanced crispness and response. This would be a good choice for acoustic or softer electric settings, as well as for situations where the drum will be miked.
The 6.5×13 drum was a pleasant surprise. In general, 13″ heads work better with shallower shells. A deep snare drum with a small diameter can often sound like a tom-tom with snares. But the Zelkova 6.5×13 produced a clean, high-pitched sound with plenty of body and projection. It would be especially good in live, unmiked situations where you want the high pitch of a piccolo snare drum but need more sheer sound than a 3″ or 4″ shell can typically deliver.
Careful shaping on a lathe is followed by many hand-finishing steps.
The outer surface of the Zelkova shell features a unique curved contour.
Worth A Search
Zelkova snares have been a well-kept secret among top international drummers for several years. In fact, Canopus may have been the first company to offer one-piece, bored-out drums. Whether or not that’ s the case, the point is that these drums are not new and trendy. They’re well-established, with a deserved reputation among those familiar with them. After playing them myself, I can understand why.
The drums feature unique, Iabor-intensive construction, and they are imported — so they aren’t cheap. But they have a design unlike any other, and they sound terrific. So you definitely get what you pay for.
Canopus drums aren’t on the shelves in every local drumshop. But they are available through a few selected dealers across the country or directly from the manufacturer in Japan. The company’s web site is canopus.inc.co.jp/, or you can email them at *protected email*.