Renown Birch and Walnut Drumsets
Two new shell offerings expand the tonal spectrum.
Acouple years back, Gretsch revamped its Taiwanese-made “touring drummer” Renown series so that it stood closer in line with the company’s top-end U.S.-made counterparts. Upgrades included Gretsch-style rounded T-rods on the tom mounts and bass drum spurs, a sleeker and more lightweight GTS suspension system, stronger and better-fitting tom mounting brackets, and a silver embossed round badge. Gretsch also added Remo USA batter heads, and the interior of the drums feature the company’s signature “silver sealer” finish.
Originally available with maple shells only, the Renown series has been expanded with birch and walnut. We were sent identical setups of the new offerings (18×22 bass drum, 7×10 and 8×12 rack toms, 14×16 floor tom, 5.5×14 snare) to see what types of tones the different woods would provide.
Consistent Gretsch Appointments
In addition to the upgrades and sizes listed previously, new Renown kits have identical specs, including 6-ply shells, 30-degree bearing edges, and die-cast hoops on toms and snares. The rack toms have five lugs, as opposed to the more common six-lug design used by most other manufacturers. Renown snares come with Remo Coated Ambassador batters and Gretsch by Remo bottoms. The toms have 2-ply Clear Emperor batters and clear single-ply Gretsch by Remo bottoms. The bass drums come with Clear Powerstroke 3 batters, which feature a built-in muffling ring around the circumference, and PS3-style coated Gretsch-logo front heads.
The hardware on the Renown series is big, strong, and sturdy. The floor tom legs are thick, and the chunky leg brackets feature a recessed memory lock receiver to hold the legs firmly in place. The bass drum spurs are built super-tough to keep the drum from crawling away under heavy playing.
The GTS rack tom suspension system is unobtrusive but also very stable and strong. It’s designed to allow the drums to resonate fully, by not touching the actual shell. Instead, the mount connects to the top and bottom of two adjacent lugs. Like the floor tom leg brackets, the tom mounts are recessed to fit the memory locks perfectly, for ultimate positioning stability.
The snare throw-offs are a standard side-lever design, but they’re rounded to match the sleek look of the Renown lugs and T-rods. The overall vibe of the Renown series is a combination of road-ready strength and elegant, classic visual appeal. Now let’s get to the sound!
Pushing the Highs and the Lows
We reviewed the revamped Renown RN1 maple series kit in the December 2013 issue, and the conclusion was that it was an all-around winner in terms of sound and design. We were able to get a lot of different tones from it, all the way from high and jazzy to low and thuddy, and the maple shells provided a broad, well-balanced tone with a clean, contemporary punch. With the new Renown Walnut and Birch kits, Gretsch effectively extended the sonic spectrum of the series to include brighter and snappier (birch) and darker and thumpier (walnut) options.
We tested the two kits in the controlled environment of the recording studio, tuning them identically at three tensions (high, medium, and low, with the top and bottom heads of the toms at matching pitches) and playing the same basic groove and fills to see how they compared. Examined individually, each kit had a lot of range and could provide balanced, professional tones at any tuning. When comparing the recordings side by side, however, we found that the strengths of each shell type came clearly into focus. The birch kit, which was overall quite punchy and direct, sprang to life at tighter tunings, where melodic tom tones and a snappy attack are most prevalent, while the darker-sounding walnut kit loved being tuned low for a Steve Gadd–like, guttural punch. The die-cast hoops helped focus the tone and added a bit of high-pitched bite to rimshots on the snare and toms.
Which Shell’s for You?
You could extend the toms’ tuning range and focus the tone further by upgrading the resonant heads to Remo USA Clear Ambassadors (the Gretsch by Remo versions flapped out a bit prematurely at lower tunings), but the drums were pretty much studio-ready right away. We did replace the non-ported front bass drum head with a ported version so we could get a microphone inside the shell. And we added a little padding (a Remo Adjustable Bass Drum Muffling System on each head, plus a folded towel lying in the center of the shell), which shortened the sustain and dampened the high overtones so we could get a punchier sound that matched better with the focused tones of the toms and snares. Other than that, these kits were ready to rock right out of the box.
If you’re thinking about getting one of the three Renown outfits but don’t know which is best for you, ask yourself a few questions. Do you need a broader sound that can cover a wide range of styles? Then go with the maple. Do you require maximum cut and precision, and do you prefer higher tunings? Then the birch kit will serve you best. But if your tastes and gigs lean toward big, deep, punchy tones with a lot of low-end presence, then it’s all about the walnut.