April 26, 2014

Pearl reintroduces a full SensiTone snare lineup

By Darin Soll

For 2014, Pearl has reintroduced a full line of SensiTone snare drums, complete with a couple of interesting upgrades. Over the years, the SensiTone name has been associated with solid, workhorse snare drums for the budget-conscious drummer, so it is very good news to hear that the Pearl SensiTones are back!
Previous generation SensiTone Elite with 6.5x14
aluminum shell and bridge lugs

The previous "SensiTone Elite" series was introduced in 2006. In 2011, Pearl discontinued the stainless steel, bronze, and aluminum shells, leaving only the brass and steel options in production.

Since mid-2013, aluminum SensiTone Elites in the 6.5x14 size have been nearly impossible to find new, an issue compounded by spotty availability on the used market. Several music stores continue to carry inventory of the aluminum SensiTone Elite in 5x14.

New SensiTone with 6.5x14 aluminum
shell and tube lugs
So far, the new SensiTones seem to be scarce as well.  The online music stores I checked show availability as "wait times vary" for drums in the new SensiTone line.  However, this is likely to change as orders start flowing in!

New SensiTones are available in steel, brass (with black nickel finish), seamless aluminum, Premium brass (with patina finish), Premium phosphor bronze, Premium maple, and Premium African Mahogany.  All are available in 5x14 and 6.5x14 sizes, except the Premium African Mahogany, which is only available in 5x15.  Prices range from $299 for the steel in 14x5 to $629 for the Premium brass and Premium phosphor bronze models in 6.5x14.

The most obvious change with the new SensiTones is that they now sport tube lugs, an upgrade that had been on many drummers' wish lists.  While the previous SensiTone Elites' bridge lugs were fairly slim in profile, the new tube lugs do provide an even more lightweight and classic look.  The Premium models are equipped with Pearl's ARL modified tube lug that appears to be a tube-bridge lug hybrid.

The second major change involves the snare throw-off.  The previous generation SensiTone Elite utilized Pearl's SR-017 side-lever throw, while the reintroduced SensiTones are equipped with Pearl's SR-150 Gladstone-style throw, complete with a Click-Lock feature to lock the snare lever and tension adjuster where you set it.  Both generations include Pearl's 2.3mm Super Hoop II hoops, 20-strand UltraSound snares, and Remo Ambassador heads.

As with all aluminum-shelled snare drums, the aluminum version of the SensiTone Elite has been subjected to never-ending comparisons with the venerable Ludwig Supraphonics and Acrolites.  The SensiTone Elite held its own in these comparisons, especially when price was a factor.  The fact that 6.5x14 SensiTone Elite aluminum snares are difficult to find on the used market today indicates that drummers are hanging onto these drums.  And, the new SensiTone aluminum model, with its lower-mass tube lugs, improved throw, and attractive price point, should prove to be an even stronger alternative to the aluminum Ludwigs.

If you are in the market for a quality snare at a mid-level price, Pearl's new SensiTone line is worth a look.  And, as drummers upgrade to the new SensiTone drums, I expect to see more previous-generation SensiTone Elites on the used market.  That's a win-win for the budget-conscious drummer!

--Darin

April 6, 2014

The Underrated Slingerland Sound King Snare

By Darin Soll

New chrome-over-brass snare drums from
Slingerland's 1963 catalog, courtesy of
VintageDrumGuide.com
Readers of this blog know that I grew up playing Slingerland drums.  I still own two 1970s-vintage Slingerland chrome-over-brass snare drums, a 1975 6.5x14-inch model 133 with ten lugs and the Zoomatic throw (recently upgraded to a Trick GS007), and a 1979 6.5x14-inch model 193 with ten lugs and the TDR throw.

Slingerland's 1963 catalog introduced two chrome-over-brass snares, the "Radio King Chrome" with the Radio King three-point throw, and the "Gene Krupa Sound King Chrome" with the Zoomatic throw.  The Zoomatic version was branded the Gene Krupa Sound King Chrome until the mid-1970s, and then simply the "Sound King" through 1978.  Slingerland claimed that its sturdy competitor to archrival Ludwig's mighty Supraphonic snare drum "needs no sound disturbing center bead."  In this post, I will refer to all Slingerland chrome-over-brass snare drums as "Sound Kings" even though this branding was dropped in 1979.  But whatever you decide to call it, the underrated Slingerland Sound King snare drum remains one of the best quality chrome-over-brass snare drums ever built, delivering all the punch of a metal snare with a depth and warmth that became part of the 1970s signature rock sound.

Being underrated has its advantages.  I have purchased four 6.5x14 inch ten-lug Sound King snare drums over the years, and I have never paid more than $280 per drum.  In fact, if you shop carefully on eBay, you can find examples of this particular drum in good condition for $225-$250 with the Zoomatic throw, slightly higher with the TDR throw.

