This review of Gretsch’s Catalina Ash kit originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of Modern Drummer magazine.

Gretsch Catalina Ash Drumkit

Revived and revised, the latest mid-price offering from one of the most historic names in drums just got that much better.

 

After exploding into the mid-price market with the introduction of the Catalina series back in 2001, Gretsch recently revamped a few of its more popular offerings within the line, with upgraded hardware, badges, finishes, and shell and bearing edge design, plus new heads and a hipper overall appearance. (The current-day Catalina line is the rebirth of a series of the same name made by Gretsch in the late 1930s, which consisted of only the Elite and Stage models.) The retooled kit we have here is the Catalina Ash.

 

Never Heard of It

Though ash is a common tone wood for electric guitars and basses, the species is fairly uncommon in drum construction, and ash kits are currently offered by just a few manufacturers. Featuring a pore structure similar to oak, ash is known to be an aggressive, dynamic-sounding wood and is the standard body material for Fender’s Telecaster models. Gretsch says that the new Catalina Ash kits “produce a focused tone that has a strong attack, balanced low end, and loud dynamic range.” Given this description, I expected the kit to like low tunings and to prefer a heavier hand.

 

It Sounds Like…

Though I had some idea of what to expect from these drums, having played oak and cherry kits before, I found that they produced a unique sound that’s best understood as somewhere between the warmth and balance of maple and the shorter, more precise sound produced by birch. These drums liked to be loud. They spoke with deep, punchy authority when hit hard but didn’t really express that character fully at softer dynamics. Though Gretsch lists coated single-ply tom batter heads in the specs, the review kit arrived with clear single-ply heads, made by Remo, on top and bottom. I’m generally not a fan of clear batters on toms, but after changing out the 14×16 floor tom top head with a coated single-ply, I missed the added attack that the clear head added to the aggressive sound these shells naturally produce.

The 18×22 bass drum and 8×12 rack tom had a big and satisfying sound with a lot of body when played loudly. The kick had a fat and relatively short voice with minimal muffling. The 7×10 rack tom and 5.5×14 matching snare exhibited the same general tonal characteristics as the other drums in the kit. The 14×16 floor tom, however, seemed to lose some of its unique character when tuned anywhere over a floor-rattling, just-above-wrinkling tension.

Owing to the relatively thin 6-ply shells and Gretsch’s newly designed lower-profile GTS suspension system, the rack toms rang freely. Another cool feature is that the floor tom feet feature a shock-absorbing cavity. This helped ensure that the floor tom would ring unimpeded by the usual dampening caused by solid metal legs. Still, the Catalina Ash didn’t ring for days.

The 5.5×14 matching ash snare had a wider effective tuning range than I expected, and it tuned up in no time. I tensioned it to super-tight Chad Sexton territory, and it managed to retain its character. Then I tuned it way down and added a few strips of gaff tape and Moongels, and it sounded fat and dirty. The snare exhibited the most character at a medium tuning with a single Moongel, producing a versatile sound that was bigger and warmer than what I expected from a drum of these dimensions.

I appreciated the inclusion of shallow rack toms, as they proved easy to mount and position on the included dual-L-arm tom mount. Thicker, 12.7 mm L-arms are among the list of hardware upgrades that make the new Catalina Ash feel sturdier than its predecessor.

 

The Cool Factor

Along with a new 6-ply shell design and 30-degree roundover bearing edges, the Catalina Ash kit comes with some retro finishes and redesigned lugs. The new lugs are smaller and lower in mass, to limit the amount of material that comes in contact with the shell. I didn’t experience any alignment or construction issues with the hardware while assembling the kit, and all the bearing edges were smooth and even.

Catalina Ash kits feature a unique open grain with satin lacquer exteriors and natural, unpainted interiors. Finishes include walnut/natural/walnut, black/natural/black, and red/black/red burst. The satin finish and textured open grain make for beautiful instruments that feel as if they breathe a bit more. (A black pearlescent wrap is currently in the works and should be available soon.)

 

Nuts and Bolts

The included dual-tom mount features thicker L-arms, room for an extra cymbal arm, and a unique retro “bottle cap” design on the bass drum side
of the mount. The snare throw-off and butt plate, now Gretsch branded along with the rest of the hardware, are classic and functional. Rubber-lined bass drum hoop claws, round badges, updated floor tom leg brackets, 2 mm triple-flange hoops, and rounded T-handles on the tom mounts,
spurs, and floor tom leg brackets round out the new features and make for a solid though not excessively heavy package.

With a street price of $699.99, some great new features, and a totally redesigned vibe, the updated Gretsch Catalina Ash five-piece kit is a great value and offers a unique voice to players in search of a loud, classy-looking kit.

Ben Meyer

 

See what else is in the December 2014 issue of Modern Drummer magazine here.