6.5×14 Maple/Poplar and
5.5×14 Mahogany/Poplar Snare Drums
by Michael Dawson
Chicago has a long history in American drum manufacturing, with two of the most prominent companies, Ludwig and Slingerland, getting their start in the Windy City. Newcomer Chicago Drum has a direct tie to the latter. Company founder Jim Moritz was a factory worker at Slingerland during its famed Niles era in the 1970s, as were his father and great uncle.
“I have a rich family history with Slingerland drums,” says Moritz on the Chicago Drum website. “My great uncle Oswald worked for Slingerland and helped my father, Jack, get a job [there] when he emigrated from Germany to the United States. Dad was with Slingerland for over thirty years. During Slingerland’s heyday in the mid-1970s, I worked summers at the Niles plant and after school on the night shift.”
Because of his strong ties to Slingerland, it should come as no surprise that Moritz’s own company, Chicago Drum, incorporates many classic Slingerland concepts as well as the most current technology available. (Jack Moritz helped create Chicago Drum’s original shell formula, just as he designed the first multi-ply drum shell system for Slingerland in the 1950s.)
We were sent two Chicago Drum snares to review: a 6.5×14 5-ply maple/poplar and a 5.5×14 5-ply mahogany/poplar. Both feature 30-degree round-over bearing edges, deeply cut snare beds, solid-maple reinforcement rings, Puresound twenty-strand snare wires, Remo Ambassador drumheads (Coated batter and Hazy bottom), and Slingerland-style inward-flange steel hoops and large-lever throw-off. Those familiar with the Niles-era Slingerland oval badge will notice a similar look to those used by Chicago Drum. But the company states that these aren’t simply replica drums, but are rather contemporary instruments with their own unique voice built on the classic sound of great American drums from the 1950s to ’70s. Let’s check them out!
The makeup of this drum’s shell consists of three plies of thin maple on the inside, outside, and center with two thick plies of poplar sandwiched between them. This combo makes for a rich, warm sound with plenty of clarity and cutting power.
The rounded edges help soften some of the bite off the attack and provide a pleasant, soft feel, which gives the drum a vintage flavor, but the tone doesn’t suffer from any of the “boxiness” often associated with imprecisely built vintage wood snares. In fact, both Chicago Drum snares we checked out were built flawlessly, which resulted in resonant, full tone, crisp snare response, and smooth tuning.
I felt that the 6.5×14 maple/poplar sounded best when tuned medium or lower. That was where it had the most open tone, the heftiest punch, and the deepest low-end response.
This drum also features a 5-ply shell, with three plies of thin mahogany sandwiching two plies of thick poplar. It has a rich, warm, crisp sound that’s similar to the maple drum’s, but with a slightly darker tone that becomes most noticeable at medium and lower tunings. Despite its shallower depth, this snare actually outperformed the 6.5×14 when going for a super-low Don Henley–type fatback sound. And it excelled at tighter jazz/funk tunings, where it produced a strong “snap” without sounding choked or harsh. Medium tuning brought out the most “honk,” which could be great when you want a snare sound with a lot of personality and tone.
The two Chicago Drum snares each stood strong on their own, and they proved to be a great pairing, with each eliciting classic warm wood-shell tones that aren’t overly dark and vintage or so specialized and esoteric as to limit their applications. I liked the 5.5×14 mahogany/poplar best for tight, crisp sounds as well as for a detuned fatback, and the 6.5×14 maple/poplar produced absolutely killer tones that were big and punchy in the medium to medium-low range.
Shells: 5-ply/ .375″-thick 6.5×14 maple/poplar, and 5.5×14 mahogany/poplar with solid maple re-rings
Bearing Edges: 30-degree round-over
Lugs: 10 beavertail
Hoops: Slingerland-style inward-flange steel
Heads: Remo Coated Ambassador batter, Hazy Ambassador bottom
Wires: Puresound 20-strand