When DW’s “wood whisperer,” John Good, met with studio legend Russ Kunkel to discuss building one kit for touring and another for the studio, an idea was born. For the road, DW’s Classic series was a no-brainer for Kunkel. However, he also desired something that offered a “crossover feel for diversity in the studio,” according to Good. The result is the Contemporary Classic series. These drums possess similar sonic qualities to the Classic series, with a little something extra that would allow Kunkel to adapt to the ever-changing musical demands in the studio.
DW’s Classic series kits boast a deep, dark bottom end with short sustain and feature 3-ply shells configured with a thick ply of poplar sandwiched between two thin mahogany plies and 10-ply maple reinforcement hoops. The Contemporary Classic series have a 7-ply shell construction consisting of one horizontal mahogany outer ply, five cross-laminated plies of poplar, and one vertical mahogany ply on the inside. The shells also have 1″-deep reinforcement hoops constructed of six plies of maple and a ply of vertical mahogany. The cross-laminated poplar plies allow the drums to maintain a deep fundamental pitch and short sustain while also providing an articulate attack. The bearing edges are DW’s rounded “butter” edges, which promote a warm, full tone.
We were sent a stunning Grey Oyster five-piece Contemporary Classic kit with 10×13, 14×14, and 16×16 toms, a 14×24 bass drum, and a matching 6.5×14 snare. All of the drums were outfitted with DW heads made by Remo. The drums came with chrome hardware, and the bass drum’s black hoops were finished with a Grey Oyster inlay.
The toms were outfitted with DW’s 2.3mm True Hoops. The snare had 3mm True Hoops, True-Tone custom snare wires, a MAG throw-off, and a 3P three-position butt plate. The bass drum had a coated/clear batter head with an inlay ring and an ebony vented resonant head. DW also included its two-piece bass drum muffling system that features two internally mounted pillows that lay flush against the batter and resonant heads.
My studio was built to serve more as a soundproof rehearsal room than as a space to record great drum tones. That being said, these drums sounded beautiful from the get-go. As with most DW drums, the fundamental note is printed on the inside of each shell. I first tuned the kit by ear to where I felt the drums began to sing, and then used a Tune-bot to discover the pitch. I ended up tuning the drums fairly close to their marked pitch, which supports DW’s efforts to combine components that have sweet spots that work well together. As Russ Kunkel stated about his kit, “It felt like they came from the same father. If the kick drum is the father, then the other drums are its children, and right out of the box it sounded like that.”
Each drum had a nice tuning range extending above and below the fundamental notes. Unless you’re often tuning to extremes, a Contemporary Classic kit would be a great studio workhorse. They have lovely, rich low-end that’s offset by a slight mid-range scoop that keeps them from sounding boxy and maintains clarity in the top end. Their succinct decay doesn’t abruptly gate the tone, which will please drummers and engineers alike. Kunkel’s son Nathaniel, who is an acclaimed engineer, said that Contemporary Classics are versatile “because there’s so much more tone coming off these shells.”
The outfitted batter heads provided a short attack that quickly gave way to the tone of the shells, which had a naturally succinct decay. I swapped out the batter head of the 16×16 floor tom with a Remo Clear Pinstripe, Coated Ambassador, and Coated Emperor, as well as an Evans Hydraulic. Regardless of the head selection, the drum maintained its character while also allowing space for the head choice to become an effective piece of the final sonic mix.
The 14×24 bass drum was truly magnificent. The two-piece pillow system offered just the right amount of dampening, so the drum could breathe and maintain tone while packing a serious chesty attack. The snare drum overtones were pleasant, and the drum offered a nice variety of tunings from slushy to snappy. The toms were balanced and harmonious. Although the tuning range of this Contemporary Classic kit covered a wide spectrum, the tones remained fairly dark yet lively. And it felt great to play.