Alan van Kleef is a modern-day metalsmith who is carving his own niche in the world of custom drum builders. From his home workshop in Sheffield, England, van Kleef builds snares and kits from various metals such as copper, titanium, stainless steel, aluminum, and magnesium. He aims to emulate a vintage aesthetic using a modern approach, using metal as a means to expand the tonal colors of the drummer’s palette.
This kit is made from aerospace-grade T6 aluminum, which boasts the impressive combination of being very lightweight and incredibly strong. The quality of components used to craft these drums, combined with the personal care put into them (all of the parts are made in-house), equates to a very high-quality instrument. This four-piece shell pack includes an 8×12 rack tom, a 14×16 floor tom, a 14×22 bass drum, and a 6.5×14 snare.
VK offers a variety of finishes, and our review kit came powder-coated in Antique Bronze inside and out. The shells are 2mm thick, and the 12mm laser-cut tom and snare hoops, like the drum shells, are made of T6 aluminum and have a black powder-coat finish. The hoops have a flat design that sits flush with the drumheads and feature countersunk holes for the tension rods. The bass drum hoops are rolled and welded from 6mm aluminum and are finished to match the shells. The lugs, lug tubes, tension rods, tom mount, spurs, memory locks, thumbscrews, floor tom legs, washers, and fixing bolts are all made by VK from black-anodized 7075 aluminum. The floor tom legs had a less extreme angle, which made for a smaller footprint, and they were very stable.
The Inspiration and Sound
When asked about the inspiration for this kit, van Kleef stated that although he has immense appreciation for tried-and-true drum sounds, his intention was to create something new. And the drums do have a distinct vibe, with distinct mid-range overtones that made for a clear, full, musical sound, and a surprising amount of tonality and warmth.
The batter heads used on the toms and kick were Remo CS black dots, which tend to promote attack and have a more transparent pitch. The way the tone of these drums spread out after the attack was pleasing. The kick had some serious low end, somewhat reminiscent of a Roland 808 electronic kick but with far more natural appeal. The resonant head of the kick didn’t have a port, but there were two small sheets installed inside that I maneuvered so that they just touched both heads. This was enough muffling to tame the overtones without killing the sustain. This drum played more like a 22″ tom, meaning it wasn’t drastically different in tone from the 16″ floor tom. In other words, it was far more boomy than punchy.
The entire kit had a respectable tuning range. Cranked up, I could get a Tony Williams vibe going, with an explosive attack and short decay; the overtones had a narrow projection with a cutting bite. Tuned low, the smack of the slack heads competed slightly with the higher overtones. But in the medium tension range, these drums truly sang and had an impressive feel and response that made for a dynamic playing experience.
The matching snare, which came outfitted with a Coated Ambassador batter, also had a sweet spot at medium tension. However, it lacked some of the excitement I heard emanating from the toms and bass drum.
The impeccable attention to detail in the design and the craftsmanship of these unique aluminum drums is sure to make them appealing to avid collectors, and their light weight and serious tone should make them tempting to gigging professionals looking for something a bit different from a more traditional maple kit.