But before we continue, let's discuss a few drawbacks with the Sound King.  First, the shell is not as rigid as the beaded Ludwigs, despite Slingerland's product literature claim, so it is prone to what I call "lug denting."  I described this phenomenon in a previous post--setting the drum down edgewise can cause the lugs to press into and dent the shell.  Most of the used Slingerland brass snares I have seen have at least some lug denting, so examine the photos carefully before you buy.  While minor dents can be carefully hammered out with a rounded block of wood, that process can cause the gray coating inside the shell to flake off--better to find a relatively dent-free drum.  In addition, the tension rod receivers inside the lugs are made of steel rather than brass, so the receivers on most Slingerland drums tend to rust, some more than others.  Last but not least, Slingerland's Zoomatic throw is generally despised by drummers as it was easily stripped if adjusted improperly.

If you are a player and not a collector, you can buy two used Sound Kings for about the price of one used Supraphonic, and use the parts from two drums to assemble one great snare drum!  If both Zoomatic throws are stripped, do yourself a favor and order the "Trick GS007 to Slingerland kit" from Mike McCraw's "Retroplate" website (http://www.dwsnare.com/).

1975 Slingerland Sound King 6.5x14 10-lug chrome-over-brass snare
 with Trick GS007 throw upgrade
Once you have acquired (or assembled!) a Sound King in good condition, you will be the proud owner of a sturdy metal snare drum with Slingerland's trademark stick saver hoops and excellent brass tone.  First introduced in 1955, the stick saver hoop features a top edge rolled toward the head to protect sticks during rimshots.  In my opinion, this design results in more rigidity and a better rimshot than a triple-flange hoop in the same thickness.  And, if your drum is equipped with the TDR throw, first available on the Sound King with the introduction of models 192 and 193 in 1979, you can rest assured that this drop-lever throw is much more substantial--and reliable--than Ludwig's P-85.

Let's spend a minute on the topic of extended snare wires.  The legendary Slingerland Radio King featured snare wires that extended beyond the edges of the snare head, with the end plates of the snare wires attached directly to the throw and the butt plate with screws.  Snare wires on early Zoomatic Sound Kings utilized a "half" extended snare approach--the snare wire end plate on the butt side extended out beyond the edge of the snare head, but the end plate on the throw side was positioned over the head.  From the player's perspective, the Sound King's approach to extended snares was a bad idea.  It only provided half the benefit of extended snares, and the end plate on the butt side was riveted to a metal strap!  As a result, even when the snare wires were disengaged, the solid connection to the butt plate caused them to vibrate.  I know--it's hard to believe, but check out these snare side and butt plate photos of a 1960s 3-ply snare by Slingerland expert Carl Wenk ("DrCJW") at vintagedrumguide.com.  Sound Kings with Zoomatic throws used the same setup during this period.

Puresound once offered "Zoomatic" snare wires in its Vintage Series to accommodate this setup, but I believe that line has been discontinued.  My understanding is that Slingerland abandoned extended snares on Sound Kings in 1968, opting instead for the standard snare wire setup we see on nearly all modern snare drums in which both end plates are positioned over the snare head.

1979 Slingerland 6.5x14 TDR snare with
Pearl S025 extended snare wires
But that's not the end of the extended snare story for the Sound King!  With the introduction of the TDR throw and butt plate in 1973 (but not branded "TDR" until the 1976 catalog), Slingerland brought back extended snare wires.  The TDR design supports 15" snare wires, attached by standard straps.  This is a much better approach, allowing each snare wire end plate to extend beyond the snare head--without a riveted metal strap!  Pearl's S025 20-wire bridge type free-floating snare wires are an excellent replacement option.  With an overall length of 15-3/4", and 14-7/8" from solder point to solder point, the Pearl S025 not only fits TDR-equipped Sound Kings perfectly, but also costs less than $10!

While Sound Kings were sold in both 5x14-inch and 6.5x14-inch sizes, the latter provides the deep voice associated with 70s classic rock and 80s arena rock.  Slingerland artists of the time included Clive Bunker of Jethro Tull, Neal Smith of Alice Cooper's band, Bev Bevan of Electric Light Orchestra, Phil Ehart of Kansas, Nigel Olsson of Elton John's band, and even Neil Peart of Rush, who switched from Slingerland to Tama in 1979, but continued using a maple Slingerland snare until 1993.  David Robinson of The Cars brought the Slingerland sound into the 80s.  While Robinson is said to have played Ludwig snares, I often hear reactions such as, "Man, that snare sounds EXACTLY like the original recording," when covering "The Cars" using one of my Sound Kings tuned down to 3F.

The Slingerland Sound King is an excellent choice for any drummer looking to add the punch of a brass snare to his/her arsenal.  A vintage Sound King is more than a top-quality snare drum, built at the height of American drum manufacturing--it is one of the voices of American rock history.

--Darin