The following review was originally published in the April 2015 issue of Modern Drummer, available here.

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DW Jazz Series Cherry/Gum Bebop Drumset

Warm but punchy. Strong but controlled. Could this be a perfect pairing?

DW’s Jazz series has become a favorite among many types of drummers—not just those playing swing, big band, or bebop. Rock, studio, Latin, and even metal players are also leaning on these drums for their warm, punchy, and performance-ready sounds.

Jazz series drums feature a 3-ply core of gumwood. Gum is a softer, porous wood that was used most notably by the now-defunct Jasper company, whose shells were an essential ingredient in the highly coveted sounds of Gretsch, Fibes, and other American drums made in the late ’70s and early ’80s. DW went after that classic sound, which is known to be warm yet punchy, with the Jazz series shell, but tweaked the formula a bit by offering three choices of inner and outer woods (maple, mahogany, or cherry) and by configuring the veneers in alternating grain patterns.

The outermost ply (maple, mahogany, or cherry) of a Jazz series shell has the grain going in a horizontal direction, while the second ply has a shorter vertical grain. The gumwood core is vertical/horizontal/vertical, and the inner two plies of maple, mahogany, or cherry are configured horizontal/vertical. The vertical-grain veneers are said to help create a lower overall note, due to less tension in the wood, while the horizontal ones provide more low-mids. Jazz shells are also built without reinforcement rings, which not only fits with the intended ’70s/’80s vibe but also helps to open up the tone.

Our Review Kit Specs

Jazz series drums are offered in just about any size you could want—from 7×8 Fast toms to 20×24 kicks—but our review kit came as a quintessential four-piece bebop setup, with a 14×18 bass drum, a 8×12 rack tom, a 14×14 floor tom, and a 5.5×14 snare. We received cherry/gum shells in a natural satin finish. The bass drum and toms come with Remo-made DW single-ply coated heads on both sides. The snare has a coated single-ply batter and a clear bottom head, also made by Remo. The bearing edges on all of the drums were clean and sharp, with a precisely sanded roundover back cut on each.

Hardware and Appointments

There are no off-the-shell components on Jazz series drums, from the strong bass drum spurs, brackets, and floor tom legs to the sleekly designed STM rack tom mount, which enhances sustain by suspending the drum from four of the company’s trademark turret lugs. (DW’s lugs began as a tribute to those used by another classic American drum maker, Camco, from which DW bought machinery in the late ’70s.)

The tom and snare rims are DW’s True Hoops, which come in graduated thicknesses depending on diameter and application. The 12″ and 14″ versions are 2.3 mm, while the snare hoops are 3 mm. (Although we didn’t receive any, 8″ and 10″ True Hoops are 1.6 mm thick.) These hoops are designed to be perfectly round and flat, and they feature a rounded outer edge, which gives them a chunkier feel and stronger attack that’s closer to what you get from die-cast rims.

The snare came with the smooth, strong, and easy-to-use MAG throw-off, which has a magnetized lever, and the 3P three-position butt plate, allowing you to toggle between different snare tensions. Another DW upgrade is the True-Pitch tuning rod, which features tighter 5 mm threads for greater tuning control. These rods, combined with the precisely cut bearing edges and True Hoops, made the Jazz series drums super-easy to dial in for a pure, musical tone.

Also offered on drums in the Jazz line is the vintage-style 7771 rail mount. Unlike the awkward-to-adjust models of this type of mount used on drums in the ’60s, DW’s version comes with several large thumbscrews that allow you to position a tom in infinite ways, plus memory locks and a knurled rail that help to keep the drum from slipping out of position over time. I personally prefer to mount rack toms in snare baskets, simply for their stability and ease of use. But the 7771 rail mount is an outstanding option that doesn’t add more floor stands and doesn’t require a hole to be drilled in the bass drum shell.

Echoes of Tony

If the legendary Tony Williams were still with us, he’d probably be all over the Jazz series. Williams, who was a longtime Gretsch player before switching to DW in the ’90s, was known for having a confident, powerful, and supremely agile touch, and this Jazz kit embodied those things to a tee.

We conducted the bulk of our testing with the drums tensioned very tightly, like the tuning Tony used in the ’60s when he was working with Miles Davis’s great quintet. They responded superbly at high tensions, exuding a clean, punchy, articulate, and melodic sound that also had plenty of projection and depth.

Cherry drums are known to be more focused than those made from maple, which proved to be an excellent pairing with the softer gumwood core. When compared with a vintage maple/poplar kit from the ’70s, the Jazz outfit had much more power and clarity, plus exceptional balance. From the full and round boom of the bass drum to the crisp and dense crack of the snare, every note had a strong woody attack, a clear pitch, and a round but short sustain. And when the tuning went lower, the low-end frequencies came into full bloom without becoming boomy, and the attack punched through even stronger. If you haven’t experienced the focused yet lively sound of cherry drums, you’re missing out on something special. And when you add the warmth and punch of gumwood…delightful!

Michael Dawson

April 2015 Issue of Modern Drummer featuring Bernard “Pretty” Purdie