District Drum Company’s motto is “hit it hard” and this gorgeous ten-ply, ten-lug maple snare drum can certainly take a beating. Heavy-duty hardware and die-cast hoops mean the drum really holds its tuning, with a full and brilliant sound that’s unmistakably “woody.” The rim-shots are fat and heavy, and ghostnotes have the same color as the full snare sound. Puresound snare wires are responsive and warm, without losing any of the bite on the drum’s attack. The turquoise glass-glitter wrap looks as good as the drum sounds. This is my first DDC snare drum but certainly not my last.
I first saw a District Drum Company snare at the showcase concert for the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls in Williamsburg. I pretty much fell in love with it at first sight – it had a classy design reminiscent of some of my favorite vintage drums and a gorgeous, responsive tone at even the tap of a forefinger. The drum was in a silent auction and my friend Mindy Abovitz [editor of Tom Tom Magazine] outbid me at the last minute. I finally got over my regret at missing out on the drum when, some months later, I was offered an endorsement contract with District Drum Company. I giddily selected my snare’s dimensions, wrap and hardware options from many options – when I got back from playing at the Chicago Drum Show, the drum was sitting waiting on my porch.
Straight out of the box from Berlin, Germany, the DDC snare was a total beauty. I’d chosen a 6.5 by 14 inch 10-ply North American Maple shell with a turquoise glass-glitter wrap and chrome hardware. Christina Bulaong built the drum beautifully – the angles are perfect, and the chrome and glitter really complement each other. On a visual level, the drum just pops and sparkles. The DDC badge has a classy, almost vintage-style design with a rising phoenix in relief below the drum’s vent hole. I may have let out an involuntary “squeeeeee!” when I unwrapped the drum for the first time.
I’m a drummer rather than a drum-builder, but I’ve played enough snares in my time that I know solid drum construction from shoddy. The DDC drum is built with the utmost care and attention to detail. The ten chrome lugs and heavy-duty, high-quality hardware make this snare drum quite heavy in weight – proof that it’s built to last and can take the “hard and heavy” playing style that Tina and myself have in common. Although rugged and built for heavy-duty drumming, the drum has delicate and stylish finishing work.
The drum arrived with all ten lugs nicely in tune. Probably for the purposes of international shipping, the batter head was tuned lower than I would like, so a quick retune upwards in pitch had the drum ready to rock. I didn’t have to touch the tuning of the snare-side head, which was just where I wanted it. Within hours of the drum arriving, I slung it in the Big Heavy World van and hit the road for a New England minitour with my lady-punk band Doll Fight! Not only was the van’s air-conditioning out of action, the heater was set to high and wouldn’t turn off, pumping hot air into my boots as I drove south. By the time we got to Boston everything was more than a little sweaty, and my 1965 Ludwig kit needed some serious retuning at the venue. Probably because of its ten lugs and heavy die-cast hoops, my DDC held its tuning fantastically throughout the tour. Since then I’ve taken the DDC snare from Maine to Massachusetts and Burlington to Brooklyn – despite serious changes in environment and temperature it never needs more than a little fine-tuning between one gig and the next.
The pitch of the drum is warm and woody, and matches the woody sound of my vintage Ludwig kits brilliantly. I recorded drum tracks for Doll Fight!’s upcoming EP Revolution Doll Style Now at Own Risk studios in Shelburne, Vermont – engineer Scott McGrath noted the DDC snare was very “well-behaved” in a recording situation. There was no need to EQ out the ringing pitches inherent in the metal snare I’d used on our previous recording — the DDC snare has a full, brilliant and hard sound that retains the sonic fingerprint of a wooden shell. Snares off, the pitch and tone of the DDC snare blend nicely with my 12 and 16-inch toms. Often, I like to use snares-off snare drum with the toms in multipercussion-style grooves that contrast with typical kick-snare-hat layered beats.
The “extra bits” on the drum allow for a rich and varied palette of tones and sounds. I like to use the outer edges of the snare head for soft or distant-sounding ghost-notes or patterns, and with the Aquarian Hi-Velocity batter head the tone of the drum is really consistent between the center and edge of the head. When I play a rhythm from the center of the snare out to the very edge, it just sounds like I turned the volume down – there’s no awkward switch in timbre between the different areas of the drum. The rim-shots are fat and heavy, and the ghostnotes have the same color as the full snare sound whether played in the center, the 9 o’clock, 12 o’clock or 6 o’clock position on the drum. I used all types of ghostnotes when I sat in on live drums with central-Massachusetts electro duo Every Other Country, and the consistency of the ghostnotes – with sticks, brushes or dowel rods – was impressive. The Puresound snare wires are responsive and warm, without losing any of the bite on the drum’s attack.
At the drum, the projection is big and solid – more so than I would expect for a snare of these dimensions. Other drummers in the audience – after drooling a bit as I take the snare out of its case — tell me the drum speaks clearly in any setting, whether through the distorted guitars and screamed vocals of Doll Fight! or the trombone, horns and layered vocals of Julia Josephine Slone’s seven-piece soul band. At a bar gig in Montpelier, Vermont, I lent my DDC drum to my drummer spouse Michael Allen (undoubtedly the only other drummer I’d trust to play my precious snare!) then wandered around the venue hearing the un-miced drum cut through consistently whether I was by the stage, in the bathroom or way in the back.
All in All
There is only one thing I would change about the DDC snare if I could, and it’s purely cosmetic. The badge is positioned to face forwards when the snares run from the 9 o’clock to 3 o’clock position (from the player’s perspective). I like to play with the snares running noon to 6 o’clock, because I want to remain over the snare when I move between the center of the drum and the noon-edge playing position, for consistency of tone. Also, I have short legs and don’t like the throwoff jabbing me in the right thigh when I’m playing double kick. So once I rotated the batter head for my preferred snare orientation, the drum badge sits off to the side rather than being visible. A minor and nerdy concern to have! When I get my next DDC snare to add to the family, maybe Tina can switch the badge position. Regardless of badge-position nitpicking, this drum’s a beauty and a rock beast to boot.
Jane Boxall (janeboxall.com) has always loved hitting things. Originally from the UK, she moved to the States in 2004 to study percussion at the University of Illinois. Jane keeps a busy performance schedule as a marimba artist and rock drummer — she plays with piano-marimba ensemble Ricochet Duo, riot grrrl trio Doll Fight! (dollfight.com), the Vermont Symphony Orchestra and the Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble (vcme.org). Jane plays and endorses Coe Percussion marimbas (coepercussion.com), Vic Firth sticks and mallets (vicfirth.com) and District Drum Company drums (districtdrumcompany.com).