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Café Racer Series Drumset

A compact, bop-size kit with a big, buttery sound.

Natal was launched in 1965 by British percussionist Alan Sharp after he spent seven years assembling instruments that he wanted but couldn’t find in the U.K. Sharp’s fiberglass congas were favored by many top rock acts of the time, including Santana, T. Rex, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, Deep Purple, and the Rolling Stones. Marshall Amplification purchased Natal in 2010 with the aim of expanding the brand to include a range of professional drumsets, snares, and hardware while maintaining a strong connection to the company’s heritage.

Natal’s initial drum catalog included metal and stave-shell snares and ply-shell drumkits made from ash, birch, maple, bubinga, and American walnut. In early 2016 the company released a new series, Café Racer, which features North American tulipwood shells. Like Natal’s other ply-shell drumsets, the Café Racer is made in Taiwan but is quality-controlled by the company’s team in the U.K. Tulipwood, which is also known as tulip poplar or yellow poplar, is a softer wood with a yellowish brown color, and it has been used in drum making for many years, most notably for the center ply in the highly coveted 3-ply shells made by top American companies in the 1950s and ’60s.

The Components

One cool feature of Natal drums is that they all come with the same pro-quality components, including the company’s distinct sun lugs, proprietary tom mounts, the multi-position Tri-Throw snare mechanism, and heavy-duty bass drum spurs. This decision results in a cohesive look across all Natal drums, regardless of price, shell type, or finish.

Our Café Racer review kit came in a classy British Racing Green Sparkle lacquer finish. (Other lacquer options for this series include Champagne Sparkle, Gold Sparkle with Black-Sparkle Stripe, and Red Sparkle with Gray Sparkle-Stripe.) Café Racer drums are available in two configurations: the US Fusion 22 comes with a 22″ bass drum and 10″, 12″, and 14″ toms, and our review kit, the Traditional Jazz, includes a 14×18 bass drum and 8×12 and 14×14 toms. The toms featured coated single-ply batters and clear single-ply bottoms. The bass drum had a clear batter with built-in muffling ring and a white-coated logo head on front.

The Café Racer shells are made from 7-ply tulipwood, which the company says has the same projection as maple but with a drier tone that leans a bit closer to that of ash. Tulipwood is also said to provide a pre-EQ’ed high end and a big, open low end. The bearing edges are hand-finished and feature a slightly rounded 45-degree profile.

In Action

Natal’s Café Racer kit has a familiar sound and feel to vintage American drums, minus the quirkiness in tuning, drumhead fit, and hardware quality that can sometimes plague older instruments. At higher tunings, like those often used in classic jazz and R&B, the Café Racer drums had a clear, pure tone with a buttery attack and short but balanced decay. Tuned lower, the toms and kick provided deep low end, a doughy attack, and warm, rich tones that decayed quickly and smoothly.

The 18″ bass drum produced plenty of depth and punch to function comfortably as a stand-in for a larger 20″ or 22″ drum on gigs with cramped stages. And the 12″ and 14″ toms quickly morphed from a precise, melodic Tony Williams–type bebop tone into a deep, studio-ready “doom” with a half turn of the tuning rods.

The hardware on the Café Racer drumset is identical to that on other Natal professional-level kits and is designed to be ultra-sturdy, simple to use, and unobtrusive. The bass drum spurs are a bit beefier than standard off-the-shelf varieties. They held the drum firmly in place, even when I buried the beater into the head and kicked the pedal hard. The rack tom mount attaches to two of the lug casings and suspends the shell for unencumbered resonance without obscuring too much of the cool British Racing Green Sparkle lacquer finish. Natal also added some nice subtle touches, like hollowing out the wing nuts on the tom mounts, spurs, and floor tom brackets, to remind you that this isn’t just another off-the-factory-floor drumset. This is the real deal.

Michael Dawson